Remembering Two Mothers

My mother and mother-in-law have both left this world. When they were alive, they took great care of the family, home and the people around them. The simplicity of their lives, extraordinary courage, spirit of service and sacrifice humble me and keep me always down to earth. They were in some ways similar and some ways very different from each other.

My mother, Ranjita Ray, with grandson

Born in villages, they grew up in a way of life that has to deal with on a daily basis people, agricultural produce, village gods, livestock and nature. My mother’s birthplace is Shakhariyapara in Coochbehar district of West Bengal – a hamlet with families living closely together with agricultural lands producing crops, ponds abundant with fish, and milch cows and buffaloes giving bucketful of milk. Simplicity is naturally bred in people who live with small ambition of growing crops sufficient to feed the family throughout the year, of building a house that would withstand the vagaries of weather and of educating children for finding a job. My mother bragged about fish and milk that she had enough of in her childhood.

My mother-in-law was born in Goalpara district of Assam. I visited the place only twice. It is a prosperous village in the floodplains of river, Brahmaputra, where people have abundance of agricultural produce and are culturally inclined towards song and dance.

After marriage, my mother moved to another village and my mother-in-law to the district town of Jalpaiguri.

My mother was a perfect homemaker. She kept our home and the surroundings absolutely clean. She would not allow fallen leaves to lie on the ground or dust to gather in furnitures, utensils or the floors of the house. With a broom, she would keep sweeping them away from time to time. She was well versed in puja (offering) to village gods and celebrations of religious festivals, harvesting season and all that. The rituals needed special knowledge and skills for which my mother was sought after by womenfolk in the village.

My mother taught me ABCD and taught me to be simple and honest. She took great care of me whenever I fell ill, nursing me waking sometimes the whole night. She brought up her two children – my elder sister and I – in this manner.

Mother-in-law, Purnaprava Barman, with grandchildren

My mother-in-law was a progressive woman who pursued her studies on law and her passions even after marriage. She later joined politics and fought many electoral battles and served people as municipal commissioner. She was also a matchmaker who took great interest in finding matches for marriageable boys and girls.

A trait shared in common by my mother and mother-in-law was, however, their penchant for inviting people for lunch or dinner.
Mother-in-law could make some very special cuisines and she would rustle up something for guests as soon as they arrived. Another trait of them was their expertise in home remedies for fever, cough and other ailments.

My mother-in-law was interested in literature and wrote poems in Bengali and Assamese and got them published. It is in this aspect that I had a special bond with her.

The lives of both mothers were lessons in service and humility. Their selfless service to family and all people connected with their lives without personal ambitions humble me. I have built my home in a big city. Here ambition, selfishness, greed, loads of aspirations and race for success suppress happiness, naturalness and simplicity of life. People do not have time to think about others. When I get swayed by ambition and greed, I take comfort from the fact that there is also a way to live devoid of all this and live a fulfilling life. The path shown by two mothers!

Walking by the Sea

The swish of waves
And the blast of winds;
The roar of the tides
And rhythm of their strikes;
Restless and loud,
I hear them,
Walking by the sea
From sunrise to sunset.

Representative Image (Picture Credit: http://www.unsplash.com)

These bursts of joy,
Even I do have;
But they only bubble
And fade away in ripples;
Too little before her
As she goes on, relentless
And seeks no rest.

Far into the sea,
Though deep and calm,
In those blue waters,
Hurricanes and Cyclones form;
I feel them,
Walking by the sea;
Dashing and smashing,
They would one day
Come and hit you and me.

Fury of this kind,
Even I do have;
But not that fierce
Thankfully,
Even to rattle a mouse
Lasts not long enough
To harm my house.

From east to west,
So vast a spread;
Continents are just islands,
In her endless breadth;
And deep into her womb
There are many secrets.

The depth of my mind,
Even I do try
To meditate and explore;
I reach almost the end of it,
But I dare not measure her,
As she stretches my imagination
Beyond limit.

