A thundering applause echoed in the fully-packed auditorium. This was interspersed with continuous flashes of cameras and the hustle of the journalists as they prepared themselves with their pens, papers and recorders. The huge gathering was on the occasion of felicitating a group of scientists from North-east India on National Science Day i.e 28th February in the year 2009 in Guwahati. These brilliant scientists had been working at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for almost a decade, involving themselves especially in the Chandrayaan-I project. The previous year, when India’s first unmanned lunar probe was successfully launched, accolades poured in for these group of scientists from all corners of India and abroad. It was a special moment of pride for the people of North-east India, who are often neglected as a part of the country.
The chief scientist had just finished his presentation, which was heard intently by the entire audience. He said that as a child, he used to gaze at the moon for hours at night and was fascinated by its mystery. He keenly studied about the stars and planets during his school days and dreamt of building a spaceship to explore the cosmic space. In his speech, he encouraged the youth to take a deep interest in this rewarding field. Mr. Arindam Baruah could not stop smiling. He seemed thoroughly happy with what he had heard a few minutes back. This was a red-letter day in his life, unlike the blood-stained day he had to endure 27 years back. He had a sudden flashback.
27 years ago
Mukunda was hopping merrily back to home. His school bag was dangling on one of his shoulders. On his right hand, he held a thick sheet of paper. It was a ‘certificate of excellence’ awarded to him by his school for topping the annual exams. He couldn’t wait to deliver the good news to his parents and to his elder sister. As he approached the house gate, he noticed a huge gathering of people. He doubted whether his parents had already known the good news and invited these people for celebrating his brilliant academic results. As he worked through the crowd, he halted in his steps. He was stunned! Three bodies covered in white cloth lay in the courtyard. There were blood stains all over the clothes. Within a few minutes, Mukunda collapsed to the ground. Arindam rushed immediately to his aid.
Arindam was the only child of his parents. His father worked at a prestigious position at the Gauhati High Court and his mother was a teacher at a government girls’ school. Both the parents worked dedicatedly to ensure their boy gets good education and most importantly, a secured future. They were very protective of him, and brought him up with utmost care during his childhood. But they were working parents and they realized that sooner or later, he would need company at home while they were at the office. His father then hired Mukunda’s father as his personal chauffeur and built a thatched house in the compound for Mukunda’s family to stay. Mukunda was born in this thatched house. As years passed by, Mr. and Mrs. Baruah were so busy with their work that they could hardly spare any time for their son. They were assured that he gets his food at the right time and is properly taken care of by Mukunda’s mother, who worked as a maid in their house. However, they had failed to see that their boy was withdrawing himself inside a shell and seemed lost and sad. Arindam used to return from school, have his lunch and sit beside his bedroom window and watch little Mukunda and his sister play marbles in their courtyard. Every time, Arindam used to come to the courtyard, Mukunda would run to him and hug him and say, “Dada, come and play with me. It will be fun.” Mrs. Baruah had instructed her son not to mix up with the siblings, fearing that their carefree spirit would spoil her son. Arindam loathed his mother for saying so. He wanted to break free from the restrictions and unnecessary protection his parents had imposed on him. He wished he had a sibling too. Life inside the four walls would not have been terrible then.
Mukunda woke up after Arindam sprinkled some water on his face and shook his body. He hugged Arindam tightly and began to wail loudly. “Dada, what happened to Maa, Baba and Baa? I stood first in class today and God took away my family. Why dada, why?” Arindam couldn’t hold back his tears. He rubbed Mukunda’s back and tried to console him. His parents watched the two boys from a distance. Mr. Baruah felt a lump in his throat. Mukunda’s parents and sister were killed in a road accident in the morning, when their rickshaw was hit by a speeding truck. The rickshaw-puller and the family were instantly killed; such was the brutality of the accident. The drunken truck driver was luckily caught but the victims’ lives could not be saved.
The last rites were soon done. Arindam’s father used his expertise to settle this matter and avoid any legal troubles for his own family. He was a good man and worried about Mukunda. So he made sure the boy doesn’t fall into wrong hands and go astray. He decided to keep him in an orphanage but he made him stay in their house for that day. The poor boy slept the whole night. He was exhausted from his crying. That night, Arindam came to his parents and said, “Maa-Papa, all these years, you never gave me the company I deserved. I am your only son and yet, you couldn’t spare time for me, even when you were at home. You both never had dinner with me nor cared to talk to me lovingly for a few minutes. Your duty as parents was limited to only set stringent rules for me and make sure I followed them all the time. You were so dependent on Mukunda’s mother; now she is no more, who will give me food at the right time, who will wash and iron my clothes, who will talk to me when I feel alone? Tell me Maa. You didn’t even allow me to play with Mukunda and his sister, why? At least, they tried to give me company and make me feel better! I wish I was their sibling. I really feel sorry for Mukunda. How affectionately he calls me dada.” There was a brief silence. He spoke again, “Do something for him, Papa. Bring his smile back. Do it for me”
There was a slight tap on the microphone. The emcee started the proceedings for the felicitation ceremony. He made a request to the Chief Guest, the Chief Minister of Assam to honour the chief scientist, who had delivered his presentation a few minutes back.
He spoke, “Ladies and Gentlemen please give a huge round of applause for Dr. Mukunda Baruah, Chief Scientist, Project Chandrayaan-I.”
Arindam clapped in ecstatic joy as Mukunda was felicitated by the Chief Minister. His eyes soon turned moist. His younger brother had finally made his family proud.