The Fish

Ramu was a boat man, a swimmer, diver and a wrestler too. His father had taught him catching fish from the river: small, big, descript and non-descript. A large net or the desi angling equipment was all he needed to catch fish. He could even catch fish in his gamcha, especially in a flooded river. He was confident about catching fish in any way but with bare hands in water. He had learnt it through experience that the chances of success in such pursuits was less than fifty percent. He had also learnt from it that attempting a thing that had a high probability of failure must be avoided at all costs. He was wise beyond his years. Yet, he had started that day what he could not finish.

He knew it after his third step, but he pushed on, with dada on his left shoulder now. He had switched the carrying shoulder after the fourth step on the stairs. His breathing had become heavier and the muscles of his chest and shoulders had started aching already. He had never lifted a human being and carried it upstairs in his life. He was not conditioned enough. The narrow steps did not provide sufficient hold and he felt the fear of losing his footing pervading his whole body. He unloaded the unconscious dada by the spine of the stairs to his left and sat down on the second landing from the bottom. Prahlad had been walking along from the seventeenth step from the bottom, and he offered help, but Ramu wouldn’t take help. He had to do its solo.

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By the time Ramu had reached the topmost stair Prahlad had brought Chandra Bhaal from Niranjan’s place. Ramu had never seen any relations of dada, as nobody came to his place due to his clear and loud hatred of his gene line. It was Prahlad who introduced Bhaal to Ramu and they brought the unconscious old man back home together. Nilanjan brought their family doctor, Dr. Lahiri, to check the patient and was advised to rush him to SSL Hospital, BHU. Niranjan had a stroke they said. His lower had only fifteen percent functionality left. He was kept in the general ward for the first five days and then was brought back home. He went out only once after that day: to Harishchandra Ghat. Nilanjan did not make enough even for himself and the elder brother got retired from his service on pension, after an interminable sick leave.

Chandra Bhaal had to earn for his family now.  He started giving home tuition to the students that his uncle had passed on to him. He had to work hard, especially before the board exams. Uttar Pradesh Board was notorious for being stingy in awarding marks to students. The topper of the merit list used to get around eighty percent back then. He worked for nine years to establish the name of Singh Coaching Centre, and then, when he had nearly done what he had aimed for, on an evening in February, he simply vanished. He would return, but would speak nothing about the span for which he had vanished. It remains a mystery.

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