She Lives On
She Lives On19 mins 766 19 mins 766
She looked like an angel, surrounded by a bright silver halo in the dark blue sky.
She slowly descended into his room through the window and drifted towards him in air.
The fairy stood next to him and watched him in awe.
Her face was as fresh as he had last seen her. Her long, oval, wheatish face full of love and compassion.
Only that she looked sad and tired, not happy and cheerful that she used to be.
She wore the same old green cotton sari with which she also used to cover her head.
She was mesmerized and perplexed as she stared at his face.
He has grown into a handsome man…
She felt that her heart would burst open with love and pain. How dearly she desired to hug him and pour her heart out to him. Her eyes had turned red with sorrow.
A few moments passed.
The angel gave a feeble smile and sighed.
The time had come.
She bent down and whispered in his ears - “Won’t you ever come to see me? I have been waiting for you for years!”
Jagdish arose from his bed in a state of shock, with his eyes wide open and beads of perspiration dripping from his forehead.
His breath was heavy, and his heart was beating fast. He failed to understand what had hit him. It was pitch dark in his bedroom. There was a touch of coldness in his left ear as if it had been caressed by the soft icy breeze.
After spending some tense moments sitting upright in his bed, it dawned on him. He had just seen a vivid dream.
It was the face of his mother, his beautiful mother, who had died many years ago. She pleaded with him to come and meet her. She looked extremely despondent and mournful. She appeared to say in a hushed cold voice that it was time that he must see her. Jagdish rushed to the washroom and switched on the lights above the glass mirror. He splashed cold water on his face and then stared at himself in the mirror. He looked dazed and fluffy.
What was the meaning of this dream? He wondered.
He had almost forgotten his mother, who had left him when he was just seven. This had happened thirty years ago.
Bittersweet memories of his childhood passed before his mesmerized eyes which triggered immense grief in his heart causing tears to swell up in his bloodshot eyes. The pain was too internal to be expressed. He had not been able to forgive his mother for leaving him at such a tender age. He remembered all those moments of mournful emptiness which he had undergone in his early years of struggle with life when he had yearned and cried for hours for his lost mother.
Over the next few days, Jagdish pondered over the dream, also realizing that a few months later would be his mother’s thirtieth death anniversary.
There must be a reason why the mother had called on him. He had finally made up his mind to visit his ancestral village to pay homage to his mother’s departed soul.
Jagdish arrived at his ancestral village known by the name ‘Chanot’ in the first week of October along with his excited family – wife, 2 daughters aged 9 and 11, and a son aged 5 years. It was after a span of almost 30 years that he was visiting his motherland from the US to pay homage to his mother. His father, as usual, had turned down his request to accompany him. He was old, wheelchair-bound and paralysis stricken, the right side of his body being immobile and sense-void after having suffered a major heart attack. He had deep-rooted contempt for India and had vehemently opposed the planned visit of his son. In fact due to his stubbornness, Jagdish did not get a chance to visit his native country all these years, however this time he was adamant and therefore brushed aside his father’s strong disapproval.
A torrent of deep-seated memories triggered his emotions as soon as his car touched the village land. He could smell the scent of his mother in the air. He was awestruck to see the surroundings. Hardly anything had changed. He had dreamt of this scene so many times in his sleep. It was exactly the same as he used to see it. The same old meandering mud lane that went deep through the fields and ended at his house. The red tube-well along the main road and its usual “bhuk-bhuk” sound. The green paddy and sugarcane fields. The thatched mud houses dotting the green landscape. The mango orchid where he had spent a good part of his childhood with his friends. Manoj, Upvan, Hariram…he still remembered their names.
Tears started to flow down from his eyes. Jagdish’s wife Simran put her hand on his shoulder. She felt concerned. Jagdish then asked the driver to stop the car. He would walk from thereon. He ordered his driver to continue to his house with the rest of the family.
