Where Lakhsmi is Imprisoned

Written by Rajendra Yadav
Translated by Sajyia Khanam


Wait a moment, this story is not about Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi, it’s about a girl named Lakshmi, who wants to be free from her imprisonment. It is quiet natural to be confused between the two names as Govind was, for a while.  
When Govind woke up with a start, he was covered in sweat and his heart was pounding so fast that he feared his heartbeats will stop at once. He blinked five to six times in the dark. All of a sudden, he had lost all the sense of directions and space and he was unable to determine where and how he was. A clock in nearby hall struck one but he was not sure where that clock was, where he was and where that alarm was ranging. He wiped the sweat from his neck and slowly he gathered his orientation that his mind was again echoing with the same knocking sound which he heard not so long ago...  
It was his dream or reality, not sure, but suddenly Govind felt that someone knocked the kiwar three or four time and pleaded “Let me out, let me out!” And that voiced pierced his consciousness in such a mysterious way that he desperately woke up- did someone really call him or it was just his illusion?  
It could only be his illusion, he slowly realized. He had slept so overwhelmed, thinking about Lakshmi that she was all over in his dreams. But indeed, what enchanted voice it was, exceptionally clear! Quite often he had heard the stories of so and so woman or man having  dreams where they saw a mystic saying, “Unleash me, unleash me!” and told about a secret place and after digging, they found Kadahey and Handies of gold and silver coins or maya and they  became rich in moments. It often happened that an unholy person tried to dig that substance and found nothing more than coals and pebbles or afflicted with leprosy or faced death of a kin. What if a treasure is waiting for Govind inside the earth? For quiet long he kept on thinking, and again Lakshmi’s story became alive before his eyes. He kept lying there in her obsession....
Somewhere far away, another clock struck the same hour.  
Govind could not bear it any longer. Keeping the quilt closed from all the corners, he got his  hand out very carefully while still lying on the bed. He found out a half burnt candle from a shelf of the almirah, which was placed beside his books and notebooks and searched out a matchstick from there. He stocked the matchstick three-four times and lit it, raising only half so hr may not have to get his whole hand out in the cold, after lighting up the candle and fixed it on the lid of the inkpot by dripping down the melted wax. Through the slowly moving light of the candle he saw that the door is completely locked, and the dim light which comes from the second story, through the meshed roshandan, mounted on the wall right in front of the door, is also extinguished. Everything is so calm now. Although the electric switch was just above his bed but  he was too lazy to get up, with or without the quilt in such cold and secondly because he feared  that Lala Ruparam would not fail to say in the morning, “Govind Babu, your studies are going  rather late these days.” which would clearly mean that he spends enough electricity.  
Keeping himself inside the quilt, he took his hand to the pillow and secretly got out the magazine hidden under it, as if someone was watching him. He moved his hand away from the neck and opened page number forty-seven for the twentieth time now and kept on staring at it. At one o'clock when the Pathankot express passed by, roaring, he suddenly regained his senses. 47 and 48 the  two pages were opened before him where at some places a few sentences were underlined with  blue ink - even the corner of the pages were folded especially to draw the attention towards those  lines. By now Govind had stared at those and nearby lines for more than twenty times. He suspiciously looked at each corner of the room and once again read those lines.  
Each time he read thoselines, his heart throbbed and sank with an inexplicable weight of pleasure. His mind was again blown like the first time when he had found this magazine. Although in the meantime his mental condition had gone through so many critical situations, yet for a very long time he kept staring with fixed gaze at the letters of the story, printed with black ink. Slowly he felt that this line of letters is a mesh of a window through which the face of an innocent girl with frizzy hair is peaking out.  
And then a story he heard in childhood began to materialize in his mind- while hunting with the companions a young Prince was lost, he wondered in the wilderness on the back of his drowsy horse and finally reached a big- deserted fort on the edge of the sea. There was a window on the wall where he saw an exceptionally beautiful princess sitting inside, she was brought and imprisoned by a demon...with the smallest details, and the portrait of the Princess sitting inside the window became clear and tangible in front of Govind's eyes. And he felt the same princess is  peeping behind those underlined lines- the stream of tears dried upon her cheeks, her lips were  chapped... her face is discolored and the silky hair looks like spider web- like a scream is  emanating from her entire body, "Get me out, get me out!"  
The desperate craving to save that unknown princess was scrapping Govind's heart from inside. For once or twice he felt a strong desire to suppress that excitement of doing something within him by entering again and again the two feet wide gully between the wall of his Kothari and takht.  
So, has Laxmi indeed written all this for him? But he hasn’t seen Lakshmi yet. Even if he tries to bring a young girl’s face down to his imagination then how must she look? …There were  some reasons behind his fear of imagining Lakshmi as beautiful girl- he was in fact unsure of her  exact age and appearance…  
Govind knew very well that it was all written for him and the lines are marked to seek his attention particularly. Yet he was unable to believe this unexpected reality. He never thought he would deserve a girl signaling him like this. Though he had heard a lot about the cities but never did he expect that within a week of his arrival to the city after qualifying the interview, he would encounter such ‘fortunate’ affair…  
Every time he read these lines, his head felt giddy as if were peering down from a ten story house. The first time he noticed these lines, he had flinched a bit as if an ember was put to his hand!  
So what happened was that he was tallying the day’s account in a long and thin register which  was placed on a very old wooden sanduktchi on a platform- made like a brick- takht in the mill  hall, when Lala Rooparam’s youngest son, a nine-ten years old boy- Ramswaroop came and  stood beside him. The boy had put his hands in both the pockets of his old and torn chester which was undoubtedly made from cutting off an older brothers’ chester, he came and started observing him.  
  
