Generation Gap

Rajul, after a rather hectic and stressful day in office and having spent an hour on the waterlogged road through snail paced traffic was in foul mood when he reached home. His temper went through the roof seeing his teenage son, Sidhu, short for Shidhartha, playing games on his laptop. How can Sidhu, a class 12 student with final board exams in few months time while away his time like that?  Rajul threw his office bag on the sofa and stood in front of Sidhu expecting some reactions from him but Sidhu just looked up once and concentrated on his game. What arrogance! Rajul thought.

“What are you doing, Sidhu?” Rajul asked without hiding his irritation.

“Playing game, Dad” Sidhu replied calmly.

“Is it time to play games?” Rajul continued in the same tone.

“I can’t keep studying the whole day, Dad.” Sidhu too replied calmly.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot you are a bookworm and study 18 hours a day.” Rajul said sarcastically and the continued “Then why doesn’t your result reflect your intellect?”

“Is there any rule that all exam results should be good?” Sidhu folded his laptop and got up from the sofa. He then asked in a plain voice, “Did you score good marks in all your life exams?”

Rajul was getting angrier by the demeanor of Sidhu, this new generation has no respect for the elders, he thought to himself.

“Sidhu, you argue too much. You have no sense of respect for the elders.” He said sharply.

Without waiting for a reply, Rajul started walking towards the bedroom and realized Ishita, his wife hasn’t come home as yet.

“You didn’t answer my question Dad.” Sidhu said in even tone.

Rajul turned back and came face to face with Sidhu. Putting his hand on son’s shoulder he said, “No, I couldn’t and that is the reason I dream for you to achieve all that I missed out.”

“Don’t you think that you are putting me under some unrealistic, perhaps impossible to carry out load on me?” Sidhu asked.

“Load, what are you saying?”

“Yes Dad. You want me to achieve what you couldn’t, is that fair? Can two individuals have the same goals in life?” Sidhu persisted with his line of argument.

“No, Sidhu, it is not like that, we want you to be a good human being.” Ishita is back from office and probably had heard part of the Son-Dad conversation and could not help interjecting.

“Good point, Mom, what or who is a good human? I simply do not understand this concept of good human being!” Sidhu now directed his query to his mother.

Ishita stopped by the dining table to have water and then lowered the temperature of the air conditioner and said, “Good human being means, a person who has humanity in the core of his/ her heart.”

“Are you guys’ good human?” Sidhu asked with a half smile on his face.

“What do you mean?” Ishita asked irritatingly.

“Now, please don’t take it otherwise, some time back, Dad had sold off the land in our village and given the money Debashish uncle who was economically a poor relations of ours. At that time, if you would recall Mom, you had created a ruckus. I was in class 9 at that time and I remember how many times you have since made sarcastic remarks about Dad being a fool.” Sidhu said a little agitated.

Rajul looked at Ishita who had gone pale at Sidhu’s outburst.

“Sidhu!” Ishita shouted at her son, “Don’t speak nonsense. Why are you bringing them in the conversation? Did Debashish or his wife Priyanka called up today? Why do they want to create rift in my family?”

“Relax Mom, I just remembered the incidence when you said about being good human. No one called today or any other day. I also remember, few days after that, you had taken me to some function of a charitable organization where you had donated a large some. At the function, you were photographed with a leading film actress as well.” Sidhu was all guns blazing.

“Yes, I did get clicked with the actress and the money that I donated was mine, why should anyone have any problem with that?” Ishita was unrelenting too.

A few years back Ishita had donated a large sum of money to a charitable trust hoping to get into limelight without informing Rajul and when he confronted her, she had given somewhat similar reply to Rajul who had kept quiet to maintain family peace.

“No, Mom, no one can object to your donating your own money to anyone but I was little surprised that day. I thought how come you could donate such large amount for the benefit of some unknown people but have so much resistance when it comes to your own relations?” Sidhu said calmly.

“Don’t talk rubbish, Sidhu. Your Debashish uncle is not a poor guy and you don’t understand family politics. They made a fool of your Dad and usurped the money. But, I see you have a very good memory, you will do well if you use this memory in studies.” Ishita replied, last words being sarcastic.

“Is it necessary to do well in studies to be a good human being?” Sidhu was hell bent in having an upper hand over his parents. He thought for while and continued “There is politics and competition involved too in getting a good result. You have been telling me since my childhood days how to get things done at the cost of others. There was this First Boy Tuhin in my class (5) whom I never liked as a person because of his strong ego. I liked Sujoy, an average boy with average result. You used tell me to shun the average boys and be friends with the toppers of the class. You became friends with Tuhin’s Mom just to get to know the secret formula of his success. On my birthdays, you would invite the toppers of my class and ignore the likes of Sujoys’. Only once you allowed Sujoy to come over to our home and that was when I moved from the earlier school to this elite English Medium Public School.” Sidhu stopped having spoken his mind.

“I think, changing your school was the biggest mistake. I thought, you will learn manners and will respect the elders but you have become a rebel and undisciplined. At your age, we couldn’t even think of speaking like this with our parents.” Ishita retorted.

“You are unnecessarily getting angry Mom. This is nothing but generation gap. We, youngsters speak our mind; we talk straight without any complexity. Your generation can’t.” Sidhu laughed and continued “You know Mom, we are very straight forward generation. You guys are a confused lot, neither you could leave the old theories and concepts nor could embrace the newer concepts wholeheartedly. You have been carrying on the load of mix-n-match based on your likings.”

Ishita was really boiling now and shouted “Who filled your brain with such rubbish?”

“This is not rubbish Mom, but hard reality. And for your information, Arush Agarwal of my class said this very rightly.” Sidhu was calm in his response.

“These Baniya good-for-nothing kids are vitiating the school atmosphere. They know, irrespective of their result, a readymade business awaits them at the end of graduation. They have no culture other than business and corruption” Ishita said with full of guile.

Sidhu laughed out loudly. “Why are you laughing?” Ishita retorted.

“A while ago you were talking about respecting others, look at yourself Mom! Without knowing about Arush’s background, you commented not just on his family but the whole lot of them. His father is a chartered accountant and mother is a doctor. And aren’t Bongs corrupt? Please think it over, Mom.” Sidhu replied.

“Oh, then it is settled. Both the parents are making money handsomely!!” Ishita was again sarcastic. She then continued “Listen Sidhu, his parents have enough money to put him through any university but your Dad & I are not so rich, so concentrate in your studies if you want good grades.”

“My Dad and you too earn pretty decent amount, we live in a plush apartment in an upscale locality, we have two cars and we have made 2-3 foreign trips as well. If we were not rich, how could we afford all these? Whatever you may say Mom, I know very well that you will definitely enroll me in some good university after my schooling.” Sidhu started laughing and walking towards his room.

Ishita shouted at Sidhu’s back “So, you already are assuming so much? Please be aware, we are not going to spend every penny that we have saved on your education and furthering your career. You have to work hard and be on your own. The ways you are talking now, don’t know how you will behave once you become an Engineer or an MBA? We can’t really depend on you.”

Sidhu came out of his room and spoke very calmly, “Why can’t you speak the truth, Mom? Actually, you have too many shattered dream yourself and that is why, you are afraid to trust me, my generation. A while ago you were talking of becoming a good human being, forget it Mom, I don’t know, if I will remain even a human being! All because, we are a robot generation and you have made us robots.”

Without waiting for any answer, Sidhu went back to his room and shut the door firmly. Rajul kept looking at the now closed door of Sidhu and thought, how time flies, the little one has grown up to be a mature and self-assured youth. But soon his thoughts were broken by Ishita’s voice, “It is all because of your pampering that the boy could lecture me in front you. You just stood there like a wooden statue, I can’t believe this!”

“There’s no point blaming him or his generation” Rajul spoke up “We have failed to instill values in our children. I remember my childhood; we were living in a joint family – my grandfather and his brother staying together with respective family under the same roof. My mother rebelled saying she cannot live in a joint family with so much interference from so many people. My Dad moved to Kolkata along with grandpa-grandma ensuring I get to grow up playing with them and listening stories from them. Then, one day I too got married, by which time grandpa & grandma have passed away, you came in to my life and surprisingly you too repeated the same and said you cannot stay in such claustrophobic place, there’s no unanimity of thoughts. Wasn’t that a generation gap, Ishita? Two years down the line Sidhu was born and we shifted to this plush south Kolkata apartment leaving my parents at the old house. But did we achieve peace? On the contrary, instead of a cohesive family, you and I became rivals in an invisible game of one-upmanship. Our egos are more pronounced than ever before. Sidhu have grown up in this scenario, how can you even expect that he would have the values of a bygone era. We have provided him with the best of all amenities except a value system. Today, the concept of being good human is a clichéd middle class mentality.” Rajul sat down on the sofa having spoken at length.

“So, what it is going to be, an unfulfilled, frustrated life to live?” Ishita cried.

Rajul had no answer for Ishita but he knew there are many like them – frustrated parents of a frustrated generation looking at the ticking clock for a miracle to happen.

Gopal Bhand: 12 Stories

Who was Gopal Bhand, any way?

Gopal Bhand was not just another name for a person but was very much part of the everyday life of a by-gone era. Whenever, one looks at the history of Bengal with special reference to the rule of Maharaja Krishna Chandra, they will come across the character of Gopal Bhand, the jester at his majesty’s court.

Gopal was born in the village of Ghurni, north of Krishna Nagar. He lost his father at a very young age and because of economic reasons could not continue with his education. Still, whatever he had learnt in the early days along with his in-born intelligence, he became an intellectual.