As he began to walk down the muddy lane of the village, he experienced an unusual melancholy feeling arising within his heart. He could see a young boy rushing from his school happily with his friends expecting to have a hearty lunch in his mother’s lap after long school hours. As the joyful lad nears his house he sees that a stream of people -men and women had surrounded his home. The smile disappears from the boy’s face. He has a premonition of a disaster that has happened.
He tears through the crowd only to see his mother’s body wrapped in a white sheet of cloth laid on earth and a multitude of women wailing and howling in grief. The young boy is shocked. He rushes to his father, who is distraught with sorrow, holds his legs tightly and starts crying.
The young boy was Jagdish. His mother had died due to a deadly snake bite that tragic afternoon. There was no hospital or doctor miles around the extremely backward village, and therefore she could not survive. His father, enormously anguished with the incident, then vowed to leave the village and the country, to settle abroad. The country was not meant for the poor.
When Jagdish reached his ancestral house, he heard a lot of commotion and happy tidings within its four walls. His children were extremely enthusiastic - they were chatting and laughing with each other. One of their uncles had also arrived and he was sharing some exciting stories of their childhood spent in the village. Some of their cousins were also to join them in the evening. It would be a week of grand celebration in the serene village.
The familial house had become old and stale. It was dark, broken and carried long-forgotten memories and vibrations of the last 60-70 years. The bricks had come out from several places. However, the house was big with a large ‘aangan’ in the center with rooms surrounding it from all sides. There was a dark kitchen where Jagdish’s mother used to cook and spend most of her day.
Some distance away from the house was a serene calm river called “Putli” which was the water source for Chanot and many surrounding villages.
A person from the village whose name was Madaari used to take care of the house and he was paid some amount by Jagdish’s father and uncles for his service. He had been informed in advance about the family’s planned visit and was asked to make arrangements for the family to have a decent stay.
When the old villagers came to know that Jagdish babu had come to visit his home, many of them gathered the next afternoon in his house and narrated old family tales to Jagdish and his children.
“Your mother in law was a great woman.” A few elderly ladies mentioned to Jagdish’s wife.
Jagdish enquired about his childhood friends and came to know that they had left the village to settle in cities. Jagdish then requested the village elders to help him arrange a puja on his mother’s barsi (death anniversary) that would fall in a couple of days’ time.
Jagdish spent most of the day walking alone around the village trying to remember everything associated with his mother. He would contemplate for hours sitting beside the river and stare blankly on the vast empty field across. Why did the mother appear in his dream, he would ponder. Looking at the river, he would remember those happy times when he used to swim in it merrily and fearlessly along with his friends.
Finally, the death anniversary had arrived. My obeisance would give peace to my mother’s soul, Jagdish thought.
The ceremony was to begin in the afternoon approximately at the same when his mother had died that fateful day thirty years back.
As a custom, Jagdish had to take a bath in the river and then perform the Puja. There was commotion all around his home. People were calling each other and shouting for pending arrangements. Panditji was still to arrive. Some boys from the village had been arranged to scout for ceremony materials. Cooks had also come to prepare a hearty meal for the whole village. There was excitement all around. This kind of festive celebration was happening after a very long time in the village.
Jagdish walked to the shore of the river in the noon sun. It was pleasantly sunny weather. The river water was glittering by reflecting the rays of the sun. Beyond the river lay a vast swathe of land with vegetations of a different order. The surrounding looked as innocent, calm and beautiful as his departed mother.
Jagdish climbed down the river bed and waded knee-deep in water with folded hands and his head turned towards the sun. He closed his eyes, remembered his mother and said his prayers. After a while, after finishing his prayers, when he started to wade back to the river shore, a thought crossed his mind.
Looks like there is still some time for the ceremony to start. The river water is fresh. Why not I have some swim before I go back. I used to swim here in my childhood. He took a deep breath and started to swim. The river was shallow and he could swim easily. The low depth of the river stream gave Jagdish further confidence. He had been a decent swimmer. He dipped his head within the water and smoothly sailed himself across.
