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Posted on: Friday , Apr 12, 2013 At 15:14 PM



It was past 2:30pm when we checked in at the HP PWD Rest House at Naina Devi. We, my daughter and I, were hungry and worn out after being on the roads for over ten hours. All we wanted badly was some rest. We hit the bed immediately after having a hurriedly arranged lunch by the caretaker.

It was the chill in the room and the howl of winds that pulled me out of my slumber. It was just 5pm. My daughter was fast asleep with her tab in her hand. Out of the window I could see the lights slowly fading away. The leaves on the trees just outside the window were rustling wildly as if a blizzard was raging outside. The weather can be unpredictable in the hills. Twice before I had been cought unawares in cold mountain storms. putting on sweat shirts my daughter and I rushed out to capture the setting sun.

Sunset over Anandpur Sahib..


Just as we opened the door to the long verandah over looking Anandpur Sahib at a distance below us, we were taken aback by the K9 sprawled in front of the door. His gaze through his half opened eyes sent a shiver down my spine. Being dog lovers, we aren't really the kind who get scared by doggy stares, but, some how this was eree. “Ohhyeeee.... that's scary....” my daughter sighed behind me. Like an well trained dog the K9 excused himself even before we could shoo it away. We spent the remaining evening capturing bye bye moments. Before the light could get any worse, we quickly walked to the market at bus stand to buy ourselves a few tid bids for dinner. K9 followed us to the gates of the Rest House.




Naina Devi is a small place with few visitors and even fewer shopping or boarding options. The few stalls around the bus stand sell items for religious ceremonies. The foodie stalls, we found, either sold cold samosas or oily Chholye Bhatureys. Since instant noodles were a far cry, we bought a slab of Mango jelly and two plates of Chholey Bhature for dinner before finding our way back to our Rest House. After an early dinner we called it a day. Though the rustle of leaves in the winds continued unabated, falling asleep wasn't really difficult.


It was silent and peaceful when we woke up early next morning. Quickly we got ready for a 1500 meters trek to the Shrine on the hill top. K9 greeted us at our door sprawled the same place we found him the previous evening. Like a mind reader, even before we could utter a word, he began following us till the gates which we were now sure was the periphery of his territory. K9 waiting for us at the gate when we returned about three hours later. He was clearly pleased to see us back. K9 expressed his pleasure by brushing his nose and head against our trousers and looking up at us with a strange affectionate gaze. This strange affection was so much in contrast to the hostile looks the previous evening, we began thinking all this show was for the Prasad that he thought we had brought from the Shrine. At least that seemed the most logical explanation and we dug into our bags to fetch something for him. We were proved wrong when K9 trotted away without even looking back at us or respond to our calls. “very self respecting...” I had said to myself.

Thank you!!!

We had a breakfast of double cheese pizzas washed with tumblers of cold coffee at an open kitchen named Fun Bite so we were not hungry and skipped lunch. We enjoyed the afternoon playing badminton and exploring the surroundings. The heavy brunch was taking its toll on us by making us feel drowsy and we decided to take a power-nap before doing what we had in our minds... exploring the hill.


It was 4 pm when we woke up from our 'power nap'. K9 was there at our door waiting for us. This time again, K9 seemed to know what we had in our minds. Earlier in the day we had found out that a cable car service to the Shrine existed from another side of the hill. The caretaker had discouraged us from going there on foot since a meant walking for about 6km. What he did not know was that we were indeed looking for a long walk. We set out for the rope way armed with our digitals, K9 seemed to know of our plans, and darted ahead of us like a guide. He seemed to know every bit of what we were out for leading us all the while. Now and then he would stop and crane over hillsides looking vacantly at the space ahead of him as if to say “come hither to my World, oh wanderer of the roads...”. Initially I ignored him and thought he would return to the Rest House as soon as he would near the periphery of his territory. I was wrong. He kept leading us from one vantage spot to another revealing breathtaking hillscapes. soon we began to trust him more than our skills for vantage spots.

Come Hither to my World...