On the shore,
I walk
To leave my mark
On the sands of time
That I existed once
To admire her trance.
But waves come in
And erase them
In no time.

But I will one day be
A speck in the sand,
A whoosh of wind
Blowing in the beach;
My promise!
Formless, timeless,
I will one day be
A part of the sea.

Durgapuja – A Celebration of Creativity

Durgapuja, the grand festival of Bengal, is around the corner. It is a yearly event, but the build-up of excitement starts not just a few days before the festivities but right after the end of previous year’s celebration, culminating in the four days of puja. The event has a few parallels in the world. Recently ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ has found place in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Durgapuja at my hometown, Maynaguri

I have very fond memories of new dress, pandal hopping and special food especially in my childhood which is the best time to enjoy any celebration. But what makes me marvel at is the enormity of creative energy that is unlocked by the celebration.

Firstly, the clay idol of the goddess Durga itself is made by idol makers with such dexterity, making it always look different from their old work or those of others. Then the pandals are decorated with colourful clothes, but often artists come up with innovative ideas and spring surprises by using materials such as jute, waste bottles, glass, paper and wood. They also base them maybe on themes such as current events, history and environment, to carry important message to the people.

The streets are festooned with lights with special patterns, creating a delightful panorama for the visitors as they push their way through the crowd up to the pandals. The competition between clubs that organize the mass celebration only improves the quality year after year as they try to outdo each other in grabbing attention of the public and having footfalls at their venues.

Publishers bring out special editions of magazines with more stories, novels and poems. The writers seem to save their best writings for the puja editions when they can reach the maximum readers and audience. The Bengalis are avid readers and make their budget for buying the puja editions.

Artist giving final touch to Durga idol (image courtesy:. http://www.unsplash.com

Similarly music is composed especially keeping in mind the celebrations and albums are released as music lovers eagerly look forward to them throughout the year. I relish the new stories and music at this time year after year.

Another aspect of it is adda (Bengali equivalent of long conversation by a group). The unadulterated adda goes on before, during and even after puja at homes and pandals, and Bengalis engage in conversation with near and dear ones about life, culture, achievements and their joys and sorrows. People who live away from family for livelihood return home to take part in the celebrations.

I am not a good conversationalist, but I do take part in the adda for exchange of notes, fun and also for reconnecting with friends and relatives whom I might be meeting perhaps after a long time.

Durgapuja is close to the hearts of the Bengalis. It is a time for renewal, a time to soak in the festivities greatly enriched by a huge amount of painstaking creative work. Autumn, the season, gives nature a facelift during the puja. The flowers that bloom and the dew on the grass and the clear blue sky are the signatures of the season. Together they act as the perfect foil for the colourful celebration of Durgapuja.

Bliss

Oh, my friend,
Stow away your gifts ,
In your cosy niche;
Let not daily grinds
Rob your bliss.

Up there
Have a slice of the sky;
Away from the dark cloud
Let your kite fly;
It must have
A way to glide;
Let not a storm
Rattle its flight.

Flying Kites (Image Credit: http://www.unsplash.com)

Have your little pool
In the ocean,
Bathe in its water,
Let your joys flow;
Let not the wild currents
Wash away the ripples;
And let not the weeds grow.

Sing with joy,
Dance with rhythm!
Let not the din
Drown your song;
Let not your feet
Get the beats wrong.

Climb up or fall!
Listen to the birds
Chirping in the trees;
See the waterfalls
Dancing in the hills;
And look at the pebbles
Sparkling in the river
Before it meets the sea.

See all around,
Make them your part,
And love all
That make up your earth.
Let not life
Move away from its path.

Good Times in Life (Musings)

I have spent over half of my life. Age is not only a taker but also a giver. It takes away our vitality but leaves us with the gift of experiences and realizations that only mature as years pass by.

The journey of life is our own but is made together with family, friends, relatives and colleagues. We seek happiness, joy and satisfaction in our personal, social and professional lives, but good times when life seems to sway with particular rhyme and rhythm come occasionally and are short lived.

