The man in starched uniform, possibly an Assistant Jailer or someone below him, bellowed at the man opposite him in a gruff voice, “Your fourteen-year term is over, Namdhari. Collect your things and leave the place. Try to walk the straight path. Do remember you are not welcome here. “
There was a slight movement in the facial muscle of Namdhari. In his early fifties, strong built, with a week’s stubble, unkempt hair and shifty eyes, he simply nodded his head that signified nothing. As he trudged out of the prison gate with a small bag in his hand, he collected the saliva in his mouth with much noise and turned round towards the gate to spit it in contempt.
He stood for a few minutes and surveyed the scene. There was none waiting for him. He lit a beedi and walked towards the railway station, with a steady step that showed no sign of remorse or indecision about his destination. At the station entrance he had a shave and haircut from a wayside barber, had a bath from the nearby well and wore a faded jeans and a red and black striped T shirt. None of these could hide the deep scar running from head to his left ear or minimize his wicked look. Keeping the small change, he discarded the rest of the things in the bag. He breathed long and relished the freedom in the air.
The scene at the early morning at the village that he left about 15 years back was familiar. It was smoggy and dark even as sun had risen. He crossed across to the tea shop and ordered channa bhature and tea. There were a few villagers sipping tea and talking to each other. They stopped conversing when he entered. He thought none recognized him or spoke to him. There was an embarrassing silence. He quickly ate and left the place. He heard to his chagrin the resumption of the loud conversation amidst the laughter.
As he walked to Late Nathuram’s house, the events that happened when he was here fifteen years back unfolded before him like a film. He was a vagabond with no job then and lived by his wit cheating, thieving and deceiving people. He chanced to come to Nathuram’s house one day fully drunk seeking a job to work in the fields and tend his cattle. Nathuram, a kind man, was seated on a cot with his young son of about eight years. Though he had heard about his shady character, he was willing to employ him hoping the steady job would transform him to be a responsible member of the village.
It was then Nathuram’s wife Savitri came out of the house holding a tray containing tea and cookies. She was petite and extremely good looking with smiling eyes. When she saw a stranger she pulled up her sari to cover her head and her face partially. Namdhari stared at her without taking his eyes off her even as Nathuram told his wife, “This man seeks a job in our farm. He has no family and would live in the shed at the rear. I am thinking of asking him to work.”
Savitri hated him at the first sight at the way he stared at her and for the lust in his eyes as he ran his eyes over her body. She knew surely he meant trouble. “We do not need any fresh hand. I have already promised our maid Putli that her husband can work from next week,” said Savitri in a decisive tone.
Nathuram turned towards Namdhari and said,” Sorry, I was not aware of her promise to our maid. When something comes up, I will send for you. Have the tea.”
Namdhari yelled, “Aren’t you a man? After promising me, how can you listen to a woman, you henpecked fellow? She will pay for it very dearly.”
“Your disrespectful talk confirms the apprehension I had initially of you and which I was ready to ignore. I have no more use for you. Get out of my place before I get you thrown out,” shouted angrily Nathuram.
Seeing Savitri contemptuously laughing at him, Namdhari in a fit of rage pulled out a revolver and shot two rounds at Nathuram with one hitting his stomach.
Nathuram in utter disbelief in his eyes fell on the ground clutching his belly even as blood quickly covered his body. Savitri shocked at the turn of events rushed to his side. As he was squirming in excruciating pain, Namdhari grabbed Savitri’s hand and started pulling her towards the house shouting, “You will soon regret for laughing at me, you slut. I never expected to have you so soon in my grasp.”
As she was resisting and trying to bite his hand, a stone thrown from somewhere hit his head loosening his grip as he faltered. Savitri freed herself and ran towards the nearby well and jumped into it. Meanwhile hearing the commotion, a few farm hands rushed and overpowered Namdhari. The little boy who ran towards the well from his hiding place shouted at the farmhands to save his mother from the well.
By the time Nathuram was taken to the nearest hospital, he had lost much blood and breathed his last making it a murder case.
Woken up from his reverie as he neared Nathuram’s house after so many years, Namdhari was wondering whether Savitri who would be in her forties be alone in the house. Quickening his pace in anticipation, he found the courtyard in the front empty. Emboldened by his luck in finding no one, he climbed the footsteps leading to the patio till he found a young man in his twenties come out.
“Who ae you and what do you want?”
“You may not remember me. Are you Nathuram’s son? Your mom would know me,” said Namdhari
“Yes, I am Nathuram’s son. I have no idea who you are. You have not answered my question as to what brought you here.”
“I came to meet your mother to find out whether she has any work for me here,” Namdhari replied with a leering smile.
“You can meet her. Please come in,” he said and took him to small room that was barely furnished and made him seated on a bench. ”My mother would soon meet you,” he added as he left the room.
Namdhari was rejoicing at the prospect of meeting Savitri and decided to be tactful before gaining her confidence. As he was lost in thoughts about her petite figure, he failed to notice a farm hand leaving a gunny bag under the bench till he closed the door behind. He looked around to call the young man and found no windows. As he knocked the door hard, he felt something cold at his feet. When he looked down he found to his horror two darkish full grown cobras with raised hoods staring at him to make a move. In a reflex action he pulled his legs up only to be bitten by both the cobras. His screams for opening the door was met with deafening silence. Soon he fell down frothing at the mouth and the colour of his skin turned blue.
The door opened after a while with a farm hand entering the room. He deftly caught the cobras and put them back in the gunny bag before leaving quietly.
The young man entered and said ”However old you become, the deep scar on your head and the jaw betray your identity. I had also information from someone at the teashop, that you are back from prison. We hurriedly made some preparations to meet you in a fitting style. You wanted to meet my mother. She said she was not interested in meeting you. I hope my father’s soul would be at peace today wherever it is.”Namdhari was breathing hard with difficulty and realized his life was ebbing out when he heard the same contemptuous laugh he had heard years back from outside the room.