At one point K9 scrambled up a rock and waited for us to catch up. The rock looked mundane, but once I climbed it, I knew why he had taken us there. The rock actually overhung a steep cliff hundreds of feet deep. Standing there was like being on the last point on the World. Later when we were moving again and saw the rock from a different angle, it looked terrifying. K9 not only took us to just the right spots for the right clicks, dangerous to look yet safe. He would wait till we were over with our clicks or till he thought we had not missed something interesting before moving on. Foe example, he would not budge till my daughter clicked the flowers on the mountain side from where he would show them to us. We would click from approximately the same angle and height of K9 to see how it a K9's point of view.

Flowers clicked from K9's point of view. Looks carefree and beautiful...


We had walked quite far from the Rest House, yet K9 refused leave us.. A determined steady blood shot possessed gaze every time we tried shooing him said he was a tough nut to crack. “Papa, what will happen when we leave tomorrow...? what do you think he'll do if we take him with us..?” “The way he is sticking with us, he won't mind coming along....”I had told jokingly to my daughter.



It was close to 4 pm when K9 led us to the base point of the cable car. We had planned to ride the cable car to the Shrine and walk back to the Rest House from there, but with K9 sticking with us, we were in a dilemma. Dogs from the area were barking at K9 said beyond any doubts that he had strayed too far from his territory. To go on with our plans meant ditching K9. A localite who had been watching us told us to carry on and not worry about the dog... Half heartedly we bought ourselves one way tickets to the Shrine. As we rode upwards, in a part of our mind, we kept thinking about K9, wondering if he would really go back when he finds that we won't return, wondering if the other dogs would torment him, wondering if K9 would at all be waiting for us at the base... wondering if K9 would find some one to accompany him back... wondering what if he did not find any one to accompany him back... wondering if it was ethical to ditch some one, who guided us like a guardian angel to this ride... By the time we had reached the top, we were decided that we take the chance of finding him at the base and ride back the sooner the best.

 Gobind Sagar Lake From Ropeway


We were back to the base about an hour later where we found K9, confusedly looking for us behind the parked vehicles wondering where we could have vanished. He came running to us in leaps and bounds the moment we called him.... well, by no particular name just a simple “aajaa” (come on). Even a nerd would read the happiness written all over his face as he rubbed his head on our legs thanking us for our reappearance. It seemed he knew it was getting late, an so he headed straight for the Rest House. K9 once again led the way, but this time without pausing at any place. There was an urgency in his strides, and why not, the lights were fading. When we stopped at a provision store to buy some biscuits for K9, strangely, he seemed to know the biscuits were for him. All along the way back, K9 would sprint ahead and then return back to us for a biscuit. He would dangerously charge at vehicles on the roads, which he thought drove too close to us, as if he was hell bent to protect us at all costs. At one point when the biscuits had finished and we were near the final bend to the Rest House, K9 surged ahead and vanished around the bend leaving us alone. “Vishwasghat (Traitor) now that he has come back to known grounds he deserts us...” I had chided with my daughter. We were wrong. K9 was now playing hide n seek with us. Just around the bend he sat waiting for us behind a kerb stone looking at us with a mocking smile, as if it was a tit for tat for the vanishing trick we played with him at the base of the Cable Car ride. He sprinted back to us as soon as he saw us.

 The Place for HidenSeek


It was about 6pm when we returned to the Guest House. The caretaker was watching us from the kitchen. With a beaming smile on his face he told us “Lucky seems to have a special liking for you....” For the first time since we had been around, we got to know K9's real name. Between sips of tea at the dining hall, we recounted our experience to the caretaker. The caretaker looked at us in disbelief. The fact that K9 showed us the way to the Cable Car base took him by real surprise. With rounded eyes, he kept saying, “But..... Sir, he has never out of the compound in his life leave aside going to the bend down the road. Cable Car base is simply incredible.... how could he take you to a place he has never been to...?” When we told him about the vantage spots he had taken us around the hill us like a guide, he simply couldn't believe what he was hearing. The caretaker looked a shade paler than before as he mumbled inaudibly. When I insisted in knowing what he was mumbling, he just said “No, no, nothing in particular... strange it may sound, but lucky is rather shy with strangers, he has has never been as friendly with strangers as he has been with you...” before excusing himself.

