[Suspense Story – Watery Grave]
JAL SAMADHI – WATERY GRAVE
Kausalya Supraja Rama Poorvaa Sandhya Pravarthathe…. The devotional rendering by M. S. Subbalakshmi filled the air with an aesthetic fervor and was sending positive vibrations everywhere. Not knowing what was in store for the day, Vishwanath Sharma was deeply engrossed in the devotional program of FM Radio. Just then telephone bell rang and disturbed the divine atmosphere prevailing there. He was annoyed. Who could be calling him early in the morning, he wondered. It was sheer fate and what followed later, robbed him of his peace of mind forever and forever.
Sharmaji sent two of his servants to two different places. One went to his is daughter, Radhika’s residence to find out when and where she went and when would she and her hubby, Kumaresh, were likely to return. The other servant was sent to Kumaresh’s office to know about his whereabouts, – all because of an anonymous phone call he received in the morning. Sharmaji was utterly confused after attending the phone call, that too very early in the morning. The caller was an unknown lady who very authoritatively asked him whether his daughter and son in law had returned from Varanasi. The lady straight away asked whether they had returned from Varanasi. She was least bothered to know who would lift the phone, but she might have thought, whoever lifted the phone would reply her. Such an arrogant action on her part exhibited through the absence of customary etiquettes of addressing the listener with hello, later introducing herself and then requesting for the right person to come on line for her enquiries, etc., and on top of it, the authoritative tone in which she demanded, all put together, had left a bad impression about the lady. What bothered Sharmaji more was that the unknown lady knew about his daughter and son in law’s visit to Varanasi and the probable date of their return journey from there, whereas, he as father had least idea of their trip to and from Varanasi. He was quite upset that he had to learn about his family details from strangers. It is true that he was not in town and was away on business tour and returned home just two days back. But his daughter, even if she was leaving in a hurry, could have informed one or the other servants in the house about their going to Varanasi, any time after finalizing their travel plan, or after reserving their tickets. But why at all they left for Varanasi, was a big question. That is not a place, where any childless couple would prefer to go to. If they had gone to Rameshwaram or any other hill station suddenly, even without informing anybody, that would have also been alright and could be easily understandable. Varanasi is after all, a place of pilgrimage that too for performing rituals connected with final rites conducted after the death of any close relative in the family. Did anyone closely related to Kumaresh pass away recently?! And how was the lady caller on phone connected with their return from Varanasi? Something wrong somewhere! His inner mind cautioned him.
“Let the servants come back and till such time let me wait patiently”, he thought.
Meanwhile, he called his manager at office and asked him to find out details of the woman who called in the morning. Since his phone was fitted with caller identification facility, it was possible to trace the call. He asked the manager to make discreet enquiries about the woman, for, somehow, her voice and tone sounded notorious and unwelcome. The first servant by then had come back from Radhika’s house and confirmed their visit to Varanasi. They had left for Varanasi a month ago and if they returned as per their program, they should have comeback long while ago. The neighbours had no idea as to why they had not yet returned so far. They presumed that Radhika and her husband would have come back as per schedule and would be staying with her father.
‘The two were neither here nor there was, something that was intriguing’.
The second servant too came back and told Sharmaji that Kumaresh babu had gone to Kaashi on leave and was yet to report for duty. He had neither extended his leave nor joined duty – which act was construed as misconduct. Worst of all, he had not given any leave address for contact, which lapse also would be viewed very seriously by his office.
All these information gathered from the servants did not clarify anything to the already perplexed Sharmaji. The mystery remained unsolved. Sharmaji could not get anything further. Why his daughter and son in law, at the first place, went to Varanasi? Was it really to pay respects and sanctify the departed soul of any of Kumaresh’s relatives? Even if that be so, why they had not come back so far? Could it be that they had left for other holy places also – like Gaya famous for performing Shrardham or Prayaag in Allahabad for a holy dip in Triveni Sangam? Sharmaji said to himself,
“Instead of worrying over what would have happened to them, let me cool down and think of what can be done next”.