Good Times – representative image (Image Credit: http://www.unsplash.com)

The phase of life we are in has a role in the making of these good times. We cannot remember the period of our infancy. However, our childhood and school and college life are the times when friendship happens effortlessly, and games, fun, frolic and entertainment that follow make them so enjoyable and exciting. Our natural curiosity at that age gives us a sense of discovery as we learn things and know the world we live in. 

After college life, it is quite a struggle to establish ourselves in life. We are lone rangers in looking for jobs or other livelihood to satisfy our needs. The struggle makes us face some harsh realities not experienced in student life.

Then when we become parents, growing children fill our lives with unbound joy and happiness. A family perhaps spends its best time when all three generations –  the grandparents, parents and children – are around.

In professional spheres, teamwork yields salutary outcome, when team gains its rhyme and rhythm in the way of working. Like in orchestra where all instruments have to be in sync to create music, team members have to work with clear understanding of their roles and coordination to produce outstanding results. But such times when a team is built that works in perfect harmony and delivers best results may be rare.

A nation also has its share of good times in its long life. In India, remarkable progress was made in nation building and outstanding work was done in literature, art, science, music, cinema before and after independence. People with talent were born in that period and they produced work that had a long lasting impact on the economic, social and cultural lives of the people of India. Even with technology available now, we are not able to touch the height they reached without much resources at that time.

Good times do come and go, and we need to have the patience to wait for them. But when they come, we need to make the most of them. They leave great dividends and also memories which give us the mileage to move on with the rest of our lives.

Hill Stations I Visited

Nature beckons us, and for me, it is the mountains that have held an irresistible charm since my childhood. I was born and brought up in the Dooars region of West Bengal which is the door or the entry to the North Eastern part of India. The Himalayas are to the north of Dooars, and on a morning of clear blue sky, one can see the mountains standing silhouetted far away in the horizon, stretching from the east to the west. When capped with snow, the peaks look resplendent in the morning sunshine.

Darjeeling (Image Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

My father was posted in the hill stations of Kalimpong for some time and then Karseung and Darjeeling in those years. I could not really imagine how and where those hill stations were nestling at that high altitude of those mountains.

So I had discovery of sorts when my father took my mother, sister and me on a trip to Darjeeling. I have vivid memories of that trip. From Silliguri the journey to Darjeeling by bus is through curvy roads, sharp bends, U-turns by the flank of the hills. The dizzy heights of the hills filled me with wonder and consternation. Sitting in the bus though, I had wonderful view of tea gardens and forest of eucalyptus, deodar and pines in the slopes of the hills.

It was in a winter of biting cold that we went to Darjeeling, carrying a luggage of warm garments – sweaters, woollen caps, etc. We put up in a house where my father stayed along with his colleagues. I told them that I would one day build my house there by carving the hills. We had a great fun with uncles who were greatly amused by this ambition of mine.

Nainital (Image Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Afterwards, I made trips to other hill stations like Nainital and Ranikhet of Uttaranchal. The quaint lakes – Naini tal, Bhim tal, Saat tal, Naukuchia tal – at Nainital surprised me by their very existence at the high altitude of the mountains. Then there was that grassland at Ranikhet, which is ideal for film shoot and I watched dances of heroes and heroines in many popular Hindi movies shot in that location.

Every hill station has a history. Many of them were developed by the British who had retreat in the comfort of pleasant weather and scenic beauty of the hills. Many Englishmen made these hills their homes and stayed on even after the British left India.

My favourite writer, Ruskin Bond, lives in the hills. His writing familiarises me with life in the hills and with people, animals, birds and trees especially at Dehradun and Musoorie. No other writer explored life in the hills better than Ruskin. Rusty and his characters’ hill adventures are a great read for the kids. The scenic beauty, sound and light and people’s lives in the hills are nowhere else so prominent as they are in his stories and novels.

At Ooty

Ooty and Kodaikanal are the two great hill stations in South India that I had been to. The pine forests, lakes, tea gardens and flowers such as rhododendron are great attractions in these hill stations. As I walked by the sides of the lakes, clouds came and engulfed me on all sides. I am yet to experience snowfall for which I have to schedule my visit perfectly.

