The Quill

Reads: 155  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Having a conversation with the honourable president of the United States or Her majesty the Queen of England one day is one of my craziest dreams, and presenting them with my first book is another caper into that crazy feeling. Can you imagine how crazy or foolish I am? It’s a no-brainer you can. But, I have a different idea which is all around my Grandpa. My Maternal Grandpa used to say, “Unless you set your goals high, there’s no way you will strive to get nearer to that height”. And of course, he gave me very unusual another which is, “wear a stupid look and show every sign of idiocy, so that nobody can have an expectation from you; and do your work silently”. I gotta tell you, ‘The Quill’ is that conflict in my mind that I made Major personify my Grandpa and the boy I am – to secretly tell him, ‘I love you Grandpa’. It is one of my loose writings, I wrote without any deliberate attention using shortest leisurely hours of my recent sick-bed, and with this ever companion – my only laptop.

Submitted: January 19, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 19, 2017

A A A

A A A


 

The Quill’

Suvendu Chowdhury

(1)

A sweet flowering smell wafted into the room. Almost dark, sparing a little space around an old oak table at which was sitting a young man – unshaven for days, in an apricot combat trouser and a hanging shirt, the arms were hanging more no doubt. The soothing light had as much lighted the portion on the table as it did in shadowing the wall just behind and the man’s head was tripping a tune along the wall in gentle air.

It is late winter, the chill has started to dwindle and a known scent of spring is about every unknown percept of the human if he is willing to be aware of that. The room had a pair of doors opening from inside, one leading out and the other stealing into the inner bedroom and both are perfectly latched. We can’t call this room a bedroom having a man-size single sack spreading over a wooden quadruped frame though. It is, possibly, his drawing room that takes a lot off him as even a rival of the main bedroom does; because, its master has made it so. Apparently, he spends most of his wakeful time in here. His essential outfits thrown here and there is utter desultory. Clothes, shoes and books are cluttered together – a variegated combination of a rather painful vision, at least a commoner sneers to think about. This can definitely tell that the young man is a disorderly, careless fellow.  

The curtains that were making the windows barely visible from outside being so dutiful to stick to the bars, were mercifully allowing lenient wind to make this seceded world slightly relative to its outer counterpart. That is very condescending.

  The Young man’s head was lowered close to a bunch of stitched papers on the table and he was unmindfully scribbling something away with a quill, a rare big one, rapidly. [As the story advances, the young man starts saying himself ‘I’ for my version]. Every now and then he was dipping the quill into the inkpot impatiently as would otherwise have been a bit late to put down what he alarmed would be missed. There was haste in whatever he was doing in the stroke of night that had quite progressed.

Suddenly a nocturnal bird screeched with intermittent cadence of foretelling something, but clearly unreadable. The window curtains fluttered louder and the candle’s flame got slanted twice over two sides. The young man stopped writing to hold his head fixed in that position for a while, then turned leftwards and these couple of words came out, ‘Oh! There you are?’.

Ahem on the corner, of an old man, ‘Now, that you have called me in again’

‘No, I haven’t’.

‘Oh! Don’t be so evasive, boy, you have. You do. Now, that you have taken my quill up again’.

  Saying these words a silhouette emerged gradually from the darkness of the room, condensed in the corner, and grown into an old man of very dignified cut-out. In the soft candle light when the old man came upon the table, slow at pace, and stood by the young man, we could see an old man of robust appearance of this description that he bore white finely trimmed beard with a white thick moustache, ends slightly twined up and white back combed silky hair; and he was in a gaudy black sleeping-robe elegantly fastened in the middle, and a man of this stature agrees well with every improbability, say his age – not that important, not pertinent too.   

As the old man tapped him on the shoulder affectionately we could see him with a cigar between his gold-ringed fingers, its base grafted into a gold holder. His sleepers chomped over the floor carpet as he tended to take a seat beside the table by scrapping the additional chair a bit closer to the young man.

Rekindling the burnt end of the cigar the old man coughed undertone as he tried to get a smoking puff inwards in a hurry and then opened his lips that were lost in the bushy abundance of hair on the lower face, and said, ‘do you see the clock arms over there?’, he pointed his cigar at the big wall clock above the bedstead.

 ‘Yes, but what’s new in them?’ said the young man reliantly.

‘No, there’s nothing new. But, the clock is sixty five years old and the arms indicate time, that is new. What do you think?’

‘Well, nearly so’.

‘Oh, come on boy, how could it be nearly so? Isn’t the time new or not the clock old?’

‘So you are on!’

‘No, no, no, just you think, no, better assume the clock for me is old and the time for you young man, it’s new. I am old, irrelevant to this modernised saga as long as I can see, but my stories you can’t dare discard being old, can you? No, I know, because people are still warlike, war’s still calamitous, moreover more complicated ruinous nightmare for all alive yet.’

‘Yes Major. What do you think is most relevant to the modern time then, war?’

‘Absolutely. Why not? War is making the modern world today, can you refute that? War is between the belligerent nations, war is in the Governmental efforts to give its people better amenities, war is among the divisive elements to achieve their mean ends and war is in the economical people’s mind to work harder to set up better. Where am I incorrect? Tell me boy.’

The young man knew he could not go further, so he folded the papers and made to put the quill down for Major’s another story. Instantly the old man intercepted in the action, drawing his attention at the quill, ‘today I am going to tell you about the quill itself you are holding’. Major exhaled like an asp. His white silky beard moved in the gush. Pressing the sides of the chair he heaved the blubbery body up easily and paced towards the window.

 

(2)

 

The old Major kept the curtain of the window aside and a faint shade of crimson blue light fell upon his face from the distant lamp post piercing through the leaf-network formed by the mango and coconut trees in the garden. His voice sank into bass as he spoke again; a mournful pity was all the young man could feel of that.

‘What is it granpa? What’s the matter? You seem quite pathetic, serious today? You always feel jocose in telling about the valour of your regimental days, I always find the intravenous hilarity in your cadence whenever I catch you uttering those words of prowess when you were with guns? Why is it singing different tonight, why are you prefacing so long?’, said I with ears cocked for his words.

