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Aurobindo Patra

Drama


3.2  

Aurobindo Patra

Drama


Living Tigress Life

Living Tigress Life

30 mins 164 30 mins 164

Two years of probation in State Bank of India ended on 31st July 1999 and I was expecting my posting as a permanent officer. I had to wait little longer. It was only during 2nd week of April 2000, in an emotion-filled staff meeting at Sambalpur, Main Branch, on Saturday evening I was handed transfer order with instructions to report to Zonal Office, Berhampur for my subsequent posting.

 

I travelled by bus from Sambalpur to Berhampur via Bhubaneswar, the capital city. I have a special attraction for the city, which has witnessed my becoming adolescent and mine witnessing the city growing in stature, as a prominent educational hub for Eastern India. Hardly had I miss a chance for an over-night stop over at our Officers’ transit house or a past mid-night sudden dropping at my childhood friend Pinaki’s home.

 

After arranging for stay in a hotel at Berhampur, a small seacoast town, reported to HR Department and was exalted to find Mr. Kirtan Kanjia working as desk officer in HR Department. The gentleman was transferred from Sambalpur, Main Branch some couple of months back and shared a good vibe.

 

I was welcomed with his trademark wide grin, raised right cheek with right eye almost shut, and a warm handshake followed by a hot cup of tea, customary at controlling offices to start a day as there are no customers, demanding a quick response, making one to be one toes while at branch. In between trivial chitchatting, Shri Kanjia put forth “Have you ever been to Berhampur? What will be your choice for posting?”

 

With nod of head, “Yes ... I was posted at Aska ADB (Agricultural Development Banking) for about three-four months during probation for Agricultural training. But ever since I read in school days about, Daringbadi being referred as Kashmir of Odisha, knowing Kashmir the Heaven on Earth, the place has fascinated and allured me often to have a visit.”


Further continued, “For a posting at Daringbadi, I would die!”


“You will die, for sure! ... ... I know People returning from Kashmir alive ... but ... from Daringbadi ...”


I muttered with sprawling eyes, “Did my friend pick me correctly?”

 

“Have you gone mad? Uttered to me repeat to none nevertheless! The place lacks road connectivity, no trains and other infrastructures. Above all the place is affected by chronic Malaria. It is said doctors start treatment, administering Quinine drip, at slightest fever...” retorted Shri Kanjia until I interrupted, “I didn’t know all this! But why then it is said Kashmir of Odisha?”

 

He drew his mouth at my ear and hissed, “Don’t ask me ... rather ask the text book writers. Not sure if it’s Kashmir but have no doubts being Malaria Death Valley of Odisha!”

 

I managed to return, “Have you ever been to Daringbadi?”

 

“Textbook of our time didn’t mention on similar pretext!”


Further hissed, drawing his mouth further closer at my ears with a low tone “By the time our children were made to read the same in their text book, I had often heard the darker side ...” ensuring the officer next table doesn’t listen.


Giggling left others clueless of what was cooked in between.

 

Being the reporting day, had the liberty of leaving office early, post-lunch and as per Shri Kanjia’s advice managed to find a bus to Gopalpur sea beach, always fascinates a guy, hailing from Keonjhar, full of jungles and mountains.

 

The beach lacked major infrastructure for tourist but still had many enjoying bathing near shore. I roamed here and there, enjoying songs from my walk-man. Being a born glutton, could not abstain myself savoring seafood from roadside stalls.

 

I was enjoying the dancing boats deep in the sea, the waves toppling few sea adventurers that made them spitting swallowed salty water and at the next moment getting ready to pave their way deep into the sea to be completely run-down by another big wave, throwing them out on the wet sand, bang on their hips.

 

With maturing of dusk into more darkness, few were left bathing in the sea. The wind started to blow more violently making the waves traversing longer dance even touching the cemented platform, more frequently, where I was sitting idle along with few others, gossiping and chit-chatting among themselves.


I collected few fresh floating marigold flowers and started silently murmuring “Daringbadi ... Yes” and plucking a petal then “Daringbadi ... No” and throwing into the water that danced a little before a receding wave trounced them dip into the sea. With every flower I ended up plucking the last petal with “Daringbadi ... Yes” made an unknown happiness tickling me.

