I come down running from the stairs of my second floor flat in South Delhi. My mom is crying out my name from the balcony.
‘Bunny, Bunny. Please don’t leave; please come back.’
Nothing seemed right at that moment. Her voice is too sweet, and it pierces through my heart. I wonder why is Dad silent? Why isn’t he stopping me? But then, this is my decision. I hated simple things. Mother’s affection, father’s love; emotional attachment are fake for me. I am plagued by nightmares for past many years. I clumsily drag my hands through the hair repeatedly with a gaze that bounces from place to place. As I walk down the road, I feel a striking pain on my right shoulder. It is the tattoo. I got it scratched last week. The bloodstains are not yet fully dried. The artist gave me a lot of ideas for the tattoo. I wanted one that made me feel detached and free. So I chose an eagle flying against a shining and rising red sun. I loved colors, and they are part of my life. So is this brightly color tattoo. I walk towards the main road and take a three-wheeler to the bus stand. On the way I take a small halt at the Khan Market. My friend Zakir taught the art of sculpture making and painting here to some handful of students. I too had joined the class as a hobby. There are no students inside except the office boy who says Hi to me. I quietly pick up my small toolbox that had all equipment and my favorite paintbrushes. Then I head straight for the bus stand. The journey to mountains is going to be long and hectic.
The bus stand smelt of dirty unwashed clothes in a laundry. The sun raged like a fireball. I go to the newspaper vendor and buy Times of India. There is news of some politics, thefts and killings. I am not much interested in this. I reach for the global page and look for some exciting news. And there is news that interests me.
‘Man wins one million dollar lottery ticket. Buys a villa in Hawaii Islands.’
‘Rubbish’ I thought. ‘Why is this person not me? When the heck will I be damn rich?’
My mind so lost in the summer heat, I even forget the date. I glance at the top of the newspaper.
It is 28th of May 1999.
My first year of the corporate job nearly choked me. I desire to be away from the crowd, probably in some cold hilly region. During my course of work, I meet a client, Ganesh Engineering. The owner, Mr. Nanda, is a wealthy man. He is a contractor and supplied equipment to various Hydel Projects including one located next to a sleepy town, Dharchula, near Indo-Tibetan border. It is a valley and just a hanging bridge away from Nepal. My father often mentioned this place. A ferocious serpentine river ‘Kali ‘ named after Goddess Kaali, about fifty meters wide, made its way on one side of this town. Dad was posted in this town for a brief period in Army. Finding it as an opportunity, I quit my corporate job and joined this contractor. The best part is, I get a Mahindra pickup jeep upon my arrival to be self-driven by me.
Around evening, the bus develops a snag at Lohaghat, located at foothills of Easternmost Himalayan ranges. I get down. As I enjoy the view, I hear the cry of a child. A drunken labourer is beating his child mercilessly for a petty mistake. Other passengers and I confront him. An hour passes. The passengers and the luggage are shifted to another overcrowded bus. There is some space on the roof. I climb from the rear and sit next to the same drunk laborer. I try to sleep. A few minutes later, the bus halts with a jerk. The laborer had fallen from the roof of the running bus and died. Police questions everyone including me and conclude it as an accident since the dead man was drunk.
I settle in Dharchula and rent a house on the first floor of a single-storey building located close to the river Kali. The Hydel project is about 30 km uphill from the town in a place called Chirkala. The landlord’s family along with his 99-year-old granny stayed at the ground floor. While gossiping with the owner’s son, he jokingly mentions that her great granny knows black magic. I thought I believed him because she had a perfect chiseled face and glacial eyes of the Bhutia Tribe, one of the oldest inhabitants of this region. One night while coming back from Chirkala, I dash into her. There is no one around. She keeps staring at me and then calls me near her. I am slightly scared but gently move my feet towards her and sit close. She whispers in my ear. ‘You are cursed.”
I am surprised and ask ‘What does that mean.’
‘The path of your life and all those emotionally attached with you will go to dungeons’ she said.
I nod my yes to her and ask ‘How do I come out of the curse.’
‘’You have to sacrifice another cursed living soul, may be animal or human.”
‘And how will I know who it is?’ I asked.
‘You have not come here by your wish; Destiny has brought you here.’ she said.
Then she whispers something in my ears. I go to my room bit terrified and spend the night tossing and turning in my bed, trying to avoid the same nightmare that has been disturbing me for years. I often hear gut wrenching sobs of a child and visual hallucination of him alone in a room with a devil’s picture hung on the wall.
Next morning I hear the news of passing away of the old lady in her sleep.
I get occupied with my work on the construction project. I headed the sites and followed up with the payments. Japanese and Korean Companies mostly managed the project. One day while taking a walk on the outskirts of the town, I notice a board of an Orphanage. I quickly follow the road and reach the orphanage. The place seemed very recognizable to me as if it connected to my previous life. I see many children playing around. But there were few of them with sad eyes.
