The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Legacy: the Eponymous Story from Virasat

The Legacy
This one is the eponymous story from my Hindi story collections "Virasat". I thought I could translate it for all those who would like to read it in English. While giving a title for the story, the other option I had considered was "उत्तराधिकार " but then I had to settle for "विरासत ". Now while translating this into English, I chose its title accordingly: The Legacy.Hope it makes sense. I had to add a few more sentences to amplify the choice. Anyway, happy reading.

Maganlal left everybody awestruck as he came first in the state, scoring a whooping aggregate of ninety-three percent in his matriculation examination. All his teachers were overwhelmed and they began to hurrah, ‘Look, what a stupendous achievement has been registered by our student Maganlal! Agreed, students do score cent per cent in mathematics, but then what to say of a score of ninety-five in English? Isn’t it a piece of special news?’

Madanlal blushed as people kept showering lavish praise upon him. It was not possible to respond to one and all but whenever he did that, he would try to thank everybody he could remember. Sometimes he dedicated his success to his teachers and sometimes to his parents; sometimes he remembered the grace of his family god and sometimes he gratefully remembered the help received from his friends.

Maganlal had all such qualities that one would like to ascribe to an intelligent teenager. Such a sharp boy he was, whatever he read once, he would remember that easily. If anybody asked him to reproduce that even a month later, he used to do that effortlessly and in exact sequence. Say, like a photocopier! There were topics which really needed one’s skill to mug up and for Maganlal it needed just two or three rounds of reading at the maximum to internalise the contents. Yet there were many subjects that did not strictly demand skill of mugging up and Maganlal devised his own mnemonics to reduce the lessons into bare minimum points to mug them up. Science and mathematics did not need such cumbersome processes at all but only the faculty to understand them. Maganlal was not deficient in it; he not only understood them fully but also was instrumental in making his friends understand them with ease. That was the reason why all his friends loved him so much.

His matriculation now over, the next big thing to come in his career was his college education. Madanlal’s father said, ‘No problem, he can study for a year more. Thereafter he’ll be eighteen and eligible to take up a job. Then he can leave his studies and join it.’

In fact Maganlal’s father was desperately waiting to see his son employed. His financial condition was simply deplorable. Anybody could have marked that from the dress Maganlal wore to his school. The family was in near starvation, so much so that sometimes they had barely enough for a single meal. Maganlal’s parents had all their hopes concentrated on the employment of the boy which was yet to come and they were waiting for the day when the family would be simply adequately fed.

It was true that Maganlal needed an urgent employment for reason of his family’s destitution, but where was a job to join? And that, too, so quickly? There was, of course, an organisation that was so very easy to join if the applicant was as talented as Maganlal. And the organisation was none other than the Department of Posts. It had no such long-drawn recruitment processes of examination, interview and so on before giving appointment to a postal assistant. The only requirement was the score in matriculation examination. Maganlal had more than enough score in his matriculation exam to qualify for the employment. And he was selected. As soon as he was selected, he proceeded on training for six months and then became a full-fledged postal assistant. His entry in the department came to be a process as simple as that!

At the outset, the work of a postal assistant was to Maganlal’s liking. In a family where there was constant shortage of food, a steady source of monthly income brought them a great relief. It could be literally said that the family got a fresh lease of life. And while Maganlal worked, his friends continued their studies. For a period of four to five years, he could not realise that he was losing something in the process, but as all his friends got jobs one by one as executives in different organisations, he suddenly felt uncomfortable. He felt that he had been left behind in the race and it was not possible in the present life to catch up with his friends. Self-pity bothering him as such, whenever he got some free time, he started brooding over the matter, ‘Now those of my friends who had scored marks far less than me are now miles away from me. At the end of the day, it’s me alone who is left behind, to endure the curse of a low-paid employment—as a mere postal assistant!’

In a post office everybody has to work to finish his or her daily workload and that is the norm. So, who can dream of free time here? Nevertheless Maganlal thought of improving his lot by exploring the possibility of promotions by writing departmental examinations. But then, after doing the day’s work, where was the interest left in him to do all that extra? Really he used to get tired, tired to the hilt, like a tired buffalo chewing the cud.

