By Shobha Diwakar
It was pitch dark. The night lamp flickered awhile and then ‘passed out’ probably the power had, as usual, died and so (also) the inverter that had been struggling since evening to keep alive. A crash boomeranged, and thunder and lightning clapped down with a fearsome roar. It looked as though it had torn the rugged earth into two. The flashes triggered off my sleep as I closed my ears to save my eardrums for the second time when without any warning the clouds made an unholy saucy roar and threw the lightning right across my window. For a split second, the room was lighted and then it (the lightning) vanished elsewhere… disappearing into the dull swooning night to steal banefully someone else’s sleep.
Although it was the monsoon season, yet the rains were delayed for no particular reason but global warming, besides the reckless destruction of forests and cutting down of old, old beautiful trees in the masculine thick branches of which numberless birds merrily twittered, nestled their little ones, and under which, tired travelers took shelter come rain, come sunshine. Now the barren roads looked deserted and dull with not a single smiling, attractive tree alluring neither birds nor beasts nor man to take shelter under them. It was pathetic to witness armless trees begging for mercy and tearfully extending their barren branches, (if some were left half-grazed), praying to the Lord Almighty to save their miserable lives from the sickening mentality of thoughtless men who sawed them off for their shallow delight.
While I lay still, wondering about the late monsoons putting all weather forecasts for a happy and early arrival of the much- needed rains into false bottom prophecy, the daring, roaring clouds charged ferociously towards the earth. With a loud monstrous growl, they splashed a nasty shower of pattering rain, crashing the doors and windows accompanied with an angry gale by their side as a companion. There seemed to be no respite from this terrifying pestering rain this dark and stormy night, which reminded me of Thomas Campbell’s compelling, racy poem Lord Ullin’s Daughter.
Since the power had not yet resumed and the night was now deep, dark and dense, I thought it better to fetch a candle as the battery of the torch too had drained by now. The sighing inverter had died at the first screech of thunder. Fumbling around I suddenly remembered that there was a candle in the dresser by my bed, so I retraced my steps towards it and impatiently found it along with the matchbox sitting gallantly as its neighboring friend, just by its side… so I retorted, ‘bosom friends forever.’ To my horror, when I struck the matchstick, it did not light because it was damp and although I rubbed the sides of the box with my hands, it refused to obey. Now there was nothing I could do except go back to bed and wait for the power to resume.
Cautiously I retraced my steps towards the bed hoping that eventually the power- house people would detect the fault and repair it but my hopes were short lived as a loud obtruding knave of the arrogant thunder banged against the parched earth and sent a chill down my spine, as I lay rooted.
The night was chilly, the room clouded in darkness threw strange characters upon the wall with every crack of lightning that made me shudder and recoil.
It was now well past midnight and there was no sign of the rain or thunder and lightning to stall its arrogant pelter, which seemed to be avenging its thirst to punish man for his foolishness in taking delight to ‘murder’ nature and its natural resources. Man was constantly plundering its very entrails and looting God’s abundant goodness and benefits so generously showered upon mankind the result was either there was a drought or there were floods that devoured man’s efforts to grow food. If this continued for long there would be a famine and just as man was dying of thirst, he would die of hunger.
Nevertheless, these harrowing flights of imagination did nothing to solve my aching problem. There was no point my sitting and knitting up stories on this dreadful night with nature growling and prowling, cracking my nerves imperiously. The best thing for me to do was to lie still in bed, and meditate awhile until I could fall asleep and wait for the cooing of the cuckoo clock hung up in the bedroom. ‘Well,’ I muttered to myself and feeling relaxed closed my eyes and tried to concentrate my energy on a prayer learnt in childhood and felt much comforted.
I am not sure when I fell asleep for when I woke up it was broad daylight and the rain seemed to have temporarily felt tired of pouring so had gone off somewhere to rest until ready for another growl, perhaps sometime later during the day. I felt relieved but the slush around the house really put me off. The heavy downpour had found refuge in my garage and crawled inside to settle in puddles jut around the driving seat door. Since I had to leave early after breakfast to attend a meeting I would have to clear up the muddy water and reverse the car outside before I went to shower; so I took the keys and just as I was about to step into the dirty puddle I thought I noticed a movement. I shrank back in fright wondering what it could be and fetching a stick kept in a corner for emergency, I dared to swirl the puddle… and lo! Out hissed a black snake that had probably crawled out of its hole and slinked into the puddle… I ran out shouting for help, ‘help, help, there’s a black snake in my garage.’
Within less than a second, my neighbor Raman armed with a thick, stern bamboo stick strode out of his house to cudgel the offender as I led him into the garage. Surprisingly, the culprit remained still as if snoozing, exactly where I had spied it. Raman took a step forward and intrepidly slashed the stick on the protruding head of the snake. To our utmost surprise, the snake jumped up in the air and with a faint thud fell near my feet. With a shriek I ran out while Raman stood there laughing his sides out. Stamping my foot I asked him what was he laughing at… he said, ‘it isn’t a real snake… your little niece was playing with a rubber snake she had got as a return gift and which she kept it in a corner of the garage to frighten you. Remember you had scolded her one day in front of her friend for telling a lie about having pulled a doggie’s tail. The next day I heard her tell her friend that she would frighten the life out of you… and now, ‘ I think you’ve got your share of it… she’s made a fool of you before your neighbor; so you are quits.’ Saying so Raman slipped away while I stood there blankly staring at the rubber snake curled up coyly staring me in the eyes.
About the Author: Dr. Shobha Diwakar lives in Jabalpur, India and retired as the head of English department at C.P. Mahila Mahavidhyalaya, Jabalpur. She has published many research papers, stories, poems and essays in national, international and online journals. She contributes regularly to writerslifeline and Indian Periodical. Dr Diwakar servers on the Advisory Board of www.writerslifeline.ca.