The very first day when Govind had joined and was calculating even then this boy had come and stood. That day Lala Rooparam was also there so to pretend that he is also interested in his son, asked very formally, his name, age and school-class etc, named- Rooparam, age- nine years, studying in the fourth class in Chungi- Primary School. So from that day onwards, Govind recognized him only through the shadow of his chester, didn’t feel the need to see his face. He used to wear knickers along with the chester which left his thin legs exposed and he always wore those extra large and old kirmich shoes in his feet, the torn tongues coming out of them, always reminded him of the docked tails of the astray dogs. 

The boy observed him writing for a while and carefully pulled out a magazine hidden in the middle of the tightened buttons of the chester andhis chest, he placed it in front of him and said,  “Munshi Ji, Lakshmi Jiji has asked to give me something else to read.”  
  
He felt irritated within himself and said, “Okay, will give you tomorrow...”  
The title ‘Munshi Ji’ which had he received after arriving here, would burn down his soul to ashes. A young man in his twenties like Govind can never accept the image of a crooked man carrying a pen inside his ear helix, wearing a round- dirty cap and an old coat, which comes along with the title ‘ Munshi’.  
  
Lala Rooparam belongs to the same village perhaps he had studied for two-three jamaats together with his father. Right after arriving to the city, he met Lala Ruparam for some tuition or any other part time job in order to carry on his studies self-dependently. Lala Rooparam very  enthusiastically remembered his dead father ans said, “Bhaiya, you are our own boy, please look  after accounts of our mill for one or two hours and stay cheerfully in the kothari adjoining the  mill, you may study there and of course we have no shortage of flour here.” And with pleasure of absolute gratitude, he moved in to his Kothari. Understanding the way to the accounts on the first  night, he looked at Gopal from behind the thick glasses of contact spectacles which made his  eyes look like the moons inside the morpankhi’s and smiled with his thick lips, he felicitated him  with the title ‘Munshi Ji’ which left him in utter shock. But he decided to oppose this word politely once he settles down here. His eye brows were raised on hearing ‘Munshi ji’ from Ramswaroop and that’s why he replied in such distress.  
‘Please! Give, tomorrow”, Ramswaroop again requested.  
‘Yes brother, certainly I’ll give.” he said, gritting his teeth, but remained silent. He often heard Lakshmi’s name. Although his khothari was on the other side of road but it had a small meshed roashandan on the back of it which opened in the chawk of the ground floor of the house. Lala  
Ruparam’s family lived on the top floor and in the ground floor there was a water-mill in the front and in the back there was a store room of a variety of things. He was passionate and  interested in this name, ‘Lakshmi’, also because whether in the Kothari or outside or in the  water-mill hall, her name was heard in various forms in every fifth minute, ‘Lakshmi Bibi has  said this’, ‘the money is with Lakshmi Bibi, ‘Give the keys to Lakshmi bibi’. And as a response a thinly shirll authoritative voice was heard but how does she look indeed? Sometime his heart would yearn terribly for a glimpse of her. But in the first few days he had to make a good impression so he would not dare looking inside. Within his heart he understood that this is Lakshmi and she is quiet important…another problem was that there was nothing visible inside.  After the mill hall which had three or four doors on the side of the road there was an eight to ten  feet long street and there was an iron lattice above the chawk, when people on the upper floor would walk on this, the clattering caused b the iron would draw his attention to it every time at  first. Sometimes children would jump and dance on it. It was impossible to see anything from here until the entire street was crossed on some pretext. Since the bathroom and taps etc were in that chawk due to which the ground floor was mostly found damped and wet. While going to the chawk in the morning he would try to sense the situation, above even while lowering his eyes down like an extremely innocent boy. He had no courage to lift his head up and look his fill. He even tried to know the situation there by closing the only door of his Kothari and climbing on his thakt, peering through the meshed roshandan which was filled with dust and spider webs.  
‘Munshi ji, you are just staring, why don't you write?’, when Ram Swaroop saw that Govind was  slowly thumping the back of the holder on his teeth and unblinkingly gazing at something on the  account ledger and God knows how he discerned that whatever he was thinking, is not at all  related to the account in front of him…’  
He looked at the boy with a start...and smiled with embarrassment on his wrongdoing then suddenly one thing flash in his mind- this Lakshmi is none other than Ramaswaroop's sister. Her face must be resemblant to his. This time he closely viewed Ramswaroop's face to see if he was handsome or not. He pandiculated and smiled at he is own stupidity. He wrapped tightly the  loosened blanket again all around and said with unexpected love, "Ok Munna, I will give you  tomorrow'…He wished to talk something about Lakshmi but the watchmen and mistri Saleem  were working right in front of him… 