 

Recalled, finding difficulty in getting a return bus at late hours of evening during previous visit, while was at Aska during probation. Didn’t dare to continue further, listening to the songs of dancing waves of the Bay of Bengal and humming of the breezy wind, often carrying with it mini sand particles causing numerous pricks on face. I strolled towards bus stand and managed to reach Berhampur in another hour. The evening seafood was more than enough to skip dinner. Had enough time to visit a nearby cinema hall and was fortunate enough to have a ticket for night’s last show.

 

Thinly occupied balcony, as if it were a chartered movie show, I did not enjoy the movie at all, even do not recall its name. My chances for a posting at Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha seemed slipping away like an infant picking palm-full fried-rice, ends up having few traces into mouth. If at all, words of Shri Kanjia to be believed whom I did not doubt being a well-wisher!

 

Sudden lighting of the balcony area at interval distracted me from my unknown thought and made me to run eyes around with a pain at losing a lifetime opportunity for a posting at Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha. Something caught my attention and sooner the pain transformed to joy and I shouted “Sutar!”

 

Sudhanshu Sutar one of high school mate and long standing good friend was among the few spectators, standing at one corner, doing some stretch to wipe out the fatigue of that boring movie.

 

It was time to shake hands and cuddle each other. Separated since 1988, the year we left school for colleges in different institutions to pursue +2 Science and then my Engineering and his Science stream. There was warmth of 12 years separation in our shaking of hands and embraces.

 

As we both shared the same weariness about the movie, decided to leave and took a rickshaw to his bachelor’s den. Do not remember if at all we took dinner but we talked whole night about our school days, college days and friends. About those who were in contact and those went untraceable. We both exchanged details about our about our parents’ health and our details of our siblings.

 

“I think you are crippled with something else, sometimes talking irrelevant!” from Sutar made me to describe the whole matter, off and around Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha and my pain and anguish at missing a chance for posting there.

 

My friend put forth, “Ok. May be your well-wisher correct but what about Keonjhar, your home district? I think it is nonetheless have malaria problems of equal magnitude then why your father preferred shifting back from Bhubaneswar after his voluntary retirement?


It’s wrong to refer a place as Malaria Death Valley!”

 

His words made me to re-impose my faith on primary school day’s textbook line “Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha!”

 

He further continued, “Being a bachelor, you are in dilemma for a posting at Daringbadi but imagine about the people residing and outsiders posted there. Don’t miss a chance of life time opportunity in following your dream, posting at Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha” with a smile.

 

My friend’s words made me recall my sole morning at Kodaikanal along with my friends during summer 1999, as probationer. We managed to chip in between consecutive holidays while we were at Chennai for a month’s training.

 

After reaching late that evening, could not sleep whole night. The painter inside, of course a worst one, started drawing probable landscapes of Kodaikanal, joining the missing lines that the darkness hid during our journey round the mountains and sometimes the clouds.

 

Left bed early in the morning to have a walk but had to run back from the main gate as the chill in the air, at middle of summer made me shiver uncontrollably. The indomitable warrior inside was not be defeated that easily. I went out, draped in a blanket. My friends’ laughing at my attire did not stop mine taking a morning walk.

 

The picturesque landscape with greenery wherever eyes go, colorful roof tops peeping out of the sailing clouds at the nearby mountain, unfathomable suicide point that buries one’s shouting unlike the other places of Kodaikanal where it echoes. Crystal-clear blue lakes and most unforgettable, the gigantic trees piercing the over-head low-height cloud. Three-four friends joining hands was not enough to contour. All such scenes rolled in front of my eyes and I was enthralled to step into Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha.

 

That night my friend rekindled the desire to go for a posting at Daringbadi, succumbed a pre mature death at the words of Shri Kanjia, my well-wisher.


At morning reached office little early and was waiting for arrival of Shri Kanjia, who was dot on time as usual. He started point-blank counselling and with intermittent buzzing at my ears about vacancies at Charichhaka, Dasapalla and Phulbani. All these places are well connected to Bhubaneswar and are far better options for a posting there at.

