Goch’s sons never
survived. Why didn’t they survive? Would Goch and his wife
Dali never cuddle sons in their laps? Was it so destined that toddling boys would
never prance about in their courtyard? Never raise a rumpus? What strange saga
was this? Thrice have they borne a child, one after the other. Yet none of them
had survived more than six months.
couldn’t they survive?
was to be held responsible for this?
someone must be responsible.
long time after marriage no child had arrived in Dali’s womb. Every month
during the menstrual period there was an unbearable pain in her lower abdomen.
Goch had then gone to Nayan Haari. Nayan used to practise Kabiraji, he tried
his hand at sorcery too sometimes. Nayan had observed, “It is the pain of
obstruction, I can cure it in no time. But before all else it has to be determined
who’s creating the obstruction.”
chanting mantras, casting spells and calculating omens, Nayan had soon come to
know about the person who had laid an obstruction to Dali’s womb. Still he
didn’t take any names. He had merely said, “There’s no need to know.” He needed
a brand new bronze pot. He would pour some charmed water in that. Dali would
have to eat a special root and drink that water. Dali had dutifully eaten and drunk.
It was only afterwards that the first child had finally arrived in her womb.
The first child lived only for two months. The next one for four. The one after
him had turned six months and died a few days ago.
Goch had said, “This can never happen
without the evil eye of a Dain. I’m such a strong youth, Dali’s such a healthy
girl, how can this ever happen to us?” The wizened old men of the Santhal community
had nodded their heads quickly in agreement, “Oh yes, of course, that’s too well
known a fact. We’ve all mentioned this before too. The spells cast by a witch
can be countered by the spells of the Gunamaan, but a foksin is even
more dangerous. It will surely cause some harm somewhere. Call Nayan Haari. Let
him hold an oil smeared betel leaf over a lamp. Only then can we all know for
had come and performed many strange rites and rituals, carried out all the customs
of a ceremonious worship too. He had drawn lines on the ground, drawn lines in
the air. Chanted incomprehensible mantras while continually smearing oil on a betel
leaf. Then he had lighted a lamp and held the leaf over it. A thick layer of
black soot had soon accumulated on the leaf. Nayan had poured oil onto that
soot again, with his fingers he had spread the black soot and oil on to the
Almost insane with the grief of losing her child, Dali had observed
all these rituals with fear and wonder. Crowding on all sides were the people
from the Santhal neighbourhood. Narrowing his eyes in concentration Nayan had
searched for the face of the dreaded evil in the runny soot on the leaf.
“Whoever is hidden, must be revealed. I’m Nayan Haari. I’ll search heaven, hell
and earth and bring you out on this leaf.”
placed three betel nuts on the three points in his chequered squares. That gave
rise to a triangular geometric design! With great care Nayan had put the betel
leaf on top of that. “Where would you escape, my crafty one? You’d have to
a betel tree that has fine, glossy leaves
there too striking as a streak of lightning.
and the betel leaf collude in strange ways,
sixty four witches come riding the betel!
Ah! Who’s face
do I see, my people? Alas Ma Sheora Kali, do shut my mouth Mother! Ah, why it’s
On the leaf, the gradually thickening oily soot continually creased
and crumbled, giving rise to strange facial lines. Those lines broke down, then
again joined together in new formations. Nayan stared at these with intense
eyes till he became certain. Then raising his eyes he said, “Come, Ma, see
with your own eyes.”
Dali’s hands and brought her over. Trembling like a cane leaf in fear and
wonder, Dali bowed down to look at the betel leaf.
said, “Speak up. Speak the name out loud. Tell the people here, whose face you
shrieked out the name and fell down unconscious immediately. Whose face was it
that was mirrored on the betel leaf? That face was Saha Kisku’s.
name that Dali had uttered, was the name of her husband’s elder brother.
this even possible? Could something like this ever happen? The words within
Goch’s heart spilled out like intestines of a man cut open with a scythe. They
quivered and twisted and got dirtied in the dust. Goch looked at the sullen
faces of the people of his community. The people seemed to be shouting in
silence. In their wordlessness they spoke some terrifying words. Not with his
ears may be, but perhaps by some other sense organ Goch could hear their words
clearly. Very clear words.
