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.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Confluence

This is a story that I wrote in the last millennium, some seventeen years ago to be precise. I still like it. Happy to include in my blog, though a long one. Happy reading.

                        After having an altercation with his younger son, Banarasi had surely felt bad, but he thought he had his reason to take a stand. After all, money was not a substance to be squandered like that. A friend’s wedding was the responsibility of his father, and not of a friend! Five hundred rupees was definitely not a small sum to be written off!
                        But then Prabhat knew what he should do as a son. He knew his being motherless was of no use now; he had overused that in the past for generating his father’s sympathy. Now that he was a grown-up boy he should have got an employment by this time and shown his earnings to his father who understood the language of money only. But that was yet to happen. A helpless freeloader on his father’s premises, he had got no other go but to please his father by nice words, clever words, and words that conveyed no other sense than his helplessness. He just went to his father, stood there with his head bowed, and waited till he looked at him.

‘I’m sorry, Papa,’ Prabhat uttered those oft-repeated words.

‘It’s okay. Why don’t you try to learn a thing or two from your elder brother Prakash? He is so sober, so economical, and so obedient!’ Banarasi quickly diverted his look towards his book of accounts and resumed his calculation. Prabhat knew his father was examining the expenses incurred in his sister Priya’s wedding that took place a year back. This was his umpteenth scrutiny of the book. Maybe he had some unresolved arithmetic there and he was perhaps trying to recover a few bucks by straightening the kinks in the figure works!

                        Daily enactment of this fruitless verbal duel was not to continue for ever. Prabhat started to live separately, miserably but perhaps peacefully, with his wife Selvi and waited for his good time to come. Age caught up with Banarasi and soon he got confined to bed. To make things even worse for the bedridden patriarch, his right limbs got a paralytic attack rendering him entirely immobile. His resistance gave way to nasty infections just in a matter of a few months, and the bedridden old man eventually acquired a lot of horrible bedsores. They were the incurable ones that emitted putrid smell in his room and to the outside. He became an object of abhorrence, as if he were a sinner who was suffering for his sins even in his present life. It was for the maidservant to take care of the old man. Banarasi lost his faculties one by one in quick succession. His speech was the last one to be affected.

‘So, that’s papa’s last wish then. But how are you so sure? He’s hardly able to speak these days,’ Prabhat was a trifle foxed hearing the interpretation his brother gave to the feeble groan that his father uttered in his sickbed.

‘Then what else could it be? What other meaning can you possibly get out of Gangaji shoon...hoon...moohoon? He’s only asking for immersion of his remains in the river Ganges,’ Prakash looked at his brother intently, expecting a confirmation of his version.  

‘Quite possible, you could be right. Papa is sinking...maybe it’s matter of days before....’ Prabhat, despite the painful history of his relationship, took a loving look of his father’s body. It had practically no movement. The poignancy of the moment affected him and he was no longer inclined to make his papa responsible for all his own plights. Before leaving, he touched his feet out of filial regard.

