The Deadly Bet:

(Last night I spent drafting and posting a story on The Write Practice. I knew it was publishable once it was okayed by akanksha bhattacharjee (pupu) / & anushka bhattacharjee. When Mrs. Anindita Basu, the famous writer-daughter of the famous Bengali writer, Narayan Sanyal, commented on the story later, my cup of joy and happiness was full. Here is the story I copy-pasted from the site along with Mrs. Basu’s comments for you.)
The Deadly Bet:
It was a silent, stilly night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona a momentary fright. Or the pujari rather. The barebodied, hairy man looked at Dona as if the world had come to an end before breaking into a rumbly laughter.
“You impertinent lass, how dare you step inside a sanctuary even men fear to trade? Don’t you fear for your life?”

As Dona sat down against the sycamore tree, she recollected, all on a sudden, the number of ghost stories she had read in her childhood concerning the tree. An owl, disturbed by the sudden unusual movements, screeched out of the shadowy branches of a solitary tree. Unnerved, she took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. She glanced at the time on her tab, a quarter past one. She still had four hours to kill in the samsan. She would dig the hole, put the cross in it, cover it up with the soil. She’d watch ‘The Last Samurai’ on her tab before getting back to teach a lesson to those chickenhearted friends of hers. In the twenty first century when girls were taking the world by storm, doing the impossible, her so-called educated friends were a disgrace really. She was brought out of her reverie by the priest thundering out from the temple:
Jai RaktaKali Mai ki …. (Let the blood-suckling Goddess Kali be praised.)
His booming voice was more scary than she would like to admit to herself. Hardly did she take the small knife out of her wallet, when the silence of the samsan was shattered by the heart wrenching cry of a she wolf from the other side of the Matali river, separating the samsan from the dense forest.

Dona decided to get to work. The crescent moon emerging in the sky, cast an unnatural tinge. A gentle breeze rustled among the branches. Dona started digging. When she felt that she had made a hole deep enough for the cross, she unhooked the majestic cross from her neck. She held it in the hole with her left hand. She didn’t mind the end of the sari around her waist coming loose while gathering the loose soil around the cross. Once the hole was filled up, she made sure that the cross would hold up. An eerie silence had descended on the burning ghat by then. Strangely, the thought of Mariam’s mom putting an end to her terminal disease with all the sleeping tabs, came to her mind. For an instant, she could see her on the bamboo cot, with two cotton balls pressed into her nostrils. And the nauseating odor of the perfume that permeated the air. She turned towards the Kali temple to get the scene out of her mind. But how did the air over where she was kneeling, smell of the same perfume? She tried getting the disturbing thought out of her mind as well. As she tried to get up, her back to the cross, someone tugged at her from the back. The owner of Black Belt; known for her courage and fearlessness; had a severe jolt. Something was out there behind her, trying to stop her from getting up and back to freedom. For some reasons she couldn’t turn her head back. Even then without losing her head, she tried to jerk herself free with all her strength. The pull from the back was greater, coursing straight through her up to her heart. Overcome with a sense of helplessness and fear, Dona stumbled and fell forward. She was gone even before she hit the ground, face down.
As the deathly pallor gradually settled on her face, her soul left for the place where it had all started a week earlier ……..

“This is preposterous. Are you guys nuts or what? How can you believe in ghosts and such stuff when Science and Technology has gone too far?” Dona asked her friends.
“But it’s a fact. Jemi can’t stay alone since her mom’s tragic death. Jemi’s quite close to her and has been hallucinating a lot since then,” I cut in. “Whatever it may be, I’ll stay with her for a few days.”
“I can’t believe this! Are you both science grads? Studied in the best college in the city? You really want me to believe this shit?” Dona asked incredulously.
“OK, Dona. Don’t buy our story if you don’t want to. You’re the Champion of Virtue and Valour, na? Can you prove that ghosts don’t exist?” Jemima was hurting from inside as it was clear from her challenging voice.
“Let’s have a bet to see how daring, how smart you’re by asking you to spend a night at the RaktaKali Samsan one of these days. If you can carry out our terms and conditions, we’ll accept your suzerainty unconditionally. “
That is how the bet materialized between us. The terns of the bet were laid down at the town gym later.
As per the bet, she was to go to the samsan alone, fix the cross under the sycamore tree at the danger end. Spend the rest of the night there and come back to the gym. Besides the wallet, she could also carry her tab to make a call in case of emergency. As Dona left the gym with a contemptuous smile on her face,Jemima cried out piteously,” Oh, God! The scent of that perfume again!”

