The Pond5 mins 330 5 mins 330
Raghu belonged to a family of old small landlords. Decades back his family was among the biggest landholders in the village. As the family grew larger, the fragmentation of land among the family members left him only with a small piece of land for him. Though still better off by the standards of the village, he was the worst off in his extended family, many of whom had migrated to cities or had steady jobs. Only income he had was from the land, which was not enough to sustain him, or at least not his sense of what he thought he was, a rich landlord. Abusing the lower classes occasionally just to get a kick, not paying rickshaw pullers and ice cream vendors gave little satisfaction. The most painful thing was seeing members of his own extended family living a much better life than him.
It was the early 2000s, and economic liberalization had started penetrating even in remote areas. Newspapers and TVs had made a presence in households and made people aware of government schemes. To get more money, people were willing to start doing business which was unthinkable and below their status just a few years back. Caste and family name were not enough to get for a social status now. Nouveau riche ruled the roost. Money was the new god now.
Just on the outskirts of the village, there was a small pond surrounded by a small orchard. It belonged to the village panchayat, but Raghu’s family had occupied it for decades. Village Pradhan and Sarpanch also had no interest in doing anything about it. Their homes were far away from it, so they could not have taken it for themselves or their lackeys anyway.
Raghu got the idea of starting fishery in the pond. This seemed to be the easiest thing to do. All the assets were already available and only a little investment was needed. The pond was deepened by using laborers who were not paid their full wages later. Raghu bought the fingerlings and put them into the pond. He started spending a lot of time near the pond. Even a small hut was built there, enough to keep a cot. In the daytime, the hut acted as a coffeehouse for jobless people of the village, without any coffee, of course. In the night, it became a bedroom for Raghu. He used to stare in the pond whenever he could. Any glimpse of fishes filled him with joy. Sometimes, he even used to get up in the night, walk around the pond and look into it using torch hoping to catch glimpse of growing fishes.
The pond was hardly one km away from his house, but he started spending very little time at his home. Visiting only for taking a bath or some unavoidable activities. He even started getting food from home and eat it in the hut. Dreams of getting a good sum when the first crop is harvested, showing off to his kins and hope of being able to pass sarcastic remarks and give a suitable reply to their snide remarks at them filled him with joy.
Any animal, even if they had nothing to do with fishes, became enemy for him. Army of jobless people hanging around the hut all day will try to scare or kill any bird coming near the pond. There was a very old cobra living in the orchard. People used to leave milk for it during Nagpanchami festival. Cobras don’t even go into the water or eat fishes, but Raghu killed the cobra and first opportunity he got. Otters had become near-extinct from the area long back. Somehow a stray otter reached in the area, possibly drawn by the availability of fishes. It used to hunt a few fishes in the night. As soon as Raghu got a glimpse of it, he lost his sleep. He started staying up entire nights to kill it, he was able to do so one night after spending almost entire week without much sleep.
As the days went by, the fishes grew bigger and with that the chest of Raghu. Then came the day which almost gave him a heart attack. Raghu woke up early morning as usual and walked around the pond. His heart came to his mouth when he saw yellowed objects floating in the water. As he neared to the corner of pond, he saw few dead fishes floating in the pond, yellowed, because of some disease. It started happening daily, the number of dead fishes kept increasing.
Rumor mills of the village started spinning stories. Deaths were caused by disease, even fishery center conveyed the same and advised medicines, but rumors said it might have been because of someone putting poison in the pond or doing some black magic. Though suspects were many, mostly members of the extended clan of Raghu. Dinesh, a member of the extended clan of Raghu, also a neighbor, was presumed to be the culprit. He used to pass nasty remarks at Raghu. There was some dispute over land as well. He was seen near the pond a few times which was not unusual as many people passed through the pond daily to reach fields across it or to go to other villages, but rumors are hardly ever based on logic or facts. Raghu’s paranoia was fired, it fueled his already existing hatred and jealousy towards Dinesh. Their families started quarreling on every possible opportunity they got, but quarrels never got big beyond words or insults.
One day, Dinesh was coming back from a nearby village, he had gone there to meet someone. It had become dark by the time he started. He took a shortcut through the path near the pond. When he passed by the pond and through the orchard, he was thinking about something, walking leisurely. Raghu was alone at his hut at the time. He noticed someone passing by the pond. He took his lathi and ran towards him. His paranoia fueling his imagination. When he found out that it was Dinesh, he immediately started abusing and accusing him. Dinesh also retaliated verbally. There was no one to control them. It quickly escalated into Raghu attacking Dinesh with a lathi. Dinesh ran to escape, Raghu chased. They fought. It was dark.
Next morning, people found two bloated bodies floating in the pond, along with a few dead fishes. Both of them did not know swimming.