I had a childhood friend named Lalu. About half a century ago – in fact, so long ago that you can’t even ascertain it properly – we studied in the same class in a small Bangla school. We were about ten or eleven years old then. There was no limit to the number of tricks Lalu had in his head by which he would either scare people or overpower them. Once, he had troubled his mother with a rubber snake in such a manner that she had to limp along with a sprained ankle for about seven or eight days. She was so annoyed that she ordered a tutor to be arranged for him. Every evening the tutor would keep him occupied so he would not have the time to pester people any more.
Lalu’s father disagreed and said no: he himself had never studied under a tutor. It was through sheer perseverance in his studies and after enduring a lot of hardship that he was a successful lawyer today. He wished his son would also study in the same manner. Of course, there was one condition. A tutor would be appointed for Lalu only when he failed to be the first in his class. Though he was relieved at this occasion, Lalu was secretly very cross with his mother. The reason was that she had tried to force a tutor upon him and calling a tutor at home was similar to calling the police.
Lalu’s father was a rich householder. A few years back he renovated his old house into a huge three-storied building. Since then, Lalu’s mother had kept wishing that the family gurudev would come to their house and bless them. All this time the old man was reluctant to travel so far from Faridpur, but now the opportunity presented itself. Smritiratna had come to Kashi for the solar eclipse and had sent a letter from there stating that he would come to bless Nandarani on his return journey. Joy and excitement were boundless for Lalu’s mother. She started the preparations in full swing. After all, gurudev’s visit to the house would make it holy.
All the furniture from the big room on the ground floor was removed. A new taped bed with new furnishings arrived for the gurudev to sleep in. Because he would find it difficult to climb up to the puja room on the top floor, a corner of the same room was specified for his puja and rituals.
A few days later, gurudev arrived. But what bad weather! The sky was overcast with dark clouds accompanied by storm and incessant rain. In the meantime, Lalu’s mother was so busy preparing sweets and arranging for fruits and flowers that she hardly found any time to breathe. Even with all that she managed to clean up the bed and fix up the mosquito net for the gurudev. After a lot of discussion, the tired guru finished his dinner and went to bed. The servants also retired. Lying down in that neat and comfortable bed, the guru could not help blessing Nandarani once again.
But suddenly in the middle of the night he woke up. Drops of water were falling over his stomach from the ceiling and through the mosquito net. Oh! How cold that water was! Hurriedly he came out of the bed and wiped his stomach. Then he said to himself, “Even though Nandarani built a new house, the roof has already developed cracks under the strong western sunrays.”
The taped bed was not heavy, so the guru dragged it to the other side of the room along with the mosquito net and again lay down to sleep. Just as he closed his eyes, within half a minute a few drops of cold water fell upon his stomach once again. Smritiratna got up again, and dragging the cot to another end of the room once again exclaimed, “I see, the cracks on the terrace seem to have spread from one end to another.”
Again he lay down and once again water started dripping on his stomach. Dragging the cot to another corner did not help matters in any way. Water started dripping again. Then he realized that the bed was so wet that he could no longer sleep in it. Smritiratna was in trouble. He was an old man, and although staying in the room was risky, at the same time he was too scared to go out of the room in this unknown place. What would happen if the cracked roof collapsed upon his head? Scared to death, he opened the door and came out to the verandah. Though a lantern was lit there, it was pitch dark outside and no one was in sight.
The storm was raging in full swing accompanied by incessant rain. It was difficult to stand still. He did not know in which room the servants slept. He shouted for them, but there was no answer. There was a wooden bench in one corner of the verandah on which the poor clients of Lalu’s father sat prior to their consultation. Gurudev sat down there. Though he felt that it was beyond his dignity to do so, there were no other means left. The cold north wind sprayed some rain water on him and made him shiver with cold. Lifting his feet upon the bench, he pulled one end of his dhoti over his body and tried to make himself as comfortable as he could. Tired after the whole day, his body feeling numb, bitter at heart, with sleepy eyelids, and with the indigestion that had been caused by the rich food and sleepless night, the gurudev was really perturbed. All of a sudden there was a new botheration. Huge mosquitoes started singing in his ears. Worried about the number of mosquitoes that were attacking him, at first he could not shut his eyes. But within two minutes he realized that the mosquitoes were innumerable. There was no brave man in the world who could counter such an army. The biting became unbearable, as did the scratching.
