As the tower clock on top of Maniktala Bazar chimed three at the nocturnal hour before dawn every morning, an ancient and wrinkled mysterious man was up and ready to perform his most unusual antic. Centenarian Jotayu Pakrashi was the last leaf in the Pakrashi family tree of the corner house at the intersection of Kalimuddin Lane and Canal West Road in the Bagmari area of the mystical Kolkata metropolis. While most in this Indian city of many mysteries still clung to their warm beddings, the archaic wraith-of-a-man performed the weirdest of rituals one could ever see.
A grey hooded cloak draped his body from head to toe, dropping to the floor around his bony frame, dragging itself on the ground completely concealing his feet, making one wonder whether he was walking or floating. Further, he advanced so slowly that it was nearly impossible to determine if he was moving with his legs or levitating and drifting.
Frail and thin bones covered in charcoal-black-crumpled-skin, with unkempt and jagged nails at the tip of his fingers coming out from the hollow of his grey robe sleeves was the only part of his body that anyone had ever seen. His face was always in the shadow of his robe hoodie.
He lived a completely self-sustained life, without any metered water or electricity. He never came out of the property, never went to the market, or socialised. The old man cultivated a weird variety of black rice in one corner of his creepy garden, and it seemed like that’s the only thing he ate to survive. A well at another corner of the garden provided water and candles made from beeswax of the massive beehives in the property provided light.
As the tower clock struck three, he came and stood under the old and leafless Ficus bengalensis tree in the middle of the unkempt and haunting garden courtyard of his dilapidated ancestral property. Forty earthen pots hung at different elevations from the fossil-like branches of the morbid Banyan tree.
With a deep wooden spoon attached to the end of a long and slender bamboo pole, Jotayu painstakingly dropped morsels of cooked black rice into each of the forty hanging pots, before murmuring a lengthy incantation and heading back into the dark bowels of his crumbling domicile.
“I tell you; he is no man. The old goat is a demon or a djin,” softly spoke Poncha, as he sipped steaming milk tea from a crooked single-use earthen cup, sitting along with his gang of local hoodlums at Robi Da’s tea stall bang opposite the collapsing house of Jotayu Pakrashi. The tower clock on top of Maniktala Bazar chimed twelve times, announcing midday, the hour for the band of ruffians to prepare and smoke their quota of afternoon weed.
“Well, you might be right Poncha Da. How is it that the old geezer simply won’t die? How old do you think he is? Hundred and ten, fifteen?” quickly responded Bhuto, one of Poncha Da’s trusted goons, while blowing a thick column of smoke from an earthen Chillum, which he passed on to his next in line ruffian buddy.
“Whatever the case, we need to remove him from the place by the month’s end. Minister Gangoolee has given me the ultimatum. Either we do it, or he would remove the old man from his property himself,” regrettably muttered Poncha, chucking away the empty earthen teacup into the black and murky waters of the stinky and stagnant canal that cut across the city.
Orijit Gangoolee was the local MLA or Member of Legislative Assembly, an elected representative of the voters of the region, an important clog in the State Government machinery. Along with gaining significant political clout, minister Gangoolee had risen through the rungs of corruption and criminality to establish a lawless and profiteering real estate business. He had been a hardcore street criminal in his youth. They say he had even choked a few throats and floated the bodies in the Bagmari canal in his more violent days.
The man had the largest palms anyone had ever seen. Two of his thumbs were missing though. No one knew how he lost them, he did not like to talk about it. The killer-minister had only eight digits. They were perhaps the plumpest of fingers anyone had ever seen and were enough to squeeze the throat of any man to kill him. Many believed Gangoolee still killed occasionally. He certainly did not need to do it himself, as he had his band of goons to do such things, but then perhaps he was simply addicted to it.
Gangoolee, along with assistance from Poncha and his gang, had been forcibly acquiring property after property at throwaway prices in the region to promote housing complexes and other lucrative buildings. He always had an eye for the Pakrashi mansion, however, till now, Poncha and his hoodlums were unable to convince the old man Jotayu to sell the place. For that matter, they had not even spoken with the man once. They were too scared to even enter his property. They said there was something very unearthly about it.