There was another reason, though, behind Maganlal’s diffidence. Now he was married and a father of two. If father would apply himself to his own studies, who was there to take care of the homework of his children? Maganlal’s wife used to pose the same question but in a rhetorical fashion, ‘If a father with a score of ninety-three per cent will not teach the children then would it make any sense for a mother with thirty-five per cent score to do that job?’

Listening to her wife speaking like this, Maganlal used to feel happy for a while. ‘It matters little if no one in this world remembers my score as long as my wife Premamayi remembers this,’ he used to draw satisfaction out of her statement. From the beginning, he used to love her so much, and now when she had achieved the real glory of womanhood by giving birth to two cute boys, how would he dare to go against her wishes?

Anyhow he wrote the departmental examination for promotion to the cadre of inspectors, not once but thrice, and as ill luck would have it, he failed all the three occasions. None of his teenage talent blossomed at the time of his need. His lacklustre present stood in contrast with his glorious past. He was not aware of the agony that was to come in the wake of a failure in the examination. Now it was a blatant reality and it was no wonder that he grew crestfallen and disorientated. He became grumpy sometimes and went berserk at other. He was paranoid, schizophrenic and it pathetically affected his normal life. If he did not have a wife as dedicated as Premamayi, he would have committed unimaginable damage to himself. Most probably he would have even ended his life!

To get control over his disturbed mind the doctor prescribed powerful medication. He became dull and tame on being weaned away from his extreme tendencies. Now he did whatever his wife dictated. He helped his wife at home and sat teaching his children every morning and evening, silently and without any murmur.

Teaching others is not the same thing as reading oneself and remembering the lessons. Maganlal did not find those qualities in his sons that he himself possessed in his childhood. Off and on he remembered how he used to forget the pangs of hunger just by reading the stories out of his course books of literature. Siddharth the boy became Gautam Buddha the enlightened but in the process used to endure so much difficulty and such a lot of resistance—he would remember the story and the magic it contained that used to help him forget his hunger! But now what had gone wrong with his two sons, Balu and Virat? They were the two ancient duffers with hardly any interest to learn anything. Arithmetic was a far dream for them—howsoever Maganlal tried to explain it, they continued to cast only blank looks. And what about their handwriting? Oh god! Nobody could read it; even they themselves would stammer if they were challenged to read what they wrote!

Finally a grim realisation dawned on Maganlal that Balu and Virat would fail in their examinations. But such realisation was of no use to him. He had no quick fix to prevent the catastrophe. He arranged for private tuitions for them but no fruitful result was there to greet him. The situation grew worse as days passed; it was only open for despondency. Come to think of it, Maganlal had nurtured a wish that one day his sons would surpass him. If he could score ninety-three per cent in a state of perpetual hunger, his sons with all comforts available to them should do better than his father. But, alas, nothing of that sort really happened.

His wife Premamayi was not a bright student. When he would think about it, he was sure to be reminded of a proverb he was familiar with: Beauty and academic achievements are inversely proportional! And then his thought would wander but ultimately lead him to conclude that Balu and Virat sadly inherited the qualities of their mother. Despite such a firm conclusion, Maganlal was not in favour of perpetrating the torture on his beloved wife by disclosing what he used to secretly cogitate so very often. He was acutely aware of the fact that he had lost everything by now, except the love of his dear wife Premamayi. And he would ill afford to lose that now. He would try to veer his thinking the other way, one in which he would not have to find her fault at all.

The boys grew up. Lo! Both of them failed miserably in their matriculation examination. Maganlal had accepted the fact even before the misfortune befell him. Otherwise, what else could he have done? Was it any use to lament that thing day in, day out and suffer in the process? Would it have brought him any change to make the situation any better?

Before it was too late, the unfortunate father arranged part-time jobs for his sons in small shops and establishments. The boys had no inclination to work there. Otherwise, they were the same boys as were totally averse to work in agriculture, not as the two wage-earning labourers but in their own ancestral property. Then what other option was left before them? They became the aimless wanderers in the street with little inhibition that they continued to be burden on their father.

