ghosts of paharpur

(3rd and concluding part of Story 2 : Tales From Paharpur.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 7)

Read Part-1 of Story 2

durga dash blog paharpur

“What is there to explain? You ……..”,  I could hardly contain my anger and my tongue was ready with a hundred expletives. But I controlled myself.

“Well anyway, I cannot share this with anybody as it will ruin the future of a girl from our village. But, now I am in no mood to listen or say anything.” I banged the door and left.

Next day I heard that Jaya had fallen into the well in their backyard. Everybody wondered how she had fallen accidentally, because the well had a very high protective wall around. I wanted to talk to her and assure her that I was not going to tell anybody regarding what I saw. But how was I going to do it? In our village, it was near impossible for a young man to talk a young woman in private. Being a sensitive issue, I couldn’t eve risk sending a message through someone.

Of course, Prakash was the exception. For him everything was possible. I went to him. He was alone in his consultancy room

“I don’t know how you get this message across. But, assure her that I am not going to tell anybody about what I saw. You also assure her that this will remain a secret among the three of us. Let her get married and go to her in laws’ house without any trouble.”

She must have got the message and the assurance. No such accident happened afterwards.

All four of us – Prakash, Tirky, Ranka and I joined other villagers and her relatives to help in the marriage arrangements. Kewda flowers adorned the pandal where she was to get married. It was Prakash’s idea. He was the director of the pandal decorations. One could see kewda flowers everywhere in and around the pandal. Even the entrance of her house.

 

 It was the summer of the year I completed my graduation.  Two years had passed since Jaya’s marriage and one year back she was blessed with a daughter. Prakash had once again become my friend as usual. Meanwhile my house too had electricity. Still, during the hot summer nights we slept on our open verandas or sometimes on the roof top of Prakash’s house.

Theft was a common problem during summer as the house doors were left open for the sake of the ladies who could not make use of the open verandas.  Coolers and air-conditioners were still a distant luxury and fans did not provide any relief in closed rooms.

But, that summer it was not the sighting of thieves, but the encounter with ghosts that became the prime concern of the villagers. Some people reported that they had seen the ghost of Sarman near the kewda bushes of Kalindi river. Sarman was dead five years back. He used to be a drunkard.

After some days, the apparition of a young girl was reported to be seen by some people on the back side by lane of Prakahs’s house. It resembled a girl who had committed suicide two months back. She was from the neighbouring village and she had some mental problems. Her parents came to Prakash for consultations. Sometimes she also came along with her parents. He assured them that everything would be alright. He proposed to conduct a special puja. The family agreed. The elaborate puja rituals were conducted in the presence of the girl in a room where no one else was allowed for five hours.

After that the girl seemed to have recovered to some extent. But when the situation became worse after a few months, Prakash advised them to go to the government hospital in Bhubaneswar.  The day before they were to go to Bhubaneswar, the girl was found hanging from her neck from the ceiling of their house. There were rumours that the girl was in her initial stage of pregnancy.

One day Prakash’s father spotted the apparition on their rooftop. At that time there was no one else other than Prakash and his father in their house. His mother and two sisters had gone to attend a marriage in a distant place. His father was recovering from a knee injury.

His father called and begged me, “Look son. I advised him not to dabble in these weird practices. Now this dead girl’s soul is coming to haunt us. I am afraid one day it will kill him. Both of us can’t move fast. You are his best friend. Will you, for some days, till my wife and the daughters return, sleep in our veranda?”

For me, whether I slept on our veranda or theirs did not make any difference. Moreover, I was myself curious about this ghost. Coincidentally, after I started sleeping on their veranda the apparition was not seen around.

The village folks used to organise many kinds of pujas and rituals for the overall wellbeing of families and to purify their houses. One such puja was dedicated to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It was called Trinath mela. The offering during the puja included sweet beverages with generous doses of bhang.

As suggested by one of the village priests, his father organised Trinath mela in his house even though his wife and daughters were not back yet.  All of us eagerly waited for such a puja. There was no need to circulate formal invitation to attend the puja. Whoever got a hint of it, came.

It was a full moon night. Hundreds of people from our village and the surrounding ones had come. They were seated on the mattresses spread on the open street in front of his house. After the Sanskrit chanting part was over, the priest started to lead the bhajans to the accompaniment of mridangam and cymbals. Everyone joined the chorus. The otherwise sleepy and silent night atmosphere of Paharpur was abuzz with activities.  As the sounds of the bhajan spread around, more and more people joined in.

Tirky, Ranka and I were the volunteers to prepare and pass around the bhang beverage. We were told to be the last ones to drink. We followed it. After the first round of bhang, people became more and more involved in the bhajan. The sounds of mridangams and cymbals and the singing became louder.

Prakash’s father called me. When I went near, he asked, “Have you seen Prakash?”

I looked around and could not trace him. “I don’t see him here,” I said.