He remembered his friend and agent of his business connections, at Varanasi, Mr. Gopichand Gupta. He took out his old diary for his phone number and called him.
People, over a period of time, generally switch on to other private phone companies or take on to mobile cell phones. Luckily, Gopichand Gupta had retained the same landline phone number. He was contacted and was informed about his daughter and son in law. Guptaji bluntly replied that nobody met him in the past three four weeks, nor it would be possible to find out where they could be – if at all they still continued to stay at Varanasi. — The very nature of the city is such. Pilgrims from all over the country keep pouring in every day, stay for a few days and keep moving. The floating population is very high. Guptaji made it clear that it was just not possible to look for any person without any solid clue. It amounted to looking for a small needle in a huge hay stock that also at night on a no moon day. He finally said,
“I suggest, you come over here and don’t forget to bring latest photos of the two”. Sharmaji too found his advice as the right course of action.
Before leaving for Varanasi, he wanted to collect the details from his manager about the lady and her connection with his daughter and or son in law. His inner conscience kept telling him that he should be prepared for the worst. The Manager took his own time in completing the task. He wanted to doubly ensure whatever he gathered about the woman were all correct. As expected, it was all bad news only. The lady in question had a tarnished image. She was hooking men that too, reasonably rich men from good and decent background and resorting to blackmailing them later. That was her job, just like a parasite would be sucking the sap and thriving on others’ earnings. But how Kumaresh fell into her trap was a big mystery – for he was not a rich man – just an ordinary employee in a private company with a decent salary enough to run a middle class family.
One possibility was that the lady might have wanted to extract a bounty from Sharmaji, using Kumaresh as a tool or medium. But Kumaresh had so far never approached his father in law with any demand, small or big. Sharmaji on his own, had recently gifted a very costly necklace to his daughter costing a little above Rs. 2 Lakhs – a golden peacock necklace, studded with precious gem stones with matching bangles and earrings. It was a beautiful necklace well crafted and gems well set. It was presented to her on her wedding anniversary. A wild thought ran through his mind that Kumaresh would have snatched the necklace from Radhika and given it to the impish woman. But he soon dismissed the thought. The issue could be little different also – the wily woman would have cast her greedy eyes on the necklace and in an attempt of fleeing from her, both Radhika and Kumaresh would have left for Varanasi.
But this thought also did not seem to be logical. How long could they be staying in a different place far away from their home town. But one thing was clear – Kumaresh wanted to avoid the lady and stay away from her sight and Varanasi was just a place that would have come to his mind at that disturbed hour. Even if these assumptions were accepted, what bothered Sharmaji most was,
“what happened to them after reaching Varanasi, what prevented them from returning home, more than anything else, why they did not make a phone call to him or to his house, that too till date”.
All these doubts remained unclear and were weighing heavily on his mind. He dreaded to think ahead. But then too, one question kept haunting him “ARE THEY ALIVE”. From the time he learnt that Kumaresh had some wrong connections with the villainous woman, the doubt gained stronger grounds.
He lost no time further. He contacted Guptaji and informed him of his arrival there. Guptaji too once again assured that he would render all possible assistance in this matter. Sharmaji closed his eyes and kept praying with folded hands and sought blessings of Goddess Visaalaakshi, the presiding deity of Varanasi. He wanted to keep all his worries at Her lotus feet and lay back. She in fact would be the guiding force and would lead him in right direction in locating his daughter and son in law. He was going on a mission difficult to accomplish – looking for a needle in a hay stock in a pitch dark night. He was prepared for all the consequences. He discussed in detail with Guptaji and chalked out on where to start from and how to go about in tracing the missing couple. They did not want to go to the Police or give an advt. in Newspaper right then. First they wanted to take up on their own and complete preliminary searches in all plausible places and then later if necessary, resort to seek assistance from Police and or Newspaper.