  ‘Yes Ron, there is a matter, a grave matter the essence of which the modern people like you will think productive, metaphysical exuberance of pathos. But, it happened, and I get the same pitiable state of rediscovering myself in an unknown kingdom of the lord where judgement is ready for his days, that misjudged and mistreated the humane in lives for the ignoble causes he was after. And I tell you this time it’s not about my army days as always, it is about my childhood days ’

  Ron is my nick name, cut off from Ranajit Kumar Roy and this is my granpa Major Saurendra Kumar Roy, of Force’s Eastern Command. There is a mysterious connection between my taking up of the quill and his arrival with a new story, I don’t know how. My father says that is just because of the fact that I have been my granpa’s most friendly adjutant and close aide no one he had ever thought of and when he was here from a vacation or something, days and nights just flew over with walking, touring, trekking, travelling, cooking, sitting, standing and what not, of course all with an endless chatting and gossiping. I envy those days. And,.... ‘Ron’...

I turned to him, ‘Yes Major’.

While taking off his black below-the-knee coat and hat and letting them hang upon the spills jutted out from the triangular wooden plate on the wall just by the window, he spoke on.....

“Ramdevpur was the name of a river-side hamlet at the base of a rocky hillock ‘Black Bison’, as I rendered from local dialect here because of its bovine coloured rocks and ridges, and its non-intellectual people were very poor, hardworking cattle raisers, mostly farmers. They used to do a different type of cultivation called ‘contour farming’ which is usually carried out on the slopes of the hills requiring a tough enterprise and they were the perfect examples of that class. A little hamlet full of colonized huts with brickworks on the sides, but roofs thatched or tiled and in the background the verdant canopies of the flooding greenery by the palms, citrus fruit-trees, thistles and the robust unknown flowering plants had given the unimaginable paradisiacal charm I should always remember. The compulsive occurrence of a babbling brook had been the final touch to the canvas of the happy painter who had painted the hamlet with his immortal, invisible artistry of brushes and colours. Estuarine water mingled with the brook and as a result a wonderful confluence of trout and marine fishes would easily victual the cranes, storks and a flock of giant migratory birds along over season. In the morning if you take an overview of the scene you see spirals of white smoky braids soaring high that the hearth for each home gives them off.

 

My father was, as you know, the head master of the Ramdevpur Dinesh Chandra Smriti High School, and he was held in great esteem within fifty miles circumscribing the High School. Everybody, particularly those in our own village, would regard him the sage of prudence, the master of wisdom and that gave me a big bloated bosom as a teenage boy because, that gave me some additional height among all my playmates whose following me in my all pursuits of mischievous acts was the foremost of that proudest position that I had conferred on myself deliberately, and also they enjoyed themselves. People would come seek my father’s advice in their intricacies and my father felt more generous by thrusting himself into those exterior things my mother hated to invoke in.

‘Black Bison’s thick vegetation and funnel shaped tiny flower-bed was central to our attractions, and the big woody tree burst with dense autumnal red flowers in the middle was a perfect place for our innovative ideas to develop freely, to unleash any childish whim of fulfilment that would surely bring punishment if committed at home. But, lately a fearsome rumour went abroad about some strange recapitulation of the hillock that had sent a feeling of unfamiliar terror by a number of villagers who were mostly cattle herders and had had to visit Black Bison’s foothills to graze the cattle. But, a few more days thenceforth gave that rumour a firm popular support when elderly people began to talk about the mystical entity who they said came down from the hillock and back with a horrible face and a bird in a cage that nobody knew what he would do with.

Leader of the boys as I was, it was my curious feat into that sudden unwarranted investigation that some alarmists had forced our brave secret coterie to take upon themselves. Elderly people would not rake their brains in, but their finding eyes were in concealing surveillance of the strange man whenever he was taking a course cutting through our neighbourhood.

The other day my friend Biltu came crashing to convey the news to me that the man was passing by the front road. I called up my battalion, ‘Let’s go. Here we come in’.

‘What are we going to do? Are we supposed to catch him, and tie him up against the coconut tree?’

‘No. No, no, you know nothing about a true spy’, said I and putting my hands into pockets I added more with an assuring undertone as if I got a regal patent over this uphill venture, ‘First we let him do whatever he wants and we cast a wary vigil over his activity from undercover’.

‘Do we inform our parents about our secret plans?’, said Ratan.

‘They are no more any secret then, you loggerhead!’

‘Our mission, just keeping eyes on the man? Even when we have spotted the man and known his evil intention, we do not confide that to anyone, do we?’

‘Only when we know it’s time to get them around’, said I with full authoritative gesticulation, ‘not earlier than that’

Getting so far there, Grandpa tried to laugh a bit, but his dense cottony beard and hanging cottony moustache deprived me of that pleasure; for I thought this story of his was going to be different, a story of puerile jester as distinguished from his most stories as were always reflective. So

I remained satisfied with a pair of his secondary gleaming wrinkles of cheeks under the nose, just above the moustache when he said, ‘Children are so innovative, so irreproachably designing, Ron’

‘Yes Granpa. But, what did you get from there, from your unassigned venture, I mean?’

‘It brought in a funny business for us. We wasted a lot of time behind it by involving ourselves into the courageous acts of lurking, following, devising new plans and all we did either bunking off classes or putting off our valuable playtimes.

Every now and then we spotted the man somewhere around. As we were ruling the roost across the entire territory there at least one of us should have caught him in sight. We would be hiding ourselves behind the trees by the roadsides, china grasses in the fields, arrays of burnt bricks in the kiln, behind the broken walls, behind the frameless doors of the condemned house and the similar unlikely places of his dispersal.

A few days later, we got an opportunity of having a close observation of the mysterious man when he rested by the village road under a peepal tree. A number of black hairy heads came one upon another from the edge of the nearest pond that had eroded down to touch the sleek, tranquil water. We allowed only eye-lenses over the forehead to zoom in on the mystery man with little murmur as little as he should not come cautious.