“All three of you go and search. Do it now.”

We knew that he was not inside their main house because we used to go inside frequently to the store at the back of the house to bring sweeteners and other items. He must be in the adjacent house, maybe, in his consultancy room.

The front room was locked from inside. We knocked and shouted, but there was no response. We wanted to see if we could enter from the back side of the house and surprisingly, the back door was open.

I saw a veiled figure moving at a distance among the bushes in the back alleys. I told them, “Both of you go inside and see. I have a ghost to catch.”

Tirky said, “Don’t go alone. Let me come with you.”

I said, “No. Don’t worry. There seems to be some serious problem inside. Why would this back door be open? Don’t waste time. Go fast.”

 As I started in the direction of the veiled figure, it started running. I too started running and increased my pace. The veiled figure tripped and fell down.

It was Jaya. Recovering herself she fell at my feet. She was crying.

She said, “Please save me. I came to kill him. But I did not kill him. When I went there he had already been dead.”

“But, why did you want to kill him?”

“I had no option…….”

I heard Tirky’s shout, “Babu, where are you? There is something seriously wrong with Prakash. He is not moving. He is not talking.”

I shouted back, “I am coming in a minute. Go and alert his father and others.”

I said to Jaya, ‘”I don’t have time to hear your story. But don’t worry. I believe you.”

I ran back. It was a strange sight. It was for the first time that I was entering this room at the back of his consultancy room. He never allowed anyone to come here. The room was full of weird objects like skulls, strange coloured liquids in different bottles, and old palm leaf manuscripts. The smell of mogra incense sticks mixed with kewda flowers filled the room. A big photo of Goddess Kali was adorned with kewda and red hibiscus flowers.

There sat Prakash, like a statue, leaning against a wall, his head hung to one side.

Prakash’s father came with a few others. Among them was a faith healer and a tantric from a nearby village. He checked his pulse, eyes and breathing and said, “He is dead.”

Praksash’s father gave out a weird shriek as he came and hugged his son. Some more people were spotted coming inside.

The tantric said, “One of you go and stop the puja. Tell people to go home. Tell them Prakash has suddenly fallen ill. Don’t spread the news of death right now.”

 One of Prakash’s uncles was present. He said, “Should we inform the police?”

The tantric said, “Have you gone mad? As far as I remember our area has never seen the involvement of police in any of our affairs. It will only bring more problem to your family. By the way do you all know the cause of his death?”

Everyone fell silent and looked at one another.

“I can clearly see the symptoms. He died due to ghost bites.”

Later on, after a couple of weeks I met Jaya at the Rajnagar Bus Stand. She was going back to Bhubaneswar after a prolonged stay at her parents’ house.

She said, “Yes, I wanted to kill him. I had no option. After my child was born I received a letter from him along with samples of the letters I had written to him. In fact it was he who made me write those love letters. I was a fool in those days. Before I realised, my sympathy for him had turned into love. It was not actually love. Well, I don’t know. He made me write those letters. I also have some of his letters. But what use are those for me?

Even what happened that day, when you caught us by surprise, was part of his black mail.  He threatened to prevent my marriage. I went to him to plead to spare me and destroy those letters. He said that he would return the letters on one condition. He did not want intercourse with me. That would spoil my virginity. Scoundrel. As if he was doing me a great favour. But he wanted that somehow I helped him release his urge.

After my suicide attempt, he sent me a message that he was destroying my letters and was not going to harm me in anyway in future. I thought he had reformed and the storm in my life was over.

But it was not to be. He had not destroyed my letters. Now he did not want sex from me. He wanted that I offer him my child. He wanted to use her to be used as a human sacrifice in the ritual to cure his legs.”

I handed over a bundle of papers sealed in an envelope. “Here are the letters. I found these when I was helping his father clean out his trunks filled with strange ancient books and palm leaf manuscripts.”

I could sense the thankfulness and gratitude in the whole of her being even though she did not say anything.

I asked, “Do you also believe that he died due to ghost bytes?

“I don’t know. All I can think of is that God has been kind enough to save me from trouble.”

Many people of Paharpur continued to believe that he died due to ghost bites. There were other theories. Some said there were serious procedural lapses in the conduct of Puja. Someone seems of have noticed and pointed out to the priest that the photos of Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh was upside down. But the priest did not take any notice of it being under the influence of bhang even before the puja stared. Some said that the devotees who gathered were not satisfied with the quality of the bhang served that night.

There were also rumours that whenever the ghosts were sighted that summer, Jaya’s bother Vikram was invariably seen somewhere nearby.

find her vulnerability

(Tales From Paharpur : Story 2, Part 2.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 6)

tales from paharpur2

Continued from the previous post

After High School, the few who wanted to continue studies had to pedal ten miles to the college in our nearby small town Rajnagar. Coincidentally, my father who was a driver in the state transport services, got allotted with official quarters in Rajnagar by the time I finished High School. My family shifted to Rajnagar. I lost touch with the gang and subsequently the gang dismantled. Whenever I spent time in the village during long vacations, I used to see Prakash. But it was only a courtesy call.

