The Prophecy by Bijoykumar Singh Tayenjam
It was a moonless night. Kanta, a small-time thief, was speeding alone fast on his bike, a sleek red Hero-Honda, along a long stretch of a deserted road leading away from the seashore after disposing off his booty at a clandestine shop on the beach, dealing in stolen goods. Except for the light thrown by the headlight of his bike, it was frighteningly dark all around. The gentle breeze from the sea started breaking into a fierce storm. The wind picked up speed howling loudly and tried to blow away everything in its path, showing its destructive power. Lightning flashed across the dark turbulent sky illuminating the whole area for a fraction of a second, followed by the loud booming roar of thunder.
He had covered about eight kilometers or so inland when it started raining. Raindrops, the size of plums, poured down incessantly. He still had a long way to go. With the high velocity raindrops jabbing at his face continuously, he found it impossible to keep his eyes open. He looked around for a safe place to shelter from the downpour. A little ahead in the beam of his bike’s hazy headlight the outline of a small white structure, unmistakably that of a roadside temple appeared.
“It is strange. I have travelled along this road many times but I have never seen this temple,” he thought. “Maybe I was too preoccupied to notice.”
He immediately applied the brake and the bike screeched to a stop. After parking it, he ran to the temple. As he climbed the steps, he heard a serene and gentle voice welcoming him, clearly above the roar of the wind.
“Come in, Kanta. I knew you would come. I have been waiting for you.”
He suddenly realized he was not alone but could not see who the other person was. Lightning flashed again. In the momentary flood of light, he was taken aback to see a Sadhu whom he had never met before, sitting in padmasana posture. He was naked except for a small piece of cloth covering his groin.
“Don’t be afraid. Come closer my child,” continued the Sadhu.
Kanta groped in the darkness and knelt down near him without uttering a word.
“Now, listen to me carefully. I have very important advice for you to follow.”
He paused briefly waiting for Kanta’s reply. Puzzled at the mysterious happening; a Sadhu, a complete stranger out of the blue calling him by name, Kanta did not say anything but simply nodded his head in the dark.
“I am afraid, the path you are leading is wrong but there is still time to correct.”
The Sadhu’s well-meaning words caught Kanta unaware. He felt blood suddenly rushing to his face. He blushed with shame as if he had been caught with his pants down in public. All the precautions he had taken to cover up his job of stealing had failed to deceive the omniscient Sadhu.
“If you don’t realize your mistakes and mend your ways; you would die an unnatural death.”
Kanta could not remain silent any longer. His inquisitiveness got the better of him, “Baba, what should I do to undo my past mistakes?”
“It is very simple my child. You devote your remaining life in the service of the poor and downtrodden. I am sure it will not be difficult for you.”
“I promise to do whatever you tell me.”
“You start by distributing your ill-gotten wealth to the poor and needy.”
“I swear I will do just that.”
“I warn you, my child, if you fail to keep your promise you will die at the hands of a child who is born long after the death of both his parents.”
After giving the warning, the Sadhu stopped talking. Kanta also maintained a respectful silence. With his eyes now adjusted to the darkness, he could clearly see the intricate carvings of exceptional beauty on the inner walls of the temple in the light thrown by a strange glow radiating from the Sadhu. The rain did not last long. The ferocious wind also slowed down to a gentle, cool and refreshing breeze. Slowly, the sky cleared to show the stars twinkling above.
With folded hands, Kanta bowed his head to pay his respects and show his gratitude to the Sadhu. After that, he left the temple and went home.
The next day, he returned to the same road looking for the roadside temple where he had taken shelter the previous night. He drove his bike to and fro along the full stretch of the deserted road again and again but the temple was nowhere to be seen.
After his unfruitful trip, he proceeded to the heart of the city, a booming commercial centre. The repeated to and fro drive along the long deserted road made him hungry. He went to a fast-food joint to take a quick bite to ease his hunger.
The strange Sadhu’s still stranger prophecy, “You will die at the hands of a child who is born long after the death of both his parents” was lingering in his mind and made him restless. Sitting on a revolving stool next to the footpath, munching a burger he idly looked around. On the opposite side of the wide road, he saw a four-storied modern glass and steel building standing in the middle of a spacious well laid-out and carefully manicured garden. A huge sign placed above the main entrance of the building declared – ‘HOPE NURSING HOME’.
