by Sonali Ganguly
When he got up, he coughed loudly as the room filled with smoke. He sensed it to be the same as the one coming from the puja offerings during the evening hours. Mom circulates the burnt coconut shells in the house, mixed with some scented powder, that creates this smoke. Does it mean it is already evening, and I am still sleeping? How come no one woke me up? Let me check.
Thinking this, he moved out of his cozy bed, opened the window, and the sun’s rays fell on his eyes. “Oh! It’s a sunny day,” uttered Rony.
He noticed some vehicles parked outside their house. It indicates some guests. He was happy that Mom would be busy with hospitality and serving the guests. He will be free to spend his entire day with his new video game. He checked the time; it was 8:00 a.m. He opened the computer and played for half an hour. He noticed no disturbance, as if his family had suddenly forgotten him. He could not concentrate on the game. He was hungry. It was now 9 AM. He now needs to move out of his comfort zone to explore reality. He opened his door and found an unusual silence in his home. He found a few people in the drawing room downstairs. But why were they sitting on the floor instead of on the sofa? He moved out and stood in the opening, supporting the railing. He saw his family dressed in white and two other people from their neighborhood, who also wore white dresses. The place was filled with the fragrance of sandalwood, incense sticks, and flowers. A flame of smoke rose from the Yagyakunda. It seemed as if his father was performing some religious ritual. There was no priest, and Dad was not offering anything to the fire as he does on his birthday. He could not recall any special ceremony. Mother, generally wakes him up in the morning in case there is any puja at home. He wondered why he was not asked to join the ritual. How did the entire family gather for the ritual without him? Most likely, mom and dad are still angry with him. He felt sad as he expected this new morning to be a normal one. They would forget all his mischief, and he would be greeted in the morning with his favourite chocolate milkshake as he slept last night without supper. But, they don’t feel bothered at all. He looked at his mother and noticed something unusual. There were tears in her eyes. Why was she crying? Had the tears been caused by the smoke, then others would not have consoled her. He was trying to figure out this, and right then saw his best friend entering with his mom. He carried a flower bouquet and placed it on the table; probably, there was a portrait. He then saw his friend sitting there silently without rushing upstairs to join him in a video game. Everything was unusual. Suddenly, everyone turned angry with him!
He called him out, ‘Boby!’
He didn’t respond. It seemed as if his voice was not audible to him. He thought of moving downstairs and inviting him to his room and spending the morning playing videogame until the end of the ritual. He took a step ahead and was reminded of his father. If he gets angry again? If he scolds him again? He stopped there and preferred to wait there till the end. The rituals continued for the next half an hour. Nothing much happened, no citation of mantras, no offerings. Only a few people, approximately five in number, were present. He was unable to understand what exactly was happening there? He sat there on the floor and waited for all the guests to leave. He observed Mr. John and Mrs. Ruby hug dad and mom before leaving. The moment he found his parents alone there, he ran downstairs and held his mother. She sat there, motionless.
“I am hungry mom,” said Rony.
His mother continued to wipe her eyes and did not respond to his words. He looked at his mother, and then his eyes fell on the table, a portrait with a garland. Oh! My God! He said to himself. It was his photograph. But why were they suddenly worshipping him and crying? Are they mistaken that I am dead?
He moved to his dad and said, “Don’t cry, dad, I am here.”
Father did not react. They behaved as if he was invisible and inaudible. Next, he moved to his mom and hugged her.
“Mom, please do not make fun of me. I am starving.” Said Rony.
There was no response. Rony noticed their maid; Zohana rushed in and said, “How did it all happen, madam? I am sorry for your loss! Let me get you a glass of water.”
Saying this, she moved to the kitchen. Rony went after her. As he entered the kitchen, he found her cleaning the glass. He went near to her and said, “I am not dead. Are you also not able to see me? I am hungry. Give me something to eat, please.”
Zohana moved out of the kitchen with two glasses of water on a tray. It seemed as if he did not exist. He was hungry. The candy box, his favourite Swiss roll, and cakes placed at the top of the shelf mocked him. He could see those but could not reach them. He checked for something in the fridge but surprisingly found nothing, which is again unusual. His eyes were wet, and a thick drop of tears rolled down his cheeks. He covered his face with his hands and started sobbing. Suddenly, he remembered some chocolates he had in his school bag. He ran upstairs.
He opened the cupboard, and his eyes fell on a medicine strip. He was taken aback. He took the strip in his hand and recalled…
“I shall send you to the hostel,” said dad in a loud voice. “I am irritated now with the regular complaints from the teachers and neighbours.”
Rony pleaded, but he was ignored.
“You pack your bags and get ready,” said dad, “Tomorrow morning we shall leave for your hostel. The entire day you are running around the estate and engaging in innovative mischief.”
