3 January, 2020

Every life lost is sad. A life lost so young in service of humanity is sadder. Amit Baliyan’s death in his attempt to save lives from fire. In the process of saving lives, he gave his own.

Children have heroes and heroines. I do hope Amit’s story of courage, of sacrifice and of duty is imprinted in many young and growing lives of today. And they grow up remembering Amit Baliyan as their childhood inspiration.

Manu Da was a Santhal youth in our school. He was one of those men who we knew was a part of Don Bosco, Siliguri. As Don Bosco was coming up in the outskirts of Siliguri. Ektiasal. And we were the first batch of students.

As we got down from the green school bus, Manu Da would receive us. As we boarded the bus, Manu Da would wave at us.

Manu Da would be in the playground. Playing football. He would break into a sprint. And we would follow. Manu Da was our dear friend.

Manu Da was a Christian. I say this not to highlight his religious identity. But to describe how I remember him. A Silver Cross across his black bare bodied muscular chest. He was a Hero to me.

One weekend, Friday as many of us jumped around the field with a ball, we grumbled that the field was too small for many of us to play. And think of next year. We will have more students. Someone said.

In midst of our grumble, Manu Da said that he will explore if we can clear some of the fields within the school boundary for us to play. He said he would see over the weekend.

Later that day we boarded our school bus. And went home. Manu Da bidding us goodbye.

Next Monday. As soon as I boarded the bus, I knew something was wrong. There was no “Good Morning”. Bus uncle was gloomy. Sister Teresa (I forget her name. I think it was Sister Teresa) was not in her usual broad cheerful smile. I frowned. Looked around. And asked, “What happened?” No body said anything. My friends did not know anything. They only knew as much as I knew. That Bus Uncle and Sister were sitting gloom faced. On the way we picked up Aldo Da. Our teacher. He too was gloomy. We were clueless.

We reached school. Eventually. Immediately after getting down from the bus, we were directed to the Assembly. Our Rector Father Paul Taverna was already at the Assembly. We stood in line.

After the customary prayers, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven”, Father began speaking.

On Saturday afternoon, Manu Da had died. From a Snake-bite. As he was roaming around the field on the other side. Clearing some bushes. It was a poisonous snake. Some of us could not believe our ears. Our Manu Da. No more. And some children cried.

Tanmay was behind me in Assembly Line. He whispered. “Manu Da was probably looking to make a football field for us to play.”

I felt so sad. That day. That we lost Manu Da from us. And I felt sadder because I believed what Tanmay said.

I never had any fascination for comic book heroes. Somehow. Though I liked Mandrake the most amongst all.

For me, for a long, very long period of life, my Hero was Manu Da.

I had told my Mother once in my childhood. Of a dream that stayed for long. Manu Da. With the Cross dangling. Digging a field.

I had woken up. My Ma told me next morning. Once I had told her of my dream. “Do not worry, your Manu Da is in Heaven. With Jesus Christ.”

And I believed her then. And found some solace.

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