Jeff Tikari

This page contains the stories both real and fictional sent to us by Jeff Tikari--

Jeff has his own web site and it is well worth a read--
  it is

Jeff joined tea in 1959 -
Bhogotpur T.E.(Gillanders Arbuthnot -sterling group- Dooars Tea Co. Ltd.).
Tezpur (Empire of India & Ceylon);
finally Jorhat/Sonari: 
Napuk T.E.;
Muthrapore T.E.;
Jaboka T.E.(Singlo Tea Co) to
Papua New Guinea in 1977, tea/coffee Bunum-wo Plantation - 15 years.
Jeff's website  address is
It has a synopsis of all the short stories Jeff has written along with homeopathy details, 
Please click below to obtain the story 


Travails of Innocence

An unequal Encounter

Planting Episode

Tea Snippets

Jaldhaka Forest Reserve

Puzzling Encounter

Good Deed in the Rain

An Amusing Anecdote



Surge of Blood


August 15 2011
Jeff has been very kind and allowed us to show his book

Travails  of  Innocence

Jeff Tikari

Published by Jeff Tikari
Copyright 2011 Jeff Tikari
A Smashwords Edition

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Travails of Innocence

"Don't ride that contraption inside the yard." Suti's big round eyes swung to his uncle. What contraption? Hey Bhagwan, can't he see  it's a bicycle? He was forever being told to not do this or that or the other lest he wished to feel the sting of that thorny birch on his back. His elder sister could do anything - uncle Bhola would only grin at her showing his three broken teeth.

"Why not? This is the only chance I get to practice riding." he said sullenly.

"Not every can practice once a week."

Suti stood with one hand on the handle bar of the bike; like most of the commands blurted out by Uncle this one typically made no sense.... Why shouldn't he practice every afternoon? How did it make a chicken shit difference to anyone? It was his father's machine and his father  raised no objections.

He looked at his father who lay on a charpoy on the unplastered brick verandah with his eyes lightly shut. He usually never contradicted his brother, Bhola. That he had heard the exchange was not in doubt - an amused smile under closed eyes gave him away.

Bhis Singh, Suti's father, was the village chowkidar: Well respected and one of the few people paid by the Sarkar. Other than him, there was the Dak Babu and two Police Sepahis who lived in a two roomed quarter on the northern side of the village.

Being the keeper of this small but farm rich community was prestigious and his word carried a lot of weight as he could direct the police to take action against anyone he thought was out of order'. People watched what they said in his presence. Bhis liked being revered, but he also liked the camaraderie of sitting together with the village folk and discussing with abandon just anything that came to mind.

Suti put the bike against the unplastered brick wall and climbed onto the seat. If he wasn't allowed to ride it he would sit on it in sullen defiance (...there!!). He looked across at his uncle who sat hunched on a low cane morah chewing pan like a cow chewing the cud (he even waved his head about in time to his chewing). Suti tinkled the bell. His father opened one eye and looked at him; his uncle looked up and glared at him. The bell wasn't such a good idea! He pulled a hanky from the pocket of his shorts and commenced absently to shine the handle-bar, humming tunelessly to himself.

His sister, Rukhmoni, would soon be back from weeding their thirty acre holding that had a full head of paddy at the moment. She was four years older than him and was turning into a well rounded beautiful woman. Even at this tender age her budding feminity was a pleasure to behold.

On arrival she brought out steel tumblers of hot tea for Father and Uncle Bhola, who smiled at her and patted the side of his bench inviting her to sit beside him, but she refused saying she had chores to do. She didn't like him stroking her hair whenever she came close.

She was in Senior School now but attended class only on days when her presence was not required at home for field work. It was understood that school attendance for girls would be low in a school situated in an agricultural area. Boys however were expected to be regular at school.

Women did all the light chores in the field. If the weed infestation became heavy the men would help out. Bhis (father) would then limber up, stretch, straighten the unruly band of cloth serving as a turban on his head and amble off towards the fields where his wife and daughter were at work. Bhola would follow desultorily carrying a large khurpi, a resigned expression, and a limp from a fall that no longer hurt.

The family would spend, on occasion, the day in the field, snacking on chapattis and achar and drinking tumbler-fulls of cool well water. Suti's job was to collect all the dug up weeds and heap it at the far end of the field; it would be re-spread as cover mulch once it dried.

They worked relentlessly through the day, crouched and hunched with the sun beating on their backs. If it happened that the neighbouring family too worked that day on the adjoining field, a lively and shouted conversation would ensue back and forth. And if Chandhu, Suti's school mate, was there as well helping out with his family, Suti would happily trot back and forth, both boys carrying armloads of weeds to the far end.


Every evening as dusk approached Bhis Singh would prepare to leave for work. His wife, Gauribibi, served him early supper after which he collected his well oiled lathi and was off on his rounds, harrumphing and clearing his throat loudly to alert all that he was on patrol.

Most houses in the village were designed on a rectangular template with an open verandah running along the front of the house. Each house also had a small front yard enclosed with a four foot high wall which enclosed a leafy tree planted close to the verandah under the shade of which the family sat during the summer months. A courtyard was an area where the family spent most of the daylight hours: sitting or lying on charpoys under the shade of the tree or out warming themselves in the sun over the winter months. The courtyard served as a dining area, a recreation and entertaining area, and a play spot for the kids. Most courtyards also had a water-well positioned on one side which was the only source of water most household had.

Bhis Singh, as he strolled along the village's unpaved roads, would be hailed and greeted by families and invited into the courtyard for a cup of cha and a chat. By the end of the evening Bhis would consume over a dozen cups of tea and over a period, realized he had got quite addicted to and looked forward to these steaming, sugary cups of tea. The casual chats with the families had assumed an important aspect and were his main source of information and a pulse to the health of the village.

This information that Bhis easily gathered was fiercely coveted by the two Police sepahis who tried with little success to enamour themselves with the village folk as easily and casually as Bhis Singh had done. But Bhis was accepted by the families as a friend, advisor and sympathiser who also adjudicated in family quarrels and misunderstandings.

The Police, on the other hand, though trying to be friendly and helpful, betrayed a certain distance and aloofness. Their friendly bonhomie concealed an alertness hidden behind their watchful eyes. And the fact that they had confined some villagers to overnight custody in the lockup for questionable misdemeanors was not overlooked or dismissed by the villagers, especially as most of these implied misdeeds related to non compliance of verbal Police dictums issued to individuals at random and slanted to ease the policemen's burden of living in a remote other words, do the Policemen's personal chores.

Bhis Singh found his position amusing for he was now thrown into a situation where the two policemen tried outwardly to form a friendship with him and inwardly envied his closeness to the village families. He was often invited to share a cup of tea and oftentimes share something stronger with them. Bhis surmised that the Policemen's main thrust was to extract the knowledge he had of the families: their basic worries, desires, and ambitions; this intimate knowledge the policemen would no doubt, pass on to their seniors to impress upon them the good work the two were doing in keeping their ‘finger on the pulse' of the village.

Bhis basically had no objection to passing along any information he had, but he disliked the underhand way the Policemen were employing and felt, furthermore, that he may be compromising a trust. He was thus reluctant to divulge more than was obvious to all. By this he was drawing the ire of the policemen who were rendered frustrated by Bhis's reluctance to talk openly. They realized they could not pressurize him in any way for he was also a Government employee and could well report them to his bosses and who knows what then could ensue.

The relationship between Bhis Singh and the two policemen consequently remained balanced precariously. Both sides ensured that they didn't tread on the other's territory or sensitivities. Both sides maintained a show of profuse candour, politeness and hearty affability.


Rukhmoni slept along with the men on the verandah at night, but was allotted the room next to her parents's after her father noticed one morning that there were blood stains on her sheet. She was a young adult now and needed some privacy. Her uncle and brother did not have individual rooms and kept the clothes they were not wearing hanging from pegs in the wall.

Bathing was undertaken standing on a cemented plinth next to the well. The women usually had a small semi enclosed area where they bathed. Rukhmoni now also used this enclosed area.

She noticed she no longer looked flat chested like boys; shedding her clothes in view of all now embarrassed her even though they were family.

She would sit in the sun with her silky hair spread across her shoulder to dry and then use a large toothed comb to remove any knots. Her luxurious hair hung down to below her waist and was the envy of other girls. Chandhu, her brother's friend, loved her hair and when unobserved, pressed his nose to it and inhaled deeply. She had told Chandhu she would wash her hair that day and expected he would be around shortly. Her father was curious at how Chandhu visited on the days his daughter washed her hair. "Bloody unreal," he said to himself, "how did the boy know on which days his daughter washed her hair?"

There were a lot of other ‘bloody amazing' things that her father did not know and which would more than just amaze him. He did not know that his simple, virtuous, ingenuously sweet daughter had had an abortion as recently as two weeks ago.

Chandhu's mother had picked her up early one morning on the pretext that she would take her to a visiting circus in town. Once there, she was rushed to the local hospital where an abortion was expertly performed. She was out of the hospital in two hours none the worse for the experience, and not fully aware of what had taken place so swiftly.


Winter was a favourite season with the young: when the cane was high; when one could be hidden from view within a few feet of entering the field; when lovers could meet clandestinely without being observed.


Chandhu, tall, broad-shouldered, his facial fluff turning into a beard, met Rukhmoni clandestinely there. They made eye contact there; they made hand and lip contact there; they clasped each other and made full body contact there; and after their fifth or so contact, Rukhmoni emerged from there with a light step, a radiant smile, and excitingly pregnant, though still unaware of it.

Chandhu was horrified when Rukhmoni coquettishly whispered the news into his ear the following month. He was stricken. He was trapped. He desperately looked to escape. Rukhmoni standing close to him in their hide-out was shocked at his reaction - her hand flew to covered her mouth; her large clear, innocent eyes stared bewilderingly at his remonstrations. Tears pricked the inside of her eyelids and poured forth copiously. She was stunned; her brain was numbed.

She emerged from the foliage this time with stumbling steps, her fingers quickly sweeping the tears from her cheeks. She pulled her sari over her head and proceeded quickly to the privacy of her room...face hidden, tears streaming down, and heart thudding in her heaving chest. She saw nobody in the house and was grateful to escape unobserved to her room.

But Suti had observed all: seen her stooping run to her room. And was struck...struck with a cloying desperation to find the reason for his sister's unhappiness. She had emerged from the cane field so something had taken place there. He would surreptitiously observe and investigate.

Chandhu, meanwhile, cautiously cut his way through to the opposite side of the field, the side that could not be observed from Rukhmoni's house. He walked quickly to his home and confronted his mother. He threw himself into her arms and told her all.

"But why don't you marry her, she's a lovely girl and would be good for you. I shall go and talk to her father." "No, Mother!" he said, and his voice had firmness to it. "No. I'm not marrying any village girl. I am going to find work in town and shall marry there. I will work and she will work. I'm not going to be tied down to farming. There's a whole world out there."

"And what happens to Rukhmoni? You have, obviously, seduced her and got her pregnant and now you intend to abandon her?"

"Please Mama, don't go against me. Please help me. Don't make me destroy my life and future because of one moment of youthful passion. She is as much to blame. If I marry her I will forever despise her and hold her responsible for curbing my career."

"Well, what about her? What about her family's honour? How will she live in this village with a bastard child in her belly? You have not only destroyed her, you will destroy the entire family. I can't let you do that. What will your father have to say?"

"Please, Mama, don't tell Papa. He will make me marry her. Please do something...make her abort or something. And if her pregnancy is terminated now, no one ever needs to know."


The family noticed how taciturn Rukhmoni had become. Overnight it seemed she had lost her innocence, her childishness, her capacity for laughter and enjoyment. Both parents were concerned: "Have you asked her what ails her?"

"She won't tell me." said her mother, "She pretends nothing has happened. But we can see the difference in her."

Suti overheard his parents' conversation and determined to get to the bottom of it. They had not seen the tears flowing from Rukhmoni's eyes and he had kept it to himself. He suspected it had something to do with Chandhu. He was avoiding Chandhu's company these days and strangely Chandhu too was avoiding his...that was as clear as the full moon in the sky that night.

That Chandhu was involved in his sister's unhappiness was also clear as the same moon that scudded through the clouds. But strangely Chandhu appeared unaffected. And strangely, there was arrogance in his stride. And stranger still there appeared disdain in his demeanor.

Suti was concerned and curious. Though Chandhu was bigger, older and stronger than him, Suti had the advantage of being the village caretaker's son. He could, therefore, risk asking him some direct questions without fear of being beaten up.

He got his chance the following Sunday when school was off.

"Don't see you around these days."

"I'm busy."

"Busy with what?"

‘Chores my father has given me."

"I don't see you doing any special chores."

"Aren't you sticking you neck out a want a hiding?"

"You threatening me?"

"Buzz off, Runt, before I lose my temper." And that was the end of their friendship.

Well, he'd done it, thought Suti, next time it will be easier to tighten the screws on that arrogant shit-head.


Shortly though, Chandhu moved to high school in Disha, thirty kilometers from Khasban village: Modern High was a Co-ed school with in-house board and lodging facilities for boys only.

Chandhu blossomed there. He was average academically but excelled in sports. What he loved most was the co-ed ambience. His sexual encounter with Rukhmoni emboldened him and cast off his shyness with girls, with the result that he had great success with them. At an age when girls and boys are shy in public, Chandhu was boldly putting his arms around their waist, holding hands and kissing them. Girls found his adult, seasoned approach irresistible.

"You are mine," he would tell them, "and I want the world to know."

But he was a philanderer and a flirt. The rich girls that he eyed and hankered after, didn't give him a second look...the first look was enough and carried a withering message - keep to your class, bozo!