He went to his room, dejected and sad. He did not want to go to a hostel. He had heard that the hostel wardens were very strict. They won’t allow him to play a video game, nor would he get his favourite food there. Most importantly, how would he stay there without his parents. He won’t be allowed to come home without vacations, i.e., only Christmas. He wondered why these missionary schools kept these hostel facilities at all? The hostel part is somehow ok, but why do not they have a vacation on Dussehra and Diwali at least. He sat in his room, thinking of various ways to escape this. He had pleaded several times; even mom remained silent. Nobody wanted him here; he had frustrated everybody. He should go. His mischievous mind suddenly found a way out. He rose up to execute the master plan. He rushed to the nearby medical store.
“One stip of sleeping pill,” said Rony.
“Which one?” asked the absent-minded shopkeeper, counting a bundle of hundred rupee notes.
“The one which can make a person unconscious for long,” came the reply.
He stopped counting notes and looked up. He saw Rony and was alarmed. No one in the area was unaware of his smart mischiefs.
“We won’t provide any medicines without a prescription,” said the shopkeeper.
“Here it is!” said Rony, placing a four-fold paper with some medicines prescribed and duly signed by the doctor. He continued, “Grandpa wanted only the one which is for sound sleep. He further said if the prescribed one can be changed with another one that could resist any kind of outward intervention to wake him up for a longer time. He needs sound sleep. So said, Grandpa.”
The shopkeeper gave a suspicious look at him and checked the prescription. He handed him one strip of medicine. Rony moved out of the store, thought of something, returned to the shopkeeper, and asked, “Is it possible that someone can die by consuming this medicine?”
The shopkeeper needed to figure out his intentions. He suspected whether he is planning to consume the medicines! He replied, “Yes! Don’t play with medicines. It can be dangerous!”
“By the way, how many pills can cause death?” inquired Rony
“Why are you asking all these? Your grandfather already knows the dose detail,” Replied the storekeeper in a suspicious tone.
Rony left the place instantly and sneaked into his room when Zohana was cleaning the room. He placed the medicine on his study table. He went to the other room to return the prescription to its original place.
“Thank God! No one knew about this,” said Rony.
He returned the prescription to the box and cross-checked whether anyone was around. He noticed no one in grandpa’s room and ran straight to his room. After Zohana left the room, it was already evening. He checked for the time. It was half past 7. He studied for the strip and thought that if he consumed two or three, he would manage to sleep for unusually longer period than on regular days. As dad said, the next day was the last date to get admission into the missionary hostel, and if he didn’t get up early, it would be cancelled. Without a pill, mom would wake him up, and he would be forcibly sent to the hostel. With a pill, his sleep will be deep; they will think he is sick and allow him to rest. He would easily escape from his father’s Brutus plan.
He latched his room, stripped off one pill, and drank cold water. He was happy that his mission was successful, that he was going to sleep abnormally, and that he had successfully cancelled his going to the hostel. He went to sleep without going downstairs.
He was treated as if he was not visible when he woke up. He looked into the mirror, and he was visible there. He said, “Hello!”
He could hear himself. But why are others reacting as if they can not see or listen to me? He recalled the words of the storekeeper, “The pill can be dangerous!”
Is he really dead! Oh! No. It can’t be, he never wanted to die. He only wanted to cancel his going to the hostel and change his father’s mind. Falling sick would have been fine, but he never wanted to die. If he is dead, can he do magic as shown in movies? He tried testing his magical powers. He stood on his bed and tried to move things by pointing at them, but nothing happened. He was disappointed. He sat down and tried to think of some way out. How to come back to life? Shall he go to the storekeeper and seek an antidote to make him visible and audible? But how will he give him the antidote if he can’t see or hear him? He felt hunger pangs in his stomach, he held his stomach in one hand and lay on the bed. In his own ignorance, he falls asleep.
He opened his eyes and found the room dark. He tried switching on the light but failed; it was probably a power cut. He tried to leave the room, but the door wouldn’t open. He remembered all that had happened in the morning. Why was it so dark? He slept for so long! It was so dark that he could not even reach out to his window to check whether there was light outside. He stumbled against something in the room and got hurt in his leg. He cried out, but nobody responded.
“Rony, come with me, I am here to take you.”
A voice startled him. It was a heavy voice. He felt scared. Someone was there in his room who wanted to take him somewhere? Who is it? Where did he wish to take him? A kidnapper, robber, or zombie? Fear took hold of him, and he started sweating.
“Who are you? I can’t see you? Why shall I come with you? Said Rony.
“ I have come here to take you. You have to move to the other world?” came the reply.
“Why can’t I see you? What is this other world? Inquired Rony.
“Brightness vanishes with my presence. I am the God of Death. Living beings in every planet are scared of my presence and close their eyes and find only darkness. If you wish to see me than open your eyes,” came a straight reply.