Nowadays nobody in the department was as unhappy as Maganlal. All of them had seen to it that their children got higher education, which brought them well-placed jobs as executives in various organisations of repute. India was a happening country by then; it had long become the IT hub, the outsourcing destination. Maganlal knew at least a dozen such doctors as were the sons and daughters of postal assistants like him. There were many who were quite vocal about the success of their sons and daughters. They used to say, ‘Look, Magan, my son earns so much in a month as would take our superintendent a year or even more than that to earn that amount.’ Maganlal used to cock an ear at all such statements of those satisfied fathers and used to be happy too. ‘Whoever may be successful here, it’s, after all, a matter of pride for all of us. He or she’s the fellow employee of postal department. Like our own people achieving success, we should celebrate all such news of success our way.’ He used to persuade himself in his way.

So far Maganlal used to think, ‘Post office is the burning pyre of all talents. There can be no two opinions about this. When I entered this place, I was a fellow with a whooping score of ninety-three per cent, but it took just a few years to turn me into a forgetful nincompoop, a mere unsuccessful candidate. After all, who made me such a worthless being?’ Such thought would lead him to a resolve, ‘Whatever comes, I’m not going to allow my sons to work in this department.’ As for him, it was not his private thought only; more often than not Maganlal used to think aloud and swear to this effect before his friends.

But what of today?

Today Maganlal got news that a vacancy of an extra-departmental mail carrier had cropped up in a nearby office. The post was one of part-time engagement, whose status was even less than a peon, the lowest paid government servant. And as for remuneration, it would bring only twelve hundred rupees per month. Be that as it may, Maganlal took leave for a day and headed for that office with Balu his son right away. When father and son duo reached there, the inspector was available in his office. The latter made them sit and listened to the purpose of their visit quite patiently. He already knew everything, including the dream that Maganlal had cherished about his sons. Especially he was aware that Maganlal was not in favour of seeking an employment for his sons in the Department of Posts. Despite everything what made him rush there?

‘Really? Is your son going to work in postal department? This means you’ve finally changed your mind, isn’t it?’ the inspector made an oblique statement that did not fail to hurt Maganlal.

‘What else can a boy who has failed in his matriculation exam do in life, inspector sahib?’ Maganlal replied with all humility at his command.

‘So, you’ve finally accepted what is your real worth, isn’t it?’ the inspector was yet to change the tone. However he happened to view the boy from an angle of compassion, nay of condescension. He observed that the boy had seen enough luxuries in life yet could be shaped into an obedient hand. After all, there was postal legacy behind him, and it was postal blood that mattered much in this case.

Turning his face towards Balu he said, ‘Come to join your work from tomorrow. And listen to me carefully, you’ve to come to my house every Sunday if you really wish to learn your work...and if you want to make your job a permanent one.’
Berhampur/ 15-08-2007

A N Nanda

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Monday, November 03, 2014

कमरा नंबर तीन

If you have gone through my English story "Room Number Three" at this L I N K, its original Hindi version is here. This one is one of the thirty stories I included in my book "वि रा स त". At least four magazines I know of who have by now published this particular story. I remember one editor of a reputed magazine wrote to me that he was impressed with the story but was unable to publish it because he's "Janavaadi" whereas this story of mine has ghost characters. Then I came to know that some well-wisher of mine had submitted the story to him on my behalf. Anyway, being challenged by such a comment, I had written another story sequel "कमरा नंबर साढ़े तीन" that I published in my next book "एक साल बाद". The characters remain same but that story has many more ghost characters than "कमरा नंबर तीन" and more of creepy activities. One of these days I'll bring that onto my blog but until then read this.

सैलानियों का शहर मुरी । इसकी गिनती देश के नामी-गिरामी पहाड़ी सैरगाहों में होती है । लोग अपनी छुट्टियाँ मनाने यहाँ दौड़े चले आते हैं--कोई आता है एक सप्ताह के लिए सिर्फ़ मन बहलाने, तो कोई लंबी छुट्टी लेकर अपनी सेहत बनाने । अप्रैल महीने से भीड़ शुरू हो जाती है और इसकी तादाद गर्मी में काफ़ी बढ़ जाती है । कुछ लोग तो हर साल आते हैं, क्योंकि मुरी का प्राकृतिक सौंदर्य लोगों को यहाँ खींच लाता है ।

