Dhaka, Bangladesh
Martyr of Samipatti

Martyr of Samipatti

Choksi wondered why everyone said his grandpa was a martyr. He had discovered the meaning to be "a person who is killed for his religious or other beliefs". So, how did this title fit? He came to know several things about his grandfather only after the old man died. That he was 95 (which he'd thought was an age you only found in books). That his name was Sarvotham Marthanda Pillai (Choksi had always called him Grandpa, and other people called him Sarvu Thatha). And, most surprising of all, that his grandfather was a martyr. Choksi and his parents took a train to Madurai and then a taxi to Samipatti, which was the village where his grandfather had died. Choksi told his cousin Arvind: "How can he be a martyr, man? He wasn't shot dead or hanged, was he? Moreover, he lived to such a deadly old age! Martyrs are young men who are shot or hanged. They live and die for their country." His cousin, who didn't like questioning things that had already happened, grunted. "Grandpa did live for the country. He was very active in the Independence movement. Just because no one hanged him, it doesn't mean he wasn't a martyr." "How was he active?" "For one thing," said Arvind, "when a British revenue officer was having a bath under a waterfall, Grandpa threw a stone at him." "That's all?" asked Choksi, ashamed of his grandfather for the first time. "The British officer slipped and floated away down the river. It took an entire team of swimmers to rescue him." It was time for the funeral procession. Almost the entire village turned up. They walked slowly down the main street. It was a hot day, and people streamed with sweat. Arvind nudged him and said, "See? One of Grandpa's admirers!" Choksi looked up to see a man standing in the balcony of a small hotel, wiping his eyes and looking miserable. Choksi said, "I'd no idea Grandpa was so popular!" Two days later, the village arranged a function where lots of people turned up and praised The Martyr of Samipatti. But by that time Choksi had located a laptop and googled the word. Martyr: a person who is killed for his religious or other beliefs. Sitting in the front row with other relatives, Choksi whispered to Arvind: "He's NOT a martyr! He died on his own." His mother heard him and said casually: "Not here, darling. Later." The truth must be told, now. Choksi badly wanted to tell someone. Arvind wasn't even looking at him. When the speeches got really boring, he slipped away. Somewhere near the last row, he saw the man who'd cried in the hotel balcony. As Choksi left the hall, the man got up and followed him out. "You were crying," Choksi said. He explained he had seen the man during the procession. The man laughed. "Crying! It was so hot that day. My face was streaming with sweat." "Oh." "I'm a journalist. I came all the way from Madurai to cover this man's death because I heard he died a martyr." He snorted. "This whole trip has been a waste! He's just an old man who died when he had to. He's not a martyr!" "I'm sorry," said Choksi. "Why should you be sorry?" "I'm his grandson." A special day "It's not your fault. January 30 is Martyr's Day. That's the day Mahatma Gandhi died. In the North, in Punjab, they also observe March 23 as Martyr's Day, because that's when Bhagat Singh died. You can't say you're a martyr just because you were in the Freedom Movement 60 years ago!" "I agree with you," said Choksi. "Grandpa wasn't a martyr, according to Google." He said again, "I'm sorry!" The journalist was warming up. "Imagine a man holds on to his true belief. He doesn't try to hide it, even when other people are against it. Even if it's against the law. Even when he knows he may die for it. You have to be a man or woman with that kind of strength inside you. And then if someone kills you because of your belief, you're called a martyr. Nowadays, you find everyone wanting to be a martyr!" "Everyone?" "Imagine a political party takes out a procession. Some of the marchers turn violent. The police start shooting to scare them away. One of them gets hit and dies. You know what happens next? The party makes him a hero and a martyr. That's bad because it dilutes the worth of the real martyrs like Gandhi and Bhagat Singh." "And grandfather?" "What to do, they've made him a martyr now!" "Will you write about him in your paper?" The journalist thought for a bit. "Maybe not as an article." He smiled. "Maybe a little story about this village, and the Martyr of Samipatti." Choksi clapped his hands in delight. "That's too good of you!" "And maybe about the martyr's grandson!" "Really?"

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