The sun shone brightly on the land of the silent houses, proudly displaying the warmth of its youthfulness.
The forgotten place had few ancient bungalows, scattered lazily on a small chunk of land, with the fewer inhabitants dwelling in them; perhaps the remoteness of the place had shrank the number of dwellers of this part of the town or perhaps this corner of the town was too insignificant to hold on the inhabitants for long. But as they say so, these tens of white and yellow bungalows had a thousand of tales to tell; the mysterious, the horror, the ancient as the buildings were themselves, some interesting and some dull ones; thousands of them.
One afternoon a young man prowled among these ebbed mansions; wiping sweat from his forehead and looking at the sun occasionally; probably begging for mercy. His long gray Kurta, drenched in sweat, exposed the torture of the giant red ball itself on the poor soul. He sipped on cold water from his sipper bottle to quench the thirst and to beat up the heat simultaneously, while using a handful or two to wash his face. With the freshly acquired energy and adjusting his jhola (bag) on his shoulders, he resumed his walk towards the bungalows; the white and yellow colored very old bungalows.
And as he resumed his walk, beads of sweat glistened like several diamonds on his beard and hair and mustaches, as the sunrays hugged them delicately. He walked past door-to-door, ringing the bells. At the eleventh door of a colonial- inspired big house, he let himself relaxed a bit as he parked himself on the steps.
The nameplate on the door read:
“Mr. and Mrs. Deepanshu Sen, Bungalow no.11”
He rang the bell and waited for the door to open.
The door opened at the fourth bell. There stood a lady at the door; a graceful beautiful middle-aged woman, with her inquiring eyes. The hair folded in a loose bun and a big red flower behind the right ear; fair complexion and delicately carved out features on the face; doe-eyed, a small sleek nose and the rosy curve below them. Apart from the some white streaks on her hair and few wrinkles on her face, she had been successful at dodging time and growing age.
Wrapped in a green cotton sari with the orange broad border, matching orange colored blouse, five bead strings (oh! that too of Green and Orange color) bead necklace with a round big metal pendent, matching antique hangings in the ears with two round Green stones embedded on them and the Green and Orange wooden bangles in both the hands, she looked like a Goddess. The big round Green bindi on her forehead spell bounded the young man as he stared at her blankly.
“Yes?” the mistress of the house inquired in the politest tone.
“Errr..Good afternoon ma’am. I am Subhendo; Subhendo Bannerjee.” He broke off for a moment and then continued hesitatingly, “I am looking for a room; a room to let”
“And why would you like to have a room in such a deserted, solitary place, sir?”
To this, the young man made a painful grimace as if someone had poked into his wounds.
“Ah! Mrs. Sen (Obviously!),” he answered “I am doomed; for I can’t scribble a single word on the paper, a single meaningful word, forget about the novel. They said I was gifted, which I thought I was, until the day I ran out of words and my pen stopped doing wonders. My debut novel was the best seller and the following four too; I was respected everywhere, people wondered what made me so talented, so gifted. Honor bestowed upon me, kind words spoken to me; and what not Mrs. Sen, what not!”
His eyes gleamed with pride and joy; and then his head hung low in despair.
“But, it’s all gone; gone with a puff! Now, I lack the words. I lack the stories. I suppose it is what they call ‘the writer’s block’. I am determined to find the lost writer in me ma’am. So, I escaped the cacophony of deafening noise of the town and came to this peaceful paradise in search of stories. Nothing I want but solitude, Mrs. Sen, only solitude; to concentrate on my work and rejuvenate my pen.”
She gave him a thoughtful look for few minutes, scanning him from head to heel, judging his green intellect eyes; peeping behind the black frame reading glasses and then finally nodded in affirmation.
“Come with me”, said the graceful, beautiful woman as she guided him to the rusty spiral staircase leading to the roof “We have a vacant room on the roof to let.”
The man followed her like an obedient student.
“This is the room.” She said, as they entered a small room. “There is an attached washroom cum bathroom. Water, you will have to draw it from the tube- well, right in the corner of the garden. You must not bring any guest here; Mr. Sen does not like noise and doesn’t like to get disturbed.” She smiled. “Mr. Sen, my husband and the owner of this house”
“He reads a lot and spends all of his time in his private library.” She added.
