Sunday, October 16

The guest of monsoon

Another one... the last one evoked extreme reactions, friend either loved it or hated it.. do read this one.

The rain hit against the window. Roopa liked when it rained. She could sit by the window for hours and watch the rain hit against the glass pane. The garden looked washed, the green leaves dusted till it shone, the brown of trees moist and soggy. She liked the frogs that croaked in her washed garden, the snails that appeared from beneath the soil and stuck to the overgrown, wild and rain soaked greenery, they made her 10 year old world more filled. Her guests of monsoon.

Today it was raining since afternoon. Maa was off to Nani’s place and wouldn’t be back until Monday. This gave Papa a chance to be alone. Go drinking with friends. Or go out to play cards. Or just sit around and listen to the radio loud and noisy. It saved them from squabbling all the time. Papa had left home in the afternoon. He was at Jayanto’s uncle place playing cards and drinking. Papa should have been back by now. He never left them alone when Ma was away. Although they squabbled about it, once Ma left, Papa would stay back and take care of them. Today he was unusually late.

Roopa did not look forward to the monsoon guests, a strange sense of foreboding filled her, as though something was waiting to happen. She left the window and came to the verandah where her brothers Raju and Chotu were playing Ludo. A game of snakes and ladders. A strange trick of fate. A ladder that spiraled the players up and a snake that slithered them down.

It was unusual for the two boys to be home at the time of the day when the afternoons dissolved into evenings; it was their time in the day to play their boyish games with other friends, but today, rain held them inside. Her brothers seemed strange, like two shrubs - growing up in spite of everything. Papa didn’t spend too much time at home and Maa remained busy with the daily chores, Raju and Chotu seemed to be playing parent to each other. The boys seemed to have a secret between them- a secret they would keep from the rest of the world and carry to their manhood. She felt like an intruder watching them like that as if they would guard the secret. Not being a part of their world, holding her peripheral status in their lives and games made her jealous.

She was lost in her thoughts when Jhunna came running to her. Jhunna was Jayanto’s uncle servant. Half man, half boy, Jhunna spoke haltingly and with a pronounced emphasis that bordered on sycophancy. “Didi, he intoned, Papa won’t come home today. It is raining very hard, I am leaving early today, going to my house, Papa told me to tell you to bolt the door after taking the boys inside. I also got some candles for you.

Roopa felt like crying. How could Papa leave her alone in the night with the two boys? She felt the mosquito bite on her bare legs. Jhunna had already come inside and was cajoling the boys to abandon the snake ladder game. Roopa followed him wordlessly as though acknowledging the new role of the protector thrown on her by an absent mother and a reckless father.

Jhunna took the two boys inside and started closing the windows an the door to the backyard. Atleast Papa had instructed him well. He kept his intonations floating. ‘Didi raining very hard. Water in Sahib’s compound. Sahib and your Papa can’t come. So your Papa said ‘Jhunna, you check on the children. I will come home when the rain stops. But this is the last rain of the season, Didi, it won’t stop till tomorrow morning’. Jhunna kept closing all the windows as instructed, he quickly wanted to get over with the last errand of the day to go to his home and cook for his paralytic mother. He came outside after lighting the candles, instructed Roopa to bolt the door from inside and not to open the door under any circumstances and left with assurances of coming back next day.Jhuuni also promised to inform Manju’s mother , Roopa’s friend who lived next door to keep an eye on them.

Raju and Chotu held to Roopa. “Didi, won’t Papa come home?” “No, she replied bravely. Don’t be scared. Nothing will happen.” Raju and Chotu kept hovering around her till they adjusted to the candlelight. Wind and rain kept howling outside, throwing itself against the doors and windows as though all the guests of monsoon wanted to break – in forcibly. Raju and Chotu lapsed back into another game of snakes and ladder. Roopa tried to concentrate hard on the game.

Raju had rolled the dice. The score was 3. It was a stair that took him to 21. Chotu looked crestfallen. There was no way to outsmart Raju unless he got some stairs too. Roopa felt her concentration waiver as the rain outside knocked with an abandon. Like an unwelcome intruder. Jhunni would have told Manju’s Ma to check after them but why would she bother in the rains? What was there to check anyways? They were bolted inside, what could go wrong?

Her thought were rudely jolted by a knock at the door.

“Mausi, Mausi open the door.” Roopa went numb. This was not Papa’s voice. It was not Jhunni either, nor Manju’s father. Who was this?

