11

Ranjit listened to the remembrance songs sung by the cleric hired by the family from a local temple to perform the last rites of his grandmother. The cleric had been reciting hymns quite dolefully and poignantly. The words of the sad song and its heartbreaking tune sung by the singer were emitting so much pain in the ambience that every one present had tears into his eyes. It was as if as if each person there had been grieved by the death of his own grandmother, who had breathed her last into the late hours previous night. Ranjit remembered how he had called out to people living in the neighborhood of his grandmother’s house to inform them of the passing away of the old lady. He had wept hysterically and uncontrollably in their presence. He requested all of them to inform his parents, who were living in the nearby village.

His father and mother along with the other relatives immediately left for the town as soon as they heard of the demise of the old lady. They had also brought along with them one more village priest for conducting the last rites. The funeral could be arranged by late evening only. The village Priest was singing hymns associated with the last ritual that follows the cremation on the death of a person.

The village priest beckoned Ranjit to light the pyre. He looked at the dead corpse of the old lady. She appeared weak, small, frail, and yet tenacious. She had fought him like a tigress for good long one hour before she had given in to his powerful blows showered by her own grandson on her. He could still see that sense of determination on her face. She wanted to live even in her death. Ranjit had no intentions to nor did he ever want to kill her. She would have lived for a long time, had she not pried into his affairs.

Ranjit hid the guns at his house as soon as he reached home from the airport.   The old lady had left for the local temple to say her evening prayers. He deliberately came home during the time when the old woman will not be around. He knew her schedule of the evening and that she will be away between 4 P.M to 6 P. M. was a regular routine known to every one in the locality.

The consignment that he had brought with him was to be delivered to three different destinations. Ranjit decided that the home of his grandmother, where he had been provided shelter by the old lady out of her love and pity for her grand son, was the safest place to hide the consignment of the guns.  He strongly felt that no other place could be better. It was a perfect as there no one else except the old lady lived besides him. He had many times earlier too retained the packets of drugs in his own room and removed them in different stages over the time. Accordingly this time too he thought it to prudent to keep the guns in his room. He would at later days take away some of them in smaller lots for different consignees. The old lady had absolutely  stopped entering his room ever since she had excommunicated him on account of the duplicate keys made and used by him to steal money from her almirah.

“Do you mind if I come in” the old lady called from outside the doors of his room.

Before he could answer her, she had walked in into the room and sat on the bed under which he had concealed the guns in a gunnysack.

“You have been missing for so many days? What are you up to? You have no regards and respects left for the family honors. I can understand that, but at least you must have some iota of self-pity on your life style. Why do you not want to   do something worthwhile in your life? Your father had visited me in your absence. He has suggested that he can recommend you for a job, in case you are willing to mend your ways and are willing to get into some kind of employment”.

“Thanks a lot grandma, but I can manage my own life very well. I have no expectations about anything from you. I do not ask for any money of you now.  See I do not even ask for food” he retorted. The old lady began to sob softly.

“Sonny I know what you are up to. If I do not stop you that does not mean I do not know your whereabouts and deeds. You thank your stars that I have not informed your father because I still believe you can be brought back to normal life. The immoral games and littlies that you are indulging into do not pay in the long run. Some day the law will catch up with you and you will end up behind bars. Why do you want to bring the bad name to all of us? Just think of your own future even if you have no remorse left for your parents”.

“So the old lady has been looking into his room even in his nonattendance. Is she throwing a bait to catch him off guard or has she been rummaging through his belongings in his absence”, he was not sure although she was capable of searching his personal luggage too.

“Oh shut up old ma! I am not doing any thing that is unlawful or even what can be called against the established morality,” he shot back. It was at this point that she had bent down to pick up her slip-ons from under the cot. One slipper had accidentally been pushed little further under the bed and she was looking for the same.

“What is this thing kept here in a gunny sack?” she pulled the gunny sack towards her. She started feeling the contents of the gunnysack with her hands. “Oh! My God!  These are guns. So you are one of the terrorists now. How many murders have you committed? How many innocents lives have you eliminated? When did you join this gang of killers?”

“I have not killed any one, nor am I terrorist” he virtually shouted back at her.

“Then why do you keep this these guns at my home. What are you planning? I must inform your father. I must inform the police. You cannot do that to your own family. You are a killer”.