                        Impending death of their father made both the brothers and the sister downcast and ruminative, but not crestfallen. In fact, they would welcome the inevitable to happen soon—the sooner the better. The old man’s demise would bring to an end the waiting of his offspring, eager to inherit his property. They knew the soul was suffering for at least a year with his palsied body and muffled speech, but they had practically little to do to alleviate his pain. They were now full-grown adults, married but without means, and they were perforce to depend on the wealth of their father for a living. The reluctance and stinginess of their father was something that had kept the eligible fellows from their legitimate inheritance, and that bothered them more than the agony of their procreator.        
                        The old man had the ownership of a decent amount of wealth that would value not less than four million rupees, all in the shape of real estate or agricultural holdings. There was very little that he held in liquid cash, as he belonged to a generation when wealth meant different connotations. They meant land; they meant buildings; they meant gold; and they meant herds of cattle even! His children, Prakash, Prabhat, and Priya belonged to an altogether new generation, and they needed cash every now and then. The old man knew that. He was quite sure that his inheritors would sell his property, and squander the proceeds on consumer durables, parties, and travels. Was that all for which he sweated in this remote place in the Andamans to earn a few quick bucks? Was that all for which he pleased the engineers to get contracts, nagged at the unwilling workers to meet the project deadlines, bargained, negotiated, calculated and estimated, and laughed all the way to the bank? He was still hale and hearty then, much before his paralysis confined him to bed, when he decided something very clever and particularly effective. He resolved he would not allow the disintegration of his empire before his eyes. He made all the necessary legal arrangements so that nobody would acquire any saleable right of his property as long as he or his wife lived. 
                        But his wife did not live enough to protect the property. She had some unknown illness and, before a doctor was able to do something useful, she had left the world. As a perfect housewife, doting mother, and adoring wife, she lingered on in the memories of her progeny, just to fade in time. Banarasi remained with his property, unemployed sons and daughter, and an uncertain future to take care.
                        Then one day Banarasi quietly met his death when he was past seventy-eight. In a way its arrival was not delayed far too much to make things unbearable for others. A year’s illness was just nothing to achieve so big a thing called death of an elderly person in the family. Thereafter events happened in textbook precision, as if pre-indexed and outlined. No sooner did the offspring get to know the sad news than they assembled promptly to mourn and join in with others in a session of sonorous self-pity. Now a funeral was to follow. Taking it to be their bounden duty, they spontaneously teamed up. They would live up to the expectation of everybody in managing the funeral, rustling up the entire paraphernalia to send the old man befittingly on his last journey. There was already a pundit—an austere old fellow at that—to aid and advise the bereaved. In a splash of empathy, the neighbours momentarily glossed over the fact of the neglect shown to the old man in the recent past.
                        The scions of the dead registered their remorse through the exuberance of tears. Mridula, the elder daughter-in-law was already there near Banarasi at the time of his death, and Selvi, the wife of Prabhat reached there before her absence could be critically marked. Both the daughters-in-law cried to their hearts’ content, sobbing and sighing, and their swollen and reddened eyes told volumes about their melting mood. Theirs were not the gestures that were entirely empty, and people had marked that both the daughters-in-law wept in their own languages.  Both the sons of the departed soul had chosen to marry from different castes and linguistic groups, despite initial objections from the patriarch. But now this fact proved a delicate point. Yes, the ladies wailed in their respective languages—Mridula in Bengali and Selvi in Tamil. Mother tongue being the most natural medium of expression could not have told anything other than their genuine feeling of grief!
                        The intensity of cry and woe slowly got diluted with the silence and detachment of the cremation ground. Occasional crackle of a joint or the sizzling of body fluid in the midst of full-blown fire broke the spell of uncomfortable quiet. Despite the wet spells of November’s return monsoon, the old man did not call for much labour to get burnt into ashes. The sons had managed to procure the dried and the best of the firewood from the golah (store-cum-sales outlet), and no wonder it turned out to be a hassle-free job at the cremation. The Dom (the cremation ground in-charge), by display of his professional dexterity, collected a small piece of half-burnt, still smouldering femur, the thighbone. He pushed the same into the earthen pot and handed it over to Prakash, who, after applying fire to his father’s body, was waiting there with his back towards the pyre.
                        Father gone for good, the scion woke up to the reality. It was not easy for him to decide what he should do to live up to his new role of the eldest in the family. Holding the pot carefully in the air to save it from touching the ground, he meticulously followed every single instruction the priest handed down to him. At home the stuff was to be preserved, at most for a year if the same could not be ritually disposed of any earlier, and Prakash chose the mango tree in his backyard for the purpose. Delicately he kept the pot suspended from the branch of that tree and waited for somebody among them to volunteer to take the same to Triveni in Allahabad for its ritual immersion. It was to be consigned to the holy flow at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythological subterranean stream called the Sarswati. Yes, this would fulfil Banarasi’s last wish: Gangaji shoon...hoon...moohoon.