We waited for Dona till late the next day. When we didn’t hear from her in the morning, we informed the police. We were asked to accompany Inspector Sukhbir Singh to the RaktaKali Samsan Ghat at around two in the afternoon. Even getting inside the cremation ground with security, gave us the goosebumps. While heading towards the northern end, where the dead bodies were burnt, I had a glimpse of the image of goddess Kali in the cylindrical temple under the banyan tree. It was the most terrifying image of a goddess I had ever seen in my life. She was standing over Lord Shiva with her tongue out in shame all right, but the garland of skulls around her neck, hanging low to her bare waist, made a sight. I don’t know for sure but I had this strange feeling that the blood tricking down the corners of her mouth, was more real than painted. And what about that fierce look of angst in her eyes? Both Jemima and I stayed close to the inspector flanked by the constables on the sides.

When we got to the northern end. There was a muddy wall separating the samsan from the once swift-flowing now dried up river. As we neared the sycamore tree, we found Dona, lying on the ground, her face down. Blood drained out of Jemima’s face. I could feel her nails in my palm the way we were holding our hands. The inspector asked the constables to shift the body to the ambulance waiting outside the entrance. As they bent down to lift her lifeless body, they were in for a surprise. A corner of Dona’s sari somehow was clinging to the cross sticking out the soil used to fill up the recently dugout hole!
Jemi lamented piteously, “God! The sickening perfume again.”
The End

Anindita Basu
January 21, 2019 at 2:19 pm
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Wow!! Very good Rathin and quite eery. That is my first impression. Was going too fast..you held the reader’s attention tight..now will go one more time slowly to really read and enjoy your piece. By the way, Happy New year.

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rnb478509336
January 21, 2019 at 4:15 pm
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Thank you, Anindita. Let me tell you that for the first time since joining this site, I read someone else’s story first before posting mine. I read your story to see if I got the prompt all right or not. I’ll comment on your story later.
Welcome back. Missed you, if I ever really knew the meaning of ‘missing’ anybody at all. Take care and Happy New Year to you too. Love and regards.

