“Pradip ” my chest felt heavy. I jerked back from my sleep, a acrid floral essence of a hair oil, which used to be alike an aura of Pradip, is still in the air, but the man is no where to be found in the room.
And that is a normal phenomenon because, the dead never comes back and that is just the first night in this place, since then, whenever sleep embraces me, my ever loyal employee appears before me.
“Must be today’s physical strain and this silence in this place.” I tried to believe it, but as nights passed this belief shattered into a thousand pieces.
“I have a very good boy in my knowledge, he owns a few schools here in Odisha, very well cultured and a fine gentleman.” My friend Biswanath Roy spilled this information, and this is what brought me to this place, katalpur a little known village, the native place of this well cultured boy of Biswanaths.
The plates of old authentic food, that never made it to the cities, served to me at the perspective groom’s household, didn’t even give me the slightest idea of the terror waiting for me in this place.
The melodious mobile ring woke me up, dazzling sunshine played outside my window, a call from my wife revealed my mobile, trailed by six other missed calls, with a thump on the receive icon, a worried voice rushed in from the earpiece “Where are you? … Are you ok? … You are such a … etc etc. Madhav is already waiting for you near Damarpur”.
“Tell him to return back, my body hurts bad today, tell him to come tomorrow, I will be waiting at Damarpur, approximately 8 in the morning.”
I got up lazily from bed, pain drifted through my body with every movement, the dream of Pradip had broken up my sleep at night, and now a mental exhaustion has set in. This is how my first night passed in this place.
On the second night, I packed my bag, ready to leave this place in the next dawn, after a simple dinner, I lay down on the small bed, of my hotel room, sleep evaded me for sometime, but when it came it brought Pradip Sharkar with it.
I again jolted back from sleep. Like the previous night, the room is completely dark, the rays of the moon illuminated a small part of the room, I gulped down a glass of water.
“Through out my life I have worshiped honesty, I requested you to take care of my family, I took your word. But you, you forgot all about them, I always thought you as family, but you proved me wrong. So there is a dept of mine on you. I have always strictly maintained the company’s funds, you will never find any incongruity in the ledger except one, only one time when I drew my salary, I was paid a rupee more, due to the lack of availability of the smaller denominations. I took it with the intent of adding the extra rupee in the vault later. But before that can happen fate decided to make my stay on earth short. But the fault is mine, I should have been more strict. Since I always thought you as family, I thought I have all the time to give the rupee back, and mainly because of the fear of the harassment in auto-rickshaws and buses, the absence of this market shy metal disc, could have caused . And now this has become a thorn in my way of becoming unbound. Help me please.” is all that I can recall vividly from my dream along with those tired eyes of Pradip.
Sleep eluded me for the rest of the night, my eyes were stealing a glance of the place where I had seen Pradip, every now and then. “Its just a dream, just the last remnant of what precipitated from the dream yesterday on my mind.” I tried to make myself rigid, “Anyways I am leaving tomorrow.”
Handing over the keys of my room, I came out on the road. In these early hours, the village decorated itself with flowers, birds perched on trees sang to it. I followed the road to Damarpur town, not a single being came to my sight, I didn’t know how long I walked pulling the weight of my bag along, my knees began to hurt so much that I had to put my bag down. After a few minutes of resting under a tree, I saw an ox pulled carriage that just appeared at the bend of the road, I quickly waved a hand at the carriage and it pulled over.
“Damarpur, Babu you wouldn’t get anything today. Everyone is going to Haat today (Haat: A wholesale market where the farmers directly sale their stuff to the buyer, once or twice a week), I am going to the Pota da’s farm and then will go to Kotla, to the Haat.”
I returned to the hotel on the carriage, “You had to return back”, the owner said with some sympathy.
“I was about to tell you about the whole sale market, but your hurry barricaded my words in my mouth.”
I dumped my bag on the floor, “Another day in this place, fine.”
The day passed by talking to him or them, I tried to push aside the thought of the dreams, but as night approached, an anxiety began to press down on me.
“I will not let you leave this place, free me, go to my house, in Setolpukur village, only 30 minutes from here, please take off this dept. Please free me, please, you don’t know the pain of being bound to this world after death, its like prison. ” Pradip voice came out wrapped in pain.
“If you don’t do it, I will not let you leave this place, you will be a prisoner just like me.” this is the first time I have ever seen Pradip’s eyes so cold.
I almost ran out of the hotel, convinced that these are not just dreams, the rays of the sun vaguely tore out of the sky, the pain in my knees got lost somewhere ignored.
“There is no whole sale market today, nothing can stop me from getting out of here today”
After striding and stumbling on the unevenness, of the village road, at last I put my bags down exhausted. I saw a motor driven carriage coming this way, as far as I can remember, I have seen quiet a few of these, here.
Without talking much, I climbed up in the back, its a thick wooden plank supported on three wheels, pulled by a high-powered engine, such a vehicle is usually ferries heavy loads for farms, as I have witnessed.
Its open roofed, so the morning’s breeze brushed all over me, my body cringed from the cold, the carriage dropped me at an opening to a graveled road, leading to the Damarpur town. Walking towards Damapur I felt a weight just came off my chest, “Ghosts and spirits, childishness”.
In my felicity, I began to hum a song as I walked, I hadn’t noticed him until now, my joy of freedom took a hard knock, as my eyes fell on him. In the middle of the road a man stood, looking at me, in the same light green kurta and a black trouser, that I had seen on Pradip, in my dreams.
“Just some crazy local” I tried to find some strength.
Almost by force I walked towards him or walked forward, I am still at a considerable distance to make out his face properly, but something told me it is Pradip, the man raised his hand and pointed a finger at me, my head spun around.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself back in my hotel.
