Out of War

By Swati Sengupta

The blood was oozing steadily, so she stuffed the wound with cloth and began to walk—slow, staggering steps at first. Then she increased the pace and managed to walk on. The cloth soaked up the blood and slowly, the flow reduced; it only oozed a bit and fresh pieces of cloth pressed tightly against the wound seemed to have stopped the bleeding for now. Two bullets that had pierced her skin and flesh were still wedged in her abdomen, so she desperately needed to get to a doctor. But both her own identity and the fact that she had been injured were such terrible secrets that Suchitra could not just walk into any doctor’s clinic or hospital. How many hospitals or health centres were available in villages in any case? She pulled her saree around her in such a way that the wounds were not visible. Thankfully, it was winter and she could wrap a shawl around as well. Stepping onto the pucca road from the forest, she met a lone cyclist. She asked him for a favour. Could he drop her to the home of someone in the next village? He agreed but she was sure he would be asking for something in return. It was a long stretch of silent road and as the sun shone brightly in the winter sky, Suchitra Mahato rode pillion on the bicycle of this stranger. The pain had numbed most parts of her body, but she knew she had to handle this man with equanimity.

‘What can I give you? A poor woman like me can only arrange some money with difficulty. If you take the trouble to come to this side of the village a few days later, I’ll see if I can give you some money,’ Suchitra told the stranger.

‘What will I do with money? You know what might be more useful,’ he chuckled.

He asked for her phone number but she told him she was too poor to own a mobile phone. In some other situation, Suchitra would have probably slapped the man, or beaten him black and blue. But right now, the need of the hour was to save her own life.

‘I thought that if he made another move, I would just scream out my name and show him my wound just to scare him away. Shaala! Shunbi ami ke?’ Fortunately, he stopped at that. So she let him go. It was the only time, Suchitra tells me, that she let a person who had misbehaved with her get away. ‘In the end I probably forgave him because it was due to him that I am alive today.’

This was the story Suchitra told me. This was her version of how she had escaped from the forest when she was hit by two bullets on her belly during an encounter with the police, as she and CPI (Maoist) politburo leader Kishanji were running from one part of the forest to another. I had learnt from other sources that the man on the bicycle knew to whom he was offering the ride. Perhaps that is the reason why he did not make another move. The name ‘Suchitra Mahato’ was widely associated with the killing of policemen and political party functionaries in West Bengal’s Jangalmahal for ten years or so. It was bound to be treated with fear and awe.

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