They came in big shiny cars and were picked up after school in other chauffer driven cars. They stuck together, laughing and giggling all the time and were often heard shouting to each other when leaving, ‘see you later; don't be late; try and make it by seven O'clock.' They were, obviously, partying or going out or doing things these Richie girls did. It was a small town and the moneyed wealthy merchants knew each other.

Chandhu was envious and it was eating him up. The pain in his chest was palpable; it was a disease eating his innards. He clamped his teeth hard, thrust his hands into his pockets and looked on grimly unable to turn away. One day this will all change!

In frustration he tortured the girls he dated - pinching their bottoms painfully and squeezed their breasts till they yelled out.

"What does your father do?" he would ask them cruelly, "can't he afford a car to send you to school, do you have to walk to school?"

And they looked at him with hurt in their eyes, "Papa can't afford a car."


He noticed Jennifer with the bright quick eyes look at him at times. She was from the group of Richies. He ignored her hoping this would fuel her curiosity and attract her.

"I've seen you around." she said passing by him at the lockers, "which class are you in?"

(Ha, ha, ha he laughed to himself, in your class you dumb bitch) and he walked off ignoring her.

Jennifer looked at his receding back - "Interesting!"


Rukhmoni was attending school full time now. Her father, Bhis Singh, had employed a young man to work in the field and do odd jobs around the house. Young Punni came from a family of eight brothers and sisters and such a large family of ten members (including his parents) was too much burden for the small family holding. Though Punni attended the same Government aided school that Rukhmoni went to, his attendance was very irregular and at times he missed school for weeks. His brothers and sisters all looked for jobs in the village on a daily wage basis. Any job that employed any member of the family for two days a week was considered a stroke of good luck.

Punni was the eldest of the children and was two years older than Rukhmoni but hadn't cleared junior school as yet. Rukhmoni was his senior in school by three grades. Punni was treated with civility by Rukhmoni's family and given a tumbler of tea at mid-day and a meal when he finished work for the day.

Rukhmoni often sat with him on the mud plastered floor and made small talk whilst he ate his meal. Punni was a smart lad and quick witted. He was thin in build and his arms and legs seemed too long for his body. But he had a ready smile and was a hard worker. Rukhmoni had a strong urge to stroke his cheek and hands, but resisted. The last contact she had with a boy had caused her a lot of pain: the rejection and contempt that had condemned her for becoming pregnant were traumatic. It was a debt she would not forget to repay!

Punni worked at odd jobs to make ends meet and knew that by not going regularly to school he was jeopardizing his future, but the present was what counted to him. He had to help out, help feed the young ones in the family.

He reluctantly, though gratefully accepted the pay Bhis Singh gave him, for he felt awkward accepting it, after all Rukhmoni was also tutoring him and helping him to keep up with the schoolwork he was missing. He considered her his mentor and friend and felt guilty for surreptitiously looking at her breasts when she sat close to him. She was a beautiful girl he acknowledged, and her dimpled smile and laughing eyes could capture any man's heart.

Punni's father, Joginder Singh, was a thin tall man with a handlebar moustache. He was forty-seven years old and was beginning to stoop. He worked as a day labourer for the contractor who had procured the job of maintaining the highway for ten kilometers on either side of the village. It was easy work since the road had been sealed and entailed nothing more than walking down the ten kilometers' length and ensuring the drains were clean. He walked slowly and stretched out under a tree every few kilometers to nap for an hour or so. He carried with him a one litre plastic bottle of water which hung from a string around his waist and a piece of gur (jaggery) upon which he sucked for energy.

He would time his slow trudge back home so that he reached the junction of his village by 5p.m (break-off time), and then reach his hut in the next five minutes. He would warily slump with a groan on to the khattia which lay outside his hut. His wife, who kept an ear out for his groan and the heavy creaking of the khattia, would bring out some water and a tumbler full of tea. She fanned the flies off him, washed his legs and feet and administered to his needs; pressing his tired legs and massaging the muscles of his arms. He enjoyed this part of the day - the washing, the massage and the leg pressing. His wife was under the impression that he was doing hard manual labour. He wasn't about to disillusion her.

After he dozed off, she would re-enter the hut to finish cooking the evening meal. The younger children played in the field behind the hut and were looked after by the older children.

When the eldest children who were out working or looking for work returned, they too were given some tea and a piece of bread to dip in the tea.

Life was slow, but then who was in a hurry? The crop, once sown, would take its own sweet time to ripen. But once ripened, harvesting would be a hectic time with constant to and fro between the field and the grain market and transform these slow, tranquil, sleepy days to one of action.

The village square too wore a deserted look. The merchants sat outside their shops on wooden chairs and fanned themselves desultorily. Customers were few for the farmers would only have money after the harvest.


Suti's classmate, Hari, worked part-time, after school, in a motor garage. The work was messy and dirty but it gave him pocket money. Suti liked the idea of having money of his own. He approached his father who checked out the garage and allowed him to work for a few hours thrice a week.

When approached, the garage owner looked closely at Suti. He told him to follow him to the office and asked him to strip to his undies.

"I don't wear undies." said Suti.

"I don't care - strip so I can judge if your body and muscles are mature enough to handle the heavy work."

So Suti stripped and stood in front of the owner - a thickset man in his forties - two days stubble on his face and smelling of stale sweat and liquor.

"Turn to the right," he said "Now turn to the left." His breathing was becoming heavier. He pulled a bottle of local hooch from the top drawer of his desk and splashed it down his throat.

"Face the wall and bend over."


"Do you want the job?"

"Not if I have to face the wall and bend over."

There was a knock on the door. "Put on your clothes" he said gruffly. "What is it? Come in".

"We are short of hands - there's no one to wash the tractors prior to delivery." said the foreman.

"Take the boy...he's newly him the ropes."

The foreman looked at the boy Suti who was tucking his shirt into his shorts. He turned away disgusted. "Follow me." he said over his shoulder, "Don't let the bastard take advantage of you." he said under his breath when out of earshot.

Suti was given a rubber hose and proceeded to wash down the tractor. Half way through the pressure died and he was told to fill a bucket and wash with that. He had to wash the muck from under the mudguard and that was dirty work with just a bucket of water. The foreman told him to bring some old clothes to work that way he would not soil his school clothes.

The following day he saw Hari who waved him over, "How's the work going, are you enjoying it?"

"I don't have any fixed job - I wash whatever I am told to wash and carry a few tools to the mechanics who call out for them."

"Lucky you! I'm up to my elbows in grease. It takes me half an hour to get it off."


At the end of the week Suti was handed five rupees for three days work. Hari had told him that he got sixty rupees for three days work.

"What is this" he asked, "for three day's work I get this?"

"We don't pay more than that for washing odds and ends."

"Well, I didn't ask that I be given jobs to just wash ‘odds and ends'."

"Your muscles aren't mature enough to take on heavier jobs." said the boss.

Suti resisted the urge to point out that Hari was the same age as come his muscles were mature enough to do heavier jobs?...but he refrained lest Hari should lose his job.

"Come next week...maybe I under assessed your muscles."


Bhis Singh noticed Suti said nothing about his work. He was quiet and moped around. Bhis let him be - the lad would have to learn to fight his own battles.

When next week Suti reported for work, the same routine took place:

"Come into my office." said the proprietor looking bleary eyed - he had likely had a heavy night of boozing.


Suti shed his shirt and shorts.

"Why are you wearing undies?"

"Why not? Everyone does."

"Well, take it off then and turn around!"


"I want to see your muscles. I can't tell the maturity of your build if you are only half undressed."

"No, you can't tell? I believe not every one who comes for a job has to strip."

"Don't give me ‘lip'. You want the job?"

"You want to check the muscles on my arse-hole? I'll tell my father what you are forcing me to do."

"Get out of this office - I was only trying to help you."

Suti put on his clothes and went out. He had not been told to go home so he went to the foreman who put him to work with some men who were removing dents from a truck.

At the end of the week Suti was paid forty rupees. A big improvement!

"If you weren't so headstrong and disobedient you could have earned a hundred rupees or even more." said the boss handing him the money.

Suti walked off sullenly, but his heart was racing...this was real money, man...he had never earned so much in his life. In a few months he would be able to buy a shiny new bicycle, and his heart surged.


Thirty kilometres was not a long distance to cover - not on his shiny new red bicycle. Suti got permission to go on Sunday and left early. He reached Chandhu's school, Modern High, at nine a.m. He parked and locked his bike with a chain and went looking for Chandhu. He wanted to see Chandhu's eyes when he saw his new bike - he would burn up with envy, Suti reckoned. But it didn't happen that way. Chandhu's eyes showed annoyance when he saw Suti walking up. He didn't want to be seen with a village boy and addressed him in English "How you come here...what you wanting?"

Suti too was learning English and answered back, "I come to see you. I come to see your school. I ride here on new bicycle."

Being a Sunday, there were no girls around, only a handful of resident boys who were kicking a ball around in the field. Thank god no one would notice him talking to a country hick.

"You want to see my bike?"

Chandhu stood up, "No. I'm busy now, can't see you - you better go."

Suti headed for the gate insulted and hurt. He could tell Chandhu was not comfortable talking to him. Perhaps he had told the others that he was from a big town. Suti saw two boys standing near the gate and grabbed the chance to get some ‘sweet' revenge. He spoke to them in Hindi. "Hello," he said, "I am from Chandhu's village. I came to see him, but he says he is busy and has gone inside the school building."

"What's Sunday and we have the whole day to loaf around. Did you say Chandhu is from a village?"

"Yes, my village...we are neighbours."

"But he says he's from a big town...Banaras I think he said."

"He is probably trying to impress you, but he comes from my village, thirty kilometers from here."

"The lying s.o.b. We noticed he spoke village slang. His speech is stilted."


Chandhu peeped from an upper window and saw Suti leave. He also saw him having a word with two boys by the gate. He hoped Suti hadn't ‘let the cat out of the bag'. He skipped down the stairs and came ‘face-to-face' with the two boys. "Hello." He sang out as he proceeded to the playfield.

"Hi." they said in return. "Tell me," said one of the boys in a carrying voice, "why do you hang around in school on Sundays when you could go to visit your family in the's not as if it's far; a bus could drop you there in half an hour."

Chandhu kept walking but his ears burned red. So...he thought, grinding his teeth, the bugger has ‘spilled the beans'. He was afraid of that; soon all in school would know. Bastard!

How humiliating. He would have to find a way to teach him a he would not forget in a hurry, and one that would teach him to ‘keep his nose out of other's business'.


His chance came soon enough, three weeks later when he visited his parents over a long weekend. That morning he was taking a break from work in the field and sat under a tree to ward off the mid-day sun's heat when he saw Suti cycling past ringing the bell for no reason but to showoff.

Chandhu picked up a stick and threw it at the wheels of the bicycle. The stick got stuck in the spokes and brought Suti tumbling down in the dust; it also broke two of the spokes of the back wheel.

This was a declaration of war. Suti got up and dusted himself; he glared at Chandhu.

"What was that for, why did you throw the stick?"

Chandhu shrugged, "Sorry!"

"And you have broken two spokes, you going to pay to repair them?"

"Nope. You are the one with money."

"Don't fly too high, Chandhu, the fall will be very painful!"

"You mind your own business, skinny boy; you muck with me and I'll wrap you round the handle of your stupid bike and shove it and you into the lake."

Suti walked his bike home. He wanted to limp to ease the pain in his hip, but he wasn't going to give Chandhu the pleasure of knowing he was hurt in the fall. He went by the bicycle repair shop where they changed the spokes in a matter of minutes and his beloved bike was new as ever.


Chandhu sat resting his back against the tree, a grass stem clamped between his teeth; he saw Rukhmoni with two girls, all brightly dressed, strolling down the dirt road in animated conversation. He wondered if he could renew his intimacy with her. A day or two of intimate sex would top off his holidays in the most wonderful way. He sat up and smiled...his heart was thudding a tattoo in his chest and his face was flushed with anticipation.

Rukhmoni spotted him sitting under the tree leering confidently at her. She whispered behind her hand and the group burst into loud hoots. Chandhu was jolted; he deflated like a spiked toad. The group swept by him laughing animatedly. Rukhmoni's body language told him she didn't care two figs for him. His staring eyes were riveted on Rukhmoni's receding back when he saw her stretch her hand above her head displaying a closed fist with the thumb sticking up: a gesture which in India said, I thumb my nose at you.

Chandhu was thoroughly intimidated. Lines of ‘a woman spurned' floated through his mind. So what! He said aloud, stuff her, there are many pebbles on the beach. But he knew he was badly rattled, Rukhmoni was more than a pebble on the beach. She was uncommonly beautiful, caring, thinking, and understanding. But what rankled most was that a village wench had the audacity to spurn him, Chandhu! Publicly!


Rukhmoni was helping her mother cook the evening meal on a mud-plastered brick stove built at floor level. A wooden rack displayed shiny brass/copper thalis and tumblers. Bhis Sing, walked into the kitchen leaving his shoes outside.

"Chandhu was here four days," he said "but he never came to see us or you, Rukhmoni; he used to be like a tune stuck in the mind...always there. Have you had a tiff with him?"

Rukhmoni kept her head down, stirring the potatoes with a wooden spoon.


"Sorry, Father. I mean I did not have a tiff with him. His new school has gone to his head - he thinks he is now superior to all us village yokels."

"I see...I'll check it out."

Rukhmoni looked up with fear in her eyes. She was afraid that her father may find out about the abortion. But Bhis had turned and walked out of the kitchen.