I move further inside and see a beautiful young female. She introduces herself as Samaah. She has a sweet syrup voice and worked there as the caretaker. Her beauty was a painter’s imagination of a masterpiece. She had midnight-black hair, and it toppled over her shoulders. Her innocent eyes and kiss inspiring lips flattered me. She lived in the compound of the orphanage. I fall in love with her instantly and complement her of doing a noble task. She too seemed to like me.
I come back again next Sunday to meet her. This time, an ugly man in his late fifties greets me. He has a razor-edged hairstyle, raptor nose, and craggy jaw. I presume him to be the father of Samaah. While shaking hands with him, I don’t get a healthy feeling. Rather it is unpleasant.
‘Hi. Who are you?’ I asked.
‘I am the manager here and Samaah’s husband, Jagat Singh.’
Life cannot be worse than this, I told myself. I had only one choice. To return to my room and drink to glory. I did not know when I fell asleep.
Next day, its dull cold morning I wake up early. A jog for few kilometers along the riverside refreshes me and then it’s my usual hot tea. The best part of the day is to drive my jeep from town to the construction site further up to more risky half constructed roads. Today, I have a meeting with a Korean Engineer Mr. Jung at the tunnel site regarding pending payments of the company and Mr. Nanda has been following up with me. Jung was holding it for quite a long time. He was also corrupt. Once Nanda sent me money to bribe Jung for releasing the company’s payments. He was not very polite. One day he made me walk nearly 30 miles to one of the highest point ‘Narayan Ashram’ close to the Tibet border. It snowed here all year except three months of summer. I admired the place and also the10th century Temple of Lord Shiva, next to it. Hardly a soul lived here.
One day, he gave me a neatly packed parcel to be personally delivered to Nanda at Delhi. He also accompanied me in my jeep to Dharchula, as he wanted to visit the local markets of Nepal. It was raining, and there were chances of landslides. I drove the jeep very cautiously on a narrow stretch. Two workers accompanying us sit at the back. I sense danger and notice a massive rock rolling from the top straight towards us. I press the accelerator hard and reach a blind point with a sharp right turn. It was impossible to control.
‘JUMP.’ I screamed.
Both the workers and I push open the door and jump from the speeding vehicle. The jeep plunges straight into the deep Kali River. Unfortunately, Jung couldn’t open the door on time. Miraculously, we suffer minor injuries. There was a day’s mourning at the construction site. Local Police meet us the next day to question us. Mr. Nanda also reaches. Such accidents occurred every other day in this valley, due to deadly mudslides. Nanda asks me about the package, that Mr. Jung had given me. I tell him it has gone into the river along with the jeep. He told me not to worry about the loss of jeep as he has brought another one along with him. I noticed his petrified expression as if death of Jung was a huge loss to him.
Few days pass. At times while driving back from the site, the face of the owner’s granny came to my mind. I think I even saw her blurred image on the backdrop of the snowy peaks far away.
One night, while everyone is back in their tents, I drive out of the site in a dark moonless night. I stop my jeep next to a pounding waterfall crashing down on the rocks in a fit of rage. I take out my bottle of whiskey from under the back seat and pour it into the glass. Making myself comfortable, I sit cross-legged on the bonnet, facing the waterfall. The stars dazzled like scattered diamond dust in the sky. I enjoy my neat pegs of three large ones. I spend around two hours till the sky becomes cloudy and black as a witch’s soul. Thunder enflame across the clouds, roaring and blasting. I put on my jacket and drive back home. There was some uneasiness in me. Finally, I make my mind and decide. I drive fast and reach a distance closer to the empty bus stand. I knew Jagat Singh was out of the station and was supposed to be back by the last bus around thirty minutes past ten. He would then reach the orphanage covering a distance of nearly two miles on foot. The rain is dinging furiously off the tin roofs. It is barely visible. Not a soul in sight. As planned, I spot a man walking towards my jeep, asking for a lift. He peeps inside the jeep with his vulpine eyes. Yes, He is Jagat Singh. He recognizes me, and I call him inside the jeep. He thanks and sits inside while I reverse my jeep to a different direction.
He says,‘ It is not towards the orphanage.’
‘ I know’, and I hit his head with a jack, making him unconscious.
He gains consciousness around midnight. We are in a small shabby unused hut in an abandoned graveyard, next to the grumbling Kali River. His hands tied on the back. A sky-stabbing Phantom like mountain faced us on the other side of the river.
‘Why did you do this’ says Jagat Singh in a wavering voice.
‘Because you have ruined the lives of hundreds.’ I said.
‘What did I do,’ he asks with his raised sickle-shaped eyebrows and a bland face.
