Excerpts from Across Borders, in the words of the protagonist Maya…

ACROSS BORDERS Cover Image(Click on the picture to enlarge)

Excerpts from Across Borders, in the words of the protagonist Maya…

Chapter 1: That day in 1948, Kalpana and I left to cross over to another life with Ronjit uncle across the Pakistan border. There was no Bangladesh yet and was not going to be for a long time. Mihirpur is a small town near the city of Dacca, in erstwhile East Pakistan, currently Bangladesh. I was about to transcend the border of my childhood. After the age of eight, I was sucked into adulthood like quicksand. It would only be fifteen years hence that I would again cross the border, back into India. After my graduation in 1964, I would return to work, marry, raise a family and live the rest of my life on the Indian side. A few years later, in 1971, the home that I grew up in was to become a part of Bangladesh, no longer of East Pakistan, as when I would leave it. As the country was re-contoured into Pakistan, Bangladesh and India ensuing much turmoil, so did my life across its border in developing three distinct identities – childhood, adolescence and adulthood – get chiselled by the rough hands of time and experiences… 

Chapter 2: It was nearly three days, before Ma got a first glimpse of the woman who had displaced her in her husband’s life. That morning Ma was by the well behind the house, putting the clothes to dry on the line. She saw a face just above the sari she had hung. Ma froze in recognition, a dagger passing through her heart, taking her breath away. Thereafter she felt no pain, no anger, not the slightest twinge of jealousy. Numbness had taken over, rooting her to the ground. This is how she would feel about this woman — anaesthetized, till her dying day. This woman had usurped Ma’s position as wife, robbed her of the status of the lady of the house, relegating her to becoming a stranger in her own home. Slowly regaining composure, Ma became acutely self-conscious of still wearing sindur on the parting of her hair, and the shakha, paula and loha around her wrists.  

Why was she still adorned in the symbols of marriage of Bengali women, when her marriage was in reality dead, Ma pondered? The shakha (shell bangle) mirrors the qualities of the moon, implying that a woman remains serene and calm; and the paula (coral bangle) is beneficial for health. The loha (iron) signifies that a relationship assumes the qualities of iron — to become tough and enduring, which hers had failed miserably to do. But then, she would continue to wear these visual signs of her extinct marriage till the death of her husband. So what if these symbols had proven ineffective in warding off the biggest threat to her marriage – another woman? Ma now looked closer at Baba’s second wife. She was wearing the identical symbols of marriage, except hers shone brighter from newness and perhaps from requited love, unlike hers. 

Chapter 4: At the very outbreak of the riots, Sudeep arranged for Kalpana and Swapnil to leave for Calcutta immediately. He would not take any chances with their security. I was able to convince him telephonically of my need to stay back, promising to leave right after my exams. He himself stayed back in a refugee camp, in wrapping up his business for a few more months. The evacuees from Vishnuganj who took shelter in two mills as reported by The Pakistan Observer were 24000, though the unofficial estimate of the evacuees was 150,000. As I learnt of this in the safety of my Muslim friend’s house, knowing that Sudeep was in that count, I fervently prayed for his safety and reunion with his family. I constantly fought my fear of being brutally murdered if detected to be a Hindu. It truly was the acid test of my ability to fight any threat life would pose thereafter…

Chapter 5: My mother’s helplessness in the face of father’s treachery always came to mind in times of indecisiveness like this. It propelled me to stay on in Dacca, in spite of the arsonist mood I was enveloped in. Though I was to never literally take up arms, I was intrinsically combating with life itself. How then could external forces deter my battle to win a good life, to hoist the flag of my success in front of my father? Therefore education and resultant economic autonomy I chose over the security of life at the time, deciding to leave East Pakistan only on completion of my final examinations. My personal experiences of the riots still give me the shudders. Even now, I wake up from sleep after vivid dreams of the violence, breaking out in a cold sweat as if I were in the midst of it… 

Chapter 6: After the outbreak of the riots and attacks on a number of girl’s schools and hostels, it is difficult to pre-empt what may happen next, so all of us girls have vacated the hostel. However, of the twenty-two of us, only four of us who are Hindus, are in actual danger of our lives, if detected. As our truck rolls out into the neighbourhood, we can hear agonizing screams, as people are running crazily pushing one another, overturning wheelbarrows of fruits and vegetables, trampling over the crushed as well as fresh ones they might have just bargained hard for. There are small to large fires everywhere, with a putrid burning smell mixed with that of blood, sweat and fear. People are running arbitrarily — not sure in which direction. They are unsure of who is killing whom, not even aware if the man running alongside is a potential slayer, to escape the vandalism that has erupted on the streets.