"I don't know," said Nathu Singh, Chandhu's father, when approached by Bhis, "being in a co-ed school he probably has a girl. But he has been rather quiet I'll admit."

"He may have a girl, that's not the point, why should he not visit us even for five minutes, especially seeing as how he was always visiting us before?"

"I don't know, Bhis, there seems to be some strain in his friendship with your son, Suti..."

"I'd say there is a strained relationship with Rukhmoni too, for I have not heard her mention Chandhu even once. When I asked her she said something about him having a big head and not wanting to mix with us village folks."

"Well, now that you mention it, he has asked us to not visit him in school - he would come here rather and visit us. I hope this is not going to become a problem. His mother seems to think it is normal and nothing to worry about."

"Any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour is not normal. I would suggest you visit your son in school to judge what the situation is. Don't let Chandhu start life on a false premise."

Chandhu's father nodded distractedly.

"I am wondering if Suti too would like to go and study there."

But Suti refused. He said he liked being with family. The other reason, which he kept to himself was that he would be thrown into Chandhu's close proximity (yuk!) and second, he was enjoying earning money which he would not be able to do in a Boarding School.


Julie noticed that indeed Chandhu was in her class. He sat right at the back hidden from her. He didn't interact much in class and so she hadn't noticed him - or perhaps she didn't bother to notice him. All her friends sat at the front of the class and asked a lot of questions... "Do you drink a lot of coffee, Sir?" "How many spoons of sugar do you put in a cup?" "I liked the shirt you were wearing yesterday...I mean it was really cool." One didn't have to ask questions about the subject being taught...I mean that was really, really dumb! Only the back-benchers, the ragies, who were looking to have a career didn't ask questions - they were too bloody busy taking notes. I mean what the hell! You were only young once, and school-days were days of fun...they would never ever come back have fun, man! You have your whole life to be serious and all that crap!

The bell rang and the students started to leave; it was the last bell, classes were over for the day. Julie sat at her desk and waited; she had a plan.

"Come on Dude, what's keeping ya?" shouted one of the girls from the door, "aren't you coming to the swimming club?"

"Coming, coming, I'll meet you in the car park."

Soon the class was nearly empty. She saw Chandhu going past.

"Hey, you!" she shouted. Chandhu paused and looked across at her.

"Come here and sit down."


"Because I said so, Dummy!"

Chandhu hesitated, he didn't like her attitude. But what the hell, he didn't have anything to lose. And she was from the ‘richie' class to top it. They hardly spoke to the ‘Raggie class' as they called them, unless they wanted some menial work done as a favour. He walked over slowly and sank down at the adjoining bench.


"What's your name?"

"What it's always been and one which you must have heard a hundred times during class roll call... will that be all?"

"No, seriously, I'm not trying to be funny."


"O.K. Chandhu, nice to meet you - I don't meet any ragies...oops, sorry! I mean Boarders."

"Well, now that you've met one, what is it you want?"

"Nothing really, just thought we could be friends."

"Friends with a Richie? Not likely!"

"Is that what you call us ...Richies?"

"Well you are rich so we call you Richies, like you call us rag pickers."

"No we don't. We don't call you rag pickers."

"Really... what would ragies mean then, wouldn't it be a shortening of rag pickers?"

"Look, let's not fight. I didn't call you to fight. Maybe you would come with us for a swim one day?"

"Yeah, maybe." And he got up and left. Julie was left looking at his receding back for the second time. Gosh, he's got an ego sticking way out of his rectum, she observed.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, listen up all of you for I have interesting, very interesting, so interesting that your curiosity will have its tongue hanging out, kind of information to divulge. Yeah, just you hear this..."

"Get on with it, man...stop bloody dithering." Someone shouted from amongst the swimmers in the pool. Tappan had taken a position on the middle diving board. He stood there, arms raised - to get attention, and an expression of exaggerated importance on his face; he signaled for silence, and instead got hoots of laughter and derision from the swimmers.

"Come on Mark Anthony; let us hear your words of wisdom."

" seriously, listen, listen...our dear Julie has fallen, head over high-heels and all in love...blistering LOVE with a Raggie! I lie not - cross my heart - it's truer than Hannibal's revelations. Those cynical and doubting Thomas's and Dorothy's who doubt my pristine words can ask her yourself - she should be here any minute..."

Someone quietly climbed the ladder behind Tappan and gave him a hard shove. Tappan jetted out across the pool and fell with arms and legs flaying, whilst loudly protesting, "...I can't swim, I can't swim!" He was the comic of the class.


Rukhmoni peered into the little mirror hanging from a nail in the wall; she checked her ear tops and the light lipstick she had on. She was happy with her image; even the cheap distorting mirror couldn't steal the loveliness from her face. She smiled. She was going to town with Punni. This would be her last visit for some time as ‘harvest' was starting next week and she would be busy with the cutting and stacking of wheat sheaves. She waited for Punni.

The bus was old and rattley and spewed smoke through the compartment. Rukhmoni covered her nose and mouth with the end of her sari. Punni giggled and laughed looking at her...she laughed too - they were in great spirits; it wasn't every day that they were allowed to go to town. They had no plans, but just a visit was enough to infect their mood with liveliness and exuberance. They hopped off at the bus station and walked along looking into shops; they weren't buying anything, just looking. She walked with long steps which made her head bob attractively. People looked at her and at them. They were full of lively energy.

"How far is Chandhu's school? Let's go there."

It was a half hour walk and they stood outside the gate looking up at the tall school building. A Security Guard in uniform sat on a stool outside the gate reading an old newspaper.

A couple of boys drifted towards the gate chatting elatedly - it was a short recess before the next period.

"You looking for someone?" asked one of the boys surreptitiously eying Rukhmoni.

"Nah, not really, we were close by and just decided to look up the school where Chandhu is a resident boarder. Do you know Chandhu?"

"...Chandhu...Chandhu, let me he a biggish fella - bit of a showoff...air-head?"

"That would be him." confirmed Rukhmoni.

"Shall we tell him you are here? Are you related?"

"No, no. We'll be on our way now."

But Chandhu heard about the visitors - why can't they just leave him be? "Attractive girl along with a boy." they said.

Now who could the boy be? Chandhu wondered with some trepidation. Who, he wondered, had replaced him in her favours? He felt a long pang of jealousy and pictured the boy taking her in his arms....


Two men stood at the low courtyard gate of Bhis Singh's house, an ambulance was parked at some distance under a tree. The men rattled the latch on the gate to attract attention. Bhis looked up and walked to the gate followed by his brother, Bhola. The men at the gate were officious looking and carried clipboards.


"We are health workers from the local hospital in town and need to cross check certain entries and expenses in the book for audit purposes."

Bhis straightened his turban distractedly and looked blankly at them. How could he  possibly help these people? What did it have to do with him? They obviously had the wrong person. Audit was something well beyond his grasp. But they were Government employees like he was and so he must help them.

He cleared his throat, "I don't understand." He smiled patronizingly. He would soon clear this mix-up.

"Doesn't Rukhmoni live here?"

"Sure she does, she is my daughter." his chest expanded visibly.

"Well we just want to confirm that she underwent a clinical abortion six months ago at the local town hospital."

Bhis stood there nodding his head and ogling at them, his smile slipped a few degrees. He scratched his head. He looked for help to his brother who stood besides him: eyes glazed, head pushed forward peering idiotically at the health givers like as if he was about to witness them take to the sky.

"You see, Sir," explained one of the men, "abortions are heavily subsidized by the Government. (as long as they are properly authorized by the patient or family) and we wish to merely ascertain that the clinical procedure was actually performed which will justify the expenditure and satisfy the auditors.

Bhis now looked concerned. This was about his daughter and these chaps had obviously made a huge blunder. He would ask them to repeat it so he understood them clearly.

"Well, Sir," they repeated, "six months ago your daughter Rukhmoni had an abortion in our hospital and we are here to ask you to confirm it."

Bhis realized the monumental mistake these men were making. They would probably be severely reprimanded by their department and so he decided to be kind to them. He looked them in the eye and with genuine ethos in his voice showed them the error they had made. "My daughter is seventeen years old, she is a virgin and has plainly never had an abortion."

"But Sir, our records clearly show that the procedure was performed. The attending doctor and the anesthetist have signed the records."

"Your records are clearly wrong. Don't argue with me unnecessarily for an unmarried young girl would need her parents consent for anything like that."

"Her mother, Sir, has signed and authorized the procedure."

Bhis was stunned; it took a while for this piece of information to sink in. "Did her mother put her thumb impression on the document?"

"No, Sir, she signed."

Bhis stood back. A smile lit his face. "Ahhh...I see... my wife has no letters - she can not sign her name. You blokes have got it completely wrong."

The men now looked apprehensive and a little scared; could they have made such a serious mistake? They shuffled the papers on the clipboard. One of them offered a sheet of paper to Bhis Singh.

"Here you are, Sir. This is a photocopy of the letter of authority. It is signed in Hindi by Kamla Devi, your wife."

Bhis looked very distracted - his mind was not registering. He stretched his hand and took the paper. "Kamla Devi" he read and kept looking at the paper. And then it registered...a dim recollection nudged up from the past, his wife's name was Gauri Bibi, not Kamla Devi.


Suti learnt that his sister had been to Modern High School with Punni. He also learnt that two people from the local hospital had visited his father, there was a heated discussion and his father had refused to sign papers the health givers proffered.

Suti was very curious. He had picked up tid bit snatches at the local tea house, which was a thatched structure supported with bamboo poles and without walls. Patrons sat on wooden benches with a long narrow wooden table in between. Only hot spicy tea and biscuits were served here. But it was a great meeting place for local gossip and speculation. Men, who between harvests had a lot of indolent time, visited the tea house, gossiped idly, smoked bidis, and swatted flies that would at times fall into their chipped cups of tea.

Suti regularly picked up juicy earfuls of gossip from such tea houses, but if discovered loitering and eves dropping, was shooed away, ‘this is no place for young boys' would be the admonition. Nevertheless, there were young lads that worked in such way-side hotels serving tea and washing cups and plates. Suti made friends with some. Punni's brother, Sunder was one such worker.

"What is the gossip about my father?" he asked his newfound friend.

"I don't pay much attention to their idle talk - they gossip all day," he said keeping his attention on the dishes he was washing, "It appears your sister was pregnant and had an operation."

Suti was stunned. His eyes opened wide. He had difficulty swallowing. He quickly left leaving Sunder in mid sentence. He was breathing hard and his mind went blank. He sat under a tree to collect his thoughts.

What did all this mean, how could his sister be pregnant? She wasn't involved with anybody...except with Chandhu a long, long time ago. That day when she rushed to her room wiping her tears...was it because she was pregnant?

This was all very complicated and he needed time to unravel it. Did his father's stern silence these last few days have anything to do with it? He was very ‘tight lipped' and Rukhmoni seemed to be reacting to his mood. Only mother seemed normal and she kept asking father why he was so quiet; and whether the Government bosses had reprimanded him? But he would brush it aside saying no, no!

No one confided in Suti and no one took him into confidence. Well he would have to do some sleuthing by himself. He crept along the paths in the village and no one gave him more than a passing glance - proving to him that he was almost invisible and was blending in with the village greenery. He eves dropped shamelessly and when he conversed with anyone he steered the conversation to where he thought he may find answers. He walked to Chandhu's house.

"Hello Auntyji, namaste." He sang out bending down and touching her feet. "How are you?"

"I'm well, beta...don't see you these days at all. Chandhu was here for a few days..."

"...I know Auntyji, I met him. He didn't come to meet Rukhmoni and she was very upset."

Kamla Devi looked at him levelly; she knew that was not true...what was Suti playing at.

Has he got wind of something?

After a few more questions Suti realized he would get nowhere and left swiftly. He thought of going to town to visit the hospital and see what those men, (who came to talk to his father) wanted.


Bhis Singh was a worried man. He had learnt two days ago that Chandhu's mother's name was Kamla Devi. He was shocked - thoughts ran through his mind. He could think of nothing else.

He went out to the field all day. For the last two days he sat in a quiet spot under a tree and worked it all out. Chandhu had most likely got his daughter pregnant. His mother, Kamla too must be involved and she had arranged the abortion. Did Chandhu's father know? He chewed his nails worrying and concluded that very likely he did not. His attitude told Bhis that he was not party to the planned abortion.

That may well be, but what should he do now?

If he confronted Nathu Singh (Chandhu's father) with the evidence he had gathered, the whole sordid story would be revealed and the entire village would get to know. He would then be honour bound to take action. But what action could he take? Kill Chandhu? Kill his daughter?

Honour Killing'? The thought made him shiver. He could never do that...kill himself more likely and remove himself from the dishonour? But he wasn't coward enough to run away from his duty. What should he do? He walked around for miles - eyes on the ground, not knowing where he was going.

And then on the fifth day it came to him.

He would go to town. He would go to the hospital and sign the papers and he would swear them to complete secrecy. It must never get out. No one must ever know. And then he would let life continue as it had done over the last six months since the abortion. He would not rock the  boat.


On the fifth day it came to Rukhmoni as well.

For days she had cowered...afraid to face her father. Afraid of what he would say. Afraid of how much he had found out. Should she confess all? His rage would be swift. Would it be fair to completely disrupt his life, her family's life, the village's peace and harmony?


Why should all suffer for her mistake? She had no right to do that.

She would run away!

She sought out Punni: "I am running away from home. I want you to come with me."

Punni was weeding in the field. He stood up slowly, eyes fixed on Rukhmoni, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Why, why would you want to do that?"