In fact he got a bit tired today. He spoke and suddenly got busy with his calculations.  Finally after so many efforts and recommendations he got his name displayed on college notice board that he is one of the boys who got selected. He had bought some books and notebooks on  his way back, so today he wanted to retire to his kothari as soon as possible and fall asleep  thinking about the world-back and forth... imagine who is Lakshmi... how does she look... to  whom he must inquir about her? There is no one of his age and trust. What if, he asks someone and ruparam finds out? But it's just the third day now...counting the magazines and the storybook he had with him, he began to think which one he should give her this time... in near future when enough days will be passed, he will quietly put in a small letter in the magazine, which would be addressed to a friend or it's language would be such that no one can decipher... sent by mistake.  On being caught would easily convince that he wasn't even aware that he had put the leaflet in it. As much as twenty answers are there. He smiled at imagining his own cunning stupidity.  The magazine was arrived from the same Lakshmi about whom he has been so obsessed.  She must have touched it with her gentle hands and kept it under the pillow at her sirhana…She  might have rested the magazine on her bosom when the slow slumber approached her while  reading and thinking about it, lying down on her bed... His mind and soul tickled down as he lay down on the bed. Wouldn't Lakshmi think about him at all? He was preoccupied by writing the accounts yet he bent down his neck and started to turn the pages of the magazine with one hand and suddenly it paused at a page- folded at the corner- who must have done this. Within a single minute, thousands of things circled his consciousness. He picked up the magazine and placed it on the account book. The folded page was open. He was surprised to see the blue ink markings on the printed page...Who has done this? He was well aware, it wasn't there before...    
'I love you more than life...' he read just above a blue line...  
"Aye! What the hell is this?" Govind freaked out. He immediately saw mistri Salim and Dilawar Singh sitting in front of him, who was busy with their own work. His gaze slipped on the other line by itself.  
'Elope with me from here...'  
'Arey...!'  
Third line, "I'll hang myself and commit suicide..."  
And Govind got so jittered that he closed the book at once- looked around with suspicion, hasn't anyone seen him? His forehead turned sweaty and heart started running like a motor in a mill.  He kept his finger between those pages of the magazine and hid it under his knees, lest the damned watchman should see the picture on its colorful cover from afar and ask for it. His heart felt an inexplicable desire to see those lines once again, but all he lacked was courage. Indeed it was Lakshmi who has put these marks? Or is someone joking with him? But who would do so and why? He has no such acquaintance who would dare to do such a thing in just three days.  
He then took out the magazine and flipped all the pages. No, marks are there only. He read those lines together again and felt as if a helicopter whirled in his mind. Govind's mind was feeling woozy, his heart was fluttering and as if he completely forgot about the calculations he was doing. He scratched on the top of his ear with the back of a pen and tried hard to observe the columns of deposit and expenditure but all he could feel was something slowly running through his veins. He felt, his heart would burst and his mind would explode like a pomegranate fire crack... Now whom should he ask to? Who has put these marks here? Really, is Lakshmi the one?  
I can't believe this sweet truth. I may not have seen her but she must have seen me.  Hey, these girls are so fast. Govind wished if he were to get a mirror at this very moment, then he would look at himself once with Lakshmi's eyes- how does he look?  
But who is this Lakshmi? Widow, maiden, married, abondoned or what? How old is she, how is she? A strong twitching rose in his veins that he should get up now and fiercely run up the stairs of the inner courtyard and reach the upper floor- wherever and whichever room Lakshmi was  sitting in, and ask her juddering her both shoulders, "Lakshmi, Lakshmi, have you written this?  You know nothing Lakshmi, how unfortunate I am. I do not deserve this luck at all." And literally this unexpected fortune melted his heart in such a way that tears welled up in his eyes. Gazing unblinkingly at the bulb, hanging by a string, he went down through the depth of his past and present. Then he is slowly plucked the tears from the canthus on his finger and sparged as if offering sandalwood to the deity. His unmoving hand was still holding the page of the magazine.  
Once again he looked at those lines- suppose Lakshmi runs away with him? Where will they go?  What will happen to studies? And what if they were caught, after sometime?  
But who is this Lakshmi after all?  
A swarm of questions about Lakshmi attack his mind, as if a barn of hunting dogs was opened or someone hammering the head one after the other, utter ruthlessness and cruelty. Just as the earth  spins in a jiffy and in a single moment in front of a man who suddenly false from the roof, in the  same way hundreds and thousands of things flashed and disappeared in front of him in that very  moment.  
Govind was writing down the accounts sitting in front of a small sandukchi on a platform which looked like a big rectangle takht and because of not completing the accounts yet, unattended columns remained unattended. He rested both of his elbows on the open ledger register and closed his eyes with his palms... the nerves were racking beside his ears. Nobody had ever seen or heard such a thing as this....not even read or heard in movies and books. What do these marks really mean? Did Lakshmi draw these lines?  
Maybe a child has drawn them.... startled by this possibility, Govind opened that page again- no, why would a child underline these lines only? And besides, the lines are drawn so perfectly straight that it cannot be the work of a child. Has someone put those marks to disturb him in vain? Maybe Lakshmi is very flirtatious and to make him laugh she has done it all....  
