FINAL CHAPTER: A NEW BEGINNING!
My aunt was carried back later to her room and Bihari Baba instructed us, with a hint of caution, not to wake her up in the next forty eight hrs. He assured,
– “Uske baad, sab theek ho jayega” [All will be well after that!].
He also warned us against reminding her of this incident and stated that if this memory is brought back, it could be dangerous, both for her as well as for the others.
After she was moved to her room, my mom and my grandma, who was still half convinced, made efforts to change her sari and put a new one on, but it proved to be a bigger challenge than expected. Keeping in mind Baba’s instruction of not waking her up, they eventually gave up on their efforts and laid my aunt down, still wrapped in her soiled sari which was in its most unsanitary condition by then. The hygiene issues can be sorted out later.
Meanwhile, Bihari Baba along with my dad, uncle and my Jethu, went towards the pond side to take a look. No one else was allowed to accompany them at that point, but we were all able to check it out later. One of the large palm trees was found uprooted near the pond, and it had taken a nosedive straight into the water. A few meters away from the tree, there was a hole with the depth of an adult man’s height, and about a couple of feet in diameter. Incidentally, this seemed to be the place where my aunt was found lying unconscious, and also the spot where Baba had marked a trident with chalk powder.
My father asked Bihari Baba what he could do in return for his services and offered him some money, but Baba smiled and declined the offer. Instead, he asked for permission to stay the night and requested a hearty meal with some meat dish. Due to all this disturbance, meat was not an item available in our house on that night, but one of the neighbours came to our rescue, and brought us some mutton curry she had cooked for her own family. As we prepared dinner for Baba, he decided to take a walk near the pond again, all by himself, and a quarter of an hour later, he returned with his saffron robe drenched in water. In his hand, he carried a wet palm leaf, its stem included, which he carefully folded and tied with a red string and tucked into his sack like a collectible.
It was pretty late in the night, but most of the people still around had forgotten the feeling of hunger, and were still observing this strange man and each of his movements. Baba though, seemed pretty oblivious of the others around him. He calmly walked to the washing area and to the shock of many, took off his robe. Standing stark naked, in that half lit washing bay, he began pumping the tube well and using the bucket and a mug, took a long and steady shower, with pairs of eyes staring at him from the distance. Once done, Baba walked back at us, still naked as the day he was born, and dug into his sack to take out a fresh robe and eventually got dressed again. He then sat for his dinner and my father, along with my mother and uncle, served him as well as they could.
Baba also gave a few instructions to my father and uncle, of which two were particularly noteworthy. He asked them to find the person called ‘Ratan’, who was now understood to be the son of ‘Baikuntha’, the name mentioned by my aunt. Baba insisted that it was of utmost importance to locate Ratan, in order to bring this entire story to a closure. He also instructed my father not to allow anyone to fill up the hole near the pond. With a very serious tone he insisted;
– “If you find that hole filled up someday, before you have managed to locate Ratan, don’t waste any time, come and find me immediately!”
And those were probably the last words anyone in the house heard from Bihari Baba! They had made arrangements for him to sleep in the last guest room, and had shifted some other guests to accommodate him. Baba had retired to his room later that night as everyone went to their own beds, expecting a peaceful night of sleep after many weeks.
However, the following morning, when people in the house woke up, they found the third guest room, where Baba was supposedly sleeping, to be empty and there were no signs of Baba anywhere. The room looked almost untouched, and did not show any evidence of someone having spent the night there. The whole premises, including the rear gate and the pond side, was checked, but Baba could not be found. My father was still asking everyone to stay calm, suggesting that Baba must have decided to take a stroll nearby, but his voice lacked its usual conviction. Then Rana, my cousin brother, pointed to the ground in front, where Baba had carried out the ritual a day earlier, that we had all been witnesses to. Much to everyone’s disbelief, there were no circles on the ground, not even any leftovers from the wood and straws that were burnt less than twenty four hours back. The ground was as clean and spotless as it used to be, before the events of yesterday. Everyone looked quizzically at each other and at my father, who had no answers yet again. Baba seemed to have vanished into thin air, and along with him, all the evidences of him having ever set foot on these premises, had also disappeared.
But the tall palm tree still lay on the bank of the pond, its leafy face still submerged inside the water. As also existed the deep hole left next to it, the one that we were all forbidden from attempting to fill up.
My aunt was still in deep slumber, which only ended another two days later. Rana had kept a check on the clock and he proudly declared that his mother had slept for exactly sixty seven hours and 35 minutes, at a stretch. Everyone in the house felt a certain sense of relief, but were also pegged back by the uncertainty of whether this nightmare was indeed about to end. If it didn’t, no one knew what could or should be the next action taken.
That day, we had finished our lunch and grandma was telling us a story about her childhood in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), that time when there was a massive flood in her village and water had entered every house, ruining properties and belongings. Raja suddenly let out a shriek and our eyes followed, only to find my aunt standing at the door. With a hint of embarrassment, she asked my grandma;
– “Maa, amar shari ta eto nongra keno? Ghorer shob jinish potro erokom tochh nochh hoye achhe keno?” [Mother, why is my sari so dirty? And why is everything in the room completely destroyed?”