"That is my business. I want you to come with me. I am not sure where I want to go or what I will do. You will have to trust me. Go home and bundle a few of your clothes and meet me at the bridge in half an hour; and not a word to anyone!"


Bhis had visited every house in the village and had casually inquired if they had seen Rukhmoni - none had. But an old woman said she had seen her with Punni standing on the bridge on the main highway. She wasn't to certain what happened after that for she was busy cutting grass for her cow, but when she looked again they were not there and a bus had just gone by.

Bhis now trudged to the quarters of the two Police Sepahis to make a missing person report.

Rukhmoni's mother, Gauri Bibi, had cried all night. She just could not understand why Rukhmoni had left home. Some of her clothes were missing which was more food for worry.

Had she run away? And what for? That was a big question mark. She kept questioning her husband, did he have an inkling as to why she had left. Had he said anything to her, had anybody said anything that could upset her? And the answer to all her enquiries was ‘NO' nobody had said or done anything that would induce her to run away. Then what? She beat her head against the mud plastered wall. ‘Why? Why? Why?

Bhis Singh thought he may know part of the answer; Bhola thought he had a vague idea; but Suti was sure ‘why'. It had to do with her pregnancy. But nobody was saying anything to Gauri Bibi. She was desolate in her private grief and had a feeling that the men knew something.

She would confront her son she decided. He was normally full, annoyingly full of questions, but on the subject of Rukhmoni disappearing he was strangely quiet.


The Policemen sat Bhis down and gave him a cup of tea.

"Tell us everything you know - don't hold anything back for the more you tell us the more will we be able to help locate your daughter."

His started hesitatingly. It was a dishonour to admit his daughter had become pregnant and had had an abortion.

"We know," said the policemen. "We also knew you did not know and so kept it from you. Your son is a very clever boy and put two and two together. He went to the hospital to confirm his suspicion, but they didn't tell him anything. You had already sworn them to secrecy."

Bhis told them what he knew. The Policemen knew more and filled him in. Chandhu was the father, they told him and his mother had arranged the abortion.

Though Bhis had tentatively worked this out, confirmation of it floored him. He looked quite stunned and sat mute.

"Does the village community know?" He asked in a broken voice.

"No." he was assured, "no one knows. You are a respected man in the village; we will not let any disrespect soil your honour."

Bhis stared blankly at the wall before him, his eyes glazed. It appeared nothing penetrated his consciousness. One of the policemen put a brass tumbler of rum - a large portion - into his hands. He sat holding it; his mind a million miles away. They couldn't think of how to lessen his burden.

Bhis suddenly stood up, he drained the tumbler in one long draft and left. There was determination in his stance.


Kamla Devi sat on cushions on a ‘cane and wood' chair in the ‘Visitors Room' at Modern High. Chandhu sat on the edge of his chair listening to the perturbing news his mother had brought.

"It's not out as yet, and I hope it won't be, but if it leaks it will be very bad for you, our family, and of course Bhis Singh's family. The last time such dishonour smeared our village, the lad, Hamsu, who was about your age, was hounded out of the village by the ‘Panchait' and he and his family never returned. The girl - a sweet thing of fifteen years - jumped into the monsoon bloated raging river and was never seen again."

"Will Papaji get to know?"

"Of course he'll get to know and then he will get you thrown out of this school - for he will not pay the monthly fees, about which he grumbles constantly saying it's far too expensive and asks why can't you study in the village school like all the other children? Anyway, the ‘Panchait' would make life unbearable for us and hound us out of the village. Fortunately, Rukhmoni will not throw herself into the river or jump into the well for she has already disappeared.  Gone god knows where with that lay about Punni."

"Punni???" Chandhu dry swallowed a few times.


"With Rukhmoni???" His eyes bulged.

"Yes, yes. Stop asking me what I've already told you."

"But what will my friends say? Here we are taught integrity, morality, candour, chivalry and honesty. My name will be shit if it comes out. I will be morally bound to marry Rukhmoni."

"And Rukhmoni will marry you,"

"Of course, if I ask her!"

His mother smiled, "That's not what I've heard said. I am told that she laughed with her friends at you and jeered and ridiculed you in the street."

"That's nothing, Ma, just face saving in front of her friends."


Rukhmoni and Punni got off the bus at a small roadside town situated about a hundred kilometers short of Banaras. Rukhmoni said they had traveled far enough away from their village for the moment. They had traveled all day and it was getting dark. They were hungry and thirsty and headed for a roadside open fronted tea and food stall. Rukhmoni nudged Punni telling him to order two glasses of tea and two chapattis each. They would dip the chapatti in the tea and eat it.

They didn't have much money and would have to watch their expenditure.

The owner of the stall saw right away that the youngsters were from out of town; first he thought they might have eloped, but then he saw their body language and revised his opinion: they didn't behave like lovers. She was, obviously the person in control for the young lad was subservient to her.

"Where have you come from and where are you going?" he asked as he brought them their order.

Rukhmoni was expecting the question and had an answer rehearsed in her mind: "We are going to Sorwa, but are hungry and tired and so have broken journey here. We will continue our journey in the morning."

Sorwa was a larger township seventy kilometers further on. Rukhmoni had gleaned this piece of information from the bus driver. The stall owner nodded his head in understanding. "If you want a place to sleep, there is a woman in the village who lets out rooms for the night." he said taking in Rukhmoni's youth and comeliness.

"I'm afraid we can't do that," she said, "you see we've lost all our money. Someone stole our bag whilst we were asleep on the bus. We shall just have to spend the night in the open."

Rukhmoni improvised convincingly.

"Well, you both can sleep on the verandah here. I shall be locking up in another hour or two - there are very few busses at night and so hardly any business."

Later that night, Rukhmoni was awakened by a sound close to her. She half opened one eye to see a man peering at her. He struck a match and studied her as closely as he could in the flare of the matchstick. Rukhmoni kept her eyes lightly closed and pretended to sleep. The man then tiptoed out and hurriedly walked away.

His manner was furtive and covert. Rukhmoni suspected foul play. She shook Punni awake and they both ran around to the back of the stall and into a mango orchard that sloped gently upwards. They walked stumblingly up the slope and Punni physically hauled her up a rock ledge where they waited. They were scratched and bruised and panting rapidly; they hid behind a bush from where they had a clear view of the tea stall and the road lit by naked electric bulbs on poles.

Soon the man reappeared - he had a slight hunch and was easily recognizable - he was followed by four men who stealthily approached the tea and food stall and then must have entered the verandah for they were then out of sight from the hillside. They obviously didn't find the girl on the verandah for they emerged and stood on the roadside discussing and looking to the left and right. They stood there a long while under the light, smoking and discussing. They then came to the back of the stall, formed a ragged search line and moved forward. It appeared they were going to comb the orchard to find the girl and the young man.

Rukhmoni was petrified and clung to Punni's hand. Both youngsters were highly agitated and scared. Beyond where they hid was thick bush to penetrate which would not only be difficult but would cause a lot of noise and give away their hiding place.

They were trapped and the line of men could dimly be seen moving and weaving between the trees, but moving determinedly forward all the time. Rukhmoni was shivering with fright whilst Punni groped in the dark to find a weapon of defense. Rukhmoni realized she would be gang raped by all five men - terror wouldn't let her think further, for beyond lay the very real likelihood of being murdered and buried in the bushes there...both of them!

Stark terror was now clouding her brain - she could run and take her chances against the men. But they could corral her and move in on her... she had to do something. Panic paralyses rational thinking (like well documented cases of monkeys safely up a tree that rush down to a waiting leopard in their attempt to gain access to a nearby tree that looked safer). Rukhmoni let out a scream and immediately realized her folly. She had given away her position. Her panic rose exponentially and with it her reasoning plummeted in a free fall.

"I am here" she screamed, "COME AND GET ME!"

Punni was paralyzed with fear. Had Rukhmoni gone stark staring mad? He dug his nails into her arm and tried to quieten her. But Rukhmoni was now in a frenzy of hypnotic panic. She screamed again, "COME AND GET MEEEEE !"

The effect of this sudden and deafening scream in the still and quiet of the night was stunning. The men stopped in their tracks. This was demonical! No helpless girl would scream and invite them to her undoing. This sounded like the high pitched scream of a witch or a banshee! The hair on their arms and on the back of their necks stood up. They started to back out. Terror exaggerated their fright and every branch they brushed against was like the cold fingers of a witch stroking their cheek.

Rukhmoni made out that the men were backing away. She couldn't believe it. Her relief from terror and paralyzing fright was so great that a loud laugh of relief emitted her throat. The men heard it as the high pitched cackle of witches and took to their heels. They ran helter skelter, tripping, falling, skidding, but getting away in a great hurry.


Gauri Bibi cornered her son, Suti, whilst he was busy cleaning his still-new looking bicycle.

"Come here," she said, "I've got to talk to you." It was an ideal time. Gauri thought, no one was in the house. They sat on the floor in the verandah.

"What, what is it, Ma?"

"Tell me everything you know about Rukhmoni; and I mean everything. You hold anything back and there will be no food for you tonight or any other night - I am serious!"  Suti looked left and right; there was nobody in the house...Suti knew that. He was trapped, cornered, and confined. He tried to play innocent, but his mother wouldn't buy it, "You want to find your meals elsewhere from now on?" Suti fidgeted and delayed as much as he could, hoping his father would return. But in the end, with his mother glaring at him from six inches away, he had to tell all. And it was a relief; a heavy burden had been lifted from his chest.

His mother listened attentively...tears poured from her eyes and dripped from her chin on to her lap. She listened without moving a muscle, without blinking an eyelid, and without change of expression. When Suti had no more to tell, his mother rose, "I'll find her!" she said walking away to the kitchen. Her expression was grim, there was steel in her look.

Later Bhis returned and slumped on the charpoy; he cleared his throat loudly and spat.

Gauri appeared with a tumbler of tea and a piece of cloth. Bhis would use the cloth to pick up the hot tumbler. He looked at her face, something was changed, something was very changed: there was no smile, there was no greeting in her eyes, she had not wiped his face with the end of her sari nor was she massaging his shoulders.

"Where's the smile?" he looked at her inquiringly.

"Where is my daughter?" she threw back at him.

"I haven't found her." his shoulders slumped.

"Well, do you expect me to smile and dance?"

Gauri had never spoken to him like that - she looked serious and forbidding. A rebuff was at the tip of his tongue, but he held it back. She was a mother and the loss of her daughter was deeply upsetting her.

"She must have found out that you had learnt about her pregnancy." she said looking him straight in the eye. Bhis chocked and coughed ejecting the tea in a spray. He opened his mouth wide to suck in air and coughed spasmodically. Gauri rubbed and thumped his back. He looked up at her, his face flushed by the coughing paroxysm.

"So you know?" he said with resignation.

"Yes, and you'd better find her and assure her that it's alright to come back."

"I'll go in the morning."

"No. Go now!"

He looked at her with surprise, unfamiliar with the timber in her voice, "Okay."


Suti watched his mother walk across the yard to the wicket gate. The end of her sari was firmly tucked at the waist. Her demeanour was determined and her stride purposeful.

"Where are you going Mother?"

There was no answer. Bhola sat on the steps sipping tea from his tumbler. He had been sipping now for over an hour; the cloth lay discarded as the tea was no longer hot.

Gauri Bibi walked along the narrow path between fields and stood at Kamla Devi's house.

"Oyoo Kamla" she hollered.

Kamla came out on to the verandah, "Aao, aao, Behen, come and have some tea."

"I haven't come to have tea. I want to talk to you."

Kamla saw trouble. She was on the alert as she walked to the gate.

"Namaste, Behen."

"Where's my daughter?" Gauri was angry and belligerent.

"How should I know - she doesn't come to my house anymore."

"You do know! You and that lecherous son of yours planned her abortion!"

Kamla was livid, "You'd better come inside unless you want the whole village to hear you."

Gauri went inside and they nearly had a ‘hair-pulling' bout. She called Kamla's son a lout and a Lech and Kamla almost called her daughter a slut, but refrained realizing how distraught a mother she must be. In the end they reached an understanding after both reminded each other of how they themselves nearly came to a similar crisis in their teen years, and in those days there was no hospital only the local dhai who would induce an abortion by poking with sticks and pouring herbal concoctions down ones throat. Unfortunately in most cases death of the young mother was the result.

Gauri, after some persuasion did have tea and tempers cooled perceptibly after that. They hugged before parting and Kamla swore she would help find Rukhmoni.


Nathu (Punni's father) accompanied Bhis in the search for Rukhmoni and Punni. They went by bus and got off at every stop. They asked of all they encountered, but none recalled seeing a young girl and boy to fit the description given by Bhis for it had taken place three long days ago- who would remember the people on a bus three days ago.

Busses came by only every three hours or so which meant when they hopped off at a stop they would have to wait three hours for the next bus. Progress was, therefore very slow and it was nighttime by the time they covered three stops.

"How far could they have gone?" Nathu wondered aloud.

"Oh, I'd say Rukhmoni had enough money on her to go well beyond Banaras and that is over twenty stops away. It will take us a good fifteen days to cover all the stops to Banares and by then no one will remember two youngsters getting off a bus. It seems an almost impossible task...unless, of course if they created a scene of some sort which could stick in peoples minds."

"If they got off at Banares it could take us a lifetime to find them. Banaras is such a large town with hundreds and thousands of people, a young couple getting off a bus would be an everyday scene there."

Bhis nodded dejectedly. "The police are searching too and have alerted other stations along the bus route."

But they were wrong. They were all wrong. News would come to them but they would not recognize it.


Julie slapped his hand away.

"What's with you Ragies, are you all sex fiends or something. Stop trying to grope me every chance you get."