But after my Intermediate, we were back in the village. My father had retired. Of course I continued my studies, cycling the ten miles, sometimes alone, sometimes with the other few.  Once again I became close to Prakash. On holidays, on his request, I got him seated on my cycle back seat and took him around the village, near the pond, to the mango groves at the foot of the hills and to the village across the river to a tantric. By this time he was barely able to walk.

Prakash discontinued his studies after High School. But, he had become a kind of a village physician and a soothsayer. His father was a retrenched employee of a Public Sector Employee. He went to court and subsequently won the case. As a result he got huge amounts in compensation. That was how his house became the first pucca house with a cemented roof in our village.

One day I asked Prakash, “Why can’t you do something for your own legs. You claim that so many people have been benefited by your prescriptions”

“I know the remedy. That book has prescriptions even for bringing the dead to life. It is only about perfect execution and fulfilling all conditions.”

“So, those conditions must be as impossible as bringing back the dead”,  I said sarcastically.

But he was cool and he said, “Do you want to know the prescription for my legs. It needs human sacrifice. Human… yes …. human.”

“Is it not unfair? A whole human being for a pair of legs?”

“You are no one to judge the prescriptions of that sacred book. Look, it is like this. There are certain types of high quality human souls.  One hundred ordinary lives are worth sacrificing for one such human being.”

It was very difficult to win an argument with a person like Prakash. His premises were entirely different. I was only wondering where in that scale of the quality of superhuman beings did Prakash stand at that point of time.

I asked him, “Tell me one thing. People say your tantric friend in our neighboring village sacrificed his own daughter to have his hold over ghosts and goblins.  Is it true?”

“Ha ha…. he is an ordinary tantric. A fraud. Had he done so, he would have been much more powerful by now.”

“Ok. At least you promise me one thing that you are never going to do such a horrible thing as going for human sacrifice. Do you now that it may land you up in jail? People who have committed murders have been hanged. Moreover, we don’t know what a person can become before his death. There is no such thing as some human beings housing superior souls. During ancient times people in power made out this theory to suppress others.”

But, I was not sure my words would have any effect on him. I had a feeling that Prakash would one day kill someone for his tantric practices even though till then he had never shown any violent tendencies. In fact I had rarely seen him become angry. Still then, who knows?

He assured me. “Babu, don’t worry. Do you think I can ever do such a thing? To tell you the truth I myself do not believe the strange prescriptions of the book. These are just psychological things. But, the harmless prescriptions sometimes help these poor village folks. That’s why I am continuing with the practices.”

 All my doubts were put to rest as he made himself more and more helpful to the village people. Whenever he encountered any serious health issues he advised the patient to go to the Hospital in Rajnagar. The front room of his house was made into a grocery shop manned by him and his father alternately. Their neighour’s house, which was vacant for a long time, was bought by his father. He used this house for medical consultancy. He had also learnt homeopathy. Now, he was focusing more on homeopathy than the tantric healing practices.

In the afternoon one day when I flung open the door of his consultancy room I was shocked. He and Jaya were in a compromising position. Usually, whenever I knocked, Prakash used to open the door after conforming that it was me.  That day just after knocking once, I pressed the door hard and  it flung open. Maybe, he had forgotten to latch it from inside.

It was such a shock. How could Jaya submit herself to the lustful wishes of Prakash while, she had ignored the advances of a handsome fellows like Tirky? What was more intriguing was that she was to marry after two months to a police constable who worked in Bhubaneswar.

Of course Jaya had her clothes on and maybe, I caught them, at the stage of the preliminaries. She got up and fled in an instant. Prakash was the cool scoundrel as usual.

“Sit down I will explain….,” he said.

(to be continued)

(My non-fiction book, IDLE HOURS: HOMOUR|LIFE HACKS|SOCIAL ISSUES|MEMOIRS, is now revised and enlarged. Get it from Aamzon Store. KindleUnlimited/Amazon Prime members  read it for free)

enter her heart

(Tales From Paharpur : Story 2, Part 1.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 5) 

kewda flower durga dash blog.jpg

Prakash was my childhood friend. He was afflicted with polio and his limp grew worse with age. We grew up together in Paharpur. The name Paharpur might have come from the fact that the village was surrounded by a number of hillocks.  My house was in the middle of the village, just opposite his.

We were in High School and he was our undisputed leader. Besides Prakash and I, our gang of four consisted of Tirky and Ranka. The school was in another village called Kantakpur, three kilometers  away. The three of us took turns to carry Prakash in our bicycles.  Being village boys, we had all started our education late and we were quite over aged for high school.