मुरी में डाक विभाग ने अपने कर्मचारियों के लिए अच्छा-खासा इंतज़ाम कर रखा है । वहाँ के विभागीय गेस्ट हाउस की तो शहर के सबसे सुंदर मकानों में गिनती होती है । नक़्क़ाशीदार ड्योढ़ी, छज्जेदार झरोखे, रंग-बिरंगे काँचों से लैस पट्टीदार खिड़कियों से सजे इस भवन की चर्चा तो अक्सर लोगों से सुनने को मिलती रहती है । कम से कम सौ साल की यह पुरानी कोठी, अँग्रेज़ ज़माने की ही होगी । वह तब बनी थी जब कंक्रीट नाम की चीज़ नहीं के बराबर थी । लोग सुर्ख़ी, चूना और गुड़ से बनने वाले लेई से घर की छत बनाते थे । छत लोहे-लकड़ियों के धरण के ऊपर सिर्फ़ लादी जाती थी ।

इस कोठी का मालिकाना एक अँग्रेज़ से एक मारवाड़ी के पास गया; फिर यह एक बंगाली सज्जन से होकर आख़िर में डाक विभाग के पास आया था । ख़ैर, पिछले चालीस साल से विभागीय मकान की तरह इसका रखरखाव किया जाता है । कई बार अधिकारियों ने सोचा कि इस पुरानी इमारत को तोड़कर उसके स्थान पर एक आधुनिक भवन बनवाया जाए, परंतु डाक विभाग में पौराणिक धरोहरों को बड़ी इज़्ज़त मिलती है । सभी यही सोचते हैं, 'बस, इसे तब तक रहने दो, जब तक इससे ख़तरों का आभास न मिले ।

इस भवन को अपने पुराने ढाँचे के साथ रखे जाने की एक और वजह है । यह है इसके साथ जुड़ी मज़ेदार भूत-प्रेतवाली कहानियाँ। अक्सर विभाग में पुराने लोग नए कर्मचारियों को ये भूत-प्रेतवाली कहानियाँ खूब सुनाते हैं । एक बार तो एक पुरुष अधिकारी ने अपनी महिला सहकर्मियों को भूत की कहानी सुनाकर इस क़दर डराया था कि वे लोग अब मुरी आने पर उस गेस्ट हाउस में ठहरतीं ही नहीं । महँगा होटल ही सही, पर वो भूतवाली कोठी ? ना बाबा ना, इसे दूर से प्रणाम ।

अगर थोड़ी सी खोज की जाए तो ये कहानियाँ सरासर झूठ निकलेंगी । सिर्फ़ एक सवाल पूछने पर सारी बात साफ़ हो जाती है, जैसे कि, 'क्या आपने कभी यहाँ भूत के साथ एक भूतनी भी देखी है ?’ जवाब में कोई बोलेगा एक भूत तो ज़रूर है और कोई बोलेगा भूत के साथ एक भूतनी भी है । कोई बोलेगा भूतनी एक बंगाली महिला जैसी साड़ी पहनी रहती है, तो कोई बोलेगा वह सलवार कुर्ता पहनकर निकलती है । जितने मुँह उतनी बातें । ऐसे ही लोग तत्क्षण कहानी बनाते हैं, उसे सुधारते हैं---बिल्कुल कहानीकारों की एक टोली जैसी ।

शमीम डाक विभाग में ऑफ़िसर की नौकरी पर नया-नया दाख़िल हुआ था । प्रशिक्षण संस्थान में उसे एक दिन अपने प्रशिक्षक से मुरीवाले गेस्ट हाउस और उसके साथ जुड़ी कहानियों के बारे में पता चला । उसे इन भूत-प्रेतवाली बातों पर बिल्कुल विश्वास न था । किसी मज़हब के लिहाज़ से वह इन बातों को नकारता नहीं था, बल्कि था वह सचमुच एक साहसी नौजवान जिसे अंधविश्वास से सख्त चिढ़ थी।

शमीम के मन में एक दिन बात आई की क्यों न इस गेस्ट हाउस को देख लिया जाए ? ‘दूर से तो इतनी बातें सुनाने को मिलाती है मगर, वहाँ जाकर क्या-क्या देखने को नहीं मिलेगा?