No one had really noticed when Nayan had gotten up and left amidst
this dense, looming silence. Suddenly a young man named Kanu Besra shouted out,
“This can never happen. I will not accept such dubious ways.”
Kanu worked as a school master. All pairs of wrathful eyes were then
turned towards him.
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because it’s all false, that’s why.”
“But the Gunaman saw it, didn’t he?”
“The Gunaman saw nothing. He told a lie.”
“What about Dali then? She saw it too, didn’t she?”
“Dali too had seen nothing. Dali is ill, she would see whatever
you’d tell her.”
“You’ve become too intelligent, haven’t you?”
Then someone else said, “But Saha Kisku!”
Another one responded, “Saha’s a foksin? And he’d devoured Goch’s
The matter didn’t end there. The wise men then decided, “Alright
then, call Simon Hembram.”
Well, that was surely for the better, let’s call Simon then. Simon
was a Christian, but there was none who could compare with him in witchcraft
within these three districts. Witches, foksins all cowed outwitted
(delete??) before him. He lived at the Barakuri village in Gajol, some forty
miles away from here. Dains were exposed quite often in Gajol, they were tried,
and punished appropriately.
Simon came with his trusted disciples. Goch gave him a pair of pigs,
and a sum of five hundred and one rupees. He slaughtered roosters, and tore
away the heads of a few baby pigeons in quick succession. He poured the blood on
Dali’s shoulders. He smeared the blood on Sal leaves and put some parboiled
rice on top of it. And performed many such incomprehensible rites and bizarre
rituals. He put some water in a stone bowl and poured a few drops of oil on
it. The oil had been charmed with a spell. He asked Dali, “Do you see anything.”
Dali replied, “No.”
Simon commanded, “Look carefully, take in the minute details,
observe well. Now?”
Dali responded, “Yes, I see!”
“Do you recognize?”
“Yes, I do recognize!”
out the name then, let all the others hear it.”
Dali uttered the name aloud.
Then Simon went and thrust a crowbar in front of the
broken door of the shack abandoned by Saha. A clod of earth came up on the edge
of the crowbar. Again he plunged the crowbar in and more dirt came up. A third
time he plunged the crowbar in and a clump of human hair came up. Again he
plunged the crowbar and a mud vessel was discovered. In it were a tuft of human
hair and two pieces of bone.
Someone yelled, “Where is he now? Where is that Kanu
Kanu Master was nowhere to be seen.
Kanu was inside Sahadev Biswas’s house across the fast
flowing Bamnir Beni river. They shared a similar name, and so Sahadev Biswas
was a good friend of Saha Kisku. Moreover, Sahadev was a tough man. No one
would dare do anything here. For all these reasons, Kanu had brought Saha two
days ago and kept him there with Sahadev.
Even then Sahadev had asked, “Is there any way out?”
“Don’t let Saha Uncle get out.” Kanu implored.
“How long can I keep him inside?”
“Till the people come to their senses.”
“Will the people ever come to their senses?”
Kanu looked on in despair.
All of a sudden Saha wailed out, “I am a witch! Am I a
foksin then! Those old wizards, haven’t they all told me once that I was
his father, I was his mother! His father and mother had died when he was still
at a senseless age, who had saved him then? Who was it? I will go to him. Let
him say with his own mouth that I have eaten up his sons, that I am a witch!”
Sahadev got up and pulled him by his hand to make him
sit. He said, “You’re shouting for no reason. Try and keep your cool first.”
But Saha was not to be calmed down. The machinery
within his head had gone berserk. He went and stood at the river bank in mid
afternoon. Where, where was his shadow on the water? He came back running and asked
Sahadev, “Why doesn’t my shadow fall on the water?”
Sahadev replied, “The water is muddied, and the sky
over your head, with its sun and moon, is hidden behind the clouds, that’s why!”
“Is that so?”
“That is so.”
“And here I was thinking such foolish what not!”
Again he awoke and went up to the riverbank at
midnight. Suddenly the people of Beni woke up, a strange fear gripped them.
From inside the river, a terrifying AAAN...AAAN sound rose up. From the other
side of the dam the sound echoed and re-echoed—HAAN...HAAN.
Sahadev jumped up from his bed and rudely shook his
nephew Sudarshan awake. “Go fast, beware, the crazy old man might jump into
the river again!” he said.
