Fiction

Jatra

by Deepanshu Srivastava

Diwali is the time for celebrations, enjoyment, and merry-making in the entire country. Kolkata is also no exception. In fact the Diwali – fever starts there right from Shardiya Navaratra when Goddess Durga is worshipped for nine continuous days but this Diwali of the year 1900 had been quite special in Calcutta.

The reasons are three – firstly the Bhoot Chaturdashi celebration ( also known as Narak Chaturdashi or the Chhoti Diwali in the northern part of India ), the second reason for the celebration is the cultural program titled – ” The Jatra “. This program is organised and sponsored by the most respected and renowned family of the city, the Thakurs. The enthusiasm for the celebration of the Jatra is increased as it is being celebrated after a decade. It could not be celebrated for the continuous past ten years owing to the demise of female leads immediately after every show in the mysterious circumstances and hence the play remained suspended for so many years by its organising committee. The impact of mystery deaths of the female lead was so high that no actor for the female lead- role used to be willing to perform in the leading lady role. The entire acting fraternity of Kolkata was of the opinion that the play is a haunted one. This time the grandson of Saraswati Devi, the matriarch of the Thakur family. Yash Thakur is back home after acquiring a degree in cinematography from the London School of Performing Arts after four long years. He is accompanied by his girlfriend, a 26 year charming and educated lady, Jacqueline Josh who is born and brought up in a ratiocinative and coherent family from Denmark. So, the Thakur family wanted to celebrate their homecoming in a unique manner and as a part of it they decided to restart the play, ” The Jatra “. The Thakur family is a joint one comprising of Saraswati Devi (affectionately known as ” Baudo Maa”) and her two sons – Shambhu Thakur and Bhushan Thakur along with their spouses and kids and a daughter, Rimi.

The organising committee also managed a lady artist to play the role of female lead named Tanushree in the play Jatra. Tanushree also belonged to Bolpur, the hub of theatre artists. Most of the previous female leads of the play were from Bolpur.

Finally, the day of Bhoot Chaturdashi arrived and the people of Kolkata got ready to watch their favourite play Jatra along with their prince charming Yash Thakur and his would-be bride Jacqueline. The play started at it’s scheduled time and then it went off so well that the audience was mesmerised and rejoiced it. Yash and Jacqueline also loved the play because of its tight script and memorable dialogues. Everyone returned back to their homes joyfully in a festive mood and the Diwali festival took off well with the commencement of the play. This was going to be a new experience for Jacqueline. However, in the mansion, the late evening became a nightmare for Jacqueline. She started a feeling of some supernatural object around her. She started seeing apparitions in her room. She had a feeling that she was being called by some mysterious voice of a middle-aged woman. First, she felt that this was her hallucinations and she tried to ignore it and decided not to discuss it with anyone including Yash in the mansion. With each passing day, she began to experience such activities on a regular basis. This led her to discuss it with Yash and other family members including Baudo Maa. But to her utter surprise, everyone in the family tried to avert her curiosities and they were trying to discourage Jacqueline from such happenings. At the same time, she also witnessed fear on everybody’s face whenever she brought this issue. This made Jacqueline believe that there is something wrong going on in the family and started believing that there are some hidden dark secrets, which the family is trying to hide from her.

Meanwhile, the residents of Kolkata got the shocking news of the mysterious death of Tanushree on the very next day of Bhoot Chaturdashi, the day when the play Jatra was staged. The death of the actor was noticed in the same way as of all the previous lady actors. Jacqueline came to know about this news on TV. Then she closely watched the dress of Tanushree in the retransmission of the news in which she was wearing at the time of her death. It struck her that the middle-aged woman whose apparition she saw in the mansion on the evening of Jatra was also wearing a similar dress. Jacqueline tried to relate the two incidents with the help of Yash by seeing the photographs of earlier female leads of the play Jatra who were found dead after the play. She found strange similarities in their dresses. Jacqueline felt that there was some big secret which the Thakur family was hiding from her and everybody else in the family knew about it except her and Yash.

Jacqueline hatched a plan to know the reasons for this unanswered secret. She took Yash in confidence and without informing the rest of the family, she left for Bolpur, where most of the Jatra female leads including Tanushree came from.

In Bolpur, Yash and Jacqueline found that all the girls who had acted in Jatra were all alumni of a drama school run by Uma Devi who had been running the school for the last three decades. After her demise, the school is managed by her disciple Laboni. To know more about Uma Devi, Yash and Jacqueline approached her old friend Konkana, a renowned yesteryears theatre actor. At Konkana’s s place, they saw the photograph of Uma Devi. After looking at it Jacqueline immediately recollected that the photograph is of the lady who used to haunt her in the mansion. Konkana informed that Laboni and a member of the Thakur family were in deep love with each other. Laboni and that member killed Uma Devi to capture the school. They used to kill lady artists from the school to terrorise Saraswati Devi for capturing the mansion which was in the name of Saraswati Devi. The elder son of Saraswati Devi, Shambhu Thakur was involved in anti-social activities including girl trafficking, and was having connections with drug peddlers of Nigeria. Somehow Saraswati Devi came to know about such horrifying activities of her elder son but due to his terror in the family, no one used to speak a single word about it. However, Saraswati Devi who was a brave lady by nature wrote in her will declaring her younger son and her wife the sole owner of her entire property including the mansion. After knowing the misdeeds of Shambhu Thakur through the whispers of villagers and the estranged wife of Shambhu Thakur, Jacqueline  immediately went to the police commissioner of Kolkata and got nabbed Shambhu Thakur and Laboni red-handedly and they were sent behind  the bar

Since then, Jatra is being staged peacefully and people knew no bounds of their happiness during Bhoot Chaturdashi and subsequent Diwali celebrations. Every year the whole city is decorated with earthen lamps starting from Bhoot Chaturdashi till the Bhai Bheej.  Since then the tradition of lighting one earthen lamp on every Bhoot Chaturdashi ( Chhoti Diwali ) is being followed in the entire country.

HAPPY DIWALI to all our readers.

About the Author:

An interpretative journalist by profession, Deepanshu Srivastava is a sports and fiction writer from Pune. He may be reached through arunsri5523@rediffmail.com

One Comment

  1. Dr. VIJENDRA NATH, Ph.D

    Good written article on bhoot chaturdhasi or choti diwali. The original, background, difficulty and againg celebrating the festival is highlighted by the author in a nice short story form. My best wishes.