There was a Ber tree in front of little Babu’s house. It was special, a microcosm around which one phase of his precious childhood revolved. A small road running parallel to the barrack like building separated the tree from his house which was at one end of the long building. He played under the tree with his cronies, climbed its branches and heard stories of apparitions going around it in the dead of night. Every day as the dusk settled they would sit on the verandah and gossip inanities. The seniors among them told fancy stories. In summers they would sleep out in the open; mosquito nets fixed to cots with the help of four bamboo sticks. Being a large family, young siblings slept in pairs in cots. They all helped taking the cots with its paraphernalia inside the house every morning and setting them up in parallels every evening all throughout the summers. One evening just as light was fading they were sitting on the cot and gossiping merrily; nobody noticed a piece of dark thick rope lying on the ground. A few moments later little Babu realized the rope had changed its shape, it was in V shape whereas earlier it was straight. When he pointed the anomaly to his elder brother, he dismissed it with a shrug but another chap dittoed his assertion at the same time they saw real movement in that thing. All hell broke as they jumped off the cot and ran to the shelter of verandah. Commotion brought out elders but the snake had already vanished through an orifice under the culvert. Some effort was made to draw it out but it did not bear fruit. So little Babu was left with lingering fear of a sliding reptile still lurking around there in the neighborhood….
Beyond the tree was large stretch of open land, unattended and at the mercy of elements therefore ugly and at places bald. Somewhere within this forsaken land, past the Ber tree was a small clearing, an island dotted with contraptions for children’s playing; a swing, a see-saw and may be a steel lattice constituting population of that island. One evening little Babu found himself all alone in that playing area. Everybody else had left and the light was fading quickly. Little Babu was musing type, thought he was unusual unlike anybody else. Strange thoughts would occupy his mind and then abruptly he would raise he head, look around to check if anyone has seen his thoughts naked. That lonely evening a bizarre thought came to his mind. He stood near the swing and gently pushed the seat and closed his eyes. His idea was to let the seat swing back and kiss his forehead. So he positioned himself away from the neutral position so that seat while swinging back would rise to the level of his forehead. Satisfied he shoved the seat away gently from him. A couple of times the seat would not quite reach back to his position so a little bored and impatient he gave the seat much stronger push, the seat swung back and instead kissing his forehead, knocked his head sending him tumbling down to ground. He felt a numbing jolt and then mild pain in his head, rubbed it vigorously, got up and went back home. At the house his brother was alarmed to see blood trickling down his forehead which little Babu had not noticed, soon everyone was asking how this happened. Little Babu honestly told them the swing knocked him. He felt relieved that nobody asked how the seat knocked his head. He has memories of sitting at the back of his father’s bike taking him to hospital along the aerodrome road and at the hospital a large disc over his head with four dull lights focused on him while doctors fixing his head. All that remained of the incident was a small permanent scar between his eyes.
One day his cronies came to him excitedly and told him there was ‘paagal’ in the MI room. MI (Medical Investigation or some such thing) room was acronym for the dispensary where he went to get inoculated. The place was morose and reeked of spirit therefore not a friendly place. Like most things there was a sketchy version of ‘paagal’ in his mind culled from bits of information from stories he read, movies he saw and conversations. It was of combative person possessing raw force and malevolence. He felt powerful masochistic urge to see the ‘paagal’. So they set out to MI room which he now remembers was on the far end side of his building not too far away. They took the short cut through the trees. MI room, small building with asbestos roof, was surrounded by tropical trees. A disused and abandoned motor vehicle permanently occupied one end of the dispensary. So the gang walked quietly and in taut anticipation to MI room. Near the MI room even when it was not visible due to cover of trees they heard men talking agitatedly. As they came very near the MI room, positioned themselves behind tree trunks. Little Babu peered from behind the tree trunk with a sense of trepidation. He saw a metallic cot with its steel frame in enameled white worn off at places out in the yard. Lying on bare mattress was an average sized man his arms and legs chained to cot. The man would convulse and rent out ear piercing shriek while a couple of men bent over him. His shear presence radiated extreme violence …
That’s the image I have of the man chained to the cot exuding such raw force that it ruffled me so far away …….