|Vivek at Aluabari Road station along with Bapan Das (right) before leaving for Bihar. Picture by Mehedi Hedaytullah
Seven years ago, Vivek Rai, then 14, was found loitering at Haptiagachh Bazar, a small settlement in Chopra, about 40km from Islampur.
Today, the 21-year-old youth has been reunited with his family in Marwa Patotari village in Bihar’s Samastipur.
He boarded the Mahananda Express early September, along with some of those who had looked after him all these years, to reach his village.
Vivek’s father, unable to deal with the boy’s disappearance, died soon after. His mother had died before.
Vivek’s elder brother Amlesh Rai received the boy. The whole village gathered to see him.
Hugging his younger brother Amlesh said the family thought Vivek was dead and they even performed his shraddh or the last rites.
“When Vivek was around 12, he had been hit on the head during a violent incident that took place in our village during Saraswati Puja. Some time later, he went missing,” Amlesh said.
Some time after Vivek’s disappearance, riots broke out in Samastipur in which several people were killed and the boy’s family thought Vivek had also been killed.
But in reality, the boy had left the village, although he does not remember now why and how he left.
In April 2006, Bapan Das, who had joined Calcutta Police as a constable the previous year, saw the boy wandering about in Haptiagachh Bazar.
“I remember spotting the boy, roaming aimlessly, his clothes in tatters. I, along with some friends, tried to find out where the boy was from. But he seemed disturbed and his answers were incoherent. We approached Afela Khatun, who ran a small tea stall nearby, and asked her to look after the boy. She agreed and I promised to raise money for the boy’s upkeep and treatment,” Das said.
He added that after about a month, he took the boy to Nirmal Bera, a psychiatrist at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and after prolonged treatment that stretched to seven years, Vivek began recalling his past.
“He could name his parents and his village in Bihar’s Samastipur. I contacted Bidhannagar Welfare Society, an NGO based in Siliguri. They got in touch with Samastipur police who located Vivek’s family in Mareya. They confirmed that Vivek had been missing for seven years,” Das said.
The boy has two elder brothers, sisters-in-law and two sisters, one of whom is married.
“The only thing I can recall is that I had boarded a train. I do not know how I reached Haptiagachh. I will miss Afela, who treated me like her son,” Vivek said before leaving.
Das said Afela, whose husband and son are labourers — her son works elsewhere — showed tremendous dedication in nursing Vivek back to health. “We provided the money but Afela took care of the boy and even took him to the doctor in Siliguri for regular check-ups. We are indebted to her and salute her,” he said.
Afela broke down when she came to see Vivek off at Alubari Road station.
“What can I say? He was always a good boy. It is heartbreaking for me to let him go after all these years. But I am happy that he will be reunited with his family members who must have suffered a lot all these years,” said the 35-year-old woman.