Rony realized that his eyes were closed, but in this thick darkness, how could the being see him. He opened his eyes and saw a shadow of a man with a long moustache. His giant-like physic, large apple-red eyes and horrifying face were visible to him in the faint light falling on him through the window. What shall he do now? How to escape this? Death God! Oh! No. That means I am dead, and he has come to take me with him. He was told that God and Goddess never come to earth. They exist only in stories. He cried aloud, “Mammmaaaaaa!”
“Nobody would respond to your cry, dear kid. No one can hear you,” said the giant like God.
“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to go with you. Please leave me. Give me my life back,” pleaded Rony with closed eyes.
He heard a monstrous laugh. “You should have thought this much earlier before dying, my boy,” he said, “Now, I am here. You have to go with me. Come straightway, or I shall tie you with this Oxen and drag you throughout the way.”
Oh! How heartless this God is! Who says he is God? He is a demon. Rony thought to himself. He had heard the stories of the kind, generous gods who always loved children. Wherefrom the world this monster came to him, claiming to be death God! It would have been better if he had accepted dad’s proposal and left for the hostel.
“You have no time to think. We are not here to play any game with you, he said, pulling him from the corner of the bed to the middle.
Rony screamed aloud and said, “Wait! You can not take me like this! I will not go. I will stay with my parents here at my home.”
“But you never obey your parents. They wanted your wellbeing, but you went to the extent of killing yourself, hurting your parents who love you so dearly. A child who hurts his parents needs to go with me. Come,” saying this, he grabbed Rony’s hand and dragged him to the edge of the bed.
“Ok.” Said Rony in a low voice, “I never wanted to die. In fact, I never wanted to hurt mom-dad. I only wanted them to cancel their plan to send me to the hostel. I wanted to stay here with them. I thought I would sleep abnormally, my parents would think I am sick, and they would not send me to the missionary school,” He started sobbing. He continued, “How could I know that just one pill would kill me? Can I just see them for the last time before you take me with you? Please,” begged Rony. He was still sobbing.
“Ok. But you have to promise me that you would come with me after meeting them once,” he said to Rony and asked him to keep his eyes closed till he asked him to open them. Rony, having no other choice, had to obey him. After a minute or two, the death God said, “Now, you can open your eyes.”
Rony slowly opened his eyes. There was light in his room. His mom-dad was in front of his bed. His eyes were in tears. He rushed to his mom, hugged her tightly, and said, “I won’t go anywhere.” I will stay here.” He cried, looked at dad, and said, “Please, dad, please ask the Death God to leave our home. I won’t go to that other world with him.”
“But.. you made all the preparations for the same,” he said in a stern voice.
“No. I didn’t mean to do so. I wanted to stop you from sending me to the hostel,” saying this, Rony held his mom firmly and cried.
His mom-dad exchanged looks and smiled.
“Ok. First, you calm down,” said mom, caressing his head and back, tell me, where is that death, God, who are you talking about?”
“Right here. He was here…” saying this he turned around but found no one. He was right here, he said to himself. “Mom, this time I am not lying, please trust me. He was here, he dragged me here, and said that he would take me with him. I don’t want to go anywhere, mom, please ask him to leave.”
“Where he is?” asked mom.
“I am here,” the same heavy voice was heard from behind. A man with weird looks and a heavy body emerged in front of Rony. He identified the voice and hide behind mom. He closed his eyes and ear with his hands. He wanted to think that the God of Death did not exist.
“So, Rony, are you ready to come with me now? Said the death God.
He was expecting his mom-dad to intervene and ask him to shut up, but surprisingly, they were silent. He tried to open his eyes, but his mind resisted the temptation, and he preferred to keep his eyes closed. He felt as if somebody was holding his hand and trying to pull him apart from mom. He clung to her but was finally dragged away.
“Open your eyes? You wanted to see me, right? Said the death God.
“No, I am scared of your face. I won’t open my eyes,” replied Rony.
The God of Death burst into laughter. Mom and dad joined him. Strange! All are making fun of him now. How mom-dad joined with the monstrous God and laughed at me.
“Look at your Death God, Rony. You won’t be scared anymore,” uttered mom.
He followed her words. He opened his eyes and found no God of Death. There was no one.
“Where is he?” he asked in a low voice.
“Here,” the voice came from behind. He turned and found a five-foot-tall man in his mid-forties with impressive attire standing there. A smile flashed on his cute little face. He rushed to him, hugged him, and said, “Uncle!” he was his maternal uncle.
“Will you go with me to your grandmother’s house? Asked uncle.
“Of course!” said Rony, “I am very excited to meet my cousins there and play with them.”
“First, you tell me, why did you take these sleeping pills without letting anyone know about it?” inquired uncle.
Rony’s cute face turned pale. He looked down and felt guilty. He didn’t want to repeat all that again in front of his parents. They would be angry again. He stood still with his face bowed down.
