May 22, 2024

The Scoop India

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There was no ghost but hunger ! Story

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Rajeev Choudhary

Don’t know why he was born and why he died! If I don’t know the reason for birth then why should I ask the reason for death today? People were talking about all kinds of things. Someone was saying the man was good. So someone was saying, he was knowledgeable and remained engaged in service all his life. He was concerned about everyone and was involved in everyone’s happiness and sorrow. Listening to the people talking, it seemed as if the deceased was in the court of God and all of them were his witnesses. The hearse had not woken up yet.

 The one who was counted among humans till this morning was now a corpse. People’s faces were calm. The crowd of living people was neither less nor much. Some were his family members and some were his distant relatives. Some people had come after seeing the crowd. So they were passing time under the pretext of expressing some condolences. Someone was saying that life is nothing. So someone was saying, life is like a bubble of water, you never know when it will burst and the vital air will come out. The entire living crowd was in a philosophical mood. As if a major decision on life and death was to be made today! There was a strange kind of peace on everyone’s faces! As if he has conquered death. Well, I was also part of the crowd. Just then a couple of voices came from the crowd, Hey brothers! Now don’t delay, hurry up… Everyone agreed. Perhaps some were in a hurry to go home while others were afraid that he might come alive again and ask for something. Then four people came forward, picked up the bier and reached the cremation ground with fast steps. The last rites took place and then people started returning to their homes with double the speed. Those who were talking about life and death a while back were now talking about their survival while returning.

I was free. He sat there and started looking at the burning pyre. Whose funeral pyre I was looking at. Once upon a time its name was Banda Bhagat. He had inherited from his father a kutcha house and some accomplishment in exorcising ghosts; he neither added nor subtracted anything from that inheritance. Children would often run in front of his house and say that many ghosts and spirits are imprisoned in Bhagat’s house, the day he will release them, disaster will befall the village. But no one knew that the real disaster was living in his house in the name of hunger. Whenever he got something to eat, he would eat it, otherwise he would lie down on a cot under the Neem tree and keep humming – Yoo Beran, hunger is very smart, run away from anyone who has food to eat in his house.. If there is nothing at home, then this Beran would beat him. Hunger is very smart…

Sometimes I would dare to go inside his house and see the ghosts. I never saw any ghosts but I saw his poverty many times. In his house there was a broken charkha, a couple of earthen and silver utensils, a silbatta and a broken pipe hookah. This was his property and he showed no laxity in guarding it. If he went out somewhere, this work would be done by his ferocious dog Sheru. Bhagat was a much more contented person than Bhagat, his dog Sheru. Sometimes I would dare to talk to him but I had nothing to say, still I would ask. Leta Baba, the hookah pipe is broken – why don’t you bring a new one? Then, covering his poverty with a unique smile, he says that the pleasure of smoking hookah from a broken pipe is unique. Hearing this, I would have been happy that at least he talked to me, otherwise I was also aware of his poverty-stricken smile. Then I would tell all these things to the children of my age that I had gone to Bhagat’s house today, some of them would run away after hearing this but some would praise me for my courage.

I don’t remember that time! But I have been hearing that Bhagat also had a wife who was no more in this world. It is said that when she was pregnant, she used to be very ill and rarely came out of the house. If Bhagat had got one or two rupees from somewhere, he would have given her medicine or alcohol, otherwise he would have given her a dose of consolation with the water of tears and said, Everything will be all right. Gradually time passed and the day of delivery approached and one night she groaned with pain. Bhagat ran to the midwife but could not find her in her house. She had gone to the neighboring village. Bhagat called out to one or two neighboring women but they did not come due to the fear that Bhagat’s house was haunted by a ghost. Bhagat kept shouting that his house is not haunted by ghosts, but by hunger and poverty. But no one heard Bhagat’s screams. As the labor pain increased, she groaned in pain and calmed down. It is said that after delivery, not only is the child born, but the mother is also born again. But something else had to happen here.

By  the time Bhagat came back, both of their lives were at stake. The house in which the sounds of new life were about to resound! Now there was mourning in that house. Bhagat himself would cry and control himself; all the dreams he had had about having a child had vanished. The false ghost business he used to deceive people. Today that very business has consumed his family. Sometimes he curses himself, sometimes his work and sometimes the society.

Suddenly I came out of the mirror of the past due to the sound of dog barking. Saw that only a few farmers were in their fields. The birds were returning to their nests. The flames of Bhagat’s funeral pyre had turned that body into dust. While walking, I called out to his dog Sheru, but Sheru whined and wagged his tail, as if he was telling me that I am a slave of the society of which you are the master. You may be a human being but we have more compassion within us. You express your condolences for selfishness but we for service, you being a human being have forgotten your dharma but we animals follow our dharma till our death. While walking, I again started thinking, why are we born and why do we die?… Rajeev Choudhary

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