Monday, 25 November 2013

Mystery of the Bandage - Stories in the Chai Shop

Some people are born storytellers. Thanks to our schools and offices, imagination of people like us has run dry, but fortunately our elders in villages are still adept in the art of story-telling. Exchanging stories from an imaginary world over a card game or a puff of chillum1 is still the best recreation they have.  Not all the characters in these stories are imaginary, many of them are real life characters within the village, nearby villages; boys who ran away with a girl of another caste, girls who meet their boyfriends in fields, priest who drinks liquor secretly, families heading for partition and so on.
The main character of our story had recently settled in the village. He took a room on rent in the home of village’s sarpanch2. Nobody knew what his occupation was, though many people had seen him spending long hours in chai3 shops with a pen and notebook. Some said he was a government inspector, others said he was a criminal in hiding. Given the lack of unanimity, nobody approached him for the fear of getting associated with him.
One day protagonist of our story entered the chai shop with a bandage over one of his eyes. He ordered for the tea and started reading the newspaper. Incidentally a group of our storytellers was also sitting in the shop at the same time. The person who first noticed him and the bandage around his eyes poked his neighbour who in turn poked his neighbour, so on and so forth. After some pokes, there was no one remained who was not poked and was not looking his direction. The last person looked pretty confused as he did not have anyone to poke, so he just looked at the other members of the group. One of the experienced story tellers declared that he knew what has happened and all others gathered around him. The experience story teller once again looked at the bandage and having assured himself that they were standing on the blind side, started his story.
“All you fools are blind. Don’t you recognise who this guy is? You all have fish’s memory power. This is Madho. I knew you nincompoops will not be able to recognise him, but I knew when I saw him first. Don’t you remember the potter who lived near the neem4 tree? This is his son who ran away ten years back. He was good for nothing; used to roam around with sarpanch’s daughter all day long. One day the sarpanch caught them coming out of village’s film theatre and ran after him with a lathi5 in his hand. Madho was young and ran very fast while sarpanch got caught up in his own dhoti. Madho looked back and let out a laughter and then he ran away. That was the last anybody ever saw him. The same Madho has come back and was roaming around sarpanch’s daughter. I noticed this and told the sarpanch and the result is in front of you all.”
The last person to be poked was even more confused now. He got up and approached the story teller. Then he took out his slippers and started beating our darling story teller. Others were still upset with his abusive language so they deemed it fit to let him have some beating. After a minute, others jumped in and stopped the person with the slipper and asked him why he was beating the old man. “This donkey has told this same story to entire village and ruined my name” he said. Somebody asked him “How has he ruined your name?”. “My name is Madho, son of the potter.” He said. Everybody looked at each other for a moment and then laughed like there is no tomorrow.
The hero of our story was still sitting there, undisturbed by the fight and the laughter. Others came and went, till another group of gossipers assembled in the shop. There was no poking since everybody had seen him sitting with a bandage. One of the group members gathered courage and asked “What happened to this city dweller?” Another one, as if waiting for this opportunity, jumped in and said “Yesterday I was walking towards my fields when I saw that he was doing exercise in front of sarpanch’s house. I tell you, he may look lean and thin, but he has muscles rippling out of his arms as if he has glued some fishes to them. So I paid him a compliment and said why you don’t participate in village’s wrestling competition. He ridiculed me, saying that “I am national champion. I don’t waste time with these novices.” You know our village wrestler, Bheema, happened to pass from there that very moment and heard him saying so. Only a few know that Bheema himself entered into a national championship but could not compete because he had, by mistake, got himself enrolled in ladies wrestling contest. Some of you may consider him as stupid but I tell you he is very sharp. So instead of challenging him for a fight, Bheema requested him to teach some tricks. As expected, this single bone structure did not know any tricks and while jumping on Bheema, got himself hurt in the eye.” Others were very amused with the story and complimented Bheema on his cleverness. Two of them even got up and enacted the whole incident again.
Village doctor entered the shop and being considered a very respectable man; others touched his feet and welcomed him to sit with them. He seemed very disturbed so they offered him tea and asked what the matter was. He sighed and said that for the first time he is not able to cure someone. The patient was in bed for last one week and no medicine was working on him. They asked who he was. The doctor said “Bheema, and the worst part is that he was supposed to compete in the national championship this week.”  People waited till the doctor left from shop and then enacted the whole trick teaching scene again, only that they jumped on the story teller this time.  
It was a winter evening and nothing like a hot cup of tea when one, after toiling for the whole day, wishes to take a break and share one’s troubles with his brethren.  But not today; today they had a new topic to discuss. They stared at the bandage for so long that the tea got cold and they had a fight with the shop owner to get it heated again. Sipping the reheated tea, one of them declared that he knows what has happened and narrated like this “Last night I got late from work and to reach home quickly, decided to take the shortcut from graveyard. Normally I would not have taken that route but yesterday, this shifty eyed was walking in front of me so I got courage and followed him. We must be halfway when suddenly the wind grew cooler and dogs started howling. I was so afraid that I wanted to take a leak but for the fear of losing his sight, I kept walking. I almost froze when I saw, a ghost appeared out of nowhere in front of him. I jumped in a nearby bush and peeped from there. I tell you, this person is some kind of wizard or something, he was not afraid a bit. He caught the ghost by his tail and threw him in my direction, but the tail struck his eye and thus this bandage. When the ghost was passing by me, I saw his face. He was that boy, Madho, son of potter who ran away in the graveyard and got killed by witches. His ghost still roams remembering his love with sarpanch’s daughter.” He had just finished the story when a slipper came down hard on his head and then another and yet another. The slipper holder yelled “For the last time I am telling you dogs. I am Madho, the son of potter, and I am not a ghost.”  
And that was the last group of the day. Our hero with the bandage on his eyes, having drunk twenty cups of tea, undisturbed by the on-going events around him, took the last sip of the day. Then he opened the bandage, put in on the table and rubbed his eyes. He took out a pen and a notebook and wrote “Madho - son of the potter, Bheema – wrestler who enrolled in ladies’ national championship, sarpanch who got caught in his own dhoti, Madho’s ghost with a tail.” Then he kept the pen and notebook in his pocket and said to himself “Interesting characters for my next story.”
1 A chillum, or chilam, is a straight conical pipe with end-to-end channel, traditionally made of clay and used since at least the 18th century for smoking tobacco
2 Head of the village
3 Tea
4 Azadirachta indica
5 Stick