 

My elderly colleague whispering, drawing his mouth closure at my ears, by bits and pieces, abrogated the previous night deliberations with my schoolmate. Daringbadi, the Kashmir of Odisha was marred with Daringbadi, the Malaria Death Valley.

 

I nodded my head in appreciation for his concern about my well-being while sipping the wonted morning tea, to begin another hectic day at controlling office. In an hour, I was summoned by the DGM.

 

Seeking permission to get into his huge cabin, from the half-opened door, offered my Namaskar. 


The gentleman greeted me, “Welcome young man!”


Dropping his head into some papers, spread on the table in front, with spectacles over forehead, he swayed his palm for my taking a seat. After a brief silence, he asked about my educational background and my previous postings during last 2 years of probation. He also asked about my family members.


Still looking into the paper, spread on the table, continued “What will be your choice of posting?” made me stunned as if I was proffered the question of my life.


“Daringbadi” I uttered with a bated heart and trembling of voice.


The gentleman looking at my face purred “Come again!”


“Sir, I would like to go for a posting at Daringbadi.”


The man was at his verge of retirement, sprang from his cosy seat, behind a wide table that was spread between us, extended his hand for a shake. Holding my palm firmly with his both, took all the pain in walking around the table, hugged me thundered, “That’s it young man! Days of banking with adventures are waiting for you, the picturesque Daringbadi. Hope you will enjoy your stay there! Go and give your best!”

 

Slipped out of DGM’s chamber with chest spread wide but finding Mr. Kanjia, eagerly waiting for updates of one-to-one meeting with DGM, the soldier inside, decimated.


My divulging about seeking a posting at Daringbadi, annoyed my well-wisher. Hissed at my ears with visible disgust, the famous Berhampuria slang and continued “… Sandha ku Bhagabata …(Enchanting holy verse to Bull ... An Odia proverb used for turning a deafen ear).


Nevertheless, next moment appreciated my courage despite his reprimanding not to go for a posting at Daringbadi, the Malaria Death Valley.


Shri Kanjia insisted for payment of our lunch bill at the canteen and briefed me about the bus route to Daringbadi and cautioned me about do’s and don’ts, once I step at Daringbadi. He specifically stressed on the only panacea against Malaria, drinking boiled water.


In an hour, he handed over a letter, my posting at Daringbadi. I left office well before schedule time and went to hotel for my final pack up. Thereafter went to bus stand to book my ticket for the journey, next day.


Being a late riser booked ticket in a bus with scheduled departure the following noon.

 

After Aska town, the bus traversing pothole-filled, serpentine single road reached Suroda. A scheduled half an hour break for passengers to have lunch, I stepped into a hotel being fascinated at its signboard “Nana Hotel. (Elder Brother’s Hotel.)

 

Spreading a big leaf plate on the dining table, a small boy splashed little water on the plate and I followed his instructions in wiping the water droplets with my palm to clean it. Berhampuri aged-fine-rice served followed by another small boy with bucket, who told me to make pool in the middle of the rice so that he can pour Dalma(An aromatic Odia mixed-vegetable cooked with lintels).

 

India is the country of diversity and it is said that language and food differs in every 50 kilometre and I was 400 kilometres away from Keonjhar, my hometown. Obvious, the fragrance of Dalma was unique. But my maneuver, to stop it spilling out of the rice pool and running up to the edge of the wide leaf plate, hanging down at both the edges of the table, was not enough. With an instinct, being raw Odia, plucked a palm full into mouth. The taste matched to the flavor in the air.


Another boy came with a bucket of tomato khata (Odia sour dish of tomato with fried curry leaf), on my request provided me another leaf bowl and poured it full, as I was still fighting to stop the spilling Dalma. The combination was breathtaking. I enjoyed a stomach full along with a papad and fried vegetable dipped in Gram flour batter.

 

Something caught my attention, my neighboring gourmets making a sound while sipping palm-full Tomato Khata.