A young couple came out through the majestic sliding glass-front-door. Even from such a long distance, his experienced eyes could pick out the pair of diamond earrings the woman was wearing. His interest was suddenly aroused. His eyes followed the couple. The couple hopped in a small imported Japanese-car, just the right size to squeeze through the busy city traffic, parked in the parking lot and drove off. He had forgotten all about the Sadhu’s prophecy. He came out of the fast-food joint and followed the car on his bike. The car entered a posh residential area with beautiful houses on both sides of the road and parked in the driveway of an eye-catching bungalow with neatly trimmed hedges all around demarcating the boundary of the compound. He noted down the address, “B-24, Sector-C, Ring Road” carefully and returned home.
Late in the night when everyone was sleeping peacefully, he went to the posh residential area. He did not find any difficulty in locating the young couple’s house. He broke into the house. When he was about to leave after clearing all the valuables, the couple woke up and tried to raise alarm. He jumped on the helpless husband and wife; and murdered them mercilessly before making good his escape. After that, there was no looking back.
It all had happened about five years ago. Kanta was now a renowned figure. He had a dual-personality like the two sides of a coin. He was covertly the powerful leader of an underworld Mafia gang who wore the mask of a generous kind-hearted peace-loving citizen. To the common man, he was a rich man who owned a chain of departmental stores but his real income was from the clandestine night-clubs and gambling dens his gang operated.
His rise to power was phenomenal. The Sadhu’s prophecy had given him courage. He reasoned, “How can a child be born long after the death of his parents? Impossible.” He easily fought his way to the top. He knew that he would come out the fights unscathed because his killer would never be born. He overpowered and silenced many contenders for the coveted position without much difficulty. He visited temples regularly and distributed alms to the beggars crowding there, to project his image as a pious man and deceive the unsuspecting people of the city. His generosity and kindness towards the poor and needy populace of the city had elevated him the superlative position of a Demigod and earned the title “Data-Kanta”.
With the rival Mafia gangs logged in never-ending war of supremacy, Kanta’s life was supposed to be in constant danger but he roamed around freely without the retinue of bodyguards, unlike the leaders of the other gangs. He was sure that his rivals could never kill him. His only problem was people recognizing him wherever he went. As a man of prominence, he could do nothing in public places without being mobbed by the people present there. His life was like an open book for everyone to see. He longed to roam around carefree in public places as a common person and spend some time on his own without the others recognising and disturbing him.
He planned meticulously to fulfil his desire. On the eve of Holi, he sent away all his servants and immediate employees serving in his house on a long holiday after paying them generous sums of money. After everyone had left, he took out his secret paraphernalia. He put on a grey wig with matching false grey moustache, donned spotless white dhoti and kurta; and added a pair of spectacles with plain glass to his costume to make the picture in his mind completely. He stood before the mirror and looked at the old man in front of him with satisfaction, “Even my next-door neighbour would not be able to recognise me in the disguise.”
He stealthily came out of the house with a walking stick in his hand. He crossed the road in front of his house and walked on. He proceeded to a nearby market and entered a crowded departmental store owned by him. He wasted a good hour there, watching with humour the endless stream of customers hurrying through the different sections to make their purchases and the salespersons helping them. No one recognized him. He felt like an escaped cage-bird free to soar in the vast open sky anywhere in any direction. As he came out he collided with a woman hurrying out of the store after buying everything she needed till she could carry no more. She slipped on the road scattering all her packages around her.
He apologized and helped her to get up. She was on the verge of losing her nerve but soon controlled herself when she saw that the person with whom she had collided was an old harmless looking man. He picked up the packages and offered to take her to her house in a taxi. She reluctantly agreed when he told her that he belonged to a remote village and was a newcomer to the city. He had come to the city only for a week to meet his son who worked in the departmental store.