Since Radhika and Kumaresh had come on their own, certainly they would not have stayed in star hotels. So Sharmaji wanted to start searching for them in choultries which offered accommodation freely or on nominal charges. Guptaji told Sharmaji that such choultries (chatrams dharamshaala) were plenty in Varanasi, each community boasting at least one or two for their folks – Bengali, Gujarati, Maharashtra and of course South Indians aplenty. So they started with south Indian choultries. Nowhere could they get any clue. First of all, the managers or the persons in charge of the choultry could not be contacted. If at all anyone was available, they exhibited their ignorance. There was hardly anything called register or ledger for recording details of in-mates, nor any other record of visitors. Who and when a person comes in, stays and when he goes out etc. could not be known. Pilgrims come, they stay, take a holy dip in Ganges and go. Generally they bring a letter from VIPs of the choultry and after making a token payment to the contact person, lodge themselves or their belongings, go to the river bank, have a holy dip, complete their rituals and then return back. The mighty Ganges flowing in full spate is a silent witness to this routine affair. “Men may come and men may go! But I flow on” that is the theme of the river for centuries. Having accomplished their lifetime achievement, the pilgrims keep moving on. The choultry was a temporary shelter. This was the pattern in most of the choultries. In one Chettiar chatram, there was a register and Sharmaji went through the pages of the register with the fond hope of getting the names of his daughter and son in law. In fact, he searched for the whole month and yet could not find anything useful to him. He even went to the Bengali, Marathi and choultries of other communities also. As a pattern of routine, the minute he showed the photos of his daughter and son in law and asked about them, the persons in charge of the chatrams would bluntly reply “No idea” and turn off his hopes into despair. All expressed their inability to help him out and they could not be blamed. Such was the nature of the city with huge inflow and outflow of pilgrims each day irrespective of seasons. But Sharmaji did not want to leave any stone unturned. He held his spirits high and carried on his pursuits.
When all their preliminary attempts were exhausted and yielded no results, Guptaji advised him to place an ad in the Newspaper along with the photos of the missing couple. If not right on the very next day, at least in a few days’ time, somebody or other might respond. Before they would set out on the next move, Guptaji advised him, to seek divine help and assistance. He took Sharmaji to the famous Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Guptaji told him that as the very name denoted, Hanumanji would ward off all obstacles and free His devotees from the clutches of evil spirits and trouble shooters. The holy darshan boosted their vigour and filled them with an air of fresh strength and high spirits. With his renewed tempo, Sharmaji started his searches again. He showed the photo to the vendors near the temple, who were selling flowers and other pooja articles and asked them about the missing couple – whether by chance anybody had seen them recently. One of the vendors casually remarked,
“People come to this city for dying and attain Moksha. We as traders for our survival, are concerned with the living folks only. If you want to know about anyone whom you suspect dead or alive, then go and ask in the Raja Harishchandra Burning Ghat where dead bodies are burnt; otherwise go to Doctor Lokesh Gupta who issues Death Certificate for cases of accidents, suicides, body burns etc., Gopichand Guptaji was upset by such cold remarks. But Sharmaji was not. He was already having a small doubt that was nagging him from the beginning. He turned to Gupta and said,” Oh! This is a point to note! Let us not rule out this option”.
He asked the vendor about details of the doctor – his address, timings etc., Guptaji did not show much interest. He still believed that the couple would have come to Varanasi, had a holy dip in the river and would have moved out of Varanasi as any pilgrim did. But Sharmaji would not give up. He wanted to clear off his doubt – “Are they alive”?