That marked the return to normal life for all of us, and after some days, this entire incident became just a bad memory, with no lasting impact on most of our lives. Two days later, when everyone was convinced that my aunt had returned to being the usual lady she used to be, my father asked us to pack our stuff as we prepared for our return back to Haldia, the small township about 120 kms away, that we called home at that time.
My uncle bade farewell to my father with deep gratitude and teary eyes, as the two brothers hugged each other briefly. My grandma also cried when it was her turn to say goodbye. The whole house thanked my father, as everyone acknowledged the significant role he had played in this memorable story. My aunt had packed a tiffin case with luchi and alur dom (deep fried bread and a popular potato dish), for us to have on the road back home. Finally, having said goodbye to everyone in the house, the four of us left the house and set out for our trip back to Haldia. I sat with my father in a rickshaw, which would take us to the bus stop on the main road and as the rickshaw puller started pedalling, I turned back one last time at the people waiting at the main gate. My aunt waved at me, and after a moment’s hesitation, I waved back at her, as the rickshaw pulled on and I lost sight of them.
Once we were back in Haldia, I resumed my school, which had already started a few days back. A week later, my father went to Asansol, where he somehow located Ratan and explained to him the entire incident. Ratan was by relationship, a distant uncle of my father and in his late fifties. He disclosed that his father, Baikuntha, had disappeared nineteen years back, suspected to have drowned in the Damodar river, although his body was never found. They had waited for days and months, hoping for his return some day, but in time they had accepted the fact, that he was not coming back. At my father’s insistence, they did a ritual to perform his last rites, according to the Hindu belief of providing ultimate relief to the departed soul, and pave its way into the world of peace.
My aunt has been living an absolutely normal life ever since. She is still the caring person we have always known, but as is expected, age is gradually catching up on her. Raja and Rana have grown into two fine gentlemen and now have their own families. My uncle and aunt left that house and moved to their own house about a year later, the house where they presently live along with the family of Rana, their younger son.
My grandma passed away eight years later, after suffering from a prolonged illness.
The only person who was left with a considerable and lasting impact from this incident, was my father. He used to be a vocal atheist and a staunch ‘non-believer’ before all this, publicly refuting and often ridiculing, the existence of God and Ghosts. He had an uncompromising stance when it came to believing anything that defied logic or science. Months after this incident was done and dusted, he was still relentlessly trying to find answers. During one of our trips to our maternal aunt’s house in Ranaghat, a few months later, we came to Sealdah station to board the local train. My father made an excuse and left us for some time, as he went looking for something. When he returned, almost twenty minutes later, he looked somewhat pale, and although he dodged any questions from my mother, we could all sense that something was wrong. But there was no way of finding out, so we had all boarded the train as usual, and enjoyed a great few days with my maternal aunt’s family. Years later, my father would explain, that he had felt an irresistible curiosity that day at the Sealdah station, an urge to find more about the destination called ‘Banghaat’. So he had quietly made an excuse and walked to the Platform No. 11 to study the schedule of trains hoping to know exactly where Banghaat was. When he reached the platform that he had been to before, much to his bewilderment, he found that there was no operational platform with the No. 11. Confused, he had gone to the station master’s office and inquired about it, and what he learned from the gentleman was even more bizarre. The station master had informed him that there was indeed a Platform No. 11, but it was presently being constructed and was scheduled to be inaugurated in another five month’s time! My father had also asked him about the station Banghaat, and followed it up with the names Kanerpara and Sarengi, but the station master had never heard of any of those three villages.
Decades later, using the power of the internet, I had done some search on those three names myself, without much success. I had found only one place with the name ‘Banghaat’ and it seemed to be near Satpuli, in Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand), over 1,500 kms from Kolkata. ‘Sarengi’ was a name which did not find a direct match and the closest I managed to find, were two towns with the name ‘Sarenga’, one near Howrah and one in Bankura district, both in West Bengal. In 2003-04, I visited both these towns but couldn’t find any linkage and eventually concluded that they were unrelated to this chronicle. ‘Kanerpara’ was a name that did not seem to exist!
A year later, my father took his ‘diksha’, a Hindu religious ceremony to initiate a person as a disciple, from Bharat Sevasram Sangha, a charitable socio-religious organization with notable presence in India, as well as in many countries abroad. He transformed into a person of faith, gave up eating meat, dedicated himself to religious activities with Bharat Sevasram Sangha, progressed to become the General Secretary of their South Bengal unit, spearheaded the foundation of a temple and a charity hospital, and has been deeply involved in religious and charity activities ever since.
My brother and I grew up with vivid memories of this incident, but all through our childhood, adolescence and early youth, during which we shifted our base from Haldia to Kolkata, we avoided discussing this topic even between ourselves. Finally, a few years back, I started to feel that there was a story to be told and I would be depriving people if I left it untold. So today, I feel relieved after having narrated this story. I hope some of you had found it interesting and worth a read!