"I'm just being friendly."

"Well, your kind of friendly is certainly different to ours. Do you chaps always grope on the first date?"

"What are you talking about? We are all the same - it's just that you have more money than me."

"We are not the same. We are business people and traders, you lot are rustic farmers!"

Chandhu was taken aback. "How do you know I am a farmer?"

"I just do."

"You are wrong you know, we are Traders too; except we don't have money like you."

"Crap! You come from a village not far from here - and your parents were here to see you the other day.

Chandhu looked at her steadily then averted his eyes; his ears were burning red. "Well if you knew all that why did you agree to come out with me?"

"We aren't exactly out somewhere .We are in the school grounds and happen to be alone, that's all."

Chandhu was very agitated; he had never been so humiliated; and it was all his doing - had he not pretended to be the son of a Trading family, none of this would have taken place.

"I'm going. You can find your way to your car." He said gruffly striding off.

This was the third time he was walking away from her she noted.

"Where are you going?" she shouted at his receding back.

"Back to my dormitory." he said without turning, "back to my humble abode."

"And where's my kiss?"

He stopped dead and waited. There was no laughter or sarcasm in her voice. Could this be for real? He slowly turned around. She sat on the grass where he'd left her, a beguiling smile on her lips. He strode back casually, his heart thumping in his chest. She opened her arms in welcome and he went quickly to her.


She felt the sun hot on her, the flies trailed all over her arms and face. She stirred and opened one eye - where was she? She saw foliage right in front of her nose; an arm was draped across her body from behind and rested on her breasts. She looked around and found Punni sleeping with his mouth open and flies having a picnic at the corners of his mouth. Recollection came surging.

She flung the arm off and carefully looked through the bush foliage...there was no one there.

She could see a man or two walking along the road busy with their daily chores. She looked up at the sky, it must be 8 o'clock. She nudged Punni awake.

"Listen carefully and do as I say. Go down to the Tea stall and see what the situation is like; Keep your eyes open and observe carefully. Don't make yourself obvious - come back and we will decide on the next step."

Punni looked around in a daze.

"Did you hear what I said?"

He nodded, yes. Rukhmoni pushed him out from behind the bush cover and shoved him with her foot to propel him across the incline. He staggered down, very unsure of what he was to do. He looked back a few times and Rukhmoni waved him on.

He rounded the corner of the stall and stood there watching, hands hanging by his side, eyes apprehensive. There ware two men drinking tea at a table and the owner, the same man who had served them last night, was busy making tea. He looked up and saw Punni. He promptly joined his palms in greeting, filled two short glasses with tea and took them to Punni.

"This is for you and ‘Behanji' your companion. You couldn't have been comfortable last night. Please tell her to use my accommodation next door to wash and toilet. Only my old mother is there. She'll be no problem and will help you both"

Punni stood mute. This was all unreal and he couldn't understand it. He took the tea and shuffled off to the back and across the orchard to Rukhmoni.

"Did he ask for money?"

"No. But he said we could use his house there." Punni pointed.

Rukhmoni looked across at the house and wondered if she should accept the offer. She still had not understood what took place last night - Why had the men decamped so promptly after she had screamed in frightened panic? And why were they given free tea and a place where they could wash-up and use the toilet? What would happen after that? She decided to be cautious.

Could this be another plan to entrap them? She would have to use Punni as a decoy.

She sent him ahead to check out the situation. Punni soon returned and informed her that he could see nothing suspicious. Matter of fact the old lady at the house had been very courteous and had welcomed him with respect, telling him to convey her welcome to his companion.

Rukhmoni was still apprehensive; she wished Suti was with her to advise her. His basic rough hewn common sense had helped her out of tricky situations on past occasions. She decided to stay put. But by 5p.m they were both hungry and thirsty. She put together whatever money they had - which wasn't very much - and sent Puni down to purchase food and fetch some water. She didn't know what she would do tomorrow.

Punni returned in a short while carrying a cloth bag. In it were two bottles of water and enough food to satisfy their hunger. Rukhmoni looked at it wide eyed.

"Was the money enough for all this food?"

Punni showed her the money she had given him, "They didn't take any money."

Rukhmoni heard what Punni said, but she didn't understand why they hadn't taken the money. She was too hungry at the moment to think of anything but food, the aroma was in her nostril. They both ate hungrily.

Next morning they found another bag containing food and tea placed twenty feet away from the bush they had slept behind. This was getting stranger and stranger. Rukhmoni decided to visit the house of the stall owner. She couldn't continue living the way they were and so crept gingerly forward. She was cautious; she wished Suti was with her. She decided to stay put. But by 5p.m they were both hungry and thirsty. She again put together some money and sent Punni down to purchase food and water and again Punni came back with food for which money was not accepted.

Next morning Rukhmoni decided to visit the house of the stall owner. She couldn't continue living the way they were and so she crept gingerly forward.

The old mother was sweeping outside and on seeing Rukhmoni joined her palms together and bent low in greeting. They were shown to a room they could occupy and use. They bathed and washed their clothes and put on fresh clothes from the bag they had with them. Later Rukhmoni looked out of the window and her breath caught in her throat: There was a small crowd of people standing quietly waiting...waiting for what she knew not...waiting for her to emerge? A little shiver ran up her spine. She asked Punni to investigate.

Punni returned with excitement in his eyes. Rukhmoni raised her eyebrows questioningly;

"They are waiting to meet you, Didi." Rukhmoni took an involuntary step back.

"What...why...?" "They have brought some gifts they wish to give you."

"Why are you grinning like an idiot - did you find out why...why do they want to give me gifts?"

"They won't tell me. The stall owner is back and sent me to call you."

Rukhmoni had no option; she put on a brave face and stepped out. The people, men and women, stepped forward one at a time, touched her feet and left a gift. She stood calmly though she was struggling hard to keep her knees from shaking. They left soon afterwards.

Atul, the stall owner explained what was happening. He informed her that the people thought she was a powerful witch in the guise of a young girl. Some thought she was a ‘Godwoman' traveling in the guise of a young girl. "Whichever one you are they have given you gifts to ward off any anger you may have for the way you were treated the first night.

Rukhmoni retreated to the room and took stock. She realized these people thought she was actually more than she factually was. She would have to keep up the drama and deport herself in a manner that invited mystery. If they found out she was just an ordinary village girl who was completely lost and frightened, the situation would likely take a very different and unwelcome turn and she would again be in real danger. She discussed this with Punni who was to assume the role of a mentally challenged person whose sole charge was to look after and cater to Rukhmoni's needs. She herself took to wearing a heavy concealing veil so none who had chanced to see her before in her village or at school would recognize her.

She had seen a number of Indian Hindi movies to know how people expected a ‘god woman' to behave. She now moved slowly, in what she assumed was a dignified manner, around the room, back straight and head held high. She practiced the position and stance her hand should be held at to bless the people. Punni acted as the eye of an audience and helped her assume the correct posture. By the afternoon she looked very convincing, very calm, and very erudite. She communicated mainly with her eyes and nods of her head which hid her lack of knowledge of the scriptures. She called herself Ma Rumi and was getting known as the taciturn saint. One who reluctantly held audiences and stayed locked behind doors in meditation.

By the second day people were coming from far and wide carrying more and more gifts consisting of fruits, sweets and other edibles; a lot of flowers and larger and larger quantities of cash.

In an hour a day audience that she held, she sat on a raised dais and nobody was allowed to come closer than six feet to where she sat. People lay their problems at her feet and though she didn't say much people went away satisfied saying they had received their answer through the piercing look of her eyes that suddenly showed them the way and sent a solution clearly visible to the mind.

She was no doubt a great saint they said.

Rukhmoni reminisced that all it had taken was a piercing, panic stricken scream and the five men's interpretation of it that had changed her life.


Their lips found each others; they kissed hungrily and with an increasing intensity. When the frenzy of the first rush abated, Jennifer found he was lying on top of her, they were both breathing rapidly and his hand was inside her blouse cupping and squeezing her left breast. She pushed him off with some force,

"Not here" she said sitting up and straightening her dress. "Anyone can come around the corner."

He nodded still breathing hard. He attempted to kiss her but she pushed him away.

"Stop it! We could both be expelled if we are caught"

He nodded for the umpteenth time; he couldn't trust himself to speak.

"I love you." He whispered holding her hand tightly.

She looked at him archly, "Don't be silly. A moment ago you were ready to walk away from me and now that I've lured you into kissing me, ‘you love me'? You either want sex or my money...likely both - don't bring ‘love' into it."

"Don't be disgusting. I certainly don't want your, however is intimately entwined with love and is inevitable." said Chandhu glibly.

"As inevitable as the sex you had with an innocent girl in your village and then dumped her? I believe there's more to that story, but it hasn't filtered down to me as yet."

Chandhu looked like he was about to have an apoplectic fit. He stood up hurriedly and left.

"Bloody Bitch." He threw over his shoulder.

"Hey, aren't you going to stay and defend yourself?" he heard her say. A wave of nausea hit him, mucus poured into his mouth - he quickened his steps swallowing rapidly; he made it to the toilet and gagged in the basin. Splashing water on his face and breathing deeply helped him and he gingerly weaved his way to his cubicle and stretched out on the bed. He shut his eyes and went over the recent events. Who was spreading these stories? Rukhmoni would hardly be expected to talk. Who then, the Hospital staff? No they kept everything under close wraps. Who, who, who then? That runt Suti? He would ring his neck and thrash him to an inch of death...but how would Suti know? He fell asleep mulling this.


Suti tried to unobtrusively slide out of the gate. He held a cloth bag in his hand containing a change of clothes and toiletries, but Uncle Bhola saw him (...shit!):

"Where are you going?" he asked. Suti hesitated.

"Come here, son, where are you going?" asked his father.

"My friend Harish and I are going to look for Rukhmoni, father."

"Why didn't you tell me, I'll go with you?"

"No, Father, forgive me, but I know how my sister thinks and I think I have a better chance to find her on my own - I shall take my friend Harish with me. Please let me go and if I don't find her I shall return."

Bhis went to the Police Chowki where he was given the usual cup of tea. No certain news as yet he was told, but they were close to apprehending them. A boy and girl of that description were seen at the market in Banaras. No one can evade the long arm of the law for long, Bhis was assured.

Bhis slurped hot tea from the saucer and nodded his head. He searched in his pocket and found a ‘bidi' which he lit letting the smoke slowly twirl out of his nostril. "How do you know it's my daughter they saw?" "Description...the description we gave over our police radio. She was even wearing a yellow skirt as you described."

Bhis sat up straight; interest and hope flared in his eyes. Will they bring her here? Will they bring my child to me?"

"Yes once we've picked her up we will bring her and the boy here."

Bhis jerked up and ran swiftly home one hand holding the turban from falling off his head. His wife Gauri was standing in the yard; he ran to her... "I have..." he blurted panting rapidly. "I have..." he started again unable to control his panting. Gauri hurried in to fetch a glass of water whilst Bhis bent over panting and holding his sides. "What happened?" asked Bhola. Bhis stayed bent over panting. He threw out his arm with palm open to tell him to wait. Gauri came with the water and Bhis straightened up. "I have good news..." he got out still panting, "Rukhmoni has been found."

Gauri screamed with delight and loudly thanked the Lord. Bhola grinned open mouthed showing his broken and yellowing teeth.

"Where is my baby?"

"They'll bring her tomorrow - she was found in Banaras."

Neighbors heard the news and came to greet and meet the family.

"Why did she run away?"

"Well, you know teenagers," said Bhis smiling broadly, "she probably went off to get a good job ...leaving her family to grieve after her. We are not going to say much or reprimand her when she is brought back."

They made her favourite dish next morning and waited for her all day. She didn't come that day nor the three days following. All the Police had to say was that the squad was searching the alleyways to apprehend her. On the fifth day the two police Sepahis turned up grinning. They have seized her and the boy they are both in the Banaras Police Station.

The family was delighted. "When are they bringing them?"

"Oh, Bhis Singh will have to go to Banaras to bring them." they said, "the children don't want to come - there is a problem."

"How can they not want to come? What's the problem?"

"Well, it appears some people have turned up claiming that the girl and boy are their children. That's rubbish, of course. They have probably devised a way to get money off you. But the Police there will help you. The couple is claiming the girl and boy are brother and sister."

"What rubbish!" said Bhis, "I'll go now and sort it out - I'll be there before nightfall."

"I'll go with you," said Joginder Singh, "And if Punni makes a fuss I'll twist his ear and slap him right there in front of all."


Suti and Hari were hungry. They had been in the bus all day. They decided to alight at the next stop for a meal. As the bus slowed they saw a crowd milling about on both sides of the road.

"What's happening here?" Suti asked the bus conductor.

"Some sage or godman is visiting and the people are out to greet and meet her."

Suti and Hari descended and made their way to the same stall where Rukhmoni and Punni had eaten a meal some days earlier.

"I am now ready to go back." said Hari, "We will never find your sister this way. We are not even asking anyone if they have seen your sister."

"OK so we'll ask."

When their order was brought over, Suti asked "Have you seen a young girl and boy get off the bus here about a week ago?"

The man looked at them levelly, "About a week ago a revered sage, a Godwoman in the guise of a young girl and her feeble-minded helper got off here. They have been here since and she has done a tremendous amount of good to the entire community around this area. If you want to have an audience, she will be seeing people in about a half hour. You'll be lucky to get close to her. If you do, you could ask her of the people you are looking for. If she hears your question, you will get your answer in your head."


"Why don't you come and sit at the back of the class with me?"

"No, you come up front."