The dusty road to Kantakpur started after we crossed the river near thick bushes of kewda  flowers. One day, when we had just crossed the river, Prakash told us to stop. Calling out to Tirky he said, “Do you see the black bird sitting there on the tallest kewda plant?”

We craned our necks and narrowed our eyes to locate the blackbird. “Yes… yes. I see it,” Ranka shouted.

“Tirky, today is your lucky day. We have found what we were searching for.”

While Tirky nodded to show his understanding, Ranka and I demanded an explanation.

Tirky wanted to say something, but, Prakash stopped him. “Let me explain, he said, our friend Tricky has a crush on Jaya, that idiot Vikram’s sister. But he does not know how to approach her. I consulted the ancient manuscript that one of our great great grand fathers has left for us. It is written there that to seduce someone and make him or her do whatever you want you need to get the twig of a black bird’s  nest found in the kewda flower bushes. First, all of you go, search for the nest and get the twig. Then I will tell you what to do.”

The kewda plants were part of thick bushes consisting of various thorny plants and creepers. The possibility of snakes hiding in the thick undergrowth made the prospect of reaching that particular plant scary.

When Prakash saw that we were hesitating he came limping. He shouted and taunted calling us names. “Useless fellows, wait I will show you how to go inside.”  He used his stick to beat the undergrowth to make sure there was no snake. Then he crawled inside. In no time he was near the trunk of the plant that housed the nest. We followed him and were about to reach him when he signaled us to stop and be still.

I could see the tail end of a black snake dangling from the tree. The other portion seemed to be hidden in the nest.

He said, “Don’t be afraid. But be still. I know the snake mantra. It will not do us any harm.”

 He mumbled something and slowly touched the snake. We could see its head  emerging out of the nest. It went up the branch and slowly slid into another tree.

“Now your chances are double, Tirky. The scripture says if the nest is guarded by a snake you will enter her heart without any difficulty.”

When we came out with the twig, Prakash said, “Now we have to crush the twig to make powder out of it. Once the powder is ready I will empower it with a special mantra. You must find a way to mix it with the perfumed powder that she uses. Once she begins applying the powder, you will see the miracle happen.”

 Tirky bribed his sister to do it. His sister and Jaya were close friends.

But even after a week no miracle happened. Jaya continued to ignore Tirky. Rather the whole thing backfired. Someone leaked this conspiracy to Jaya’s elder brother.  One day when we had gone to the village pond for our morning ablutions, Tirky was badly thrashed by him and we, the co-conspirators, were let off after a stern warning to maintain respectable distance from Jaya.

Prakash was adamant. According to him the prescriptions of that rare ancient manuscript never failed. There must have been something wrong with our execution. Did Tirky’s sister really mix the twig powder with the powder that Jaya used?

We ourselves developed doubts about our execution. That prevented us from estimating Prakash no better than one of those village charlatans.

(to be continued)

Damodar Bridge

( #TalesFromPaharpur : 2nd and concluding part of story 1. Day 4 of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge) 

Continued from the previous post..

durga dash blog bridge

“What more can I say. If  I had time I would have told you the details about our training and our meeting with Subhash Chandra Bose. We were somewhere in Manipur. One day we were told to get ready for a great battle that  would be decisive.

But, before we were ready the British surrounded us. Damodar told us that our first task was to save Netaji. The battle lasted for five hours. We were able to repel the British. However, in  the process half of our troupe perished . Damodar was one of them. We did not have time to mourn or do the last rites properly as news arrived that British reinforcement could come at any time. Along with Netaji we escaped and were soon joined by a large number of our supporters.  Then we conducted a prayer meeting for the departed.

I have seen the dead body of Damodar with my own eyes. After coming back we did not know how to break the news to Chandra bhabi. But to our surprise, when the news of her husband’s death reached her, she laughed and said, ‘He cannot die before my death. He promised that he would never allow me to a live a widow’s life. My heart knows he is alive.’

She refused to follow the dictates ordained for a widow like going bangle-less,  wearing only white, or  going for a strict vegetarian diet. Initially we tried to convince her, but seeing her resistance we stopped. We also never brought up the issue of the death after that till this widow pension issue came up.”

Sahib asked my grandfather, “Do you believe that Netaji is dead?”

“No. It is a conspiracy. We got the news that he was killed in a plane crash. But we knew that it was a conspiracy by the British to demoralise us.”

Rain had stopped. Still grandpa ordered us to take our umbrellas and go with sahib till the fair road three miles away after the river. His office jeep waited for him there.

Next day we went to Chandra Dadi’s house. She was as usual at her cheerful best. We asked her if she still had some stock of Adisha. It is a sweet cake specialty which only a few can make properly. She was the best in our village.

She brought three pieces but we were six. We shared it.

We never got bored of teasing her for her patience in waiting for the useless old man or hearing her story about the short period she spent with her husband.