We walked up to our room and from the verandah, in the dim light of the portico, we could see see K9 resting. We had a half finished packet of biscuits in our room and my daughter asked me if she could feed K9. I did not think K9 would be hungry after the all the biscuits biscuits he had had on the way back, so, I told my daughter she could give it a try. When my daughter came out to feed K9, a small child, a local-ite, was trying in vain to feed K9. However, to our utter surprise, he promptly devoured the biscuits that only my daughter offered. I heard my daughter whisper to me “Papa, do you think that was Bonnie inside K9?” as K9 gulped down the last of the biscuits. K9 glanced at us rather sheepishly, then slowly got to his feet and vanished into the darkness behind the kitchen... “I can't say...” I said in silence more to my self than to answer my daughter. Bonnie was our little Spitz who had left us devastated 23 months ago...

It was our last night at Naina Devi and as promised to the caretaker we had dinner at the dining hall. After a sumptuous dinner, we strolled around the Rest House and even played badminton for some time in the hope we would meet K9 again. I was fighting the war inside me as much as my daughter was fighting it inside her about how K9 would miss us. My daughter kept asking me about what K9 would do when he would not see us gone the next day or how he would react when he would see us leaving. Similar thoughts were running my my mind too. In the short time we had been with K9, a strange bond had grown between us. The K9 whose looks had sent shivers down our spines on the first day had transformed into a shy kid. K9 did not show up again that evening.

Later, when we went to sleep, there was absolute silence all around. The winds were no longer howling. The leaves were not rustling any more. Gazing up at the dark wooden ceiling in absolute silence, I had lost count of time and I don't remember when sleep had overwhelmed me. We woke up early and started packing. With the break of dawn, I quickly opened the door of our room expecting to see K9 huddled. He wasn't there, but, a patch of loose dust, like a doormat in front of a door, said he had been there. We were ready in about an hour. Though we were slightly behind schedule, we didn't really mind the time it took for the check out formalities. We had frantically hoped we would meet K9 one last time before we left. K9 never showed up. Probably he knew that saying goodbye would be hard for all of us...

Just as we were about to get into our vehicle and drive out, my daughter thought she had seen a movement near the gate. “ Papa, probably K9 should be there, hiding...” I looked hard in the direction she had pointed. K9 was not to there, but as I moved my vision a little more upwards towards the Shrine for one last time I could see the clouds formation above the shrine like the x-ray of a palm showering blessings.


Where even the clouds shower blessings...


It is hard to say if it was telepathy or if it was crossing of the thresholds of conventional senses that K9 and we had begun understand each other, or if it was purely the paranormal that brought K9 so close to us. No matter how much we may try to reason, it still baffles me how K9 knew where to take us around for the thing we liked doing best. Click and only Click

Its not the first time Naina Devi visit has presented me with strange experiences. I guess I've to come back to this place again... there are many questions in the mind which still remain unanswered...


Sunaabh Sarkar (Mistral) Naina Devi... 23.03.2013.

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Posted on: Saturday , Jul 24, 2010 At 00:53 AM

The Homecoming Part-1

The Homecoming (Part-1)

I have often wondered what attracts people to stories on paranormal experiences. Looking back, I remember cozying my self in Granny’s lap, and listening intently as she spun out tales of paranormal experiences she had in her life. Granny came from a village known for its occurrences of paranormal incidents. Not that I believed in everything paranormal that Granny would spin out, but nevertheless, the kick from sheer thrill of “what Next” would keep me glued to her tales. Perhaps this is what we call “Grandma’s Tales”. As I grew up and started studying science, I began to understand that not every thing unexplained is paranormal. Those that science could not explain, remains paranormal as long as we let them remain as such. Sometimes, its better we leave them as such for the sake of adding spice to the monotony of modern living.


The incident I’m presenting here revolves around a person I met during my trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands not too long ago. We were on the second leg of our tour of the Islands. I’m writing about this leg in detail on another of my Blogs on the Andamans titled Andamans, Pearls in the Earring.