“I couldn’t sleep well at night, perhaps that is why I blacked out.” I tried to convince the owner standing near my head, as I returned to my room.
“Am I really the one to blame for all this, is this because of my negligence of my duty, I wanted to offer Pradip’s son a job too. What is his name” I couldn’t fetch that information out from by brain’s locker.
“But he hadn’t even finished his schooling by then, what job should I have offered him, a guards or a cleaners” I shouted.
“I agreed to pay for his schooling, but he never came to me.” even the thought that I am talking to a spirit, whose presence is mainly confined to the children stories and movies, couldn’t make my voice come down.
A knock on the door suddenly interrupted my talk to the air, I my guts coiled in.
“Who” my voice is breaking up.
“Anindya babu, I came to see you ” the owner’s voice came from the other side of the door.
“You are from a city, its normal that the atmosphere here will create problems for you. When I go to the city some times, same thing happens to me, the sight of so many cars and peoples on the streets make me nervous. One time I almost blacked out, but somehow I managed to a tea stall, only after sliding steaming tea inside, I slowly gained my gripe back. Here keep this tender coconut water”, a boy came in carrying a earthen pot, supported on his lap.
But the last thing he said, before leaving troubled me, “If not for that kind man, you wouldn’t have reached here, he said he knows that you are staying here, he did not say his name, this is gods kindness.”
“God’s kindness or Pradip’s” my mind chuckled.
The owner left after placing the jar down at a corner. No the tender coconut water didn’t do much apart from moistening my throat. Pradip comes every night in my dream with request and threats, but his threats are not blank ones and I understood them well when my driver had a crash. He was carrying one of my trusted employee, who came to take me home on my wife’s instruction. Later in the night Pradip said, “Didn’t I tell you I wouldn’t let you go.”
Day after day my conditioned worsened, I lost the appetite to eat, at night Pradip visited me in dreams, so inevitably enough I became a day sleeper. I kept myself behind the doors of my room, for most of the time. An anxiety always choked me, perhaps the owner has also started to see me as a mad man.
When ever I decided to leave Katalpur, Pradip obstructed my path and I came back to the hotel, defeated again and again.
“Like this you will die or turn into a crazy, its better if you listen to my words”. Defeated and broken with nowhere to go, I listened to Pradip. I went to Setolpukur village, Pradip’s words turned out to be true, its really not that far, from Katalpur. On asking, an old man pointed to to a small house, a structure of bare bricks and motor, supporting a roof of tiles, made from burnt clay.
As I knocked on the thick wooden door, a frail old woman came out, “Who?”
“Sister in law its me, Anindya Roy, I used to be your husbands employer”
The old woman stood silent for a few minutes, her old eyes scanned my face intently, probably trying to remember me, “Ani da”.
The same warmth radiated from her eyes and behavior, that was there years ago, when Padip managed my company, which only had one warehouse and a tiny room as office, then. The memories of the old days jumped out again and again from our conversation, “Where is Tublu? What does he do now? It has been along time.”
“Tublu is now a teacher in a school, in the Odisha, Tublu comes here on every Friday and leaves by Monday, rest of the days, I stay here alone. For some money, a girl in the next house takes care of my needs, she has gone to fetch water and will come back soon. A very good girl.”.
“That’s wonderful news”, the old woman went inside for something to serve me. I almost forgot, about the 1 rupee, “I have to ask for a rupee now, Padip’s son works in a school, he must be earning quiet a handful of money now”.
When I asked, bewilderment filled up her eyes, “I was supposed to get a rupee from Pradip, he never liked to keep debts. So I thought it will be best for me, to ask for it.”
I felt shame and anger at the same time, for the first time in my life I felt like some lowlife. I quickly came out of the house, I didn’t have the courage to look at the old woman to say goodbye, shame had pulled my head down. Pradip never tormented me again, but gave me something in return, my son in law. I haven’t seen a more simple young man in my life, it is because of Pradip I met him, that day after my return from Pradip’s house, guilt devoured me totally. After all that Pradip had done for me and the company, I should have taken care of his family, instead I left them to struggle through days, without a proper family guardian. In my absence, everything in my own family has gone haywire, my son had to go to the market and office, breaking up his studies. His young brain unable to comprehend everything, has cut some raw deal. His mother had failed in every attempt, to reign in everything in a system. My daughter has somehow held the family together, against all odds. Now I know how it feels to see your family suffer, helplessly.
I somehow packed my bag with reluctance, the frail figure of Pradip’s widow, projected on my mind again and again.
After reaching home, I found my family totally wrecked, “What are you, after so long you finally got the time to come back” they broke down.
I put everything back to order soon, but sometimes some changes are permanent, “Dad I don’t think I have it in me to endure all these again, I don’t want to marry some business man and I won’t, just get me a descent enough man with a steady earning. I just want a simple life, dad.”
I can’t fault my daughter for not wanting to go thorough another ordeal, of the low tides in business, in a business driven family. Soon the marriage arena is set, a wave of happiness, soaked us all. At last I felt content and thanked my old trusted friend Pradip, who has never let me down.
“He looks just like his grandfather” my wife remarked, as Souvik, my son in law placed the newborn, in her embrace. Souvik left to bring her mother, from the waiting room.
I looked at my daughter, a delight pranced in her eyes, the old woman came in slowly, holding her son’s hand, her eyes glistening with tears, as she saw the baby,“This is your grandson, he looks just like Pradip babu” my wife held the baby closer to my daughter’s mother in law.
The old woman lightly touched the babies forehead, her lips quivered. Yes the resemblance is striking, probably Pradip forgave me at last and came back to me, as his grand son.
“I will take a good care of you this time” I promised, the baby displayed a smile, lost in its own world.