Budhia would be the first to start. “Dadi, once again I am telling you to forget your old man and marry me. He did not do anything to you then. Now also if he comes back, at this old age what pleasure will he give you?”

This much liberty was allowed with our grandparents.

She would respond, “You boys will not understand. When you see a young girl, you immediately think of raping her. But he was not like that.

I got married at ten. He was twenty. At thirteen or fourteen my parents brought me here. I had heard so many stories of first nights. How the men almost raped the young girls who had barely matured.

He used to fight with her mother who used to be adamant that I slept with him.

 ‘She is only a kid mother,’  he would say, ‘let her sleep in your room for some days.’

He would ask me again and again if I was comfortable. Everyday evening he brought sweets and other savories from Bhallapur or from Bittinagar. He said that he was arranging to go to Burma along with others after a month. With the money he earned in Burma, he hoped to get back the land that their family had sold to marry off three of his sisters. His father had died when he was twelve and since then he had been the sole bread earner of the family.

He asked his mother again and again to take care of me properly during his absence. Before going he asked me to tell him what I wanted him to bring when he returned from Burma.

I had heard that many people who went to Burma did not return. Some settled there while some died either during the strenuous journey. Some even got killed by the locals there. I myself had grown up with a lot of widows in my joint family.

I had heard that only the pious and the luckiest ones depart for the other world before their husbands. So it came out from my mouth, ‘I don’t want to die as a widow.’

He shouted, ‘who taught you such things? Don’t believe in such stupid stuff. Anyway, one of the other reasons for my not consummating our marriage is that it will keep me motivated to come back. I also don’t want my children to grow up without seeing their father. This is a common thing in all our villages here. Children see their father for the first time only when they are eight or ten. I don’t want to happen this to our children.  I have asked mother to take care of you. Still, if there is any problem, tell Loka’s mother or go back to your village. You take care of yourself and get all those stupid ideas out of your head.’

He urged her mother with folded hands to take care of me till he returned.

After he lef, his mother took care of me like her own daughter. This was something rare. Even now you see how young brides are treated as slaves. I was lucky.”

She enjoyed telling this story again and again. We also loved hearing it. Her missing husband had become a hero in our minds.

 

The sahib’s next visit to our village was in December. The water level in Kalindi was below knee deep and his jeep could now come right inside our village.

“A jeep in our village. Bhroom… bhroom,” shouted the children as they came and gathered around the jeep. Men too came out of their houses to find out and celebrate the unique event of the presence of a mechanical vehicle in our village. Women peered out of their houses from behind the half open doors.

The Sahib got down from the jeep and asked us to call Chandra Dadi as he was walking to her house. Budhia ran and knocked on the door.

When she opened the door sahib said, “Dadi ji, we have corrected the birth date in your voter Id card. Now you don’t need to be declared a widow to get your pension immediately.”

He asked us to go through the papers and assure her that the papers were in line with what he said. Now she was sixty three and was eligible for the old age pension. She was also eligible to get the arrears for the past three years in one lump sum.

There was jubilation all around. Then and there Dadi announced that when the first pension came there would be grand puja at the temple of our village deity.

The jeep driver took us till the river so that in case the vehicle got stuck in the sand we could be of help. We got down before the jeep entered the river and followed it.  The sahib too got down and walked along with us.

“I enjoy so much walking bare foot on the river sand.” he said. The jeep crossed the river without getting stuck.

When we were turning back, the sahib called us to come close. “I forgot to tell you one thing. I have taken up the matter to construct a bridge across this river and extend the fair road till your village. It may take some time, maybe years. Let us see”

We wanted to jump with joy. Being village boys we did not know how to say thanks formally. Maybe he got it from our looks.

Budhia said, “Sahib. We will name the bridge as Damodar Bridge and put his statue here. He is perhaps the only reckonable hero that our village has produced.”

“No. Don’t do it. Not as long as Dadi is alive. I wish that she live a very very long life. From the way you villagers are taking care of her, I know she will. But after she dies erect statues for both of them. Her heroics too need to be preserved for the posterity.”

We were a little confused and remained silent.

Sahib broke the silence, “I forgot to tell you one more thing. My name too is Damodar.”

(Concluded)

a2zchallenge day 3: Chandrakanta

( #TalesFromPaharpur: Story 1 Part 1. #BlogchatterA2Z series will include a number of stories set in a fictional Indian village of Paharpur. Here is the 1st part of story 1)

26367163764_47fde2519a_b.jpg

We were waiting near Kalindi river to receive the government official. Budhia was the first to sight him on the other side of the river.

“Look, sahib has arrived,” he exclaimed and stepped into the river to go to the other side and guide him to cross the river. He was not at all concerned that the only garment he was wearing, a half pant, would get wet. Of course he was carrying two towels – a dirty one for his own use and a new one for the sahib. It was July and the river had waist deep water.