Gopal belonged to the clan of barbers, famous for their quick wit. There is a saying that crows among the bird and barbers among the humans are the cleverest species in the whole world. Gopal lived up to this saying; from the very beginning he showed signs of cleverness and cunning. He grew up entertaining people all around him and soon people started calling him Gopal Bhand or Gopal the Jester.

His reputation slowly but steadily spread across the country and soon reached the Maharaja Krishna Chandra. The Maharaja called him and tested his talents with inquisitive and difficult questions, but Gopal was at ease with all kinds queries and answered fluently. At last, satisfied, Maharaja Krishna Chandra appointed him as Court Jester.

Soon, his reputation as court jester spread across the length and breadth of the country like wild fire and Gopal Bhand was being compared with the antics of Birbal, one of the jewels in the court of Emperor Akbar.

It has been over three centuries from the times of Gopal Bhand, but his stories and innocent jibes still tickle us and lighten our otherwise stressful life.

The stories of Gopal Bhand are quite similar to the ones of Birbal in the north and Tenali Rama in down south which makes one wonder if really these characters actually existed or the stories are just figment of imagination of some unknown author!!!

I have read these stories in the original language – Bengali and decided to translate them for my son when he was a kid. Now posting them here for all the kids and the ones who are young at heart, still, just like me…

ONECEREMONIAL BULL

Gopal, the Jester a.k.a. GOPAL BHAND, was a great entertainer at the courts of Maharaja Krishna Chandra, the ruler of Krishna Nagar in Bengal. His famous stories and escapades were not only discussed within the town of Krishna Nagar but reached across the length and breadth of the sub-continent of India.

Once long ago, Mirzaffar, the Nawab of Bengal on his way back home from a campaign stopped near the town of Krishna Nagar and camped on the outskirts of the town along with his sizable army.

Incidentally around this time, the Maharaja Krishna Chandra was performing the last rites of his father and offered a healthy bull to the God as appeasement so that his father can achieve eternal peace in heaven. After the ceremony, the bull was set free to roam around.

The bull roamed the streets of Krishna Nagar and passing by the camp of Nawab Mirzaffar when the Nawab caught the sight of the bull. The Nawab felt that the healthy bull will make a nice and elaborate meal for the whole group. He ordered his men to catch the bull immediately. He told his chef, ”This is a healthy bull, tomorrow make a curry and kebabs with its meat for all of us.”

Meanwhile the news of capture of the bull reached the Maharaja and he became worried for the fact that if the ceremonial bull is killed then his father will not enjoy the eternal bliss. He realized that he is no match to the mighty army of the Nawab. Also any request to set free the ceremonial bull will fall in deaf ears as the Nawab has already decided to kill the bull for sumptuous banquet. A pall of gloom set on the courts of the Maharaja. The ministers at the court were all at loss for any plausible advice. Everybody hoped for a miracle to happen that will set free the ceremonial bull.

Gopal the Jester, who was away on some work, reached the court to find everyone including the Maharaja very serious and worried. He asked “Oh Maharaja, what happened? You look so worried.”

The Maharaja narrated the whole incident to him and said in despair “Gopal, I really don’t know what to do. My father will now not go to the heaven if the bull is killed.”

“Oh Maharaja, this is not so serious a matter. Don’t you worry, I will go to the Nawab and get the bull for you just now.” Gopal said enthusiastically.

“It is not so simple Gopal” said the Prime Minister. “The Nawab has set his eyes on the bull and he is not going to let it go free so easily” said another courtier.

“If the Nawab is smart, then I am smarter than him” said Gopal and set off for the camp of Nawab Mirzaffar.

“If you bring back the bull, there will be a handsome award of gold coins for you” announced the Maharaja. “So be it Maharaja, keep it ready for me” replied Gopal.

Gopal reached the encampment of the Nawab and met the minister who took him to the Nawab and said “Jahanpanah, this is Gopal Bhand, the great entertainer at the courts of Maharaja Krishna Chandra.” Everybody present there including the Nawab was well aware of Gopal’s reputation, so he was warmly welcomed by the Nawab “What brings you here, noble man?” inquired the Nawab.

Gopal bowed before the Nawab and said ”Sir, I passing by and could not let go the chance of meeting you. You lordship has done wonderful things for his subjects and everyone is pleased with your firm but judicious governance.”

The Nawab felt very pleased with Gopal’s kind words as he liked to hear good things about himself. Gopal kept the flattery on to boost the ego of the Nawab. Suddenly looking out, he said, “What is this bull doing here?”

“Do you know this bull?” inquired the Nawab. “Oh yes, very much and that’s why I am little astonished” replied Gopal.

“Oh, this is a very healthy bull, tomorrow we are all going to feast on its meat. You too can join us” said the Nawab greedily.

“What, you will be eating this dirty bull? Sir, this is no ordinary bull, it does not eat grass or foliage like other normal bulls but scavenges through the dirt of the city” said Gopal disgustingly.

The Nawab, hearing this felt nauseating and immediately ordered his men to release the bull. “Gopal, you are great, you have saved me from eating meat of such a dirty bull” the Nawab thanked Gopal profusely and gave him three gold coins as reward.

Gopal bowed again and with a large grin on his face reached the courts of Maharaja. Meanwhile the Maharaja had heard about the release of the ceremonial bull and was very pleased with Gopal Bhand.

Gopal narrated his escapades with the Nawab and everybody at the court had a hearty laugh and cheered him. The Maharaja gave him the five gold coins as promised.

TWO: STRANGER AT THE COURT

Once a stranger came to the court of the Maharaja Krishna Chandra and announced that he is a leaned intellectual and knows various languages. The Maharaja had a soft place for intellectuals and immediately appointed him as a minister.

As the days went by, it was amply clear that the stranger actually is very intelligent and a linguist. He could fluently speak English, French, Spanish and German and it was difficult to judge his nationality by the way he dressed or spoke. In all his mannerism was quite cosmopolitan.

Everybody at the court was intrigued and tried their best to guess the region where the stranger belonged. One day while they were discussing this issue, the Maharaja said jokingly, “Gopal, if you could find out the whereabouts of the stranger, I will reward you with two gold coins.”

“As you say Maharaja” replied Gopal. “In two days I will tell you the native of the stranger” Gopal said confidently.

Gopal set out to find the whereabouts of the stranger. He got to know that the stranger was to make an appearance at the court next day. Gopal reached the gates of the kings palace and hid behind a pillar. Soon the stranger came to the gates and was about enter the palace when Gopal came out of his hiding rushed towards the stranger, colliding and fell him to the ground. The stranger badly hurt himself in the fall and abused Gopal, “Are you blind, can’t you see where you are going?”

Gopal smiled at the stranger and said, “I only wanted to know your native and do so now. You are Oriya. A person will definitely speak his mother tongue at trying time.” He went inside the palace and announced, “Maharaja, the stranger is from the kingdom of Orissa.” Then he narrated how he came to know about the truth.

The Maharaja was very proud of Gopal’s quick wit and rewarded him with the promised gold coins.

THREE: WHAT DO YOU EAT FIRST?

Gopal was the most favored courtier of Maharaja Krishna Chandra and he knew that Gopal liked good food. Therefore he would invite Gopal for a meal with him time and again without waiting for any occasion.

One day after the court was adjourned in the afternoon, the Maharaja asked Gopal to join him for the lunch. “I am at your command Maharaja. I can lay down my life for you any time. You are only asking me to join you for a meal and that I cannot refuse” said Gopal jovially.

There were variety of food at the lunch menu and they sat down to eat, the Maharaja jokingly asked, “So Gopal, what shall we eat first?”

“Maharaja, you should eat the fried eggplant first. After that everything will taste wonderful and tasty.” Gopal replied laughing at his own joke. The Maharaja also joined in the joke and they enjoyed the well cooked food.

FOUR: MAHARAJA’S AUNT

Maharaja Krishna Chandra had a aunt who was very rich and without encumbrances. She also happened to be the greatest miser in whole of Krishna Nagar. It was considered to be great achievement if one could even manage a nickel from her. She was against all kinds of wasteful expenses and shunned extravagance. She ate only vegetarian foods and wore simple cotton clothes. The only exception was the maid who looked after her. Even there she only offered her the two square meals in a day; Maharaja paid the salary without informing his aunt.

One day, Maharaja in a relaxed mood said, “Gopal with all your cleverness and quick wits you won’t be able to wriggle out a penny out my aunt.” Gopal not to be out done replied “I can, with your blessings Maharaja. You want to bet?”

Maharaja agreed to a bet of five gold coins if Gopal could even manage a meal out his aunt.

Gopal went home to think about a plan to win the bet. Next day he went to the aunt’s house visibly shaken and tears in his eyes. The aunt knew Gopal and was quite fond of him actually. Looking at the state of Gopal, she inquired “Gopal what happened? You look so disheveled.” Gopal with tears in his eyes replied, “You know Janak Pandit, the fortune teller?” “Oh yes very much. His predictions always come true” replied aunt.

“Well he had a look at my stars yesterday and predicted that I have only six months to live” Gopal cried aloud. He continued, “Now all I want is to have Prasad from you, before I die. I am sure that you will not refuse a dying man his last wishes.”

Aunt was visibly shaken but composed herself and said “That’s okay, but you know I only have very simple vegetarian food and you may not like that.” “Aunt, I just want the Prasad of yours whether it is simple vegetarian does not matter” replied Gopal. “Okay then you come back tomorrow afternoon the meal” aunt said little reluctantly.