‘By God’s grace, now everything is getting over smoothly. The only ritual left is the immersion of the remains at Triveni. That will also be over in due course,’ Prakash sighed deeply as he thought aloud. A sense of transient satisfaction just swept over him. The other members present were his younger brother Prabhat, his sister Priya and her husband Avadhesh, and the presiding priest. The thirteen-day observance was then at its last leg.

‘What’s all the fuss about! Can’t we do without it?’ Avadhesh blurted out. Nobody perhaps liked his outspoken utterance and the priest took offence of it.

‘Is it a fuss and how dare you term it so? My dear young fellow, I say it’s not a fuss. After death, the soul remains insatiate…it is hungry, thirsty, greedy, confused and in ever agony. It’s our pious duty to help the soul transcend these preternatural levels of purgatory pains through these paraphernalia,’ his whole body language spoke that the priest tried to look profound with his scriptural enunciation. At the same time he looked at others for endorsement of his version.

But the young man was not to be easily silenced. He questioned further, ‘Why should we consign all that stuff to the river Ganges, and why not to a rivulet of Baratang or the river Galathia at Campbell Bay?’

‘Look, my dear young man! You’re asking like a Yavan (a cross-border non-Hindu) would do. As if you don’t know the river Ganges flows from the hair of lord Shiva, and she’s the purest and holiest thing on the earth! As if it’s beyond your sense of piety to consider her the mother goddess! I need not tell you how pure she is. She and she alone can eliminate the sins of mortals. The remains have to be consigned to her,’ the priest now looked agitated as he reeled off the subtleties of the ritual.

                        Just a moment later he resumed his exposition. He had something more to tell Avadhesh, rather reprimand him for his un-son-in-law-like reactions.

                        He cleared his throat and discoursed, ‘The problem with the young these days is they don’t read our scriptures, mythologies, Vedas. There is a whole book devoted to mother Ganga—how she came to the earth from the heaven; how the entire sun clan, a royal line of descendants went on burning and smouldering for aeons; how Bhagirath, the worthy descendant from the clan himself went on doing penance after penance for years and how he finally brought the river. Look, everything is as fresh as the last year’s open-air stage show.’

                        Prakash realised that the flow of talk was drifting towards an uncalled-for direction. After accomplishing everything smoothly, he did not want any unpleasantness to erupt out of nothing. He intervened before it was late.

‘Hold on please! This is no time to argue, I say. I’ll do whatever is’s my duty, isn’t it?’ Prakash posed it to the priest for a confirmation. Unknowingly he satisfied all three of them by his simple intervention. The priest was happy to be consulted about who should be taking the remains to Triveni; both Avadhesh, the brother-in-law and Prabhat, the younger brother were happy to be spared the responsibility. 

‘You’re absolutely right, Prakash,’ the priest responded, ‘the work of immersing the remains in the Ganges is the right of the eldest son. Not for nothing the ancient law-givers have expounded the law of primogeniture...they have even prescribed a higher share in the paternal property for the eldest sons.’ 