I take out my scout knife, move at his back and chop off one of his fingers. He bawls in pain.
‘What the hell are you doing!’ he said.
‘Bastard, you know, you are suffering from Infantophilia.’I scream.
He looks vacantly at me with his eyes wide open. There is silence for some time. Then he shows me his foxy smile, which turns into a psychotic laughter.
‘Oh God, you are the only person in this world who knows this. But, how do you know? Little ones forget it. Don’t they. Are you one of them? How did you remember?’
My eyes blaze with anger; I hit the jack on his face breaking his two front teeth. There is blood everywhere. He could barely speak. The sour smell of his blood was macabre and vomit inducing. I sit down on the floor.
‘I am the ONE you remember, who was adopted by an army man 22 years ago. Now speak…tell me the whole story.’ I said giving a hard blow on his nose.
‘Ok Ok…please don’t kill me. I will tell you everything. It…it goes like this.’
‘ More than two decades ago, your foster parents were posted here. They were issueless. They adopted you from this orphanage.
That’s fine, ‘Who were my real parents?’
‘Can I have some water?’ he pleads.
Sure, I take out the hip flask from my jacket and pour some neat whiskey into his mouth. He seems little relieved and takes a deep breath. Then he speaks.
‘Your mother, belonged to a royal family of this region. She was quite lonely and stayed with her father. Once a foreign tourist visited the town and fell in love with her. He left for his country with a promise that he will be back soon to marry her. Little did she know that she was carrying you? Neither he nor any news of his came. She wrote many letters to get in touch with him, but nothing went through. Finally she took him to be an opportunist. Your grandfather could not take this. To avoid embarrassment in the society, he sent her to Shimla and you were born. One night in utmost secrecy, your mom came back to Dharchula and left you with us in this orphanage. This incident left your granddad shattered. He died of heart attack leaving your mom all by herself. A few days later, all of a sudden your father turns up, say.. after a gap of a year. Upon asking the reason of his absence, he disclosed to your mom his real identity of being a gangster in his country. He had indeed fallen in love with her and went back to his country only for a brief period. Unfortunately, he was arrested in a gang war and jailed for a year. Hence, could not even contact her. She on hearing this visited the orphanage to take you back but you were already gone. She cried her heart out and repented her decision. Finally, she took charge of her emotions and married that criminal father of yours and left India forever. She kept your birth a secret from your dad.
‘Ah.Nice one. Do you want more whiskey? Your lips must be parched.’
I drink some from the flask and pour the leftover in his mouth. He soothes down.
‘I visited your place unexpectedly the other night and found you performing a prayer ritual with fire and few skulls around.’
‘What kind of black magic was that?’ I asked.
‘That was done to ward off evil spirits.’
‘Good one, and then you prey on the little ones and leave them alone once they grow. No one knows anything. No noise. Only your damn pleasure, huh.’
‘Now that you know this, please kill me. I don’t want to live anymore.’ he pleaded.
I pull the knife again and swing it on his right thigh. He screams to hell.
‘You know I am cursed.’ I said.
‘I know I know.’
‘Tell me why! TELL ME WHY. Only you can tell me why am I cursed.’
‘This story goes five generations back.’ He cries.
‘I have plenty of time. Go on…I am listening.’ I calm myself.
‘One of your ancestors of past fifth generation was joy hunting in a thick oak forest here and killed a lioness, not realising that her five cubs were left alone and taken away by wild wolves. A Sage was watching all this and cursed your forefather that his next five generations will never prosper. The sixth one can be out of curse if he sacrifices another cursed living being.’
‘Fine.’ I looked at my watch. It was half past three. The rain was thunking angrily against the grass and tops of the trees. Jagat Singh’s eyes were begging for life.
‘In which country is my mom now.’ I asked.
Jagat Singh gives away his last try to save his life. ‘I won’t tell you unless you let me live. You have to let me free.’
I finally stand, sharpen my knife against a rock and dig it deep into his chest. I tie Jagat Singh to a heavy stone and throw him in River Kali. Sorcerous lightening fuels up the sky booming brashly, shattering the womb -like silence. Looks like the Gods just blessed me.
Next morning, news about a missing idol of Hindu God from the ancient temple near the town spreads. Meanwhile, Samaah also files a complaint about her missing husband. Local police starts investigation and relates missing of Jagat Singh to the idol. Nepal police is also informed, but there is no sign of him. The Police suspect that he has fled the country with the idol, which is worth million dollars in the international market. His name also gets attached to another idol theft, which took place a month back from a temple next to Narayan Ashram.