Very big cities are the big places of indifference, people are least bothered about what’s going on outside that is not essentially congenial or compelling; but, remote villages or dwellings in the outskirts are the civil sentry of major numberless persons who have every reason to hurl a glance at every object moving. Nothing seems capable of escaping those disturbing glances. I don’t claim it is good or bad; but, may not be absolutely good or absolutely bad, must I have the right to think that good for one good reason and bad for another reason bad.

The mystery man with curly hair, soiled and knotted in rings, sat under the tree. He was wearing a dingy, threaded-out brown trouser rolled twice up from the ankle and a shirt much more than his size which was sagging by the sleeves. The cold blowing air was not to be shielded in the thin shirt and he clenched his fists and crossed his arms against chest and put the head between his knees. Thus he became as diminutive as he could. There was a little cage beside him; slender iron wires were knitted dexterously to leave as much space between them as was enough to let us pick a shot of what was inside. The cage had had a beautiful yellow bird, twitting and struggling to escape. This part of the village was the threshold to the hillock; it has its distance from the populous side. So, it bore the commencing view of the casia, fern and areca plants and the undergrowths to make people generally use the main concrete road baring a few who were willing to take this one to climb the ‘Black Bison’.

We were so lost in this honorary professional assignation that when and how the overhead sun took the shape of a red polished dish of the evening sun and bit by bit hid himself behind the dense canopies of the trees lining the ‘Black Bison’ was an obscurity for our childish attachment to some interesting thing. In the dim dusky light the man prepared to stand up to which action our attention took some alertness back and Ranjan said,

‘Hey, Govind, let’s go, it’s dark almost. Our parents must be calling out our names and searching around’.

My eyes got bigger as I knew what Ranjan said mattered nearly deserving an admonition and a bunch of whacks across the backside that would be enough eliciting a painful word of not doing this kind of mischief again.

The horrific scene flashed with my father standing before me holding that three-feet wicker, saying, ‘tell me you trolling pert, will you step out of home again except school?’.

I shrank with fear, ‘Oh! He is right, split up; split now, boys. Just fly, or get your skin ready for the sling rakings of oiled wickers’.

A stampede broke among us, the fury of which was stronger than our grip to step correctly to push ourselves up against the downwardly gravitating pond and no wonder the weakest boy would do awesome with such a terrible situation. So did Pandey, the son of the upcountry warder of correctional home, Dayashankar Pandey, our ever jolly Daya uncle. Pandey’s grip loosened and he slept straight into the water after two summersaults in course of his falling. The thrashing sound of some sleeping object and the tremendous splash of water disturbed the unfrequented hillside so unusually that a flock of bats and nested birds flew over the trees with elfish cry before settling again on the trees and we shouted in panicky hearts, ‘Pandey?’... ‘Pandey, you all right?’. We knew Pandey did not know how to swim and we consensually, unhesitatingly decided to descend down the slope to reach out to him. We lent hands to Pandey who was sinking making lots of bubbly froths that came springing with waves after wave. Finally, in the dark onset of the night we managed to pull him out of water and almost carried him alternately on our shoulders till we reached Banshi’s house; because his mother was very kind and forgiving and therefore a safe place. To cook up a story against this mishap was too hard to convince my father, he being the strict disciplinarian Head Master and his son is the forerunner of all evils. He was not going to bear up. The wicker forgave our skins, but my father’s angry voice did not. Although, the mystery man’s appearance and our audacious rescuing of Pandey had given some solace to the seriousness of the situation.

 

(3)

 

Our operation ceded its importance to the majority of the villagers after the incident. Everyone in the area was curious about the man with a strange cage of bird, different birds for different days. And they started to find out the reason behind such oddity of manners. Rumours got abroad and quest was on after the man, what was he doing here? What was his motive? Thenceforth, people started to follow the man everywhere he would be detected. Mostly we could discover him either resting under the tree, having his two chapattis lunch with raw onions and less often with a bit of ‘gur’ (molasses) or just passing along the lanes and twirling his even knotted hair. And, an irritating smile was always across his countenance. That pickled people’s suspicion.

He was brought into closer examination. Everyone passing by the man would throw interrogation, ‘what are you doing here? Where are you from? Why is there a cage always with you? What do you do with birds?’. And a score of chosen asking attitudes would impale him every now and then; he had been the black stone thing in the street, not responding to all these constabulary who pestle cured tobacco leaves in the palm with paste of slacked lime and go jabbering merrily. Nobody could ever expect anything other than a stupid, unmixed smile from the man who did scratch his scalp at the best.

Some held that the man was a mad, a trump and there was nothing to worry about; that like his most counterparts he was just an unlucky vagrant and not going to stay at a place for long. While they were with this understanding of him, some other people thought he was no ordinary freak in the time and tide, that his extenuated body and torn apparel were nothing but the evil cloak of deceiving people. That he must have some deep seated intention to be coming out in time. The subject of those forming the last judgement was so piquant that women and children were appalled because their easier unanimity was in considering the man a thief or burglar.

But, the situation worsened a few days later. The village as a whole confronted with an unforeseen incidence of stealing and vanishing of the caged birds from the neighbourhood. And also, some adverse things incoherent to people’s normal life disfavoured the man and they looked upon him a cursed one. People ran annoyed to my father. They came bulky with their accusations; that the mysterious man was responsible for the sudden disappearance of the birds from cages as never they happened to experience and different unholy, undesirable outturns came along and came over the village as a whole.

Anadi Nath Ghosh, Ratan’s father, said, ‘My bird disappeared at last, can you imagine master? I did not pay heed to their constant nagging about the man’s evil intention until veteran priest Bhattacharya uncle told me that his bird disappeared, the cattle in calf died and the flowered twigs dried one by one as the ruinous man sat in the stable, rested under the mango tree and must have stolen the bird for eating. The hungry demon!’.

