The Black Letters

He gingerly walked alongside the bank of Brahmaputra, consciously trying hard to hide amongst the bushes. The humid weather made his frayed shirt stick to his skinny body while a drip of sweat trickled down his spine. It wasn’t afternoon yet, and Dwijen was late for school. Suddenly he heard a voice call out to him in hushed tones. He turned around to see Biren, his senior at school. 

“Here you go. Have one! ” Glancing around every moment or so, Biren offered the thirteen- year- old a cigarette, or as he would call it, a Bidi. Too scared to refuse, and too curious to try, Young Dwijen held the thinly wrapped cylinder tightly between his bony fingers. Immediately, he gagged and produced puffs of smoke from his chapped lips. Yet, it felt good to do something he had usually seen only his elders do. From them on the thirteen- year- old couldn’t stop. He was accompanied by his cousin brother regularly.

One fine summer morning, when it wasn’t so moist and sticky, Dwijen’s uncle stepped out for a stroll around the village of Tezpur. He was just thinking of how proud he was to be his uncle, who was a well-reputed scholar and probably the smartest among all villagers when he heard the leaves rustle. He looked into the bushes to witness an appalling spectacle. The bidi in the hands of seventh graders did not surprise him as much as the bidi in Dwijen’s hands disappointed him. Moreover, his son doing the same, made him bubble with fury.

Almost instinctively, he pulled them both by their ears, dragged them to the house and beat them black and blue until they confessed. The anger seemed to vanish, and sadness took over him. Pulling out a book from Dwijen’s bag, his uncle ordered them to place their hands on either side. Incredulous, but scared out of their wits, the boys quietly did so.

Looking at them with snaky eyes, he remarked, “Swear on this book that you will never in your life, touch another bidi. If you do, the black letters of this book will eat you up. They will prevent knowledge from penetrating your brain. You will be no different from us. ” He said this in such fluent and rapid Assamese that the boys took a few seconds to comprehend.  And with his hands behind his back, he quietly walked away. 

Dwijen knew how important knowledge was for him and swore to stop immediately, but his brother did not seem to care at all. And so he continued, only to give up his education after failing the eighth form twice and bringing much shame as well as disappointment to the family. The black letters of the book did indeed, gobbled his brain up. His lungs too gave up soon and made him succumb to various diseases. Today, Dwijen is still highly regarded and is an Army colonel in the education core, proud of the decision he made decades ago. Dwijen too, just so happens to be another important person- My Grandfather, My Aja.

Picture credits: Pexels