The Old Painting -1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
It was 1928, Bernard was my Best friend, a childhood friend with whom I had spent all my careless days. But after he bought that old painting from that shop in India, his life was never the same, nor was that of anyone related to him. What was there in that painting... ?

Submitted: June 03, 2012

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Submitted: June 03, 2012




“And you think it’s a fair price to pay for this curtain?”
“Well I won’t mind paying 5 rupees for this piece of Handicraft, Hand Woven, decorated with Silk and pearls, I guess She’s just asking a fair Price” I replied to him.
“Well Edward if you say so, you are better acquainted with this place than me,  (to the young girl on the shop) Well young Lady please get two for me” saying this Bernard handed over 2 currency notes of 5 to Hiralal, his housekeeper at the Quarters. Leaving Hiralal at the Shop for packaging we walked ahead.

Bernard was my Best friend, a childhood friend with whom I had spent all my careless, innocent days, one who knows about me more than me, one who know my likes and dislikes, one who had a key to all my hidden closets. We both were 25 at the time, 25 years spent together, all good and bad times, sharing everything. He had arrived in India just a couple of weeks ago, he had decided to pursue a career in International law after his graduation in Law from Oxford, and as a learning experience he had decided to spend a few months in British India’s judicial service.
He had always been the meritorious one out of two of us, after a diploma in accounts I had taken this clerical job and he had moved on to do higher studies in Law. Just a year ago, I got this opportunity to work in British Revenue offices in India, and more than the thrill and challenge in the work it is the opportunity to make some ‘extra income’ that urged me to go there, and to be honest till a week before Bernard was to come to India, I was doing exceptionally well, there were a lot of Seths, Zamindars and Rajvade in India at that time, and they provided ample opportunities for a Revenue assistant to tweak the documents a bit for a small share of fortune.

Anyways, coming back to that very same unfortunate evening, In was about 5 in evening and the hilly region of Shimla was getting cold, the local weekly market was getting gloomy, little fog had started to come in, and that evening it was getting dark little before expected. Both of us walked ahead, In his two weeks in India Bernard was impressed by the rich culture of the city, this was the second time I had taken him to this weekly ‘Bazaar’  and he was definitely enjoying this, small shops and stalls full of handmade stuff ranging from vessels, pots, curtains, blankets, shawls. Being a person of rich taste he wasn’t missing any opportunity to inquire the local people about the stuff. A few of whom were able to communicate through broken English phrases, and for most of them , Hiralal was turning out to be the saviour. Going through the bazaar Bernard paused in front of a small street with a few people sitting on the pavement, selling paintings, we moved in. There were framed paintings in different colors, most of them were handmade ones by local artists. We moved further inside the street. It was getting narrower. The street was closed at the other end, and at the farther end there was an old shop, a Painting Shop. Bernard moved further to that shop I lagged behind, negotiating the price of a small handmade doll for Lily, Mr. Russel’s Daughter.
Buying it after a bit of bargain, I walked to Bernard and Hiralal who were inside the shop now, to my surprise it was deserted.

It was an old shop, way too old with a  rusty roof and cracked wooden counters. It was almost dark by now, and we were having trouble looking at the paintings.
“Hello” a hoarse voice startled us, we turned back to find an old man. somewhere in his 70s wearing a pair of untidy grey kurta-payjama  and a hand made woolen sweater. His wrinkled face had something in it that caught our attention. Bernard started the conversation
“Hullo, Sire, you seem to have a good old collection of paintings”

The old man looked blankly at our faces and muttered something in the local language that Hiralal translated for us. From his and his shop’s condition it was evident he’s not in business. The thought was further strengthened by the way he was showing us around the paintings, constantly muttering about them, which Hiralal was translating to us. But his sheer bad luck his collection was old, dusty and most of the paintings were faded with colors getting dull. I came out of the shop to lit a cigar, it was about 7.30 and cold wind was blowing, the other stall keepers were packing their stuff calling it a day, my eye caught site of two teenagers carrying over a national flag, ‘So the congress is getting its roots here too, this Gandhi certainly had some charisma..’
“Hey Eddie look here…” My thoughts were broken by Bernard’s voice. I went back inside, he had scattered the heap of old paintings around himself and was holding one with a little smile, “Isn’t this nice Eddie”he was sounding like that kid who’d wished for a cookie and had got a Full Candy jar instead. It was an old painting, with a crumpled frame, the glass on the frame itself had bid farewell years ago. He came out with the painting the old man had lit an oil lamp by then. I took a close look at the painting, It was on a piece of White leather, with a richly handcrafted heavy wooden frame, maybe at some time it would’ve been considered a dream possession, but at that time it was nothing more than junk. I took the lamp from the old man to have a closer look, It was a landscape with white snow covered mountains in a distance, with a vast field covered with dull green grass in between, and a White horse with a hooded rider in the bottom left corner, speeding towards those dreamy mountains, and in between the mountains and the rider, there was this long, vast field stretching into miles. It was certainly effective right at the first sight, the rider in a blue colored robes and hood, clutching the reins, speeding to some unknown destination was impressive.

“Isn’t it marvelous” Chuckled Bernard
“Oh yes yes it is” though I found it good, but having been to the art galleries of Europe and having seen the rich Arts of Mughal Era in India, it was just a normal painting to me, but to keep up his enthusiasm I agreed with him.
“How much for this one Sire” he inquired the Old man, the old man took the lamp and took a closer look at the painting, maybe the poor old man was having weak eyes too, he looked closely at the painting and with a deep expression of horror, snatched it out from my friend’s hands, We were astonished at this act of him.
“How dare he snatch… ” Snapped Bernard, outraged at this act of the old man, but having been there for some time, i knew it better now to indulge in rash fights with local people. I gazed at Hiralal and he intervened at the right moment, he started talking aggressively to the old man in the local tongue, the old man was shaking his head aggressively in a no, and was pleading. Hiralal told us that he’s saying that this one is not for sale, and he would rather sell all other paintings than this. This was little too much for Bernard, he was from a family of Bureaucrats and Navy Officers, he had his share of attitude and prejudice over Indians. An old poor Indian denying him something was too much for him, we was enraged and furious.
“How could he deny me something, I am ready to pay any price for this”
Hiralal was still arguing with the old man.


“Sirs he’s saying that this is a painting by some painter while in solitary imprisonment, he was not a good person, this painting is bad” Though his English was bad, still he was able to convey his thoughts.
“Oh rubbish, ask him we’ll pay double” Bernard was adamant to buy the painting. The old man was close to tears out of this argument, the Lamp’s light falling on this wrinkled face was creating a gloom in itself. His eyes had that sense of helplessness, which I had witnessed only in the eyes of those to the gallows, his poverty stricken face was shaking, he was creating a pitiable picture there.
Bernard took out 10 currency notes of 5 from his designer wallet, the old man gulped. His eyes once looked at the painting, and then with a shaking hand he approached the money, he was crying now, for once I felt it was the sight of money for the poor soul, but the instant he casted that look at the painting, I knew it was something different. Bernard was now smiling, coming out a winner at a cost ten times the original value, still he had the upper hand. The old man was still muttering to Hiralal, who was trying to console him. I was confused at the proceedings there, It was getting awkward, waving at the old man, I took off in the street after Bernard who was holding the dusted painting under his arm, Hiralal followed us. We had walked some 20 yards from that shop, when we heard a faint cry, the old man was running after us, unbalanced, he came to us and said something in very sad and pleading tone, Hiralal reassured him, said a few consoling things in his language and led him back to his shop.


© Copyright 2019 Akshay Khokhar. All rights reserved.

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