I spent a few days at Shillong and then Cherrapunjee – the place that receives highest rainfall on earth. The waterfalls in Cherrapunjee that look like white chiffon offer a great view for which tourists throng these places.

Hill stations are the places that restless souls visit for peace and calm. The enormity, stillness and scenic beauty have a quality in themselves that instills sanity and peace into our minds. It provides much needed healing to the wounded souls. Though I have no such need, the trips to the hills have a lasting calming effect on me and I feel like being a permanent resident of the hills so that I can enjoy nature all the time rather than have a slice of it as a tourist.

Lift for Love – A Story

The newly built 15-storey building on the outskirts of Hyderabad had a rush of activities with families moving in one after another and occupying their new homes. With a truckload of their belongings, arrived on one fine morning a family of parents, their 20-years old son, Dev, and their German Shepherd, Zico. As the parents oversaw the unloading of the furniture, Dev went to the entrance of the building with the dog on the leash and started climbing up the stairs to reach their condo on the tenth floor. Zico loped beside him to keep pace with his long strides, panting.

The packers carried their belongings to their new home, set the cots, kept the furniture in place and left. The family had lunch and Dev had a good nap in the afternoon. In the evening, Zico started wagging his tail and growling and barking at his master. It was the time usually when he would take him for a walk. Today the dog was demanding this treat from his master more aggressively.

Representative Image (Picture Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Dev put Zico on the leash and took him out through the front door, holding the leash tightly in his hand. Going to the middle of the floor, Dev found that the lift was moving down fast from the fifteenth floor. He pressed the button, and within a few seconds, the lift came and stopped at the tenth floor. A girl of his age was standing there with a pug on the leash. She was tall, dusky and had nice flowing hairs. As the door opened, Dev smiled at her and entered the lift along with Zico. She smiled without raising her head, avoiding an eye contact with him.

Zico started growling a bit which frightened the dog. But Dev remained unperturbed, knowing that it was usual for his pet to show his superiority at every opportunity, which made him proud rather than concerned. It was all fine until a sudden power outage brought the lift to a complete halt just as it was about to reach the second floor! The lamp went off and it was little dark inside. Zico suddenly pounced on the pug and held it on its neck! Dev could not control him by pulling the leash. The little dog was traumatized! The girl picked up and calmed her pet by holding it close to her chest.

After a few minutes, the power was on and the lift started moving again. The girl pressed the button for the second floor, and as the lift stopped there and the door opened, she hurriedly went out with her dog, mumbling, ‘Savage! What kind of training has it got?’

The lift went down to the ground floor. Dev came out of the lift and stood in front of it for a while, expecting her to come down so that he could apologize, but the lift moved up to second floor and thereafter up again to the top floors. He was not at all happy about upsetting a neighbour and that too a pretty girl with whom he should rather make friends.

Dev went out of the complex with Zico. He shouted at the dog, ‘Who told you to attack the puppy? You’re a dog after all. A dog will forever be a dog. Your species can never be civilized!’ Zico cringed a bit at the sudden scream of his master whom he had never seen so angry. His master taught him to be aggressive at times and was happy when he drove away street dogs. On occasions, he also gave a pat on his back. Now what crime had he committed that made his master so furious!

The next few days, Dev did not take Zico out for the walks, which made him extremely restless in the evenings. Dev’s father used to take him out in the mornings. Afterwards he stayed home all day, bored and depressed. Dev’s mother, Srilekha asked, ‘What happened, Dev? You don’t take him out now. Why?’

‘You ask him why,’ Dev replied. ‘He attacks neighbour’s dog. How will I make friends?’

‘OK, he’s made a mistake. Don’t we make mistakes?’

‘Mistakes? He needs some lessons in civility.’

Zico understood all these arguments were about him, so he sat and stretched his neck on the floor, sporting an appearance of regret.