 

Did not know, if enjoyed satiating a delayed afternoon hunger or was mesmerized by the aroma in the air and the sipping sound in plenty, around! Nevertheless, the experience was simply nostalgic!

 

The bus rolled ahead and reached the foot hill of Gajalbadi Range. A woman boarded in the jam- packed bus and managed to find her way up to where I was sitting.

 

Finding her toppling often at the sudden jerks on potholes, offered my seat and stood beside her, clinging firmly to the rod on her seat and other onto the overhead steel bar.

 

As the bus started traversing on the circuitous terrain of the Gajalbadi Range, I became restless as the side windows were at much lower height. The only side from which I could peep outside was visible mountain sliced, for the road on which the bus was rolling.

 

I had to bend often to look up the windows to see the world outside that was leading me to Daringbadi, Kashmir of Odisha.

 

I spotted inter mingled bamboo bushes but there were no gigantic trees as that of Kodaiknal as I was expecting. My intermittent dropping head to look through the side window made the woman whom I offered my seat, annoyed and she gave me a hard stare. I did not dare to repeat further and vital part of the landscape, running in the reverse direction of that rolling bus, concealed. Those I could see standing seemed trivial.

 

Bus entering Daringbadi prompted the conductor inquiring about my final destination and I requested for a drop near State Bank of India Branch.

 

The bus rolled passed the Branch, the signed board was visible on the left. However, it did not stop, as there was a huge gathering. Somehow, the bus managed to pave its way up to the next stoppage. The helper was generous enough to climb rooftop and dropped my luggage.

 

I waited few minutes for a rickshaw but one person told about their non-availability. However, chances are there my find a trolley rickshaw puller, if I were lucky enough!

 

Walking few steps with my luggage reached a point where from four sinuous roads emanated, going deeper down in all the directions made me realize why there were no man-driven rickshaws. My spotting pig cubs in large numbers was more than enough to assess about the economic status of the general people and why finding rickshaw or auto rickshaw was next to impossible.

 

I strolled few more steps, crossed the square and stepped into a small hotel with white asbestos. Coating of black ash on the roof and wall made the interior darker than dusk outside.

 

I took a seat at the edge of a narrow wooden bench with its legs of wooden logs fixed firmly into the floor. I asked for a cold drink. Offered as asked but it was not cold at all. The owner expressed about the area being under power cut since last 3 days and it might take few more days for its restoration.

 

Telling about my being the new Field Officer of State Bank of India, he did not accept money for the cold drink that was not cold at all. After my insisting, the man accepted and was generous enough in finding a trolley rickshaw and helped me in loading my luggage.

 

Thanking the man, I followed the trolley on a declining road emanating from the square. Both the sides of the road had asbestos, tin and tile roofed shops, scantly lit by a Kerosene lamp, as it was dusk around. It was difficult to guess the items the shops might be selling. I was finding difficulty in matching the rolling trolley and had to run a few steps at interval.

 

Dusk was about to be overtaken by darkness of my first evening at Daringbadi. A young man painted in black from head to toe with a foot long artificial red tongue, curly hairs from a wig scattered up to his chest, eyes contoured with red and artificial cotton shagging breast up to his naval, followed by a huge procession interrupted my way just in front of the branch building.

 

The replica of the deity was swirling her head clock and anti-clock wise, in rhythm to the music from the following procession at such a speed that would cause twirling to any spectator. I did not stand a chance, with an urbane upbringing!

 

The ferocious sight of the deity astounded me, offered my humble reverence, folding both palms. As signaled by the trolley puller donated a hundred rupees note without delaying a further second.

 

The deity and the procession with sounds of Conch, Manzira and Mridang scaled up the road, leaving me untouched and unmoved for few more seconds.

 

I was welcomed by Mr. Rabindranath Sahoo, Branch Manager, a gentleman from core of his heart and other staffs. Two three blazing filament kerosene lamps hanging from roof with black dark circles right above in the roof I could guess about the frequent power cuts. The Branch premises, though a smaller one but appeared sufficient to cater the needs of the local public despite being a sole Public Sector Bank.