We could see that the sahib refused to use our towel. He had got his own. He removed his shoes and changed over to the towel. Budhia offered to carry all his items, but he handed over only his small bag. Carrying his shoes and the  neatly folded pant and shirt in his own hands he stepped into the river following Budhia.

Our village Paharpur was half a kilometer from the river. All our villages in this southern part of Odisha had the same pattern.  The street road was from east to west flanked by row houses. Paharpur was no different.

We let the sahib lead us. He was already familiar with the village and the house of Chandra  dadi.

She was already waiting for us on the verandah of her thatched house. It was a small verandah barely three feet by six. The walls as well as the floor had a coating of cow dung mixed with mud. She had put a mattress on the floor.

Chandra dadi offered a lota of water to sahib to wash his feet. The sahib removed his shoes and washed his feet on the stone steps of the verandah.

He got himself seated on the mattress made of dried date palm leaves. Bhola, another of our companions, volunteered to go to his own house and get tea for sahib.

Budhia said, “Chandra Ma, what is the problem with you? See, how much pain sahib is taking to get you the pension.  It is after such a long time that we have got a kind hearted sahib. Or else, who would come to our village just to see that an old lady like you, whom all relatives have abandoned, gets her widow pension? The thought of walking three miles from the main road and crossing a half flooded river is itself so daunting for the town people.”

‘”God will bless you to sahib ji. All your children will flourish. You will live to be hundred,” she said.

‘”You are like my own mother, Dadi ji. Why are you reluctant to put your finger print? You deserve to get the pension. Nobody has seen your husband for five decades.  I have made all the papers ready. Just allow us to put your finger print and you will start getting your pension soon. It is not much. But you are old. The pension will take care of at least your medicines.”

“I know sahib. You are so kind hearted. But I also know that he is alive. My heart and my soul tell me that he is alive. How will I answer Chitragupta in the other world for receiving something what is not truthfully mine?”

My Grandfather Loknath Misra arrived on the scene. He could not stand straight and used a walking stick. We helped him climb the verandah and sit on the mattress.

He urged, “Chandra bhabi, I have seen with my own eyes what happened to Damodar. Do not hope against hope. Let us for the time being accept that he is alive. Then also, what is the harm in accepting the pension?  Anyway, you would have got it, had the voter card  not shown your age as fifty five instead of your actual age which is now well past sixty. You married fifty years back. What was your age then? Twelve, thirteen, or fourteen? Bhabi, I pray that you consent. Don’t think that after you start getting the pension our village will forsake you. Sixty rupees a month is a big amount, bhabiji, it is a big amount.”

‘It is not about  money, Loka. Who does not need money? Especially, a poor old lady like me who doesn’t have any support from her own relatives. This village has been very good to me. That is why I did not go back to my own village even after all of you told he would never come. But my heart says he is alive. My soul says he is alive.”

Everyone was silent, maybe trying to work out a response to her insistence. She continued, “After five years, anyway my voter card will say I am sixty. I will wait. I am so sorry for the sahib. How kind he is. You are all so kind. But please……”

She begged and started to weep, tears rolling down her wrinkled face to compete with the July rain that had started falling on the muddy village road. She could not talk further and covering her face with the end of her sari she ran inside.

We all fell silent for some time. The rain started to pound. Bhola had come with tea. My grandpa and the sahib were seated on the mattress while we were standing  huddled in one corner of the verandah.

Chandra Dadi’s confidence and belief that her husband was alive had infected us so much so that we also started believing he was alive. We pestered Grandpa to tell a different story.

“Boys, there is no different story. Like a parrot I have been telling this story again and again, maybe for a million times.”

Sahib said, “You tell us the story again, Grandpa. Anyway, it is raining so heavily. I have to wait till the skies clear.”

Grandpa spat the tambakhu out, cleared his throat, and started, “When the tax imposed by the British became too much, most of us  sold the little land that we had and with that money we left for Burma. Damodar  and I stayed in the same camp initially and worked in the rice fields of the same owner.  Then one day I discovered that he had left. I did not know where he had gone. There was no way to confirm. Those day.. no letters…. no phones. Only when someone cam form our village we got the village news. Same way only when one of us went home we could send some gold or news through him.

After one month Damodar reappeared. He had a few friends with him. It was evening and we were going back to our camp after the day’s work. My surprise made me to shout when I saw him, but, he gestured me to keep quiet. I was sharing my camp with two others from our nearby village Kantakpur. He pulled the three of us and said in a low voice, ‘I have joined the Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. We are fighting to free India from the British. It is the same Britsh whose heavy tax made you sell your land and come here to this foreign land to work as labourers. They have made you labourers from owners. If we don’t fight, our children will continue to be slaves.’

We had heard that many of the Indian labourers were joining the Army of a person called Subhash Chandra Bose. His words aroused anger in us against  the British. But it was evening and we were too tired to make a drastic decision that would change our lives. We told him to come and spend the night with us.

