“Ashu is on his way.”, Masterbabu went to each person in his neighborhood to declare his son’s expected arrival. 

Antaryami Mohapatra was the headmaster of the Upper Primary school of village Balianta in Odisha. Everybody in the village addressed him fondly as ‘Masterbabu’. All of them had great regard for the saintly school teacher who was invested in eradicating illiteracy from the village. He had lost his wife after she gave birth to their son. His next door neighbour Devki mausi (aunty), who was like a mother to Masterbabu, had helped take care of the child; Masterbabu had christened the baby Ashirvad, or ‘Ashu’ in short.

Devki mausi had often tried to reason with Antaryami to consider remarriage for his own sake, and for Ashu’s. But Antaryami would never entertain mausi’s idea. He would always brush it away by saying that he loved his late wife too much to remarry and he was certain no stepmother would care for Ashu as much as mausi did. 

‘Time and tide wait for none’. 25 years on, Ashu had completed University education and joined the Indian Administrative Services (IAS). He had married Leena, his girlfriend from the University. Ashu was coming to Odisha to report for his posting at Nabarangpur. Ashu and Leena had convinced Masterbabu, who had by then retired from service, to live with them in Nabarangpur. 

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Masterbabu was excited about his son’s arrival and had informed the entire village about it. “Ashu is on his way”, he had told everyone.

They moved to Nabarangpur, among Odisha’s most backward districts. The district had suffered from years of administrative neglect and corruption. People’s dissatisfaction had led to Naxalism growing roots. The tussle between security forces and hiding Naxals was on in the jungles. 

Ashu focused on improving administration to address root problems. Just like his father, Ashu wanted to bring about a positive change. He was rapidly rooting out corruption from the system and bringing back development. He was heavily engaged with the local community and had managed to bring many local youths back from Naxalism to the mainstream. The people of the region saw a ray of hope – things were already improving. 

Masterbabu was a proud man. Ashu had turned out the man Masterbabu wanted his son to become – all his sacrifices had borne fruit. On top of that, he was going to become a grandfather soon. Leena was past her due date and the baby was expected anytime. She had gone into mild labour. Ashu, who had been out inspecting an irrigation project in a remote village, had received news and had started on his way back home.

Masterbabu would only find out the following morning that, on the way back, Ashu had been killed in a landmine explosion. The landmine was meant for the security forces patrolling the area.

Meanwhile at the Nursing home, Leena was screaming in labour. Blissfully unaware of Ashu’s demise, Masterbabu reassured Leena, “Ashu is on his way”.

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Photo By: Steinbach

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This is an entry for Five00-7, a writing event hosted by ArtoonsInn. Check out the event prompt and guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/five00-7/

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