“Don’t feel bad any more,” said Dad, “We already know everything.”
“What!” exclaimed Rony, “How?”
Dad looked at his uncle, and exchanged a glance with mom. He sat on his knees, held him, and said, “Monstrous Dead God told us everything!” saying this, three of them burst into laughter.
How did mom-dad know all? Where did the death God vanish? Will he return again to take him to the other world? Lots of questions pestered Rony. He asked, “Mom, how did you know?”
“Dad told you, before leaving our home, the Death God told us everything that was in your mind. He promised us he would not return till you obey elders and be a good boy,” replied mom.
Rony felt relieved. He looked exhausted and tired. It was a hectic day for a seven-year-old.
“Let’s go and have some milkshake,” said mom.
“Yes! I am very hungry. I would eat like a demon today,” replied Rony.
Rony left the room with his mother.
“Thanks would be too formal,” said dad to uncle, “but if you had not suggested us to…”s
“It’s fine.” He intervened in the middle. He said, “I am glad that things turned out just as we wanted, but I never expected that it would be so smooth.”
Both of them recalled their plan.
Yesterday afternoon. Mr Pathak was in the reading room. He received a call from the pharmacy.
“Mr Pathak, I need to tell you something about Rony,” said the man from the other side.
“Rony played a prank on you too!” exclaimed Mr Pathak, “I am just fed up with this notorious kid.”
“No, Mr Pathak,” replied the storekeeper, “He didn’t do anything such that you are thinking.”
Yeah! How could he forget that his talented son always has new ideas to implement his notorious plans! Mr. Pathak thought to himself.
“He bought a strip of sleeping pill today.” He said.
“Sleeping Pill! Mr. Pathak could not make out anything.
The shopkeeper narrated the entire episode and said, “I smelled something fishy, and thought of intimating you. Please be careful.”
“Thanks for intimating this tome. Can you tell me whether there is really any possibility of death due to the consumption of this pill?” inquired Mr. Pathak.
“A big no,” said the keeper, “as your father is above seventy now, the dose is less. Sometimes, these pills can turn to be an aesthesia for old people. Ask him to take just one. Not more than that until it is extremely needed.”
He thanked the storekeeper and sensed a silence that prevailed before a massive storm. He dropped the call and thought to himself. Why did Rony ask for a sleeping pill? Father is out of station for the next two months. No one in this home uses sleeping pills. Then Rony!!!
“Have a look at this!” rushed Rohini.
She had a stip of medicine in her hand that Zohana found in Rony’s room while cleaning.
“Something is going on in his mind, for sure,” said Rohini, “Brother would be reaching shortly. I just wish things go well.”
Mr. and Mrs. Pathak tried to understand what he wanted to do! He has brought those pills secretly for some reason. Sometimes parents have to become detectives, too, if their children turn out to be extraordinarily smart in executing their mischievous plans.
“I shall go and check on him, once,” said Mrs. Pathak
“But do not let him know that we have sensed something fishy. Otherwise, he would do something dangerous without our knowledge. Just be calm,” advised Mr. Pathak.
She turned to move out of the reading room; Rony crossed through the corridor, moving towards his father’s room. Mr. and Mrs. Pathak tried to track him. They noticed him moving into his father’s room and placing a piece of paper in the first-aid box. Rony checked for the presence of anyone around and carefully moved to his room. Meanwhile, Zohana put the stip of medicine back in his room.
“We need to know what is on his mind,” said Mr. Pathak.
“But how? He won’t confront. You know how adamant he is becoming day by day,” replied Mrs. Pathak.
“But it is always necessary to reach the root of the disease if you wish to cure it. Otherwise, temporary medical treatment may suppress the ailment for a while but later may lead to a severe health issue,” a voice intervened in their discussion from behind.
Mr. and Mrs. Pathak greet Rony’s maternal uncle. He is a child specialist by profession.
“I heard it all from your conversation while getting into the room. I think we need to be little dramatic to handle this case,” he remarked.
It goes without saying his parents were convinced that Rony’s not coming down for dinner was a part of his master plan. They intentionally allowed him to stay upstairs. Three of them chalked out a plan and invented the character of Death God. On Mr. Pathak’s plea, his uncle arranged for a mask and a black gown with some black colour to smear on his face.
It was needed for Rony to understand his mistakes. His parents realized that scolding and thrashing were not the way out. They needed to remove the weed from its root. They decided never to reveal anything to Rony about their plan. Rony spent many curious days and sleepless nights thinking whether the Death God had come to his room in reality or was it a nightmare? Was he really dead for a while and later came to life? Will Death God return again to keep his promise? No, this time, he shall leave no space for the monstrous God to take him anywhere. He would be sincere and obedient. He learned the best lesson of his life that transformed a mischievous child into a sincere, obedient and loving kid.