Raju reached 28, a snake, he slithered down to 13. Chotu was too scared to smile. Both the boys huddled around their elder sister.

With a brave voice she asked, ’Who are you?

“Mausi, Ramesh”, “please open the door.”

Roopa knew she had a brother Ramesh who studied in college in the town and went home to the adjoining town in the evening everyday. Ramesh Bhaiya had never visited them before and she had no idea how he looked. Opening the door to a stranger who claimed to be Ramesh was forbidden.

She kept quiet with the boys huddled towards her.

The voice outside grew earnest. ‘Mausi, what happened?, please opened the door’.

She uttered the unutterable. “Mausi is not at home. We are alon… and stopped midway.

The voice was silent for a minute. The candle flame flickered. Roopa glared hard at the snake that slithered Raju from 28 to 13. She could feel Chotu sobbing.

The voice became sweeter. ‘Is that Roopa, don’t worry, this is your Ramesh Bhaiya , please open the door.”

Roopa argued bravely, “Ma told me not to open the door for the strangers.”

The same sugar coated voice. “I am not a stranger, I am a guest, and I am your Ramesh Bhaiya.’

Roopa didn’t know what to say, her 9 year old mind told her that carrying on this conversation was inappropriate. And she couldn’t have a stranger, an uninvited guest of monsoon knocking the door while the three of the stayed indoors. Chotu had started sobbing and Raju looked like he wanted to sob too.

She stood there thinking what to do. She could probably open the backyard door and shout for Manju’ Ma. Would her voice carry in the rains? What if Manju’s Ma couldn’t hear and the stranger heard all the noise and found his way to the backyard. It didn’t take much, it was a narrow passage from the garden to backyard obfuscated with junk furniture yet not impossible to reach.

Yet this was her only bet. Quietly she opened the door to the backyard. The spray of the rain came inside extinguishing the candle. Chotu started wailing. She shouted for Manju’s Maa and ran inside to bolt the door once again.

The stranger cajoled her once again to let her in. Fate had it that Manju’s Ma heard the noise and came to her door guarded by her husband in the inclement weather. In places as this people lived for their neighbors.

Confusion reined at the font door, introductions were established, cross questioning took place, possible identity verification. Manju’s parents were convinced that the stranger was Ramesh Bhaiya for they called out Roopa’s name to open the door.

Roopa obliged. Ramesh Bhaiya was let in amidst the torchlight. Manju’s Maa reassured the wailing Chotu, the now clearly sobbing Raju and the petrified Roopa of the identity of Ramesh Bhaiya. Ramesh Bhaiya felt confident to light the candle. After staying around for half an hour, Manju’ parents left.

Ramesh Bhaiya made himself comfortable on the cot. He fondled Chotu and Raju and pulled Roopa’s cheek and admonished her for not recognising her brother.

Like the responsible one Roopa fetched him water and volunteered to make tea. Ramesh Bhaiya was insistent on making an impression so he followed Roopa to the kitchen to help her with it. Ramesh Bhaiya busied himself in the kitchen while Roopa made stuff available to him.

Chotu walked over to Raju and sat huddled next to him. Ramesh Bhaiya signaled from the kitchen.

“So Raju what do you want to be when you grow up?’ “Engineer”, came a guarded reply. Raju the elder of the two was finding it difficult to converse with someone who had made them so scared not so long ago.

‘I want to be an engineer too’, volunteered Chotu, his effort to fit into an adult world.

‘And what do you want to become Roopa?’ “Police Officer,” Roppa replied shyly not used to being asked this question often.

Ramesh Bhaiya went to use the bathroom while Roopa brought the tea into the drawing room. She looked at her brothers. Chotu had warmed to the idea of Ramesh Bhaiya, an audience to his childlike antics. Raju was still some what suspicious. He looked quizzically at Roopa. For the first time she felt connected to Raju. The thread was a tenuous one. Of worry. Of fear. Yet, it was a bond she shared exclusively with him and Chotu was excluded. She had broken into their club.

Raju was lost in his own thoughts. He remembered Ma’s instructions to never speak to strangers. But Manju’s parents were sure this was their cousin otherwise they wouldn’t let him in. At any cost.

But what if they had made a mistake? He shuddered at the thought. Improbable not impossible.