मुरी गेस्ट हाउस में जिस दिन शमीम पहुँचा, उस दिन वहाँ और कोई नहीं था सिवाय वहाँ के केयरटेकर के । वहाँ पहुँचकर वह अपने लिए आरक्षित कमरा नंबर 3 में दाखिला हुआ । रूम के अंदर साज-सामान साफ़ और सही जगह पर रखे हुए थे। नवंबर का महीना था और कड़ाके की ठंड पड़ रही थी । शमीम ने कंबल वगैरह को परख लिया तथा तसल्ली कर ली कि रूम में रहने में किसी प्रकार की कोई दिक़्क़त नहीं होगी ।

कुछ देर बाद केयरटेकर शमीम से मिलने आया । दरवाज़े के पास एक मिनट के लिए ख़ामोश खड़ा रहा । उसके खड़े रहने के ढंग से शमीम को पता चला कि वह कुछ कहना चाहता है । अपनी तरफ़ से पहल करने की बजाय उसने उसके बोलने का इंतज़ार किया ।

'हुज़ूर, आज रात मेरे रिश्तेदार के यहाँ शादी है । अगर आपकी आज्ञा हो तो मैं सिर्फ़ आज रात के लिए अनुपस्थित रहना चाहता हूँ ।

शमीम ऐसे ही एक अवसर की तलाश में था । उसे पूरे गेस्ट हाउस में सन्नाटा चाहिए था । प्रचलित वहम के अनुसार भूत हो या भूतनी, वे सब ऐसी ही सुनसान रात में बाहर निकलते हैं । अगर यह भूतवाली बात अफ़वाह है तो इतने सारे सन्नाटे के बावजूद कोई भी नहीं निकलेगा । कुल मिलाकर शमीम को एक अनुभूति हासिल करनी थी, जिसके सहारे वह खुद एक निष्कर्ष पर पहुँच सके और कल जब किसी से बहस करनी हो तो वह खुद अपनी अनुभूति को सबूत के तौर पर प्रस्तुत कर सके ।

'हाँ केयरटेकरजी, आप बेशक जा सकते हैं । आज रात के लिए सिर्फ़ एक डबल रोटी रखकर जाइए, मैं काम चला लूँगा ।ऐसा कहकर शमीम ने केयरटेकर को घर जाने की इजाज़त दे दी।

केयरटेकर ख़ुश हुआ और अपनी कृतज्ञता प्रकट करते हुए लौट गया । जाते-जाते उसने शमीम की तरफ़ एक ऐसी रहस्यभरी नज़र से देखा, मानो वह उसके ऊपर तरस खा रहा हो । शमीम इस पर ध्यान नहीं दे पाया । अब तो उसका दिमाग़ भूत-बैतालों में उलझ चुका था ।

थोड़ी देर में शाम उतर आई । अँधेरा पसरने लगा । जाते समय केयरटेकर ने बरामदे और आँगनवाली सभी लाइटें जला दी थीं । शायद वह जानता था कि उजाले में भूत-प्रेत गेस्ट हाउस में नहीं आएँगे । पर केयरटेकर के जाने के तुरंत बाद शमीम ने सभी लाइटें बुझा दीं । रेडियो व टी. वी. कुछ भी खुला नहीं छोड़ा । मोटे तौर पर शमीम कुछ अजिबोगरीब  घटने के लिए अनुकूल स्थिति बनाए रखना चाहता था और भूत-प्रेतों की प्रतीक्षा कर रहा था ।

धीरे-धीरे रात गहरी होती गई । इस प्रकार रात के दस बज गए । एक कार गेट के सामने आकर रुकी और हॉर्न बजने लगी । केयरटेकर तो था नहीं, फिर कौन जाता गेट खोलने ? दरअसल गेट में ताला नहीं लगा था, पर ज़ंजीर से ताले को ऐसे लटकाया गया था कि कोई भी इस भ्रम में पड़ जाए कि गेट बंद है । मजबूरन शमीम को लाइट जलाकर गेट तक आना पड़ा । गेट खोलने पर टैक्सी अंदर आई ।

