Murdered Sharbani Paul’s mother Shikha Sarkar and (above) father Bijoy. Pictures by Sanat Kr Sinha
Little Srabonita Paul, 5, thinks her parents will “come down from the sky” someday to see her. Brother Surojit, older by four years, knows they will never return to give him the “surprise gift” they had promised for his birthday next week.
Such is the story of hope and despair being played out at a Barrackpore address since Sunday morning, when a young cop armed with a semi-automatic rifle destroyed a family in a fit of rage over an allegedly illicit affair gone sour.
Metro revisited the home of 36-year-old murder victim Sharbani Paul’s parents on Wednesday to find her and husband Manabendra’s two children fighting to hold on to their innocence in the face of tragedy. If Surojit seems to have suddenly become nine going on 19, sister Srabonita’s fairytale imagination barely hides the scars.
“Baba (father) had promised to get me something on Sunday. But he did not tell me what… It was supposed to be a surprise,” recalled Surojit, who turns 10 next Monday.
The usual Sunday outing to his grandparents’ home on N.N. Bagchi Road, 3km from the Pauls’ Palta home, did happen for Surojit, but at 2 in the night, via Rashmoni Ghat to perform his parents’ last rites.
On Tuesday, he sat cross-legged on a bed, head bent and eyes fixed on his lap. He barely spoke, answering only in monosyllables or nods. In his private moment of grief, he was perhaps reflecting on what his father used to tell him. “Porashona kore bhalo result korbe…. boroder shamman korbe (study hard and score good marks… always show respect to elders).”
Grandmother Shikha Sarkar said television coverage of Sunday morning’s incident and its aftermath, accompanied by footage of constable Pijush Kanti Ghosh in handcuffs and photographs of the victims, was taking its toll on Surojit.
“Why are they showing this over and over again, Dida (grandma)? It’s over….They cannot bring Baba-Maa back, can they?” she quoted Surojit as saying.
But like a magnet, any mention of the incident that snatched his parents and paternal aunt Rohini Roy immediately draws Class IV student Surojit to the TV. “Tears roll down his cheeks every time he sees their photographs in the news,” Shikha said.
Maternal uncle Bibhash, one of the witnesses to the shooting, has been trying to keep the kids occupied with computer games but Surojit is hard to console.
“Every now and then we catch him staring at his parents’ framed picture kept on a desk. Sometimes, he stares blankly or breaks into sobs,” Shikha said.
As she spoke, Srabonita sat next to her fiddling with the lace of her frock. Asked how she was doing, the five-year-old smiled and showed photographs of her dancing at school functions. “This was during Saraswati Puja,” she said, pointing to one.
News of their parents’ death had reached the siblings through neighbours rather than someone from the family. “Surojit and Srabonita were told that their parents were no more before we elders could comprehend the enormity of the tragedy that suddenly struck our family,” said grandfather Bijoy Sarkar, an employee of the Ichhapore Metal and Steel Factory.
For the Sarkar couple, bringing up their orphaned grandchildren is not so much a worry now as how to ensure that they go back to a semblance of normality. Surojit and Srabonita have been finding it hard to sleep over the past three nights.
“They wake up with a start in the middle of the night and I have to pat them back to sleep,” Shikha said.
Surojit having to perform the last rites of Sharbani and Manabendra has apparently made it worse for him. When he was asked to put some rice in each of his parents’ mouth before the funeral, the boy asked his grandmother: “But will Baba-Maa eat it, Dida?”
The nine-year-old also could not understand why he was being asked to touch his parents’ faces with a flaming torch. “I cannot do this,” he had protested.
He went ahead with the ritual only after grandfather Bijoy assured him that “they won’t get hurt”.
Psychologists say the two children would need much emotional support to tide over the tragedy. “The immediate vacuum can be unsettling for a child,” said psychologist Salony Priya. “The five-year-old girl is too small to understand what has happened, but the trauma of loss will set in later.”
Priya said the siblings must be insulated from any kind of speculation about their parents’ death. “There should be no overt display of sympathy either,” she added.
The psychologist recommended watching out for any changes in behaviour. “Counselling for the caregivers — in this case the grandparents — is also important because they are coping with a crisis as well.”