Dr. Lokesh Gupta was an ill famous doctor because of the stigma attached to his job – issuing death certificates. Only those who underwent the trauma of burying or burning the bodies of unnatural death – cases involved in accidents, burn injuries, drowned in a well or river, bloated bodies, suicides etc., could understand the value of a death certificate. When such grief stricken cases came up, the doctor did not charge a single paisa. He however maintained a register of such patients, only to safeguard himself from future enquiries. That apart, he had varied experiences in issuance of certificates. He used to laughingly tell his friends that there were some patients old and alive and counting their last, had asked him to record their details and keep the certificates ready, so that when they finally breathed their last, they could get a clean chit from the Dr. for their onward journey to burning Ghat, a gateway to attain Salvation. Some of his fellow doctors, who were also in the same line of issuing certificates, considered their profession as a gold mine. According to them, only a fool would refuse it, when opportunity knocks at the door. One such doctor was in fact, running a charitable Annadaana Ashram from out of the resources he had earned by simply issuing death certificates. Dr. Lokesh Gupta considered such acts as acts as committing sin here and washing it there.
Sharmaji came to know that there were a number of doctors like Lokesh Gupta for issuing death certificates, who had their so called clinics in the inner lanes, along the banks of the mighty river Ganges. So he prepared a list of such practitioners in and around the choultries and decided to visit them one by one. Luckily for him, (or was it otherwise?) in his very first attempt itself, he got a clue. When he showed the photo of his daughter and son in law to Dr. Lokesh Gupta, he vaguely remembered having certified the death of the lady in question. He verified his register and confirmed that exactly 25 days ago, he had certified the death of a pregnant woman by name Rani. It was a suicide case. The death certificate was issued to a man called Kumar. Sharmaji was abruptly taken aback. It was a rude shock to him. He was simply stunned. Guptaji, his friend, still not able to digest the news, reminded him that his daughter was Radhika and not Rani and nor was she pregnant. Of course, it was possible that Kumaresh could have given his name as Kumar. But the doctor could not elicit anything further. Guptaji tried to console Sharmaji saying that his daughter and son in law would have gone to Gaya or Prayaag or somewhere else. The pregnant lady, Rani, who was certified as dead, could be some anonymous lady and would not be his daughter Radhika. He narrated that unfortunately in U.P., dowry deaths were quite common and such dowry victims eventually met such fate only – a suicide . The newspapers were flashing such news almost every day. In most of the cases the names and addresses or their identities of those involved were not real, only fake or imaginary. So it would be foolish to believe Rani as Radhika and Kumar as Kumaresh.
He insisted that it would be prudent to try out other possibilities. Having placed an ad in the Paper, somebody or other would respond in a day or two. Better to wait and watch. He further added,
“Right from the beginning, I was discouraging you from going to the Police. The police, here don’t do anything – won’t even file an FIR. But the very fact that we approached them is more than enough for them to harass us and keep nagging for bribery. Every second day they would be asking us to pay for their ‘chai-paani’. From top to bottom all are corrupted. All the business people including me keep aside a definite percentage of our earnings, exclusively for tipping them time and again and feeding their lust and greed. I am disgusted. But what can I do? We have to put up with such people for our survival.”
Sharmaji was in a confused state of mind. In spite of listening half heartedly to Guptaji’s long sermons on various topics including his daughter’s presence and existence that too somewhere outside Varanasi, he had his own fears that what Dr. Lokesh Gupta said might be true. The doctor vouched that the lady “Rani” was pregnant. But his daughter Radhika though married for six years was issueless. He as father was eagerly and fondly waiting for such a good news from her. The very feeling of a ‘would be grandfather’ was matter of profound joy and ecstasy. If by quirk of fate, Dr.’s Rani and his daughter Radhika were to be one and the same person, then the very news of great joy would precipitate into a big jolt and be a terrible misery for life time. If such an event came to be true, he just would not pardon his son in law for his betrayal because of which his daughter was driven to take the extreme step. What was the reality was yet to be found out. From whatever was gathered so far, he could not contain his thoughts, withhold his anger and he was boiling inside. His daughter – shy and reserved person by nature, a meek and mild lady, gentle as a flower should not be cheated by a crook, nor threatened for life. In his mounting agony, if by chance he happened to sight Kumaresh, would straight away pounce upon him and tighten his neck and strangulate him, never minding an arrest by police and was ready to be placed behind the bars. Such was the heat of his temper – a murderous rage “Kolavery”. But all he could do was to throw his closed fists in the air and blow punches and attack the invisible enemy. His tormented grief had turned into outburst of rage of higher degree. His boiling mental agony transformed into hot temper. But alas! What could a helpless man do? He slapped his head and forehead by both hands and yelled,
“Hey Jaganmaataa, Lokanayaki, save my child. Save my child and navigate us properly through this treacherous ocean of life”.
