A Gift From Mother: Saibal Chakravarty

A Gift From Mother: Mystery Thriller Story

A Gift From Mother: During 1942, Bengal rose like one man to participate in Gandhi ji‘s Quit India Movement. In the course of the struggle for freedom, a young Bengali girl, Sharada Chatterjee aimed a revolver at Mr. Gordon Jackson, Police Commissioner, Calcutta, and fired twice. The incident took place at the prize distribution ceremony of a high school where Jackson was the chief guest. He had earned the notoriety of being a tyrannical officer. Two months earlier he had ordered firing on a peaceful procession, causing the death of two women and a few children. Immediately afterwards it was decided in a secret meeting of the terrorists that Jackson had to be removed from this world. The job was entrusted to Sharada – a new recruit in the terirrorists’ fold.

A Gift From Mother: Saibal Chakravarty

Sharada, however, could not accomplish the task assigned to her. The bullets hit Jackson’s shoulder. He was rushed to the hospital and operated upon. He survived. Three months later he was released and he left for England.

Sharada Chatterjee was sentenced to jail for 15 years, three of which she spent in the Andamans. Had Jackson been killed, the punished would have been more severe.

Arun heard all this from his mother. He felt proud that his mother was not an ordinary person.

Besides learning from his mother about the freedom struggle, Arun had also read many books on the subject. Till he was thirteen he lived with his parents and went to a city school. Then his father died and Sharada Devi took a teacher’s job in a girl’s school and sent Arun to a boarding school in Siliguri.

So long Arun was with his mother she used to tell him for her involvement in the freedom struggle and her days of imprisonment in the Andamans.

Arun was also a great lover of adventure. Thrice he had won the best swimmer’s trophy in the school’s annual sports. Arun’s ambition was to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force.

It was painful for Arun to live away from his mother. But he loved his boarding school life too. St. Columbia’s, Siliguri, had similar branches in five other countries of the world. The Siliguri school was located close to the river Teesta. The river fascinated Arun.

During examinations, when he studied late in the night, he could hear the gentle murmur of the river flowing in the darkness outside. In summer its flow became weaker but in monsoon it looked awesome. Whenever Arun felt lonely he would go to the river and sit on its bank. The river, to a great extent, made up for the absence of his mother.

Arun met his mother twice during a year-once at Dussehra and again at Christmas. He would write regularly at her. Arun had a knack for writing letters. He kept his mother’s letter carefully. Whenever he missed his mother, he would open the small wooden box in which he kept her letters, pick up one and go through it. Immediately he would feel that his mother was sitting close to him.

There was no one on earth who was more dear to Arun that his mother. But the boy was unhappy with her because she did not comply with his one request.

Arun wanted to see the revolver which Sharada Devi had used to fire at Jackson and which later, when India became free, she had received as a gift from her admirers. Arun was very curious to see it and touch it but she did not let him.

“It is not time yet,” she would say.

“Then when you will show it to me?”

“Just when I consider it the proper time for you to see it,” Sharada Devi would reply curtly.

Arun knew that his mother would not change her mind once it was made up. He, however, could not understand the reason for his mother’s refusal and what she meant by ‘the proper time’. He would feel hurt.

That year, just before the Christmas holidays, an important incident took place in Arun’s life. Ten boys came from the London St. Columba’s to its Indian branch at Siliguri to have a glimpse of the lives of their fellow students in another part of the world. Father Ronald, an elderly teacher, was responsible for this group.

Arun and his friends were happy to meet the boys. Soon the boys found that there were many points of similarity between them.

A day prior to the London boys’ departure for home, a picnic was arranged on the riverside. It was a bright Sunday morning with a cool breeze blowing across the river. Arun’s history teacher Subir Roy, and Father Ronald accompanied the picnic party.

While playing badminton on the bank of the river, a few boys were suddenly struck by the idea of bathing in the river. They approached Subir Babu who was supervising the cooking.

“Sir, we want to take a bath in the river,” said the boys. “it will be real fun. We want your permission.”

Subir Babu said, “I don’t mind your bathing in the river but only those who know how to swim may go. That too, not very far from the bank.”
Father Ronald also endorsed this.

It was found eigth boys in the group did not know how to swim. They continued playing badminton. Eighteen boys were ready for a bath in the river. Among them was Dick. This bright boy was a year older than Arun. He developed a special liking for Dick. He had beautiful blue eyes. He played organ very well. Every night after dinner when the boys met in the hall, Dick enthralled them by playing tunes on his mouth organ.

“You know the type of river Teesta is,” Arun wrote about the picnic to his mother later. “Sometimes it appears very quiet but one does not know how quickly it can turn turbulent. That day we too did not realize what the river had in its mind.

“First, ten boys dived into the river. Dick was one of them. I was then doing light exercises on the bank. I suddenly heard shouts of ‘Help, Help’. I looked up and found Dick being pulled by strong currents and crying for help. Other boys were trying to reach him but to no avail.

“The sight had an electrifying effect on me,” wrote Arun. “From the helpless gestures of Dick I could well understand that he did not know how to swim. In no time he would be driven to the spot where the current was strongest. Anyone going there to help Dick would have little hope of survival for himself and Dick as well.

