Pathak-ji sat in the bus that sped along the highway. He scanned the scenery and simultaneously scoured the news item in his newspaper, “Another man killed… feudal practices…police cover up….”. Another article read “The new rate of fertilisers have made farmers more furious” and another “There could be a bus strike …”. He folded the paper and looked out of the window, as his eyes grazed the green farmlands instead of the daily news.
It was a comfortable journey that ended towards evening. When Pathak-ji alighted from the bus, he saw a very busy bus station with villagers bustling in and out of every bus. It was a lively place even at that hour; tea vendors and biscuit sellers barged in and out of the buses with practised ease. Some people made themselves at home on the station floor, sitting in groups and lazing around. Apparently, they had lots of time to kill before their journey.
Impressed at the vibrancy of the new place, Pathak-ji took charged steps towards the exit and caught a ride. The private guest house was a far cry from the sloppy government guesthouses. A fully furnished living room with freshly washed and ironed curtains, a clean red carpet below the teapoy that came along with a dining table and chairs by the side were straight out of his dream. When he staggered into the bedroom, he was even more overwhelmed at the king sized bed with bright white linen; a tiny sofa on the side right next to the study table was more than he could have asked for. It was only for a fraction of a second that he felt something was not right. But then the feeling again overwhelmed him and he allowed himself to smile in front of the person who showed him into his quarters. In his mind, he patted himself on the back, for showing guts, moving out of his comfort zone, to face a new challenge and for showing a spine. Back at his previous job as a teacher at school, he pictured his colleagues sitting on the rickety chairs facing the headmaster’s fury over small issues and complaining about world affairs whilst themselves doing very little in their small worlds.
His chest swelled with pride; he had accepted the job offer at a new school in a new city in another district altogether. His risk was paying him sweet fruits of satisfaction. “No pain no gain” – how true it was, he thought.
In the bed at night, he snuggled under the warm sheets and thought about his wife. Too greedy she was …at the time of marriage everyone had prophesied, “She is going to make a good home for you”. Ha! he smirked to himself, she left me… now when she will learn about my new job and placement, she will regret and badger me to take her back. Only now, I won’t. She would be blown away if she sees this accommodation. She will regret and how! Her last words to me before leaving were, “I am your wife and not your mother… can’t look after you all my life. You are a buddhu (daft)!! You don’t realise when you are taken for a ride.”
Ha! Buddhu and me? Today she will realise what a fool she was. I am on my way to progress and am going to settle again. But this time, I will make sure that I really buy a house first and then think of other things and not the other way round. This town appears like a place where I would like to build a nest. It’s warm, vibrant and welcoming…
The next day, Pathak-ji reported to the person he was supposed to meet. Tribhuvan-ji was in his office when he saw Pathak-ji enter from the main door. He immediately summoned him into his private cabin.
“Good morning Pathak-ji! How are we today? Did you like the guest house?”
“Thank you so much for everything, Tribhuvan-ji. All the arrangements were perfect. In fact, I felt that you have gone out of your way to make me at home. After all I am just an ordinary school teacher and not an officer”.
“Oh come on!” exclaimed Tribhuvan-ji with a wide smile. “You have no idea how precious you are to us. We are starting a very big private school here, first of its kind and we wanted the best of the teachers”.
“I will do my best, as much as I can. Where are the other teachers and staff of the school?” He asked naturally.
For a moment, he thought that Tribhuvan-ji choked himself as he was sipping tea. It was a mere figment of imagination. Tribhuvan-ji was all fine and so was his tea.
“Oh yes! They would all be arriving soon. We called you here first so that you can take charge of everything”. He was ever so polite.
“Charge? Ok. Of my students? Of my classes?”
“Oh yes … yes”. After a pause, Tribhuvanji got up and suggested a tour of the school.
“You see, the school is a little way away, but we can walk up to there. They had shifted my office temporarily in the other building as they are going to shut the whole school and shift it to the new building that is almost ready”.
Pathak-ji walked into a very dilapidated structure the roof of which appeared to be falling over and the musty stench of clogged drains was repelling.
“How do children sit here all day?”
“That is precisely the reason why Daroga-ji is making prompt arrangements to house the school into a brand new building. It is just the last few days that the students are bearing with all this discomfort”. They both started walking around the school while Tribhuvan-ji showed him every nook and corner. At the end of the tour, Pathak-ji was more than convinced that the students needed a new place to study.
For lunch, Tribhuvan-ji accompanied him to a very neat eatery where they served authentic North Indian food. Pathak-ji was quite embarrassed as he found this hospitality very overwhelming. But Tribhuvan-ji insisted, stating that a person new to a place would not know the right restaurants. After lunch, Pathak-ji started reflecting whilst his host had gone for a washroom break. He reflected upon the reactions his colleagues and fellow teachers gave upon seeing his appointment letter. He recalled that the reactions had been mixed. Some were very surprised and happy for him while the other group wore a doubtful expression. Out loud they asked him,
“Are you sure about this?”