 

My first impression, Daringbadi is a neglected place though referred as Kashmir of Odisha.

 

Shri Sahoo generously offered for a stay at his residence until arrangement of suitable measure. One fellow colleague Mr. Nanda finalised a house for my stay and within next couple of days I swiftly shifted to a one-room house where I spent my one and half year stay at Daringbadi, the Kashmir of Odisha.

 

Before spending the first night in my one-room house, one staff Mr. Rabi Padhi helped me in purchasing four wall-mount kerosene lamps and fixing them to the four walls. Within first week, I had already purchased 5-6 torches of various sizes as I forgot to recall where I left the previous one after use. Two of them were always appearing in my shirt pocket along with Blue and Red pens, trademark of a Banker.

 

One gentleman namely Mr. Chakra provided half a bottle of kerosene who had also played a major role in finalizing the house for rent along with my colleague Mr. Nanda and both continue to be good friends.

 

The very next morning I had no choice than to purchase a Philips make Jawan FM Radio as power restoration was expected to take few more days and I had enough time to pass in seclusion as I was yet to be accustomed to the new environment of frequent torrential rain.

 

Those initial days of Daringbadi made me to realize how hapless one becomes at power-cut, spread over weeks together. Alas! My country has numerous such under privileged God’s own land, deprived of bare minimum infrastructure! Hardly had we think about them!

 

There was no luxury of Electricity, TV, Telephone, Shopping Mall or Movie Theater. The newly purchased radio became a part and parcel of my life at my free hours, loads I had!

 

Famous Hollywood song “Ye kahan...aa’a gaye hum...(Where we reached…)” sung by legendry Lata’ji with intermittent dialogue drops “Main ... or meri tanhai...(Me…and my loneliness)” by legendary Amitabh Bachchan, played on the radio made me to have eyes moistened.

 

It was the first Sunday evening at Daringbadi that I lazily switched on the radio and tuned to Berhampur FM station. The anchor told about start of story time and handed over the baton to one gentleman who started narrating a story in Odia. From sibilating each word with a vibrating tone, could easily make out his being in his early seventies, with loss of few front teeth. Whatever reminiscent of the story, heard in April-2000, more than 18 years ago, goes as follows:

 

Dearest Nibedita,

 

After your father gave his final verdict for my finding a suitable job to be eligible to ask for your hand, made me to leave your home without waiting for you, saying an adieu, as you went inside for preparing tea or something, I don’t recall.

 

As promised, to return only after full filling your father’s conditions, I did not step into your home. What prevented you from visiting my single bedroom home at Baramunda? It’s not only my home with scattered furniture but shrine of two lovers. The walls and furniture are the silent witness to the good times we spent holding each other’s palm tightly, dreaming about our future.

 

Weeks passed, passed months and it has been more than 6 months but not a single night passed meeting you in my dreams. At this juncture, must admit your presence is highly solicited, a glimpse of your sweet face made me to garner strength to take the world by my stride like Alexander, the Great!

 

One thing is haunting me since last few days and ‘am undecided, whether to narrate to or not, more I conceal, becomes unbearable. If you would have visited our shrine of love I would have whispered at your ears, patting your head, buried in my chest.

 

After waiting for days for your arrival, finally I dared to write this letter. If you have faith in my love and ability in meeting your father’s conditions and you believe that one day, I will come with procession to marry.


Nevertheless, do not stop until last line of this letter!

 

After hearing conditions from your father, for marrying you, I left your home with determination to leave no stone unturned in finding a job. Every try made me to appear the final interviews, selected over written exams. Nevertheless, I ended up losing the job to a lesser capable due to nepotism, boss’s brother-in-law or a minister’s distance relative.

 

However, I was not at all disheartened as the glimpse of your blinking eyes with smile spread over your pink lips made me prepare more vigorously for next job hunt.

 

One afternoon I appeared an interview near Nandankanan with the same consequence but assuring words of the interviewer, “Might be a more coveted job is awaiting your footsteps!” made me to stroll towards Nandankan Zoo.