Next day Gopal got ready to go to aunt’s house and hid a few shrimps in his pocket. He reached the house of aunt and announced himself. The aunt welcomed him and offered him food but Gopal refused and said “I want your Prasad aunt. You must eat first and leave a small portion of everything in the plate and I will have that only.” The aunt did not like the idea but agreed knowing that it was Gopal’s last wish. She started eating a little of everything and left the rest for Gopal to eat. Then she offered the food to Gopal. Meanwhile Gopal had taken out the shrimps from his pocket and when aunt was looking, mixed the shrimps in the yogurt. Then he started eating the food with great relish. After sometime, the aunt asked, “Gopal, how do you like the simple food? You are quite habitual to the rich food of the palace.”

“All the dishes are excellent, especially the yogurt with shrimps is wonderful” replied Gopal nonchalantly. Aunt was horrified. She said “What shrimp? I am a strict vegetarian and you know I don’t eat any fish, meat etc.”

“Yes I know and that’s why I was little surprised to find the shrimps in the yogurt. But it is really very tasty” replied Gopal.

The aunt was aghast now and scared that Gopal being a trumpeter will announce this to the whole world and bring shame to her. She stammered, “Go-go-Gopal, you are a nice person and I am sure you will not tell this to anyone and bring shame to this old aunt of yours!”

“In ordinary times I would not but now that I am going to die soon, I will not lie and be sinner. If the Maharaja asks me what I had for lunch, I will have to tell him about the shrimps in yogurt” Gopal said innocently. Then he added, “But of course, you can buy my words with money. If you pay me five gold coins, I will keep mum about this dish.”

Now the aunt was in a fix, five gold coins is a large amount but at the same time, if she did not pay and Gopal speaks out, it would be a big face loss. But all the same she bargained with Gopal, “Five gold coins is too much, I can give you three and you keep your mouth shut.”

Gopal realized that even three gold coins is a good value to extract from the miserly lady and agreed, albeit showing a little resistance “Oh aunt, you want me to sin for you in my last days and still bargaining for mere two gold coins. What will my family do after I am gone? I am sure you will take care of my family in my absence.”

Then he took the three gold coins left for the palace of Maharaja Krishna Chandra to show him the gold coins and tell the whole story.

Maharaja was aware of what transpired at his aunts’ house as he had kept a vigil there to know first hand how Gopal was faring in his mission. As soon as Gopal reached the court, Maharaja congratulated Gopal and offered him the five gold coins. Gopal was very happy as in a single day he had managed to earn eight gold coins and he decided to distribute a part of this to the poor of the town.

FIVE: THE UNLUCKY FACE

Once the Maharaja was celebrating the birth of his grandson and the party went well into the night. As a result, Gopal could not go back home and had to spent the night at the guest house of the palace.

In the morning, the Maharaja went for a walk through the garden and reached the guest house where most people were still sleeping after a late night. Gopal who was also there, got up first and saw the Maharaja. “Good Morning sir” he said. The Maharaja acknowledging the same asked him if he had a good sleep and thereafter went on his way.

A little later, the royal barber came to give Maharaja his daily shave. While shaving, the barber accidentally nicked the cheek of the Maharaja and the blood came out from the cut. The barber got scared that the Maharaja will now punish him severely. But generally the barbers are a clever clan and this one was no exception.

Composing himself the barber said “Maharaja, I have been shaving you for years and never before had caused any injury to your highness. I feel you must have seen some unlucky face this morning which is responsible for this mishap.”

The Maharaja felt what the barber said made sense and he thought whom he had seen early in the morning. He realized it was Gopal Bhand and he called him at once.

“Gopal, you are the unlucky one and I sentence you to death” announced the Maharaja. Gopal remained calm and answered “Your highness that is it. When you saw my face first in the morning you got a nick in your cheek but I also saw your face first thing this morning and I got the death sentence! Tell me whose face is more unlucky?”

The Maharaja realized his folly and immediately withdrew the order and rewarded Gopal for his wits.

SIX: THE FLEA

Once Gopal was going to a distant town and passing through a village when he felt hungry and thirsty. He thought of buying some food from the food stall and then realized that he was not carrying any money on him. He did not know anyone in the village so getting a loan from somebody was not possible. Dejected he kept walking. Then he came across a food stall where a kid was manning the stall and there was freshly made sweets on display. Looking at them, Gopal’s hunger increased many fold and he asked the kid “Where is your father?”

“He is inside having his food” replied the kid.

“My name is flea. Tell him that the flea had come and eating the sweets” said Gopal picking up the tray full of sweets. As he started to eat, the kid shouted “Father the flea has come and eating away the sweets.” The father without bother said from inside the house, “Let it be, he comes everyday.”

Gopal satisfied left the stall went on his way. After sometime, the father came out and was horrified to find the empty tray of sweets. He cried “Who has eaten away all my sweets?” The kid said “I told you the flea, really a man was eating the sweets and you said its okay as he is your regular customer.”

The father realized somebody has made a fool of him and thought who it could be.

The following day Gopal was again passing through the same area and stopped by the food. He told the kid “Tell your father that same flea that came yesterday had come again today.” The kid went inside to tell his father who this time rushed out to catch the thief.

“Who are you and why did you rob a poor man like me?” asked the father. “Well, my name is Gopal Bhand and yesterday when I was passing this way, I was very hungry and not carrying any money. So I had to use the ploy to fool you. I am sorry to have caused inconvenience to you. Here, please keep this money for the sweets.” Gopal offered him the money.

“Sir, I have heard so much about you and I am pleased that you have come to my stall. It is an honor to serve you. I cannot take the money from you” replied the shop owner.

Gopal with much persuasion made the shop owner accept the money as did not like to have free food at the expense of poor villagers.

SEVEN: THE OTHER JESTER

Maharaja Krishna Chandra liked to honor the talented people and many such persons were given a place of honor in his court. Once another Jester by the name Hasiram came to his court and displayed his talents. The Maharaja was pleased by his talent and immediately appointed him his court jester. Now there was another jester besides Gopal.

Hasiram, from the very beginning started entertaining the courtiers with his quick wit and soon became very popular with everybody around. It seemed that he was always one-upping on Gopal and people thought Gopal would be jealous of this new person. However, Gopal was nonchalant about the whole issue and often said “One will get what is due to him.”

One day Maharaja called Gopal aside and said “I find that your quick wits are fading. You seemed to have given up. Hasiram is always one-upping on you. I think you should pull-up your socks and show everybody that you are more talented in matter of wits.”

“I will definitely show you, who the boss is, Maharaja” replied Gopal. Then he thought of the means to achieve the task.

Now, Hasiram’s home was some ten miles away from Krishna Nagar where his old mother used to stay alone. Gopal found out that Hasiram was planning to visit his mother the next day. He had ordered sweets from the sweetmeat shop and two big fish from the fishmonger to take back home.

Next day before anyone could know, Gopal started off and reached the home of Hasiram. His mother knew Gopal and liked him as her son. She said “Oh Gopal, what brings you here, this early morning?”

“I was passing by and heard that you are not keeping well, therefore came to visit you” replied Gopal innocently.

“Its true, I was not well, but in old age such problems keep recurring. I know my time is getting over and soon I may die. But since you have come have lunch with me today” the old woman said.

“No mother, some other day perhaps. I have some urgent work and need to rush to Krishna Nagar and reach there before noon” replied Gopal with urgency in his voice.

The old woman would have none of it and forced Gopal to have some snacks before he left for Krishna Nagar.

Half way on the way back, he met Hasiram quite happy and contended carrying a big container full of sweets and two big fishes. Hasiram said “Brother, where have you been?”

Sounding sad, Gopal replied, “I’ve gone to meet a relation of mine but en route went to your home as well.” Then showing some urgency said “Brother I suggest you rush to your home immediately”

“Why, what happened at my home” asked Hasiram worriedly. “Nothing much, but still you should go fast” replied Gopal. “No-no, you must tell me what the matter is” Hasiram insisted.

Gopal, almost at the brink of crying said “One has to go at some point of time in life, but you know very well that mother is the biggest support to us all. Even if she is old, she still is our mother.”

“What, my mother is no more. She has left for the heaven!” Hasiram cried out loudly. Gopal said something as if to console him but Hasiram was inconsolable. He handed over the sweets and the two big fishes to Gopal and said “I have no use for these now, you take them home and enjoy with your family.” Then he rushed to his home, crying all the way.

On reaching home, he found his mother quite healthy and immediately realized that Gopal had made a fool of him. In fact, Gopal never said his mother passed away but he only imagined things in his anxiety and he saluted Gopal for his wits.

Meanwhile, Maharaja had a hearty laugh when he got to know what happened with Hasiram. He realized that Hasiram was no match to Gopal in matter of wits.

EIGHT: THE ROYAL DOCTOR

There was a vacancy for the position of Royal Doctor at the court of Maharaja Krishna Chandra. The announcement to this regard was made across the kingdom and also at the neighboring states.

Soon, large number of applicants reached the palace and spoke of their experience and expertise in the field of medicine. It became quite impossible to shortlist the candidates, let alone choose one among them. The Maharaja called Gopal and said “I think only you can choose the right person among all these candidates. I am entrusting you the task of choosing the Royal Doctor.”

“Its easy Maharaja, you will soon get your man” replied Gopal confidently.

Then he turned towards the candidates and said “You all have given the accounts of your achievements which all of us here at the court have heard and understood. But the position of Royal Doctor is quite different and important too. It can only go to the person who is responsible for the death of at least one thousand patients that he had attended to in his professional life so far.”

One of the candidate said “Out of ten thousand patients that I have treated, two thousand have died and I am responsible for that.”

The second candidate said “Of the thirty odd thousand patient that came to me for treatment, four thousand have lost their life.”

“Half of my two thousand patients are no longer in this world” said another candidate.

So, one after another, everyone started saying how many persons they have killed in their professional life.