Guptaji tried to console him. “Have a brave heart. Don’t be a coward. No doubt it is a testing time for you. But things will fall in place after a while. Don’t lose patience. Let us go to your Visaalaakshi temple. Here we locals, worship her Annapoorni Maataji. Certainly, She will bestow her abundant mercy upon you. Her wide eyes can perceive everything in the world and She will let you know where you daughter is. You need to cool down and compose yourself. Let us go to the temple for solace and guidance.”
He guided rather almost dragged Sharmaji to the temple. That being aarthi time, lot of devotees had gathered in the corridor and in the courtyard. The two had to wait for the crowd to recede to have proper darshan of deity. The Goddess was decked up with floral garlands specially brought from Tamilnadu. A passerby was telling another devotee that the floral garlands were brought from far off Madurai by air on all Fridays and Tuesdays. He kept telling more about the omnipotent power of the deity – If Tridev denoted Brahma Vishnu Shiva, the term Teen Deviyan denoted Kanchi Kaamaakshi, Madurai Meenaakshi and Kaashi Visaalaakshi. This was apart from the three deviyan commonly referred to as Durga Lakshmi and Saraswathy. The passerby must have been a beneficiary of Her Blessings and he continued enumerating anecdotes of Her greatness. It seemed he was never content with his praises on Her.
Sharmaji was overpowered by his grief. Buried in his thoughts, unconsciously, as a reflex action, he lifted his hands in prayer and glanced at the deity. He was awe struck and missed a heartbeat. This was a second rude shock for him. Even the faint ray of hope instilled by Guptaji faded away. By simply looking at the Goddess, he got the message that his daughter was no more on this earth. He lost his control. He forgot his surroundings, he forgot that he was in a holy temple with people around. He burst into tears and cried aloud –
“Hey Maa why did you betray me!”
His shrieks and wails stunned the people present there. Guptaji took him to a side and made him sit on the floor. He could not understand why all of a sudden the old man broke down and started crying aloud, not caring to bother about the presence of a fairly large crowd. The priest, who was watching Sharmaji from a distance, came to him and asked him to calm down. Being in a place of worship, it was not proper to create a scene and disturb others. A person crying and pleading in front of Goddess may console his weeping heart but certainly it will spoil the serene atmosphere and put the sanctity of the place of worship at stake. With great difficulty, Sharmaji controlled himself and stretched out his hands pointing towards the deity and murmured,
Guptaji too, looked at the same direction. Now he could notice a sparkling necklace playing hide and seek with the garland. A beautiful necklace with a peacock pendant studded with precious gems adorned the deity. The priest did not get the hint properly. He mistook the gesture and started explaining them about the arrangement of floral garlands coming from far off places like Madurai, Chennai etc. Guptaji interrupted him and enquired about the necklace.
“Oh! That one! It is a strange story”, said the priest. “One young fellow from the Ghat came and offered this and he told me some cock and bull story connected with it. At first I refused to accept the offering. He could be a thief and his offering might be a stolen article. We will have unnecessary problems later. But he did not budge. With tear filled eyes and folded hands he pleaded. He asserted that he was not a thief. He said he got this as a gift from a corpse which he was drowning in Ganga. But since the dead person was a Madrasi, he came here to offer it to Goddess. It appears that he wanted to retain it for himself. Since the soul of the dead body kept haunting him and the ghost was driving him mad he came running here. He wanted to keep the necklace at Her lotus feet and seek solace and also allow the soul to rest in peace”.
