A faint noise reached the kitchen. The tenor and cadence so familiar, drifting from the streets not so far away. Women in the kitchen froze. Not one woman sobbed, not one child whimpered. This was a set of people that had seen and survived many riots before. Qasai Tola was now silent.
And sitting within this circle of women, oblivious to all that was happening as the tiny town of Sultanpur burned, was Bena, biting happily into the honey-soaked goodness of a hazaar waraq ka paratha. It was difficult to imagine that it had been less than five minutes since the first incoherent chant. Now it was loud and clear, and very, very near. Perhaps at their doorstep, and reaching an aching crescendo. Bena merrily joined in what seemed to her to be a joyful ditty about food.
Eight-year-old Benazir, Bena to friends and family, is perhaps the happiest child you know, fond of jalebis, limericks and raw mangoes. She is surrounded by friends and family, and her life is everything an idyllic childhood should be: protected, loved and edged with rainbow-gold. One summer that bubble bursts when Bena is witness to riots, death, destruction and abuse, in a setting that explains little, and expects children to forget it all. But Bena, defined by her grit and audacity, is different.
This, then, is the story of Bena’s Summer…