"You don't the back we are sitting right up against the back wall of the class. We could hold hands - no one can see us."

"And you'd like to do that?"

Chandhu looked her steadily in the eye, "I'd like to do more, but in class I'll settle for holding hands."

Jennifer laughed prettily, "Sorry, Bozo, I don't know where your hands have been."

"Is that a No?"

"You bet."

Chandhu blushed heavily as he turned to go to his seat. Was that a brush off or was that a brush off? What's with these rich bitches, did their sex drive fluctuate or what? Stupid cows!

Jennifer felt shame at the way she had treated Chandhu; but what the hell, these guys had to be kept in their place; next they will be asking for...god knows what. She smiled secretively as she thought what they might want next.

Tappan had overheard snatches of the conversation. Most of it was pitched very low and was inaudible a few feet away. But he had heard enough to tickle his curiosity. "Hey, Jennifer,"


"You keen on that bugger?"

"What ‘bugger'?"

"Come off it. You know who."

"What's it to you?"

Touchy, touchy thought Tappan to himself as he dropped the subject. No point getting on her wrong side - her family wielded power and clout.


Suti stood at the back of the crowd. Every time he tried to nudge his way forward he was pushed back. Hari had left to go back to the village; he said he did not want to miss work at the garage tomorrow.

There was a stunted tree at the edge of the compound and Suti climbed this to get a better view. Rukhmoni saw him. She immediately bent low and whispered to Punni who sat behind her.

Punni went to the side of the house and around the crowd to the back of the congregation. He whistled to Suti who was precariously clutching on to a branch. Suti nearly fell with surprise when he saw Punni. He slithered down quickly and went to Punni who told him to wait until the crowd had dissipated and then come to the house and he would be allowed into Rukhmoni's room.

An hour later Rukhmoni curtailed her assembly and returned to her room. Punni and Atul, the tea-stall owner, gathered up all the offerings and took it inside. As usual, Rukhmoni allowed Atul to keep all the sweets and fruits and half the money that was offered to her every day. Atul added a lean-to to his tea-stall where he resold all the fruits and nick-nacks that came in every day. His business was flourishing like never before and the half money that Ma Rumi gave him every day was now more profit than he would acquire in a month. He was very happy and laid his head on Ma Rumi's feet every morning and night.

But there was a whisper going around. Some people doubted that the young girl had any powers, or, for that matter, any spiritual knowledge. They heard the story of that first night over and over again; and the more they heard it, the more cynical they became. Some laughed out loud at the absurdity of their belief in the spiritual powers that were being assigned to the girl.

What sign or what proof have you received from the girl? Just the fact that she screamed that night is proof enough is it?

Suti came just before dark and Punni let him in. He hugged his sister and Rukhmoni held him hard and sobbed into his neck.

"What's the matter, Sister, are you unhappy?"

"Yes, very - I had to run away from home."

"Why did you?"

"It's a long story..."

"Is it because you became pregnant?"

Rukhmoni was shocked that Suti knew. "How do you know?"

"Everybody knows...I mean in our family. But nobody is blaming you. You are forgiven.

Father is out with Punni's father looking for you; Mother is very upset...the whole family is upset because you have run away. How can you bring so much anxiety and worry to the family?"

"I was trying to save the family from humiliating embarrassment."

"The Police is looking for you too. They claim they have located you in Banaras. Anyway, what are you doing here and how have you got a following?"

Rukhmoni related the whole story to Suti who sat up late into the night listening with rapt attention.

"But this is a dangerous game - you will be exposed any day. I heard that the crowd has dwindled in the last two days. They are bound to find out and when they do, their fury will be could be lynched."


After he had helped collect all the offerings that the crowd had left for Ma Rumi, Atul put it all in a bag and shouldered it to the food stall where he put it in a backroom for the time being - he would put it out to display for resale tomorrow.

There was a small crowd that had drifted to the tea stall at the end of the audience for a cup of tea and biscuits. Atul busied himself collecting orders from the customers.

At first he paid no attention, but soon it became evident that the people were discussing Ma Rumi in a disrespectful way. They were referring to her as just Rumi in an offhand manner and that is what drew his attention. He listened more carefully now and joined the discussion.

He noticed there was a small group of people, all out of towners, who were trying to impress upon the others that Ma Rumi was in all likelihood a fake. One who was out to make money. This was dangerous talk and if Ma Rumi was to leave, his source of income would dry up. He therefore made up some small incidents to convince the people that Ma had done a few miracles which he related. But most of the people were not convinced.

Later at night after closing up he decided he would have a little talk with Ma Rumi in the morning and ask her to do a few miracles to convince the crowd. After all didn't all Godmen do a few miracles - produce a ring out of thin air, etc. - to convince the people?


Chandhu went home over the weekend.

"Is Rukhmoni back?"

"No." said his mother. She was cooking breakfast in the kitchen.

"Why has she run away?"

"You should know."

Chandhu thought about that. "You mean she left because of me?"

"Don't get romantic ideas in your head. She left because of the shame you created in her.

Her father found out so to avoid embarrassment she went away." She told him the whole story and brought him up-to-date.

"My god, what happens now?"

"Nothing if we all keep our mouths shut. Your name has not come up as yet. But you are involved by circumstance; you are the only boy she was seeing. But only her family and us know that, and we have to keep it that way. If only you would marry her."

"She has to be found first. Heaven knows what could have happened to her by now...raped, murdered, anything,"

"Well, there is a Godwoman who has suddenly appeared in a village not far from here. They say she knows everything and if you ask her with deep sincerity she will put the answer in your head. I shall ask Bhis Singh to go there...or maybe I'll go there."


Bhis Singh sat hunched on the charpoy and sipped tea from a brass tumbler. Gauri wiped his face with the end of her sari for the fifth time. She was very agitated and restless: "But how could they make such a silly mistake?" she asked in an accusing voice for the third time "I mean couldn't they have made sure before asking you to go all that way for nothing?"

And Bhis explained to her patiently for the third time that such things did happen. After all they had no photograph to certainly identify the girl. They saw a girl of approximately eighteen years roaming the streets with her younger brother and assumed they were the missing pair. The girl was a bit of a dimwit and couldn't tell the Police where she lived. Anyway the Police assumed they were lying.

"So what happens now? Will the Police continue looking for them?"

"Yes, they have assured me they will double their efforts. They have again sent a message to all the police Stations along the road between here and Banaras. I pray to god that no misfortune befalls her or the boy. They are so young and innocent...please God let no ill fortune happen to her." Tears sprang to his eyes as he said those words. Gauri quickly wiped his eyes and face with the end of her sari. She sat down next to him and put her arms around his shoulders as she rocked gently humming a hymn to the Lord.

When Bhola saw his brother, Bhis, walk into the compound alone, he stood up. His expression registered shock to see Rukhmoni was not with him. His eyes bulged and he stopped chewing the pan masala in his mouth- he was going into mild shock for he gathered the news would not be good. His eyes followed his brother. When he heard his brother tell the story to his sister-in-law, his mind went blank. He wandered off towards the fields, one hand scratching his head and the other on his waist. His world had collapsed around him and he was incapable of coherent thought. Bhis knew he would return after a few hours of silent grief. Bhola was not very good at handling adversity.


Suti came back at midnight. He had been out roaming the streets and had picked up snatches of conversation - he was good at eves dropping. In a small town the people talked either of the weather or how the crop was doing. Ma Rumi's arrival had given them a new subject to discuss and what he heard frightened him. Most were expressing some doubt about her genuineness. The ones that were supporting her vehemently were the ones that had run away that night. They were concocting fantastic stories of how she was breathing down their necks from behind even when they were in full flight. One of them said he had seen from the corner of his eye a black figure hovering over the trees. Their stories became more far-fetched with each passing night and no two people told the same tale. People sat huddled listening to these fantastic tales where each of the five tried to out-do each other with their fantasies.

But, there were doubters who accused the five of concocting these fatuous lies so the village folk wouldn't think them to be scared fools. Some were laughing openly on hearing these unbelievable tales. "Nonsense!" they said, "what has Ma Rumi done these many days to show her powers?"

Suti had heard enough and hurried to his sister. He told her they would leave now...this minute. "Hurry up, pack your clothes and leave all the donation money you got on the bed."

"Can't I keep some?"

"No, I have enough money to pay the bus fare back. Leave the money so the people won't accuse you of swindling them. And we'll walk through the fields and only get on to the road two or three miles down so no one will see us. We can then catch the Late Night bus home."


It was lunch break and Jennifer was in a defiant mood. She had been ribbed by her friends (the Richie ones) for being intimate with a ‘Raggie'.

"None of your bloody business." She had told them and stomped off. She went looking for Chandhu and found him in the games room.

"Come here, Chandhu."

"Give me five minutes."

"I'm not giving you any minutes, come now."

Chandhu felt embarrassed and annoyed, but he got up and followed her. He heard the boys snigger.

Jennifer led him into an empty classroom and pushed him up against a wall. She pressed her body against his and kissed him long and hard on the lips. Chandhu pushed his hand into her brassier and caressed her breasts. She felt his hard manhood pushing against her. She broke the embrace and looked up into his eyes.

"Marry me," she said, "I don't care if you have no money, my father has enough to look after the both of us and all our needs."

He smiled, "You're taking the mickey out of me again."

"No I'm not, you idiot, I'm proposing and I'm serious... I want to meet your parents and visit your home. Will you marry me?"


"Are you kidding me? What do you mean by ‘No.'?"

"I mean ‘of course not'."

She looked deep into his eyes - he looked serious. "Why not?"

"Because you're not the type of girl I'd marry. You're not the type of girl that would live in a village. You're not the type of girl my parents would approve of."

This time it was Jennifer who had her mouth open.

"You're serious?"

"I am!"

"Listen to me, fathead..."

"...And you're very rude and completely without any manners."

"O.K listen - if you marry me you'll never have to live in your crummy village nor will you ever have to work through your life. I'm an only child my parents have and everything is already on my name. When I turn 21 I'll be a millionairess."

"Wow! Congrats...enjoy your wealth."

"You won't share it with me?"

"Sorry. No."

"You are going to marry that wench you got pregnant?"

"That's none of your business."

"Are you?"

"Yes, I'll try...if she'll have me."

Jennifer ‘kneed' him hard in the crotch and left as he doubled over with pain.


Gauri was always the first to get out of bed whilst the morning light was still grey and weak. She'd light the kitchen fire and fill the kettle to make tea for all. As always the kitchen would fill with smoke and she would walk out to wait for the smoke to clear and the kettle to boil. This morning was no different and she strolled on to the verandah and dabbed at the water in her eyes from the smoke. She saw Bhola was spread eagled on his back on the charpoy, mouth open and snoring gently. She peered in the grey dawn and saw Suti's charpoy was also occupied.

Could that be Suti? Had he come back sometime in the night and crawled into bed? She went closer and peered at him - it was Suti and she felt comfortable that he had returned safely. She shook him by the shoulder and Suti came awake slowly. He looked at his mother and sat up rubbing his eyes.

"Did you come back last night?"

Suti nodded his head.

"Could you not find Rukhmoni?"

"Of course."

"Of course what?"

"Of course I found Rukhmoni."

Gauri's heart leapt. "Where is she?"

"I'm here, Mother." said Rukhmoni coming out on to the verandah.

Gauri screamed (Bhola almost fell out of his charpoy) and rushed to enfold her daughter to her bosom. Mother and daughter sobbed on each other's shoulder with happiness.

Suddenly the whole household was awake. Father came out hurriedly and grabbed Rukhmoni to his bosom. He ruffled Suti's hair saying, "Well done, my son." Bhola stood half bent peering at all of them. Tears of happiness flowed from his eyes.

By 10 a.m. the entire village knew Rukhmoni was back and they came over to meet and greet the family. Punni too arrived and Rukhmoni pulled him by the hand and took him to her father. "Here is my hero, Father. He stood by me right through." Punni blushed and made little of the praise.

"Where did you both go my daughter?"

"Father, I'll tell you all one day. Let it ride for the time being."

"Well okay Beta, but if you had not come today, I was going to a village five hours bus ride away where they tell me that a Godwoman has appeared and she has answers for all who seek her help."

Rukhmoni avoided her father's eye and Suti and Punni looked fixedly at the ground. My  god, thought Rukhmoni, news does spread fast.


Life settled down to an established routine after that. Harvest season was upon them and preparation for that was well advanced. Crops in those fields that were most ripe would be harvested first. The entire village joined hands to harvest each others' crop and squads of all able bodied men and women went from one side of the village fields to the other. Priority was assigned only on the state of readiness of the crop to be harvested, fields that had crops that could wait a day or two were harvested after a day or two.

Chandhu was allowed ten days leave to help with the harvesting in his village. He arrived the day harvesting started. Men were cutting and women were bundling and stacking the crop.

The women worked behind the men and looked fresh-faced and happy for now there would be food and money throughout the community.

Rukhmoni and her mother bundled for Suti, Punni and her father. All three men worked shoulder-to-shoulder. The women sang a harvest song as they worked and the atmosphere was festive. Rukhmoni looked quite lovely Chandhu saw; her lightheartedness and smile were infectious. Chandhu unobtrusively and slowly worked his way to cut besides that group. He kept looking over his shoulder at Rukhmoni and couldn't keep his eyes off her.

By mid-day he was cutting next to her father and Rukhmoni was ‘bundling' for him too. He looked over his shoulder and smiled at her and she smiled back. Chandhu was working now as happily as he had ever. Why, he thought to himself, was he chasing those girls in school when the jewel in the crown' was right here. She knew him, they had grown up together, and she was educated. How blind had he been? Whatever business he did, she would be an asset.

