A Child, A Ghoul, And A Very Old Woman

Three thousand a month was bounteous for Gokul Sharma, even though it sounds paltry in an awfully inflated world. Still he threw it back upon Brijmohan. The offer was a ruse he knew.
‘I am ready to pay him a little more, let him take Badi Bua to his big house in Bangalore.’ Gokul offhandedly raised the bet that was not.
Badi Bua is over eighty five they say. She is old, in fact very old, with no drone of death round the corner. After eighty five, one stops living without being dead. Through the transparent layer of helplessness a creepy side of life is at display. How dreadful life would be without death, she is a portrayal. Blessing of a life of hundred years is a careless round off. Eighty five seems apt, even if sounds uncharitable.
Gokul was always sure of roots in his feet, and his pea in a pod son felt nothing different. As a result they are holding family’s forlorn flag in Bawani Kheda. His cousin Brijmohan Sharma chose the bumpy path to prosperity and joined a transport company in Bangalore. It took forty years to get the ticket. Brijmohan today owns a fleet of trucks while Gokul makes do with his meager pension shored up with an unsteady adjunct his dabbler son brings in.
After her husband was taken officially dead, Brijmohan’s father had said loud that their motherly elder sister would live with the joint family of Sharmas’. Badi Bua’s overly religious husband disappeared one day into thin air while in service of the awed and enigmatic Bapu of Bansur. Bapu’s followers openly traded the vanishing as a blissful, in person, departure to the higher world, while the police meekly witnessed the black comedy before archiving the case to the history of crime. Bua never mentions her husband whatever his name was. His father enjoyed Bua’s favors when it came to the division of family’s measly assets, Gokul remembers.
Death when breaks the order of life, does it with complete impunity. In a quick succession, Badi Bua watched the funeral procession of her two younger brothers with her desiccated eyes. Ripened death was labeled untimely both the times, only because the much older sister was still alive. An unduly long life not only makes the survivor behold many deaths, but also guilty of occupying space beyond the time limit. Being alive can’t be more ill-fated. Her wrinkles are like a jumbled tot up of deaths her eyes have seen. And that rare glint in her eyes now looks far beyond the horizon.
For Brijmohan she’s still the same stern Bua. Bangalore is very far from Bawani Kheda. Memories don’t travel by air. Bua was strict without a purpose, and both of them suffered her discipline more than the other kids in the household because they stayed longer under her looming shadow. They never saw their fathers overruling Badi Bua. At times both of them wished Badi Bua away. To where, they didn’t know. After their fathers gone, Bua was a legacy they must carry out. The world orated and both of them listened. The heart was with the thoughts, always like it is in the beginning.
Gokul was the natural choice. Being first among equals has its own pleasure. For years, he cherished the praise he got for looking after Bua, although it meant nothing more than two meals a day. He defeated his smart cousin first time in life; hands down. Time never flies. It creeps. Creeps and never stops. When we look back, years get compressed into minutes and we love to believe that it was not possible to be here without flying. So time flies, but only in retrospect. Gokul did almost nothing for Badi Bua. But he lived her hard presence day after day.
Suffering the presence of a person even death keeps away needs courage. Gokul only realized the truth the day this thought crossed his mind — ‘if Badi Bua perhaps with her memory gone sits in her saggy cot the day my procession heads to the crematorium?’ He felt dead all of a sudden. Would I leave her behind for my son to endure? Badi Bua is the past I could never get rid of. Brijmohan jumped the fence of fate. Shrewd!
There was no exculpation for Brijmohan either. Distance may take a man to safer haven, but it would be just a half of him. Half is left behind. It’s like virtually tearing apart, haphazardly. The result is a virtual pain. But a pain by any name is pain. Badi Bua would often say, ‘This boy will make it, you see. He will bring fortune to the family.’ He made it. Family had a new definition by then.
A coaxing invitation from her late husband’s side made her attend an over-publicized marriage last year. Everyone in the Sharma clan wheedled she must go. One full year is gone and it seems Sharmas have forgotten she’s alive. Brijmohan postponed the inauguration of his new house, and Gokul made his grandson’s first birthday very low key. The real reason was Badi Bua. She will come, and she will not go. She can’t. No place, and death, as she said many times, is deaf. Gokul is sitting tight with the shield he has earned. Brijmohan is at a safe distance. Stingers from her husband’s cousin are yet to get the desired. The last one that hit Brijmohan’s ear was ―‘now Vrindavan is the only place for her’.
With such an imposing backdrop, abandoning her further was scarier than jumping off the wall of life. For Brijmohan at least. The declaration ‘I have done beyond my capability’ found acceptance in Bawani Kheda and got duly rephrased ‘Gokul has done beyond his capability’ before travelling to wherever it needed to go. Bangalore was of course the final destination.
‘You must do something, Brijmohan! ’ The noise in his head got louder. He wanted it still louder to drown the scream of the ghoul. Money may not make your heart big, but it certainly makes you feel so.