He said that he and his companions had put their lives at risk to come there. The British spies were everywhere and if they came to know, the life of all of us would be in danger. If we wanted to join them we had to make a decision then and there and leave immediately.

One of his companions said that Damodar had become very close to Subhash Bose and he was one of those privileged few who travelled with Bose. If we joined we too would be admitted to the close circle of Subhas Chandra Bose.

We wanted to join them. But we were not so sure. We needed time to make a decision. But they did not have time. Finally, we too decided to join them.”

By that time the rain had begun to slow down. Grandpa realised that he did not have time to lengthen his story.

(To be continued)

 

atozchallenge day 2 : bhajiwali’s husband

(The reason for re-sharing this story today is that it starts with alphabet B. It is day #2 of BlogChatter AtoZchallenge. My chosen theme is short story / micro fiction)

durga dash blog

Someone pressed the calling bell- ting, tong.

 “Who might it be?”, asked my guest.

 It was a kind of automated response and he seemed to have forgotten the question the  moment after he had asked it as he turned his gaze towards the wall painting. Maybe, my taciturn guest  thought it was better to say something, or anything rather than remaining silent.

 “It must be the bhajiwali’s husband”, I said gleefully.

Bhajiwali’s husband? But, he must be having a name.”

“He must be. Like many others in this neighbourhood, I too had never bothered to find out.”

Nobody knew  his name. Perhaps there was no need to. He was just a side kick at the Bhajiwali’s shop. But he was a presence, a presence not to be ignored. A presence that had utility. So every one called him the bhajiwali’s husband.

“And how fast he has come. It was hardly ten minutes back that you ordered. Better than the Pizza guys. But, when you said bhajiwali I was a little confused. Usually the word bhajiwali is used for the vendors of vegetables.”

“Yes, I have heard that. But here they use it for the lady who makes excellent fried snacks.  The bhajiwali’s husband does not have a name. He may have one, but nobody seems interested to know it.”

My guest has a name. He is Raj, my lost and found classmate. We used to be classmates in primary school.  Thanks to Facebook, I found him after 24 years and also found that we have been living in the vicinity of ten kilometers for the last five years.

My wife opened the door, settled the payment and after a cursory check of the items inside the packing, shut the door.

After snacks and tea, I suggested to Raj, “ Why not go out for a stroll,  leaving the ladies to spin their gossip and the children to settle their tab war.”

“Yes, why not for the old days’ sake.”

 Raj’s house was five blocks away and after school it was our habit to go out for a walk. I do not remember Raj ever playing those childhood games. Most of the time, he would be absorbed in thoughts. Of course,  I never figured out what he was thinking about. During our walks together, he would hardly talk. It was I who would be doing the talking knowing fully well  that Raj was nodding his head without being interested in what I was saying.

As soon as we landed on to the  street in front my house, we heard loud noises coming from the end of the street.

“That must be from the bhajiwali’s theatre”, I remarked.

Bhajiwali’s theatre?”,  Raj was surprised, But you told she has a shop.

“Don’t  take it so literally. Sometimes, in the evening, it turns into a theatre. Come, we will go there.”

It was a small shop at the end of the street that touched the road surrounding the boundary wall of a temple.  There was a grocery shop to one side and in front, there was a liquor shop. Half of her customers were drunk.  While two drunks were shouting at each other, the bhajiwali  was shouting at them to keep quiet or go away. There were a dozen other customers who were oblivious of the chaos around, maybe being  used to such spectacles on a daily basis.

The bhajiwali continued with her multitasking activities, putting pakoda in hot oil, settling a customer’s bill, making small balls of mashed potato, while all the time shouting at the drunk customers to behave or at the other shop  boy to go and  take order from the the latest customer.  In spite of being  small in stature and very ordinarily dressed in a sari that seemed to have been salvaged from a dump yard, she held centre stage. Surprisingly, she never shouted at her husband who stood at a distance waiting for her next instruction.

She called him near and told him something very softly in a kind of respectful way. He dashed off again, perhaps on another errand.

After sometime the situation improved. The two drunks fighting had become friendlier, most of the customer demands had  been met. She spotted me from behind the boiling oil in the pan and smiled. It was the smile of a young maiden with a tint of a blush. The old stern matron in her was gone.

“How were today’s items, Sir? If you needed anything you could have phoned  me.”

“O! As usual the items were superb. For today, it was enough. We are just out for a walk.”

Slowly we stepped away and took the bend by the temple wall to another street.

Unlike the walk of our old days, this this time Raj started the conversation, “Surprisingly, the bhajiwali too does not have a name and I have a feeling that her husband is not her type. I mean they are not of same social status. Did you observe, even though he wears simple clothes – just a light shaded ill-fitting pant and a shabby shirt, there is something majestic about him, particularly the way he carries himself around. ”

 “I don’t know how far these are true. There are some rumours”.