The harvest was soon over and it was time for festivals and weddings.

Chandhu told his mother that he had changed his mind and that now he wanted to marry Rukhmoni. His mother was reluctant to go to Bhis Sing's house with the proposal. But word spread and all heard of the good news. Bhis heard it too, but he too was reluctant to ask Rukhmoni what she thought.

A day or two later Rukhmoni announced she wanted to get married, but she would get married on the 17th at 7 p.m. and she wanted a very small wedding. Again word spread and Chandhu's household was delighted.

On the 17th at 6 p.m. the groom arrived on horseback followed by a small retinue of followers. The Pundit invited the groom to be seated and the bride soon appeared and sat besides the groom and held his hand.

Promptly at 7 p.m. the Pundit started the wedding procedure by chanting the scriptures.

Promptly at 7 p.m. Chandhu arrived on horseback with a large retinue of guests. He dismounted at the low gate and was shocked to see the wedding already taking place.

Rukhmoni was getting married to her hero: Punni.


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 November 13 2005

Jeff thanks again for your Snippets

An Unequal Encounter

Tasati Tea Estate is a thousand acre plantation that straddles the road from Dalgaon that cuts through it on its way to Alipur Duar. The eastern border of the plantation is demarcated by a winding shallow river, whilst the south-eastern boundary abuts a small thick forest well stocked with pig, deer, and the odd leopard. Being tucked behind a large tea plantation the forest was undiscovered by the local hunters and so retained its stock of wild animals some of which would make their way across a nullah into the plantation. Night-long barking of labour line dogs would warn us of a leopard on the prowl looking to pick up easy prey.

            David Gibbs was the manager of Tasati. A lanky, lose boned individual of few words. He ran a 'tight ship' and expected unquestioned compliance. His piercing look would intimidate most who picked up courage to approach him looking for a favour. If this stare didn't work, David would deploy his next weapon: a short clipped, "Kya mungta hai," said not as a question, but barked out as, "f...k off, you bugger." Should the person be intrepid enough to withstand these intimidations and state what he had come to say, David would bring out his secret weapon...he would pretend deafness, shrug his shoulders and walk away saying, "Nai samajta hai."

When I married, in 1962, I brought my new bride to Tasati and was allotted the lower 'Neel Kothi' bungalow: a compact two bed roomed house with detached kitchen. The bungalow was cited on the eastern boundary of the plantation 200 yards from the meandering sandy banked river. The approach to the river, from the bungalow, led across a short expanse of grass and scrub - which we cleared to create a scenic picnic spot - where my wife and myself would often have our evening tea laid out. The view from the veranda looked across the river to miles of paddy fields stretching way away. Full moon nights were a special treat for the moon seemingly rose from behind the paddy fields lighting up the river which shimmered in the gathering dusk...idyllic settings for a newly wed couple.

A leopard from the forest, during this period, was becoming quite a menace on the plantation. It was picking up dogs and goats at night and to make matters worse, took to lying under the cover of tea bushes during the day, thus disrupting work in that area. It would emit a rattling growl, when the unaware plucking women got too close, causing complete mayhem. The 'pluckers' would scream and rush out on to the road - some would keep running all the way back to the safety of the labour lines.

            When the work force departed for the factory at close of work, the leopard took to roaming the lonely internal plantation roads, as all was now quiet. Its strolls took it past the manager's bungalow where it eyed the manager's fattened dogs. The dogs would, of course, bring the house down with their barking.

            David came up to me a few days later and asked if I could do something about the leopard before it made a meal of his dogs. And so I took to driving around the lonely roads at dusk hoping to meet up with the marauder. And a week later I did. It was an unequal match for the .450-.400 bullet weighing 465 grains, projected at over 2000 ft/per sec. and packing a punch of 4100 ft/lbs/inch, tore into the leopard throwing it clean off its had not stood a chance. David was pleased; his dogs were safe.

The marriage season was upon us and the 'Garden Babu's' daughter was to be married to a boy in the Binaguri area, twenty odd kilometres from Tasati. The 'babu' asked me at work, if the manager would allow the company truck to transport the marriage party to Binaguri on Saturday night and also on the following Sunday when it would not be involved in plantation work. There was no way I could form an opinion on this as it would depend entirely on the mood the manager was in.

            I was present when, at the close of day, the 'Garden babu': (thickset, a ready smile and gleaming teeth) reminded David for the use of the truck for the wedding. David was standing in front of the open plantation safe - a very inopportune moment, I thought, to ask a favour. The conversation went something like this:

            "I spoke to you about the truck, Sir. Can I take it for two nights?"

            "Eh, what's that?"

            "The truck, Sir..."

            "What about the truck, babu? What are you blathering about?"

            "The truck, Sir, for the wedding."

            "What wedding? Speak up, babu!" David was pretending deafness - not an auspicious sign.     

            This went on for the next ten minutes with David pretending complete amnesia as well. He finally accepted that he had been approached about the truck and the conversation now went thus:

            "You can not have the truck for two nights, babu, only one night!"

            The 'babu' scratched his head and thought about this. He'd better take what he was being allowed. The manager was quite capable of doing a complete u-turn and cancelling the sanction altogether.

            "Ok, Sir, but can I have it tonight?" It was a Saturday.

            "No, babu, I told you one night only!"

            "Yes, yes, Sir, but can I get it for tonight?" He pronounced it, 'too night'.

            "No, babu, No, No, No! One night only!"

            "Yes, Sir, I understand, but can I have it for too-night?"

            "You are annoying me now, 'babu'. Go away!"

            He slammed the safe door shut and twisted the key in the lock. I thought I'd better intercede and stepped forward. David turned to me and let his left eyelid drop in a wink. I understood David was having his way of fun. He had reduced his faithful 'garden babu' who had worked with him for a number of years to a nervous, stammering wreck. He strode out of the office, leaving the 'babu' standing stunned, in the middle of his office. I followed David out.

            "Let him have the truck for two nights," he whispered to me and jumped into his jeep and left.

            He was soft hearted, but didn't want to seem a pushover.

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November 7 2005

A Planting Episode

by Jeff Tikari

Tea Planters, in those days, were a wild lot. 'We drink hard and work hard' was what one would hear them say of themselves. And it was true. One was up before 6 o'clock and quite often knocked off after 9 p.m. If ones name happened to be on the roster to help out at night in the factory, then getting home at 2 or 3 a.m was normal. Mind you, most Managers would allow a concession and allow one to report at about 8 a.m the next morning for having worked at night in the factory. At least Alec Hayward did so.

            When I joined Bhogotpore, in March, it was towards the end of the planting season and 'tipping' of the pruned tea had commenced. The factory produced 'Legg cut' teas and so production started as soon as enough tea was collected in the 'chungs' (there was no withering in this system of manufacture). My name was added to the factory roster for night duty so I would learn the ropes quickly and become a productive member of the Managerial Staff.

            At five in the morning, in the darkness before dawn, I would hear Tota driver drive up to my bungalow (in the oldest truck there was on the plantation) to pick me up for 'planting'. I would be up and ready after having finished the last sip from my cup of tea - I would have ample time to do this for I could hear the truck (two kilometres away) groaning and rattling along making its way to my bungalow - I had no transport of my own.

            Daya Sehgal met me at the planting field and tutored me to keep an eye out for any short-cuts the labour might employ to finish early ('dhurmush' the plants thoroughly to ensure no air pockets are left inside, I was told, and ensure the planting lines are poker straight!). It would be years before I learnt that too much 'dhurmush' was bad for the plants and that if a plant was a centimetre out of line, it hardly mattered as every plant grew in its own way and within a few years the tea would cover the entire ground, anyway.

            Daya would, usually, go off to attend other works on the plantation and I would remain to finish off the planting. I would then catch a lift on Tota's trusted steed to the bungalow for breakfast.

            That night it was my turn for factory duty. "Pop in after tea - about sixthirtyish. There isn't much leaf so the factory will close early." I was told.

            I walked down from the outer division bungalow to the factory at about six thirty.

Daya dropped in to give me some confidence and show me the ropes. "You don't have to do anything," he said. "Just the fact that you are here will ensure things get done properly." He then left to go to a nearby plantation for drinks and dinner.

            The green leaf finished before midnight , but by the time the washing and cleaning was completed, it was 2 a.m. I trudged home and, it seemed, had just got into bed when I heard Tota's truck wheezing its way to pick me up for 'planting'. That morning I had to drag myself out of bed - Tota even had to squeeze the rubber bulb horn to hurry me along. Anyway, I consoled myself, I would get a full night's sleep that night as I had no factory duty.

            That day was rough - I was not my sprightly self and by late afternoon it was worse. Around six thirty in the evening when we were preparing to call it a day, Arun Majumdar, the Assistant on the other out garden, Kurthi, approached me to ask of a favour: "Hey, Jeff, could you do my factory duty tonight and I'll do yours day after, please?" I felt I was in no position to refuse any favours to my seniors and readily agreed.

             That night/morning I hit bed at about the same time as on the previous occasion, feeling dead beat. The factory babu had urged me to go home at around 11 P.M. saying no sahibs stayed around all night - but I thought he was trying to get me out of the way so he could steal tea.

            I dreamed that night of the smoke belching steed coming to get me; I dreamt of Tota repeatedly squeezing the rubber bulb horn...but it was blessedly all a was, eventually, the Chowkidar who almost broke the bedroom door down that awakened me with a start.

            Tota had started the truck and was on the point of departing without me. I rushed to the window and hollered," Wait, wait for me." I threw some water on my face and squeezed some toothpaste into my mouth. I took the 'chung' bungalow steps three at a time.

            I realise now how resilient we were at age twenty-one. Though the body needs more rest at that age, we can force it to keep performing almost non-stop. And tiredness and pain are just annoyances.

            By the end of work that evening, I was feeling quite bushed and longingly looking forward to 9-10 hours of blissful sleep.

   was not to be!! Oh, God, fate was tripping me up! I couldn't believe it.

            Daya wiggled a finger at me,

            "Yes, Daya?"

            'Arun and I are invited out to dinner tonight. Would you do my factory duty tonight?"

            "What's the matter, won't you do it?" he asked when he saw me hesitate.

            "No, no...I mean yes, of course I'll do it. I was thinking of something else. You both go ahead; I'll look after the factory."

            I trudged home at 2 A.M. weaving like a drunk - my mind blank.

            The next morning at 'planting' I nearly fell down - I had nodded off standing leaning on a walking stick.

             Daya walked up to me: "Have you been drinking?" He pulled off my dark glasses. "Why are your eyes so red?"

            And I told him everything.

            "You silly bugger, why didn't you tell me?"

            "I didn't want it to sound like I was making an excuse." I said.

            "You bloody fool, take the day off and sleep it off. Don't worry about Alec, I'll cover for you. And you don't have 'Factory Duties' for a week."

            Bye-bye, fire belching steed, you can no longer haunt me.

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October 24 2005


 I arrived at Grassmore airstrip in a Jamair Dakota early in the morning of the thirteenth day of March (that too a Friday!), in the year, 1959. The flight had originated at Dum Dum at three in the morning (what morning - it was pitch dark!) and I was attired in a brown three piece suit (a lot of us arrived wearing three piece suits), having boarded the flight straight after a farewell party (a fair few of us did this too on the eve of departure). I was put in a 'strap-down' seat behind a load of cargo that shifted ominously with every bump.
Earlier I was congratulated roundly by friends in Calcutta for having landed a plum job that paid the princely sum of Rs 650 per month - a large sum, it was considered in those days as starting pay for a youngster.
"Tota" driver, driving a rattley old Ford truck which belched more smoke than a steam locomotive, met me at Grassmore air-field. He kept me waiting an eternity whilst he collected 'cold stores' for the senior staff - I would soon learn what an important lifeline those 'cold stores' from Calcutta were for us.

Daya Sehgal, 'tall, dark and handsome' grinned widely when he saw me alight from the smoke belching truck (it was only later when I had been inducted into and accepted by the bachelor fraternity that I learned what a comical figure I had cut in a three-piece-suit!).
"Take the sahib to the AG Division bungalow." He told the driver.
"I'll pick you up in an hour, when you have settled in." he said to me. "And put on shorts and half-sleeved shirt," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Save the suit for Hogmanay."
Any thoughts of a swanky first-impression evaporated rapidly.
I had schooled in Darjeeling and so did not make any 'arsehole comments' about the tea fields. But the shade trees looked magnificent in their white-washed glory - there were no shade trees on the steeply sloping Darjeeling plantations, but I held my tongue.
That night at the Nagrakata club, I was greeted like a conquering hero by all the Dooars Tea Co. staff. I was overwhelmed - at last I was appreciated for my flair and style! But alas, it was not so. My appointment had removed the anxiety the company executive staff had been suffering under...the rumour was that the Dooars Tea company may be on the 'sale list' and my appointment allayed those fears. Two crushing blows to my ego in twelve hours took away something from the euphoria of landing a plum job at age twenty one.  But I salvaged some of my deserting ego that night by drubbing all and sundry at the billiard table. "You have obviously had a wicked upbringing," commented a senior manager- scuttling the progress I had made with salving my ego.
All youngsters get a certain amount of 'leg pull' on first joining. A senior manager, that night, climbed onto the bar and held a full glass of whisky against the ceiling, "Get me a billiard cue, lad," he said to me; I promptly obliged. "Now see if you can hold the glass pressed tightly against the ceiling with the cue supporting the glass to keep it from slipping," he said.