शमीम मन-ही-मन रुष्ट था कि अब उसकी सारी योजनाएँ चौपट हो गइर्ं । सोचने लगा, 'अब कोई भूत या भूतनी नहीं आने वाला, पर क्या किया जा सकता है ? यह तो एक गेस्ट हाउस है और लोगों का आना-जाना तो स्वाभाविक है । चलो आज नहीं सही, फिर कभी ।

जब उसने गेट से लौटकर बैठकख़ाने में प्रवेश किया तो देखा कि केयरटेकर भी लौट आया था । वह भी दुखी था क्योंकि वह अपने रिश्तेदार के यहाँ जा नहीं पाया । उसे ख़बर भेजी गई कि तुरंत वह गेस्ट हाउस लौट आए, क्योंकि एक बड़े ऑफ़िसर की बेटी और जमाई बाबू वहाँ रहने के लिए आने वाले थे ।

शमीम दोनों नवागतों से दूर तो रहना चाहता था, पर वे लोग बड़े मिलनसार निकले । एक का नाम था प्रेम और उसकी बीवी का नाम यामिनी । यामिनी को बेहद पसंद था मुरी, ख़ासकर मुरी का यह गेस्ट हाउस । बरसों पहले अपना हनीमून उन दोनों ने इसी गेस्ट हाउस के कमरा नंबर तीन में मनाया था ।

'कमरा नंबर तीन ? वहाँ तो मैं ठहरा हुआ हूँ ।शमीम बोला ।

'कोई बात नहीं, शमीम साहब, हमलोग कमरा नंबर दो में रह जाएँगे,’ यामिनी बीच में बोल पड़ी । बड़ी प्रसन्नता के साथ उसने यह बात रखी । लगा जैसे वह शमीम के व्यक्तित्व के अंदर झाँककर महसूस कर लेना चाहती हो कि डाक विभाग का यह युवा अधिकारी प्रेम को कितना महत्व देता है । बिजली बल्ब की क्षीण रोशनी में यामिनी के चेहरे से एक आकर्षक आभा निकल रही थी, लगता था कि वह फिर से हनीमून के लिए सज-धज कर निकली है।

शमीम ने एक मिनट के लिए सोचा कि उसे इतना ख़ुदर्ग़्ज़ा नहीं होना चाहिए । अब उसे मालूम हो गया था कि प्रेम और यामिनी के लिए कमरा नंबर तीन कितनी अहमियत रखता है । हर साल दोनों उसी दिन इस गेस्ट हाउस में आते हैं इस उद्देश्य के साथ कि यहाँ कमरा नंबर तीन में ही ठहरेंगे और अपने हनीमून की याद ताज़ा करेंगे । समय तो लौटकर नहीं आएगा । बस यादें थीं, जिन्हें वे एक रात जी लेंगे । शमीम ने फिर सोचा, 'अब तो मुझे प्यार का कुछ लिहाज़ करना चाहिए।

'प्रेमजी, आप निश्चिंत रहिए । मैं कमरा नंबर तीन आप दोनों के लिए ख़ाली कर देता हूँ । बस दो मिनट ।शमीम बोला ।

शमीम ने फ़ौरन अपना रूम बदल दिया । उसे मिला कमरा नंबर दो और पति-पत्नी ठहरे कमरा नंबर तीन में । अब वे लोग अपनी रूमानी यादें ताज़ा करेंगे; इसमें किसी से कोई रुकावट नहीं ।

फिर बीस मिनट बाद प्रेम ने शमीम का दरवाज़ा खटखटाया । दरवाज़ा खोलते ही वह अंदर आया और शमीम को अपने कमरे में आने का न्योता दिया । वह चाहता था कि उस सुअवसर पर शमीम भी टोस्ट में शामिल हो ।

शमीम को कोई एतराज़ न था, बल्कि उसने इसे सहर्ष स्वीकार कर लिया । उसका मन रूमानी भावनाओं में बहने लगा । उसने सोचा, 'यामिनी जैसी औरत को बार-बार देखने से भी किसी की तबियत नहीं भरेगी !सचमुच उसके अंग-अंग में भरी मदिरा शमीम अपनी आँखों से बार-बार पी लेने को बेताब था । घटना चक्र अब एक अजीब-सा मोड़ ले रहा था--एक खोज का अभियान आसक्ति के गलियारे से होकर गुज़र रहा था ।

