Friday, November 11, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Part I)

 17th August 1964 – 6:30 PM: “A strange village indeed! It looks every bit like any other village but there is a deep undercurrent somewhere that embodies the silent conflict that people fear to talk about. How can 100 many people go missing from a deserted village surrounded by a mystic river in just 1 year?”

“Is there some place I can take you Memsaheb!”, he woke her up from her thoughts! The man had a nonchalant look on his face. Moushumi looked for a hint of emotion but the lack of it compounded her dilemma. She had had her most adventurous yet terrifying day ever and so wondered what would happen if she took one more chance. She took one last long look at him and his boat. The man was tall, dark and lanky dressed in just a loincloth. She had no idea about his character, but she could easily tell that he was very experienced and had great knowledge of the waters. He was fairly well-built but his boat was not. It was pretty old and was rusty and could barely survive a high tide.

“I want to go upstream through and beyond the Champak forest. Would you dare to take me there?” She was sure he would never have ventured into those dreaded waters and expected a violent “NO”.

“Yes, I can take you!”, he replied in a calm tone that disturbed her. How did he agree so easily to brave the Champak forest which sent shudders through the spine of every single person she had talked to? What is he doing here at this hour? Doesn’t seem a great place to be fishing either! What if he turned out to be like the 2 guys who left me in this God-forsaken island!

Her fear was somewhat put to rest when a small girl emerged from the inside of the boat. Her innocent smile calmed her nerves and brought down her pulse. Today she felt more feminine than ever and had to remind herself how brave a girl she was. Weird places and creepy men were nothing new to her but her experience today had left her quite cold. So the little girl’s smile meant a lot more than ever and it invoked a rather strange emotion inside her. She hopped on to the boat, temporarily relieved that life had more in store for her than a solitary death in a marshy island!

The boat started to slowly totter against the tide. Soon her thoughts were lost in an interesting conversation she had in the morning.

17th August 1964 – 8:15 AM: “Nirmal Master: This village was blessed with a great soil and good rains. Our people are all God-fearing and straightforward working farmers who toil to produce the best wheat in the entire region. But in the last 5 years, the huge landslide cut us off from our neighboring villages and made trading difficult. And with the demise of Ashok Babu 2 years back, life has been difficult. He was like a father to the whole village. Please keep this confidential: I don’t like our Sarpanch babu (village head) or darogaji (police chief). Wish Kamesh Babu was there to take control of our village. He turned out to be another unpredictable and erratic educated young man who deserted us in our most needy hour!”

The puzzle was not coming together and Kamesh Babu seemed to be one among the many mysteries surrounding the village. She had been so engrossed that she didn’t realize how cold it had gotten. And more surprisingly she got to witness the first act of compassion from the mysterious boat man who hadn’t spoken a single word to her for an hour. “In case you feel cold out here”, he handed over a shawl which she thought might belong to his wife.

“Thank you. So are you from Vithrapur? My name is Moushumi. I have come all the way from Bhuvaneshwar. I am writing a book on your village. Sorry I should have asked earlier. What is your name?”, she for the first time genuinely felt like talking to him.

“My name is Chitha. Glad you thought Vithrapur was worth writing about.” The little girl came running to interrupt their conversation. “She is Kusum”, he added. “Your daughter looks so cute”, Moushumi pulled her into her arms. Chitha smiled and went back to the rudder.   

She sat Kusum on her lap and started wondering again. Kusum was flipping through her notebook enthusiastically without understanding what was written while Moushumi was staring at it without understanding what it all meant!

15th August 1964 – 9:30 AM: “Sarpanch: We are fine by ourselves. We don’t need the support of the neighboring villages. The grain we produce is sufficient for all of us. We should not dream too much. We should learn to be content and we should respect the rules and traditions laid down by our ancestors. Yes, this year has been a little bad for the crops. It is no big deal. All problems started with that Kamesh. He wanted to revolutionize the village. The kids these days are full of talk. They learn something in those big colleges and come here without any practical or worldly sense. Electricity, irrigation, social equality, hygiene: What all rubbish we had to hear because of him! Thank God he is no more!”

A thunderous growl distracted Moushumi’s train of thought. Kusum buried her head in Moushumi’s lap in fear. They were entering dangerous territory! She took Kusum inside for safety. She couldn’t sense any trace of fear in Chitha’s face!

“I heard that this area is full of tigers and crocodiles. Even snakes! Which one terrifies you the most?”, she started a conversation.

“Humans! They hurt you when you least expect it. These creatures are far more predictable to an extent they are boring!” Moushumi did not know what to make of his response!

Strangely his response resonated with another very significant conversation!

16th August 1964 – 4:00 PM: “Panditji (Temple priest): Man is a greedy animal. He is always after material pleasures and has long deserted the spiritual cause. This place was a heaven long time ago. I think the village has incurred the wrath of Kalimaa. Three years ago, Ashok Babu and Kamesh prevented us from offering Kalimaa her yearly sacrifice. And you know what: since then, every year Kalimaa has snatched her sacrifice from the village and her curse is destroying us! See what happened to Ashok Babu and Kamesh! One died and no word about the other.”

“What do you know about Kamesh Babu?” she glanced at Chitha.

“Oh.. can’t tell you that I know a lot about him. Some say he was good and others say he was an evil spirit. He was the son of Ashok Babu who founded this village. Well, he was actually gifted this village by the British. Ashok Babu had sent Kamesh to London when he was very young and he came back to Vithrapur about 5 years ago. They say his thinking was too radical; he wanted to bring electricity to the village, he didn’t believe in caste system, he wanted to abolish the social inequalities and wanted to educate the women. Well, they also say that he was killed by a crocodile 3 years ago in this exact location we are passing through now!”

That last statement of Chitha shook Moushumi!

                                                                                          -        TO BE CONTINUED.....

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  1. well etched out characters

    and man being more dangerous than tigers/crocs - isn't that so true!

  2. @Sujatha: Thank you very much. Glad you liked it. Yeah... man is so unpredictable and dangerous! :)

  3. Thank you very much Ravi. :)

  4. Thank you so much Rajendra. And a very warm welcome. :)


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