The old lady caught him by the collar of his shirt in a fit of rage.

“You bastard is that the reason we gave birth to you. Why did you not die the day you were born”? Ranjit had not expected this kind of violent confrontation. The old lady showered blows on his face and she was crying simultaneously “You fool, you shameless creature! You murderer! You are bringing disgrace to the family. I will kill you”.

Ranjit realized he must stop her before the neighbors heard her wailing shouts. “She must not spill the beans to any one. She cannot demolish what has not even begun yet. It is the first lot, the future offered scope of making tons of money to him. I cannot let my dream of making billions of dollars get eliminated just because this old lady gets pangs of morality from time to time”.

“You better stop hitting me like that and making a racket to the entire world about it ”, he caught the old lady by her neck and put his right hand on her mouth to shut her up.

She bit his hand, at the same time she had been hitting him with all her strength, “you scoundrel how you dare raise your hand on me?”

“Listen to me grandma; what you are saying is not correct. These guns do not belong to me.  These are to be delivered elsewhere and belong to a friend”, Ranjit tried to reason with her .He managed to put his left hand also on her mouth. He noticed she was getting breathless; his hands were covering part of her nose too. He had been blocking the breathing process of his grandmother. The old lady fell back on the cot. At this stage Ranjit took a pillow in his hands and smothered her with that pillow. She struggled very hard to extricate herself from his death like knot of his hands. She was beating him at his chest with both her hands. Ranjit had no intentions to kill her, yet he knew the instant he lifted the pillow she will start shouting at him again. He pressed the pillow deeper on to her nose. The old lady made one last effort to free herself from his clutches. She was able to push the pillow away but he sat on the pillow.

“She cannot be allowed to do this to him; not at this stage. Once she cools down I would be able to prevail upon her and explain to her that the guns belonged to a friend”. The old lady had stopped struggling. Ranjit lifted himself from top of her face. He had a close look at her. She lay there with her head tilted to the left. Ranjit lifted her head and put it on the pillow he had now placed under her head. She had stopped breathing. He put his hands on her nostrils; there was no air felt. He patted her on the cheek; her head fell on to the other side, the old lady was gone.

Ranjit reminded himself not to panic “I must not allow the fear to pervade over my thinking faculty”.

He felt strange elation within him.  It was a sense of relief. He had never felt any lighter.

“The old lady must be sent back to her own room and put into her own bed” thought Ranjit. Her hair were always tied in neat pleats, the disheveled hair could give out the story of her struggle. He picked up the dead body. It was too heavy, yet still warm. He did not wish to drag her dead body, which could leave the marks on the floor. He carried her on his shoulders to her own room and put her on the bed.  The small wooden comb with which she used to straighten her hair was there on the side stool. He opened her hair, combed them gently and tied them in a single pleat. He coupled the rubber hair band at the end of the pleat like she used to do.

Then he remembered, she would powder her cheeks before going to bed.

“Let me apply the powder on the puff”, he lightly dusted her cheeks, simultaneously removing a small drop of blood that appeared in her left nostril. “Nothing should give away the fight; you went through while leaving this world grandma!”

He took a last look at her, satisfied with the job on her face he let her lie down on the bed with her head resting comfortably on the pillow. He pulled the sheet up to her neck. That’s how she used to sleep and will be found by the neighbors in the morning.  He has to start the hue and cry for the loss of his dear and only grand mother in the early hours of tomorrow morning. He went back to his own room.   He collected the gunnysacks.

“These guns must reach the intended destination immediately”.

He pushed the motorcycle to a distance of two hundred meters and kick started it. It took him approximately two hours to deliver the consignments and come back. He noticed the quite neighborhood, there was nothing amiss. He went back in the same fashion shutting down the engine much before he reached the house. He was hoping no one watched him. He parked his motorcycle in the garage and quietly went to sleep. He will get ample chance to show his acting ability in the morning when he will have to announce to the neighbors about the sudden passing away of his grandmother while she was asleep during the night.

Ranjit wished that if he could have his way today, he could have shut his eyes to the entire world around him. But there was no way Ranjit could avoid an encounter with his father. After offering the last piece of the firewood to his grandmother’s pyre Ranjit went to one of his cousins “I shall reach home early to arrange for some cold water and refreshments etc., for the guests. None of the guests has had anything to eat since the early hours of the morning”.