“I would love to meet him, Mrs. Sen.” The young tenant said, cheerfully.
The smile vanished from her lips only to be replaced with the unfamiliar expressions in her doe eyes, the expressions that he could not read or understand. She simply stared at him fixedly with that peculiar expression on her face.
“Mr. Sen doesn’t see anybody.” She finally proclaimed. “Rent would be five thousand a month, in advance and two thousand extra for food. Please no cooking in the room, however, you may use the electric heater for Tea or coffee, if you please.”
The new tenant counted out the money and handed it to the graceful lady before her departure from the room. He shut the door- the door with a rusty knob on it.
The latest guest was welcomed with the sophistical comfort that gleamed from the decayed furniture.
The whitewash in the walls was chipped while the paint flaked from the doors and the window frames. A cheap mat decorated the floor, probably to hide the crevices and the cracks on it. The glasses on the window had turned wavy and yellow with time. Thankfully, the electric bulb and the table fan still worked.
The bare wall had been deprived of any decoration except a mirror and a black and white portrait, of young Mrs. Sen, sitting in a majestic chair with the young Mr. Sen. (Obviously!) standing behind him, hung on the wall.
What an aura she has got!
The young guest admired her and then his gaze shifted to Mr. Sen.
Tall, well built, side-partitioned neatly combed black hair, expressionless face with heavy long moustaches; upper lips hiding beneath the black bush while a thin line drawn in place of lower lip; tightly pressed against the invisible upper lip, in an effort to prevent some secret coming out of them, no beard, sharp eyes. It reflected nothing but cruelty.
Beauty and the Beast! He exclaimed.
Then he passed by the portrait and stood in front of the mirror. An oval shaped wooden framed mirror with the beautiful carving of flower and leaves on it. He assessed his reflection on the mirror, intently, for few minutes. Intellectual. Then he raised his hands up, slowly and caressed his two inches thick beard that covered half of his face, with affection; as gently as a mother caressed her sleeping baby affectionately, and then, slowly and gently, peeled it off.
The man standing in front of the mirror was different from the one that the room had welcomed earlier .He had been replaced by a clean shaved young man, black eyes without glasses and black short hair while his wig, moustaches, glasses and contact eyes lenses swimming in the case were on table, along with the table fan.
His lips twisted in a grin; a cunning grin. He mumbled the address to himself:
“Mr. and Mrs. Deepanshu Sen, Bungalow no. 11”
No. 11.How true! The grin on his face had become wider and meaner.
Norman D’Costa in Goa, Kanti Bhai in Gujrat, Dinesh kumar Chaurasia in UP, Parminder Singh in Punjab, Ajay Singh Chautala in Haryana, G. Venkat Swamy Aiyyar in Tamil Nadu, Shirish Patnaik in Orissa, Ganesh Pandurkar in Maharashtra, Naresh Babu in Karnataka, Ram kumar Meena in Rajasthan and now Subhendo Bannerjee in Bengal. One man; eleven different identities in eleven different states, eleven different names, eleven different get-ups; no two get-up ever had the slightest resemblance with each other, eleven different professions and each and every avatar played by him with great perfection that he had never been caught. He was too shrewd for that. The Best Conman, the best thug in the world! He blew a flying kiss on his mirror image.
He had never been in a hurry. He was already in the house, with much ease, half battle won! He lay down on bed to have a well-deserved afternoon nap.
The bang on the door woke him up. “Subhendo babu..Subhendo babu!” he heard the voice of Mrs. Sen behind the door.
He got up quickly, wore his green eye lenses and then his wig and moustaches and beard, checked himself in the mirror and then proceeded to open the door.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Sen, I was sleeping.”
“Oh, I am so sorry to disturb you,” She said apologetically “but I needed to know what you would like to have for dinner. It’s already seven o’clock.”
“Anything, Mrs. Sen.” he replied, “Whatever you cook”
Mrs. Sen smiled, “okay”
She walked away gladly but turned back after few steps. “Do you eat non-vegetarian food? Mr. Sen says I cook delicious non-vegetarian food.” Her eyes twinkled with pride.
I nodded in affirmation.
“Very well,” Said the graceful lady, with excitement gleaming out of her doe eyes. “This weekend we shall have delicious non-vegetarian food.”