My father tried to alleviate his discontented mind saying, ‘Anadi, you are a reasonable man here and we expect you a little more judicious and considerate. There may not have been any connection between the man’s roving about and the contagion of the cattle or the flowers death or disappearance of the caged bird; rather there may be some disbelief, several uncertainties of mind’.

Although I knew intuitively, that my father himself was worried about the man and when elderly grandmas of the village started pouring words into my father’s ears about the demoniac, inauspicious behaviour of the man causing this abnormal verisimilitude of cursed events, he thought the aftermath was unhealthy, and might somewhere be linked together. What the older men discussed themselves I harked on behind the doors. But, I was able to win over my companions, that our grannies were sick of mind; they grew up in the midst of medieval ideas of superstition and witchcraft, the black magic. Why would we believe in those damn things? We’ve read Galileo, Aryavatta, Newton and Charles Darwin and we knew how rusty old ideas were broken and enlightened by the touch of reasonableness. We were taught in school that belief and ideas, if they are not bringing any good to the progress of mankind have to be discarded and those people try keep away driven out of conservatism, of an illiberal vaunt of tradition have to be welcome as our willingness have already nodded to those modern constructive, independent ways of life.

 

  The other day we the children saw the other man being caught in the act of pilfering. The shopkeeper had gone inside, and the man was there. He stole a loaf of bread from the silvery desk and ran off. The owner saw him doing this, but before he could come to him the man had jumped on to the road leaving the shop-owner shouting and swearing at him from behind.

In an hour, we spotted him on the porch of Satyen’s house, eating that pound of bread and also feeding a bird in the cage with crumbs from his bread. Rabin said, ‘See, this is another bird, this bird is black, the earlier one was green.’ I agreed to him, ‘Yes, I saw that too’.

Gopal’s eyes widened as he said, ‘what would he be doing with the birds you think?’

‘must be killing; not sure yet if he steals birds for skewering and roasting in the fire as food or dropping its blood from the base of the neck separated from its body by some sharp weapon on some hellish preparatory items of sacrifice’, Rabin answered.

‘How could you be saying this? Have you had anything to stand up for?’, I asked assuming the posture of a true detective.

‘No, but I have seen feathers heaped up behind the cave where he lives, on the Black Bison’, returned Rabin with equal art of skilful detection.

The man was so restless, so fleetingly active that it was difficult to have him confined to some area for long; contrarily a number of people could have spotted him in a wide area he knocked about. It may be co-incidental that since his arrival our untoward things had started to be around. Likely, the milkman was milking the cow and he was passing or sitting nearer and something horrible happened to the milkman’s fortune – say roof of the stable collapsed, or the milk-pail knocked over, or the cow died or the milkman himself got sick after some days. But, people liked to believe the mystery man was responsible for all that. Whenever something similar happened the mysterious man was the only one person to be blamed as treacherously crafty and could not be otherwise. The snake-bitten cow of Bistu uncle died in the grazing field, and Dhananjay Pal’s smithy was usurped for non-payment of debt. Both of them were shattered and morbid. Two crops failed in a row, peasantry cried hard. Bhairav’s mother came with broken wrist after she slipped on the concrete slab of washing. And everywhere the man was reported to be present or his shadow passed by. Stealing of birds became a regular matter of objection and ascription. With increasing number, the stealing of caged birds now had become a regular talk of the all the villages in cluster.

 

(4)

 

A month elapsed. People were more sceptical over time, aided largely by the increasing rumour. The man would not say anything as people would get hold of his hand tightly and start hurling interrogation at him. He remained silent – when asked by somebody, ‘are you stealing birds?’ or ‘are you doing witchcraft?’ or ‘you killed the cattle and crafted deflowering, and shredding crops, didn’t you?’. He only gave a stupid grin and kept a downcast face. When my uncle said, ‘we will commit you to prison if you don’t utter a word’. He got his hand free from uncle’s grip and skipped away with hands up and shouted, ‘I am a freeman’, ‘I am a freeman’.

  But, he could not save himself as he was found petting Shiva’s goat tethered to a stake in his courtyard, and the goat died the next day. We were returning from school in the dimming daylight indulging in frolic discursive chatting and teasing one another while cycling, suddenly racing and then stopping, and again racing and then stopping. And so we did everyday when school broke up. We were in the tenth grade which enthralled us into putting nerves in studies only; our parents’ surveying eyes were fixed upon our progress and noted how  committed we were. That would definitely select separate treatment for separate pupil, most of which was cutting off of leisurely hours of playing or gossiping. Anyway, we saw a gathering before Shiva’s house and some commotion lay in. We, still in school uniform, left our cycles to peep through people’s heads what was going on. The knots of his rough, bushy hair were held in the fist of Shiva, the cattle raiser, and the mad man was being caned cruelly. He was falling here and there, but never tried to flee, and people were saying, ‘stop Shiva, let him go now, let him go’. Shiva, abetted by two or three other men, was so furious at that time that my father and Dinesh uncle were called in to dissuade Shiva from his untamed fury that he had abandoned himself to. Man was beaten right and left, he was hardly able to stand up on his feet, and Shiva and his abettors were still whizzing in anger. My father asked the man, ‘what did you do to Shiva’s goat that it died the next day you touched her?’. The man said nothing, he could not actually. He was breathing heavy. My father asked him again and again with nothing in return, then Shiva and others shouted abuse at him, ‘you better answer him or I will break your bones, damn swine’. My father asked Shiva to be quiet, ‘Do not be so out of wit, Shiva. Don’t be so furious’. Then turning his head towards the man again my father said, ‘tell me about you, and confess your guilt for anything you did or we will take you to the police’. Although my father tried to frighten him by the name of ‘police’, I heard him say that police would not interest in taking him in because any evidence or witness of indicting a wrongdoing was not coming, nothing could be moved round mere assumption. But, true as it was my father knew as well that the utterance of the word ‘police’ would do something to the mysterious man who always appeared constricted at the very word. So, he was tricky a bit.  After keeping reticence a while, the man jabbered a few words that we made out applying efforts, he said, ‘the goat was sick, I stroked her only as she was going to die’. Dinesh uncle angrily asked, ‘how did you know that? Do you communicate with animals?’ The man answered no more and tried to stand on his feet and fell down again. My father said, ‘he should be taken to Goswami doctor for a first-aid; what do you think?’ Nobody said a word. Giving nobody a chance to show another pity, the pitiless man tottered on feet after the second enterprise and started crippling into the beam of setting orange-red sun beyond the ‘Black Bison’. And the group dispersed shortly after.