“Rumours?”

Raj seemed to be interested  to hear word for word of  I what I was going to say, as if suddenly and at one stroke to compensate for his display of lack of interest in my talks during our walks in those childhood days.

“Yes, there are rumours.  Let me tell you what I have heard.  It seems, this lady was a temporary housekeeping staff   in a bank where this gentleman worked in a good position. The gentleman had some soft corner for this lady and used to help her financially to tide over her family’s financial difficulties. Some say, the gentleman embezzled money. Some say, he was innocent but had to pay the price for the wrongdoings of his boss who escaped without harm. This guy was suspended and was imprisoned for some time. After this incident, his family disowned him. Then, it was this lady who came to his rescue. This incident happened in another city. They moved to this city as the lady had some contacts here. Maybe, distant relatives. Together they set up this small shop. Nobody knows if they are actually married. Now nobody bothers to know. Nobody is interested to probe further.  They seem to be quite a nice couple and the snacks she prepares are hot favourites in our neighbourhood.”

“Yes, now nobody is too much interested in their past. That is the beauty of it,” sighed my friend as if relieved of some heavy burden.

 

a sweet illusion

(This time, 31st March was such a deadline, many of the other deadlines went dead.  Added to the last minute confusions was the news that son’s tenth class exam was going to be extended. In midst all these chaos, one of the the things that slipped out of mind was of course the Blogchatter A to Z challenge.  But there is hope. I am just in time to start the challenge from day one.  

The theme I have chosen for the challenge is short story / micro fiction. Fiction is one area I have not given much attention to to till now. But now I am going to do it, at least for the fun of challenging myself. 

After accepting the challenge and starting to write a new story, I realise that I cannot complete it today. Hence I am sharing sharing a short story that I had shared in one of my earlier blogs. Nevertheless, as my readers were very few then,  I am sure most of my present regular readers you must not have come across this story. 

Kind gesture in the form of a ‘cheer’ or a few words of ‘feedback’ will do wonders to keep my morale high to complete the challenge.)

Bouquet.jpg

The phone rang, light went off, and then there was this knock at the door. These happened one after another so fast as if they happened simultaneously. Rita was a little confused as to what to attend to first. Of course she could see the phone blinking. It was her husband.

“Hello Nick, wait a moment. There is someone at the door.”

Supporting her cellphone glued to her left ear with her left hand, she opened the door with the right. Electric connection was restored and the corridor of her apartment  was lit up as she opened the door. It was a boy with a bouquet of flowers.

“It is for you Ma’m”

The boy handed over the bouquet and ran away without waiting to hear Rita shouting at the back

“Wait”

She tried to follow him down the steps of her second floor, but the boy had vanished. Is he from this apartment complex? How come, I have never seen him. She was so much perplexed by the sudden turn of events, after an hour of a boring monotonous evening that she thought it better to talk to her husband later.

“Wait Nick, I will call you after some time.” she told and  cut off  even as he was shouting at the other end, “Tell me, what happened”.

She sat down on the drawing room sofa and gazed at the bouquet which was so heavy that she had struggled to hold it with her right hand. It was a gorgeous bouquet with an assortment of roses and chrysanthemums. She was lost in the bouquet for  some moments when she realized she had  a mystery to solve. Of course she had to call his husband first. She put away the bouquet on  a side table. She called her husband just to justify how busy she was at the moment and promised to call him after dinner.

Rita had moved to Bangalore two months back to join her new job while her husband and two school going sons stayed in Delhi. She held a senior position in a multinational company. Her husband was a senior bureaucrat posted in one of the influential ministries.

First she tried to recall if she had forgotten that day’s association with any important event in her life. No, there was nothing like that. Or was it that rascal colleague who, from the day one of her joining, had been trying to be so friendly with her that she felt irritated each time she thought of him.  Of course there was a small secret consolation. Even at this age someone took the risk to befriend her in an uncomfortable way. She was almost fifty and had begun to put on weight of late. She smiled at herself and almost forgave that uncouth scoundrel.

“Then, what about the boy? He may be just a pawn in the game”, she thought.

“Or, is it a case of mistaken delivery?”

She got up and went out to inquire in her neighborhood whether anybody had any occasion that warranted a bouquet to be delivered. But, none of her neighbors had any such occasion.

“I think I have seen that boy”. She felt embarrassed that she was talking to  herself so loudly.  She felt further embarrassed as there was no one beside herself.

Then she remembered. It was the maid’s son. Her face lit up with the prospect that she could now nail the culprit.

She went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. While the water was boiling, she boiled inside with excitement.

Pouring tea into the cup she pondered, “What if it is the same scoundrel? Should I warn him?”

“What if he is not?” As the thought crossed her mind she was touched with a mild touch of melancholy.

As she sat down with the cup of tea, she caressed the flowers with her fingers and decided to stop further probe once and for all.