Representative Image (Picture Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Days passed. Dev would sometimes oblige Zico by taking him for a walk and sometimes not. As Dev would shut the door while going out alone in the evenings, Zico would protest strongly by barking. Zico would then go to the balcony and watch downward helplessly as his master would walk down the road in front of the building or drive away on his bike.

One day, Zico looked down to see something completely unexpected of his master. Dev had the pug in his lap and the girl they met on the lift that day stood beside him, giggling! A few days later, Zico saw her again in a nearby park, where his master took him for evening walk. The girl also came to the park along with her parents and her pet. As her parents were away for a walk, the girl secretly waved at Dev raising her hand only by half. Dev smiled and waved back at her, mimicking her way of it, which made her almost burst into laughter. Zico felt his master was now friends with this girl, so he should treat her as someone of his own and not as a stranger.

Srilekha came to know from newspaper one morning that a dog park had been inaugurated in the city. She suggested to her husband, ‘Zico is getting bored. Dev does not care for him much nowadays. Why can’t we take him to the dog park? All of us will enjoy!’

Zico was in the dog park a few days later along with Srilekha and her husband. He was surprised to see so many of his ilk there – Labrador, Bulldog, Pug, Dalmatian, Indian Spitz, Dachshund and Doberman. He felt like chasing them all and send them out of the park. But then he met a German Shepherd – a female one. His usual aggression gave way to tenderness and love! He sniffed at her and rubbed his body with hers as their masters stood appreciating their new friendship. She ran playfully, inviting him to follow her, and Zico did so with glee. They had to part after an hour of playing in the park, but Zico had a new feeling, a new spurt of emotions which he had not experienced earlier.

In about a year, Zico reconciled himself to the whims of his master though he was quite happy in his outings with him. It was the same routine of taking the lift and going down to the ground floor and then wandering around the streets or playing in the nearby park and coming back home, but he enjoyed it to the fullest. One day, while going out for a walk, they met the girl and the pug again in the lift. Dev greeted her warmly, ‘Oh hi, you’re also coming!’ Then they came closer. Zico looked up to see his master approaching her to plant a kiss on her cheek. The dog kept staring at them and as his master did it, he closed his eyes and looked down as if in acceptance of what the chance meeting a year back had eventually blossomed out into.

It was love of a kind different from what was between him and his master – a kind which he only had a feel of but did not know much about and for which his master was ready to put him aside and make way for himself. It would be wise to make friends with the girl and her pet rather than sulk about their warming their way into his master’s heart. He would now rather be a part of this new spring in his master’s life than protest and invite his wrath, Zico thought.

Musical Evenings

One of the most important ingredients of the evenings in my life has been music. In my boyhood, when I used to return home after playing football in the afternoon, my elder sisters in the village would be rehearsing musical notes ‘Sa Re Ga Ma…’ or some songs like prayers, Rabindrasangeet (Rabindranath Tagore’s songs) etc.

I would walk back home, tired and hungry, listening to the lovely music – the next activity in my routine being a few hours of studies. The brief musical interludes then energized me to read for two or three hours before going to bed.

Representative Image (PC : Pixabay)

Flute is one thing village boys are good at playing. So quite often flute music would come wafting from a distance through the darkness in the evenings. The melancholy tunes of the flute filled my mind with both joy and sorrow. The silence in the evening was the perfect foil for the music to travel and reach a large audience. As painting requires a canvas so does music need silence to be heard in its purest form.

I also hear birdsong before sunset. Birds also perhaps sense that evening is the best time to warble and send their music into the air. Notes sung by one are picked up by the others in the vicinity who replay the same and thus they continue their musical conversations for some time.

Music is abundant in nature, birds being just one of their best exponents. In the rainy seasons, the swish of the rains, wind coming in gusts and rustle of leaves together create a music that has a particular rhyme and rhythm.

Besides, it is again music in which human creativity is at its best and is endless. I studied in a residential college. The alleys of college campus very often resonated with evergreen  Kishore Kumar songs, ‘Pal pal dil ke paas’, ‘Aanewala pal janewala hai’, etc.  that blared from the college hostels in the evenings. Those songs brought a spring in our steps as we moved inside the campus.