A temporary thin piece of satiety abided in the village for some time knowing that the mysterious man has not shown himself until two days passed.

After two more days of this incident, Ratan bore the confidential report to our secret agency that my father was talking with others in the drawing room about the man. It was possibly that some abnormal theory had come out which essentially related the man and his uneasy deeds.

‘What is that’, we asked in chorus. Ratan fell to his lowest tone with downcast eyes and spoke like a felon, ‘I thought running the news instantly was more important, so I.....I..’ He fumbled, and we had to be settled for then.

  At the table for dinner, I got the news though. While my father was pouring his bowl of fishy broth over the steaming boiled-rice in his dish and the triangular chunk of fish dropped all together, my mother asked him what they were going to do next morning. No sooner did she ask than my sense of best audibility woke up and recorded everything. 

  ‘The man was not traceable as you know. Now Quassim says that, the man is in the SriGanesh temple in the hills, the Black Bison’.

‘What is he doing there?’, asked my mother.

‘Panditji is attending to him, doing embrocation and all’, my father said.

‘Ghanashyam Panditji is a noble man, the people across the countryside adore him; he should not be keeping himself in touch with that man’.

‘But, he is a very kind hearted man, he must have seen the wounded in pain or heard of him. A sacred soul like him cannot be indifferent to someone in suffering’.

My mother remained silent.

‘But, what worries me is any familiar occasion between them, Panditji and the mystery man, as Quassim thinks. And I am somewhat in consonance with Quassim; after all we know Panditji knows many things, a lot of history that go about ‘Black Bison’ and its foot-biting countryside’.

Their conversation went on.

I knew Panditji, a stalwart figure with white tapering beard, holy marks of sandal on forehead and arms, and always in pinkish-red priestly garb. His sanity was well substantiated by his courtliness and the suave, poised sound of his wooden slippers on stony steps of the temple would signify that great appearance. He served injured police and dacoit side by side and fearlessly went into ring-master’s cage to smear herbs on the wounded tiger. There is not a single person in and around fifty miles who is not aware of his benign heart and benevolence.

 

(5)

 

The night ended in a sunny day, merely misty or cloudy. The trifoliate leaves of the wood-apple tree were trembling brightly in the glistening sunlight, and my mother had put a bucketful of water out there in the courtyard to be warmed up in that racy sunlight. I will bathe in that water with two basil leaflets immersed in it. It is our generally practice custom - at least we perform it in our family. There are lot more rites and rituals taught by my Grandma not requiring urgent disclosure.

It was agreed that heads of the village including my father would visit SriGanesh Temple by climbing Black Bison.

As neighbours collected for the venture, Quassim was beside his big milch-breed cow lying in front of his stable and Goswami Doctor examining her. Goswami doctor could treat men and animal equally; he was a vet but, he was good at compounding medicines and curing primary health problems of people. We followed our elderly leaders up to Quassim uncle’s house to see what had been down there.

Goswami Doctor stood up from his kneeling position and said to Quassim disturbingly, ‘Looks like, severe intestinal poisoning. The cattle must have eaten some poisonous stuff; may be certain kinds of unknown poisonous, ivied creepers in the grazing field’. Then he prescribed some medicines and ampoule and torn the paper out to Quassim. He added, ‘Take care and do not let her go to the field again. Better you tell them, those rearing cattle or goats’.

  108 steps naturally were not an easy subject for the ascendants. But, everybody who wanted to reach SriGanesh Temple had to take up that arduous task of fortitude. We did it too. It was not toughest of things for the younger men as we were; however, it was contradictorily for elderly men like my father and others.

  The temple was not a big one, but its architectural carvings on stone and the decoration was something to be proud of. The main SriGanesh idol was sitting on a throne of stone, beautifully chiselled out. The entire temple was black, the colour of stone. But, the Ganesh image was coloured differently in red.

  We entered the temple gently and swung the giant copper-alloyed bell to strike the holy metallic sound. The bell clanked, and clanked and clanked with every stroke of obeisance by so many people. A number of white, grey and blackish white pigeons and doves were waddling across the open rectangular slab by the temple-side and snapping the hard cover of the rice to peck at the inner starchy rice grain. Their warbling voices made a symphony in the peaceful ambience. It was somewhere so close to the countryside, but so different, so serene and pure as people needed no separate place to find peace and heaven. It was there.

  ‘How long have you been here, son’, the sudden addressing by Ghanashyam Maharaj startled everybody there, and all the crowd of men and women collected there for the purpose of worship or without purpose, rushed on to bow head at the feet of Panditji.

‘God be with you’, said Panditji to the bowing men and women more than once.

  Then he listened to some worshippers and directed them into the sitting room of the idol, where there was a number of his disciples, all head shaven except for a tuft of hair hanging behind. They were arranging things for homage and offering.

  My father said, ‘just some time’. Then my father said, ‘we have come to learn something from you Maharaj’. 

Panditji replied, ‘Is 108 as big as to let you forget your kindness to come up to here unless there is something you want to learn?’

We the teen boys noticed how elderly leaders would remain silent before Panditji as we were castigated by teachers in the classroom for poor homework, and felt some satisfaction.

‘No, no, it’s not true Panditji. Quite often we wish to come here, but nearness is sometimes a big maze for us. Here God is so close to us that we dare spend one and one day making schedule to climb up the hill. And people from outside the country climb so easily without a schedule’, regretted my father.

Panditji smiled waving hand to sit cross-legged on the pellucid, bare floor of the temple and said, ‘Lord Ganesha has perhaps felt your inability, perhaps of the country as a whole. And He has ordered me to think about a holy procession down to the countryside holding Ganesha image in the forefront. I am contemplating the subject. Don’t worry’.