रूम नंबर तीन । इसे खुद शमीम पहचान नहीं पाया कि सिर्फ़ बीस मिनट पहले वह वहाँ ठहरा था । कमरे के अंदर लाल-हरे रंगों की लाइटें थीं और उस धीमी रोशनी में यामिनी आसमान की एक परी-सी पलंग पर विराजमान थी । टेबुल पर थे तीन ग्लास और ग्लासों में जॉनी वाकर छाप की लाल शराब । शमीम अंदाज़ नहीं लगा पाया कि ग्लासों में भरी लाल शराब ज़्यादा नशीली थी या यामिनी का मदिर-मस्त यौवन !

प्रेमजी ने अपना ग्लास उठाया और टोस्ट का प्रस्ताव रखा, '150वाँ  हनीमून रंगीन हो।

शमीम चौंक गया । 150वाँ हनीमून ! क्या कोई 150वाँ  हनीमून मना सकता है ? पर शिष्टाचार और औपचारिकता का ख़्याल रखते हुए उसने उस टोस्टवाली बात को संक्षेप में दोहराया, 'हनीमून रंगीन हो ।

शायद यामिनी शमीम के मन का असमंजस समझ गई । बोलने लगी, 'क्या आप 150वाँ सालवाली बात समझ नहीं पाए ? क्या आप भूल गए कि डाक विभाग इस साल अपनी 150वाँ सालगिरह मना रहा है ?’

यामिनी की बात सुनते ही शमीम को अपने भुलक्कड़पन के बारे में महसूस होने लगा और वह ख़ूब हँसा । दूसरी पेग लेते हुए वह बुलंद आवाज़ में बोला, '150वाँ साल का  हनीमून रंगीन हो ।

पीने और पिलाने का सिलसिला आधी रात तक चलता रहा । शमीम को पता नहीं चला कि उसने कितनी पेग पी ली । नशे में उसका संकोच डूब गया । वह अपना मर्यादा भूलकर सिर्फ़ यामिनी को अपलक निहारने लगा । इस दर्मियान यामिनी भी नशे में चूर हो गई थी । कुछ देर बाद वह अपनी साड़ी भी सँभाल न सकी । पर पीने की इस प्रतियोगिता में कोई हारना नहीं चाहता था ।

शमीम को पता न चला कि कब वह नशे में बेहोश हो गया । सिर्फ़ इतना याद रहा कि वह यामिनी के मख़मली जिस्म के बहुत क़रीब पहुँच गया था ।

सुबह जब केयरटेकर आया तो देखा कि रूम नंबर तीन में शमीम फ़र्श पर पड़ा हुआ है । उसने पास आकर उसको जगाया । शमीम की नींद खुली, पर चक्कर आने से वह खाट पर फिर लेट गया ।

अपराह्न तक शमीम का नशा उतर गया । नींद से जागकर उसने अपने को कमरा नंबर तीन में सोया हुआ पाया । फिर उसने केयरटेकर को बुलाया और प्रेम और यामिनी के बारे में पूछने लगा।

सब सुनकर केयरटेकर ने एक बनावटी मुस्कराहट के साथ बोला, 'तो इस साल भी वे दोनों प्रेम और यामिनी नाम से यहाँ आए थे!

'कौन थे ये दोनों ?’ शमीम ने पूछा । वह अब पूरी बात सुनने को बेताब था ।

अंत में उसे मालूम पड़ा कि पिछली रात जो तीन शख़्स गेस्ट हाउस में आए थे, वे तीनों के तीनों भूत थे । उनमें एक तो केयरटेकर का रूप लेकर आया था क्योंकि असली केयरटेकर तो अपने रिश्तेदार के यहाँ शादी के बहाने चला गया था । उसे मालूम था कि उस दिन भूत आएँगे और उसने भाग जाने की योजना बना रखी थी । शमीम को इसकी भनक तक नहीं मिल पाई ।

तर्कप्रिय शमीम सोचने लगा कि आख़िर एक भूतवाली पार्टी और एक जीवितोंवाली पार्टी के बीच क्या कोई फ़र्क़ है ?
ब्रह्मपुर,  दिनांक 23-08-2007
A N Nanda

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