I used to enjoy songs differently though. Doors shut and lights switched off, lying on bed, I switched on my radio at the time of scheduled musical programmes and listened to the songs telecast by the radio centre. And before exams, when I had to stay up and study till midnight,  music helped me reset my mind for long hours of studies.

After I moved to Hyderabad for my job, the evenings are even more musical with community programmes and musical concerts happening every now and then. I hear great singers singing Hindi playback, ghazal, khayal, classical, etc. I marvel at the talent of the lyricists, composers, singers and instrumentalists who put together all the elements to produce great music.

The lyrics carry a wide variety of emotions. A song that is rich in lyrics can be inspirational and can make great impact on our minds. Songs with good lyrics and melody touch a chord and soothe my mind. Rabindrasangeet carries deep emotions and makes a great impact on one’s mind.

The vagaries of life make us pass through never ending twists and turns that make us both laugh and cry. I have at least one thing to fall back on in all circumstances – musical evenings

Cycling in A Park

Yesterday I went cycling to Pala Pita Park at Gachibowli, Hyderabad, which has been developed exclusively for bicycle rides. A park for cycling has two admirable aspects about it – firstly, the park itself that offers lung space and a pleasing sight to our eyes, and secondly, the cycling that exercises our muscles and refreshes our mind and spirit.

Inside Pala Pitta Park

Pala Pita Park has both of them in equal measure. Cycling tracks wind their way through trees and bushes, and seem to take us deep into the unknown. The long paths without any traffic and the excitement of the fellow riders inspire one to keep on pedalling till the time it is dark and the park authorities blow whistle for visitors to leave the park. By that time, the body gets exercised, and mind become de-stressed.

Bicycles are available on rent from the park office. I hired one of them and went for the ride. The tracks are undulating as usual for the terrains of the Deccan Plateau, making the ride more enjoyable. While riding, I could hear the birds chirping in the trees and see peacocks roaming around the open spaces of the park. I stopped at the turnings and took a few clicks on my mobile camera.

Then the ride also reminded me of the days in my boyhood when my legs would be itching to go cycling every afternoon. I was born and brought up in a village in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. I would cycle along the village paths bifurcating the agricultural fields and the road that connects my village to the National Highway. I went from one end of the road to the other and did the same over and over till the time the Sun was setting and it was time to return home. But I never really felt tired of cycling.

In those good old days, there were not so many bikes and cars as we see in the streets nowadays. Very few could afford expensive vehicles and people mostly used bicycles. And there were two or three brands of bicycles – Hero, Hercules and Raleigh. The design was just plain and simple with straight cross bar and the handle bent inward. People used bicycles for going to office or market, making short trips and carrying goods. My private tutor used to ride to our home on a bicycle. The tinkle of bells indicated to me that he arrived.

Inside Pala Pitta Park

Nowadays newspapermen, milkmen and postmen still use bicycles as they ferry newspapers and milk packets or deliver letters to people’s houses. It is convenient for them to move through the narrow paths and alleys, and to mount, ride and then dismount within short distances. But with economic progress, people now have bikes and cars. The streets are owned by cars and bicycles are very rare in the roads in cities or even villages. If one wants to cycle for nothing but just exercise, they have to use the extreme side of the road, intimidated by the large vehicles.

The saving grace is that people today are health conscious and have taken to regular exercises in a big way. While bicycles are not used much for commuting or going to market, youths or even middle-aged people can be seen setting off early in the morning or late in the afternoon on the less crowded roads, wearing helmets and they ride long distances for pleasure and exercise. What was a necessity once for day-to-day activities now has to be nurtured as a passion for exercise.

As for myself, I still enjoy cycling but not amidst the din and bustle of the city’s roads. Ideally, I would love to cycle on a village path or a park like Pala Pitta undisturbed by the noise of traffic or the fear of being hit by a bike or a car. For me, it is as enjoyable as boating in a lake or swimming in a pool.

