Durga Pujas were right around the corner and pandals were springing up everywhere. Stretches of fields were filled with Kans grass as if the clouds had descended to the ground to see the idols in their making.
Binoy noticed the scaffoldings beside his house with amazement while boarding his school bus. He wondered who were the people who built them and where they disappeared after the festivity was over.
School was like any other day. Like all “good children,” he started his homework once he was back. A few minutes into studies, he heard a knock on his door.
“Coming!” He said while he hurried to open the door. Standing outside was a boy around eleven years old.
“My kite fell in your backyard”, he said with a sheepish grin on his face. As he got out into the backyard to look for the kite, Binoy asked him, “What’s your name?”
“Wasim.” He replied. “And yours?”
“I am Binoy. Hey don’t you work at that pandal?” He asked pointing at those bamboo structures near his house.
“Yes,” Wasim smiled.
He saw what Binoy was eating and asked him what it was.
“It’s a doughnut”, Binoy replied.”Want one?”
Wasim hesitated at first but then he took a bite anyway.
“It’s very tasty. Thanks. I think I should be going now.” He walked away without another word.
The next day while on his way to school, Binoy waved at him. Wasim waved back. This carried on for a few days and little by little they got to know more about each other.
Wasim’s life wasn’t what one would call “luxurious”. In fact, his life was quite the opposite. He lived in a village near the border of Bangladesh. His parents were fishers and they worked very hard to afford their meals. After Wasim had trusted Binoy enough, he confided in him that every year during this time, they had “contacts” who helped them to cross the border and come to India. They had neither passport nor Visa.
Once Binoy casually asked him that why was he working on a Durga Puja Pandal even though he was Muslim. Wasim muttered almost to himself, “Hunger doesn’t have a religion!”
And then, before Binoy could react, he mentioned very casually that he offered his prayers every day religiously and his religious bent only helped him master his art. Binoy went on musing after that day whether religion really unites people or it divides.
Finally, the town was dressed like a new bride and pujas arrived. The schools were closed; the town was drowned in the beats of the drums and dazzled in new illumination. They saw less of each other and Binoy almost forgot about Wasim in the excitement of the Pujas. When on the day of Dusshera, the winners of the Best Pandal Award were announced, he came to know that the Pandal next to his house had won the second place. He immediately remembered Wasim. He quickly went on enquiring about him. No one could furnish any details, till one person – the porter working with the supplier of bamboo sticks – opened his mouth.
”Wasim has gone back to his village.” He said after puffing smoke through his bidi.
Looking at the bewildered face of Binoy, he laughed. “What! You think he would be there to go up on stage and receive the award? Poor little boy, you are still unaware of the complications of life.”
He bent down at Binoy. “Those who are artists and constructors never get these awards. Those who spend money do. Their images will go up on newspapers; no one cares about small people who work day and night to create these idols and pandals.”
Binoy came back to his home in silence.
“Wasim is probably in Bangladesh, now,” he thought. Wasim would never even know that his craftsmanship had won a prize, but he knew that though they would perhaps never meet again, Wasim had taught him a life lesson that the media, news, and textbooks could never have taught.