There was, however, one exception. One candidate, who was sitting quietly all this while got up and started leave the court. Gopal caught the site and said “Doctor, you are leaving without telling us your achievements. Don’t you aspire to be the Royal Doctor?”

“I would very much like to be the Royal Doctor otherwise I would not have come this far from home, but the conditions are too steep. I have seen about forty thousand patients so far in my life but only five have died. I do not think I can achieve the figure of one thousand even if I tried the rest of my life. That is why I am leaving now” said the man dejectedly.

Gopal turned towards the Maharaja and said “Highness this man is fit to become the Royal Doctor.” Maharaja happily agreed to the suggestion and appointed him.

NINE: SWEET TOOTH

One day Gopal Bhand along with his uncle Nilesh was going to the town of Vishnupur on the opposite banks of Ganges. They were traveling in a typical boat of Bengal where in the middle of the boat is a canopy where the boatman used to keep their belongings. In the boat, besides Gopal his uncle and the boatman, there were two other persons traveling to another town further to Vishnupur.

One of the gentlemen was carrying a large container of sweets and told his companion “The prices of sweets at the market have sky-rocketed but I couldn’t resist the temptation of picking up these sweets from Felu the sweet maker. He is quite famous around here for the variety as well as the quality of his sweets.”

“True” said his companion and added “Our destination quite far, how long you will hold this container? Why don’t you keep it inside the canopy? We will take it when we disembark.”

The man liked the idea and kept the container safely inside the canopy. Gopal and his uncle had heard the gentlemen but did not say anything. They seemed to enjoy the cool breeze of the Ganges. After sometime, Gopal suddenly started shivering and told his uncle “I think I have fever and feeling cold.” Nilesh touching his forehead said “Oh yes you have quite high temperature. Don’t stay out. I suggest you go and rest inside the canopy. I will call you when we reach Vishnupur.”

The other two gentlemen on the boat too suggested that he go inside the canopy to rest and said “We have to go further than Vishnupur, we will let you know when the boat reaches there.”

Reluctantly, Gopal went inside the canopy to rest. After an hour or so the boat reached the shores of Vishnupur and uncle Nilesh called out Gopal. Together they disembarked and the boat went its way to the next destination.

Getting down, Gopal said “I am already feeling fine. The fever is gone and I no longer feel the shivering.”

“Why not, after all the sweets of Felu are supposed to do wonders!” replied Nilesh. “Yes uncle, I could not resist myself when I heard the gentleman” said Gopal sheepishly. “I hope you have saved some for me too” said Nilesh greedily.

Gopal took out some of the sweets from his pocket and offered them to his uncle. Together they enjoyed the sweets of Felu but felt sorry for the poor man on the boat who had paid for the sweets.

TEN: WHAT LIES BENEATH THE GROUND

Adjacent to Krishna Nagar was the town of Begampur which was under the rule of the Nawab Mirzaffar. The Nawab was eccentric and whimsical. One day, he called his courtiers and said “I wonder what is there under the ground. Is there another kingdom below the earth surface?” The courtiers had no ready answer for this query of the Nawab. After much deliberation they said “Jahanpanah, only experts in astrology can tell us what is there beneath the ground.”

The Nawab liked the idea and announced “If any one can tell me what is there beneath the ground, he will be awarded with hundred gold coins and if he fails then he will spend the rest of his life in the dungeons”

One hundred gold coins were very lucrative reward and many a Pundit went to Begampur to try their luck. Even Maharaja sent a group of royal pundits to try and win the reward. But none of them could satisfy the Nawab with an answer to his query and were thrown in the dungeons.

Maharaja, when he heard the fate of his court pundits and others felt sorry and thought of means and ways to free them. He could not think of any means to end their misery and became very depressed.

Gopal who was visiting his grandmother at Vishnupur returned to Krishna Nagar to find the whole town in a state of mourning. He reached the court and was even more surprised to see similar situation there too. He asked the Maharaja “What is wrong, your highness?” The Maharaja narrated the events that took place while he was away to Vishnupur. “Poor innocent pundits are rotting in the dungeons and unable to do anything for them” the Maharaja said in despair.

“Not to worry Maharaja, I will go to Begampur and not only satisfy the Nawab but will also ensure that all the pundits are set free” said Gopal cheering the Maharaja. “Do you know astrology? How you will be able to tell what is beneath the ground?” enquired Maharaja apprehensively. “Have trust in me, I will not let you down” said Gopal and left the palace to plan for coup.

Gopal went straight to his home and took a piece of wooden block and wrapped it in layer of silk cloth of different shades. Then he himself dressed up in a silk suit and a jazzy head gear with silk shawl to go with it. He now looked like a pundit and started off for Begampur. He also took with him thick books with red cloth covers.

He reached the courts of the Nawab and bowing to him said “Sir, I have heard your announcement and wish to satisfy your highness.”

The Nawab was impressed with Gopal’s attire and appearance and felt confident that this person can actually tell him what is there beneath the ground. He said “Your personality tells me that you are a learned pundit and can give us the right answers to our query. But since you have come from far and tired, please have some food and rest a while” said the Nawab sounding pleased.

When the court resumed after lunch, Gopal sat down at the appointed seat and took out his thick books and the silk wrapped wooden block. He made gestures as if he was calculating some very complicated mathematical problems. After some time he said something in Sanskrit which no body could make any meaning. The Nawab asked “Please explain what does this mean, Pundit Ji?”

Gopal smiled and said “Your highness, my calculations say that no Hindu pundit can tell you what is beneath the ground.”

“Then who can tell me?” asked the Nawab. “Your highness, my calculations do tell me who can satisfy your query” replied Gopal humbly. After some more calculations, Gopal said “Sir, only Muslims and Christians are buried whereas the Hindus are cremated, therefore only a Christian priest or a Muslim clergy can tell you what lies beneath the ground. So please call either of them to get your answer.”

Nawab was satisfied with Gopal’s argument and rewarded him with 50 gold coins, half the prize money and also released all the pundits that were sent to the dungeon. He also sent for the Muslim clergies to tell him what lies beneath the ground.

Upon reaching the Krishna Nagar, Gopal narrated the events that took place at the Nawab’s court to Maharaja amidst the cheering of the courtiers. The Maharaja gave fifty more gold coins to Gopal as a reward asked him “What are you hiding inside that colorful silk cloth?”

“Oh, this is what saved me and the pundits from the clutches of the Nawab” Gopal said laughingly and unwrapped the wooden block. Everybody laughed out and praised the wits of Gopal.

ELEVEN: EXILE FROM KRISHNA NAGAR

Gopal as a jester was at times little irritating as he would say whatever came to his mind without realizing or bothering about the surroundings and situations. This was the complaint of most of the courtiers but they could not say anything as Gopal was the most favored person of the Maharaja.

However, One day Maharaja himself got very annoyed with Gopal for his certain comments. He called his royal guards and said “This fellow has become very arrogant and disrespectful, throw him out of my palace and see to it that he is not allowed inside, ever again.”

“You don’t have to throw me out, I am going away on my own. I will also leave the country too within next three days” said Gopal indignantly.

Gopal left the palace and on his way back home told everyone that he is leaving the country for good. He reached home and told his wife “Pack-up everything; we will be leaving this country for ever.”

“Why on earth will we be leaving this nice and peaceful place?” pleaded his wife. “The world is a big place and surely we can find the patronage of some other kind king. The Maharaja does not seem to care about me anymore” said Gopal. His wife started crying and all the neighbors also gathered around and pleaded with Gopal to reconsider his decision. Gopal was determined and told everyone “Since I have lost the job at the palace, I have no other means to make a living. I have to go to another kingdom to search for job and living.” He urged his wife to start packing immediately.

The news of Gopal leaving the country reached the Maharaja and he felt sorry for him. Actually the Maharaja was very fond of Gopal and that day out irritation had exiled him from the palace. Now, he ordered his men to go and get Gopal immediately.

Upon getting the message of Maharaja, Gopal went to the palace and presented himself to the Maharaja. “Are you seriously leaving the country?” inquired the Maharaja. “Yes Sir” replied Gopal without looking up.

“But I had only exiled you from the palace and not from the country” said the Maharaja perplexed.

“That’s true Maharaja, you never exiled me from the country but only from the palace. However, I earn my living by entertaining you and others at this court and if I am not allowed here, how can I make my ends meet?” replied Gopal.

“Tell me Gopal, what do I do? I cannot let you go neither I can ignore my ministers who are angry with your behavior. Tell me Gopal how do I treat you” said the Maharaja with anguish.

“This is love, Maharaja. You are in love with me and that is the reason of your anguish” said Gopal with a smile.

This comment from Gopal broke the ice and all the courtiers clapped and cheered Gopal. They urged Maharaja to pardon Gopal and reappoint him as the Court Jester once again.

Maharaja said “There is no question of reappointment as he was never thrown out. He had merely left the palace as he does everyday to go home. Gopal is very much part of my court and shall remain so as long as he lives.”

Then Maharaja gave some money to Gopal and said “You are not to leave this country without my permission. Now go home, your wife must be getting worried.”

Gopal pocketed the money and left for home happy and at peace.

TWELVE: MAHARAJA’S DREAM

Once with the idea of embarrassing Gopal, the Maharaja announced in the court ‘Last night I had a very weird dream.”

“Tell us about your dream, Maharaja” Gopal asked eagerly. “Let it be. You may not appreciate, Gopal” replied Maharaja smiling at his own joke.

Gopal was now insistent and urged the Maharaja to narrate his dream. As if with great reluctance, the Maharaja said “Okay since you are insisting, but remember, it is just a dream.”

