Thursday, April 11, 2019

The crossing over

Jayadeb, when you are in Kolkata, do find time to visit your aunt Aatmaja.She is elder to me. We were very close in our younger days. She is alone after her daughter had passed away. I will give you name of the village. It is not very far from Dakshineswar as she used to visit the temple frequently,’ said Shubodra to her son and added with a smile, “Do not forget to take some good mishti. She has a sweet tooth.”
“I will try my best Ma to meet her, But I remember your telling that we have to cross a river through a bamboo bridge to reach her village. I am scared a bit but do not worry, I will call on her, “replied Jayadeb. He knew that there was no possibility of his mother ever visiting India again and meeting her cousin at this advanced age.
When his work mainly at Delhi was finished, he went to Kharagpur to deliver a lecture at his alma mater. He took an Uber taxi at Howrah station and gave the name of the nondescript village that was not far from Dakshineswar and home for the world famous Kali shrine. He bought on the way three kinds of sweets for his aunt whose face he did not recollect. To make things easy for the driver, Jayadeb told him about the access to village only through a bamboo bridge. The driver assured him that with this vital clue he should be able to find the place.
Generally, Bengalis are god fearing people and revered Kali Ma much. But Jayadeb was an agnostic though he did not mind his mother or wife doing puja or observing rituals. He took after his father in this trait much to the disappointment of the members on the distaff side.
After a few enquiries at teashops and from passersby, he alighted at a point close to bamboo bridge. The sky was overcast though it was mid-day but there was no sign of any rain. He walked a short distance to the foot of the bridge. The state of the dilapidated bridge shocked him and in many places he noticed there were wide gaps on the pathway with bamboos missing or holding on from one side rendering it totally unfit for children and elderly. The railings to hold on both sides were not strongly attached. This must be a very old bridge not maintained properly, he thought. There was no one on the bridge save one person who had almost reached the other end. This gave Jayadeb some confidence. There was a slight soothing breeze and he could see the bridge sway slightly.
He started walking slowly taking each step carefully. The bridge was about 200 feet in length. He gained confidence as he cautiously advanced. He could see no boat on the river near the bridge save two or three near the shore on the other side of the river. As he slowly treaded, he felt a drop of water on his face and the breeze gaining intensity. The bridge started swaying a little more like a swing frightening him no end. The river was flowing with swift current. Hearing a crashing sound, he turned behind in trepidation to see a part of the bridge turned at an angle of 450.There was no way of turning back after this development. The bridge in front swayed dangerously as the wind gathered momentum. Luckily there was no rain but only a mild drizzle making the bamboo pathway slippery. Confused and disoriented at the way things changed suddenly, he turned his head on all sides to find a way to escape.
It was then he saw at a distance a temple tower that was possibly not Dakshineswar temple. The sight of tower brought back to his mind the puja his wife did devoutly to Kali Ma back at home and he involuntarily uttered “Kali Ma, save me from this mess. You alone have the power to rescue me” Another sound this time of thunder and the bridge behind him at a distance turned from 450 to 900.He cried out aloudKali Ma Kali Ma, I seek refuge in you. Please do not  let me down.”
It was then he heard a squeaky voice from below, “Babu moshai, jump down, jump right away, the bridge is collapsing.”
Holding the railing he looked down to see in amazement a small girl of about 10 years dusky in complexion in a round boat waving at him and signaling him to jump. The water was about 15 feet below and he was hesitating wondering whether it was deep enough to avoid injury.
“Do not hesitate. You are in danger. Jump immediately.” shouted the girl frantically.
The next moment he jumped into the river and the girl quickly rowed the round boat near him and helped him inside even as the boat swayed. She took him safely, though the current and wind was heavy, to the shore near which he was dropped by taxi.
“What is your name? But for you I would have gone. I thank you very much for saving my life,” he said patting her.
“I am Shyama but my friends call me Bhavani too,” she replied with a bewitching smile that was heightened by the deep dimple on both cheeks.
He took out a 500 rupee note and gave her.
” No need to pay. I do not ply boat for money. When I saw you in deep trouble, I came to your rescue. Go to Dakshinewar.It is very near. Kali Ma is waiting for you. You can go to the other side of the river by a steel bridge,” she said and gave that enchanting smile again as she ran away towards the river.