Suddenly something happened.
He saw a face within the water. With his eyes half-open, he tried to recognize the face. He was astonished. It was not a human face but a face made of water, and it appeared eerily similar to his mother – contorted in anguish and desperation!! It was coming towards him as if asking him to help!
Jagdish’s heart stopped for a moment. He turned back and dashed towards the shore. He was stunned in disbelief at what he had just seen. Was it an illusion or reality?
His mind was whizzing with million thoughts and in desperation to come out of the river quickly he lost his balance and his head dashed against a rock very near to the riverside
A deep piercing pain ran through his spine and he went blank.
There was absolute darkness all around.
Jagdish felt a flashing glow of light pierce his eyelid. He woke with a start and then turned his head left and right. He was lying on the river bank with no one around. The sun glowed above with splendor. Suddenly he became aware of the acute pain at the back of his head and then he remembered how he had hit the rock at the end of the river bed. He had lost consciousness for sometime after the accident.
He stood up and found that his legs were shaking. His dhoti was damp and clanged clumsily to his body. He still had not come to terms which the experience he just had. He started to walk towards his house. Then he realized a strange thing.
Why it was so lonely all around? Where had all the people gone? The Puja was about to start in some time. Something was not right. He could hear his heart pounding loudly. Where are the cows that were tied to the neem tree? Where are my children who were running around?
As soon as he reached near his house, Jagdish called out his wife – “Simran, where are you?”
Not a word. Pin drop silence. As if there was not a soul in the village.
What is going around here? He wondered. The large wooden front door of the house that faced the river was closed. He knocked it vehemently. There was no sound from inside the house.
Where are Simran and children? Jagdish was getting anxious and angry. He went around the house and knocked on the side door. Still no response.
How would he go inside now? He stayed still for a few moments, and then he remembered.
There used to be a secret passageway in the house which led to the alley facing the kitchen. He and his friends used it a lot in their childhood. It used to be a fascinating adventure for them to creep through the small dark hole and then slowly tiptoe to the kitchen to steal food.
Jagdish tried to find that opening, though he doubted whether it still existed, and even if it existed would he be able to pass through it now.
He encircled the house looking closely for any hidden aperture within the muddy brick walls. He noticed that there lay large sacks of wheat grains at the southern end of the house. He had a faint recollection that the secret door was at that end only. He decided to remove the wheat sacks which were hiding the southern portion of the house.
After he had removed three bags of wheat, he saw a round wooden cover on the wall, which was indeed the opening to the passageway. The cover was almost 2 feet in diameter hiding a gaping tunnel inside. However, an old rustic iron lock hanged by the wooden door. Jagdish found an axe nearby and hammered it with full force on the lock forcing it to break open with a loud cracking sound.
The tunnel was completely dark. Jagdish bent down on all his four limbs and dragged himself stealthily along, dropping his shoulders carefully so as not to scrape the tunnel wall.
There was a hint of faint light coming from the end of the tunnel. Jagdish could barely drag himself along. He feared that he might get trapped and suffocate there.
Clumsily he managed to come out of the tunnel, perspiring and breathing heavily.
He was standing on the dark alley leading to the kitchen. He listened keenly but there was absolute stillness. He was puzzled. Why couldn’t he see anyone in the house?
Then he heard a shriek, a sharp heart-shattering scream…!!!!
It came from the kitchen!!
He ran towards the kitchen and stopped at its door to look inside
He went numb when he saw what lay in front of him!
Two men were trying to kill a hapless woman who was shouting for help!
The woman lay collapsed on the floor. One man was trying to hold her legs together and the other one was trying to press her neck in order to strangle her to death.
The woman was not giving up.
“I will tell the whole world about what you have done!!” She screamed. “ I fear no one!!”
“You had raped her, and then she killed herself. You are not a man but an animal.”