That irony put everybody out of countenance, and a short-time silence lingered.

Panditji asked again, ‘what brought you here master? Do you wish to tell me?’

Dinesh uncle said fervently, ‘It’s about a mysterious man. Ever since his arrival, the villagers have been facing several problems, the problems.....’

Panditji cut in, ‘perhaps I know if you are talking about Sonadhar goala (Milk man) who has been in the habit of stealing caged birds’.

Several throats sounded simultaneously, ‘you know him, Panditji?’

‘Yes, I know him very well’, said Panditji with a little more calmness.

Dinesh uncle asked again, ‘Is it true then you sheltered a thief like him in this God’s temple?’

‘Yes my son. I medicated him, cared for his emaciated body with bruises as my disciple found him at the base of this hill. And as you admitted it is God’s temple, my duty is to lend hand to those in distress, to offer water to the thirsty and medicate them who are injured as far as I can. There you can’t expect any discrimination whatever it is. Everybody deserves his end according to his acts, good or bad. But, I am not here to judge people, I am only an executor of natural justice, the judgement is His. But, here is something behind your cognizance. This man, a thief you say, has a history not commendable, yet tragic. I know him, but he doesn’t know me; this village knows him, but he does not know this village’.

‘Tell me about him Maharaj, I want to know what made you show sympathy to a thief’, said my father, ‘we have to do something about him if the village has to sustain its perpetual peace and stability’.

‘He was not a stealer of birds, his evil ambition made him so’, Panditji started without moment’s hesitation. ‘Sonadhar Goala, as the name denotes, was a milk man by profession at first. He was more than honest as long as his profession demanded, but he was happy with his family that had his wife and a little daughter. People loved him because of his purity of thought and satiety. He never adulterated milk with at least water, because he wanted to be happy with whatever little he had. But, bubble changes colour with time. Circumstances changed, continuous compromise with little, and little and little distracted his concentrating mind. In a moment’s aberration, a few years later, he started consorting with shrewd businessmen who had tempted him into trying a job quite different from a milkman’s; because he had to earn more to satisfy his family, even though his family never made an urge to that, but he wanted them happier.

Ten years ago, he was here, in this hamlet and he was familiar to this Black Bison as one is familiar to one’s palm of a hand. People’s minds are very flexible, my son, have all flexure of brushing gorgeous colours even if he is ignorant of how that colour would do to his black and white cut-out. And if that we expect from a poor, illiterate milkman Sonadhar Goala we are expecting more than we ought to. He has to live in his own surrounding air of comfort and discomfort where he is the master to decide how far his conscience should inspire his honesty to come along unstained when he wanted better a life of abundance than he was presently able to give to his family. When he succumbs to that wound, scooped by the repeated strikes of misfortune and ill-fate, he loses the conflict for honesty, and there comes his most dishonest role. He became the illicit trader of beautiful birds that embellishes the fancy households. Within a very short time, he was able to bring accomplices of the same nature to his side. He was the evil master of those quickest fortune-seekers. He amassed opulence, swam in the ocean of perfect happiness. The cliques of his aides, his cohorts effectively kept moving with the flourishing business in the darkness of night. They poached, trapped and caged valuable birds from every unpredictable site of migration. Then they looted aviaries, sneaked into zoos and reserved forests by hiring expert evil-minded ornithologists, mimics and by blinding, bluffing and bribing a section of police-administration.

  But, this fortune had to be ephemeral. Sonadhar’s illegal birds-trading was being recorded in the crime registers beyond his alertness. As unexpectedly he was adept in spreading a trap for birds in the most unlikely places, the police were secretly pulling the other end of that trap to enmesh him in from the most likely places, the places he visited frequently. One day he was copped and dumped in jail, his rackets were broken and family detached. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was the most helpless, abandoned man by then. He found himself alone within four walls of the prison; a new life began in confinement. The more his prison days advanced, the more he realized how miserable it was to be living in total seclusion, away from family and the known environment to which he was so inseparably attached. Moreover, as his honest mind was suppressed somewhere deep, that he had not killed it right, gradually a great change came over his lonely feelings. He thought about those heartless moments when he captured freely flying birds and fettered them inside the iron bars. He thought how painful it was for a free bird to see the endless blue of the sky through the slits of iron bars, and the bird being unable to break the fetters and fly again in the open sky that had been calling her hoarse. Now he is contrite, he is meditating, he is remorse. The God’s wrath has punished him hard; cursed is his lot now - he suffers, he struggles to set himself free to rush to his dear wife and daughter and now he rattles hard the same iron bars which had so written banishment of that innocent, helpless beautiful bird as was shedding tears for the innocent, helpless offspring yet to see the sky on the top bough of some tree. Thousand mothers shed tears, thousand chicks cried. When he was blindly running after happiness and propitiating his luck, he was the ugliest mean of an inattentive mind; he never forgot his ambitious course, not for a single sake, to look back into the cage where the bird was still flapping its wings and the cottony feathers were breaking against the clenching iron sticks gritting firm for the softest heart. Never did he forget his ambitious course of getting fortune to his family by keeping his eyes closed to the pair of wet eyes, of the bird which had stopped struggling and stared at the stiff-jawed face of its captor if ever his heart melted to open the door.

Just what happened to his birds happened to him as well. His struggling ceased, he stopped eating and he confined himself more to his sole piece of cot; lay upon which he stared into the blank outer sky through the stout iron rods of the coop that had let a soft square of sun into the otherwise dark, dingy cave of a beast, but had not his mortal body. He lost himself in the happy days he spent with his family – his so dutiful wife, his so beautiful little daughter. His body convulsed suddenly from that thought about his family and he jumped over the iron-gate, tried frantically to break it open with every lasting might. His body collapsed in pain, of more mental and less physical, and he burst into tears with his head down between his knees.