Two days later, while dressing, I find my watch and my gold chain missing. I rush to the spot where I killed Jagat Singh but find nothing. Disgusted, I go to Samaah. She doesn’t seem to be in distress at the loss of her husband. I tell her that how much I love her. She was delighted, and I couldn’t help myself from hugging her. She accepted it. Then she goes into the room and hands me my gold chain.
‘I found this in the hut.’ her eyes had a haunted look.
‘Samaah, I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered.’
‘Don’t tell me anything.’ She said as if she knew already.
‘Ok. Did you find my watch there.’
‘No.’ she said.
‘Why did you ever marry a devil like him?’
‘I had no option. I was poor and an orphan. I thought him to be a good man.’
‘No problem, things will be better now. Just wait for Me.’I said.
I leave the place and go to the PCO booth in the town. Firstly I call Mr. Nanda and announce my resignation taking him by surprise. Then I make a second call to Zakir. He is perplexed by my demands. I pack my bags and leave for Delhi through road route of Nepal. As I travel and trek through angel White Mountains of Nepal, I enjoy every moment of refreshing earthy smell of damp earth of deciduous forests. I reach Kathmandu and stay there for a day. In the afternoon, I enjoy my coffee in a local coffee shop. The Englishman sitting on the opposite table seemed familiar. I recollected him to be the British whom I had met at Mr.Nanda’s office. I get up and greet him. He tells me that he worked with a famous auction house in London. He spills beans about Nanda being an antique smuggler. He was pissed off since Nanda took a heavy advance from him but did not fulfill his commitment of providing antiques. Nanda’s construction business is just a cover-up. I spend around two hours with him and leave for New Delhi.
I reach Delhi and first thing I do is inform Delhi police special idol wing about Nanda’s activities. Nanda gets arrested and a huge idol smuggling racket gets busted. Later I meet my best friend, Zakir. I tell him I wish to meet my parents. Zakir holds me by my shoulders and shakes me.
‘Come on Bunny, not again.’ He screams.
‘What is it, I asked. Something I purposely did not want to hear.
Your parents are no more, you know that. Your Dad died in a road accident a long time ago, and Mom died of depression. Your Delhi flat was heavily mortgaged and is taken possession by the bank. That is why you left this place. You are undergoing neurotherapy.
Zakir tries to support me as I fall on the floor with grief. I cry for hours with Zakir on my side. I wanted to forget this, but somehow it came back to me again and again. After a while, I ask Zakir about my immigration. He told that the papers are under process. I need to visit the French Embassy.
He says ‘Why France?’
I don’t reply. My application gets processed under creative arts category. The officer from the embassy is satisfied with my work and knowledge of paintings and various sculptures I made.
Meanwhile, winters set in and the glaciers are full of snow. The water in the rivers recede. The jeep that fell in the Kali River was quite visible. Police and the locals were able to pull it out and old police files re-open. They find few remains of Jung. Police cuts open the jeep and find that all doors could be opened except for the one where Jung was seated. It could be opened only from outside. They suspect foul play and inform the headquarters. Few locals also spot a decomposed body wrapped with a rock, and another police investigation begins. They take him out of the river and identify him. They also find my watch in the riverbed wrapped in one of the weeds.
Back in Delhi, the French embassy clears my immigration, and I am given the go-ahead to move to France. It is the month of February year 2000. I pack my bags and book my air tickets for 14th February. The day arrives. I bid goodbye to Zakir and leave for the international airport. Unluckily, the investigative officer of these cases in Dharchula is the same inspector who investigated me for the person who fell from the top of the bus. He recognizes my watch and finds a common thread in all the three incidents. Soon a police team is dispatched from Dharchula and Delhi team is also informed. The police reach my south Delhi flat and find it being auctioned by the bank to another buyer. Then they raid Zakir’s house and inquire about me. Zakir knew nothing and informs them about my departure to France. The date is 16th of February. I am already in Paris.
I buy a shop in one of the famous streets of Paris and open an art and antique gallery. After all, sale of two antique idols had fetched me nearly ten million dollar at the London Auction. On the opening day of the gallery, I invite wealthy and famous personalities. Mom is one of them.
I have finally arrived. It is now my turn to call Samaah to Paris. It is unfortunate that devils like Jagat Singh punctured my life right from birth and all these series of past events became part of my life, but this is for a larger purpose. That purpose is my Love for Money and Luxurious life. I could have never won it in my usual day job. All I wanted to do was to take one single risk in life. But a word of caution here.
Risk is your finest temporary friend. Make it your best one, and you are doomed.
I came to know later that the Investigative agency contacted Zakir about me. He settles the matter with them as he had his share of friendship. He starts an NGO with the money I sent him. He also takes charge of the orphanage at Dharchula. I am declared absconding with remarks ‘SKIP- Correct location not known’. My file is tied on all four corners with a tight red string. It goes straight into a heap of records of some rusty, dusty, lousy store.