“Would you be able to live all alone in a new city?”
“Never heard of this school before?” How could they? He smiled when he remembered this particular question. He himself hadn’t heard of it, because it happened to be a brand new private school. Oh they mostly must be jealous, they were used to a life in the comfort of their surroundings. They had family. It didn’t matter to him. He had no family. His wife had left him for good. There was nothing to hold him back there and he himself wanted to start afresh. Here, he was happy for his new beginnings.
After lunch, he thanked Tribhuvan-ji profusely and departed. He bought some basic necessities and decided to call it a day. He would be notified soon about the schedule of the new school and his timings. In the meantime, he had to look for accommodation for himself. He won’t be able to avail the guest-house for long. He will have to move into a rented apartment of his own. Till then, he decided to enjoy the comforts of his luxurious stay.
After dinner, he was about to retire to bed when he heard a knock on the door. When he wonderingly opened the door, he saw Tribhuvan-ji standing with a big smile on his face.
“Tribhuvan-ji … you at this hour?”
“Oh! I live nearby… just came to check on you. All ok?”
“Oh! yes of course, how can one have problem in this lavish abode.”
“Ha ha yes..” Tribhuvan-ji scanned the living room while Pathak-ji shut the front door. The two men got comfortable in the living room as they chatted casually. It was around mid-night when Tribhuvan-ji suggested that they go out for a stroll. Pathak-ji initially refused stating the unearthly hour, but then gave in when the former promised that they would be back in half an hour.
Whilst they walked around, they came to a huge Haveli. Tribhuvan-ji explained that it belonged to Daroga-ji, the feudal lord there and whose school the latter would be joining as a teacher. As they were passing by, Pathak-ji scanned the whole property that was barely guarded at night. It had huge gardens and coconut trees around it.
While they were still walking around, they heard something spring into the deathly silence of the night. They both were stunned and looked around. Then there was another noise which by this time Pathak-ji realised had originated from the Haveli and was most likely a gun-shot. He turned to Tribhuvan-ji who had started sprinting towards the Haveli.
“Tribhuvan-ji pls come back.. we must not go inside”!!
“Someone might need our help. Come, let’s go ..” he replied.
Pathak-ji remained planted when he heard the other say,
“Come on we need to help …”
He reluctantly followed Tribhuvan-ji who ran across the property into the Haveli and to a particular room. Pathak-ji followed him closely. They had entered a room, in the middle of which lay two bodies shot down. They lay in a pool of their blood. Tribhuvan-ji ran towards the bodies and picked the gun that lay beside them and gave it to Pathak-ji. He then checked the bodies for any pulse.
“Is there any sign?” A man walked into the room.
Tribhuvan-ji shook his head,
“No sign at all”.
Suddenly, the deserted Haveli started crowding with many men who turned up at the spot.
Pathak-ji stood obediently holding the gun while the others checked the bodies.
There was a question running in his mind. He finally asked,
“Nobody here is asking who killed the people? Is that not important to find out”.
All the men stopped talking and started staring at him. Tribhuvan-ji who was stooping over the bodies looked questioningly at him and came near him. He broke into a big smile….
“But.. we all know…”
“Who…?” Pathak-ji demanded.
“You…” he pointed at the gun Pathak-ji was holding.
“What!! You gave it to me…” Pathak-ji panicked.
“Who will believe you .. in our land..?”
Tribhuvan-ji said smilingly …
“And here comes the police..”
An inspector walked in and saw Pathak-ji holding the gun ….
What happened later was straight out of a nightmare. Pathak-ji was telling everyone and trying to convince them to believe him. His story was falling over deaf ears. He almost cried in front of the police inspector, but to no avail. He saw his hands in handcuffs and he was led out of the Haveli….
When alone in the darkness of his cell, he remembered so many things that people had said.. It all started coming back to him slowly. Slowly, the whole picture started forming in front of his eyes…
The expression of his colleague upon seeing the appointment letter,
“Have never heard of this school, are you sure you want to go for it?”
Tribhuvan-ji earlier in the day choking when he asked about the rest of the staff of the new school.
“Oh! they would be arriving soon… we called you here first to take charge of everything….”
A little later the same man had said,
“Who will believe you in our land…?”
His ex-wife had something about him,
“You are buddhu! Anyone can take you for a ride”.
There was something else that was flashing in his mind… He wasn’t able to figure out exactly what it was…. And suddenly …. the news item that he was reading from the newspaper last evening flashed in front of his eyes….
“Another man killed…… feudal practice… police cover up”.
The night outside his jail cell grew darker and darker…