This post H for Haunted Past’ is written as part of
#AtoZChallenge: ‘Blogging from A to Z Challenge (April 2016).
H for Hunting the past
The mystery woman, Maya, is nothing short of an enigma and every single action she does rips my mind apart. At times, I wonder whether her mental age is really 18. Daring to the hilt, she chased this young boy fiddling his hand in the garbage by throwing herself in a patch of mud, swimming in the icy cold water and ramming the boat beating the storm. She is the real deal, the heroine capable of almost anything while her hero lurks in a shadow and waiting for every single opportunity to run away.
Mystery woman won over Babloo by lying down on the muddy sand along with him and he smiles shyly to her. She winks. He winks back. They are like some long lost lovers and Maya playing some younger version of a cougar to a six-year-old boy trapped in poverty. She holds his hand and giggles, “Should I tell you a secret?”
Babloo makes a sound with this tongue, “No!! Yes!! No!!” They’ve been playing around and fiddling in dirt under some abandoned construction. Maya bribes him with a toffee and 10-rupee note, “Now, tell me what do you know about him?” He pulls Maya finger with this tiny hand and she runs after the latter, jumping off debris in the village to cross the tiny lake. A small dingy hut could be spotted where one would hear the dry and persistent cough of an old man.
She bends her head to enter the hut and the old man, wearing a banyan on a pyjama struggles with his patchy eyes to look at her. Babloo whispers something into his ear. I am watching from a distance. The man asks in an irritating tone, “What do you want to know about him? Go away.”
I walk briskly to enter the small house and try to mollycoddle him, “I have come to the village and say something na, Kaka.” I slip a handful of notes on the torn clothes that double as a mattress on the floor. “You were born in this village and were very naughty as a child, troubling everyone. You would come to my STD booth every day to steal coins. Some guys would trouble your parents often and one day, they slapped your father. You stormed into their house and burned everything they have with coconut leaves lying outside. You had no choice but to run away to another gaon. They say people are rich there.”
He takes a pause, “Many years later, you visited the village again in your big car. You became a sahib and they say you have become very rich.” The old man voice stammers. Some phoren journalist accompanied you. I don’t know more than that.”
“Where is she?” I ask. Babloo held the shoulder of the old man, “She is dying in the hospital and is in her last stage.” “Let’s go,” Maya shouted. We took the car and Chotu sits in the front seat, showing us direction to the only private hospital more than 5,000 km away.
Her name is Irene and is an American journalist settled in India after she came to cover me. I don’t even remember her. She smiles faintly, “You have come. I am sorry that I couldn’t publish your biography.
The doctor signals us that she is in her last stage and suffering from lung cancer. As we smile feebly to her and start walking away, she calls in her meek voice. She directs me to pull her black bag and to open it for her. Irene says, “Take this bundle. It’s the manuscript of your biography. Everything is written right to your struggling days in Mumbai and how you became a star.”
We leap with joy and embrace her. But, our joy was short lived when we realize that the ink on the stack of papers has faded away. She wears a disappointing look. Her hand is trembling as she scrolls something on a paper sheet. “Go back to the Red STD Booth. Chotu will show you. I collapsed there and the pen drive must have fallen somewhere. I saved everything inside the black pen drive. All the best,” Her eyes became moist.
Someone bangs on our door at the bungalow in the middle of the night. It’s Chotu. He is panting and in tears. He says, “Madam Irene has passed away during the night.” We arrange for Irene’s funeral on the next day and as the body is put to rest, I am aware of the trial that I am going to face in the coming days.
Fate is playing a game with me now. In a matter of hours, the shiny red STD booth has been erased and crushed into fragmented pieces. One can see telephone wires, a plastic chair and shard of glasses lying scattered. My life is into pieces like the STD booth. The illusion, I mean Maya, scolds me, “What are you doing standing like a bystander? Come and put your hand in the dirt. We pulled the booth upside down, fumbling our fingers in the mud and inspect the broken phones in the hunt for the passport of my life, the tiny USB. Our hands are scratched and we are sweating heavily in the scorching sun. No luck so far. It’s been 5 hours that we donned the mantle of scavengers.
Maya unplugs the landline and hits it on the marble floor but what we get is some rusted devices breaking into tiny parts. “Fuck,” I yell. “I ain’t doing that anymore.”
We’ve put our hands into everything and depleted our energy by rolling the STD booth, which is now a luxury in urban India. Yet, we massacred it for a fucking pen drive. Screw us, man. The hands and palms that dug into fungus became sticky with dirt. Finally, we abandoned all search. The haunted past is eluding me further and I am sure, it must be a very painful reality.
Dejected I turn towards Maya whose silence is tricky and says, ‘Let’s go. It’s over now.’ She looks flustered like a thief hiding something. Perhaps, I am hallucinating.