The Traffic Woman
The Traffic Woman
That year I taught a girl and a boy who were twins and were in the same class. They studied in Class-8 at Loyola School. Although sharp-witted, they never paid adequate attention to their studies. It was perhaps a Saturday night. I was driving the car and thinking deeply about how to engage their attention in my subject i.e English grammar and literature.
All of a sudden, I felt a sharp urgency to eat something. Parking the car on the roadside, I entered a shack selling boiled eggs. An old woman greeted me with a faint smile. It was raining lightly. I ordered two eggs but I was still terribly hungry. She didn't have anything else which I needed to eat. I ordered two more eggs. The salted and peppered halves of the eggs were tasty, but it was dangerous to eat any more as I had been a diabetic for ten years. It began to rain more and more and then torrentially. An old man, perhaps a laborer, was standing there for the rain to abate. He was carrying an umbrella. He came forward to share his umbrella with me and walked me to the car.
As I was driving, I felt very much fatigued. I had taught seven classes from morning to evening till 10 o'clock.
As I reached the Stewart School traffic post, I began to gaze at the traffic policewoman with deep curiosity. I couldn't believe my eyes. Her face was turned backward and she was smiling! Averting my eyes from her, I forwarded my attention to the car in the front. It was Dr. Mishra's.
Dr. Santanu Mishra was my neighbor. He was then a cardiologist with Kalinga Hospital. I loved him for his keen interest in politics; no news ever escaped him. Although he was a doctor, he had a passion for reading. Whenever I wrote a new story, he would read it first and then I would send it to a magazine. There was a big black Maruti Ciaz in between my car and Dr.Mishra's elegant-looking red Ford Figo.
As the signal was given, Dr. Mishra moved out. I saw something like a woman's silhouette entering Dr.Mishra's car! I was shocked and looked sideways. The weird woman regulating the traffic so late that night had vanished! Feeling a bit uneasy, I followed Dr.Mishra to tell him to drive cautiously, still dithering whether to tell him what I had seen.This was so because I myself was now confused whether my imagination had deceived me. However, it soon became clear that something fishy was going on.
Dr.Mishra's car was zigzagging along the road in a most frightening manner. In the meantime, I was breathing hard and my hands on the steering wheel were trembling. Cars overtaking me were not able to drive past Dr.Mishra.They were scared of a violent possible collision with the Ford Figo that seemed to be driven by a madcap or a sozzled rogue. I was also filled with scare and panic driving my little car at a snail's pace.
Dr.Mishra's car crashed into a roadside eucalyptus tree! Next black smoke and fire came out of the car. Wasting not a single second, I ran to his rescue. Daring the raging flames, I pulled him hard by the legs out of the burning car mustering all my strength and courage. Two young men and an auto driver came running to me. The flames were devouring the beautiful Ford Figo. Dr.Mishra was found severely burned, his face and clothes covered in blood and emitting a nauseating smell as the blood was also burning. His trousers and t-shirt had caught fire rendering him almost sixty percent burnt. His eyes were unusually large and bulging out of their sockets frighteningly. We rushed him to the government hospital and I requested a brother-in-law of mine who was then employed there to take care of him. He promised maximum help in treating him especially when he knew the patient was a doctor too.
On my return home, I had to do a bit of explaining to my wife for my late arrival and she listened to me with enormous interest and fear too. Eventually, I said, "After all, the fate of a man like Dr.Mishra.. ! So sweet-natured and gentlest of people I know...!"
My daughter mocked, "Mama...! Everyone Papa knows is sweet-natured and gentle..?"
"The doctor must have neglected her treatment resulting in her death. Or he might have raped a woman whose spirit is now trying to take his life." This was what my wife said.
I took dinner and we went to bed, but I couldn't sleep at all. My mind was so troubled that I thought I would spend a sleepless night. However, that didn't happen. I got up the next morning and was curious about a dream. I had seen a woman in my dream. I tried to recall all the details carefully. I had seen a handsome young man and a pretty woman. The woman I had seen at the Stewart School traffic post! Then she had almost petrified me with an unknown fear; now her tall healthy attractive build fascinated me. I was stunned to know that the young man was Dr.Mishra's dead brother. He had died fourteen years ago following the suicide of the girl he loved.
Her eyes brimming with tears, she had given me a very heart-rending account of her own death. Her name was Sweta Ghosh. She was an engineering student. In the year 2000, she had made a visit to Delhi where her Maasi (aunt)lived. Her Maasi was a television actress and her husband was an anesthetist in a not-so-well-known Delhi-based private hospital. There she came in contact with an Odia young man named Atanu Mishra.
