What Divya Bharati’s death did to me…

There are so many things in my early childhood I long to go back to. Like the dance sessions I used to have with my friends –Fareeda, Zubeida and Nargis every evening after we completed our home work and before their father (Ahmed uncle to me) came back from work. If Ahmed uncle did not find all the three sisters on their study table the moment he stepped into the house, he beat them and their mother up with impartial animus.

This, I speak of the early nineties. I must have been in the second or the third standard. Part of our house was getting constructed then. And so there was this platform in our compound where the Bangladeshi cement masons would mix sand, water, gravel and Portland cement by day. And by evening, after the masons left, it was our stage. It was also strategically located – we could see Ahmed uncle’s light brown scooter from a distance and blow the bugle. It gave the three sisters just about enough time to jump across the boundary brick wall which separated the two houses, and scamper to the common study room in their house.

In hindsight I think our dance sessions were extraordinarily disciplined for our age. I can safely attribute that to the missionary convents we went to. The dance recital began with the individual performances – one of us would dance while the others sang the song aloud. These were followed by the multiple group performances wherein all of us would sing and dance along. Group performances constituted of dance number after dance number – Saat Samundar , Yeh kaali kaali aankhein, Aashiq Awara, Galyat Sankali Sonyachi ipore pora chi iski ada mera dil le gayi ipori pora chi (I’m writing the words exactly the way we used to sing them back then – I still don’t know what the right words are!), aisi deewanagi dekhi nahin kahin, choli ke peeche kya hai etc. As a rule of thumb, there would have to be at least one Divya Bharati number. Divya Bharati was our idol. I invariably used to be the Compere in our sessions. My microphone was a blue coloured cylindrical pencil box. And, Nargis, the eldest sister would judge our act. She was exact, sincere and impartial; free from passion, unbiased by interest, fear, resentment or affection; and faithful to the truth. Our daily exercise came to a nail biting finish when she announced the best dancer of the evening. Make no mistake. Meriting this prize was serious business. Each one of us had so many things on our mind at the same time. My thoughts would typically be – “My dance steps must be in sync with the beat. I wish I could slap the mosquito on my left knee dead. I must try and look like Divya Bharati. The more I look like her, the better my odds. I must smile a lot. I must throw an imaginary dupatta in the air and pretend to catch it too. Beginning with my right foot, I must take three steps backward –right, left, right. Then I must hit my left foot against my right foot and clap my hands. I must turn around a lot but be careful lest Nargis should see what she is not supposed to see. I must be better than Zubeida.”

Zubeida was the best among us; I like to think I was second best. I would constantly try to get the better of her. Once I wore a short floral pink skirt teamed with a blue top and black slacks (what I and my friends now fashionably call leggings). The ensemble loosely resembled what Divya Bharati wore in the song ‘Aisi Deewanagi.’ That evening, I also performed on the same song and won hands down. Zubeida did not speak to me for two days.

Then one day, when I had just come back from school and was taking off my satchel, Ma informed me that Divya Bharati was reportedly dead. I could not believe my ears. I jumped across our brick boundary wall, ran to the Ahmed kitchen and summoned Fareeda. Fareeda soon appeared at the doorstep.

“Divya Bharati is dead!” I told her between gasps as I tried to catch my breath.

“Aafaamuni!!” she cried out to her elder sister Zubeida, “Look at what this girl is saying – Divya Bharati is dead!”

Zubeida immediately wept copious tears, while Fareeda accused me of making her sister cry. Soon, Nargis emerged out of the next room and told me she did not want pandemonium in her house and that I should leave. Dejected, I returned home, hoping that what Ma had heard was just a silly rumour.

The evening Samachar on Doordarshan confirmed our worst fears – the queen of hearts was indeed dead. She had fallen off her husband’s 5-storey apartment building. Speculation was rife that her husband had killed her. “These filmwallahs, you can’t trust your own husband”, said Ma as she clicked her tongue while we all watched the news. As for me, I was hated by the three sisters for being the bearer of such tidings. And so, though all that separated their house from mine was a brick wall, it had suddenly become strangely impregnable to me.

