She didn’t show up at the ghat that morning; nor the next and neither the next few.
Maha was in the habit of sitting under that ancient banyan tree from before dawn with the first chai of Deenu’s thela at the top of the steps which lead down the ghat. Deenu lived alone in a small hut right behind his tea-cart. He was a widower who had come looking for his daughter Devi to this holy town some ten years ago. She had come to this town with her mother for a pilgrimage. On their way back to the village their boat was caught is a sudden storm and had capsized. There were 20 people on that boat. The bodies of all were recovered but Devi’s was never found. Deenu was convinced that Devi, his only child was still around there. He vowed not to go back without her. It has been ten years and there hasn’t been a single day he hasn’t gone out on a boat to look for her. He sold everything back home, which was almost nothing and moved to the town. The thela now paid for his food, shelter and search. Maha was drawn to the quiet and faraway personality of Deenu. The tea was just okay. It was Deenu’s presence though, that was intriguing. It took over a year of regular visits to the ghat for Maha to know Deenu’s story. He found Deenu to be at once resigned and hopeful. Such a conflict within one person of stoic resolution immensely fascinated the writer within Maha.
Maha was a disillusioned young writer. His family was rich. But they were as disappointed in his lack of interest in money as he was in their obsession with it. He had run away and was now making a living as an English teacher in the local school. A bad sleeper and an early riser, he liked the ghat’s predawn quiet before the first wave of bathers and pilgrims washed over the river. Often he would bring his notebook along and scribble in the predawn twilight. He had been working on a simple poem since days. He had a complicated life and hoped that a simple poem might help him find some simplicity. Simplicity however, is not so simply found. He had been stuck on a comma.
She was someone of no people. No one knew where she lived. The ghat before the mornings were usually deserted but for her. She did the laundry for the nearby dharamshala. She was always dressed in indeterminate rags with a red dupatta loosely covering her face. To anyone, she might have come across as a demure, skulking, heavy lidded, frightened little thing who wanted to just get away. Until one looked into her eyes- big, jet black with a fiery sheen. Arresting. In a split second, she would appear as if transformed into a supremely assured young woman in the eyes of the beholder. A goddess. Very few had ever seen her eyes but of the ones who did, none had ever been able to resist the spell of her eyes. All would pause; hit a comma.
Maha had been observing her ever since he first started his early morning visits to the ghat. He was Deenu about her. He couldn’t tell him anything other than the fact that she did the dharamshala’s laundry. But Maha could tell her presence always left Deenu is a state of sad helplessness. That morning he waited for her to arrive. He was early. He pondered over his poem with the chai in his hands. But he just couldn’t concentrate. Dawn was beginning to creep up the horizon and the first bathers began to arrive. There was still no sign of her.
Then suddenly, on the crisp morning air rang the untimely clang of the temple bells. Upon opening the doors of the temple in the morning, the priest was shocked to see the idol in the sanctum with its eyes blindfolded with a faded red rag. With trembling hands he had undone the blindfold and what he saw made him turn around and run away in fear; wildly ringing the temple bells on his way out.
The eyes of the temple’s Devi were no longer there.
Sambit Kumar Pradhan, Assistant Professor, School of Communication Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)
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