“Shut up you slut!!” The man slapped her. “You won’t be alive to tell the story. I requested you to keep your mouth shut but the bitch won’t listen. Ganga, hold her legs tightly!!”
There was absolute madness in the man’s bloodshot eyes. He was perspiring heavily while trying to gag her with his enormous strength.
When Jagdish looked closer at him, he felt that he was hit by a bullet.
That man was no one else but his father!!
The other man gripping the woman’s legs was his uncle.
And the woman scorned was his mother!!!
Jagdish could bear no more and he shouted with rage.
“Leave her you, scoundrels...!!!”
He dashed towards the men picking up a big wooden log lying on the floor.
He hit his father’s head with the log but nothing happened.
The rod just passed through his body - like a knife slashing through vacuum!!
The men did not even acknowledge his presence. As if he was a ghost unseen to them.
Jagdish was flabbergasted. He could not understand what had happened.
Meanwhile, the woman kept shouting and the men were still trying to kill her.
In confused desperation, Jagdish attacked the man again with the rod but with the same result. It just whiffed through his body as if he was a hologram and not a flesh and blood man.
He tried to smash the other man who had held a vicious grip on his mother, with the same result.
Jagdish realized that he was just a ghost.
Crying in desperation to save his mother, he shouted aloud – “ Leave my mother. Please leave her.”
He tried hitting them again with his hands but it was of no avail. They could not even hear him.
He slumped on the floor in distress and wailed in agony.
He could not do anything. His mother was getting killed by his own father and uncle
Oh God! What was going on!
His mother, after trying hard to combat the devils, finally gave up and died a painful death.
When Jagdish saw the bulged out eyes of his dead mother, he screamed in horror and fainted.
“Dad, please get up! Open your eyes! Please.”
Jagdish felt a splash of cold water on his face.
He opened his eyes and saw his daughter looking down at him, apprehension and fear written all over her face.
He realized that he was lying on the river bank and people had surrounded him from all sides.
Simran said – “Are you okay Jagdish? What had happened? We have been trying to wake you up for the last many minutes.”
“I am okay…I think I got hit by sunstroke. Its too hot today..” Jagdish stammered, trying to gather his senses. There was a pain in his head just above the neck.
People looked at him and then at each other incredulously. Everyone gave a sigh of relief that Jagdish had finally opened his eyes, but the opinions differed on what had actually happened to him.
Jagdish stood up and went back home.
The death ceremony puja passed off peacefully without any incident.
Jagdish spent the next few days in stoic silence.
He had a profound realization about what he had experienced.
Layers and layers of hidden truth had started opening.
It was actually the face of his mother that he had encountered in the river.
After his head had hit the rock, he had managed to walk some distance on the river bank after which he had fallen unconscious.
His subconscious mind had then time-traveled to the same time and place thirty years back when his father and uncle were dastardly killing his mother. He had gone back to the exact moment when the evil act was being played out by his own people.
The young little boy that Jagdish was at that time, would have been joyfully walking down the mud lane, returning from school and expecting to have his meals from his mother’s hand.
But then there were other hidden mysteries of the universe that were being unraveled in Jagdish’s consciousness. The bare truth of nature had begun to let herself known to him.
It was as if the cosmos itself was feeding information to his hyper-energetic mind. The wonder of nature.
Jagdish instinctively started to know every detail about the gruesome incident. Every new day provided him new specifics about his mother’s death – a diabolical conspiracy that had been kept a closely guarded secret for years by his family.
Jagdish’s full name was Jagdish Nihal Singh Jasraj. The Jasraj family belonged to a mountainous village of Chanot at the border of Haryana and Rajasthan. The village is part of Bhiwani tehsil in Haryana. In this backward but serene village ruled the Rajput clan of the Jasrajs. The Jasrajs were landlords who owned almost all the land in the village. The Jasraj clan consisted of three brothers.
The eldest was Shivendra Singh Jasraj, followed by Ganga Singh Jasraj, who was then followed by the youngest Nihal Singh Jasraj. All the three brothers had large families and therefore they stayed in different houses located close to each other.