By then Sharmaji composed and controlled himself. Turning to the priest, he said,
“This necklace was what I have presented to my daughter for her wedding anniversary whom I am missing and now I am searching in this city.”
He took out the photo and showed it to him. The priest, thinking that he wanted the jewel back, said
“I am sorry. I do not have the authority to hand over the jewel to you, even if you happen to be the actual owner. You better approach the trustees of the temple and as a special case if they agree to auction the item, you may take part in the bidding and get back your necklace”.
Sharmaji said “I am now bothered about my daughter. Please direct me to the ghatman who came here to make the offering.”
Priest heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh! That boatman! You better go the burning Ghat and you may get him there.”
Both Sharmaji and Guptaji left for Raja Harishchandra Ghat the famous funeral ghat where dead bodies are set on the pyre . Guptaji on his part warned Sharmaji to be prepared to witness horrible things.
“Ordinary people with weak hearts cannot withstand going to the Shmasaan Ghat. It will be ghastly and horrifying. Dead bodies keep coming there all the time – even at nights. That is the only place very busy all the time.”
Sharmaji sadly uttered “I lost my daughter forever. The worst thing has already happened. What else can be more painful to me? Let us go there.”
Guptaji – “No,No. You be here. I will go to the ghat and catch hold of the person and get him here. You need not take the trouble of coming there.”
Sharmaji – “No, Guptaji, I must see him. I must know what happened to my daughter – how and why she died. And the killer of my daughter – my son in law, where is he, what happened to him. I must know all these. If I miss this chance, I will never know the truth. Come. Let us go.”
Guptaji – “If you are so determined, then let us go. But again, I am warning you, it is a horrible sight to see dead bodies and many will be in very bad condition and above all to see the bodies on the pyre, you need to have a strong mind. I have myself never been there in my life.”
They came to the banks of the river. The river in its mighty great flow was making a rhythmic sound and overlapping the sound of the waves were the cluttering noise of pandas, the so called priests conducting the last rites for the departed soul on one side, the ghatmen pulling and pushing the corpses on to the ever burning fire on one side, logs of wood heaped up on one side for feeding the fire, arranging the inflow of corpses to be set on pyre, the close relatives busy with final rituals, some wailing and some with a stern look and serious face and also simultaneously uttering the hymns as recited and guided by the priests – all these put together, it was a different world altogether. Guptaji was very much disturbed. The flowers scattered all over, wet clothes lying on the ground here and there, the smell of incessant sticks and the stench of burning dead bodies nearby – an eerie atmosphere was prevailing there. Whatever he had said earlier was not an exaggeration. The worst part of the scene was that the people in charge of setting fire to the corpses never allowed the bodies to be burnt fully. They simply dragged the half baked bodies into the flowing water and took care of the next body. Meantime, a person collected ashes from the pyre into an earthen pot and gave it the relatives as mortal remains. The river was a silent witness to what was going on around there. After all, Ganges is there to wash off everybody’s sin – both living and the dead.
Guptaji recollected the episode he saw on TV about the mounting pollution of the river. It can no more be considered as a holy river. Not only the dead bodies – which itself is the major cause of pollution, even sewerage and filth from the city were also straight away drained into the river. On the one hand people worship the river as Goddess and on the other hand, mercilessly pollute the river. There is always a huge crowd on the banks of the river, particularly during the aarti time and people offer flowers. Candles are lit and small earthen lanterns also swing with the river, making the entire scenery very enchanting, eye catching and fascinating. Even a staunch atheist will become a strong follower or devotee. The TV camera at this point focused on the nylon / plastic covers and bags in which were the flowers and diyaas, were also thrown into the river.. Guptaji could see them all floating and flowing with the force of water. When will the people ever realize their folly?
