Friday, March 12, 2021

Mystery story: Boy goes back to his village home for lunch

After an unknown disease strikes, Manas returns home from the city to see his ailing mother. Does he experience anything paranormal in his village, where many were believed to have died?

Rural Bengal, in the 1960s, witnessed many famines and mystery diseases, which killed people by the thousands and this gave the grandmothers an opportunity to rustle up some spicy stories on the paranormal and relate them to their grandchildren. 

Aaturia, in 24 Parganas district, was one such village that hogged the limelight after some contagious mystery disease, which doctors were baffled about, hounded its residents.

The zamindar (landlord) of the village Mihir cared for the people — unlike other landlords, who tortured their subjects — and got doctors from Calcutta, organising medical camps to help the villagers.

And this, to a large extent, helped tame the spread of this viral fever in Aaturia, at least temporarily.

Fatalities from mystery diseases in those days were usually very high since doctors had to make do with the limited medication available and even the potency of the drugs was very low.

Amid the epidemic, Mihir was worried about his son Manas, who was away in Calcutta for over a year now. After all, Manas was his only child.

Mihir was a rich man and Manas could have virtually done nothing to get all the privileges of life …but he chose to do something worthwhile, and hence, decided to move to the capital city.

Like his son, Mihir also believed in being a self-made man. In contrast to other zamindars in Bengal, he didn’t spend his days forcing farmers to pay up tax and splurging. He rather looked to achieve something on his own.

He owned rice fields and mills, which were lucrative businesses at that time. He wanted Manas to join him but his son had other plans to which Mihir didn’t seem too pleased.  

Manas was a meritorious boy, who had won a litany of accolades. He topped the village school and got admitted to the prestigious Calcutta University, which was considered the Oxbridge of eastern India at that time.

He was studying an Honours degree in chemistry in the sought-after Presidency College and was mainly engrossed in his studies.

The mystery disease did not bother him until his mother Mohini contracted it. This left him very worried.

“Am I not going to see my mother again?” he asked himself. This thought left him shattered.

But a telegram — the fastest mode of conveying a message at that time — from his father made him heave a sigh of relief.

In the message, Mihir said, “Need not worry. Mother recovering quickly.”

Manas, whose annual university exams were hardly a month away, took a deep breath and thought, “Now, at least I can concentrate on my studies.” So, he chalked out a 14-hour study plan and never missed his daily targets.

The big day arrived and his exams went off well on Day One. The schedule was spread over 15 days.

As the days passed by, he had his theory and practical exams. And, he came out smiling every day from the examination hall.

But just when two papers were left, he got another telegram from home that stated, “Come back. Urgent.”

He was in a dilemma now. If he left for home, he would miss the two exams and would have to reappear in order to pass the second year. The other option was to stay back and finish the exam. It was a matter of just two days.

But Manas seemed to be getting a weird feeling. “Did something happen to mother?” he asked himself.

When he had gone to sleep last night, he had a dream, where he clearly saw his mother feeding him luchi (a type of puri) and kosha mangsho (spicy mutton curry).

“Two more luchis?” his mother, who savours the moments when her son eats, asked.  

Manas was craving to know the reality. His exams were secondary to him than his mother’s well-being.

He walked down memory lane, recalling how his mother would care for him when he was young.

He remembered that his mother had spanked him hard one day when he was around four years old.

After that, he had suffered from high fever for a couple of days. The fever wasn’t perhaps related to the spanking. But Mohini, since then, vowed never to hit him again.

The next day, Manas took an early morning train from Kolkata and reached the nearby Basirhat station late in the morning. Aaturia was an hour’s rickshaw ride from the station.

But when he went to the rickshaw stand, no one wanted to go to Aaturia. The mystery fever had spread across his village.

So, he decided to walk along and it was well past noon when he reached his village. 

There were many families in Aaturia who lost their dear ones and this left Manas shell shocked. The death toll in his village had gone well past 100.

He had no idea that his village would have to see the mystery disease in epidemic proportions.

He ran home, praying for his parents…. indeed, they were safe! When he knocked on the door, his mother came out, dressed in an expensive red Benarasi silk sari.

He had never seen his mother deck up like she did today. Baffled, he held his mother tightly, relieved by the fact that she was alive.

His father came out of his home office and Manas was overjoyed, kissing both his parents.

Mohini told him, “I’ve made chingri macher malai curry (Bengal’s most delectable prawn dish) for you. Have your bath and come in a few minutes.”

Upon hearing this, Manas took a quick shower and went to the dining table. He started eating voraciously, gulping down the food in no time.

It seemed to him that he was having this dish for the first time. Looking at him, tears ran down Mihir and Mohini’s cheeks.

After a sumptuous lunch, he asked Mohini, “Mother, I want to eat a mango.” To this, Mohini said, “One minute.” She entered the kitchen and Manas also went in to see if there was a Himsagar mango, his favourite variety.

But what he saw left him bewildered. Mohini seemed to have disappeared from the kitchen. For a while, Manas was wondering whether she went into the kitchen at all.

He walked to the dining table window and took a peek. To his surprise, he saw that his mother was in the garden on the ground floor, plucking mangoes for him.

He was wondering how could she go to the ground floor so quickly. Again, he thought, he was making a mistake.

But as he was ready to go downstairs, his mother came out of the kitchen. This time, he was sure that something was wrong. He asked himself, “This…this is not my mother. Who is she?”

Mohini along with Mihir came towards Manas and they held their son affectionately.

Mihir said, “Manas. Your mother and I couldn’t survive this epidemic. But you have to. Please leave immediately and only come back when it is over.”

Devastated, Manas squatted for a while. He couldn’t believe what he just heard.

A desperate Manas, filled with rage, went to the terrace. Thinking how unfair destiny has been to him, he shut his eyes and took the plunge.

There was a thud, and as Mihir and Mohini looked outside, they saw the body of their son lying in a pool of blood. 

As Mohini and Mihir stared at each other with their eyes full of tears, they got a tight hug from behind. Manas had come back to join them in their world! 

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