  Seizure of his illegal property, freeze on his money had reduced his family to extreme hardship. In the first few days of his imprisonment his wife would come weeping to him with the little daughter walking aside with her little hand held by her mother; but, time progressed, those tearful meetings became fewer and the gap extended. The wire that was becoming thinner and thinner linking the two sides, snapped eventually and there started a new chapter of estrangement. No visit, no letter and not a couple of words from his family. Every sentry came to him with a tray of meals and was back only with this question, ‘where’d she go? Where’d she go?’

  He held him responsible for the total storm that had blown his happiest dreams away. No sponsor came forward; those accomplices of his forbidden world were vanished in the creamy layer or got his equal treatment.  

  He tried to commit suicide within custody, but could not at the very moment with this slightest hope still limping in mind that if his family was alive until then! He may not have been able to make a contact with them, but what else does he know about the converse? Nothing. And lighting only this lamp of hope that one day he would meet his family, he decided to expiate his sins. Once he was a simpleton milkman, and people as loved him for that simplest person as they turned faces to that unscrupulous man of all dishonesty whom they refused to know.

  So long after his deviation from the path of virtue, time reminded me to him as a hollow stalk of lily he could breath in through as he sank up to neck in the mire of compunction and that, he had been grappling enough to find peace. Because when he was a milkman he would always come to this temple with the newly wedded bride and later also carrying a little baby whose little legs hung astride his neck and little hands held by his hands stretched overhead.

One day I went to see him. The jailor was cordial to take me to Sonadhar’s room. A devastated man who he was, he fell at my feet like a pirate who had lost his everything to sea, blubbering a lot. He confessed his guilt and sought my good counsel to salvation. After his conviction by the law and his confession to me, he was only an element of crime to me and to the society at large; I did not want to recognize him apart from his present identity, I could not. Nevertheless, I told him that the breach of law would have its severity to equalize his crime; but, if he really wanted to expiate his sins, his soul should be the purest one to be devoted to the emancipation of those birds once fettered by him. He would be the liberator of thousands of bonded birds.

 

(6)

 

After five years of his prison term, when he was released from the jail he was a different man – he did not come to me, but obeyed my good counsel as one of my initiated disciples; I could rarely have expected from him. He wandered here and there like a lifeless piece of mannequin, seeking shelter and food. Then he was working in a smithy; day and night engaged in flattening red-hot iron blocks and tampering in water. Rest of the day, his virtuous task was to buy caged birds from the market and let them fly up in the sky and to go every nook and corner within his reach for Durga, his wife and Laxmi, his daughter or remain lost in himself. He had given freedom to thousands of birds and the precocious school-boys had given him the nickname, ‘Lincoln of birds’. When he was in the market, people tried to fight shy of this crazy man who unbecomingly went about them and inspired them to buy and free a single bird. His pocket was not swollen enough to buy up the market on a ‘Hat-bar’ (particular day of a week or month for a big variety market), but whatever he earned would be expended on this foolish adventure of buying and freeing birds. But, he never backed out of his unpledged word and he carried on with my good counsel as prophecy. My disciples were bringing news of him from different parts of his vagrancy, and were not insensate to get news of his family if there was any. A year after, he climbed up this hill-temple to show me a satchel almost full of quills as token of his obedience. That was incredibly about how many birds he had been able to free and the birds had dropped the quills behind. He also begged to know if he had been going on in the right direction, because he could not get to his family yet. I assured him by saying - once your good deeds of cool mitigating water inundate your burnt scars of bad ones, The Almighty would be the most gracious father to put you to your family. He went out with his satchel of quills.

This was the only thing he never parted with, except when the satchel soaked in rain and he had to spread the content out in a corner for drying.

  It was very difficult, however, for him to stay somewhere for long, his antecedents were the greatest enemies of him. A few days later, he was driven out of the smithy as the owner had already come to learn his pre-historic black pages. Then after endeavouring a lot he found the job of a porter in the railway platforms, but that too did not suit to his lot for long. He fell into the clutches of a fatal fever that was the ghastly monster to suck up the last vitality off his life. He was luckily landed in the rail hospital, his life was saved, but what he was after that should be compared with his five years dungeon-life and it had relegated him to a demented entity, totally oblivious, clownish drifter elsewhere. The whole world was now as strange looking to him as he looked stranger to the stray dogs barking at him and receding safer away from him whenever he passed by. He forgot even his own name, his own known places; he forgot me, and shockingly he forgot even his family – his wife Durga and his little daughter Laxmi. But, it was rather astounding, unbelievably unearthly that he forgot everything, yet not the duty of freeing birds from captivity. This only superior job of redemption had gone venous, in his innate reflexes and he was the wretched bondsman to get rid of that. Even stealing caged birds and opening the door in stirringly agile hand lest somebody should stop him from the action, had become the sole identifiable external trait of the man, to bewilder his sensation perpetually.

Sonadhar Goala now knocks about at different places, the detour of which may occasionally cut across your hamlet; but, if you seemed to him a little less repulsive, the only thing he would have expected from you would be a prayer to you to count the quills up he had amassed in his satchel and not the wealth that brought him here”.

Now, as everything was clear like daylight, Dinesh uncle asked with a soft, laden voice, ‘where is he now? Is he here?’

Panditji nodded his head right and left slowly and rested his hand on the shoulder of a nice looking boy, his disciple, and raised himself up saying, ‘No. He left last morning, before dawn’.

Then he walked along the corridor, crossing the balustrade of columns that propped up the roof, and the listeners followed the suit. Panditji stopped before a room. His disciple pushed the door inwards and we saw three persons lying on a piece of Palmyra mat. A few essential items like a napkin, a mundane water pot and a glass for drinking water were over the head. It was easier for the onlookers to grasp that they got some treatment there. Their weak, crawling movement to sit up indicated that they were brought here with some injuries – verily at nobody’s care. Panditji asked them, ‘Babaji, when did you say Sonadhar left?’

One of them - a very old man, infirm, answered with folded palms, ‘before dawn, Maharaj. He took his satchel under arm and walked out. I tried to stop him, but he left anyway’.