                        Priya was happy to see that her husband could be dissuaded from verbal squabbles this way. She was not required to intervene to restrain him.
                        But Mridula, the ever-watchful wife of Prakash viewed the reaction of her husband was rather avoidable. She felt the younger brother Prabhat and his sister Priya were too clever for her husband who was just a credulous little fellow to do everything others smartly step aside. The rite of consigning the remains to the holy flow of the Ganges involved strict adherence to the time schedule—not even a day beyond one year should be taken to accomplish that. If it were overdue by chance, the delay would bring evil consequences to his life. He might even be required to do the atonement for the slip. Top of all, it would require expenses; going to the mainland crossing the Bay of Bengal, after all, involved an awful lot of money, all in cash. She knew what it meant to be the elder son, and what it meant by ‘higher claim on father’s property’. The so-called law of primogeniture might be a line in the ancient treatise of lawgiver Manu that everyone talks about but few really know. It has no sanction of the law of the land. She did not expect anything big to accrue to her husband in recognition of that as long as Prabhat and his wife Selvi were there. She knew her husband would be too glad to agree to whatever his cunning brother would ask for. They were only too glad to see the old man dead and now they were planning how to get their share, quickly and liberally, sell them off, and leave the island.
                        Mridula could speak volumes about Prabhat and Selvi’s intentions, if there were any occasion. But she was only a lady, a daughter-in-law of the departed soul, and how could she articulate her feelings? She did not want to be marked for giving vent to her pent-up feelings, singled out as a selfish lady in the brood. She did not want to be seen commenting as grotesquely as the son-in-law Avadhesh. But in her heart of hearts, she knew what was going on in the minds of the couple at the moment. Wasn’t Prabhat the same boy who got married to this Tamil girl, much to the chagrin of his father? The girl’s family was no match for Banarasi’s, and it had accrued no permanent interest in the island. Rather, it had decided to move away to the mainland on retirement. Prabhat knew it well—the exodus would take place just in a couple of years’ time. As time proved it correct, the family left the island eventually and three years had passed since then. Selvi was the only person from the horde who was left behind, merely as the daughter-in-law of Banarasi. She had never gone to the mainland to meet her parents during the last three years. But why? Why had Selvi not gone to her parents even for once? Out of deference for her sinking father-in-law? Never, Mridula knew that. The clever lady called Selvi was just waiting for her father-in-law to die so that she could go back to her own parents with booty, not empty-handed. Disgraceful, Mridula considered it was nothing but disgraceful. Not for nothing she still continued to be not on speaking terms with her.
                        But Prakash did not share such a critical attitude of his wife towards his siblings. He had always been a good brother, and, now that his father had left them in his charge, he was the eventual guardian for them. He was sure he knew his responsibility.
                        Prakash wondered Mridula had completely forgotten all that the old man had told her at the time of their marriage. But he remembered the scene vividly: how in an emotive vein his father Banarasi had shed all his reservations against his choice of the bride; how he had welcomed Mridula even though she was not a Bhumihar by caste but a Bengali; how he was happy to know that he was going to build a relation in a family of scientists through the vivacious girl; and so on. Very affectionately and candidly he had chosen to warn the girl-in-love. Yes, he warned her about the awesome responsibility she had chosen unwittingly! That she was going to marry his son, an unemployed fellow, who would not be making any big in his life, was his warning. His wife Naina already dead by then, Banarasi himself had come forward to emphasise before his daughter-in-law the basic dos and don’ts of an Indian joint family. He had explained how an elder daughter-in-law in a Bhumihar family should ideally conduct herself at all times, and how she would keep the family together by bestowing lots and lots of love on both the younger siblings, Prabhat and Priya. Mridula had probably forgotten everything—completely and neglectfully.
                        Prakash felt he should, for a smoother conduct of the rites in progress, overcome his wife’s resistance. Just to eliminate her apprehensions, he talked to her in private.

‘Look, Honey, what else should have I done under the situation? I had to divert the issue and I had to take the responsibility in the process. Didn’t you see how hot the row was? But don’t worry. Just wait and see—everything will turn out well. Even Prabhat will be himself glad to help me out,’ Prakash was largely apologetic in his tone while he gave a slow smile sheepishly.

‘Did I say you’ve done any wrong? They’re your brother and sister, and you can do whatever pleases them. Why should you consult me, a foolish lady in the household, for all those trifles?’ Mridula’s snide comments spoke a lot about her mind. It confirmed the apprehension of Prakash that all was not well with his wife.

