Naina discovers her late father’s diaries and finds out about unknown events in his life that have had an impact on her life.
After 6 years of my father’s passing away, while we were cleaning out one of his topmost cupboards, I could feel something hard in my hands, which felt like books, and when I brought them down, I was amazed to find two of his diaries. Obviously my curiosity shot up and I could not help but read all of it.
I used to receive many loving letters from him every week while I was studying away from home and he continued to write the most beautiful letters to me as long as his memory supported him.
These diaries are like story books for me. As I read them, I started to feel as if I was living each of those moments myself. I had never known that he could write in such a wonderful way, day after day, in sequence, about the experiences he had. It was through his diaries I got to know myself and my family better. If it were not for his love of writing, none of us would have known that our grandfather was a sadhak.
For me, it now beautifully puts together a missing link, and my inexplicable pull towards Osho, spirituality and meditation. Ever since childhood, I have always been fascinated by the evening sun, twilight – neither day nor night. I feel like being transported to a different world during these evening moments. I feel a strange pull towards the sky. And strangely enough I sense a déjà vu, as if something special had happened to me somewhere, sometime in the past, which feels almost like death. The beauty of the evening always brings me certain bliss. Now it connects – my grandfather never missed his evening meditation and I think he knew the significance of it.
I am headed towards the border. No, not to the Indo-China or Indo-Burmese border but to a state border on the Indian subcontinent – the Assam and Nagaland border. No, not to fight for either side but to take care of the vast 159 acres of land that consist of dense forests of trees, a rivulet and hundreds of flora, fauna and live creatures. My father, who was the last king of the Ahom dynasty before the British took everything over, could only save this piece of land, more so a jungle. Nobody dared venture into it but all I was told was to go there and take care of it. This land stretches from the last village of Assam and touches the Naga Hills. The villagers never went to this place for they believed this place to be cursed – kalika, a word used in Assam to describe something that is cursed.
I had just finished my final civil engineering examination and was idle before the results were out and practical person that I was, never believed in anything called supernatural or mysterious. My siblings had long established themselves as collectors, architects and professors, and never showed any interest in land or forests. My father is no more and since I was the only unemployed person at home, my siblings thought it wise to put me into some practical work. So here I am, standing at the entrance of a beautiful foothill village called Nagajanka, the last village of Assam before one enters Nagaland.
The villagers seemed surprised and even concerned although they hesitated to share why they were so uncomfortable with my decision to come and live in that jungle. A young man of my age, Jugen, seemed also concerned when he came forward and warned me to stay away, for that forest is cursed and full of wild animals. I comforted him and promised that I would come to meet him every day so that they know I am well and that there is nothing such as “cursed” in this world. Soon after, the humble villagers helped me build a small bamboo cottage of no more than 3 rooms and an attached cow and bull shed. I had always wanted to do a bit of farming and now the opportunity to live my dreams has come. Within a week I got myself a pair of bulls, a pair of cows and a furry mastiff friend to keep me company.
The villagers, by now, were getting curious about my project and as advised by me, they helped clean some areas and turn them into a cultivation field. They kept asking from time to time if I had experienced anything unusual, to which I always answered in the negative. They loved me and brought me food every day so that I never had to cook.
Three years have passed, the cultivation has been good and I have quite a decent amount of money in my bank. As promised, I pay my family in the city a visit every week. On one such visit my eldest brother suggested I ought to keep a helper; I too had been planning the same for quite some time. A few days later a very hefty man approached me in the local haat (market) and asked me for a job. After an informal interview, I felt he could be of great help in the paddy cultivation, managing the bulls and cows and tending to the vegetable garden. His name was Upen and was indeed a versatile man. From morning till night he managed the farm and cooked my meals so I had no longer need of any help from the villagers. After a year the yield had doubled, the orange and lemon trees seemed to weigh down in their own weight and the bulls and cows looked much healthier. I felt so good with my decision to have employed Upen to help. The next year the yield was even better and on a certain day Upen helped me load my truck with the grains and I went off to the market.
My most trusted buyer was a Marwari trader who had become a friend in these last few years. While handing over the money, he mentioned that it is risky to carry the cash and that it would be better to leave it with him for the night and pick it up again the next morning to deposit it in the bank when it opened. I took his advice and as I set to return, a beautiful young lady stopped me. She took me aside to a corner in the market and whispered, “Your life is in danger.” At first I dismissed her as mentally deranged but when she gathered herself and started to say more, a chill ran down my spine.
She asked me how well I knew Upen? That she was certain that Upen is no other than the triple murderer who is being chased by the police of three districts. And that he is living in disguise with me to wait for his chance to rob and run away. I asked her how she came to know of him? She stammered that she is from a place called Nazira and that she had seen his photo posted by the police. Then this lady disappeared the way she had appeared earlier from nowhere to nowhere.
I lost no time in visiting the local police station to enquire about Upen. After a few minutes the police confirmed that “it is him” and told me to help them nab him. They engaged me in their plan and I left for my cottage. Upen was there, feeding the cows and he casually asked me, “How was the bargain?” I replied, “So-so.” after dinner, as usual, Upen left for his room outside my cottage. Neither the main door of the cottage nor the door to my room have a permanent lock; they can be just pushed open or pulled close. The police had promised to hit my cottage in the wee hours, at 3am sharp; so still six hours to go.