Maharaja continued “Last night I saw that you and I have reached a far away country. It was very dark there and very creepy; there were two ponds, one was filthy and the other was filled with milk. Then in the darkness, you slipped and fell into the filthy pond. You tried get out but more you tried, you got more entangled in the thick filthy mud. And then I also slipped but fell into the pond filled with milk. After some effort, I got out of the milk pond and was trying to help you out from the filthy pond, when I woke up.”

Everyone present at the court looked at Gopal and started teasing him “So Gopal you ate the filth!”

Gopal did not react to the teasing and kept quite. After sometime, he said “Maharaja, what a coincidence! I also happened to see something similar in my dream last night. But let it be, it’s not very welcoming for you.”

“So you also saw that you are swimming in a filthy pond” Maharaja asked jokingly. “Yes, your highness, there is no point denying the truth. You couldn’t see the end as you woke up but I saw till the end” replied Gopal.

“What did you see Gopal” asked the Maharaja. “It is better, if you don’t hear the end bit. It won’t do well to your reputation” Gopal said quietly.

Now the Maharaja was eager to know what happened at the end and insisted, “You must tell me what happened at the end. It doesn’t matter how I may feel.”

“Okay” Gopal said reluctantly and continued “After sometime, I also came out from the filthy pond. We were wet, I with filthy water and you with butter milk. We both wanted to wash ourselves clean before we reached Krishna Nagar, but there was no sign of any clean water around. We searched for sometime and then you suggested that we clean us by licking each other. Maharaja, it was at your suggestion that I started licking the butter milk from your body and you the filth from my body.”

The courtiers went wild with laughter as soon as Gopal had narrated his dream. But the Maharaja went pale and kept quite. He realized that Gopal had an upper hand using the joke that he had created to embarrass Gopal. He had started it and now he can’t say anything to Gopal. Maharaja vowed never again to embarrass Gopal publicly.

 

 

Operation Maira

Aniket Mathur cursed his adventurous trait for the third time in less than thirty minutes. It all started at the birthday party of his brother-in-law where his niece, a civil service trainee narrated the haunting stories from her many trips across the country, especially in the eastern parts.

Sure enough, Aniket traced his old classmate, Rudra, an IAS officer posted in Bhubneshwar and fixed up this trip. Together, they had planned to spend couple of days at this Govt. Dak Bunglow that also serves as a training centre for the civil servants, reliving their college day’s adventure. Unfortunately, Rudra had to rush back to the city on urgent call promising to be back in the morning. Aniket was all alone in the spacious Govt. Bunglow in the outskirts of Bhubneshwar. There was not a soul around except the care taker who had taken the food order and gone to prepare the same. It is nothing fancy, just simple chicken curry and rice with some salad. Aniket surveyed his surrounding, it was a big room with a double bed in one end of it and a sofa set on the other. Well lit for now but there is a likelihood of load shedding during the night. It was just 7:30 pm but felt like 10pm with absolute darkness all around except the room and the corridor just outside it. The care taker, Raghu had promised to get the dinner in the room by 8:30 pm, so there was about one hour to kill. Aniket had a bottle of his favorite whiskey that he loved to call ‘elixir of life’, he poured himself a large portion and added plain water in the absence of any aerated water (soda). He then started reading ‘1962: The War That Wasn’t’, the book he started reading a week back and soon got engrossed in it.

Raghu the care taker came with the dinner of chicken curry and rice with salad on the side exactly at 8:30 pm, by which time Aniket had his two large pegs of whiskey and was feeling hungry. He finished his dinner in a hurry and as agreed with Raghu, kept the tray outside his room to be picked up by Raghu later at night.

It was too early for Aniket to retire to bed so he went out for post dinner night walk. The bunglow was almost in the middle of an acre plot with most of the area maintained as manicured lawn. On the edges were palm trees, mostly coconut and betel nut. On one corner there were a bunch of banana trees some of which had banana flowers soon to convert into fruit. In the centre of the lawn were flower bed of various kinds but Aniket couldn’t make out what kind in the darkness. Behind the boundary of the bunglow, there was a stretch of greenery that almost resembled a forest and beyond that was the highway that connected Kolkata on one end and Vizag at the other end. As he turned to return, a dilapidated structure on his left came in his view, he could only make out that it was a bunglow too but nothing more. Aniket made a mental note to check it out in the morning.

Aniket changed over to his pyjamas and locked the door and checked the windows. The windows were all secured with wire nets from the outside so that one can keep them open for breeze to sail through. With so much of greenery around, there was no question of any pollution. Aniket switched on the reading lamp on the side table and switched off the main lights and settled down in the bed with his unfinished book. In a way he was happy to be alone, he can finish the book in two days. The only sounds emanated from the lawns are of the cricket and occasionally the croaking of frogs. Aniket was tired and soon dozed off, the book resting on his chest.

It was well past 2 am when Aniket was jolted out of his dreams by the crying of a female that drifted in from the outside. He tried to figure out the source but it stopped suddenly. He thought that it must be from the care taker’s hut and it must be his wife that was crying, probably the guy must have abused her after consuming toddy, the local wine made from a particular palm fruit. Aniket decided to admonish him in the morning and kept the book on the side table and switched off the reading lights to sleep.

Aniket woke up with the first light of the sun peeping through the gap of the curtains of the window. It was 5:30 am by his watch. He got up and brushed his teeth, ready for his morning yoga. Something he has been doing for last ten years. It not only keeps him physically fit but makes the brain sharp too. Exactly at 6 am there was a knock on his door and Raghu came with a tray of tea and biscuits. As he laid down the tray on the table next to the bed, Aniket asked him “What happened last night? Did you beat up your wife? I could hear her crying.” Then without waiting for his answer added, “If it is repeated again tonight, I will call the police.” Raghu was dumbstruck but feebly replied, “But Babuji, I am not married and I stay alone here. You can come and check please.” It was Aniket’s turn to be surprised and shocked, he blurted out “T-Then who was that lady crying last night? I could hear her very clearly.” Raghu shrugged and said, “I don’t know Saheb what you are saying. There is nobody else besides you and me in this place. The gardener will come by 8 am and the cleaning lady by 9AM. That’s the routine for these two people. The city guys send in cook and server when there are meetings of more people otherwise for small gathering, I only do the cooking.”

Aniket dismissed him without further discussion but was in deep thought, was it all his dreams or his mind playing games because he has come for adventure of the paranormal kind. He decided take a walk and put on his sneakers. Walking in the lawns, he soon forgot all about the night for the beauty of the manicured lawn with the variety of flowers was breathtaking. Aniket kept walking and taking pictures with his phone camera. He did realize but he had reached the spot of the plot from where the dilapidated bunglow could be seen clearly. It seemed, no one lived there except a few stray dogs. He tried to figure out if any human could be seen but even after 15 minutes of wait there was no sign of anybody. He decided to go there and check out himself. But before that he needed to take bath as Rudra is expected now anytime.

Aniket was ready and about to call Rudra when he heard the approaching car on the driveway. And soon Rudra appeared on the door. He was dressed in deep blue jeans and white T-shirt and a Nikon camera with long lens hung from his neck. He said, “Hey Ani, are you ready? We can start right now and have breakfast on the way. There’s a nice place serving authentic Utkali cuisine.” Aniket was ready; he picked up his backpack that contained his camera, binocular and a notepad. Then they were on way to Konarak Sun Temple. The plan was to see the Sun Temple in the morning and then proceed to Puri to see Shri Jagannath Temple, have the fabled bhog-prasad and spend the day in the beaches before returning to Bhubneshwar.

The day was well spent, both Rudra & Aniket could capture some breathtaking shots of the Konarak Sun Temple and before that had Luchi-Aloordom and Prawn Cutlets for breakfast at the highway restaurant. Then on way to Puri, they stopped over at Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Reserve taking as many pictures as they possibly could. The darshan at Jagannath temple was satisfying and the bhog-prasad was superb. On way back, they picked up fried fish for the evening snacks to go with their drinks and prawns for the dinner. Aniket was doubtful if Raghu can do justice with such nice big prawns but Rudra said he had it earlier too and Raghu is a brilliant cook. True to his reputation, Raghu had made marvelous prawn curry in mustard sauce that was complemented by the hot basmati rice. The fish fries were as fresh as one can get in the coastal areas which went well with the bottle of Chivas that Rudra had brought with him. After dinner, they went out for stroll in the lawn which was washed with bright moonlight. They were engrossed discussing the day’s events, particularly the exclusive darshan of Jagannath Ji and the awesome sighting of Olive Ridley turtles complete with their nest. They had reached that corner of the lawn from where the ghostly bunglow can be seen. Aniket stopped in his track and whispered to Rudra, “Look Rudra, there’s light coming out from that haunted bunglow.” Rudra did not know anything about the woman’s crying or about the dilapidated bunglow, so he said nonchalantly, “So what, somebody must be staying there.”

“No, nobody is living there. This morning I was here for quite some time, except for a few stray dogs, there were no other living things; I mean I did not see any activity there.” Aniket said excitedly.

“If you are referring to paranormal activity, my dear, let me tell you, the ghosts don’t need any light. They are better off without it.” Rudra guffawed at Aniket.

Aniket then told him about last nights’ crying of a woman and his morning conversation with Raghu. Rudra became serious and then said “We must then investigate in the morning.”

Meanwhile, the light flickered for a while and then everything became dark. No sounds emanated from anywhere barring the chorus of crickets and occasional croaking of frogs.

Aniket and Rudra came back to their room. It was well past midnight and they decided quit for the day. Rudra had an adjacent room and both room had a connecting door internally. Aniket was tired and half a bottle of Chivas soon put him in sound sleep.

