Mar 01, 2024
Mar 01, 2024
by N. S. Murty
Though the place where Seshagiri hailed from was called a “Town”, it was slightly better than any average village in Andhra Pradesh. He was employed there. Recently, one of his friends died all of a sudden. He was of the same age and standing as Seshagiri. It surprised everybody that a little fever for a few days took away his life. Seshagiri went to his friend’s house that day. His colleagues had also gathered there. The relatives and friends of the deceased were all tears. And one should only look at his wife and children: they were wailing uncontrollably His children were of such a tender age that nobody could console them. Friends remembered how good, how upright and amiable their friend was! He was so lovely and bubbling with life. Who could have guessed that death would snatch him away at such a young age?
It was a time when nobody could remain quiet and unconcerned. In the afternoon holiday was declared to the office. All colleagues talked only of their friend and even those who disliked them while he was alive talked only good of him and condoled his death.
Slowly Seshagiri’s thoughts took a different turn. He became an introvert. The imminence of death for all who were born glared at him. And it dawned upon him that even he would have to die some day and his family would become destitute and grieve for him. At that very thought Seshagiri’s heart missed a beat and he was red with fear. “He would have to die, then! His family and friends would grieve for him in the same manner! And his greatness and importance would be known only then! “Do his wife and children really grieve for his loss?” Seshagiri laughed at his own doubt. Tut! A silly doubt! Many of his friends would grieve his loss. Why? Every one of his friends would. “Will all his friends scattered in different places come to know of his death?” Well, If not immediately he was sure they would come to know of it a little later. If he were great, he would have garnered few lines in newspapers and they would have easily known of it. But he was not that great as to occupy few lines in the paper. However it could happen in another way: if he was either murdered or committed suicide that would come out in the newspapers.
Should he then, commit suicide? Why? Who could tell how long he would live? It was his wish to live up to eighty in the least. After that he could commit suicide or somebody could murder him. To make an attempt on his life, he should, in the first place, have an enemy. When he had so many years of life left ahead, he could as well try to become famous by doing some good deeds.” Seshagiri thought… and thought… and thought. And finally came to the conclusion that however much he might try “he cannot know or watch” how people grieve for him in the world. For that matter nobody in this world could. ‘But what if somebody could accomplish that?’ He must be a lucky guy, for sure, he reasoned. He loved that very idea. But how to accomplish this “watching people grieve for him.”
Then a crazy idea struck Seshagiri. An idea, a fancy and exotic idea that never strikes anybody....
That he should “pretend” death!
He sat up in his bed. That idea looked wonderful. He could, then, come to know his greatness; he would know how his friends hail him; he would easily distinguish his real friends from the pretentious. His boss would also grieve. He should! And when all people were lost in his praise, and what other great things he would have achieved had he been alive, he would sit up with a bang. Then all of them would be pleasantly surprised and hug him in happiness. His wife would feel herself a la-Savitri. Oh! He could not imagine further how pleasurable the situation would be!
But Seshagiri was soon beset with another doubt — “Will everyone believe his ‘drama’?” What else would they do than believing? Nobody would ‘act’ on such issues. Still, there was another hitch. How would he pretend death without any history of fever or ailment? What if he pretended developing some pain in his chest and fell dead? But that was not easy either. If somebody tested him putting his hand to his heart, his heart would really fail. Besides, it was very difficult to pretend death holding breath and lying corpse-like for long. He thought of several alternatives to enact his drama and finally he hit upon one foolproof idea. He would go to a far off place and send a telegram on some friend’s name known to the family. He would return to his place in disguise and watch the proceedings. “When she receives the wire intimating my death,” Seshagiri’s eyes moistened when he thought about his wife, “ ‘Poor girl! She would certainly fall unconscious. But she would be in the seventh heaven the moment she would find him in front and very much alive.” All these fellows would turn up, he continued the vein, and talk about him and even the office would be closed for the rest of the day. When Seshagiri visualized all this, he could not cap his elation. “Excellent!” he patted himself. He was going to enact a drama that no one ever did before!