                        Mridula considered herself unlucky to have loved a wooden-headed simpleton. Until the last week, he took the entire responsibility of the old fellow keeping him in his house at Shadipur. Even though a maidservant used to attend to the needs of the sick fellow constantly, it was a terrific burden on Mridula herself to endure a sick fellow with one foot in the grave. A palsied body, bedsores getting worse on it every passing day, their fetid smell contributing to the sickness of the whole environment—Mridula had braved them all. Now that one agony was fortunately over, her husband had willingly embraced yet another. Like pledging surety for all the defaulters in the town! How could he behave so short-sighted? Even for such a simple job as taking the remains of the departed father to the confluence, he could not force it on his younger brother! Having voluntarily accepted the task, he believed quietly that his brother would come to his help! She could not decide what to do when the ultimate frustration would come over her husband. And she was dead sure it would, before late.
                        Come the thirteenth day, a day of remembrance. All the near and dear ones assembled at Banarasi’s to rekindle the fond memories of their association with the departed soul. Some remembered his dashing nature and his risk-taking abilities while some others his agreeable temperament and earnestness. Widening of the VIP road was his work—a fellow contractor declared it, and another fellow credited him for building the formidable sea wall at South Point. None had anything negative to talk about the departed soul, for it was against norms to denigrate a soul that was heavenward. And what about those lapses in his life? There were a lot that they knew about and that they could have debated, like his failure in guiding his children or treating his wife, but that was not the occasion to discuss what the departed soul neglected in his life. Only success, and all of them spectacular ones, could be accepted as the theme of the day.
                        Some even remembered Naina, the wonderful mute wife of Banarasi at that moment of great nostalgia. Oh, it was all very poetic—evocative to its last syllable. Everybody agreed the couple led a life of heavenly love and they were the two godly souls that lived on this mortal earth. Yes, between them they had their real-life differences, but they were only subterranean; they did not ever surface for general consumption. None had ever heard them fighting at any time, on any issue. They had their love to live for, yet proclaimed none of it and continued to understand each other through their silent and sincere gestures! She did not die of any prolonged ailment; she just passed away silently, gracefully and well on time when all were only too willing to adore her.
                        But a certain goldsmith was there to reveal a startling secret. He was the beneficiary of the windfall that Banarasi chanced upon. According to him, one day, while visiting his construction site at South Point, Banarasi had stumbled upon something glittering. Surprisingly, it was a gold biscuit abandoned at the ruins of a Japanese bunker. His project for construction of a sea-cum-retaining-wall had a few such bunkers that had brought him some unspecified quantity of hallmarked gold. But the goldsmith did not explain what prompted him now to make that sensational revelation in public. Nobody asked him about that either.
                        The goldsmith thus gave a secret, and the willing audience just absorbed it. It was straight, posthumous, and credible. The mood of the assembly so generously set, everybody was willing to tell an anecdote or two, and the listeners were willing to accept them. They in fact shared them to accentuate the point that human life is ever ephemeral but the good deeds are so very long-lasting. Such was the rapport between the speaker and the audience, and such was the attraction of the topic deliberated!
                        The ambience being so agreeable, there prevailed a willingness among the siblings to see their ultimate good in harmony. A remarkable adjustment was to be thrashed out effortlessly in the matter of sharing of property, notwithstanding the undercurrent of sibling rivalry.

‘I don’t want to lay my claim on anything that will embarrass you people,’ declared Prabhat quite pompously. He hastened to add, ‘I’ll consider myself favoured if I’m allowed to continue in our Haddo apartment.’ Selvi had a trace of satisfied smile on her lips in approbation of her husband’s clever approach at the issue.

‘And I don’t want anything other than what papa thought of giving me. The coconut grove and the agricultural land around it...that’s all,’ Priya did not look at her husband for endorsement. She knew her brothers would not give her less.

                        Prakash had no claim to stake since he was the eldest. He was to bear the burden of primogeniture and he was happy about that. At the end of the day, an amicable agreement emerged and it was documented with the help of a lawyer. The entire process took three months’ time and by March the whole thing was settled.
                        Prakash wished to have his final say on the matter—rather he was to make a kind of symbolic request after everything was so peaceably settled.