Aniket was awakened by the commotion just outside the window next to his bed. He could hear male voices discussing something in hushed up tone, someone was clearly agitated for some reason. Aniket thought of waking up Rudra and take a look outside together. He went to Rudra’s room through the door joining the two rooms. The bedside lamp was on but there was no sign of Rudra, in fact the bed looked like it hasn’t been used at all. Aniket turned to return when his eyes caught something shining in the light of bed lamp under the pillow. He moved the pillow and lo and behold, a pistol just came into his vision. What is Rudra doing with a pistol? Aniket picked up the pistol and went out to check outside.

In the full moon light, he could see Raghu and two more persons covered in shawl discussing animatedly. Near them was another person lying, may be unconscious. Aniket called out, “Raghu, what’s happening?” Raghu and the other guys hadn’t noticed Aniket so they were startled by his voice. One of the guy with a stick in his hand moved menacingly towards Aniket but stopped short of him noticing the pistol in his hand. He spoke to the others in his native tongue and all three scampered away towards the back of the building. Aniket went to check on the figure lying on the ground and was shocked find Rudra lying unconscious. He immediately went inside to get water and sprinkled on Rudra. He opened his eyes and immediately stood up. “Where have they gone?” asked Rudra anxiously. Aniket told him that they ran towards the back of the building. Rudra ran towards the back followed by Aniket but nobody could be seen. Rudra took the pistol from Aniket and went to check the room where Raghu lived. No one was there either; he started searching the room and came out two local pistols or kattas and notebook which had some names with mobile number and some numeric figures against each. Rudra took all of those and said, “Let’s go.”

Rudra called a few number from his mobile once they were back in the room and gave some instructions. Then he got up and started towards the door indicating Aniket to follow him. They got into their Scorpio and Rudra drove it straight to the dilapidated bunglow at the back of the govt. dak bunglow. It was all dark, not a flicker of light from anywhere except a shadowy light from the full moon. The whole image was haunting and Aniket could feel goose bumps all over his body. Rudra switched of the lights of the Scorpio killed the engine which made the surrounding even more eerie. Aniket started to say something but Rudra stopped him as he wind down the vehicle windows. The only sound was that of the chorus of the crickets and occasional croaking of frogs. Once in a while a street dog could be suspicious of something and bark and then some its clan would join in without knowing the cause and create a ruckus in otherwise calm night. In the distance, one could hear the movement of the heavy vehicles on the highway. One such sound of vehicles became increasing clear and it seemed a convoy of vehicles was approaching the very spot where Aniket and Rudra were. Slowly the silhouettes of the vehicles, SUV’s, five of them came into vision as they came closer and closer. When the vehicles were about 200-250 meters from their Scorpio, the first vehicle used dipper and Rudra also responded by using his dipper. Then the vehicles rolled over having killed their engine noise. A posse of uniformed police men and women came out from the five vehicles. Rudra and Aniket also went out to meet them. The Police Inspector from the first vehicle approached Rudra and saluted him. Aniket wondered why a police man was saluting a civilian!

“Have you got the search lights and are your people properly armed?” Rudra asked the Inspector who had introduced himself as Inspector Rajiv Patnaik along with Sub-Inspectors Muhim Raza and Indrani Sen.

“Yes Sir, we have got all the equipments you asked for and all are carrying fire arms” replied Inspector Patnaik.

“Okay, then let’s move in then. I suspect the kingpin is also hiding in there and they may be heavily armed. So we have to go in there with minimum noise and catch them alive because I want to get the entire gang” said Rudra. Then he turned to Aniket and asked him to stay put in the vehicle and come when he calls him. Rudra led the team of police personnel towards the dilapidated bunglow and soon became invisible in the darkness as the moon had also gone behind a patch of dark clouds. Aniket sat in the Scorpio but his eyes were glued towards the building where Rudra had gone.

Rudra placed the men and women strategically at the entrance and at other exits of the building and arranged the search lights to give maximum coverage. At the signal from him Sub-Inspector Muhim Raza switched on the lights and the building became all lighted up. At that very moment, someone from inside fired at the searchlight but the bullet ricocheted from the glass cover. These are new age search lights with bullet proof glass covering. Rudra fired from his pistol at the source of the gun fire and low agonized cry confirmed it had hit the target. Rudra signaled his team to move inside the bunglow and made rapid stride himself. More gun shots followed from inside and the police team retaliated with equal zest. This was no hold bar operation. One of the bullets had grazed past Inspector Patnaiks left shoulder but he was undaunted and reached the hall of the bunglow where the fugitives were hiding. He spoke in a stern voice “Surrender now and save your life. Your outnumbered 10:1 and cannot hide anymore.” His message was greeted by more gun fire and this time the bullet hit him in the chest and he went down. Rudra was just behind him and he had seen the source of the bullet and instantly fired at the head of Raghu. There was no need for more firing; three men came out from behind a closet with their hands up in the air. They were handcuffed and taken away. Rudra checked the nerves of Inspector Patnaik, he was still alive and was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital. The search of the house yielded more fire power and 15 Tribal girls in the age group of 12 to 18 years. They were taken to the local NGO shelter for the time being. The whole Operation Maira was over in 20 minutes.

Next day evening, Aniket and Rudro along with Sravani, Rudro’s wife were seated in the living room of his spacious apartment in Patia, Bhuvaneshwar. Aniket took a sip of Single Malt whiskey and asked, “Rudro, as far as I knew, you had joined Administrative Services, so how come are you involved in crime busting?” Rudro smiled and said, “About 5 years back, fed up with mundane work in administrative services, I decided to leave the services and get into private service just like you. But then I met Sravani and her father who was then a senior rank official in PMO, convinced me of a more adventurous profile in IPS. So, about 4 years back the switch over happened.”

“And you got hitched around the same time too” quipped Aniket. Sravani threw a cushion towards Aniket and all had a hearty laugh. Then on a serious note Aniket asked, “But tell us the whole story from the beginning.”

“If I start from the beginning then it will be too long, so I will briefly tell you how and when it started and the rest as we go along”, replied Rudra.

Rudra narrated:

About 4 years back when I shifted to the Police Services, I had to go through a three months long training schedule. Then finally, when I was ready for posting, I was called to the Home Ministry to meet a gentleman by the name Mr. Gopalkrishna Iyer, a Secretary rank official in the ministry. Later, when I met him, I got to know that he was the head of the famed NIA. He told me that I have a choice of regular posting or I can join the elite team of Special Officers. He told me that I will be an ACP/ ASP ranked officer attached to a police station but my real job would be very different from the regular police work and I shall report directly to him only. My first assignment was tracking down a high profile fugitive with political connections who was hiding in Europe with a fake identity. The person was brought back to the country to face criminal charges and has been sentenced to jail now.

On my way back from Amsterdam, I met a guy named Ashim Das, hailing from Odisha and running an NGO that provided job oriented education to the tribal girls. The state of Odisha has a sizeable tribal population, probably next to Jharkhand. He told me as a matter of fact that they only manage to enlist a small percentage of girls from the tribal areas as most get sucked into the Maoist insurgency or are traded in human trafficking. The situation was really grim. He said that there exists a web of conspirator which unfortunately has the blessings of some unscrupulous politicians that shield them from law. He provided certain names but I could not act on them immediately on my own, I needed proof of their connivance. So, when I met Mr. Iyer for debriefing, I told him about my conversation with Ashim Das. Mr. Iyer heard me patiently and then said that it (Maoists) is indeed a big headache for the govt both central and state. He suggested a transfer to Bhubneshwar to investigate the case and bring the culprits to justice.

Here, for ease of work, I am reporting the CM directly and have access to all departments and their heads are told to cooperate with me for their own good. I had found out the kingpins of this human trafficking web but needed to catch them in the act as our laws have too many loopholes through which these guys can escape. As we speak, two politicians and three senior govt. officials along with the members of the gang have been arrested under non-bailable offence. Once we zeroed on these individuals in high places, we not only tracked their physical movement but their telephonic conversations as well.

About a fortnight back I had the intelligence report that a ‘consignment’ of humans was supposed to be handed over to the representative of Maoists. And as luck would have it, you, Aniket, wanted to come here to experience haunted bunglow and I agreed as it would coincide with the Operation Maira. I did not join you on the first day as I wanted to tie up some loose ends.

When you narrated the events that your niece had experienced, I checked on the bunglow and realized it was being used by these guys for transit-cum-handover joint. To be honest, I had not suspected Raghu to be part of the gang. When you confronted him with allegation of beating his wife, he got alarmed and called up one of the suspected govt. official for help. This in a way helped us in nabbing that person for conspiracy and under interrogation he sang like a canary and came out with names and modus operandi of the group.

Last night after you had gone to bed, I moved out and went call Raghu but he was not in his room and as I was coming back to my room to call Inspector Patnaik I met Raghu near our room. When I asked him what he was doing there at that hour, someone hit me hard on my head and lost consciousness. Rest of the story you know. This evening I checked on the health of Inspector Patnaik, he is critical but out of danger. It is sad that Raghu had to die because he was really a very good cook.

“Why call it Operation Maira?” asked Sravani.

“Oh, that’s the name of a very bright student of Ashim Das ran NGO school. She was abducted by the Maoists and raped repeatedly before killing her. It was to honor her.” Rudra said solemnly.

“So, what’s next?” Aniket and Sravani asked in chorus.

“Let’s see where we go next and what story awaits us”, Rudra said with a wink in his eyes.