With the same intention he applied for four days leave to office, but informed his wife that he was going to Madras on some important work and boarded the train. As a dress rehearsal to his histrionic talents, he staged a small drama and secured a seat in the crowded compartment. After a while he chanced to secure a berth too. Stretching his legs to the full on the berth and puffing out cigarette after cigarette, he regaled recalling how cleverly he secured the seat and the berth. His joy knew no bounds when he thought about even a cleverer act he was to perform shortly. “First I reach Madras. After two days I send a telegram home in the name of a friend and dovetail the telegram in disguise,” he chalked out his plan.
Seshagiri reached Madras, lodged in a hotel and roamed about the city. He met an old friend. The two travelled together and on the third day, before boarding the homebound train, he gave a telegram home as planned from the station itself: “Regret to inform the sudden demise of Seshagiri in an accident. Letter follows in detail - a friend.”
Smoking cigarettes in a chain, Seshagiri lost himself in thoughts in the compartment. “In a few hours from now the telegram would reach his place. The very mention of the word ‘telegram’ would send shivers of fear in his wife and she would open it trembling. That’s all! She would drop down unconscious. Children would wail ‘Mommy, dad! Dad!’ And in a short while the news of his death would spread through town.” Seshagiri could not resist tears himself. And a stray thought that ‘why should he be enacting this ‘drama’ and to what end?’ had crossed his mind. He answered it himself: “Yes! It has a purpose, a small fun and foolery. To watch how people would lament for him. To witness a rare scene that nobody was fortunate ever before or will be after. He will appear before them at the most appropriate moment. They will ask him in dismay, ‘Then you are not dead!’ He would ask them in turn innocently, ‘what? Me? And dead! Who said?’ His wife would then show him the wire amidst tears. He would pretend reading it and expresses his shock and surprise and ultimately declare that it was ‘a mischievous trick played by some ill-wisher.’ That way nobody would ever suspect that the whole farce was of his design and all of them could together heap abuses on that ‘ill-wisher’. Thereby, not only he had nothing to lose, but also had everything to gain… the sympathies of all others.”
By the time the train reached the penultimate station, it was nightfall. As the train stopped, he got down the train in a ziff. “Thank God! My reflexes are still sharp. My mind warned me in time. Otherwise, if I were to get down at my place and crossed any friend per chance?” He could not imagine further. All his scheming would come to naught. He walked out of the station slowly. There could at most be one or two people known to him in that place, he thought. It would be of little consequence even if he were to chance meet them since the chances of their coming to know of the telegram were rather slim.
He dined at a small hotel in that place. His next move was to reach his place that night. Not only that. He should reach his house soon and somehow take a vantage point from where he could observe his people. It all seemed a problem to him. Around 9 P.M. Seshagiri walked out of the hotel sporting a turban and disguising himself as a villager. His place was about four miles from there. It was beyond him to walk down the distance. Neither could he get a bus at that hour nor a bus would serve his cause. There were more chances of meeting an acquaintance there. Even otherwise, he would be exposed to public view at the bus-stand. He was slowly walking weighing in the pros and cons. A jatka passed him by. He looked into the face of the driver. It was not familiar. He called him out.
The driver stopped and looking at Seshagiri’s attire thought that it was a bargain not going to materialize, and asked in a careless tenor, “Where should you go?” Seshagiri was angry. “What do you think you are, useless fellow? Don’t talk in that tenor” he wanted to say. But remembering his attire, he changed his accent and told him where he was bound. Bargaining for a brief while Seshagiri got into the jatka. He crouched in a corner covering up his face fearing identification, more afraid than someone who had committed a murder. Even after the jatka was on the move his fears did not cease. “Where should he go directly to? Should he get down somewhere in town and walk down to his house? Or should he get down at his house.” The second option seemed more dangerous. “What if he got down at the other end of his street and walked up to his house? Who could tell what would happen?” he thought. He decided to be on guard, particularly around his street.
The driver was very active and effervescent and driving the horse at full gallop. As the jatka neared his place, his heart began pounding fast. They entered the town and in the brightness of the street lamps he could watch the faces of people. Whenever the light fell directly on his face, he hid his face in the shade. ‘Where do you want me to stop?’ the driver asked. Seshagiri mentioned some street name and directed him. It was not his street but the one next to that. His idea was to enter his house through the backyard. As the jatka approached the street he mentioned, Seshagiri was getting nervous. He saw a person known to him intimately passing by. Not just ‘saw’, he looked into his face intently for any traces of sadness. It seemed to him there were. And at last they had reached the street he named. He allowed the jatka to pass some more distance into the street before calling a halt and got down at a very dark place. He staggered as he got down feeling very tense but soon recovered and paid the fare.