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The Survivor

Recently I did a short course on ‘How to Make A Poem?’. It was a wonderful program and I learnt for the first time in my life that Poetry Writing could be fun too. One way of making a poem is, we were taught, how to make a poem out of a poem.Now that has kept me thinking- if a poem can be made out of another just by acknowledging the source then one way of making a short story will by making it with the help of another. That will give us so many fables and parables, not to forget the hundreds and thousands of stories, we can choose from! God! Can you imagine what we can create as a result? So, here is ‘Yours for ever’ trying out something new for the first time in life. Hope my effort meets with your approval. The story my story is based on, is one of the most popular of all time, O Henry’s “The Last Leaf”.)
The Survivor:
“No, you don’t worry, RNB Sir. This plant can survive on its own. Why I want you to take it is- it is believed to bring good luck,” Madam Sangay told me, handing one each to me and Ms. Chencho, my colleague at school.
Oh, sorry, mates. A story should have a propah Exposition. So here is the setting. We were taken by our VP, Madam Sangay, to someone’s place, someone known to her after attending a program at Gedu HSS. It was a lovely place with a multitude of plants and flowers blooming and adding colours to the environment all around. I was playing ‘Catch Balloons’ with the kid inside when Madam called me from outside. They were inspecting, discussing the benefits of some of those plants just outside at the doorsteps.
Her last words rang a bell somewhere. Something related to a plant, a sick girl and novice painter, lying on a deathbed…
But Madam had already bounced back up the wet trail to her car parked by the side of the road. So without much ado, Ms. Chencho and I followed suit. On the return journey I came to know about Madam Sangay’s love for flowers and plants. I was also taken by her broad- mindedness. Even if she had not asked for our share of the unnamed plant, we couldn’t have complained because just to take us to the house of someone known to her, was magnanimity in the first place, mind you reader.
I was back to my own place at the crack of dusk and just to honour her words, found and empty tub somewhere, an empty tub half full of soil. I took the very healthy-looking stem in my hand, dug a hole of some sort in the centre with my bare hand and coveted it with the soil having already lowered the sapling in the hole. It looked up to the sky above majestically, most probably thanking The Almighty above for a fresh lease of life. That evening for the first and last time, I watered it with vigour and hope. Something flashed through my mind as I got back inside my room from the veranda. Next year is my last year at CCS. What if the plant dies sometime soon? Most probably, something bad will happen to me. I may fall sick or be given the sack summarily for some loopholes in the discharge of my job. What did the dying girl tell her roommate? She would die as soon as the last leaf fell off the branch of the tree after the neighbourhood was whacked by a violent storm, remember?
Days rolled on into months, and months into years. Soon busy as we teachers are, I forgot everything about that day’s craze. Once in a while, when I went out to the veranda, I’d notice the plant, standing still majestically in the tub but the leaves didn’t look healthy anymore, the leaves had started yellowing. It looked lonely and withering.
 “God!”, I cried out to myself, “The plant is going to die soon. Something terrible is sure to happen to me! When I come back after the Winter Holidays, I’ll find it dead or used as something by the crows to sharpen their beaks on!”
But for some reason, the plant, as Madam Sangay had told us on the day, proved to be a Survivor,  a fighter of the highest order. I have to give it to the plant. By the time, I remembered it after the break, it was still there. Lonely but showing signs of being still in the race for ‘ the survival of the fittest’. What we humans can learn from these tiniest of plants! We start doing drugs, give up without a fight and don’t mind bringing an abrupt, undesirable end to life when things do not go our way and this small plant is still holding on to the last bit of life. It simply will not submit without a fight.
Anyway, to come to the end of my story and mind you, reader, a story is no story of any real worth if there is no twist in the end. So the year 2017 ended with both the plant and RNB surviving in their respective fields.
The year 2018 arrived, quite unnoticed. A new year meant a new beginning, a new hope. The plant ouside on the parapet of the veranda, looked surprisingly strong. It is going to grow. It will survive, come rain or shine, I said to myself. Elated, I handed over the papers regarding my request for an extension of my present contract with the Government of Bhutan to Madam Sangay, who happened to be the Officiating Principal of CCS by then, the next day. How did O Henry’s story end? The struggling painter worked through the night and fixed his masterpiece of the leaf to the plant outside. As the roommate opened the window after the storm had wrecked havoc on the previous night, the sparkling rays of sunlight trooped into the room to the amazement of the sickly, dying girl. She rubbed her eyes and looked out the window down to the tree. Lo and behold, the Last Leaf was still holding on to the bare branch, looking forward to the day’s challenges ahead! She knew then that she was going to survive.
I was relishing the paratha with ezey in the Staffroom when I received a call from Madam Sangay. She was sitting behind the table in her office.
” Sir,” she called out to me as I removed the curtain to seek her consent before getting in. She simply handed me across the desk the letter from the Ministry  of Education. I took it with a quivering heart, unknown to Madam.
As I tore open the envelope to unfold the letter, the first line made my heart leap out:
The Ministry of Education IS PLEASED TO EXTEND YOUR CONTRACT FOR A PERIOD OF…..
I jumped up in sheer ecstacy as Madam Sangay beamed her ‘CONGRATS’ at me.
The End.
Dear Joe,
Thanks for your invaluable gift. I have straight away started working on my story with the help of the 10-points. Unfortunately, at the time of writing the story I couldn’t find the concerned email that I downloaded last night. As I couldn’t recollect all the points, this story may contain five or six at the most. I’ll be very happy if you like the outcome of your gift.
With warm regards and best wishes,
Sincerely,
R.N.Bhattacharjee