Horror at Midnight – A Story

A phone call late at night might be one of distress and I always pick them with a sense of foreboding. So when my mobile phone rang that night, I woke with a start, but perhaps I was a bit late, considering that the call came to an end as soon as I rose to collect my phone from the table.

But what I saw immediately afterwards made me spring to my feet. To my horror, the windows of my room were open! A strong wind was entering my room, and my bookshelves and almirahs were being rattled by it. My parents and wife were away for a few days. It was just not possible that I had not shut the windows before going to bed.

Horror at Midnight (representative image: http://www.unsplash.com)

I stood there perplexed when suddenly the door creaked open and a voice was heard in the darkness, ‘Uncle, Ramukaka has fallen sick. He needs your help.’

I was frightened to have a stranger at my doorstep at that hour and my heart was palpitating. I switched on the torch of my mobile. A boy was standing at the door, his eyes downcast and his face etched with sadness.

Ramu he was talking about was our gardener for a long time. It was only in the afternoon that day that he came to my house along with his son, Pilu, to weed our garden. But this boy was not known to me, so I asked, ‘Who are you and where are you from?’
‘I’m his nephew. He’s suffering from chest pain and has to be rushed to hospital,’ he said.
‘Is Pilu not at home?’ I asked.
‘Whether he’s home or not, would you not help when your servant is in distress and seeking your help,’ the boy rebuked me.
I slipped on my trousers, wore a T-shirt and got ready to go to my gardener’s home. I quickly shut my windows, locked my room and told him, ‘Let’s go.’

The boy went forward and I followed him. The path he was taking me through was leading to the old part of the town and it was lined with trees on both sides. It was pitch dark as the moon was covered by clouds and the night was windy.

The wind was coming in gusts and swaying the trees, making strong rushing sounds. And from the top of a tree an owl was hooting relentlessly. I was a little jittery but held my fears in order to help someone in his hour of need.

Then there were more surprises waiting for me along the way. As we came to a crossroad, I could see from a distance tiny glows, most probably from mobile phones, moving from left to right and hear people chanting prayers.

It became clear to me that someone had passed away and they were carrying him to the cremation ground by the side of the river. The boy asked me to stop and let the funeral procession pass. I had goosebumps and my abdomen sank! It was an unlikely time to carry a dead body for cremation but in Covid time anything was possible, I thought.

As the funeral procession passed the crossing, I asked the boy, ‘How far to go?’
‘Not far. We’re just reaching,’ he said.
We started walking again and went past the crossing. Going about half a kilometre, he turned to an old house, which I noticed earlier but never quite bothered to know whether anyone lived inside. Peepal trees sprouted from the cracks in the red brick walls of the house. The boy opened the gate and ushered me in. The gate made a creaking sound as he opened it.

As we entered, the denizens of the house were disturbed and a squadron of bats went flying past us immediately. There were many small rooms which were dusty and abandoned. The boy led me to a room in the extreme corner, which looked habitable. I saw Ramukaka lying on a bed there, writhing in pain. Seeing me, he nodded his head and gestured me to a stool near him. He told me, ‘I’m suffering from severe chest pain. Please take me to hospital.’

I put my hand on his chest to give him a massage. Oh, my goodness, his heart had stopped beating and his body was icy cold! I kept a finger on his pulse. There was no pulse either! I had no clue to what kind of sickness it was, so I turned back to ask the boy. But he was not to be seen anywhere nearby! All my instincts sensed danger! Then I was terrified to see a hairy hand extending around my waist to grab me, and as I turned my head, Ramukaka’s head partly turned into a skull and his canine teeth seemed longer than usual.

My immediate reaction was to run and I ran fast to be out of the old house. I looked back to see if anyone was following me and ran even faster to return to safety.

Reaching home, I checked my phone and saw the missed call and then an sms from Pilu. ‘My father’s no more! He’s suffered a massive heart attack. Burning ghat is busy during daytime because of Corona deaths. I’m taking him for cremation right now.’