 

Purchased a ticket and a pack of peanuts from a roadside hawker and made myself easy at one corner of the zoo, peeling peanuts, started chewing with thoughts of an obscured future.

 

Did not know how much time passed there, neither I had intentions to look at my watch nor had the strength to peep into the surroundings, I was completely engrossed dreaming our future.

 

Suddenly I felt a heavy palm on my right shoulder that made me to look up innocently and witnessed a sturdy person behind, purring, “The zoo is closed now. You must leave …” made me dragged from the murky future to the present.

 

I managed to respond at a very low pitch, “Sorry Sir! Somehow, I lost the sense of timing, drowned in the uncertain future! Don’t worry, I will leave soon without delay …” and was busy assembling my possessions.

 

“Are you searching job? Would you like to work for us? The job I am referring might not be up to your expectations, matching qualifications but will be challenging enough, if at all, you accept!”

 

The words made me to nod my head humming, “Yes Sir ... that is what I need most now!”

 

“Follow me!” made me to follow him like a mesmerized kid following an unknown with greed of chocolate.

 

Led to one corner of the zoo, stopped near a cage and pointed his index where it was written in bold letters “White Tigress” made me clueless, to what he was referring at!

 

“This is the cage of a white tigress, the most popular animal of our zoo, rarest of the rare, being affectionate specially, to the kids. She used to somersault in the air to catch peanuts thrown at her by the kids. She used to frown at them and sometimes hustle in at the kids from a distance, with wide opened jaw making the tiny visitors shiver and buried completely into their mothers’ arm and the most crowd puller and proud of our zoo.”

 

“Unfortunately she died a week’s back!”


The empty cage since then had lessened the number of kids visiting and their accompanying parents that resulted, a swindling of collections. Her death has become a question of survival of the zoo!”


Continued listening with all attentions to the gentleman’s lengthy dialogues without having a hint how all those have any reference to my job!”

 

“After death we have taken out the skin and preserved it properly!”

 

I was hearing with un-blinked eyes, ears raised but was failing to make out how all these have any relevance to have life’s first job.

 

“If you agree, then you will be trained to act like a tigress, wearing the preserved skin. You will be paid for Living Tigress Life. You will be paid bonus if collection goes up, in addition to your fixed daily wages …” words of the gentleman made me awestruck with my mouth wide open to believe what I was listening.


Self-pricking made me shriek, “Ah...a...a...”

 

“Yes Sir! I am ready to step into the tigress skin, to Live Tigress Life!” was the only possible answer that evening on my part as nothing in this world can be more painful than loosing you Nibedita, love of my life.

 

After a month’s strenuous training of somersault, catching peanuts, frowning like Tigress with jaws wide open and other instincts of a Tigress, the day arrived when I was made to wear the Tigress skin and was made to walk into the cage, which was home to a real Tigress some couple of months back. Needless to say, hours before selling of first ticket at the counter, near entry gate.

 

Initially I injured myself while pouncing like tigress, I had endured unbearable pain in moving on my arms and legs but in a matter of week’s persistent effort I mastered running like a Tigress, somersaulting to catch peanuts thrown at me and my sudden frowning with jaws wide open made the kids disappear into their mothers’ arm with quiver.

 

As per authorities, Nandankanan Zoo has regained its lost glory in having the kid visitors back along with their parents. My boss is happy with my progress in my Living Tigress Life and I am assured of bonus from next month onward. The senior authorities are so happy that they have assured a salary hike after six months with guaranteed promotion.

 

At this point, I must add an interesting fact that the cage next to me is home to a male ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger and there is a common door with iron latch, used by the attendant to serve our food.

 

Imagining, the common door left unlatched for the male Royal Bengal Tiger, high with pheromone, pouncing on me, mistaking as white tigress, runs a tremor in my spine. I avoid my eyes meeting the staring eyes of the ferocious tiger. However, he watches each and every activity of mine, minutely.

 

I bury myself for hours, if the male tiger was in with love with the tigress or was envious off her popularity. In every circumstance I was assured of wrecking consequence, if at all the common door is left unlatched.