Jasraj brothers were arrogant, spoilt and cruel. Nihal Singh, the father of Jagdish, had the reputation of being the most reckless of them. Chanot village was relatively backward compared to other areas in the district due to lack of connectivity to any major roads or networks. There was no electricity in the village. The residents of the village were poor. When compared to landlord clans of other villages, the Jasraj brothers too did not fare well in terms of wealth and property.
There was severe exploitation of labour class villagers by the three brothers. The wives too were hands in gloves in their husband’s activities, except Nihal Singh’s wife and Jagdish’s mother Chanda Devi who came from a learned family.
One tempestuous night, after getting inebriated with liquor, Nihal Singh and his brother Ganga Singh, paid some money to Roop Gagra, husband of Tej Kumari, who was the maid in the Jasraj household. Roop, in the pretext of finishing some important work, cajoled his wife to come along with him in the fields where the two brothers merrily raped her.
The next morning, a bewildered and tormented Tej Kumari, told about the gruesome incident to Chanda Devi. The same night she committed suicide by jumping into the village well.
Chanda Devi in a fit of rage and remorse created a storm in the whole Jasraj household. She threatened to inform the police if her husband and brother in law didn’t own up to their crime.
The ladies in the Jasraj family tried to calm her down by reasoning that this was the way of Rajput men and this had been going on for generations. But Chanda Devi was of different mettle. She secretly planned to go to the police station in Bhiwani and file an FIR.
However, she committed a grave mistake. She shared her plan with another trusted maid of hers who then conveniently informed her husband.
Nihal along with his elder brother Ganga planned Chanda Devi’s murder. The plan was to strangle her to death and pass it off as death by snakebite which was quite common in those areas. A criminal snake charmer was also arranged, who would bring the snake that would bite Chanda Devi on her leg after she was dead. The whole Jasraj clan, the three brothers and their wives, except Chanda Devi, knew about the plan.
On that fateful day, the wives of the Nihal Singh’s brothers, on some pretext left for their mothers’ houses taking their children along. There was hardly anyone in the neighborhood that day who could listen to Chanda Devi’s cries for help.
Chanda Devi died a miserable death unsung and forgotten. A canard was spread in the village that she had been struck by a deadly snake. People could see the snake bite spot on her leg however they never knew that she was strangulated before getting bitten by the snake.
The Jasraj family thought that the worst was over, but this was the beginning of their bad days. Chanda Devi had a premonition that she might get killed by the Jasraj family and therefore she had secretly sent a letter to her father telling him to file a police complaint in case she dies. Her father had thought that the letter was the outcome of some silly squabble that might have happened between husband and wife.
However, within 15 days of her cremation, he filed a complaint against Jasraj family accusing them of murdering his daughter. The inspector in Bhiwani circle was an honest and upright officer. He started questioning the Jasraj brothers when the criminal clan panicked.
They made contact with the fellow clan brothers and relatives who were in powerful positions in the state machinery and started escaping from the village with their help under the pretext of finding a job in other states. Luck favored them. Nihal Singh made his way to Canada and gradually helped place his brothers and cousins in the land of opportunities. All the three brothers flourished in their businesses and erased the memories of their criminal past. A careful narrative was built in the family where children were told about their glorious past in India, how Jagdish’s mother had died due to snakebite and how they could not find a doctor for her. Unable to bear the pain of separation, Jagdish’s father decided to migrate to Canada and then the whole family prospered in their adopted country. Later on, Nihal Singh moved to the United States with his family and prospered even more.
Jagdish did very well in his life and became a Vice President of a global conglomerate.
Jagdish stared contemptuously into the wheelchair-bound paralyzed Nihal Singh’s eyes and hissed – “She lives on.”
Nihal Singh’s heart told him that his son knew everything. His eyes turned moist with remorse. He died of the second heart attack the same night.