He hailed a taxi and they got in. Throughout their ride in the taxi, they remained silent. The taxi stopped at the address given by her. She lived in a second floor flat all by herself. After getting down from the taxi, she paid the fare. He helped her to carry the packages up to her flat. When he was about to leave after putting down the last of the packages at her door, she invited him to come inside for a cup of tea. It was a very neat and tidy two-room flat. He sat on a comfortable couch and looked around the room while she prepared tea in the kitchen. The furniture and decor showed that she had an artistic taste. On the opposite wall hung an enlarged photograph of her cuddling a baby, encased in a highly polished expensive brass frame.
She brought an exquisite ivory-white hand painted fine-china tea set with crafted silver spoons, two empty cups and saucers; and a plate of delicious looking homemade cookies on a silver tray. She placed the tray on a walnut tea table with carved legs that showed fine craftsmanship. When she poured out tea into the empty cups, the room was suddenly filled with the unmistakable aroma of garden-fresh handpicked choicest Darjeeling-tea.
She held up a cup and asked, “Milk? Sugar?” “I prefer tea without milk and sugar to get the real flavour. Honestly, in my humble place, I can’t always afford milk and sugar.”
She opened her eyes wide in surprise, “Really! I also take tea the same way. It is very un-Indian but I think milk and sugar spoil the real taste of tea. I keep milk and sugar for visitors though anyone seldom drops in.”
Kanta now felt comfortable enough to inquire about the photograph on the wall, “Your baby?”
“Yes and no.”
“I couldn’t get you.” She elaborated, “The baby grew up in my womb and was delivered by me but I am not the real mother.”
“I still couldn’t get you. You are puzzling me more.”
She suddenly became serious. She took a deep breath and gave a weary sigh.
“I haven’t disclosed this to anyone around here but I see no harm in telling you the whole story. It will relieve me of the great burden of keeping it a secret for such a long time.”
She narrated her heartfelt story to an attentive Kanta. She grew up in an orphanage and was trained as a nurse. She worked at a private hospital, HOPE NURSING HOME, which catered to the need of the affluent section of the city. She longed to settle down to a peaceful family life. But who would come forward to tie the nuptial knot with someone who was brought up in an orphanage?
About five years ago, a very jovial and friendly young childless couple, Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Das, came to the nursing home. They were eager to have a child of their own. Mrs. Das had the problem of blocked fallopian tubes, which was the root-cause of their problem. They visited the nursing home a number of times to extract mature and healthy eggs from her ovaries. The eggs were then fertilized with her husband’s sperms in a dish containing a special medium or fluid. Test-tube baby. The fertilized eggs were kept frozen for depositing in her womb later on.
She was secretly drawn towards Mr. Das, the handsome husband and had a hidden desire to mother his child. A very unfortunate turn of events ended the lives of the young bright couple. Their wealth became their enemy. Their house was ransacked and stripped of all the valuables; and they were murdered in their own bedroom. All of a sudden Kanta blurted out, “Mr. and Mrs. Das of B-24, Sector-C, Ring Road?”
“Precisely. How did you know?” There was a hint of surprise in her voice.
Kanta realised he had given himself away. His quick wit came to his rescue.
“A generous couple. My son worked in their jewellery shop for some time before he joined the departmental store. I had visited their house with my son on two occasions in connection with a loan for my daughter’s marriage. It was only because of their kindness that I could arrange my daughter’s marriage.”
She had swallowed his story. She did not suspect anything wrong. She continued her narration. Mr. Das was the only child of his parents. His father was also a rich man who stayed in another metropolitan city where he owned a chain of jewellery shops. It was at his insistence that Mr. Das came to the city and opened his own jewellery shop. His father wanted him to learn the trade on his own so that he could expand the business and would not find any problem to manage the chain of jewellery shops, he would inherit one day.
Sr. Das, Mr. Das’s father came to know about the frozen fertilized eggs deposited at the nursing home about a year after his precious son’s death. His shattered hope of propagating the lineage of his family to the future was rekindled. The moment he learnt about the eggs, he dashed down to the nursing home and inquired about revitalising them. She met him at the nursing home and offered to take the role of a surrogate mother. By becoming the surrogate mother her two secret desires, to be a mother and to mother Mr. Das’s child, which she had been yearning for a long time would be fulfilled.