The area around the brick wall in our backyard was especially mosquito infested. But that did little to deter me. Every evening following that one, I would saunter about aimlessly beside that wall, braving mosquitoes, leeches and stinging caterpillars in the hope that the Ahmed sisters would speak to me. My heart would beat rapidly at the sight of any one of them and I would look for an opportunity to get friendly with them – show them my new sketch pens or offer to help Fareeda out with the Robert Louis Stevenson poem in our English reader. I even tried to share with them my new found knowledge of Friday drill exercises. None of my ploys bore fruit. Fareeda and Nargis did make small talk with me occasionally but I could not get around to building the same rapport with Zubeida for a long time; I would smile sheepishly at her but she would turn away her face from me. But I was persistent. Ma would hand me some salt in the evening and tell me to pour it on as many snails in our compound as I could spot. Snails were easy to find and easier to kill –I would dispense generous dollops of salt on the exposed flesh of the snail and see it crawl out of its slime coat, frothing. Then I would deal it a fatal blow with anything I found handy. This snail killing exercise gave me a convenient alibi to hang around the brick wall as long as I wished. And a chance to revive my friendship with my estranged companions. I saw light at the end of the tunnel one evening when Zubeida wanted to know how much I had scored in my Moral Science paper. That immediately fired me up; I ran to my room to retrieve my Moral Science paper duly signed by my teacher with a “Very Good” remark at the top to boot and showed it to her. Before she could run her eyes through it, I asked her if we could go dancing on Saat Samandar. But as luck would have it, Ahmed Uncle appeared out of the blue and shoved her from behind. That was the last I ever came close to dancing on a Divya Bharati track.

We never danced together again, the three of us.

The friendship was rekindled but it was never the same without the dance sessions. With Divya Bharati dead, the dance sessions had suddenly become a cardinal sin.

Somewhere down the line, I lost touch with the Ahmed sisters. Perhaps it is a part of growing up.

We all grew up to be very different individuals. Zubeida eloped with her cousin and is now busy raising her many children. Nargis teaches kindergarten kids. Fareeda intermittently gets duped by different institutes which promise her a medical degree and close shop as soon as the donation money is transferred to their account. I am stuck in the great Indian IT rut. And dabble at writing whenever I go on a guilt trip about it.

I am still a fan of Divya Bharati. I wonder if Fareeda, Zubeida and Nargis remember those evenings. I hope Zubeida’s daughters turn out to as good as their mother was at dance. I want to meet them when I go home next and show them the Saat Samundar video, maybe teach them a dance step or two. And apologise to their mother. For a wrong I had never done.

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14 Responses to “What Divya Bharati’s death did to me…”

  1. dicesndots Says:

    Okay …. that was an amazing post at so many levels 🙂 wonderful transition frm childhood innocence, to the blow, to grown up elders , bful flow. And a wonderful story to start with altogethr 🙂 i hope u preservd tht pink dress

  2. Thank you friend. The pink dress is in Guwahati. I hope Ma’s preserved it. 🙂

  3. Anil Prabhu Says:

    wow…
    leaves you with a strange nostalgia…

  4. Is it Hasanath she eloped with?

  5. Nice post! Reminds me of my childhood days….
    I was at my Nani’s place on school vacation, I still remember My masi and her three friends crying all day and me poking fun on them. I was always puzzled for that deep emotional outburst till I read this post . They must have had similar infatuation.

  6. next time onwards i’ll nver ask how are things at office, i’ll just ask what you writing about n when, next 🙂

  7. Please update your blog…Trying to get a glimpse of your writing prowess in facebook updates isn’t enough for your readers! I know FMS keeps you busy, but this blog deserves at least a weekly update! Write.

  8. Divya Bharti’s death has done different things to different people 🙂
    I remember the eve of Divya Bharti’s death and the rumors floating around. This post has made me nostalgic. Those were the days! I miss my childhood.

  9. Amazing writing…her death meant a lot to a 15-year old me at that time and it still does…growing up not too far from u in Shillong…..the way u have expressed your experience in inseparable layers of pain and joy is remarkable

  10. nyc post
    i m also a biggest fan of divya
    whn divya was died i was not brn at tht tym
    ths post mke me cry
    lve u divya

  11. I had subscribed to comments on this post. I feel old today. The world has post-DB people all grown up and reading blogs.

  12. The little snippets of your personal experience that you bring to your posts makes them a wonderful read………it takes me back to my childhood and my experiences growing up………I can easily see you drawing from these very incidents and emotions if you ever chose to become a writer

    P.S. : The only memory I retain about the said incident is my father telling me that her name was an acronym for Died In a Very Young Age

  13. Jyotilekha Says:

    Beautiful write up Snata!! I could actually visualize u dancing. Such a nostalgic time you took me thru.
    Keep writing!

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