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 aloud “Kali 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."