The Mystery of the Missing Body

via Daily Prompt: Local

Brajabala raised her son, Shibu singlehandedly after the untimely demise of her husband Paresh Chandra Das. The brothers Basab, Dinesh and Paresh resided together with their respective families at their ancestral home in Gopalpur; a remote village in 24 Parganas (North).They were peasants who owned a few acres of agricultural land which was their main source of livelihood. At home, cattle, goats, hens and ducks were mainly looked after by the womenfolk. Shibu was only nine years old and studying in a local school when his father breathed his last. Thereupon Brajabala took up the job of a sweeper and attendant in the school so that he could continue his education. After he completed his matriculation his uncles wanted him to join them working at the fields but due to Brajabala’s strong persistence he carried on with his studies.

“No, Dada(elder brother), I want him to study further and become a learned man,” she said resolutely .

“But Bouma ( daughter-in-law) you should keep in mind that we are poor and if he starts earning now it’ll  be helpful for you,” Basab said.

“I’m earning myself Dada and I want to educate him as far as I can bear his expenses. If he graduates he may get some decent job,” she insisted.

Brajabala’s brother-in-laws stopped pursuing the matter farther since Brajabala was decisive about Shibu’s future plans. She loved him dearly; was protective about him and his welfare. He was the only one in the world who she called her own.

In course of time Shibu graduated. Brajabala was ecstatic since he was the first one to do so in their family. Luckily he fulfilled her dreams and secured a job as an assistant in the post-office. Soon afterwards she left her job. He was now twenty-five years old, an eligible bachelor and she thought of getting him married. She fixed his marriage to a girl from their own village. Balaka was good-looking and had studied till tenth standard. It was with a lot of gaiety they celebrated their wedding ceremony. But fate didn’t allow Brajabala to enjoy a blissful family life for long. She suddenly died of a heart attack after eight months of Shibu’s marriage. Everyone was stunned and Shibu was heartbroken. They decided to perform her last rites and purchased a wooden cot from the local bazaar on which they placed her corpse which they bedecked with flowers. Balaka who was now seven month’s pregnant had clothed Brajabala in a brand new sari. The whole household was filled with the noise of wailing women and it grew louder as the body was carried away by Shibu , his cousin brothers  and friends towards the cremation ghat crying , “Hari bol.” On their way they passed by a banyan tree whose branches spread out wide and low and one of it touched the body of Brajabala. When they finally reached the ghat they found to their utter dismay and horror that her corpse was missing. What could have happened to the body they thought bewildered. Everyone searched for it hither and thither to see if it had fallen off on its way. But if it did fall they would have heard the thud.  Someone or the other would have undoubtedly seen it they argued amongst themselves. Shibu didn’t want to create a further issue of it. He decided to burn the cot and all that remained of Brajabala’s belongings and head back home. They promised to keep this incident a secret.

After four and a half months Balaka gave birth to a bonny son. He was named Brajen after his grandmother. Before attending to her daily household chores Balaka fed the baby and rocked him to sleep on his cradle.

“Please keep an eye on my baby while I’m at my chores,” she requested her in-laws.

There was a loft in their bedroom where they dumped unnecessary things. Since a few days Balaka felt uncanny whenever she entered her bedroom. A cool breeze seemed to flow from the loft above. She reasoned it was her imagination playing tricks on her.

As usual she kept the cradle with the sleeping baby in the verandah in front of her bedroom. She glanced in-between her chores to see if the baby was fine. Once when she looked out from her kitchen she found the cradle swinging heavily as if someone was pushing it. There was no one nearby and a cold chill passed through her veins. She ran towards the baby. That evening when she narrated the whole incident to Shibu he dismissed it as works of her over agitated mind. But she was adamant. There was something strange in her attitude and she seemed really scared and tensed. To relieve her from her anxiety he decided to take leave for a day to find out what was bothering her.

Shibu hid behind his bedroom and watched from the open window keeping an eye on his son’s cradle which was kept in the same position as yesterday. After an hour had passed he suddenly saw a shadowy contour of a woman descend from the loft and walk towards his son’s cradle. He was flabbergasted. She was clearly his mother. Her soul wasn’t laid to peace and thus left wandering. He decided to call a Tantric (a holy man involved in following doctrines and principles of Hindu ‘tantras’ particularly the use of  mantras, meditation, yoga and rituals) to relieve them of their problem. The Tantric came and told them to perform pujas. Shibu arranged everything for the pujas and after the rites were over the Tantric Baba revealed that his mother’s body was picked up by the old banyan tree and her soul found home in a log of wood kept in the loft.

“The log needs to be burnt and funeral rites should be done in the Ganges so that her soul finds salvation,” the Tantric Baba said.

Accordingly they conducted the rites. When the log was chopped before burning it they strangely witnessed a drop of blood sprinkle out from it accompanied by a low groan of a woman in pain.

Henceforth nobody in Gopalpur ever carried a corpse to the burning ghat (crematorium) without tightly tying it to the cot.

Susmita Mukherjee

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