 

Devastating outcome at the attendant leaving the common door unlatched, inadvertently, made to wake up from my mid night slumber, perspiring.


Day before yesterday, I had few kids with their parents near my cage. I exhibited my famous somersault in air few times to catch the peanuts thrown by the kids. I jumped into the water-pool, completely drenched, pounced at the kids with my jaws wide open, making the accumulated water droplets sprayed at the little fans of mine, made them almost hiding deep into their mothers’ arm, with a tremor.

 

Sudden unlatching sound of outside rusted iron latch caught my attention. The attendant, with cover-up of a gunman, at distance pointing a gun at me, stepped into my cage putting back the iron latch. The man placed my day’s free food in my shed, made for my taking shelter from the piercing sun overhead.

 

Which visitors presume a raw flesh of a goat is actually, dripping with red blood are well-cooked rear leg of a goat, dipped in red chilly sauce.

 

The attendant unlatched the outer door, went outside and picked up with two hands a bigger piece of flesh over his back, dripping with fresh blood and fluid, making his synthetic aprons red, stepped into my cage, putting the latch back.

 

The attendant unlatched the common door that separates me from the male Royal Bengal Tiger. The smell of raw flesh and blood made the visitors taking a step back. However, my days at zoo made me accustomed to all these and above all I was dying with hunger. I heard the attendant putting my latch back and leaving the place along with the gunman, riding the food jeep with its engine put to full throttle.

 

It appeared to me as if there was something unusual took place that afternoon. I tried to recall the whole day activity one by one. My food exhausted but could not pin point that something which was making me restless.

 

Sooner I had few more visitors just in front of my cage and I had to step out of my den for their entertaining. I somersaulted, frowned, climbed up the iron cage making a shiver running their spine with release of groan but I was haunted with some unforeseen mishap but was not sure what exactly that might be.

 

A big siren in the air told about our reaching closing hours of the day. The kids were dragged away from my cage with reluctance, my glowering at their waving hands made them to run ahead of their parents.

 

A sudden blow of breeze made clanking sound followed by a big noise of an iron structure hitting another.

 

Running eyes around, in no time found that the common door between the two cages hit a side of the neighboring cage, blown by a sudden evening gust. I ran rewinding the sequences since the attendant opened the common latch then I recalled that the man had forgotten putting back the latch of the common door. He left only putting my latch.

 

Missing sound of re-latching of the common gate was disturbing me since the moment I was busy enjoying my free food. The attendant left committing a blunder, leaving me vulnerable to a carnivore next cage.

 

I threw a cautious stare around, finding no more visitors, neither was visible the male Royal Bengal Tiger at the neighboring cage. With an impulse of a tigress, pressing paws, stealthy moved towards the common gate that was still open. The arm of the gate was at an arm’s length that the two scintillating balls appeared moving out of the neighboring shed. There was enough light in the air to view the carnivore sprinting towards the common passage with jaw wide open, canine teeth flashing like shining blade.

 

My extended right forearm clutched the handle of the common door. Before I could put it back, on the face of the fast approaching carnivore, with a long leap it swooped on me with both forearms tightly clutching at my neck.

 

Handle of the iron-gate slipped out of my palm and flung away, violently hitting the side cage that made other neighboring animals shouting in unison and birds fluttering in their respective cages. The yelling monkeys and the surrounding noise of that evening, as if cheering for a battle, about to begin.

 

The flying beast gripping my neck tightly with forearms made me topple and we both flung a furlong in the air with both my eyes shut.

 

The radio going dumb with hissing sound made me to jump out of bed at lightning speed and patted the radio few times and adjusted the aerial but without any result except a humming sound.

 

In those few minutes of complete silence, a sudden spouting of air from the skylight made the flickering of the flames from the four lamps on the wall, fierce. As if fomenting the writer inside to weave further…

 

Tumbling and twirling few more times before touching ground, clasping the carnivore tightly, I had the last cry of my life, “Oh God! Please somebody save me!”

 

I was waiting for the inevitable that I dreamed often with profuse sweating that the image of your smiling face and twinkling eyes ran frame by frame as I was getting short of breath with the strong embrace of that carnivore, gagging my neck and growling at ears.