Seshagiri walked into the street. Strictly speaking, it was not a street. It was only a lane. There was no traffic. His backyard was only a few yards away. Reaching even that small distance seemed to him a Herculean task. He put just two steps and stopped. He heard some footsteps behind and looked back over his shoulder. It was his friend! His pulse increased. He walked into a shade and moved rather uneasily. ‘Who is that?’ his friend shouted at him watching him in suspicion. This time he thought he was all ends up, but regaining his composure in no time, and modulating his voice, he answered, ’I am the servant of this household, Sir. ”
With an air of reassurance, his friend left whistling gleefully. ‘ Thank God!’ Seshagiri said to himself. After all, he was a great actor! But, then, he was seized with another doubt. Didn’t his friend hear the news of his death? If he had, he wouldn’t have been whistling his way happily! Perhaps, he did not. But there was no chance. The telegram might have reached this place quite a while back. He was afraid that the telegram might not have reached this place. But how could a telegram not reach? Unless he reached his house, things won’t clear.
With bated breath and walking steadily, he reached the entrance to his house from the back. The wall was not high. He pushed the door gently. It was locked from inside. He put his ear to the door to hear any sounds of wailing. There were none. He knew it was at quite a distance from the inner rooms. Even a loud call would not reach there from here.
He looked around watchfully before he leapt over the wall, and carefully dropped in. It was blinding darkness all around. With disuse, grass had grown thick and bushy all around and the way was not looking clear. But, being familiar with the surroundings, he slowly reached up to the well groping in darkness. The door in front of the well was also locked. He looked in through the chinks of the door. He saw a faint light and somebody wailing on the floor. He figured it out to be his wife. He was satisfied that the telegram had reached.
But there were no loud wailings matching his expectations. But very soon he heard one. It was that of his mother. As some visitors had entered, she started wailing her heart out seeing them. ‘What befell you, my child, what befell you? So soon you reached your heavenly abode! I was so unfortunate as to not being able to see even your mortal frame!’ One visitor tried to console her saying, ‘try to compose yourself. What is it that we mortals can do!’ Another woman tried to sit Seshagiri’s wife up. She soon started wailing clutching to the floor. All the children gathered around her and the last one was wailing, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ When somebody tried to console the child by saying, ‘don’t worry. Your daddy will be back soon,’ Seshagiri’s wife answered beating her head, ‘No my child, your father will never return. Never…’ Suddenly, people were coming in and going out. He was hearing their voices…
Seshagiri was reassured that the news of his death reached all that mattered to him. He was immensely pleased to look at this spectacle. There was a steady flow of visitors. Though he could not make out what exactly they talked, he could guess whom they talked about. It was on his expected lines. His wife fell unconscious once again. Seshagiri felt very sorry for her. He thought that it was ‘enough’, and he should not put her to grief any longer. It was clear in his mind now that they would certainly wail his loss. He wanted to bring the curtain down to this drama. He should now present himself before them without any further delay. Otherwise, they might in turn send messages to his in-laws and other relatives. His drama was a super success! All that he had to do now was to throw off his turban and his rustic look and enter the house as God-sent, from the main entrance. Thus making up his mind, Seshagiri picked up his handbag to retrace his steps.
Wailings inside the house rose to a very high pitch. It had become very difficult to control Seshagiri’s wife who was weeping her heart out hugging her children. Then all of a sudden, piercing all these cries and overwhelming din, a heart-rending shriek was heard by them all. They ran towards the backyard from where it originated. They saw someone lying on the ground in the darkness. One of Seshagiri’s friends held a torch to the body. IT WAS SESHAGIRI! He was foaming profusely at the mouth. As all of them watched helplessly as scarecrows, a large serpent slowly unwound itself, hissing violently, off Seshagiri’s legs and swiftly sneaked into the darkness and the surrounding bushes.
More by : N. S. Murty