When I was homeless

Maskwaith Ahsan
Short Story
When I was homeless

She’s been lying on the sands of Feni River for five days in burning sun-light, rain and even storm. Indian border guards have taken positions in caution. Their rifles trained on her. These are days of despair. Is she a corona virus bomb propelled by the enemy into the no man’s land! Who is she!

Bangladesh border guards are also swept by surprise; don’t know where she’s come from. Some curious villagers from nearby Ramgarh spot this woman in a red saree, sleeping on the sand. They try to approach her but are stopped by the Bangladesh border guards. They will first have a flag meeting with their Indian counterparts, the outcome of which will be communicated to Dhaka and Delhi.

Indian border guards try to talk to her. They attempt every language they know, but the woman says not a word, doesn’t seem to be scared of the rifles and the usual harsh scolding of men in uniform doesn’t work either.

“Are you Indian or Bangladeshi?” they ask angrily.

The woman looks back with blank yet astonished eyes that seem to inquire, “What is India and what is Bangladesh?”

Due to Modi’s much ado about citizenship law, the border guards are extra careful. They can’t just let anyone in without proof that they truly belong to the land of holy Hindus. In today’s India it’s also very important to know whether they are dealing with a Hindu or Muslim. But there’s no way to identify the religion of this woman. Had it been a man, the South Asian soldiers would have eagerly stripped him to gauge if he’s Hindu or Muslim.

With the other side looking on, they can do no more and return to their post confused. On the other side, villagers can take no more and try to get past the guards to give her food, but the Bangladesh border patrol scolds them.

“Let’s have our flag meeting first.”

“She’s been under the scorching sun for so long, she may die of thirst and hunger,” appeals a villager.

“OK, give her something to eat and leave immediately. We are just soldiers, doing our job. Don’t jeapordize it.”

Mujib, a young boy approaches her with an apple, an orange and some grapes.

The woman in the red sari stares around. Indian soldiers stand alert. Border guards from both sides are confused. It’s still unclear where she belongs.

A soldier from Bangladesh tries again, “Where is your home? In Bangladesh or India? Please tell us something. We are in stress, just doing our small jobs. Please give us something to go on.”

Dhaka and Delhi are trembling with the fear of corona. Media is busy with the death count. Is this really the time to waste on a mysterious lady in red, claiming shelter in no man’s land?

Villagers from the Bangladesh side of the border offer to build her a little hut, “What’s the harm in giving shelter to a homeless.”

Bangladeshi soldiers yell at them to stop with their unlawful proposals.

“Then shoot her, end the story. You people are pushing her towards death anyway,” cries a villager.

A few officials from the Indian side approach the country-less woman, examine her from a distance and conclude that she’s mentally unstable.

“She reminds me of Sadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, the story of an inmate in an asylum who frets over whether his hometown Toba Tek Singh is now in India or Pakistan,” sighs one of the officials who in his heart knows perhaps how the great partition of 1947 turned South Asia into a heartless asylum where millions of men, women and children are tortured and uprooted by self-serving rulers and left only with a question marked on their foreheads, “Where is my home, my country?”

(Based on an incident that took place on Zero Point along the south eastern border between Bangladesh and India. It happened on April 02, 2020 and was reported 5 days later on April 06, 2020)

Maskwaith Ahsan. Maskwaith Ahsan is an international journalist, educator and the author of over 14 books. His columns appear in several Bengali newspapers, magazines and websites across the globe. He also hosts his web TV show E-SouthAsia. With socio-political satire...

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