Ramesh Bhaiya joined them and started sipping the tea. ‘Roopa looked beyond the candle light uncomfortably, while Raju glanced at him suspiciously.

“Aha’, gushed Ramesh Bhaiya , we are playing snakes and ladders’, in an effort to look natural. Chotu recongnised his interest in the game as his chance to abandon another lost game and start afresh, a temptation he couldnt ignore. “Ramesh Bhaiya and Chotu started a game of snakes and ladders.

Chotu rolled the dice. This time he was a 3, he happily leaped to a 21 with the stair. Ramesh Bhaiya rolled the dice too, it was a 5. Roopa wished she could be young and careless like Chotu. Not bother about who the guest was. Accept him unconditionally. And live with the implications. The implications of inviting the Guest of monsoon.

She was still torn between the person who wanted to know what she wanted to be and the suddenness of his arrival. ‘What if Manju’s parents had made a mistake, what if this self proclaimed Ramesh Bhaiya was from a gang of thieves , they heard stories of so many of them these days, last week her class mate and her sister was stopped on their way back home by somebody on the pretext of asking some address. The girls ran away as fast as they could till they reached home. Could Ramesh be from the same gang? What if, he kidnapped Raju or Chotu? What if she fell asleep only to wake up to see Raju and Chotu gone leaving a ransom note behind, Papa would scold her and Ma would strangle her, she would fail the role of protector. She strengthened her resolve to stay awake and guard her younger brothers. She whispered to Raju who was lurking around, ‘Don’t eat anything he gives you.’ Raju looked at his sister, fear in his eyes… he was right, and didi was thinking the same thing. This was not Ramesh Bhaiya.

But there was no way of telling Chotu or making him understand this. He had accepted Ramesh Bhaiya. Raju wondered what he would do if Ramesh Bhaiya tried to kidnap them or worse harm Roopa didi. Didn’t Maa say once while Roopa didi was tying Rakhi that he should be willing to die to protect his sister’s honor, what did that mean? Did it mean that he should stand in the way of anyone trying to scare her? Or kidnap her? Take her away? He made a mental note of standing guard to his sister and younger brother while rain and wind threw at the door and a candle flame flickered in the room.

He also caught sight of the bag that Ramesh Bhaiya carried, he decided to seize it incase it contained anything that could harm her sister and younger brother. He started playing with it. Ramesh looked at him suspiciously and took it back.

Both Rooma and Raju looked at him and recoiled. Ramesh retrieved a small wallet from the bag, kept it with him and handed over the bag to Raju.

Roopa and Raju exchanged glances; the room was thick with suspicion. Roopa started reciting the Gayatri Mantra in her mind , a chant she was taught by Maa for occasions such as this.

Sleep engulfed the children in the room.

Roopa saw a horrible dream; she was walking with Raju and Chotu back home from school. Ramesh Bhaiya stops them and asks them to take them home. When they refuse and start running, he chases them. They run a good half a mile when Roopa discovers that Chotu is not running with them any more. She and Raju look back to see that Chotu is standing with Ramesh Bhaiya and waving to them. Ramesh Bhaiya is laughing like the villain in a movie they saw some time back.

Roopa keeps shouting Chotu’s name but he refuses to come. Roopa woke up with a start and heard her name being shouted couple of times. It was Papa’s voice. He was standing at the door. Sleepily she stood on the stool and opened the door. Chotu and Ramesh Bhaiya lay on one cot while Raju slept on the floor.

Papa came inside the room looking visibly guilty. He looked at Ramesh Bhaiya in amazement who got up sleepily.

‘Hullo Mausaji’ how are you?” Papa smiled at Ramesh Bhaiya, “Hullo Ramesh, when did you come?

Raju looked up from the bed and smile languidly at his sister, Roopa smiled back. Chotu did not stir in his sleep. Roopa noticed the rain had stopped. She went to the garden.

The guests of Monsoon had arrived.

4 comments:

progga said...

Shuchika,
just checked out your blog. And am gonna keep coming back!
How are you? :)

The Devil Within said...

Good Stuff...I was trying to visualise the melodrama going on in your mind while writing this!! (Maaaaaaa, Bachaaooo!!)

;-)

shuchika said...

progga,

that was unexpected but thanks, I am fine, letting faith settle in an existence that ranges from mundane to chaotic.

keep blogging.

shuchika said...

dear devilwithin,

u know what would i say to that,
shut up.