After a visit to the North Bay Island and a stint in snorkeling, Seven Star, headed towards Ross Island we had two hours to spend including lunch. After lunch, while most tourists spread out to explore the Indian Navy controlled Island, a handful of tourists like us decided to take it slow and easy. We were rewarded with some wonderful moments in the company of ‘Guide Aunty’ along with the friendly deer, birds and squirrels. We went around dilapidated structures and the water treatment plant, the swimming pool and other facilities built by the British and returned to the jetty rather early. Amongst the people at the jetty were some local vendors waiting to return to Port Blair by another boat. I spotted Kalipada, the Kulfi seller who had sold us some very tasty kulfi during lunch.


I struck a conversation with him as I downed one kulfi after another. Kalipada turned out to be a Bengali and incidentally from the same village my Granny came from. I soon found out how Kalipada reached Port Blair. Kalipada was unemployed youth looking for a job with decent earning. Fed up of the local politics , he wanted to move to a better place where he could breath freely and earn two square meals a day. One day, quietly without telling anyone, he left his family for Port Blair. He worked on the ship to pay for his fare to Port Blair.

I asked Kalipada if he missed his family. “I used to, but now I don’t miss them any more…” he had replied with a sullen look. “Are you married Kalipada?” I prodded a little further. “Yes…” was his short reply. “You have any children?” I asked him. “No..” was his reply again. By this time I had finished the tenth kulfi too. “Your kulfi’s are very tasty” I said to him as I asked him to give me another one. “You left your family in Bengal?” I went on. “Yes I left them there…”he said. The milk from the kulfi was running down my arm. Wiping off the sticky streams of milk I went on “and, you say you don’t miss them… by the way when did you go home last?” “Sir, that was About ten years ago” Kalipada replied. “I had taken a flight to Kolkata” he continued with a twinkle in his eyes. “You must have spent all your savings in the air tickets…” I chided. “That’s ok, what’s there in money… its like water and it will trickle down from the gaps in your fingers…” he said smiling as he pointed to yet another stream of Milk beginning to trickle down my arm. “Like this…” I had laughed with him.


We were beginning to strike a chord and I went on with the tête-à-tête as we waited for our boats to arrive. “Why did you say you don’t miss your family… did your wife desert you for another man?” I asked Kalipada as discreetly as I could. Kalipada just kept silent. It was an indicator that I was invading his privacy. Silently I finished my eleventh Kulfi. The children and my better half had gone back to the Island to see the deer again till the boat came to pick us. “You have any more Kulfi with you Kalipada?” I gingerly asked him for the twelfth kulfi. “My Granny belongs to the same village you are from” I told Kalipada as I took my first bite from the twelfth kulfi. “Oh is that so… which house Sir?” Kalipada had asked me surprised. “The Morols (village headman) daughter she was… they disposed their property long ago before settling in the town” I told him. “Oh yes Sir, my mother used to say, the Morol’s daughters were beautiful.” For the first time I saw Kalipada grin. “Yes, and my Granny was the fairest and the eldest of them…” I said proudly adding “She was in her nineties when she passed away last year… and my great Granny at 110…”. “Sir those were the good old days… people worked hard, lived simple and ate simple and healthy food and they lived long…” said Kalipada. I shook my head in support. “And, how long will I live on your kulfis kalipada..?” I asked kalipada. Both of us broke into another round of laughter. “Kalipada, there was one more thing associated with the village…” I began again. “What Sir…” Kalipada grinned. “I don’t know how true it is, but my Granny used to say, the village was full of ghosts… since you are from the same place, do you think, ghosts really exist…?” I asked Kalipada smiling. Kalipada looked at his watch. “There is still some time before the boats come back” he said as he began telling me about his experience when he had returned home ten long years ago.


Kalipada had found Neelmoni Dey, a friend from his village when he arrived at Port Blair. In fact it was Neelmoni’s flight from home which inspired him to follow suit. Neelmoni was about fifteen years old when he left for Port Blair. Five years later when he had returned home, he had returned as changed Neelmoni. Gone were the Lungi (loincloth) and the Gamcha (towel) and the chappals (slippers). Neelmoni was clad in a bush shirt and pants. He also sported new shoes. He also brought with him, a new saree for his mother and wife. Along with the sarees, he had brought a new bottle of ‘alta’, sindur (Vermilion) and an assortment of colored glass bangels. He had also brought a set of Shirt and pant for his father. But that was in vain, his father had passed away a year ago. Smoking a panama, he had looked like a Gora (Britisher). Kalipada had made up his mind to be one like Neelmoni.