While Guptaji was yet to eschew and overcome the gruesome realities, Sharmaji was keen on his errand. He showed the photo of his daughter and asked the people around there for details. A few laughed at him. For them all dead bodies are alike. Who can recognize which body pertains to which person? Once burnt all are reduced to same level of ashes. Considering his age and sufferings, they mutely tossed him from one to another. Finally, one person guided him to Gangaram, the boatman, whom he remembered to have narrated a funny story to him. Gangaram instantly recognized the man in the photo as the person with whom he had a funny encounter. He told Sharmaji that the man had come to him about a month ago for drowning a corpse. He had produced a death certificate indicating the person – his wife, was pregnant and had committed suicide. He sprang into action and was busy with the rituals connected with drowning the corpse.
As per customary practices five types of dead bodies are not given to the fire. Dead bodies of holy saints, pregnant women, infant babies, death due to accidents depending on the gravity of injuries, suicides and deaths due to third degree burn injuries are all drowned in holy Ganges to rest in their watery grave. All such bodies are at first well tied with plain cloth and later tied tightly to huge and heavy sandstone slabs, which they keep as ready stock. The body (with the slab) is then taken on the boat to the middle of the river and then thrown into the river. Stone slab attached to the dead body helps to retain the body under water. Crocodiles and tortoises feed on them. There are plenty of crocodiles in Ganges. Crocodile is the vaahan (vehicle) of Goddess Ganga. Everyone knows that crocodiles are the mightiest when they are in water and no one ever dares to fight against the animals. If by chance anybody falls into the river from the boat and crocodile happens to strike the victim, all people including the boatman, remain silent spectators and don’t dare to jump into the water to save the fallen victim. Not even the Sudarshana chakra wheel that saved the elephant Gajendra can help.
Gangaram, had finished tying the body with the slab and with the help of Kumaresh, he mounted the body which had become heavy, onto his boat and they both set out. After a while, they were far away from the banks of the river and Gangaram was lifting the body and Kumaresh was assisting him. Gangaram was a veteran in drowning dead bodies. He along with Kumaresh threw the body into the river. But by then Kumaresh had moved to the corner of the boat. His wet dhoti got hooked to a nail projecting out there and pulled him and his dhoti got torn. Thereby he lost the balance and fell into the river. He fell right on the corpse he sank. In a flash of second, a crocodile emerged from somewhere and sprang on him. He tried hard to save himself from the deadly animal. He yelled screamed and even cried. The crocodile might have mistaken his tears as crocodile tears and attacked him further. There was a fierce battle between the man and the animal. Awesome sight. Deaths are a common phenomenon on the banks of Ganga but a struggle for life and death in midstream was uncommon. Gangaram stood on the boat helplessly. Just then an abnormal thing happened which he would never forget for his lifetime. The crocodile trying to hold on to its prey, hit Kumaresh hard by its tail. In so doing, the blow of the tail fell on the face of the corpse and the cloth covering the face tore off. The corpse smiled and then chuckled also with a sound as though it was happy and satisfied with whatever was going on around. Gangaram saw this unusual feature with his eyes wide opened and could not believe his own eyes that a corpse could come alive and would give a cunning smile just before drowning. In a matter of minutes the entire drama was over as some more crocodiles thirst for fresh blood swam swiftly to the site. Gangaram hurriedly oared the boat towards the banks for his safety.