Super Speciality Nursing Home

Dr. Saxena came back to his chamber after checking on the patient, 65 years old Gurpreet Singh who has been on life support ventilator for last seven days on bed no. 421 on the fourth floor of Super Specialty Nursing Home. Every effort is being made to keep him alive and Dr. Saxena felt hopeful…

As he entered his spacious spanking clean room, a lady got up and said, “Sat Sri Akal, Doctor Sahab.” Dr. Saxena was little irritated seeing a woman sitting in his chamber. He made a mental note to admonish Inderjeet, his front office Executive. Keeping a stoic face he returned the greetings and said, “I can’t recall having met you. What can I do for you?”

The lady said, “My name is my name is Inderpreet Kaur. My husband Gurpreet Singh is on ventilator for last one week. I want know about his health condition.” As it is Dr. Saxena was upset now he simply burst out on the lady, “Why are you here? We have a defined time slot for meeting the patient. You should come at that time and check with on-duty doctor. This is my OPD time and there is long queue outside. Please go now.”

“I am sorry, Doctor but I do not have time to come back again. So, can you please tell me his state of health?” Inderpreet Kaur said in a low tone to calm down the otherwise charged atmosphere.

Dr. Saxena decided to cut short the conversation and said in an even tone, “Frankly, I do not see much hope of his survival. His brain is partially dead but we are doing our best to revive him.”

“But how long?” asked Inderpreet.

“That is difficult to say, we are hopeful as long as he is breathing.” Said Dr. Saxena nonchalantly.

“But is he still breathing?” asked Inderpreet in a strange voice looking straight at Dr. Saxena.

Dr. Saxena was not expecting such a query and the initial irritation came back in his voice when he said, “What do you mean?” Inderpreet without flicking her eyelid and looking straight at Dr. Saxena said in husky voice, “Please let him go. He has been dead for last five days. Please free him up from all those wire tangles.”

Dr. Saxena was now visibly upset and roared, “If you know so much about treatments, why did you bring him here, should have treated him at home only.”

“I would have done that only, if I could. Now, please tell me how I can take him back.” Inderpreet said in an even tone.

Dr. Saxena was very angry now at this kind of impudence of the woman. He almost shouted at her, “Please sign the No Obligation Bond and pay up Rs.12 Lacs, the hospital expenses as of today and then only you can take him back.”

A faint smile appeared on Inderpreet’s face when she said, “My husband died two days after being admitted here and you have put him on ventilator since then to fleece money from us. The legitimate amount for those two days is Rs.1.25 Lacs which I am paying you now.”

Dr. Saxena was extremely agitated now; he shouted again, “Look, I have never seen you earlier. His son came to admit him here. What is proof that you are his wife as you are claiming? I do not want to continue this conversation with you anymore. Please go from here at this very moment. Otherwise…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, his phone was ringing. He picked up the phone, “Hello, Dr. Saxena speaking.”

“Good Morning, I am Sandeep Singh speaking. My father Gurpreet Singh is admitted in your nursing home. Bed no. 421.”

“Thank God, you called Mr. Sandeep. Your mother is creating ruckus here. How can we treat your father if your mother continues to interfere in our affairs? She is behaving as if she knows more than the doctors! I am telling you now, if she doesn’t go from here peacefully, I will have to call in the security.”

“What are you saying Doctor? My mother passed away five years ago.” Sandeep said on the other side of the phone. “What do you mean? She is still sitting in front of me” retorted Dr. Saxena. “Don’t listen to her, she must be a fraud. I am coming just now” pleaded Sandeep from the other side.

With smirk on his face, Dr. Saxena addressed Inderpreet, “You wait here now, your son is coming. We shall decide the course of action on his arrival.”

“I will go away before my son comes. My husband is waiting outside. Although you have kept his body on the ventilator, he has been with me for last five days. You want to meet him? See, he is right there.” said Inderpreet in a plain voice.

Dr. Saxena turned towards the examination cot in the room. Gurpreet Singh was sitting on it and smiling to him. Dr. Saxena couldn’t believe how the dead body that he had seen some time back on the ventilator in bed number 421, has come down to his chamber on the ground floor of the nursing home.  He started sweating and blurted out “What is this? Are you playing games with me?”

This time Gurpreet answered, “What did you gain by cheating my son? He is a simple guy working like a donkey to meet the needs of his family. You have practically made him bankrupt. Are you a doctor or dacoit?”

“Don’t you worry, doctor. We will pay you the amount that you actually deserve. In this cash crunch time, we do not have the cash but here these gold bangles will surely fetch you more than Rs.1.25 Lacs.” Saying so, Inderpreet moved towards Dr. Saxena.

Dr. Saxena moved away from her but there was no place to hide. He shouted, “No, no, I don’t want your bangles or money. Please go away.” Inderpreet along with Gurpreet closed moved closer to Dr. Saxena and said in unison, “Why doctor? You don’t want to make more money? Please take these bangles.” Dr. Saxena shouted, “No oooo….” He went complete blank.

After a while Dr. Saxena realised there were other people too in the room. People who were his patient whose dead bodies have been on the ventilator unnecessarily while he continued prescribe expensive medicines to fleece the families. All of them were asking “Why Doctor?” Dr. Saxena tried to speak but couldn’t as he suffered a massive heart attack.

Dr. Gupta checked the pulse of Dr. Saxena and realised he was dead. Straightening up he thought, well it’s a right time make some money for myself. He instructed the nurse, “Put him on the ventilator and inform his family. The patient is critical.”

Once Dr. Saxena’s dead body was put on the ventilator and the family advised to make the hefty deposit towards the treatment, Dr. Gupta returned to his chamber.

Dr. Saxena was waiting for him there and asked, “Why Doctor Gupta?” Everybody outside the chamber heard the sharp shrill of Dr.Gupta and loud thumping sound of his body falling on the floor.

March 05, 2016

I do not believe in ghosts or any paranormal things but what happened today is beyond any logical explanation. It made me think otherwise.

We have shifted to this spacious 4 bedroom duplex house a month back. On the ground floor is the living room, dining room, kitchen and a guest bedroom with attached toilet. On the first floor are three bedrooms for mom n dad, myself and my sister. There is a fifth member, Suro kaka – the cook cum Man-Friday who has been with us even before I came into existence.

Around 8pm, I went to the bathroom of the guest bedroom. I was greeted with a very strong fragrance of Jasmine flower. There were no flowers anywhere, so I thought it must be coming from the washing clothes basket, I lifted the lid but it was empty. I smelt the bath soap, the shampoo and even the hand wash soap dispenser but none of them were emitting the strong Jasmine fragrance. Then my eyes fell on the white liquid bottle resting at the corner below the wash basin. I opened the cap and greeted with a strong pungent acidic smell very different from the Jasmine. I thought may be mom or Suro kaka might have sprayed some air freshener. I came out and switched on the television for my favourite show Big Bang Theory.

March 06, 2016

Last night’s strong fragrance has lost a bit of strength but it is still there in the air…

March 08, 2016

I came home around 6 pm and went to the guest room and then the bathroom, the fragrance is barely there, it must have been the air freshener, I thought. I saw mom in the living room talking to Suro Kaka and told her to put the Jasmine air freshener in other bathrooms too. She said, “What air freshener are you talking about? I haven’t sprayed any freshener anywhere.” I stood still for a moment, my throat drying up.

March 12, 2016

I had been to the guest room twice in last two days and could feel a mild Jasmine fragrance floating through the air. It is becoming a ritual for me now. Today, I went to the guest room around 8 pm and was greeted with a strong fragrance of Jasmine flowers, once again. I could feel the eeriness all around me. I left the room quietly and came back to my room.

There was this girl Hansuli in my school, two years junior who had confessed her love for me. She had met with an accident right outside our school and died. She loved Jasmine flowers and had adorned them on her hair at school function. Is she back to claim her unfulfilled love?  But why would she come, after so many years? Then I recalled, Ruma, the girl next door who had come the other day to call my sister and had left behind a garland of Jasmine flowers. She too loves the Jasmine flowers. Is Hansuli (or her spirit) jealous of Ruma? I can’t, I don’t want to think much…

 

March 16, 2016

I haven’t been to the guest room or its bathroom in the last couple of days but was feeling restless all through the day. So, I went to check again in the evening. The fragrance was very faint or is it my nostrils making fun of me. I don’t know and I do not like the mystery at all!

March 18, 2016

Our neighbour, Mrs. Batra came this afternoon and I overheard her telling mom that two labourers had died mysteriously at the time of construction of this building. Also, the land where the building stands today, used to be burial ground of a woman of virtue many years ago. Dad was furious when he got to know and severely reprimanded mom for listening to such rubbish. Like Dad, I too do not believe in such stupidity. But I am now really scared of the Jasmine fragrance. I decided to talk to my friend Subhro, who has been studying parapsychology and has interest in all kinds of paranormal stories.

March 19, 2016

Today, I narrated the instances of last few days to Subhro. He said that he has heard about such episodes where the spirits have come back to their loved ones. He even indicated that I should tell Ruma not to go near Jasmine flowers let alone touch them. Her life may be in danger.

On my way up to my room, I decided to check the guest room. I need not go inside for the fragrance today was really over powering. I scampered back to my room. I kept the lights on while I slept.

March 21, 2016

Today, indirectly asked Mom about what Mrs. Batra was saying the other day. She said that although Dad had rubbished the whole thing but she has seen a woman in her dream quite like what Mrs. Batra described. I told her with a brave face that it was nothing but her imagination. There are no ghosts, at least not in an upscale colony like ours. But I am worried now.

March 24, 2016

I am feeling restless and becoming a psychological wreck. Like a hypnotised person, everyday in the evening I go to the guest room bathroom to check on the fragrance. Even today, I felt a mild fragrance of the Jasmine flower. I am sure, I am going mad.

While writing this diary, I was going through the last few entries and something caught my attention. Although, I could feel the Jasmine fragrance practically every day, the strongest perfume was on 5th, 12th & 19th March, exactly a week from each day! I realised, by this logic the next strong perfume day will be 26th March.