There are lungi clad men on the trot, with lathis, daggers, spears and burning torches, against the fading light of the setting sun. All shutters of shops are either closed or are being frantically pulled down, as those late to react will be looted and ransacked, lucky if they can manage to save their lives. People are making a dash for shops or godowns still open, in a bid to hide, not sure if they should stop to pick up a wailing child separated from the mother in the frenzy. There are partially burnt hulks of cars, serrated holes in place of their windows and windshields, dotting the city like campfires in a National Scout Jamboree amidst pitched tents, silent witnesses to the mass destruction and massacre. Thick smoke is wafting about, heavy with the stench of burning flesh, tyres and charred cars, buses and rickshaws.

There are pools of blood on the pavement, where a man might have been beheaded with one flash of a machete. The body, its skin ashen in death, has perhaps been removed by relatives or shop assistants after the rioters have moved ahead. Ambulances and police jeeps are rushing past, their blaring alarms merging jarringly, the red lights blinking furiously. Hospitals are thronged with the dead and the wounded; their mortuaries being combed in search of loved ones, in earnest prayer that they are not found, giving hope a chance to linger. Photos of missing people have been taped on walls of markets and stores. By now, trips to newspaper offices clutching photos taken at weddings — whether the missing person’s own or attending that of loved ones, is forming queues…

 Chapter 10: On completion of their schooling, I plan on my daughters attending college from home in Calcutta. So we can now live truly as a family, after the years of mere vacations together. But to my surprise, Dipanjana, now in her eleventh standard, shows a keen interest in going to college at Delhi University. She manages to impress upon an unwilling Sanjana, who has just completed her twelfth standard, to proceed to Delhi. Initially I try to dissuade them, disappointed they do not want to stay home with me and Nayan. But having wished for them to be independent, strong and decisive women, sending them to boarding school at such tender ages to achieve the same, I cannot complain now. Thus I relent, escorting them to Delhi myself; decidedly to admit Sanjana to the college I had worked in for long… 

After dinner, all the first year students, referred to as Freshers, are made to assemble in the lawn in front of the dining-hall. The second and third year girls standing facing them, size up each of the new students. Then the Freshers are made to introduce themselves, thanking the seniors who interrupt each one making personal digs, addressing them as Ma’am… 

            By the time Dipanjana joins the following year, having obtained above the high grades required for admission, ragging is more absurd. She is at times sent with her classmates to the nearby Kamala Nagar market, to fetch a broom and bucket, dressed in the mismatched salwar-suits, with the three braids of oiled hair.  They are not allowed on their feet anything other than bathroom slippers, that too only the Bata Hawaii chappals. Even when they step outside their college, they are to address every senior of Delhi University as Sir or Madam, wishing them the time of day. Once few girls including Dipanjana are sent out on the University streets with a bowl in hand, to beg at bus stops the way common beggars do. The ragging at the college for day-scholars lasts about a week, but at the hostel it continues for months. The Freshers abhor being ragged to begin with, but in time drop their resistance, and enjoy themselves. In fact they get smarter day by day…

The more rules were imposed, the smarter the girls got in breaking them, till detected.


I quote V.S Naipaul here, from his book “India: A Million Mutinies Now” which aptly describes my attempts to define Maya –

 “She was still part of the story she had told me, over two or three meetings. She was full of the emotions of it, and unable to see in it the historical progression that I thought I saw.”

The newspaper reviews/media coverage of Across Borders is in the link below:


Across Borders is available at stores pan-India, through India Book Distributors (IBD)…also at flipkart.com & amazon.in, in the links below:


For more information on ‘Across Borders’ please visit the Face Book page by clicking on the Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Across-Borders/422992421102114  





4 thoughts on “Excerpts from Across Borders, in the words of the protagonist Maya…

  1. Pingback: The Newspaper Review’s/Media Coverage links of “Across Borders” by Shuvashree Ghosh | SHUVASHREE GHOSH

  2. Pingback: Across Borders, my debut novel: The republished version. | Shuvashree Chowdhury Ghosh

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