When he was about to alight from his boat, he saw a necklace stuck in his dress. That should have fallen from Kumaresh’s dhoti when he was assisting him in drowning the corpse or when his dhoti got hooked onto to a projecting nail. It was sheer fate that he went to that corner of the boat. Gangaram had warned him in the beginning itself not to go to the extreme sides of the boat when they were sailing on the waters with the heavy weight of the corpse tied to the weighty slab. It was a dangerous move as anytime the boat would capsize and all would be doomed. Luckily Gangaram balanced the boat but before then Kumaresh had fallen into the river. On many occasions, the boatman had saved people who had fallen into the river by mistake. But in the case of Kumaresh, no sooner he fell in the water, the crocodile came up and sprang on him. That was the calamity. He still could not come out of his mental trauma. A corpse could take revenge on a living person! He held the necklace in his hands and examined. By its sparkling shine and its heaviness, he understood that the piece was an expensive one. Gangaram thought that the man must have killed the woman for the jewel. But God had destined something else for the culprit and the very woman killed by him had avenged her killer in a unique fashion – never heard nor never seen before!
Gangaram, wanted to retain the jewel for himself. In all his lifetime he never had such big bounty. As both man and the lady were now drowned and there was no one else to claim the jewel, he could safely have it for himself. He told his fellow men at burning ghat that the corpse he drowned did not sink alone but took the man also with him. When he spoke to them about the corpse smiling and chuckling, they simply laughed at him and brushed aside his story as whims of fancy or his frenzied fears. He went to the police also to inform them about sudden death of the man caused by crocodiles. They too had laughed at him for his fairy tale of corpse coming alive and smiling at the dying man. But he did not mention about the necklace to anyone, for fear of losing it. With the precious jewelry in hand, he should consider himself very lucky as though he had bagged a big fortune and therefore he should be very happy about it. On the contrary, he was getting visions, bad dreams, nightmares and fearful hallucinations, which kept haunting him. Every now and then, he was getting the vision of corpse smiling and chuckling and the crocodiles not one or two but many, coming to him with their dangerous mouths open. There was no respite for him. He even suffered from fever. He thought it was all because of the necklace which belonged to the corpse and so if it was thrown away, he could escape from such nightmares. Then better sense prevailed on him and he decided to offer it to the Temple. As the corpse and the man were from South India, he wanted to please their souls by offering the jewel to the God they might have worshipped. So he came to Maata Annappornaji Temple with unique request and offer. Strangely, from that night onwards he was free from ghastly visions including gruesome attacks by crocodiles.
Both Sharmaji and Guptaji remained spell bound on listening to the full coverage story from the boatman. It was not a laughing matter for them. They both believed Radhika was not all that coy, shy and timid lady as was thought of. She had her own way of scoring over others. Sharmaji rewarded the boatman sumptuously and left the place. Now he got answers for all his doubts. Radhika , not only got it equalized, she also took care of him by drowning in the very Ganges which washes off everybody’s sins. More than that for all those who die in Kaashi, there is no rebirth. They get freed from the chain of births and rebirths.
Before he left Varanasi, he took a holy dip in the mighty river Ganga and prayed for salvation of both daughter and son in law. After all, his son in law too was not a sinner as was originally thought of. Sharmaji had gone to doctor again and got clarified from him about the suicide aspect. The doctor confessed that the lady had died of food poison and to avoid complications to the visitors and for easy disposal of the case, he had certified it as a suicide case. “Oh! What a relief!” Sharmaji sighed heavily. Looking back from the start of events, he thought of even thanking the lady caller who had set the ball rolling on. Was she a villain? No she is more akin to Ravana whom people say, but for him, there is no Ramayana. Both the characters, the lady and Ravana, considered to be villainous, were pivotal in taking the events to further levels.
Sharmaji stood on the banks of river Ganga, silently watching the mighty river flow in full swing. The hustle and bustle of activities was going on as usual. Even now dead bodies keep coming to the burning ghat. A few might be for drowning also .Who knows what stories are buried in them? What mysteries lay buried in the watery graves of bodies already buried earlier? Only Ganga knows. The river flows silently from time immemorial. Right from the beginning, when King Bhageerath brought it down to earth, it was the duty of Ganga to sanctify the dead and wash off sins of all those who take a dip in the river. She has been doing it relentlessly… and the mighty Ganga flows on and on …. Doing her duty.