‘Well, I’ve now an earnest request to both of you, Prabhat and Priya. It’s nothing very demanding, just in deference to the wish of papa, you know. Let’s not sale our shares at least for a year, if that’s acceptable to both of you,’ Prakash appealed. He was sure his tone betrayed none of his so-called moral authority as the eldest brother.

‘Oh yes, it’s something we ought to do in deference to papa’s wish.’ It was clear Priya understood the spirit of her elder brother’s suggestion. She resumed, ‘Why for a year only, I shall keep the property in tact and continue to cherish memory of my papa. After all, he has done everything that would keep me happy,’ this time she looked at her husband Avadhesh intently for endorsement.  

But Prabhat was a trifle oblique in his response. ‘Property transactions are rather matter of chance, you know...and who can say for sure anything about them?’ He did not look straight on the face of his elder brother. He rather looked at his wife Selvi for confirmation.

                        One year is too small a frame to pack the grains of so many events so densely. Thirty-seven million of heartbeats in a person and six hundred and thirty-three million kilometers of celestial roving of the earth! But they squeeze into that tiny timeframe. No wonder a few events of little consequence in Banarasi’s bereaved family also got packed into the fourth dimension just to bulge out as it bustled ahead.
                          Prabhat chose to dispose of his share of property at half the market price and make everybody happy. His wife Selvi was happy at the prospect of leaving the island and joining her parents at Ramanathapuram; the buyer of the prime property, a retired police officer, was happy to strike an amazing bargain with just a small effort on his part; his in-laws were happy to finalise a long-pending business plan investing the sale proceeds of their son-in-law’s property.
                        But he could not make his elder brother Prakash happy. It was not his objective either, truly.

‘Brother, we’re sailing on Monday, you know,’ Prabhat met his brother for the last time before severing all his connections with the island. Selvi too accompanied him to his house at Shadipur. She was in best of her sarees, a peacock-blue one with gold sequins, and she looked more contented than eager.

‘I know that. And I know that you’re soon going to start a shop to deal in construction materials. I also know the amount you’re going to invest and how you have raised it,’ Prakash was pathetically ironical in his response. He was not even looking straight into the face of his younger brother.

‘I’m sorry, brother, I’m really sorry. I couldn’t do any better. This is something acceptable to all,’ Prabhat was clearly in favour of managing the moment.

                        But Prakash, listening to the word “sorry”, read a penitent mood in his brother. Why shouldn’t he, since it was such a magic word! He needed no further proof about the genuine feeling of brotherly concern in Prabhat. Calling him near, he just clasped him in his arms, and he was hardly able to utter more. His throat was choked with overflowing affection as he stroked and ruffled his brother’s hair. The two ladies, Mridula and Selvi, watched the scene from close proximity. They were moved too. They were not on speaking terms until a moment ago; and now they spontaneously addressed each other. Better late than never—they also had stock of sisterly affection to share and begin a normal human relationship once again.

‘Prabhat, now that you’re going to the mainland, take papa’s remains and give them a really good ritual consignment at Triveni. I shall go there at my convenience and shave my head,’ Prakash uttered that, with the authority of an elder brother and a confidence of a bosom friend. His wife Mridula, a lot mellower after the thaw in her relationship with her sister-in-law, also waited for the response of Prabhat with bated breath.

‘But I’m going to Ramanathpuram and that’s in south India, you know. Triveni is in Allahabad and that’s in the north,’ Prabhat corrected his brother’s knowledge of geography. Now he wore a self-satisfied expression realising the timeliness of his wit.

                        Prakash was dumbfounded. He had no better word than cursing his ungrateful brother, but he remained silent. In silence he looked dignified. Agonies twisted his innards in knots. His sufferings were too deep for tears.
                        In a matter of half an hour, the couple left. Prakash was still brooding but Mridula had regained her composure. She did not derive satisfaction finding her so tragically vindicated. At that juncture, she understood her precise duty. Consolation was something her badly distressed husband needed; and she had to make things endurable for a soul in torment.