Smritiratna quickly left the place, but the mosquitoes followed him. The water in the room and the mosquitoes outside it really disturbed him. He started flapping his hands and feet, and even tried to hit them with his gamchha, but to no avail. Running around from one end of the room to another, he perspired a lot even on such a cold night. He felt like shouting at the top of his voice but restrained from committing such a childish act. He imagined that Nandarani was fast asleep in her comfortable bed inside a mosquito net and that everyone else in the house was also sleeping peacefully. Only he had no end to his running about. Somewhere a clock struck four, and resigning himself to his fate he said, “Go on biting as much as you can – I can’t stand it anymore.”
Going to one corner of the verandah he squatted on the floor, saving himself with his back as much as possible.
“If I survive till morning, I’m not going to stay in this horrible place anymore. I will take the first train available for home,” he promised himself.
Now he realized why he did not want to visit this place. But soon deep sleep erased all the sorrows of the night and he was nearly senseless in deep slumber.
Nandarani in the meantime woke up at dawn --- she had to look after her gurudev. Though he had had a heavy meal at night, she felt that the food was not sufficient. She even resolved to compensate for it with different items throughout the day. Upon coming downstairs, she found his door open. She felt ashamed that gurudev had woken up before her. Peeping into the room, she found that he was not inside. But what was wrong? The cot on the southern side was now placed north, gurudev’s canvas bag which was near the window was now in the middle of the room, and all the utensils used for his pujas were scattered around the room. She could not comprehend what had happened. Coming outside, she called the servants but none of them had woken up. Where did gurudev go alone? Suddenly she saw something – what was it? In one corner of the dark verandah, wasn’t it something like a man sitting there? Gathering courage she moved closer and bent down to find her gurudev. In an unexplained fear she shouted, “Thakurmoshai! Thakurmoshai!”
Smritiratna woke up, opened his eyes and sat up straight very slowly. Distressed with fear, worry and shame, Nandarani started crying. She asked him,
“Thakurmoshai, why are you here?”
Smritiratna stood up and said, “There was no end to my misery all night, Ma.”
“You have built a new house no doubt, but the roof is damaged everywhere. All the rain throughout the night did not fall outside but upon my body. Wherever I pulled the bed, water kept falling. I came outside in case the whole roof collapsed upon my head. But here too the huge armies of mosquitoes kept biting me the whole night. I ran from here to there, again from there to here. I think half the blood in my body is no longer there, Ma.”
Seeing the pitiable condition of the old gurudev whom she could bring home only after a lot of effort, coaxing and cajoling, Nandarani was moved to tears.
“But Baba,” she said, “the house is three-storied. There are two more rooms above yours, so how could rain water pierce through three floors?”
Then suddenly she realized that there might be the handiwork of her wicked Lalu behind it. She rushed to the bed and found that the sheet was totally wet at the center, and drops of water were still falling from the mosquito net. Quickly taking it down, she found a slab of ice wrapped up in a piece of cloth – part of it had not melted and a little piece of it was still left.
Running out wildly, she shouted at whichever servant she saw, “Where is that wicked Lelo? Leave all your work, go look for him, and wherever you find that devil, beat him, and bring him back.”
Lalu’s father was just coming downstairs. Perplexed at his wife’s condition, he asked, “What are you doing? What happened?”
Bursting into tears Nandarani said, “Either you throw your Lelo out of the house or else I shall go and drown myself in the Ganga today to redeem this sinner.”
“What has he done?”
“Go and see for yourself what he has done to gurudev for no reason.”
They all went into the room. Nandarani narrated everything, showed him everything. Then she said to her husband, “Tell me, how can I run this house with such a wicked boy?”
Gurudev understood everything. Realizing his own stupidity, he burst out in laughter.
Lalu’s father turned his face the other way.
The servants came and reported, “Lalu is nowhere in the house.”
Another one informed that Lalu was having food at his mashi’s house. Mashi did not let him come home. Mashi was Nandarani’s younger sister. Her husband was a lawyer too and they lived in another locality. After this incident, Lalu did not dare to come near his house for about fifteen days.