I am not very religious but I have started praying now. Gayatri Mantra is really powerful and can keep away the spirits, Mom had told me once.

March 26, 2016

I came back home in the afternoon. There was my favourite Aloo-Posto and Prawn Malai Curry with rice for lunch. I think I over ate and as a result slept in the afternoon perhaps or was I outside at our previous house?

I am back at my old house and I can see Hansuli and Ruma talking animatedly sitting under the mango tree. Hansuli looks exactly same when I saw her last, beautiful. Both have adorned their hair with garlands made of Jasmine flowers. Hansuli saw me and waved at me. She then shouted, “Ma, see, Shanky is here.” Her mother came out and I was shocked, she looked exactly like what Mom had described the woman in her dream. I am really very scared now and mumbled good bye to Hansuli and aunty and started running. But I could not move, it seemed that aunty was pulling me towards her with her evil force. I am sweating now, profusely. My throat, mouth is dry. With immense courage and might I forced myself forward and at that moment I woke up. My whole body was wet with my perspiration; I increased the speed of the fan to dry myself.

I was thirsty and there was no water in the room so I went down to the dining room. I opened the refrigerator for water bottle and was immediately hit by the fragrance of Jasmine. I looked inside the fridge for Jasmine flowers but nothing was there. I took a few gulp of water and realised today is 26th March, the day of strong Jasmine fragrance. So, Hansuli and her Mom is here, after all it was not my dream but reality.

I tip toed towards the guest room bathroom and before I could open the door, I heard sound of running water. I ran towards Mom’s room to tell her but she wasn’t there in her room. I called my sister but she too wasn’t there in the room. Dad is any way not in town. I recalled, Mom had said that she and Bublai (my sister) will be going to the market in the afternoon. I called her on the mobile and she confirmed that they are indeed at the Select City Mall.

I went down again to check if it is Suro Kaka in the guest bathroom but I found him in the lobby sleeping on the carpet. Then who the hell is in the guest bathroom? I know my sweats are back all over again but I need to finish this mystery of Jasmine fragrance today itself.

Once again I tip toed to the guest room. The bathroom door was slightly open now and I can partially see a woman inside. The strong fragrance of the Jasmine flower was all over the place. I shouted, “Who is in there? Come out now.” But sound that came out from my voice was little louder than whispers.  A woman came out and said, “Bhaiya, I am Indu. I come every Saturday to clean this bathroom.” In her hand were the cleaning brush and a bottle of Harpik that had a blurb announcing “Jasmine Scented”.

I collapsed on the bed.

Room # 401

On the invitation of my friend Indro, I made the journey from Delhi to Gangtok on a November morning. Indro said he will reach from Ranchi to Siliguri and from there we will travel together. I took the morning flight to Bagdogra and reached Siliguri around 11:30 am. But there was no sign of Indro at the appointed place instead there was a WhatsApp message from him that his flight was cancelled and he will reach directly to Gangtok the following day, advising me to proceed to Gangtok.

I had no option but follow his advice, went to the taxi stand and got into a shared taxi with three other strangers. The journey from Siliguri to Gangtok is picturesque along the river but roads can be treacherous at some points. Anyway, we reached Gangtok around 4:30 in the evening and I started hunting for a hotel for the night. This turned out to be a nightmare, because there was no room available in any of the hotels that Indro had suggested I should check. The enthusiasm with which I had started hunting for hotels was now ebbing as was the sun in the distance. In hilly areas, once the Sun sets, it becomes really dark and the surroundings become deserted within a short time.

It has been almost an hour of my futile hotel search and I was feeling tired and anxious with thought of spending the wintery night on the road in a hill station. Just then I felt someone was tugging my jacket. I thought of pick-pocket and turned to hit the person but controlled myself. A dwarfish guy with a half smile on his asking “Are you looking for a hotel, Babu?” Though his appearance was not so welcoming but at that moment he was godsend. I nodded yes and he immediately picked up my rucksack and started walking, I followed him in earnest. After a few minutes of walking through winding streets and lanes that elevated us at least 100-150 feet from the street below, we stopped in front of not so attractive house with signboard that announced Paradise Hotel.  A guy seemingly with unstable mental health was sitting by the gate and having some deep animated conversation with no one in particular. We went inside.

The receptionist cum manager of the hotel recognised my guide and said, “Boltu, how are you? Not seen you for a long time. ” Boltu now smiled openly and said “I had gone to the village for my daughter’s engagement; the marriage has been fixed for April.” Then indicating me said “Harenbabu, this gentleman needs a room, so I got him here to your hotel.” The manager, Harenbabu hesitantly said, “But today, I do not have any room vacant.” I was really at the end of my tether after climbing up here with darkness engulfing the valley rapidly. I requested Harenbabu, “Please let me spend the night on this couch at your reception.” Before Harenbabu could respond, another figure from the side of the reception counter appeared and addressed Harenbabu, “Sahib, why don’t you allot him Room # 401?” Harenbabu was taken aback and admonished him resoundingly, “You shut up and don’t you know that room is not any use anymore?” Then turning to me said, “Sorry Sir, but we do not letting out that room since last year.” I said, “But why?” Harenbabu said, “Sir last year around this time, one English gentleman committed suicide in that room. And later some guests did complain of unusual happenings in that room at night. So we decided to keep it locked and let out to anyone.” Harenbabu’s honesty was applaudable but I needed a room to stay in warmth, so I said, “Listen, I do not believe in ghosts and spirits, let me have the room for tonight at least.” Reluctantly, Harenbabu took out the key of room # 401 and handed over to Boltu who picked up bag once again and climbed up the stairs followed by me and Harenbabu.

The room was decent and above all very clean despite not being used. I was relieved and tipped Boltu for his efforts and I am sure he will get his brokerage for Harenbabu also. I decided to take a walk of the Mall Road 150 feet below my hotel and try out the Momos from Rocky’s as suggested by Indro.

Momos were truly delicious; I tried the chicken, pork and mutton of which the pork ones were the best. Then I roamed around the mall and realised the night settles down much earlier in the hills than in the plains. I checked my watch, it was only 8 pm but it seemed well past 10 pm as by some magic the crowd in the mall were thinning out. I decided to go back to the hotel as weather also became chilly. There was no one at the reception, Harenbabu must have gone home or does he stay in the hotel itself? I did not know, the keys were with me only, so I went straight to my room. Even though, I had shown tons of courage earlier while accepting to stay in this room, now my enthusiasm was not so high realising that this was the only room in this floor. There are two terraces on either side of the room for clear view of the horizon but who would want to go on the terrace at such a chilly night. Also at the back of mind was the fact that someone had committed suicide in that very room and that made the surrounding a bit eerie. I took out my half read book hoping that reading it will make me fall sleep early. After some time I realised that I have almost finished the book but no sign of sleep in my eyes, may be when you are too tired, it takes time to sleep, I thought. Around this time I felt something unusual, it seemed there is someone else in the room besides me. The air in the room seemed to stand still! I got up with a start and switched on the main light in the room. There’s nobody in the room, I assured myself that it was all my fertile brain that was imagining things because of what I had heard about this room. I decided to have a sleeping pill to have a sound sleep. Thereafter, I switched off the lights in the room letting the bathroom lights on and the door slightly open so that the room does not get totally dark. I pulled up the blanket right over my head and slept.

I do not know what time it was but I was awakened by severe shaking of my body, it seemed someone was trying to wake me up and pushing me out of the bed. I could make out the main lamp in the room hanging from the roof is swaying like a pendulum but all the windows and doors are shut close, where is the air coming from? I started sweating in some unknown fear, I looked for the glass of water at the bedside table and it seemed someone has lifted it up in a shaky hand and water in it splitting on the floor below. It seemed there was some super unknown power that was roaming inside the room shaking up everything that came in its way. The power was angry that I have occupied the room that solely belongs to him. I clanged on to the bed fearing that if I get up the unknown evil power will throw me out of the room to the valley down below.  I mustered up courage and shouted, “Who are you?” The reply was a spine chilling laughter that reverberated across the valley. It unnatural, uncanny laughter that was unending, I lost consciousness.

When I came to my senses, it was bright morning with Sun shining in all its glory and brightness. However, the room was in complete disarray, it seemed there have been storm inside the room. The glass broken into pieces, the table on which it was places is upside down, the bed itself has moved to the middle of the room by some unknown force. I decided, enough of my courage and bravery for one night, I will vacate the room that very moment. In any case, Indro should be reaching by evening and he has contacts in some better hotels and it is better to spend the night in some monastery than this haunted room!

I packed my rucksack and went down to vacate the room. Harenbabu was at the reception; he smiled at me and said, “You do have a sound sleep, Sir! The whole Gangtok was woken up last night and you slept through the night without waking up even once!” I was taken aback and hesitantly asked, “Why? What happened last night?” “What? You didn’t realise there was massive earthquake that shook up the entire city of Gangtok. Not once but thrice and the last one was the severest. It was 6.4 on Richter scale!!”

Undeterred, I said with conviction, “I know but decided to stay put in the room only. But tell me who was laughing so loudly?” Harenbabu guffawed “Oh that was Nitai, the mad man you must have seen at the hotel gate who was finding it funny that people were running helter-skelter and laughing his heart out!”

I simply handed over the key to Harenbabu saying, “Can you just get my room cleaned up while I go and take a round of the surroundings? And yes I expecting my friend to join me in the evening so from tonight it will be double occupancy.”

Harenbabu said, “No worries, another room with clear view of Kanchenjunga is getting vacated today, I will shift you and your friend in that room. You come back soon then we will have breakfast together.”