Although Govind was thinking with his eyes closed but he was afraid that Mistri and Watchman would make out something on seeing him. His biggest fear was Lala Ruparam himself. Just now he would come down the stairs with the help of a cane, experiencing a great pain and gasping slowly- wearing an untidy- full sleeves jerkin with sakalpara sticking on it and an extremely filthy- ages old - andi (wasket) wrapped around it....  
Suddenly, startled with the knocking sound of the cane, when he got his hands off from his eyes he found out that indeed Lala Ruparam is walking towards him. Think of the devil and devil is here- has he seen me sitting idle? He quickly slid the magazine even further below his knees and fixed his gaze at the spare parts, lying in front. The Watchman and Mistri stopped whispering. Lala Ruparam entered by crossing almost a street.  
His eyes grew bigger from behind the thick glasses and looked even frightening. The colour of eyes and eyelids collided and appeared like the chandova of a peacock feather. A cap filled with  cotton on the head, the corners to cover his ear were now turned upward, looking like the  ‘mudguard’ of a motor and presenting the picture of the horns of a mythical demon. His face was full of wrinkles and his frame of the spectacles was broken on the top of the nose, he had strengthened it by wrapping it up with a thread. His teeth were artificial and probably lose because he always used to push them back by moving his mouth as if he was chewing a ‘chewing gum’. His mouth movements and various sounds emanating from his mouth always made Govind feel nauseous and when he talked to him, Govind would try to divert his attention from there. His neck would always move like a loosened neck spring of a miniature old man.  The filthy knee long dhoti and the strips tied up on the socks, bought from the military scrap market which would probably save him from the gout pain, the old-torn boots without laces seemed smiling like a Cheshire cat- while looking at him Govind always thought that the old man was at death’s door.  
When Lala Rooparam came close to him, he greeted him with a smooth smile on his face while looking at him in respect.  
A thick shrinkage grew on his face due to Ramswaroop’s standing next to him, he fixed with his  hands the carpet with about two hundred ink strains and holes in it-laid down on the brick  platform and said, “Lala Ji, sit here...”.  
Lalaji gasped and indicated without saying that he was fine and he sat on the tin chair facing him and kept on gasping. Actually, he had a respiratory disease and he always panted like a thirsty dog.  
Govind shivered once when he sat there, the jerk came to know? 
Has he come here to inquire about something? Although Lala ruparam always used to walk around after breakfast at this time but he was convince that whether or not this old man has sensed something wrong. His heart sank.  
Rooparam was sitting gasping. Govind kept on calculating the accounts keeping his head down.  Finally, with a view to handle the situation he said, "Lala Ji, today I got into the college."  
'Really!' said Lala Ji holding his cough. He had rested cane on the ground with one hand and in another hand the gomukhi was tied up to his wrist and he was moving the mala with his fingers, his hand seemed like a spout. The pressure of atmosphere was kept on increasing when an incident befallen.  
He had gathered his breath and opens his mouth to utter something when the tattar of inner courtyard (the iron lattice) rattled fiercely as if something so heavy was thrown from above. And  then another thing fell on the ground clattering like a spatula followed by a tong, a pincer...and  after a short while, he felt as if someone has thrown a bucket, a wok, a tawa etc on the tattar and  water and other smaller things fell on the ground. With that he heard an uproar and chaos as if fire broke out inside!  
Govind straightened up with a jerk-has the fire really broken out? He startled and looked at Lala with questioning eyes- got astonished and left still. Of course Lala seemed upset but his face did not look as bother as it should be, knowing that some terrible incident has happened and he should run inside. Both Mistri and Watchman looked at each other with subdued sarcasm, smiling and flashing their gaze at Lala. Nobody seemed particularly bothered. The uproar was rising inside things as were being thrown, the rumbling and thunder lapping of the tattar was echoing. Exactly what is happening? His ribs were about to crack with excitement. He was just about to ask Lala what was happening, when he stood up with great trouble, putting all the  weight on the hand stick... and shumbled off down the same street where he had come  from. While getting inside, he turned around and closes the kiwar. Mistri and Watchman got free and let loose their bodies, saw each other with smile, cleared their throat and once again giggled. Govind's gaze chasing Lala now turned towards them and when he could no longer control himself, he is stood up. He wrapped the blanket around his arms, fluttering like a chicken’s wing and came down the platform- looking at the magazine. He stood there in confusion for a while and then went to the door of the corridor so he may see or hear something. He heard so many voices together in that uproar.In that approach few voices were heard together muffled through the cracks of the door and the loudest voice among them was one that he took for Lakshmi's voice. Oh Lord, What's the matter? Has someone fallen from somewhere, caught fire or bitten by a snake or Scorpio? The way everyone was looking and sitting unbothered it seemed that it was nothing new. Why did this son of a bitch close the kiwar? Just now, the tattar was rataplaning in such a way that someone was doing tandav on it. That loud screaming- shrill voice coming from a female throat which he had considered as  Lakshmi's voice, was speaking so loudly and in such high pitch that he could not understand a  bit, even after millions of efforts.  
‘Why are you worried, Babu Ji?’ He stood upright, hearing the voice of Watchman ‘Girl is possessed today.’ Mistri laughed and his remark.  
  