After consulting her employer it was settled, she could be the surrogate mother and all the maternity benefits given to the employees of the nursing home would be availed to her. The terms and conditions put by Sr. Das were “After the implantation of the embryo in her womb she has to stay at the nursing home under the direct supervision of the doctors till the delivery of the baby. The baby would be handed over to him after the baby starts weaning on to semi-solid food. Till that time she has to stay at a place of his choice.” She accepted the terms and conditions. The doctors at the nursing home were also very happy to learn that one of their nurses would be the surrogate mother.
When asked, she refused to name her price. However, Sr. Das presented her a well-furnished flat and deposited a fat balance in her account at the bank.
“The baby in the photograph is Mr. Das’s son. He stays with his grandfather. I get a chance to meet him once every year when Sr. Das brings him here to celebrate his birthday. He is now exactly three years old. Today is his birthday. I was at the departmental store to buy presents for him. They will come to pick me up. I am expecting them any moment now.”
Kanta was gripped by a sudden terror. He was bathed in cold sweat to learn that his terminator had already been born. He lamented silently, “How foolish I have been not to take the Sadhu’s advice! I have been blinded by my greed for the riches. Now, I cannot escape my destiny. I will die at the hands of an innocent boy who has been brought to this world long after the death of his parents to finish me off.”
She noticed his off-colour face and the drops of sweat on his forehead. She inquired, “Something wrong? Not feeling well?”
“Nothing wrong. I’m fine.”
She heard him but she was concerned about the sudden change that had come over him, “Are you sure, you’re all right?”
He got up to leave and said, “There is nothing wrong with me. I have to take leave of you now. Thank you so much for the hospitality.”
“I’ll come up to the road to see you off.”
Closing the door gently behind him, he said, “Please don’t bother.”
He went to the lift. It was going up. He pushed the call-button and waited for the lift to come down. More than five minutes had passed but the lift was still not coming down. Every second seemed like a year to him. It seemed that the ticking of each second was bringing his end closer. His heart was pounding fast; his terminator was due to arrive any moment now. He did not want to die so soon. He had to escape from the place and go to a far off place to buy time. The sound of a car parking below near the entrance of the building frightened him out of his wits. “My terminator has arrived. He will be coming up in the lift. I cannot use the lift now. I shall use the stairs instead.” He went to the stairs and started running down. When he reached the last landing, an apparition appeared before him. A man with his long mottled and knotted hair tied tightly in a bun on the top of his head was standing at the landing with his arms extended as if to welcome him. He was naked except for a small piece of cloth covering his groin. The man was no other than the Sadhu from the roadside temple.
Kanta tried to stop running but lost his balance. He slipped and went headlong down the flight of steps and landed with a thud on the ground. When he came to his senses, he was lying on a bed in a hospital. He lifted his right hand with great difficulty and felt around his head and face. His wig and false moustache were still intact. He felt a great relief.
“So they have not yet noticed my disguise.”
He faintly heard a nurse informing someone that the patient had come around. A doctor came to inform him that he was not badly hurt; he would be on his feet in a day or so. The doctor soon left.
Kanta, wreathing with numbing pain all over his body, closed his eyes. After a while, he heard someone calling him softly, “Please open your eyes and see who have come.”
He slowly opened his eyes and saw a nurse standing near him. The nurse moved aside so that he could see the visitors. What he saw made him gap his jaw with awe. The surrogate mother of his terminator and an old man with a child in his arms were standing behind the nurse.
The surrogate mother came closer and said, “How are you feeling? Sr. Das and his grandson are with me. We brought you to Hope Nursing Home for treatment in his car. You were lucky. He had just arrived with his grandson when you slipped down the stairs.” He got a terrible and frightening shock to learn that his terminator was present. He slipped back into semi-consciousness. He was faintly aware of Sr. Das coming closer with his grandson still in his arms. He was asking his grandson to feel the patient’s forehead as a gesture of good wishes. No, Sr. Das was not holding the child; through his hazy eyes Kanta saw the Sadhu holding the child in his arms.
The child extended his hand and his tiny fingers gently touched the patient’s forehead. The touch gave Kanta the final blow, which sent him to the metaphysical land of no return.