Atanu was doing his Ph.D. in physics under a professor who taught at Delhi University. The young man was abiding with his brother Dr. Santanu Mishra. When Santanu came to know about their love affair, he picked a violent quarrel with Tarun Ghosh who was the anesthetist in the hospital where Dr. Mishra was working. The hospital staffers were struck with surprise and firm resentment when the two doctors abused each other like some average uncouth rustics and eventually tried to squeeze each other's throats. The people there separated them. Someone had reported the ugly duel between the two docs to the police. Dr. Mishra was dead against the marriage because he was a top-class Brahmin whereas Dr. Ghosh was neither a Brahmin nor an Odia. Dr. Ghosh who was a gentleman to his finger-tips never got angry. When his wife Aditi Sweta's Maasi came to know about the fight, she was incredulous; she couldn't believe her peace-loving husband had come to blows with someone. She thought he must have found it too hard to bear with the situation.
Dr. Ghosh stepped into his house one evening and called Sweta to his presence. He explained to the girl why she mustn't marry the young man of her choice citing the wickedness and arrogance of the man whose brother she had decided to tie the knot with. However, Sweta was determined to marry the boy of her choice. Sweta's father who was an army officer stationed in Jammu came flying to Dr. Ghosh's house at Saket. He not only severely scolded Sweta but also fixed her wedding date. She had to marry an army officer's son in Jammu. He went back home along with his daughter.
In Jammu, Sweta made two futile unsuccessful attempts to flee home. Nobody knew what followed next. One night at 12 o'clock Sweta's Maasi Aditi received a phone call from her elder sister Suniti. Both the women were talking and sobbing over phone that cold December night. Sweta had committed suicide. After that, Atanu went missing. He never returned.
They had told me before the dream ended that but for my timely help, Dr.Mishra would have been burnt alive.They had warned me not to make any further attempts to save Dr. Mishra even if I found him in any type of fatal danger. The girl had declared she would finish her victim at any cost.
Dr. Mishra had left Delhi overnight after getting news of Sweta's suicide fearing arrest. However, Sweta's father had done nothing to get him arrested. The stout-hearted army officer had just kept quiet.
They had told me to cancel my journey by train to Hyderabad next Friday night. My elder brother was staying there those days. It was Wednesday. I kept thinking hard all day. The impending fate of the doctor's two innocent children--two boys and his humble wife Sis Sobha never allowed my mind even the least bit of calm."What can I do?" I asked myself. Dr.Mishra had been transferred to Kalinga Hospital. The next morning I drove to the hospital.
I related the dream to him with great seriousness. He denied having any knowledge of any girl called Sweta. He told me that his brother had left home because he was a mental wreck. I was struck with boundless surprise. I thought of the whole thing over and over again.
I came back and told everything to my wife. I also declared my canceling of the intended visit to my brother. She was furious! She thought my fears were ludicrous and groundless. She said, "Now you won't visit them, and I will have to bear the brunt of their anger and criticism. Your sister-in-law and her daughters will blame it on me!"
My daughter burst into laughter..."Pippo, you are a chhota bacha! Go visit them...Stop worrying Mummy."
They discussed my superstitions.
But quite intuitively I realized that Dr.Mishra had lied to me. I thought of doing something, at least for his wife and children. I sat at my writing table, penning down my concern and thoughts in the form of a piece like a diary entry. I had explained how the worldly-wise behaved being indifferent to virtues like kindness,charity, and benevolence. I had also elaborated on some cases of forgiveness from history citing the examples of several Indian sages of yore. I kept the sheet of paper in my writing-table drawer praying to her mentally.
I went to bed wondering whether any good would come out of my childish approach to the crisis. I was painfully disappointed the next morning. Nothing happened and contrary to this news came Dr.Mishra had been vomiting all night. His wife and children had hurried to the hospital the moment they knew about it. Hurt and panicked, I kept quiet and tried to forget everything.
However, after dinner, I was struck with bewilderment watching tv news on television! The train on which I had to travel to Hyderabad had derailed en route leaving twenty-seven people dead and many more severely injured.
My daughter said, "Thank God Papa! You didn't travel."
My wife joined us. We talked far into the rainy night. I didn't know when I fell asleep. But I was able to recall someone telling me as follows:
"Why are you so worried about another man's wife and children? Mishra will not die. I would like to reward you..!Go to your village next week."
After a week, Dr. Mishra was discharged from the hospital. Presently, he had to have complete bed rest at home, no one knew how long it could be. I reached my village Bhanjapur Sasan. I was profoundly astonished to learn mother was no more taking her back pain injections. When I enquired about it, she said, "Mustafa left for Saudi Arabia. There was no one to administer it. I suffered for some days. All of a sudden, I experienced not even the slightest back pain one morning! This is nothing short of a miracle!" She was an injection every four or five days.
My father who was skeptical said: "You have been taking numerous pills and potions the injections apart... The sudden cure is the result of those prolonged medications. How much knowledge do you have about things?"
As usual, mother mocked, "You are a genius!"
I didn't say anything in protest.
Coming back to the city, I resumed life as I usually did. Later, I wanted to get other favors, but nothing like that ever happened to my satisfaction.