A fortnight later, he ran away with Neelmoni to follow a dream he dreams of even today. He spent the first few months on the Island doing odd jobs. He worked for a while at the Chatam Saw Mill, later at the harbour followed by stints at the market and shops. He was happy with himself but not content. He wanted a stable job and a stable source of income like Neelmoni. One day they met at a restaurant for lunch. After a rather hot tasting lunch, both thought it would be nice to have something sweet and cold. The idea of kulfi emerged there and then. Kulfi or ice-cream at that time was not easy to find in Port Blair. Neelmoni agreed to invest his money and be a partner in the business. Thus Kalipada started his own SOHO business, selling Kulfis in front of the restaurant. As time passed, he tried his luck selling kulfi’s to tourists. He has never looked back since then.


Five years later, Neelmoni and Kalipada, decide to return to their village. This time they thought of taking the flight back home. In about three hours, they had flown to Kolkata. After a quick shopping spree behind Sealdah railway station, they took the galloping train from Sealdah to finally return home. They agreed to meet again the next day as they bade each other goodbye. The station was an hours walk from Kalipada’s house. By the time he had reached home, it was already dark. From the entrance he could see his Saudamini praying in front of the Tulsi plant. “Wash your feet, I have kept the bucket beside the well” Saudamini told him as he entered. “The village urchins must have tipped her off…” Kalipada mused and a shade disappointed that the surprise bubble had burst. putting his bags down he proceeded to the well. After a refreshing bath, Kalipada changed into fresh clothes as he entered the hutment. “In another five years, I’ll change this into a pukka (made of Bricks and cement with corrugated tin roofing) house…” he vowed to himself. Saudamini was waiting for him with a fan in her hands. She had laid out in front of her everything Kalipada was fond of, warm and freshly cooked Bhat (rice) Lau chingri (bottle gourd with prawns), begun bhaja (fried Brinjals), allo potol (Potato Parmal Curry) and rossogollas too.


In the dim light of the hurricane lamp, Saudamini looked more beautiful than ever before. “How are you Mini?” Kalipada asked her softly as he sat for dinner. He felt very hungry. Suddenly he also realized how much he had missed Saudamini. He mixed some potol and alu with rice and offered Saudamini the first morsels before he began to eat. Saudamini looked so wannable as a thin smile crossed her lips as she shyly said “I’m on fast today..”. Saudamini was barely fourteen when he had left her five years ago. He had bade her goodbye from a distance as he left her lying beside his mother, shining like a pearl in the moonlight. “How is Ma (mother)” he asked Saudamini. “She is at Pochas’s house at the other end of the village. They have a religious ceremony tonight. She will be back tomorrow.” Saudamini spoke in her typical sing song voice. “Baba… Where is he…?” Kalipada continued. Saudamini was silent, tears rolled down her cheeks. “He’s in the Sadar Hospital for three months now… Doctors say they don’t have much hope for him… he suffered a stroke.” Saudamini spoke between sobs. “Why did you leave us like that… why did you have to run away like that…” Saudamini had sobbed uncontrollably. Quickly finishing his food, Kalipada waited for Saudamini.


When Kalipada woke up the first rays of the morning sun filtered through the open doorway. He did not know when he had fallen asleep. Saudamini was tending the earthen stove near the kitchen. “Mohan kaka was here sometime ago. He got news from the city that they will bring Baba home this evening… The doctors have said the worst is over and he can go home now.” Kalipada had planned to go to the city by the morning train. Now that they were bringing him back, he would not go anywhere thought Kalipada. After refreshing himself with a cup of hot tea, he got back into the hut to fetch the bag of goodies he had brought from the City for his dear Saudamini. “Mini…” he called out lovingly as he held the makeup kit he bought for her from Kolkata. It contained a blush on, powder compact, a puff, a couple of lipsticks, two bottles of nail polish, two rolls of sleek ribbon, one black and the other red and a pencil eye liner. He remembered how he had haggled with the shop keeper when he had asked for two hundred rupees for the thin pencil like thing. Saudamini was awe struck as he held one thing after another which he had bought for his beautiful wife. He held her hands softly as he struggled to push the colorful bangles on to her arms. “You have learnt nothing about women…” Saudamini had giggled as she put on the bangles one after the other. The reflections of the suns rays from the bangles formed a twinkling silver tiara on her face. “Look, Bindis… they are for you… all of them... you may give Ma one strip…” He said smiling as his Mini sat beside him wide eyed. He had quickly taken one giant bindi off from the strip and applied it on her fore head. Mini had quickly covered her face seeing her reflection on the small mirror on the lid of the make up kit. “This is for you… this one for Ma and these for Baba…” Kalipada had kept saying as he pulled out one packet after the other from his air bag. Finally he pulled Mini into his arms and kissed her on her lips as she freed herself and shied into the hut.


