Read Part I here:
Chitha’s last statement shook Moushumi. Till now she had held a shimmer of hope to meet the infamous Kamesh Mazumdar for whom she had developed a liking! But after all the craziness, excitement and suffering she had endured on that dreadful day, she was too tired physically and mentally to mourn the loss of a would-have-been unlikely hero for her book. Tigers were fast asleep and crocodiles seemed to be off the water for the moment. They were deep into the forest now and she was wondering how much more she wanted to go on in the faintest hope of finding some place or somebody!
“Nothing exists beyond the Champak forest. At least no one was left alive to see it!”, she had been warned by the most experienced fisherman in the village. Chitha somehow was still unfazed and oblivious to the dangers ahead as he continued to battle the tide with effortless ease. His complete lack of concern in not knowing the destination of their journey surprised Moushumi. The night had set in and the river started to glow in the moonlight. Kusum escorted Moushumi into a small cabin where she had prepared a small beautiful bed with a rug and some saris. Dead tired, Moushumi dropped on the bed and Kusum draped her with another sari. Moushumi pulled her and tucked her into the bed.
“Good night. See you both in the morning. Yell if you need something”, Moushumi’s fading eyes saw Chitha’s face disappear in the dark.
16th August 1964 – 9:45 PM: “Parvati (Headmaster’s daughter): Memsaheb.. promise me that you will not discuss this with anyone. I don’t know what sort of book you are writing. But things here are not always black and white. Sarpanch and Darogaji run things their way nowadays. I think Panditji is also involved and there are others too. They get major shares of the farmers’ crops. They don’t allow us to trade. Since we were cut off from our neighboring villages, facilities and raw materials for farming are diminishing and there is serious lack of irrigation coupled with excessive flooding. And they are blaming all this on Kalimaa’s curse!
You know, every year they have a secret practice of sacrificing a diseased child to Kalimaa. They reasoned that the child will anyways die in a couple of years and made the unquestioning villagers believe that it is not so cruel after all. When Kamesh Babu was here, he persuaded his father Ashok Babu to stop this practice. Since then stranger things have happened. Ashok Babu died the same year and then Kamesh Babu disappeared. But the strangest thing of all is, every year after that, the child chosen for sacrifice disappears a week or two before the ceremony is planned. I really didn’t believe in spirits so far, but now I think I may be wrong!
Oh.. Kamesh babu.. He looked like a good man. Charming! He was nice to all of us. His thinking was unacceptable to a few and respected by others. He wanted to do a lot for women in terms of respect, status and education. He wanted widows to have a new life. But he was a little weird too. He used to disappear for months and then suddenly when everyone had forgotten him he would be back. He was a major traveler and explorer. He was radical in both his thinking and in his actions. He was in love with a widow. Her name was Dhanno! Both of them were instrumental in educating and reforming the villagers. But just when the first signs of change started to show in the village, Ashok Babu died mysteriously. Soon after, Kamesh and Dhanno disappeared and there is no word of them yet. Some say the river consumed them while others say it is the tiger! Panditji says Kalimaa punished them for their sins! I don’t know what really happened but I am scared. I don’t have much hope left but still everyday I pray for a miracle!”
Chitha’s face was tight with anguish as he was looking at Moushumi’s notebook. He looked out at the river and into vacuum and a single tear started to make its way down from his eyes. He forgot all about his surroundings and allowed the flood of memories to erode his mind and come gushing out through his eyes. Finally when he came back to reality he noticed that the first rays of daybreak had set in and Moushumi was staring at him in sheer astonishment! It was an exclamation point!
"So you are Kamesh Mazumdar! But.. But….??", she was gasping!
“Kamesh Chitharanjan Mazumdar!” The pain in his eyes had eased out but she could still sense an irreplaceable loss that continued to strangle him deep inside. Words deserted both of them for a while!
“I came back to Vithrapur with a heart full of life and mind full of ideas. I wanted my village to be a role model for every Indian village in the future. I wanted the people to be self sufficient, educated, resourceful and most importantly, happy and united. I wanted the women to be an integral part of the village and I wanted everyone in the village to shed their differences and join hands in building a village which would be the first of its kind in this country in terms of agriculture, development, trade and education. I had my father as my mentor who supported me as a beacon of hope in my quest. I found the woman of my life and the zeal inside me went several notches higher. Sure there were hiccups in the form of superstition, conservatism, lack of awareness, lack of intent, blind ancestral beliefs and faiths and corrupt practices and people. But slowly I was able to influence the minds of many in the village and infuse my vision into their minds.
It was like a silent revolution that was brewing in the middle of the night. A thousand match sticks held up high guiding us to a new dawn! But then, suddenly something happened that changed everything. I was very proud of myself when I managed to stop the mindless sacrifice ritual that was a disgrace to our society. I was relieved that no child would be subject to such cruelty ever again. Little did I know that Kalimaa did have her offering that year as well! It was my father! I lost my biggest pillar of strength. For the first time in my life a sense of fear and doubt engulfed my mind. It was as if a storm had extinguished all our match sticks and darkness seemed to eclipse the dawn! I was left with the option of suffering a similar fate as my father or flee to fight another day another way!”
“I was only human!” For the first time Moushami saw a vulnerability in his face!
“What happened to Dhanno?”, she immediately regretted asking the question!
- TO BE CONCLUDED