Bahadur: The Expatriate

Bahadur was a legend to us, the children, a hero and a saviour in ways more than one; he was there to chase away the neighbour’s menacing Pomeranian, there to light up a happy bonfire on cold winter nights, dancing and singing around the fire while we clapped and laughed, and save the best of pears and peaches when the harvest had to plucked. Bahadur had always been there, until one day he was not.

Bahadur used to live in a teeny hovel in the backyard of my uncle’s house. Surrounded by a mustard plants, a lemon tree, seasonal cabbages and cauliflowers, and mint shrubs, which he and my uncle’s mother would toil upon, his hovel, a rusty old structure rose unceremoniously in the middle of the garden and was shaded by the vines of pumpkin and squash. How did he fit inside the tiny structure? Was there room to sleep? Were not the rains harsh, leaky that the walls always looked? Did he have anything inside his hut other than his conical bamboo basket, a bamboo broom and his eternally brown grey shabby clothes? I still ponder. An oversized coat, patchwork of a pullover, a woollen cap, tattered pants and shoes sans any lace, were his only raiment, the way I remember him. He would be up before dawn, sweep the front-yard, gathering leaves and litter, the backyard later, plucking off weed from the garden, unclogging drains and then head off to the neighbourhood repeating his chores. In the afternoon he would emerge outside the kitchen and placing his aluminium dish and a white plastic cup upon a step outside the door he would call out to my uncle’s mother, ‘Maiji’, (Mother) for his meagre share of dry chapatis and a cup of tea. Did that suffice? I know not.

I remember the eager grin upon his face when he would watch us play cricket on lazy Saturday afternoons, breaking into a run to chase the ball, and retrieve it from places that were forbidden to us. He had once constructed a swing for us-a simple structure made with bamboo poles to support the coconut rope that served as a swing and an old pullover for a seat. Delighted he showed us his masterpiece and what followed was an afternoon of laughter and merriment. Taking turns, all of us, the children, aimed higher while Bahadur watched us gleefully from a corner.

Often snatches of the songs he would hum on contemplative winter nights, nights when Bahadur lit a bonfire, echo in the realms of my mind. Sitting across the fire, tossing twigs and dry leaves into the crackling fire, he would sing. His voice reflected the mystery of faraway mountains, whistling winds, chirruping birds, rustling of pine forests, and of a lost home, his lost home! I remember his face when he would sing, shadowy, reflective, lit by orange, blue flames, while his hazelnut eyes glistened with sorrow and nostalgia. We had asked him one such evening, ‘Bahadur ghar kahan pe hain?’, (Where is your home Bahadur?). Pointing out to the silhouette of hills yonder, dark against a darker pin-pricked starry sky he replied ‘U pahar’ (the mountains there) and then without a warning broke into a happy-mad dance, singing, laughing!

He would comically salute at us, winking, while we imitated him, but, in quite the military fashion, he would, chest out, tummy in, salute at my uncle, a man he respected and adored and my uncle would cheerfully ask him, ‘Kya re Bahadur?’, (What’s happening Bahadur). Calling him ‘Bade Saab’, (Elder Master) he admired my uncle like a child worshipping his hero! And now when I think of it, a time lost in the folds of my memory, my uncle was someone who had never looked at Bahadur condescendingly, while everybody treated him as though he were an eye-sore, a tiny, irritating thorn, that needs be plucked out at once! He was scolded, berated, shouted at and one hysterical woman had claimed that Bahadur had on purpose touched her, a grave sin for he was an untouchable. Men found pleasure in beating him up-on nights when he would be tipsy after the cheap country liquor, shoes were flung at him, curses and kicks. Yet he woke up the next morning and got back to his chores restoring the vicious routine of life.

One balmy evening a scooter ran over him injuring his leg. Stopping, the rider threw curses upon Bahadur for coming onto the road and hindering his ride and then gathering a crowd, he began beating him up along with the men, who find comfort in beating others, crushing his broken leg. I remember his cries from his hovel for days until he was taken to the city Civil Hospital and dumped there. He was left neglected upon the shabby corridors. And he succumbed to his injuries, we were told.

There were no prayers for his departed soul, no hymns, no eulogy, no gathering. But I would like to believe him singing; I imagine his songs are attuned to the melody of chirruping birds, to the whisper of whistling winds and perched upon knotty pine branches, I picture him, humming, singing, smiling. I would like to believe that his soul roams joyously, unscathed, free across the mountains, over his lost home and that Bahadur is, for the last time, not an expatriate.

Image Credit : Dr. Ayan Banerjee

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51 thoughts on “Bahadur: The Expatriate

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  1. Oh, Pari, such a beautiful and fitting tribute to Bahadur…may his soul find the peace it lacked in this world…you have enlightened us all with your words, and broken our hearts to the point of humanness…may we never be fully healed if it means forgetting your tale.Blessings to you, I hope this means you will let your pen speak more often since the voice/heart it embodies is a rare and beautiful one. Much love to you, dear friend! *willows in the mist**smiling heart*

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have words to describe how I feel ………Bahadur must be smiling and doing that happy dance for there was one good soul who remembered him after he was gone ………that he was visible in crowd that made him feel invisible

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Call it coincidence or anything else but everytime I am feeling something I find your words expressing the same. This is one such incident.

    In this world full of chaos you words are PEACE.

    You know sometimes live doesn’t give people the chance they need and at other times death gives someone the desperated recognition. Bahadur will live forever in my memory like a seed that was buried only to cut down.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And I immensely grateful that you found that feeling!

      You are right. Life possibly doesn’t give some of us the chance while death can be liberating, although we wish it would have been otherwise. May be, we can, one day at a time, prevent the fate of many Bahadurs! May be

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  4. It fills my heart with immense pride to connect with such a persona like you 😇

    Narration full of sentiments
    A Prodigy of what actually writing means✌

    Bahadur shall always remain in our heart ❤

    Keep going buddy ! ✌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Ivor. I truly feel blessed that all is not lost in this world and there are souls who empathise, who care. That makes up in ways more than one for the cruelty otherwise. Thank you again for your kind words 🙂

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  5. It’s been awhile since anyone’s words have left me all but speechless, my friend. If anyone can read your story and not be impressed by its timelessness, truth, and beauty, I would be curious to know why. That’s all I can think to say right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul! That is the nicest thing I’ve read today. The very idea of writing about Bahadur was to create an awareness on untouchability that is still rampant in parts of the country. It is a sad truth, the division just because you belong to a different caste. Aren’t we human beings first?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am honored to read of Bahadur. I thank him for his character. And you for sharing him with us. I’m sorry for the pains he endured while he was here. I imagine his eternal life is full of his joyous song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do hope for that as well. I remember reading a story by Tolstoy, ‘God sees the truth, but waits’ and I wonder did She see the truth in Bahadur’s life? May be She did bless his eternal life. May be, just may be.

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