The intimate touch of the female body sent waves of electricity through Kalipada. He had a distinct feeling that he was running fever as Mini felt so cold to the touch. Whatever it was Kalipada felt good. His mother had still not returned and in the hut it was only Mini and him and silence for company. Kalipada knew that once Ma would return he would not get any scope to get out of the house. Then they would bring Baba home, tying him up at home for the next few days. He took a quick bath and left for Neelmoni’s house promising to return home for lunch. Neelmoni lived on the other side of the railway station. Walking down the path he met a few acquaintances, but surprisingly very little beyond formal pleasantries were exchanged. It was around 9:30 am Kalipada reached Neelmoni’s house. Neelmoni’s house was at the farthest end of the village, but that day, something made it look unusual. The unkempt overgrowth of grass and plants around the hut made the place look deserted and haunted. Kalipada pushed the rickety gate and entered the courtyard. There was no sign of any one in the hut. “Neel…, Neel…” Kalipada had called out, but no one answered. Lying in one corner of the courtyard, he could see Neelmoni’s luggage. “So Neel was here, but where is he now… this place looks so untidy as if no one has been living here for ages… Neel boy must have gone to relieve himself…” Kalipada thought as he made himself comfortable on the raised platform in front of the hut.


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Posted on: Saturday , Jul 24, 2010 At 00:47 AM

The Homecoming (concluding Part)

The Home Coming (Concluding Part)

Kalipada must have been sitting there for about ten minutes thinking where the rest of the family was. Looking at the palm trees in the distance with the white clouds in contrast behind them, he thought they looked beautiful. After a while he heard a faint snore coming from inside the hut. Kalipada peeped inside to find Neelmoni sprawled in one corner of the room softly snoring with his mouth open. A big fat fly sat on the corner of his lips and kept rubbing his two limbs every time they touched his lips as if it were trying to wipe off the dirt from them every time they touched the white grime on the corner of his lips… Kalipada shook Neel awake… Neelmoni seemed to be reeling under some spell. His eyes were blood shot and listless. He did not seem to recognise Kalipada. Neel's body was burning. He had very high fever. “Neel hold on for a moment, I'll get some water... you are running high fever and you need a cold compress...” Kalipada left the room looking for water and a towel. After what seemed to last till eternity, Neelmoni’s temperature seemed to subside. Kalipada asked him to lie still. “why is no one around, tell me what happened to you last night... let me fetch a doctor for you...” Kalipada hastened towards the door. Neelmoni’s feeble voice stopped him at the door. “Wait, friend wait, they have already gone to fetch a doctor...”. “Who are they?” enquired Kalipada. Jhimli and Tarun. Jhimli was Neelmoni's wife and Tarun his brother in law. “Why have they left you alone like this?” Kalpada wanted to know. “No brother, I was not left alone... Jhimli was with me... Tarun left early in the morning to fetch the relatives from the other village where they had shifted after Ma passed away...”. Kalipada stood speechless as Neelmoni continued. “It was when the fever had increased that she had rushed to fetch the doctor... good you came by...” Neels voice was frail. “But, when I left you last evening you were alright buddy... what happened to you that you caught a fever by the morning...?”Kalipada had wanted to know.