‘Prakash dear, I think it’s a boon in disguise. Aren’t you happy we shall be going to Allahabad? Honestly, I’m looking forward to that,’ Mridula declared.

Prakash got a trifle softened, finding his wife’s spirit boldly buoyant. With a deep sigh he reciprocated, ‘Maybe papa desired everything to happen this way. Maybe Prabhat, having agreed at first, would have just forgotten the job thereafter. Perhaps we’re saved from a great sin.’

                        An unexpected thing happened in Priya’s life during the following month. Her husband, whose capability was grossly underestimated by everybody including his departed father-in-law, got a job of a chef in Singapore through the agency of a job provider. The latter had to be paid his fee for the service he rendered in arranging an overseas employment. The money she got from the sale of property came handy.
                        Prakash expected that Priya would volunteer to take the ash pot to Allahabad and discharge the responsibility of a scion before joining the job abroad. But no such offer was forthcoming from his sister. In fact she was too thrilled about the job and its generous remunerations in dollars to remember the remaining portion of Banarasi’s funeral rite. Prabhat, before leaving for Ramanathpuram, had at least promised to return to be at the death anniversary of Banarasi. Priya, the pampered daughter of her doting father, did not even do so. It was not possible either. Singapore would be too distant a place to come from to attend such trivial family functions!
                        Days of listlessness passed unnoticed like the routine of relentless oceanic ebb and flows. Neither Prabhat nor Priya could continue to keep contact with Prakash. Only once, the latter did receive a letter from Priya whereas Prabhat wrote twice during June and none thereafter. Then arrived November, a month of pathos, accompanied by strong easterly wind, rain, and thunderbolts. Prakash was supposed to take the mortal remains of Banarasi to Allahabad. Now, his journey tickets reserved well in advance, he was to start on 20th November, reach Calcutta on the 25th and thereafter reach Allahabad on the 26th. He would still have three more days in his hand. From all angles, the programme was not cutting too fine.
                        But he was not prepared for the other kind of eventuality, man-made and unforeseen. There was a wildcat strike by the shipping crew on the call of some hot-headed leader. It was to continue for months together pushing the islanders to such a plight as would have made even God of strike cry bitter. It was the turn of Prakash to utter his muffled cry beneath the ancient mango tree huddling the earthen pitcher that contained his father’s last wishes. The perennial mango tree, full of fruit even in November, shivered as often as Prakash went up to it. As if the empathetic tree tried to console the soul in anguish. As if Banarasi was eager to leave for the ethereal domain. As if he was in a hurry to leave the confines of the earthen pitcher.
                        Prakash remembered his father. He tried to visualise how lonely he would have been when he came to Port Blair decades ago. He had fought everything on his way to success. Nothing would have been served to him on a platter. Millions of waves of the Bay of Bengal had lapped the shore since then. The rule of existence remained the same. Now it was the turn of Prakash to fight. He was not alone in the struggle. His wife Mridula had proved again and again that she was only too willing to be with him. His father’s blessings were with him. Success would be his. He would carry on the memory of his father on the island. He possessed goodwill of people around.
                        It was warm, sunny midday of November, the twenty-ninth, and the death anniversary of Banarasi. Prakash and his wife Mridula were all alone at Port Blair to perform the remaining rituals. Neither Prabhat nor Priya could keep their promise to make themselves available for the occasion. Prakash headed towards Aberdeen Jetty holding the sacred earthen pitcher, his father’s ultimate wish, on the top of his head. He was walking barefoot. On reaching the jetty, he went knee deep inside the Bay of Bengal. The water was cool, blue and copious, with gentle ripples glistening celestial radiation. There was no mist on the surface and Prakash was able to find there the reflection of his father Banarasi’s. It was not hazy but clear—crystal clear. Like his own reflection in his father’s pupil. While pouring the ashes unto the sea, Prakash could hear the image croon: Gangaji shoon...hoon...moohoon.
A N Nanda

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