A month passed by. Every day Poncha and his band of ruffians stood in front of the Pakrashi mansion, sometimes calling out the old man, sometimes cursing and threatening aloud, sometimes throwing sticks and stones into the garden, but never managing to gain an audience with Jatatu Pakrashi. They would not enter the compound as they were too scared to do it.
“You buffoons are useless. Doesn’t the old man come out to the garden at three in the morning? At that nocturnal hour, the whole locality is usually sleeping. It’s the perfect time to confront him. Tomorrow at dawn, I will personally meet Jotayu. Convince him to hand over the property or choke him to death and throw his body in the canal myself,” coldly spoke Gangoolee while sipping his favourite single malt from a tulip-shaped crystal chalice. Poncha and his goons sat around the table listening to their master’s murderous scheme.
Next morning just before dawn, at fifteen minutes after three, killer-minister Gangoolee and Poncha and his goons were at the gates of villa Pakrashi. By that time, Jotayu was already in the middle of his eerie ritual. He had just finished dropping rice into the last of the forty hanging pots and started his bone-chilling incantation.
All eager to barge in and confront the hypnotic Centenarian, somehow Gangoolee could not enter the property. Somehow, he froze right in front of the gate. Ponca and his goons were many steps behind. They were ducking under the cold cinder of Robi Da’s tea stall bang opposite the collapsing house of Jotayu Pakrashi.
As Jotayu’s ritual ended, the hypnotic freeze of the place also broke. Gangoolee found back his voice and courage. “Let me in old man, I want to talk with you,” shouted the killer-minister in a stern voice. “The gate is not locked, you simply have to slide the bolt to enter,” spoke up Jotayu. It was perhaps the first time anyone had heard him speak.
Gangoolee slid the wrought iron bolt on the ancient gate and was about the step into the garden. “Well young man, do remember that if you enter, you will have to take charge of the place,” said the hooded Jotayu. Not believing what he just heard Gangoolee paused for a moment before smiling and saying, “You see old man, that’s exactly what I want to do. Relieve you of your duties forever and own the property.”
Pushing the gate wide open, brimming with confidence, the killer-minister Orijit Gangoolee entered the mysterious villa Pakrashi. He came and stood in front of the hooded man under the morbid Banyan tree.
“Do you see this Banyan? It is my family tree. These forty pots are for my forty ancestors and relatives who lived in this place before me. When I die, there would be a pot too for me hanging from this tree. Come, let’s go inside and discuss the handover in detail,” saying this, the old man and the killer-minister walked into the crumbling mansion, while Poncha and his goons saw from a distance – their master and the archaic centenarian vanish into the darkness of the haunting property.
An hour passed by, and slowly dawn shifted to morning. People got up from their slumber and came out on the streets. Robi Da arrived and opened his tea stall. Other shops too came to life, and another typical day on the Western banks of the Bagmari Canal slowly unfolded in the metropolis, but without any sign of minister Gangoolee.
Poncha and his goons restlessly moved outside the Pakrashi villa. That day they did not have a single cup of tea. Neither did they smoke their usual quota of afternoon weed. Nor did they gulp booze in the evening. They were too scared to enter the chilling property. The day simply did not seem to pass.
Finally, after the lengthiest and most restless twenty-four hours of wait and anxiety, they saw the main wooden door of the Pakrashi Mansion open as the tower clock on top of Maniktala Bazar chimed three at the nocturnal hour before dawn the next morning.
From the house came out the slow-moving man, covered in his grey hooded cloak and stopped under the morbid Banyan tree. Poncha and his goons now intricately observed everything the man did. They were too scared to go any close but had to see what was happening. One spoon after the other, the man dropped morsels of black rice into the hanging pots before murmuring his usual and lengthy incantation and turning around to head back into the dark bowels of his crumbling domicile.
“Wait a minute, how many pots do you guys count,” softly blurted out Poncha to his crew. “It is the fifth time that I too have counted. Forty-one pots are hanging from the Banyan Tree,” whispered Bhuto, all trembling.
As the man moved away from the morbid Ficus bengalensis and turned the knob on the ancient wooden door of his mansion to enter his domicile, Poncha and his goons had a clear look at his hands coming out from the hollow of his grey robe sleeves. He no longer had frail and thin charcoal-black-crumpled-skin covered fingers with unkempt and jagged nails but had the largest palms that anyone anywhere could have ever seen, with eight plump digits and two thumbs missing.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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