“I don't recollect much” said Neelmoni. I remember walking down the path and then just as I was passing below the neem tree, I tripped over a root and fell down... then I reached my home and I was surprised to find it deserted...” Neelmoni continued. “then somebody called “who goes there...”from the darknes out side... a form appeared at the gate. It was Mohan Kaka... Mohan Kaka, its me Neelmoni... where is my family kaka... why is the house deserted?” Neel had aksed Mohan Kaka a village elder who was returning home and had come down to see who had tresspassed into Neels property when he heard movements inside. It was Mohan Kaka who had sent someone to Neelmoni's inlaws village to fetch them. “Alright I'll wait till they come.” Kalipada sat down beside Neelmoni. “Have you had anything since last evening?” Kalipada asked. “Should I get something from your bag?” he continued as he went outside to fetch Neel's belongings. As Kalipada rummaged through Neels bags, he could not find any eatables in them. The jingle of anklets at the gate announced Jhimli. She was carrying a couple of packets, the larger one containing beaten rice (Chidwa) and the smaller one containing medicines. “Maleria it is... the doctor says its there all around...” She stopped midway in her speech as she saw Kalipada in the room. Quickly covering her face with the end of her saree and with a quick hello on her lips, Jhimli vanished into the kitchen.

It was close to 2pm and Mini must be waiting for him, thought Kalipada as he bade his friend good bye. When Kalipada reached home, he found Mili dozing by the doorway. She had fallen asleep waiting for him. Kalipada had promised to have lunch together. Mini had put on the new Saree he had bought for her from Kolkata. He had gone wrong about the ready made blouse. It was a size too big for her. “Hmm, that will need some alteration...” Kalipada thaught as he quietly sat beside her admiring her beauty in her new attire. Though he wanted to caress her, he restrained himself from touching her in order to treat himself to some more moments of the natural beauty. A moment or two later as if driven by instinct, Mini opened her eyes. A smile traced her lips as she shyly asked Kalipada “How long have you been here... why did you not wake me?” “I've been waiting for you all afternoon... the food has also gone cold” she continued as she went into the kitchen. “I was treating my self to some rare beauty so, I did not feel like waking you” Kalipada had replied. “But honey, I want to remain awake as long as you are here, lest I lose you again... promise me you'll never leave me...” Mini's eyes turned into lakes of blue. Kalipada had held Mini's face in his palms and said “Honey, I'll take you with me whereever I go and I'll never leave you alone thats a promise”. Tears had rolled from Mini's eyes and down Kalipadas hands. Also with them the color of the eye liner had streaked down her cheeks. Kalipada quickly rushed inside to fetch a mirror so that Mini could see what had happened. They burst into peels of laughter... Kalipada’s mother had not returned that evening. She had gone to Sadar Hospital with Mohan Kaka to bring Baba home. Someone who had accompanied them had returned to tell them that they would be returning the next day. Kalipada and Mini made the best out of the evening discovering and knowing each other better. Kalipada had always wanted his Mini remain happy and those were some of the best moment he had ever shared with Mini. Little did he know that those would also be the last he would spend with Saudamini.

“Sir, next morning I woke up late as usual... Saudamini was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The eveing before had turned her from a carefree girl to a complete woman. And her looks were more mature than the last evening. My watch said it was 9 am.. late by all standards..” Kalipada continued with his tale as I began to have my fourteenth Kulfi. Saudamini announced that Baba was due home by the afternoon. Saudamini's Baba had sent a message that since Jamai (son in law) had come home, he would also reach their place by evening. So there was anticipation in the air. A little after mid day Kalipada's Baba came home surrounded by friends and relatives who had gone to fetch him. It looked like a marriage procession minus the band and music. Mini had cleaned the room and laid fresh sheets on the bed where Baba could rest after the tiring journey home. Ma had held Kalipada to her bossom, with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. We are a complete family now... “Now don't ever leave us to go to some far off place just to earn money... earn less but remain in the village... you don't know how we spent each day worring about you. Your Baba had a stroke worring about you...” she wept as she caressed his face. Kalipada touched her feet. Since Baba was lying on the bed, he had not touched his feet, but baba called him to his side and blessed him. On a corner of the room he found his Mini standing with her father. As Kalipada touched his feet, Saudamini's father told him that it was time to leave and that he would come a couple of days later to take Kalipada and Mini home to spend a couple of days with them. Nitai babu, Kalipada's father in law left soon after seeking Kalipada's Ma's permission to take the couple home to spend some time with them. Kalipada also felt happy that his Ma had granted the permission.

