It was the seventh day of Dashami (the greatest Hindu festival), the day preceding the sacrifice of animals to Durga, the Goddess of power. The incessant rains had stopped and the sky was partly clear with patches of black clouds hovering around, signalling for the rains still to come. Among the clouds peeked the moon gaining its full form day by day for the coming full moon day. The entire village slept in serenity. The bamboo leaves swayed to the light breeze and bats could be seen moving stealthily in search of prey. An owl was hooting in the far horizon. The banks of river Khando was dry and the sands seemed silvery with the partial moonlight. The recent floods had brought more alluvial soil and the banks had widened, the sands had got a washing. A crab could be seen crawling towards the receding water.
A flicker of two lights appeared at a distance, coming towards the bank from the village (The village was around one and half kilometres away from the river). The pair of glow became more visible and as they approached the bank, the silhouettes of two women could be seen. They were carrying small earthen oil lamps on their heads. They were clad in white saris and had put long veils to cover their faces. Suddenly silence swept the environment. The crickets’ chirping stopped and it seemed as if the wind had stopped blowing. They put down the earthen lamps from their heads on the bank and started dancing. The wind started blowing again and with the gusts of wind the flames in the lamps flared. They danced and danced, till they were tired to the bones. With worries and anxiety on their faces they sat on the sands. They were waiting for somebody to arrive there at that moment. The younger woman was sweating with fear and so was the older woman. In the darkness of the night they were the only companions to each other. The older woman had tattoes around her forearms, legs and chest as if she was wearing long gloves, socks and blouse. The indigenous people have the belief that since one takes nothing with her after dying, the tattoes are the only companion to the next world and life. The younger lady had worn heavy kadas (bracelet like ornament worn around the foot near ankle) of silver and seemed more worried.
The two women could not wait any longer as the time was creeping towards morning at a fast pace. They whispered among themselves and the younger woman went nearer to the river water. She trampled on the fresh deposits of alluvial soil and started her search in the fresh deposits. The older woman pointed to a spot nearer to the bank. The younger woman reached the point and took out a khurpa (a small digging tool) from the interiors of her clothes. It seemed that she had recognized the place. Then she started digging with vengeance. As deeper she went, the slower became her pace. And when the thing she was digging for appeared, there was a mixed feeling of anguish and victory on her face. She was perspiring heavily. When she found the thing she was looking for, she took out the bundle and hugged it tightly in her arms. She started crying and she would not stop lamenting. The older woman came near her and consoled her. Then they took out the mystery object from the bundle – it was a baby boy! The baby was of around seven months and had a smiling face. The corpse had not decayed but the flesh had lost its lustre. It was white and numb. White ants had started their work and they had eaten a large chunk of flesh on the back. They had even started eating the ears. They brought the baby near the lamp and started massaging the boy with the oil from the lamp. Then all of sudden five young boys appeared from nowhere and one of them took away the baby from the women. Four boys strangled the women and dragged them towards the village. The older woman was stronger than the boys, she escaped from the hold of the boys and ran away towards the river. She crossed the river and darted in the darkness.
It was around three in the morning and there was a huge gathering in the village chautari (a gathering place in the village). They had hung a lantern on the branch of the peepal tree and the young woman was weeping by the side of the dead baby. All the people gathered were furious and some even tried to manhandle the woman. The village elders were calmer and they tried to sort out the problem. The guilty woman was made to speak out the truth. The baby was her own child. It had died due to pneumonia seven days ago. Her name was Palti, age 20 years and it was her first child. Her husband had been to Malaysia to earn money to take them out of penury. The older woman who had accompanied her was her mother-in-law. The villagers used to accuse her of being a witch. And now they were accusing Palti of learning witchcraft by sacrificing her first born baby. However, her side of story was totally different. She named five people of the village to be her mentors. They were witch-doctors and had promised her and her mother-in-law to bring back her dead child from the grasp of death. They had just followed what they had been told to do. But they did not turn out on the proposed time and they were caught in the act by the young boys who had been deputed by the same witch-doctors.
There was a thorough search for the five men, but they were nowhere to be found. The word had spread and lots of people from neighbouring villages started pouring in. It was like a mela (village fete). Some were demanding to punish her, some were asking to find and punish the witch-doctors and some even demanded to hang her. Finally, the matter was solved and a document was made stating that she would not involve in witchcraft from now-on-wards, also the name of five absconding witch-doctors were mentioned. A little black ink was applied to her right and left thumbs and she had to put her thumb-prints on the paper as she was an illiterate. She could not read what was written in the paper but she placed her thumb marks there.
That night was a night she could never forget. A night of assurance, a night of anxiety and a night of dejection. She was crying relentlessly and had sore eyes, but there was nobody to console her, nobody to empathize. She fed the newly born calf and the two little kids born to her favourite goat. She closed the doors of her room and put on the heavy latch. She had lots of things to say – to her husband, to her mother-in-law who had run away, to her baby who was reburied in the sands of Khando and to all her loved ones in her maiti (maternal home). She would have written a whole book had she been a literate. She moved around the room and prayed to the Gods in the picture frames hung on the walls. Then she took out a small bottle from the cupboard, looked at it carefully and downed its contents in one gulp. Within minutes, there was a dead body lying with vomits all over its face.
(It is based on real life incident and the names have been changed to safeguard the identities. Published in www.soulscribe.com)