Govind was pissed off. Such grave matter, an accident took place and these badmashes are taking pleasure in that. Yet he turned their extremely worried and anxious. Call it a big room or a small hall everything here was covered in or with a fine powder of flour. On one side there was the mill, bathed in flour, stood silently like an elephant made of black stone, and its cover which handled the wheat flour, hung like an elephant's trump. Straight to that, a motor was mounted on the bottom of another wall, from where a wide strap used to run the mill. A railing was installed in this part for safety purpose. “Khatra" and "Danger" was inscribed under the skull and the cross of two bones, on a gigantic red square plank which was affixed on the wall in front. Next to his plateform was hanging a large iron scale swinging from the ceiling with a heavy chain, which had one arm, held high in the posture of Kathakali. Because the other palada was piled with weight units ranging from mann to masha (chhitak). Although  Lala Ruparam often scolded the Watchman for not hanging it but some days the mill would work  till midnight and the shopkeepers and office bearers would start coming as early as five-ish in the  morning- at that time Dilawar Singh did not like to touch and hang the ice cold scale. He would avoid that by saying that he has already marched and paraded enough with cold guns in battle, now is it written in his destiny to touch the cold iron for the rest of his life? That's why he would let it hang as it is. Because of being right in the middle, he himself would bump into it.  Whenever he got up to open the door; and in solitude of the night he would deliver welcome speeches filled with military slang words. An old calendar on one side sacks of ground flour or grains for milling, canisters, bundles, and a strong stool to climb up and pour the grains inside. At this  time stretching both of his legs with spiked foot boots on the ground, Watchman was sitting on  the side of the khat (cot) and remembering his first soulder- ship he was cheerfully smoking his  bidi with his gratecoat wrapped around and slowly talking to Mistri Salim- sitting next to him.  
A barosi was burning between him and Mistri and whenever he reminded, he would put some coal- wood kept nearby, and sometimes with utter stillness extending his hand or foot in that direction, he would absorb the heat. Salim was busy checking the punctures in the tube by dipping it again and again in the bucket of hot water while keeping his head down. Around him were a pile of ten or twelve black- red tubes, rubber shredding, scissors, screws, pliers, solutions, leather belt and a pile of ten or twelve bicycle wheels with detached tires. He had occupied more than half the room with his belonging.  
When Govind came to him, he was laughing- holding the puncture in the tube he- marked on it by a copying pencil (which he had stuck behind his ears) which he wetted with his saliva (although the tube was soaked in water and a bucket full of water was also kept in front) and he answered ‘So Jamadar Sahib said this?’. Then with a slight slanting of one brow, he said ‘If Lala releases some cash.... his daughter is possessed by jinns, I will have her examined by my Maulvi Badruddin within minutes.’  
Govind was stunned; a daughter of Lala is possessed by a Devi? He immediately reminded Tara, a Brahmin widow from his village. When the Devi possessed her, she threw away the utensils of the house, her body would start aching and she had foam at the mouth, her neck started twitching- eyes and things start coming out. Who is this girl of Lala?  
Isn't it Lakshmi? God bless, don't be Lakshmi! His heart began to sink with apprehension. He heard the commotion had almost subsided now, and a faint cry could be heard from afar. Maybe someone had seizures that are why these people are so relaxed.  
Intending to Govind Watchmen exclaimed, ‘Nama (cash)?’ You are just too much my friend Mistry, definitely someday you will have the poor old man's heart failed. And, boy, your Moulvi  doesnt have any cure for this 'Jinn' got it? That is another spirit. Come on Babu Ji be seated’.  
Watchman pointed at the stool while sitting. In fact he used to call Govind 'Babu Ji' but did not have special respect for him. Firstly Govind had come from the town and he had been guarding  in the city for twenty years now and secondly he was in army and had travelled up to Cairo- he  considered himself greater than Govind because of his age, experience and culture. But Govind never paid attention to all this. Taking a little support he asked in a slightly worried voice, ‘So brother, what was this noise? What was happening?’ 
Mistri raised his head and looked at him; his eyes met the grining gaze of Watchman. Curling his messed mustaches with his hand, he said, ‘Nothing Babu Ji, some child must have dropped something above...’  
Mistri said ‘Jamadar Sahib, why are you lying? Why don't you tell clearly? What's there to hide now?’  
  