The Denizen of the Nether World:
I’m dying a slow, poisonous death. Rima said that I’d last for seven more days. But I know now lying at the far end of the station, all alone with all my co-passengers long gone and the train gone back to the car shed, that I wouldn’t last that long. My end is nearer than I knew. I take a painful breath and look around, possibly for the last time. The computerized board displays the time. Under it, Platform-13 is being reflected in red, off and on. PLATFORM NO -13.
“Please write to us, one after another, to keep us updated. We’ve heard that Bhutan is a mysterious country. There are witches and ghosts and who knows what else.Take care of yourself. if you don’t like it…” My sister couldn’t finish as the man at some distance started waving the green flag and the train whizzes on. I was hurriedly pushed inside the compartment by one of my friends come to see me off at the Howrah station.
I got in, waved at the people slowly receding into the background as Kamrup started picking up the rhythmical speed. Now, how I got stuck in a roadblock on entering Bhutan, stayed in a hotel for twelve days at a busy city called Gaylekphug till my money was thinning out, how finally I was posted to a remote school – is a long story and let me keep all those experiences for a novel, if my dream of writing one ever materialises. Let it suffice to say for the time being that a week after my posting to a village called Ura, I’s head over heels in love with the heavenly place.
From Ura I got transferred next year to a place called Wangdichholing. It is a historic place with lots of monasteries and Lhakhangs  (temples) all over backed up with all those colorful prayer flags fluttering in the air, proclaiming the religiosity and beauty of both the people and the country.
One day Gyem came to my bachelor’s den in the evening. I’s surprised. It’s not the in-thing, if you know what I mean. But I liked her for that very reason. She was very un-everything. She was a divorcee at 23. Had a daughter and very very beautiful. She invited me to her daughter’s birthday party that very might.  She could have told me at school! Anyway, I rode down to the market on my bike, bought a kira for Zam, Gyem’s daughter and joined the fun. Now let me tell you about this Bhutanese home-made drink called bungchhung. It is made of wheat or buckwheat, I’m not sure, and when served hot added with eggs, sorry, my mouth has started thirsting at the mere recollection of it.
As Gyem came to the doorstep to bid me good night, she asked me to ride slow past the chorten, a raised concrete platform like a stupa with valuable things hidden under in honour of a saint or person. Now my students always asked me to try to avoid the place especially after dark. The time by my wristwatch was 12.25. The whole town was sound asleep. I enjoyed the ride with the full, majestic, silvery moon overtaking the sky overhead. The golden paddy fields on both sides of the road produced a scene simply breathtaking. I was the only human out.
As I neared the chorten,  Remembering Gyem’s request I started biking slow.  And all the stories I had heard from my student came crowding into my mind exactly at the same instant. As my luck would have it, it was at around this point that the moon got hidden behind the clouds. Everything around me was pitch dark. Now,  from my childhood, I never believed in ghosts or demons. As a Science Teacher, my belief that there was nothing called ‘ghost’, that it was all man’s imagination and creation, had grown stronger. I don’t know why but no sooner had the moon got hidden than I had this earrie feeling that someone was following me from behind. Now as a kid I learnt it from my granny that if you are in such a situation, the best thing to do is to chant some mantras and not turn your head backward at any cost. But the desire to confirm if my imagination was playing tricks or whatever, I couldn’t resist. The temptation of turning my head was simply overpowering. That was when Rima took hold of me. I don’t know from where she had turned up. From all I could make out of her in the jet black darkness, she had a shapely figure, a face that might have set many a heart on fire. But what really had me at her mercy was her eyes. Her eyes were firey as if she was furious at something. I don’t even know how she came to my quarter. But the fact of the matter is from that night on she stayed with me till the day I left Bhutan.
Now, I’ll tell you about Rima a little later or should I? I think you will have an inkling of who she was, by the time I am done with the narrative, or with my earthly life. I got back home, was down with chicken pox for the next four weeks, and despite the visitations of my colleagues and neighbours (now I recollect it, there were none as I lived far away from the town), I had Rima as my sole companion. When the others came, she simply stayed out of the way and talked to me when I was in a delirium. That’s when I came to know about my past, about my unfinished love story with Rima and how she wanted me back in her nether life now. She also told me about the trouble she’d had in bringing me back to Bhutan all the way from India.
When I was in sense almost after a month, I looked at myself all over, from top to toe. I knew Rima or whatever it was, was serious. I was heading to slow death. The red blisters and patches all over my body were not the scars of chicken pox as the doctor assured me. They were something else, marks of spending those unbelievable nights in her company. I decided to take things in my own hands. Got painstakingly back on my wobbly feet, down on the chair and picking the pen in my trembly hand, I wrote my resignation letter.
Now, I’m on my way back to Kolkata, my native town. Rima was there with me till the early hours of the morning. Then as the cab driver drove past the gate to the bordering town, Jaigaon, she was gone. Vanished like she was a terrible nightmare! At the crack of dawn she left me with a distasteful smile. She told me on the previous night that Kolkata or Canada, there was no way she would let me go again. I had seven nights more to be reunited with her.
As I get off the train, a bad smell greets me. I look around. Kolkata has put on a cleaner look in my long absence. Then where is this foul smell coming from? I slump down spent, as I detect the source and find the flies all over my rottening body.
I stretch my legs forward and close my eyes. After a long time I am at peace with myself. I see her hurtful face with my closed eyes. Those people were right, those who talk about the denizens of the other world. Rima, her unrequited love has me finally won over….
The End