The next day saw more friends and relatives thronging Kalipada's house. This kept the whole family busy and on their toes. The ambiance was nothing less than that of a house where a wedding ceremony was to take place. But, the thought of Neelmoni's illness kept him distracted and Kalipada thought of visiting the village doctor and enquire about his health and if possible take him to Neel's place for a thorough check up. The old doctor looked up in surprise as Kalipada announced himself in. “Sit down my Son...” offered Kalipada a seat beside him... “Tell me when did you return and by the way where have you been all this while?” “This is not done my son, your Baba passed away grieving for you and as luck would have it, your Ma and your Lovely wife too followed suit succumbing to a strange illenss...” Kalipada sat speechless... he was too shocked to hear what the doctor had been saying. “But Doctor babu, that can't be true, I have been with Mini since the last two days. Baba came home yesterday. Ma was with him, so was my father in law and some friends and relatives too... this can't be many people in flesh and bones... oh my God, Doctor babu I hope you are not mistaking me for someone else... see this lipstick stain on my shirt... here these red marks, they are from Mini's lips... I'm sure you are mistaken Doctor Babu...” Kalipada was speechless again as the Doctor continued “Your Baba was admitted to the Sadar Hospital when he suffered a stroke. He was there for about three months. His condition had started to improve and he was discharged, however while returning home he suffered a second stroke which he could not survive...” Saying this he called out “Raakhal, take Kali to his home and show him its ruins...” B...but Doctor Babu I had come to enquire about Neelmoni. “Why, what happened to Neel...?” the doctor had asked. But Kalipada, stopped him in between “Didn't Jhimli come to you for medicines? You had said its Maleria...” Kalipada asked the doctor again. “Yes Jhimli and her brother died of maleria about two years ago. Neel's mother succumbed to the same disease your wife and Ma died of...” “And Mohan Kaka ?” Kalipada heard himself blurt out one name after another... and one name after another, the Doctor announced their demise. Kalipada was shattered, he could not believe what he was hearing.

As Kalipada came back to his senses, he rushed to Neelmoni's house. He had no time to wait for Raakhal. He found the gate open the same way he had left them two days ago. Neelmoni's bags were at the same place he had left them. The gamcha told that Neel was there when he had last met him. Marks of water and just two pairs of footprints on the dusty floor told him that the Neel and Kalipada were the only ones present in the room. Neel was no where to be seen... So they had taken Neel with them. It was like the end of the world for Kalipada. His thoughts raced as proceed homewards. Far in the horizon, in the moonlit landscape he could see the ruins of what used to be his house. “Sir, that night as I approached my home I had decided to accompany Mini when they came for me... I waited all night, but no one came, I lay there waiting for them under the sun, but no one came for me... in the courtyard lay strewn Mini's glass bangles. The contents of the make up kit lay strewn all over the place. While mini's saree was found on the branch of a tree some paces away, the packets containg clothes for Ma and Baba remained in one corner of the ruins.... Raakahal found me a day later, unconcious and severly dehydrated... The doctor told me that it was sheer luck that Raakhal had found me at the nick of time.. I was almost at the point of no return...” I could see tears well up Kalipada's eyes... “Sir you still think I am lucky to be alive....” The sombre mood was broken by the horn of the Seven Star and it was time for me to bid Kalipada good bye.

As we prepared to go our different ways, I asked Kalipada “the soul is something which can not be contained in a particular place, have you ever felt the presence of your Mini around you and in things you do?” “Yes Sir, I feel her around me and when she is around, my kulfi's taste the best...” Kalipada eyes glittered as he smiled... “Keep this smile on your face, Mini will be happy... next time you meet her, tell her I loved her kulfis... also tell her I have my roots from the same village, so in a way I am her brother in law” I fished out a 500 Rupees note and handed it to Kalipada for the 20 odd kulfis I had taken from him. He would not accept the money... “No Sir, how can I take any money from the Morols family...” he kept saying... “Ok then this is from a friend...” and I thrust the note into his pocket. Kalipada was visibly moved as our boat proceed to our next destination...

Viper Island.

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