‘Why don't you tell yourself?’ said Watchman and took out the bundle of bidi from pocket,  loosenedq it like making a dough ball, then took out bidi and threw towards Mistri. Blowed another one from both sides and kept himself busy in searching the burning coal in the barosi to light the bidi and continued the talk, ‘Don't you know anything?’  
Govind's annoyance was increasing due to the sniggers of these two. He felt, definitely something is fishy, which these people are avoiding. Lolling his tongue out, Mistri was rubbing the puncture site with sandpaper. Whenever he did anything work with concentration, he used to take out his tongue and turn it towards the upper lip. Seeing the emerging baldness in the middle of his head, Govind thought that baldness is a sign of richness but this jerk is repairing punctures here in the middle of the night. Keeping his head down in the same manner, he said, ‘Now, should I tell the story to Babu Ji or keep my head busy with this punctures? These devils are rotten like a fish, but he wouldn't change them. I feel like to dumb in the angithi, damn the consequences, will see whatever happens in the morning.’ ‘To what all these tubes belong?’ To show a little affinity, Govind asked ‘Indeed they are in a terrible condition.’  
‘You have no idea?’ Leaving his work this time Mistri looked at Govind intently, ‘This is the garbage of the two dozen rickshaws that your Lala runs. There are so many rickshaws, daily wear and tear and repairing, a mechanic must be employed for all the time to avoid all the worries for the day but Lala would never do so. But no, tube- tires on my head and the rest wear and tear is repaired by mystery Ali Ahmed. Then he simply asked, ‘BabuJi you are new here?’ 
'Yeah it's only been two- three days. I have come here for studies’, said Govind.  His stomach was in turmoil but he was looking for a source to ask afresh.’  
‘That's why’, said Mistri ‘That's why you are asking all this. You keep the record of it at night don’t you? Yes in a few days he will definitely have his son (farzand) taught by you.’ He lit he  bidi given by Watchman, and smiled being self pleased with the sarcasm that he had given with  the word 'farzand'.  
‘Hey what nonsense are you telling him? He has come from his village only. He knows everything.’ said Watchman.  
‘No really, I don't know anything.’ Govind said in a voice of assurance, ‘It was Lala's father who had come here, right? So we don't know anything. Please tell, what's the matter?’ Govind asked respectfully in a slightly requesting tone.  
Perhaps, impressed by his curious distraction, Mistri said, "Nothing, its only Lala's eldest girl she suffers from epileptic seizures. Some say she has hysteria, but we conjecture Babu Ji that there it's not seizures, rather she is possessed by some evil spirit... that poor girl loses her senses.’  
‘Is she a widow?’ Govind asked quickly interrupting the conversation- with his pounding heart - Heavens, please don't be Lakshmi!’  
This time again his eyes smiled after colliding with each other and this could not be hidden from him. Inhaling the smoke of a long puff from bidi, this time Watchman forcibly turned serious and said, ‘My dear, he hasn't married her off yet.’  
  
