A wobbly bullock cart carried Abhik and his new-born niece into a cold December night. As the dusty wind hushed the wail of the baby beside him, his house, the trees, the busy streets, the fields, the people, and The Little Palanquin, were swiftly becoming a part of their past.
“This would be your longest night…” he said looking at the child.
“…but tomorrow, the dawn will be the brightest!”
Past the gates of Agyeyapur, under the sky that was turning lighter and the wind that was becoming clearer, he named the baby ‘Suruvata’.
She was to be the beginning.
Years and miles away from Agyeyapur, Abhik watched Suruvata grow into everything her mother had hoped to be through her brief childhood.
A beloved girl who was cared for, who could touch her dreams and conjure new ones, who witnessed the truth without being frightened, who could hold on to her childhood for as long as she wanted, and who never had to fear The Little Palanquin.
Eventually, Suruvata became the beacon of hope for the part of her uncle that was trapped in a place she only heard of, and in a time that she couldn’t recall.
“So far away…No one will find us here.”
All that was a privilege to her mother, Suravata knew to be her right. What her mother had feared, Suruvata stood against. But what took her mother away, Suruvata was yet to battle, making it impossible for the tired old Abhik to let go of his fears. As he cautiously watched the child grow into her youth, little did he know that the past he thought he escaped, was soon to revive itself and revisit him.
One warm morning, as he looked through the window, against the beautiful orange sky he saw a glimmering object that lived on the ignorance of the adults and the innocence of the children of Agyeyapur.
It was The Little Palanquin.
As it descended, Abhik’s chest tightened with fear and anger as he began to recall the memory that he wished would fade away, but was etched into their lives by that beautiful Palanquin.
It was the memory of a mother who was too young to survive.
“Your sister is gone!”
Abhik had looked at the baby that was placed in his arms. It was the pale and fragile souvenir that remained of his sister.
She had to go.
“Look after her, till the day comes!”
As the dark-robed guards walked away, the tears and the gloom the child didn’t know it kindled, had oddly resonated with the spirits of the day her mother was born. Abhik who was engrossed in her large brown eyes and her little round belly, was too young at that time to understand why his parents looked worried. Unaware of the burden the little girl supposedly brought, he had followed her hands as they searched the air for something, thinking she was going to be his new best friend.
She was like the shiny stones Abhik had found in the sand. Small and precious.
As time moved swiftly, and as Kashvi grew fond of her brother, Abhik was slowly intoxicated by the air of superiority that he was bestowed with. Besides, he had to learn to play his part as the man he’ll one day become, while Kashvi would surely go away on The Little Golden Palanquin.
Eventually Abhik had begun to tail his father to the fields, while Kashvi helped her mother at home. Occasionally when they were united by their love for the world books showed them, they shared their dreams about flying over the ocean and about the elephant they would buy one day from a faraway land. There, Abhik would momentarily lose his pride to the innocence of his precious little sister and Kashvi would savour those short-lived moments for as long as she could.
One day, when Kashvi had turned 14, their father returned from the vast stretch of his master’s farm land that knelt before an unyielding wind and obstinate sky, to break the news of the famine that was looming.
Everyone had been worried about the famine and what was to come with it, but Kashvi had to fear it, as she was aware of what the other scarcities had cost her friends in the village.
“Soon, there won’t be enough for everyone…and we have to save ourselves when we can.”
Someone had to leave.
“And as per the customs…”
Everyone knew who.
“…we can’t have a girl as old as her anymore.”
And thus, in a fleeting minute, Kashvi’s turn to ascend The Little Palanquin had arrived.
It was a lustrous object that was specially made to carry the unsuspecting children, concealing all its wickedness underneath the beautifully carved golden plates that embellished it. Despite the sorrow, it was worshiped and obeyed by the people who were blinded by the walls of Agyeyapur, that were too high to look past, and too strong to spot its flaws
Although Abhik had wondered about what might happen to his sister after she boarded it, he maintained a careful distance as he watched her sulk, cry, hide and pray in vain as the day quickly approached. He had tried to be grateful for the last few days of their childhood together, but it was taken away to meticulously shape her to fit the mould of a woman.
“I was half your age when I boarded it! There’s nothing to worry about.”
Their mother was 7 when she had lost her childhood, but twenty years later, when she had learned to justify the injustice, she decided that her daughter would be better off going through the same custom.
Consequently, the girl who was expected to be grateful for a childhood that was snatched from her, boarded The Little Palanquin with bundles of clothes, jewels, and the knowledge that there was nothing she could do. Just like the countless number of girls who had boarded it before her.
“You’re not the first…or the last!”
Through the strange festivity that surrounded their little mud house that day, Abhik had seen her for the last time. But it hadn’t hurt him as much as the moment he held her child in his arms; when the little boy who loved his sister was back at the command of her wailing child. At that moment he had hurriedly bundled the baby onto an old bullock cart, and was determined to find a way to save her from the fate that killed her mother. He was to travel as far as possible, to a land where he hoped the Little Palanquin and its guards won’t find her.
But he was wrong, and he realised it as he witnessed the Little Palanquin land before him yet again.
“It’s time for you to return her…”
The face of the guards and the people who had accompanied them, reflected what he had tried to protect Suruvata from.
“…it’s not right what you did!”
While he desperately tried to find a way to help her escape, the young girl who was expected to fear The Little Palanquin looked at it, mesmerized by its beauty.
Before Abhik could stop her, she walked into the crowd that waited for her.
She did not fear them.
“It’s so beautiful…”
Ignoring the cries of her uncle, she boarded the object he dreaded so much, hoping to free him from the past he was chained to.
She had nothing to fear.
While she remained safely enshrouded in the value of her existence and the power of her knowledge, the golden lustre of The Little Palanquin slowly faded away, allowing the memories and pain of a million destroyed childhoods to float over the crowds, letting them see what her uncle had seen many years ago.
In the pain it kindled and the chaos that followed, The Little Palanquin was eventually destroyed. In the fervour, vigour and realisation that erupted from the crowd, Abhik finally saw the beginning he had hoped for, against the brightest dawn he had wished for Suruvata.
Originally published on: http://www.voicesofyouth.org/en/posts/the-little-palanquin