 

The beast hitting violently on left face made my head bang on the ground. With closed eyes was waiting for the nightmare that haunted me since long, to become a reality in that maturing darkness of the evening at Nandankanan Zoo with other animals still cheering for my fighting back.

 

The carnivore on my top, I was lying still, waiting for the inevitable, recalling famous one-liner, “What will minutely do if a tiger comes?” Apt response, “Nothing! Whatever to be done would be done by the tiger itself!”

 

“No…No… Might be I am off track from the story teller!”

 

I suddenly questioned myself, “How come … that can be?“

 

“Simple … The story teller is reading a letter, written for Nibedita by the boy, name not uttered yet!”

 

Suddenly the radio started babbling and the storyteller came live. The storyteller was clearly audible…

 

A sudden hissing, “Shss...Shss...” made me to open my eyes and look around but there was none at my rescue.

 

Heard “Chop ... To chakiri ta jiba ... Mo chakiri bi khaibu... (Quite ... Else, you will lose job ...So do I ...)” followed by another severe blow on my right face that made me realise that the Royal Bengal Tiger was rumbling human words at my ears.

 

“What is your qualification?” from the Royal Bengal Tiger made me to manage a mellow “MA in Political Science!”

 

As we settled after jumbling and twirling, the other beast continued, “Oh... I did MA in Economics.”

 

He further continued, “I have heard, there are some Political Science Crocodiles, LLB & LLM Hippos, Chartered Accountant Panthers, Engineer Lions and Doctor Rhinos. You are lucky to have a coveted post with your educational background!”

 

We neighbors gossiped, with our common passage door still making little noise at its intermittent hitting the other barricade at sudden evening breeze, for about half an hour. We became good friends thereafter.

 

After days of suffering in keeping the untold truth, that may seem fantasy to you, today I feel relieved a lot.

 

Yes … Now I can say …

 

Having a job and capable of providing all the humdrum, your father conditioned, leave it up to you in allowing me to approach your father for your hand, to marry with. Nevertheless, I will never force upon to yield in the name of love. Being an educated and matured, are well capable of taking your own decision to have me as your life partner or not.

 

Even if, you decide not to marry me, I am not that type of a person to run to a chemist, to have an acid bottle and to wait for a time at wee hours of evening to splash at your face.

 

Your twinkling eyes and smiling face … … has always given me internal strength in fighting the world outside.

 

Choosing me or not will leave my love for you untouched, unblemished, flawless and eternal. You will always be an unforgettable part of my life and I would cherish to my last breath recalling the moments we spend together, clutching each other’s palm at my one bedroom house at Baramunda.

 

You may succeed in hiding the same from others but not to a mirror!

 

Nevertheless, I am sure, the days are not far off that society will accept us as professionals, sacrosanct and my friends will have marriage proposals from beautiful girls of well to do family with high social standings.

 

Take your own time but reply me, for sure.

 

Your’s ever lovingly,

 

Pranaya.


 [ I have always been vociferous about my faith in ghost stronger than God and Darkness being my greatest fear. I can’t take away the credit from Daringbadi, with its initial days of total electrical blackout and subsequent intermittent power disruption for days together, helped me to overcome both the dreadful.

 

Pulling a grass between index and thumb in a winter morning made me collect little ice granules on the edge of nails. I had witnessed the pricking summer noon becoming an afternoon of severe hailstorm of massive hails capable of crushing one’s head in spite of helmets. Soothing summer days of Daringbadi made me to forget to repair a newly purchased ceiling fan until I got back to Keonjhar. 

 

Daringbabi made me awestruck in witnessing the Jackfruit plant running atop into the sky among the Silver Oak trees in a Coffee Plantation. The Jack Fruits looked like tiny wood apple from ground. Thousand fireflies making a silhouette of a plant of their taking rest in the darkest nights. Not sure, whether Daringbadi is Kashmir of Odisha or not but it is unique Daringbadi of Odisha. Never miss a chance to enjoy few days and chilly nights at Darigbadi. ]



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