His father who overheard him came to him and retorted angrily,” How can you leave this place? The ashes of your dear grandmother are still simmering.  We should at least wait till the last of the flames of her funeral pyre go down”. Ranjit, acting as if he had not heard him took one of his cousins along and reached home thus avoiding the comments made by his father. In no way he would have allowed himself any kind of direct contact with his father lest the old man would start blaming him for the old lady’s death.

However his father cornered him again at night.  After they had finished eating their supper everyone had found a place for him to sleep. Ranjit also huddled himself into a far corner of the room.  He pretended to have fallen asleep when his father nudged him to wake up. “Thank god your grand mom breathed her last. I am sure she would have had a miserable life with a vagabond like you around in her house. I am happy that your grandmother is no more alive to protect you;   I suggest you better decide to move yourself out of this house. Neither I nor any member of our family can have anything to do with you. Your activities have been tarnishing my reputation all over the town. I thought your grandma would be able to make you see some kind of reason and mend your ways and a good sense would prevail upon you. It is now quite evident her that efforts could not yield much results and you continue to live a life on the other side of the law. I will rather not have you in my house. You could be a bad influence on the younger members of my family”.

“So the old man wants to severe all relations with me” thought Ranjit. “This man has always been worried about his own position through out his life. The petty job of a policeman was more important to him than the happiness of his own progeny, all I wanted in life was a reasonable money and decent lifestyle and yet even this is not acceptable to my old man”.

“Don’t you bother about me; I will manage my own life. As far as this house is concerned I shall soon find another place to live for my soul” Ranjit retorted angrily. He could hear his mother sobbing softly behind the veil of her scarf, “Son you must listen to him.  He is your birth giver and is your best well wisher. You should always remember that despite all the differences you both have he still remains your father. I will ask him to get you recruited in police as a constable. I wish you should also like your father one day be decorated with a shining star on your shoulders”.

“Oh shut up why do you always have to come between us”, his father admonished the poor lady. “This good for nothing fellow can do nothing of this sort. He acts as a pimp and he thinks I do not know about this. Make sure he does not cast his bad shadow on his siblings”. His mother started crying loudly. Some of the relatives heard her wailings and came into the room.

Ranjit thought it prudent to leave the area,   “It seems my father, is determined to show the dispute between both of us off to all the relations who have come for the grandma’s funeral”.

His father’s shouts for dressing-down his vagrant son had become louder “My mother died because of you. You useless fellow I would not have let you live here even for a minute if it were not for her.  You must get out of this place at once.  His mother by now had also become aggressive.

She told her husband, “What are you up to. You can not ask him to leave like this? The memorial service fires of your own mother are still burning .Ranjit being eldest son of the family has to attend to all the sacrament and observance for his grandmother’s peace and departure of her pious soul to heavens”. “Why do you not help us? She had begun her pleading to the people watching this fight between the father and son. “Please explain to his father that the eldest of the grandsons have to be the available here for all kinds of worshipping to appease the gods of death and well being”. His mother looked pleadingly at one of the relatives through her tear swollen eyes and beckoned him to take Ranjit or his furious father away from the room. .

The people took led his father to another room. The fight had been temporary resolved through a momentarily truce but Ranjit could not sleep through the entire night thereafter. It was very early morning when his mother came to his bed with a hot cup of tea to see and speak to him.  He quietly sipped the hot brew, not paying any attention to sweet-talk being indulged into by his mother.

“Do not pay any attention to the outbursts of your father my dear son. He is very grieved due to the sudden demise of his mother. He will come by and become himself within a day or two. You should not mind your father’s foul temper. Whatever he says it will be for your betterment only. He means no harm to you. All we want is that you should find yourself a nice job. I shall get you a good and attractive girl as your bride and then you can continue staying in your grandmother’s house only”.

He wanted to tell her that he has already selected Koena as his would be wife and that he will bring her only after he attains the lifestyle he considers appropriate for his wife but he just looked sympathetically at his mother and got up “I must go and find out  if servant has served tea to every one ”. ‘These people will not have any inkling of my dreams” He shrugged his shoulders.

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