Bouts of emotions come, and go, like waves. The hard rocky truth stays beneath, unchanged. Under the spell of one such bout, to feel free from the guilt, Brijmohan made his unreal suggestion. It was a silvery summer night. There was no sound except of the fan mercilessly hewing the air, like a trained hand chops meat in a fast rhythm. Everything looked hoary as it would on a sidewalk along the shore of life. And he made a muffled utterance for his wife to just hear; not to react, and never to quote.
He suddenly realizes the amount three thousand was not his quotation. If he had to really speak out a sum, it was not be different although. Unreal ideas don’t need a closure, anyway. So Sushila invented the amount, only to throw up and get a stingy reply for him? He felt decoupled for a moment.
Brijmohan felt there was a scream from far. He had heard it long back, he remembers. Bua would take him to the fields if found loitering in the lanes. In summers, when fields were lifeless, often a gush of wind would pass screaming, scaring him to his bones.
‘The ghoul screams sometimes from nowhere. You should attend to your job, and ignore the demon. Never look to the side of the scream. If you do that, the scream chases you wherever you go.’ Bua explained nonchalantly. He had not seen any one arguing with her.
Should I ask Sushila from where she got the figure of three thousand? And how it travelled to Bawani Kheda to earn a moral for him? He imagined the talks doing rounds in the small village.
‘What will Brijmohan do with his millions?’
‘He will die sleeping over the piles of notes.’
‘You have to be miser to be rich, my friend. The goddess of wealth loves staying in the chest.’
‘I spit on such stacks of money.’
These scoundrels love talking others. Absence of the subject brings more fun to them.
‘In absence of a staircase, the size of terrace is a waste argument.’ Badi Bua had a knack for proverbs.
‘Why would Gokul not have my feelings for Badi Bua?’— Brijmohan often wonders.
‘All the wells are same from inside, peep in or not.’ It was again a Badi Bua’s line.
It was after the first spell of rains, just thirty days from the day Sushila conveyed him Gokul’s retort. Sun looked suddenly fresh and young after a tiring journey of the day. Such an evening was the time Sushila could defeat Brijmohan even one on one. No matter he was back after a grueling or a bumper day in his business. She knows it was not possible for a wet pigeon like him to have such a long flight without her on his side. And this time the exciting twist in tail brought the girl out of her woman as she broke the news to Brijmohan.
‘Rahgu has brought Badi Bua to stay with him.’
‘Is this woman telling me a part of the soap opera I missed?’ He felt like snapping her, ‘I am living the story you been watching from sidelines. For god sake don’t make me a spectator next to you.’ It would be mad; he felt the bitter taste in his mouth the argument will leave at the end. Heart is a habitually howling infant. Ignore.
‘Raghu… what is he to Badi Bua? Only because his mother was Bua’s afternoon friend! Someone told me, last time he spent weeks at Jantar Mantar with those anti-corruption guys, only for free meals, no?’
‘And then a few days in custody for publicly slapping a political leader.’ Sushila checked him with a confirmatory rejoinder.
‘He’s single but. Invite the town to your house and leave for a pilgrimage. Own meal is a hunt; cares for others, rascal!’ Brijmohan seethed.
‘But he has got her to live at his house. One way good, if you think. At least she will switch on the lights in his ghostly house. She gets an old age pension of a thousand of her own. And then we are there; will send her whatever she needs. Now don’t poke your nose for nothing.’ Sushila pronounced.
‘A cat always has a valid reason to kill a mouse.’ Brijmohan swallowed Bua’s pet phrase at the nick.
And suddenly he felt the ghoul stretching it limbs. Not she, it’s I who has let it go the way it has been. I never got up to say anything. I could make Badi Bua live with us in Bangalore. If by not forcing my decision on Sushila I had option of imploring. She would have indulged probably. But I chose to bear the pain. It’s easy to carry the baggage of memories than to have company of the past. This is the way of life. Waves can’t change the shape of rocky reality deep down the sea. He could hear the faint screams of the ghoul. He knows the screams would be louder as the night sets in. He didn’t listen to Badi Bua, and every time stopped and looked to the direction of the scream. The ghoul knows him since he was a child.
Gokul would have found his reasons too. Everyone does.
Brijmohan suddenly felt pressure in his chest. He gently massaged it like one cajoles an innocent child after an unwarranted scolding.
The memory lane was dark and lonely. Except the ghoul of life screeching in the background, there was nothing.
‘We will be sending two thousand a month to Badi Bua every month. That’s the only way to stop people talk nonsense.’
‘Why should we sponsor the designs of a scoundrel? I pay Badi Bua minimum a thousand every time I touch her feet.’ Sushila was quick and sure.
Brijmohan let pass his wave of anger, and opted concurrence for the moment.
‘Buy a couple of cotton saris for her, and that joint-pain ointment too this time.’
‘Yes, as if I have been doing all that only on your reminders.’
Tired of relentless howling, the child wants to sleep. The ghoul has snuggled down. May Badi Bua pass away in peace, and soon!

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