Sudarshan ran and held him tight from behind. Saha
asked, “Who is it? Sudarshan? Look here, listen carefully and tell me, Son,
does my voice raise an echo?” Again he started making that horrible AAAN...AAAN
sound like a buffalo. It resounded in an answering echo— HAAN...HAAN.
Sudarshan replied, “Yes of course it does. Come to the
“Does it really? Did you hear it right, Son? You are’nt
lying to placate me, are you?”
“Aree, no, no, not at all. What crazy ideas you
get, Uncle. Everything will be all right. Why do you worry so much?”
“Won’t I worry! He is my own brother, we’re born of
the same womb!”
“Everything will be alright, you’ll see.”
“Everything will be alright, you say? Sudarshan, dear,
do please focus the flashlight behind me, let me see my own shadow once.”
Sudarshan turned the flashlight on and said, “There it
is, there’s your shadow, long and wide like you, don’t you see?”
Saha replied, “I don’t see anything, Son. No, not a
thing? Do you see it?”
“Aree, there lies your shadow, don’t you see it
“Well, Son, look carefully, I don’t see anything.”
Sudarshan brought him in and made him lie down on the
bed. The next day, as per Sahadev’s orders, the small boat was kept locked up,
chained to a tree. Perhaps he had some apprehension.
But, even then Saha couldn’t rest his mind. He wished
to tear his chest apart and show his heart to Goch and say, “Look here, my
brother, this isn’t black in colour, it’s red still”, and he actually went out
to do something like that. No one had any inkling when he went away from Beni
in the dead of the night. He swam across the monsoon river gushing in full
spate, something only a man could do. Later, not only in the Santhal
neighbourhood, but others too from Beni had said, “Was this feat humanly
Saha went adrift in the current and touched the other
side of the bank some three or four miles away. Unable to get up, he lay there
for sometime without energy. He then stood up, yet still he didn’t feel any
strength in his feet. He fell down, got up again. Thus he went along. It was a
dark monsoon night with moonless clouded skies. He progressed with the habitual
instinct of an animal. Time and again he got injured as he fell down
repeatedly. Blood streaked down from the corners of his mouth, thorns scratched
his body bloody. In the utter darkness Saha advanced towards Goch’s home with a
vast emptiness in his heart.
All night long a light burned in Goch’s house. It’s
because Dali was afraid. She shrieked in fear as soon as she heard any sound.
Goch now slept with a scythe under his pillow. Even if the flimsy palm leaf
door shuddered in the wind, Goch’s grip tightened instantly on the handle of the
Dali stared at the emptiness with sleepless eyes.
Sometimes she remained overwhelmed in a half awake state under a light
drowsiness. A lot of smoke from the lamp circled round the tiny perimeter of
the shack. It travelled beyond the mud walls to the makeshift leafy roof and
descended again. The coiled shadow quivered. In that drowsiness, Dali had
visions of countless naked children roaming and playing around on the mud wall
and the leafy makeshift roof of her hovel, those very children, none of whom
she had been able to keep for herself. Then suddenly amidst the darkness, there
came the sound of feet sloshing in the muddy slush. The sound of those feet
advanced steadily towards the shack. It came nearer and nearer.
Dali pricked up her ears. Where were those spectral children?
In the desolate room the black smoke from the lamp only spread a bitter smell
and coiled round and round. The sound of feet neared the door. Dali was terrified.
On the palm-leaf door a strangely slithering khar...khar...khas...khas
sound was heard. Did someone call out to Goch in a subdued whisper? Was it even
a human voice! Dali shrieked out in a panic-stricken fear.
Goch leapt up with the scythe in his hand. The
palm-leaf door moved slowly. He couldn’t believe his own eyes. Standing in the
open door was Saha’s horrifying image, all bloody and muddied. As if someone
had cut him up in a thousand pieces and then tried to put him together again,
but the marks of the patch up were clearly visible!
Goch screamed out terrified. Saha extended his
trembling shrivelled arms in front, the long pent up emotions had choked and roughened
his voice. In a stuttering, imploring voice he said, “My brother—Goch—?”
Goch shrieked again. The scythe in his hand was raised,
and came down. Again it was lifted, and came down once more.
Then in the darkness all the people from the Santhal
community gathered together.
The wise old men said, “Well, isn’t this just as we