‘What's her name?’ Govind could not help asking?  
‘Lakshmi.’ 
27  
  
‘Lakshmi...’ Came out from his mouth and as if someone has absorbed all his energy, the taut body loosened from curiosity and excitement.  
Watchmen laughed very mysteriously this time, as if he was saying - so, you  also know?’  A natural question arose in Govind's mind, 'What's her age?'
  
But Watchman asked, ‘so, really Babu Ji, you know nothing about his house?'    
'No, brother, I have already told you, I don't know anything about them at all.' This time Govind spoke with a sense of surrender.  
  
'But Lakshmi's story is famous in the whole city.' said Watchman.  
'You're probably and you new comer, that's why.' Then looking at Mistri, said, ‘So Mistri Sahib, I should tell the story to Babu ji...?'  
'Oh come on, is this a matter to ask? What's there to hide? If he stays here, he will come to know sometime or the other.'  
'Well then, listen to me man; what would you ask…? Watchman began to tell, 'You probably know, this Lala of course, is famous miser and rayees of the city...'  
'Obviously a constrained miser will become rayees', Mistri spoke.  
'No, Mistri Sahib, if you want to hear the whole story, please don’t interrupt...' Watchman agitated at this intervention.  
'Okay- okay, tell.' Mistri smiled like the old men.  
You know here in lala's mill thousands of manns (mounds) are milled in the sahalags (wedding seasons) anyways at least two and the half hundred of manns are milled each day. During the war it used to get some contracts from the military by bribing the officers and clerks. You know whoever got the military contracts, became a millionaire. You should have seen the popularity of ‘Lakshmi Flour Mill' in those days.The sacks were disposed as if they are stuffed with sand for the front! He raked it in millions, sold military wheat for song and bought waste and cheap ones to meet the quota and even mixed chalk in it. By hook or crook, he never settled the due money of milling, black marketing, buccaneering there is nothing left undone! Apart from this, he also has a large soap factory and an even bigger shoe factory. They are taken care of by his sons. He runs about twenty five to thirty rickshaws and five motor- trucks. Perhaps he owns a lot of land in the village too. The bastard owns it all! We knew only this much, no one knows his real income, but he keeps on doing something or the other. Only God knows what kind of tricks he plans day and night. He is a client of millionaires. And the most surprising fact in that all this amount is only accumulated in these twenty five to twenty six years only. Watchman Dilawar Singh was very talkative as he was in the military and he had narrated the talks of his officers in the front and the exploits of his bravery, imparting a flavor to it, so many times that his tales had become idioms. His eyes and facial expressions kept changing with the ups and downs in each and every detail.  
While listening to his words with attention and interest one thing struck Govind's mind, Lakshmi suffers from epileptic seizures, what if the marks that Lakshmi has put on magazine were drawn in that condition only and they have no special depth of meaning. All this really disappointed him, yet he pretended to be surprise in asked, 'Only twenty five to twenty six years?'    
Lighting a new bidi Watchman nodded loudly. Govind thought, 'And what would be Lakshmi’s age?'  
'And you must have seen the extent of miserliness. He has grown old, suffers from respiratory disease, body trenches but if he sees a penny coming, he would walk on foot for ten miles in the sun, gasping but would never rent a ride. In summers he would stay naked, a dhoti on the waist half worn, half wrapped around the body. Same dress in the winters, that's all, at least that's how I am seeing him from last ten years.  
He never cares to repair house, or cleaning and white washing, all he does is noticing who is spending what amount of electricity and where unnecessary tap or fan is on. There is a boy, whom he has gotten into the free chungi school, the girl is not yet married; always fighting with rickshaw-walas, truck drivers, arguing and plaguing the millers- teaching them day and night the cleverness of how to save flour. On one hand, flour worth twenty rupees is sold to the hoteliers, everyday. From the day the mill is opened he hasn't got flour for the house from the market. Believe me he must be earning at least twelve to fifteen thousand but look at his face, seems like a gutter. Not a single chair for the visitors let alone the refreshments. Who will call him a rich man?  
His age has come to this far but from morning till evening he is only running after money, that’s all! He does not care about the other things in the world. Be it a meeting, society, strike, holiday, whatever it may be- but Lala ruparam engrossed in his tune! The servants must be paid less, so he himself looks after their work. He doesn't say anything to me because he has a little faith in me; secondly he needs me the most.  
But every other servant cries on his name. And the fun part is that all of them know that he is a jerk. No one pays head to him. Afterwards all of them damage his things and everyone around make fun of him and abuse...' 'How many kids he has..?' Seeing Watchman being deluded in unnecessary details Govind question.  
'Coming to that point...' said Watchman leisurely, 'True Babu Ji, I am astonished to see that he  has amassed all this wealth till this age, now what will this jerk do with it? People earn to live luxuriously but this devil keeps on accumulating. He is so concerned about collecting it that he has totally forgotten what the purpose of collecting all this wealth is. Then in a pure worried and philosophical mood, Dilawar Singh said, looking at the ashes of fire, 'Even in this age he is so desperate to treasure it now when is he going to enjoy it? Truly Babu Ji whenever I think of it, I feel great pity for the poor man.  
Look, till this date, the poor man is running behind money without caring about hot summer loo and sun. Can't spend even a penny from it, as if it belongs to someone else- now suppose if he dies, then for whom he has amassed all this. Poor- helpless man, he lives and dies to earn it like  servants, he can't spend himself and can't bear someone else touching it- like a snake guarding  over the treasure, neither can he eat it himself nor he would let anyone else eat. Always gardening it and treasuring it…' And overwhelmed with pity for Lala ruparam, Watchman took a deep breath. Then the very next moment he said, gnashing his teeth, 'And sometimes I feel like to stab a knife in the bastard's chest like mango marmalade. And I want to make you spit out every single penny of the money that he has hidden in his stomach. It's alright if he does not eat himself but what is the use of such money that cannot feed his own children.  
'How many children does he have?' This time again, Govind became impatient.   In fact, he wanted him to come the basic point as soon as possible, except for the philosophical rhetoric- and tell him about Lakshmi.  
Watchman smiled at his own weakness of drifting in descriptions and said, 'He has four children,  wife is dead, apart from that he does not allow any kin, any relative to keep into, above all there  are no servants. Only a walking dead- old lady is hired, people call her his elder brother’s wife. That's all she is the only one to take care of everything.  
‘I haven't seen anyone else. He has three sons and a daughter.’ 'His two elder sons don't live with him...' said the Mistri this time.  
'Yes they live separately.' They come for a few rounds in a day. One looks after the shoe factory the other maintains the soap factory. This bastard does not believe them either. He keeps all the papers and accounts with himself; goes there in the evening as per rules for collecting revenue.  But the boys are also very fast and are fond of luxury.  
Mistri you will see the day he dies, they will remove all this miserliness from the house.  Then remembering something, he said, 'And what did you say? Living together- so brother there was nothing wrong until they were single but now, since their wives have arrived and a few babies are born in the house, so they are always seen carrying them in the lap all day long. A chandi lives in this house; they cannot live together with her.  
Suddenly Govind's mind struck- Lakshmi. And he shivered from top to bottom. Who? Lakshmi!  He uttered.  
  