As a security measure, I placed a huge container of grains next to the door just in case he would try to push the door open, so the noise would wake me up. I was still unable to believe that Upen could be a criminal. I always carry the double-barrelled gun with me but it was too big to be kept under the quilt so I decided to keep the sabre next to me in my bed and tried to concentrate reading a novel. Time seemed to have stopped.
Slowly I felt my eyes becoming heavy around midnight and that’s when I heard the slow push of the container. All alone in the midst of a forest, on a cold wintry night, for the first time in my life I felt heat and sweat take over my body. I knew he was in the cottage. Helpless, I feigned being asleep. Two minutes later I felt his hand under my pillow as if he was trying to find something underneath. I knew that I am no match for this 6 feet tall, hefty giant of a man, when my heart suddenly burst out and said, “Go charge him right now or never!” I pulled out the sabre, appearing as if I were in shock and blurted out, “Who is here?” Seeing the sabre in front of him, Upen pulled back and stammered that he was looking for match sticks to light a beedi.
I seized the opportunity to chide him as normally as I could and told him not to sneak into a person’s bedroom like this. He seemed quite composed and started to talk about increasing farm productivity in the coming year. I decided to sail with him and waited for the police to appear. Past 3am, no trace of the police; past 3.30am still no trace. At 4am, Upen left my room saying he had to start tilling the field early. I sighed a breath of relief as he left and lay on my bed while I could hear his voice driving the bulls. As the sun rose over the hills, his voice grew dimmer until it vanished. After a while I went out to find the pair of bulls standing on the field all by themselves. I called out for him but no trace. Around half past six, the police arrived but could not find Upen. Some said he crossed over to the Naga Hills never to be found again.
This incident reinstated my faith that this land is blessed, not cursed.
I am yet reminded of another incident which was proof enough that there was nothing wrong with this land, rather that it was surrounded by a different mystical energy.
One night I had an upset stomach and of course the makeshift bamboo toilet was a little far away from my cottage. Around midnight I could hear my tummy growling and it was an extremely urgent call. So I rushed out and could somehow manage to reach the small anthill top deserted by ants long ago. The very nature of this running tummy was such that it was impossible to stop when I suddenly saw two glowing eyes in front of me and the rest of the body against the moonlight looked somewhat like a panther. With full awareness and fear gripping my belly, I knew clearly it was a black panther looking right at me, face to face. The running motion was in no mood to stop and it was impossible for me to move. That’s when I just said to the black panther, “If you have to kill me, do so, I am helpless and cannot move.” Strangely enough, after a minute, the panther slowly moved away and was never seen again.
I wondered, if this piece of land was actually cursed how come I was still alive?
These experiences made me very curious to know more about the history of this place, so I started to enquire with the local people in the nearby villages. But nothing much came about.
Today my daughter informed me that she has become a sannyasin. I am not surprised. I am happy for her and wish her well. This had to happen one day. I left Nagajanka in the mid-seventies when I got selected for the Forest service and ever since without fail I paid a visit to that ancestral land once a year. The villagers now cultivated there and shared their harvest with us.
I always had a very special connection with that land and always felt the strong call to visit. On this visit, someone directed me to a strange old man of about 100 years of age who wanted to share something important with me. This old man had left his home for the Himalayas many years ago. I sat facing his wrinkled face, looking into incredible luminous eyes. His language was not clear, yet from what I could gather, he revealed to me something that I or the whole family could have never known in his lifetime.
“Your father, the King was specially gifted. He was less of a ruler and more of a sadhak [a seeker].”
“Yes, that’s why he used to escape from the town, his family and children, and spent time meditating.”
“Ah, yes,” I answered, remembering my father leaving us every now and then for three months or so, much to our chagrin.
“That’s why this place is blessed, because he lived here,” said the old man.
Much surprised by this revelation about my own father, I was now very determined to know more. But none of the villagers wanted to talk about it. I was getting very curious because I could feel their cool indifference. Then I suddenly remembered my old friend Jugen and knew he at least would not hide anything from me. He was quite shocked at my query and yes, he told me, my father came only to meditate and lived in a one room shack that is now totally damaged by storms and each household of the village took turns to bring him food every day.
I asked Jugen if he had seen my father meditating. He said everybody was instructed not to enter the forest after a particular time. But yes, he did see something in the village itself. If my father would be late returning from the village and the sun was about to set, he would ask one of the villagers to provide him with a bamboo mat. He would silently sit on it under any tree in any garden and close his eyes as if he were no longer in this world. He would then silently leave the mat at the doorstep of the household after night had set in and vanish without a word to anyone. Yes, the entire village knew all this, but no-one in his own family did.
Today my respect for my father has increased a thousandfold. He was a sadhak, how mysterious. Today, I can understand how he could play the sitar so well and get lost in it. I wish he were here so that I could thank him for being my father and teach me about some of his mysterious experiences.
Naina is a regular contributor
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