Maharaj said, ‘are you feeling well now, Babaji?’

The old man said, ‘yes Maharaj, a lot better’.

‘SriGanesh is yours’, Maharaj remembered with closed eyes. And then, he took out a big quill from underneath his garments and spread in front. ‘This is the only gift of him I am with at present, Sonadhar gave this to me, don’t know why. But, this thing, the cheapest one in the material world, I want you to take from me. You are a teacher. If a single word be written with this quill that would value his truly repentant heart a bit, a true self-mortification’.

 

(7)

 

Granpa paused. The nightly silence that was peeping into the holes of entrance hitherto, barged into the room immediately; the sound of the beetles in the undergrowths became more distinct, vividly founded. But, that did not last long as granpa resumed with some mental readjustment, it seemed.

‘My father, without a little murmur, had accepted that gift of the mystery man. I can’t tell you Ron if he had grown any shadow of sympathy for the man, but later in the day when we got home, I saw him approach the little cage of the parrot, hanging from our ceiling. He stood by the cage absent-mindedly for some time and remained gazed at ‘Shankar’ as we lovingly called the bird. He finally, opened the door and most affectionately took the bird out of the cage, and after smearing his fingers gently on his little head and soft plumage, set him free in the open sky. For the first time I saw my father wet in eyes, and a drop of tear trickled down his cheek without a facial expression. And I cried silently for ‘Shankar’.

The mysterious man never wandered in the lanes and by-lanes of our hamlet again, the Black Bison never heard his sighs.

I don’t know if Sonadhar got his family back, even if he met them once, but there was something in the quill given by Maharaj that made my father write stories that were always painful. He said to my mother that whatever he tried to write with the quill turned out to be a tragedy. Most surprisingly, when he wrote the preface of an anthology of comical poems for a children’s magazine that also trailed some undesirable, irreconcilable grief and my father had lost his permanent honoured seat of the president of joint intercollegiate committee of cultural activities, for this unjustifiable act.

I can still remember the first couple of words my father wrote with the quill in his diary, when I turned its first page that night........there was,

‘..........Human appearances are delusive and unconvincingly misleading. The man with the ugliest face, abnormal gesticulation must not always be the way he appears. If we form judgement by an observation of his outward look, history says the first look says most things, but what is untold is their abyssal mind which is so down under that sometimes its reflection fails to climb up the easy ladder to his face-like mirror. The most normal face may have concealed the most abnormal mind; the most abnormal face may have its most normal thought in there. Unfortunately, human nature allows us quick judgement and not studied judgement; and we love to be swindled by look, do not like not to be swindled by heart..........’

And, this bliss or curse, whatever you say, of the quill had inherited into my subconscious intelligence, when I tried to write something with this quill or tell a tale of whatsoever nature”.

 

The major stopped. The lurking silence that he had sent away by making the room vibrant with his bitter monologue, the singular narrative, pressed its way in again. The dark room slept into an awkward passively flowing eeriness, a mysterious secession and soft candle light has faded even softer as it has melted almost to snub, just the wick peeping out. The window curtains flying up in semicircular arches, a sudden flutter of those curtains by the trespassing wind made the room colder. The whole night is looking lonely, remotely set from the noisy, gregarious world. As though, it wanted this loneliness, the remoteness to sustain its gravity. The crimson blue post lights had gone off, and a yellowish dim light from the crescent moon was keeping the tree-tops visible, standing by the order of some witch’s wand.

How long we were musing I don’t know, but the tranquillity of the undesirable silence was broken by the laden old voice, ‘Ron’...

‘Hmm...’

‘It’s time to go’.

‘Why granpa? Can’t you stay?’

‘No. But, you need not worry about that. How do I miss your call once you’ve picked that quill up? It is good; precisely it is the best reappointment of this enthusiastic conversationalist you love very much.’

Saying this much the major stood up from his favourite swinging cane-recliner at the corner of the room and moved towards his grandson at the table. He put his hand on his head to undo the hair frivolously; said, ‘you are my best boy, love you son. And never try to be upset, I’m always with you’.

The grandpa’s few words of valediction always lull me like a child, it is something I can hardly make you realize. But, between his coming and going there lives only some pleasant moments that I flatter myself as being the sole heir who deserves, a little niggardly.

Granpa took his black overcoat down from the hanger and the matching black hat on the head. The nice looking spirally twined walking stick had been leaning against the wall until his hand took its bulbous head into five. Grandpa slowly moved upon the door and opened it. He fell back a bit from an unexpected cool blast before gaining control over his feet, and said,

‘it’s just the flurry Ron. But, don’t forget to latch the door from inside; I fear a little shower’. He stepped down into the night scene outside that was getting clearer as the big clock had already declared, ‘the dawn is close’.

In the coolness of hour, I might have fallen asleep, but stirred to sit up by the touch of a cold hand and a voice that called me, ‘Ron? Ron, wake up’. From the other side of the sleepy kingdom, I answered like a stumbling tipsy, ‘You are back granpa. I am so glad’.

A different note floated warmly into my ears, and that was my father. ‘Ron, it’s me’, said he surprisingly. Although, it did not surprise him a lot as he knew this delusion was no new to his son.

‘Where is your granpa? I have told you umpteenth times not to stay up all night, haven’t I? Now be up, leave the chair and go to bed’.

My dad kept the giant quill safe inside the notebook and folded it up.

‘No, dad, you don’t believe me, he came to me again. He was sitting just there’, I pointed at the recliner in the corner.

‘Ok, I know how it is, I know boy’.

My dad’s consoling words gave me no satisfaction. Rather, I felt discontentment for being treated like a child who tried to convince his parent of certain unreliable sophistry. And my dad’s trying to help me get round to bed embittered my juvenile impetuosity. I kept quite with my eyes fixed on the recliner which was still gently swinging to and fro a little more vividly in the first scattering daylight.

***

 

 

 

 

 

Finished:

At 3:40 pm.

Written between:

12th and18th January, 2017.

 


© Copyright 2017 Suvendu. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

More Literary Fiction Short Stories