“Poor soul!… Doesn’t know what she had gotten herself into.” He murmured as he saw her going downstairs and then he realized that there were no attendants in house. She would not have come by herself, if there were one. Mrs. Sen would be easy to tackle but Mr. Sen..let’s see!
During the daytime, he would sequester himself in the room pretending writing. In the evening, he would walk in the garden. He had carefully chosen the place to walk from where he could see the door of the library, clearly, from the window. However, the bolted door of library never opened.
The place was unusually quiet. He had not seen a single soul in the neighboring houses during his stay except the third evening, when he caught a glimpse of one pair of eyes, dull pale eyes, staring at him from the nearest bungalow.
Next day he saw an elderly woman, barely 5 feet, clad in a cotton white sari, gray hair, wrinkled old face with dull pale eyes talking something to his landlady in a hush tone and all the tenant could hear was “ Don’t trust-something-something-Rent-something-something-Stranger -something -something” while Mrs. Sen nodded, acquiescently.
And he knew he had to be more cautious, shrewder.
He had got the much-awaited opportunity and the landlady herself had given that opportunity. This was the weekend and Mrs. Sen had invited him over delicious non-vegetarian dinner.
“This place is exceptionally quiet.” He started the conversation, slightly disappointed with the absence of Mr. Sen at the dinner table. It would have been easier to accomplish his task, if only he could see him physically.
“Yes, but isn’t it good for you.” She replied, sweetly, as usual. “You can think in peace and regain the wonder of your pen”
“Umm..yes. True.” He had performed exceptionally well in such solitude places earlier and he himself had liked it; lesser risky and greater concentration, but it was different this time, the part of the town was different, rather mysterious. “But, aren’t you scared of this silence? Your house might get burgled very easily.”
He chuckled at heart. Wicked.
“We have lost our young son one and half year back. We have got nothing to loose more.” She signed. “Mr. Sen has confined himself in his sound proof library. Nobody is permitted to disturb him without his wish. He never smiles, doesn’t see anyone nor does he talk to anyone anymore; not even to me. I have lost both my son and my husband. He is as good as dead.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving a long wet trail behind them.
“I am sorry” Strangely, he felt sympathetic towards her. “What happened?”
She seemed lost.
“She ate him.”
His just gaped in confusion, horror, amusement and distrust. “Ate him? Who ate him?”
“Ah, Well, I am sorry, it is nothing like that. I can be crazy sometimes you see.” She said, as she got up to bring the food from the kitchen.
He signed in relief.
I must do it now .I might not get a better chance later. The library. I must get hold of him first. Mrs. Sen can be handled next. Just the two of them and the game is over. I would have enough time to search the house for money and other valuables. The fortune in the house would be enough for next six months, if not less than that.
And he got up hurriedly and pushed the door of the library, gently, very gently and let himself in, very quietly.
The room was filled up with the dim yellow light. It took him some time to get accustomed to the light and few seconds before he could see anything in the room. Then he saw him, Mr. Sen, there he was and the sight of Mr. Sen ran a chill down his marrow, suddenly, he was gasping for breath. His eyes opened wide in horror. He wanted to scream, he wanted to run but he could not, for what he saw was not Mr. Sen but his corpse, pale and white! Lying on an ice slab in the room – the room littered with human skulls and bones!
He is as good as dead. The words thundered in his ears
So frightful was the situation-his pulse ramped up, his heart pounded so loudly that he wanted to scream but he was too powerless to move or cry out, he found himself staring into the sharply drawn face and blank, dead eyes of his landlady, standing white and silent in front of him.
Before he could get his senses back, he felt a darting pain in his back. He raised his hand up to his back, it stained his fingers; blood!
“I told you he doesn’t like to get disturbed, you scoundrel!” The monstrous lady screamed in a husky voice, so loud that his half dead body shivered heavily, one last time, before meeting the floor.
The meat cleaver sank deep into his back, reaching his heart, the fountain of fresh blood gushing out of the deep cut.
“Oh, and did I not tell you that I cook delicious non –vegetarian food,” The doe eyes were full of blood in them and the dead cold voice whispered in his ears, “Do you hear? Do you hear? My dear eleventh tenant”