Jayadeb stood transfixed looking at the receding girl. Suddenly she could not be seen. He walked towards the shore to see the boat. The boat too was not there. How could she and the boat vanish in a trice, wondered Jayadeb as he walked to the road. An unconscious change had come about him and he felt he was strongly pulled by Kali Ma at Dakshineswar. He took a bus.
Once inside the temple, he stood entranced, even as the bells were clanging loudly along with the blowing of conches, before Kali Ma’s captivating presence. He could not see the traditional dark image with red eyes and protruding tongue but that of a dusky girl with dimples and smile of enthralling beauty. He realized Her infinite compassion and stood a transformed man.
He stayed for two hours before taking a taxi to his aunt’s house. When he met her with fresh packets of sweets and Mishti doi and narrated the incident, aunt was quick to rebuke him telling,
“Did no one caution you that the bridge is in disuse and no one uses it for a long time. The figure of a man you said you saw on the bridge could be a ghost of one of the many who lost their lives by falling from the bridge. It is not Bhavani the girl who rescued you but Bhavadarini Herself in the form of a girl. You are so blessed to have spoken to Her, even patted Her and had Her darshan in real. Shubodra, my cousin, is lucky indeed to have you as son."

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The mysterious intruders

Meenu breaking the silence during their long drive back home from Pondicherry said,” Maha, it was an awesome break from the routine for three days. I loved the beach most with its golden sand and the blue water. The surreal sunrise and sunsets with the cool breeze really fascinated me no end. I thoroughly enjoyed our long walks and standing on the water as the waves swept our feet. How did you enjoy?”
“Call me a foodie or a laggard, I loved our resort best, its swimming pool and the delicious food of different cuisines they served. I would have loved to stay longer but for the office tomorrow for both of us,” replied Mahalingam.Meenu made a grimace as he laughed over his own remark.
It was past 10 pm when they reached their villa in the gated community. The delay was due to dinner at a wayside hotel where the service was as poor as the food served. Meenu opened the house with her keys as Mahalingam brought the boxes inside. Totally exhausted they hit the bed soon after a wash and change.
It was 7 am and the maid had not turned up. She often played truant coming up with lame excuses. The house looked dirty with dust and the air was stale. She decided to work from home for the day that gave her some flexibility. Maha will have to make do with cereal and coffee for breakfast, she decided. As for her lunch, she can always whip up maggi or some such stuff, she thought. She wished to clean the house first after Maha left for office.
It was a large single floor house at the rear of the complex with boundary wall running adjacent to it. The house was spacious with a drawing hall, living room with a master bedroom and two bedrooms and a small room doing the duty of puja and lumber room. Before she left for vacation, she had just closed the windows and the doors of all the rooms to prevent mice. The doors could be opened by just pushing them. She opened the doors of all the rooms to let fresh air enter before she came to the large guest bedroom at the rear. 
To her surprise the door was ajar. She remembered distinctly she had closed each room. Wondering, she went inside and switched on the light and fan. She looked around the room, the queen-sized bed neatly covered, the table and two comfortable chairs all in position. She looked at the floor and found a glittering ear stud without the screw on the floor. It was not hers but a cheap tinsel. Shocked she looked closely again and found a dried string of jasmine flowers by the side of pillow and banana peels under the cot. She was certain these were not there when they left. Who could have entered the house when both keys were with her and her husband?
“Maha, something suspicious I find in guest bedroom as if someone had entered in our absence. Can you please come here immediately?” she told him over mobile.
“What are you blabbering? How can anyone enter the house when both the keys are with us? When you opened the main door, it was locked. What suspicious you are referring to? It is a gated community and strangers cannot enter easily,” said Maha with some asperity in his tone at being disturbed.
“As if I do not know all that you are telling, why don’t you listen carefully? I found the door for this bedroom ajar when all the other doors remained closed as we left them before we left. More puzzling is that a bright ear stud without the screw was on the floor. That cheap stuff is not mine. A woman must have been there. What is more shocking being a string of jasmine flowers by the side of pillow? I suspect the bed has been slept upon. What do you say now? Please come immediately. The maid is also not there. I am alone.”