'Yes she is behind all this game; she is the key to all this treasure. If it were not for her where would this caboodle come from? She has turned his days, otherwise what did he have? This time Watchman said this with such style as if he had given him a key to some secret.  
'How brother, how?' asked Govind. His mind boggled. What is this contradiction?   For a moment, he thought- is he using Lakshmi to earn money? Devil! Chandal!  
Watchman smiled again at his desperation, and said, ' His father was not real rayees, even he died leaving the unsettled household. Both the brother would have inherited a thousand rupees at the most. Both of them were already married. With the idea of opening some business, he gambled all the money in order to make it double- quadruple. The elder brother Rochuram opened watermill. At first his condition was also not stable but it is heard that ever since his daughter, Gauri was born, his condition kept getting better. He used to work there, both husband and wife stayed only there. Ever since the girl arrived, Lala Rochuram became a real Lala. Thier  elders used to say that a girl child considered as God in their family. Now our Lala started  meeting 'Ojhas' (exorcist) or 'Peers' (muslim saint) and sometimes he would entertain this  'maanta' (faith) and sometimes that 'sankalpa' (oath)- day and night he would only pray to God to  bless him with a daughter. And no one knows how, but God listened and blessed him with a baby girl. You will not believe this but Ruparam' world really started changing.  Don't know whether it was found buried or rained upon him- Lala Ruparam's stars were totally turned...He began to believe this was his daughter's grace and she is actually a goddess. He named her Lakshmi and Saheb, we must say, Lakshmi actually came as Lakshmi. Within a few days, a separate 'Lakshmi Flour Mill' opened. And now she has such power the; if she touches the soil, it will turn into gold and a pebble would seem like a diamond in her hand. Then came the war and his wealth got doubled. He started getting contracts. Imagine, houses were bought one after the other- trucks carrying goods arrived. Here Rochuram was also flourishing, and both the brothers used to proudly say, ' daughters come in our family as Lakshmi.' But then suddenly an accident took place which change the whole scene of the picture...' Watchman Dilawar Singh knew that it was the climax of his story. So to arouse the curiosity of the audience, he ended the bidi with two or three puffs, which he had kept within his finger and was burning for so long in vain and said:  
'Gauri had become fit for marriage. Perhaps Lala Rochuram had also heard some unpleasant rumours about the neighboring boy. When people started raising fingers, he got Gauri married. The moment Gauri got married, his whole game was ruined. As soon as she left, Lala lost a huge case and look at the God's will, it was only in those days that his watermill caught fire. Some say that it was the work of his personal enemy. Whatever, all of a sudden he fell on the ground, like a big elephant and it became impossible to rise again. People cheated with money and he went bankrupt. Not bankrupt actually he was ravaged. Everything fell apart, not a single penny was left. One day Lala Ji's body was found swollen in the pond. Now this incident casted a chill over our Lala Ruparam and he got on his toes now, and Lakshmi was put on guard. She was picked up from school and from that day till today, poor girl never came down. He neither let’s anyone inside the house, nor does he let anyone go out.  
The talk of a master to teach her was heard earlier but when he heard that the masters seduce the girls and run away with them, so that Idea was abandoned completely. Lakshmi cried a lot but this devil did not let her go, poor girl deserves to be seen...'  
Interrupting the talk, Mistri said, ' What's there to be seen or showing, I have seen her myself.  Wherever she goes, a flash of thunder lightning is seen there. One in a hundred....'  
By not opposing his point, that is, accepting it, Watchman said, ' People say she was praised in school also, but this jerk ruined everything. He is convinced that the girl is actually Lakshmi and if she marries and goes away, he will be completely annihilated. Due to this fear, he neither lets anyone come or go nor he marries is her off. He accepts everything she says. Respect her badly, fullfills her every insistence but doesn't let her go out. Lakshmi turned sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen...years after years passed. At first she used to fight with everyone. And then became very irritable and stubborn. Sometimes she used to abuse and beat, still no one knows  what happened that she started crying loudly for hours in nights, and slowly she started the  having epileptic seizures...  
'What's her age now?' Govind questioned in the middle.  
'No one knows her exact age but it can't be less than twenty five to twenty six? Watchmen continued with his lips clenched in disgust, ' It is natural for the poor young girl to have attacks? On the other hand for the last five to six years, the condition is so intense that she goes completely insane for complete two hours when she has attacks; she jumps- hurls and call names, cries and laughs unnecessarily, picks up things and throws them here and there and destroys everything she finds in front. Whatever she finds in hand, starts beating everyone with it and takes off her clothes and throws them away. She becomes completely naked, beating her thighs she says your father, ' Take me, you have kept me for yourself, eat me, chew me, sleep with me...!' He is beaten, abused and does everything but he never lets lose his guard. Keeps listening, sitting quietly with his hand on his head. What kind of a life the poor man has! Being a father he cannot sleep with her and definitely cannot leave her. I am old now; otherwise I would have taken her away, come what may...' And Watchman stared  at the fire for a long time, smiling with a uniquely sharp anguish on his face, biting his lips, he  said in a slow voice, 'Every part of his flesh should be fired with hot iron and then after tying him  to a 'tikati' (wooden platform), he should be shot with real gun.'  
Govind's heart also became heavy. He saw in the eyes of the old Watchman, the reflection of fire burning in the barosi. 
  
In the middle of the night, thinking of Lakshmi, lying in his kothari, a picture of all the words combined together became visible before Govind's eyes in the light of the candle.  Surrounded by darkness, the candle was shedding tears and under its dim light, Govind read…  
'I love you more than my life.'  
'Please run away with me from here...'  
  
'I will hang myself to death...'  
A question automatically arose in Govind's mind: 'Am I the first person who has become so desperate on hearing this call or have others also heard this enchanted voice and ignored it? And is it even possible to ignore such call from a young girl? 
***

Translator’s Bio Note: Sajyia Khanam is a Research Scholar at the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India. Her areas of interest are Gender studies, American Poetry, Post-colonial literature, and Translation studies. She has published several articles in international journals like Yeats Journal of Korea. She can be reached through saziak042@gmail.com . 

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