A Gift From Mother: Saibal Chakravarty - Dick being pulled by strong currents and crying for help
A Gift From Mother: Saibal Chakravarty – Dick being pulled by strong currents and crying for help

“Still, I dived. I knew it meant tremendous risk but yet I could not stand and watch a friend getting drowned. That would mean so much shame for all of us. I had always dreamt of having a big adventure one day. I thought there could not be a better chance of one than what I found before me then.
“I tried to swim as fast as I could. The current was against me. But still I tried, I used all the tricks of swimming I knew. As I fought with the rushing waves I kept raising my head and looking towards the bank. There were Father Ronald and Subir Babu encouraging me to move faster, and asking Dick to keep floating. The poor boy, by then, had given up completely.

“I cannot say how and when I reached the cold body of Dick. I have a faint memory of pulling unconscious body and swimming at the same time under severe strain.

“When I opened my eyes, the sun was setting. I was lying on a bed of our school hospital. I also found our Principal, Mr. Martin, Father Ronald and Subir Babu standing close to my bed with anxious looks on their faces.

“How is Dick?” I asked.

“He is all right,’ replied Mr. Martin. “How do you feel now, Arun?” he asked earnestly.

“I am all right, Sir,’ I replied with a faint smile.

“Mr. Martin put his hand on my forehead. “you have done a hero’s job, Arun,’ he said. ‘You swam almost a three-mile stretch of the river and the current was so strong.’

“A brave boy,’ muttered Father Ronald looking at me.

“Thank you, Sir”, I said.

“And there was Dick. I sat up in my bed and found him lying on a bed in a corner of the room. He looked at me and smiled.

“Naughty boy”, I felt like chiding him. ‘You don’t know how to swim, yet you wanted to play in the river.’

“As I finished drinking hot cocoa brought by Mr. Martin’s bearer, Father Ronald shook hands with me.

“Arun,’ he said in his deep voice, ‘tomorrow I am going back to England. Do you know what will be the most precious memory of my stay here? Your bravery. Had you not taken the risk to save Dick I would have felt so ashamed to get back to my country. What would I have told Dick’s parents? God bless you, my son.’ Tears glistened in his eyes as he spoke.

Subir Babu said, ‘Possibly you do not know, Arun, that Dick was not in the original list of the boys who were to come here, beacuse of his age. But he insisted that he must come as he had a special relationship with our country.’

‘Special relationship?’ I asked.

“Yes”, Subir Babu replied with a smile. ‘His father worked here for several years.’

“I was speechless by what Father Ronald told me about Dick’s father. I will tell you about it when I meet you. You will also be surprised as I was.

“Mr. Martin had said that my rest will be worthwhile if I spend some days at home. He had already booked my ticket to Calcutta. I am reaching Sealdah by the Darjeeling Mail on Sunday morning. I hope to see you at the station. Good-bye.

Love,

Arun”

Sharada Devi was at the station well before the train’s arrival time. She was impatient to see Arun. She had also received a small note from Mr. Martin in which he told her that the whole school was proud of Arun. He also said that there was still some pain in Arun’s chest for which the doctors had advised him rest for a week. That is why he had asked Arun to be with his mother for some time. The moment Arun got down from the train Sharada Devi hugged him.

“How do you do, Ma?” he asked with a smile.

“I am all right but you look weak, Arun.”

“But i feel quiet fit,” Arun replied confidently.

They got into a taxi. Then Sharada Devi asked her son, Arun, you wrote to me that you would tell me something about Dick. What is it?”

“Yes, Ma, it is so interesting that I thought I would tell you only in person.” Arun looked at his mother’s face. “Do you know who Dick is, Ma? He is the youngest son of Mr. Gordon Jackson, who was the Police Commissioner of Calcutta during the 1942…”

Sharada Devi felt faint. Her mind went back to the days of hectic political movement. She heard shouts of “Bande Mataram”. Suddenly the police opened fire. An old woman of seventy who was carrying the tricolor was hit by a bullet. Before she collapsed, a young boy had run to her and picked up the flag…

Arun could not understand why his mother had become so grave suddenly. “Ma,” he called once but there was no reply. Sharada Devi was looking at the street outside, lost in her thoughts.

Arun felt piqued. His mother had not said anything about his saving Dick from drowning. ‘I must have displeased her by saving Mr. Jackson’s son who caused so much suffering to our people,’ he thought.

The taxi halted before their house. Startled, Sharada Devi alighted quickly from the vehicle and paid the fare. Ramu kaka came and picked up Arun’s suitcase.

“Come with me, Arun, “Sharada Devi said, still looking very grave.

Arun followed his mother into her bedroom. There she opened an almirah and brought out a casket from a drawer.

“Arun”, Sharada Devi looked at her son. Her eyes now sparkled with a kind of brightness Arun had never seen before. “I kept this valuable thing me all these days. It was a great responsibility on me because it represented the valor and sacrifices of so many brave people of our land. I wanted to show it to you when you would be worthy of it because this is something which is not to be trifled with,” Sharada paused for a moment and spoke again in a deep voice. “I am happy to say that you have proved your worth not only to see this but to possess it. Today I do not have a better gift to reward your bravery and friendliness, my son.”

She handed over the casket to Arun. He bent down and touched her feet and looked at her face. There were tears in her eyes but a smile on her lips.

Another smiling face appeared before Arun’s eyes – the face of Dick Jackson.

~ “A Gift From Mother” story by “Saibal Chakravarty” and illustrations by “Subir Roy

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