“Meenu, I have just come to office after three days. There are so many pending urgent issues and meetings. We both can examine leisurely in the evening. I cannot leave office now. When we two have the two keys, how can anyone enter unless he broke into the house,” asked Mahalingam.” Do you suspect para normal happenings or what?” he added
“Be sensible for heaven’s sake. Tell me first whether your set of keys are with you? I have mine in my hand.”
“One moment, let me see my bag,” he said. There was a long interlude. He had disconnected the phone. Meenu impatient as she was dialed him repeatedly when at last he came on line and said, “Meenu, it is really baffling. My set of keys are not in my bag. Where could they disappear? I have not taken it out after we left for Pondicherry.Didyou see them anywhere?” he spoke in contrite tone.
“Funny you are asking me about your keys. Whoever has entered must be a young woman, not from well to do class and the jasmine flowers on the bed leads me to think of a male companion too. Something fishy has been going on and now you tell me that your keys are mysteriously missing.” She paused for a moment when he interrupted,” Are you suspecting me?”
“What a stupid question when you were with me all these days? Please give some excuse and come here for one hour. I am afraid to be alone till we find out how it happened. I am not going into that room till you come,” she said with a finality.
“When she opened the front door for Mahalingam, she said, “Make no noise. Have this stick with you for any emergency.” They walked gingerly into the room and switched on the light. Meenu had not disturbed the things. He saw the stud, the flowers by the pillow and ruffled sheet at one corner and two banana peels on the floor.
“I agree someone has entered the room, may be with a companion but it surprises me how they could have entered. Let me fix the spare security camera I have above the door of this room inside. Whoever walks in and comes near the bed would be caught. We should be able to find out the culprit. But I honestly feel nobody has broken in,” he assured her. After fixing the camera they just closed the door as they walked out. 
“I am afraid to stay alone when you are away,” she said.
“I will drop you at your mom’s place. I don’t mind the slight detour. I will pick you in the evening on my way back from office. You are saved of the cooking chore,” he said with a smile.
As she got down at her mom’s house, she pleaded with him, “Won’t you come by 4 pm today. I wish to be back home before it gets dark,” He patted her and said,” It is done.”
When they entered the house at 5pm they rushed to the guest room. The door was again slightly open. Meenu held back Mahalingam and gave him the cricket bat she had brought from her mom’s place. He opened the door slightly further and cautiously peeped in. Finding none, he beckoned Meenu to come inside. She opened the closets to find the clothes and sheets disturbed. She saw under the cot and was relieved to find no one. Emboldened she surveyed the bed. Lo, there was a scarf, some towels, a hand bag, an empty perfume bottle and a county cap with some on the bed and the rest on floor. Strewn on the floor were also a few peanut shells and a broken piece of glass bangle. There was no doubt now that there were occupants in the room. and the second set of keys are in someone’s possession. Meenu suggested that police should be involved.
“Don’t be in a hurry. We shall check the contents in the security camera and then go to police with the evidence,” remarked Mahalingam.
“Meenu, come here quickly to see the burglars caught virtually red handed,” he was shouting at the top of his voice from his room. He kept his face seriously as she walked in to see the images in the monitor.
“Is anything seriously wrong?” she asked and turned her face to the monitor only to break into roaring laughter along with Mahalingam. Two monkeys were playing on the bed, pulling towels and sheets from the closet and trying it on them. They were seen eating peanuts and scampering around within the room. The monkeys had escaped evidently from a roadside showman.
Wondering how they came in, Meenu went to the attached bathroom. On lifting the window curtain she found the window open with space between steel bars sufficient for the animals to enter. She regretted for not closing the window before she left for vacation. It was only when Mahalingam told her the sinister part of the incident that the owner of the monkeys was the real thief by training the monkeys to enter empty houses and bring things outside. They went out and saw on the ground by the window and the wall some things taken from the closet and discarded by him. When they went to telephone desk to make a call to policemen, Meenu found her husband’s set of keys hanging on the key holder attached to wall above the table. When she turned to Maha, he was making a sheepish grin.
It is a matter of small consequence to the story that the owner of monkeys was caught soon by the police.