Nilanjan’s Sister

datura metel

(Source: blog.metmuseum.org)

Lopa had no knowledge of the ghats and galis of Kasi. She could not find Kirti Prabha on that evening of ekadashi. She went up to Chowki Ghat to the left and Lali Ghat to the right, and found no signs of her mother-in-law. She could not go any further to the right because of the fires of Harishchandra Ghat, neither could she go any further to the left because it was dark already. The sun had set nearly forty minutes ago and the three-quarter moon had not risen to a position in the sky from where it could provide light adequate to dispel her fears.

She ran through the stairs and the gali to fetch men from the house: men with knowledge of the place. There was only one such man there: Uncle Nilanjan. Even he was not at home. She had never been to his temple, so, she sent Monu to fetch her husband and Uncle home. They were busy that evening. It was an ekadashi. Lopa waited. She hadn’t told Monu the reason behind his errand, so he left the message and went to his usual evening haunt: Vijaynagram Ghat.

Somnath reached home at around nine, met his sister-in-law, and went to his uncle’s temple immediately. A regular search party, eighteen strong, was formed automatically, as was the way with the things in those parts of the world. It took them only thirty-five minutes to find Kirti and another fifty to return home with her. They had found her near Darbhanga Ghat, on the steps of the ghat close to Gangaji.

Kirti could not climb the steps of her house and had to be carried to her room supported by her daughter and daughter-in-law. Out of the search party that was already thinned down to six outsiders, only Monu remained by eleven, that too because he lived next door. Then he left too. The children had never seen their mother like that. Her dilated pupils and frightened eyes were unnerving. He mouth was so dry that her tongue had stuck to her palate. She had not spoken a word since she was found, and hadn’t shown any sign of recognizing the members of her own family. They could not sleep that night, most of them.

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