Gosh, of course I can, I thought to myself, waiting for the next move in the game. Does the 'old fogy' think I can't? The manager hopped off the bar and joined his cronies in conversation at the far end of the bar. I looked around...all seemed to have lost interest in the game - I was left holding the cue supporting the glass tightly against the ceiling twelve feet above me.
"Hey, what do I do next?" I said to Daya who was closest to me. He shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
I had been had! I could see amused looks being thrown my way from the senior manager's end of the bar. You bloody cad, I said to my self - you've been taken! But I was young and agile and a fair cricketer - I could easily catch the glass once I discarded the billiard cue - I would wipe the amused smiles off the faces of the perpetrators - they had chosen the wrong guy - They did not know how facile Jeff Tikari was.
I smiled confidently at the amused onlookers - they would soon be eating crow.
I flung the cue away and very easily caught the descending glass...
But they had won!
I was covered with Scotch whisky which dripped off my hair into my shirt collar and into my eyes.
Loud hoots indicated I was now accepted as a good sport.
Alec Hayward, my manager, big built, bushy eyebrowed, and ruddy complexioned hugged me and I knew I had won approval.

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Snippet Two

Jaldhaka Forest Reserve        by         Jeff Tikari

Bhogotpore Tea Estate in the Nagrakata area is three kilometres from the Jaldhaka forest where I went as often as I could get away from work; my trusted .450/400 rifle always by my side.
           I would pull out the front lower seat of my Ambassador and place it so I could use the front bumper as a backrest. The forest ambience, the sounds of the forest and bird song would soon calm one down. All the irritation and tension of work would flow away.
I would pour coffee from a flask into its screw top plastic cover and settle down with a Wills navy cut cigarette to gaze down the long stretch of forest road.  A samber or spotted deer crossing the road would alert me and I would pull out my binoculars and train it on them. I had a shooting licence which allowed one tiger or leopard, six deers, and an unlimited number of pigs to be shot per annum.
           I often took a pig back to the plantation and distributed it amongst the bungalow staff and friends; keeping a prime cut for myself and trash for the dogs. Loading a pig into the boot of the Ambassador was tricky. If it was a large pig, I would have to drive to the forest village to pick up a couple of men. That way I got known in the village.
            One day a man from the village arrived at the plantation looking for 'Chota Sahib'. A tiger had killed his young bull, he related with pathos in his voice. This was the second animal it had killed the loss of which had destituted him. He would have to hire bullocks to plough his land. He was afraid his milch cow may well appear on the marauders menu next
           My manager, Laurie Ginger (a keen hunter himself), gave me the day off to visit the village and set up a machan over the 'kill'. I took my trusted 'Man Friday' Kusang Lama - a Sherpa from Darjeeling - along to help.|
            We were led to the 'kill' which lay in a thicket and was swamped with blowflies. The tigress (judging from the pug marks) had not eaten much. This was a good sign indicating she would be hungry and may well come early to her 'kill'. On the other hand, if she had been disturbed, she would be very careful and may sit for hours in a nearby thicket to insure all was clear. It was my turn for 'factory duty' that night so I hoped the tigress would come early, hopefully at sundown.
           I supervised the construction of the machan, making sure the leafy branches, used as camouflage, were of the same variety as the tree on which the hide was constructed. No cut marks were showing and all seemed in order. I left with my bearer, telling the villagers I would be back before sunset. 
           I sent a note across to Daya Sehgal, asking him to stand in for me at the factory should I be late. I would ideally have liked to skin the tigress that very night; for the pelt comes off cleaner and easier when the body is still warm. But, unfortunately, I would have to leave it until the early hours of the next morning. I'd best be back in the factory as soon as I could to relieve Daya and let him get home to catch up on sleep. Tomorrow I could wrap the pelt in polythene, cover it with hessian, and send it by Jamair to Calcutta. My brother there could then redirect the parcel to Van Ingen in Mysore
            I checked my rifle, broke open a new case of ammunition, and clamped my five cell torch over the twin barrels adjusting it to shine exactly where the sight was pointing. I strapped my hunting knife to my belt and was ready. Kusang would accompany me and sit behind me. We smeared ourselves with Odomos and headed for the forest.
           We were early and I used the time to get properly acquainted with the setting. Kusang climbed up and let down a rope to winch up the rifle and torch and then to pull up the bag containing coffee, Odomos, etc. I then clambered up and slid into the hide. I practiced throwing the rifle up to my shoulder and checked to see if it was pointing, every time, at the bloated carcass of the bull.
           I had two 465 grain soft nosed bullets resting in the breech of the double barrels; the safety catch was eased off so there would be no click when I wanted to use the weapon and Kusang received last minute instructions: if he heard anything he was to slowly touch my back. All was ready and now we sat waiting.
           We couldn't see the sun which was hidden behind miles of forest. Dusk was gently gathering and throwing a blanket over the trees. Soon the birds had quietened and the flies from the carcass departed after laying their 'maggoty' eggs. The insect chorus tentatively tried a few screechy notes and soon picked up confidence to fill the night silence with their nocturnal mating clamour.
           We waited. A few mosquitoes, with bloodsucking intensions, made power dives at our faces, but left us alone when the Odomos scrambled their smelling powers. Fireflies were out making a flashing entrance into the blackness around us. I have always been mesmerised by their brilliant fire-dance.
            ...I heard a swish - a large body brushing against a bush. I cocked my head and waited...there it was again, quite distinctly. A little later it exhaled - I heard a soft rush of air to my right. It was circling the 'kill'. I would wait. I would wait until it started eating - the sound of its eating and cracking bones would cover any sound I made in getting into position.
            ...There was an explosion of sound...the sound of water falling from a great height. It rent the silence of the tension filled moment. The sound was from behind me. I heard the tigress cough and rush into the forest. What was this sound, had the coffee flask fallen over and disgorged its contents? I switched on the torch.
           Kusang sat with his back to me, peeing onto the undergrowth below. The thought of a tigress so close had unnerved him. I had overlooked taking an empty bottle for just such an emergency!
Jeff Tikari

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August 20 2005
A Puzzling Encounter 
Based on a true story from the tea plantations of South India.
By      Jeff Tikari

Gopinath had always been an awkward lad. He was short and plump and his thick glasses were always slipping off one ear and down his nose. He sweated profusely and usually wore a hassled expression - needless to say he was the butt of all pranks.

Wild elephants were a plenty in the hilly Nilgri region of South India and so driving at night could be hazardous. One was advised to be alert on sharp bends for on the other side one could encounter a herd of elephants - not a pleasant experience when riding a two-wheeler as provided to young assistant managers of tea plantations.

Gopinath heard tales of encounters with elephants; one involved two local villagers on a stormy night. The wind was so strong that the rain was slashing horizontally at the two. They made progress by holding their umbrellas directly in front of their faces, bending low and proceeding like two old men. Suddenly their progress was halted - their umbrellas had encountered an obstruction; they pushed, but the resistance was strong. On lifting their umbrellas they realised the points of their umbrellas were poking the side of a large elephant that was gazing at their antics. The pair was lucky to flee unhurt!

Tall, slim with a ready smile and magnetic charm, Jaswant was everything Gopinath would like to be. Gopinath resented his easy affability and demeanour; he would effortlessly speed past Gopinath on the rough tea plantation roads where Gopinath would have difficulty retaining his balance. In fact all his planter colleagues sped past him regularly, which irked Gopinath and put his pecking order in jeopardy.

One night at a friends party Gopinath confronted Jaswant: "Why do you always speed past me, what pleasure does it give you?" he looked ridiculously belligerent and drunk
"I don't calculatingly drive past you, Gopinath; I ride at my speed and you at yours. You are naturally careful, which I admire, and I am a bit reckless. I would, any day, exchange my reckless ways for your stability."
"Please, have the good manners to not patronise me. All I get are put-downs and platitudes from all and sundry."
"I'm really sorry, Gopinath, I have no intention to patronise you or to put you down. Please understand me; I have nothing at all against you."
Gopinath turned away and stalked off.

That night, after the party, the usual happened: every one sped off in different directions leaving Gopinath to follow. Jaswant lived a few miles beyond Gopinath's plantation and, therefore, the two took the same road. Gopinath did his best to keep up with Jaswant, but Jaswant slowly pulled away. Gopinath followed, concentrating furiously and peering ahead in the beam of his headlight. Suddenly Gopinath saw a red light in the distance. Could it be Jaswant's rear light? Was he, Gopinath, actually catching up to Jaswant? Yes, he decided, it was Jaswant's rear light and he was slowing down. Gopinath was going to roar past him and the thought made his blood rush. He put on a little more speed.

Gopinath was now overtaking Jaswant who had slowed to a crawl. The rush of wind was in his ears. As he passed Jaswant he thought he saw him making some hand actions. Ha, ha! He is trying to stop me. He obviously, cannot accept defeat - a bad sport! These flamboyant chaps are like that: full of themselves. Gopinath looked back over his shoulder, raised his fist in a winner's salute, and jerked it back down shouting, "YES!" into the darkness.
As Gopinath faced forward, he crashed into something soft. He flew over the handle bar and crashed headlong into some more soft substance. He ended up sitting on the road, his glasses askew, and 'cheek to jowl' with a large elephant. In one action and before the elephant could recover, Gopinath had swept up his bike, mounted it, and sped down the road past a stricken Jaswant who was staring agape at what had taken place.
The elephant now recovered its composure, peered down the road, spotted Jaswant, and gave chase. Jaswant cursed, swung his bike around and sped down the road with the elephant in hot pursuit.
  The wind carried Gopinath's loud guffaws across the stillness of the night - round one was to him!

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Good Deed in the Rain

Based on a true story--by Jeff Tikari

  Bobby turned to Edna, "Well, are we going to the club, 
 "In this rain?   
Edna glanced at the window. It was raining steadily and had been raining all day"It's not like we have to walk, you know. My car is quite leak proof."

            Edna caught the sarcasm - she'd better not argue and spoil the evening.  Bobby and Edna were posted on a tea plantation fifteen miles from the club at Mal Bazaar. Saturday club nights were well attended by the planters: there was dancing, a movie and, of course, drinking and merry making
           They had a leisurely tub bath and dressed for the club: she in a red dress that highlighted her auburn hair, and he in white shirt and trousers with a red tie to match his wife's dress. It was a special night at the club.

            'Club attendance will probably be low," said Edna. "This constant rain may put a lot of people off."
 "I don't think so," Bobby retorted. "There isn't much in the way of entertainment in the middle of the season and a club break is always welcomed by all...or, at least by most."
The driver was on leave so Bobby would drive their eight years old black Ford to the club.
 "I hope you won't get too drunk. Remember, you have to drive back on these kutcha roads."
 "Will you stop bickering, woman; we haven't even got out of the gate, and you've started on my drinking."
At the gate they saw a plantation worker standing under an umbrella in the slashing rain. Bobby stopped his car and lowered his window a bit: "Where are you going? he asked.
'Mal Bazaar," was a mumbled reply faintly heard over the drumming of rain drops on the roof. "My in-laws live there."
Bobby looked at Edna, "Shall we give him a lift? The poor soul looks drenched already, and Mal is a long way off."
Bobby stretched and opened the back door. "Hop in." he said.

The man hesitated, unsure of what to do.  "Come on, come on! I haven't got all night. Get inside!" he said sternly and slammed the door after him.
 "I would have thought he would be grateful that we are giving him a lift all the way to his destination in this rain. I may be wrong, but I thought I saw a not too pleased look on his face, the ungrateful bastard!"
 'He probably didn't understand you, darling. He perhaps can't believe that the Burra sahib is giving him a lift in his fancy car."

 Bobby glanced at the rear view mirror, "Just look at the bugger! He is sitting there huddled up and looking sourly as hell! I have a good mind to kick his skinny arse out right here."  An hour later they were at Mal Bazaar. Bobby pulled up and opened the back door from inside.
"You go where you have to go. I and memsahib are going to the club."
The man took his time lowering himself to the road. He looked bewildered and hesitant - like as if he wanted to say something. Bobby was getting impatient:
 "Come on, move it man. Go on Jao, beat it!" And Bobby let the clutch out impatiently.
 "The fellow didn't smell of alcohol, but he must be on drugs! Did you see how uncoordinated he was? Was he imagining I would take him to his house? Stupid idiot!"
 Edna too noticed how reluctant the man was. Perhaps he was on something. "Don't get in a huff, darling, don't let it spoil your mood. We have an enjoyable night ahead of us."

             The club was decorated with streamers and Chinese lanterns; the large Philips speakers were 'belting out' Frank Sinatra's 'Strangers in the Night', and a few had taken to the dance floor. Bobby saw Ron and headed towards him. "What are you drinking, Ron. The first drink is on me."  Bobby drew a lot of laughter relating the story of his Samaritan act.  "I'd suggest you check it out tomorrow." said Ron (a neighbouring plantation Manager). "If he is on drugs, you would do well to 'nip it in the bud' for once it catches on...your labour force will be neutered! This could be serious.
 "No, no," interrupted Bobby. "It's probably all in my mind. The idiot was likely disoriented and in awe of the car ride. Perhaps, he fell asleep and was groggy with sleep."   "Okay, but grill him at the morning bichar on Monday." 'Yeah, I'll do that."
Bobby stood bent over hugging the bar- where was Edna, he looked around and shrugged his shoulders - long as she wasn't hassling him to go home it was fine. He ordered another large Red Label with soda. If Edna was to extricate herself from Larry's embrace, she would see that Bobby was past the slurring stage and had progressed to the 'fixed smile' stage.
 The festivities were slowly winding down and members began to 'head home' in various stages of inebriation.
"Only two fights!" commented Hugh - three fights would elevate the evening to a 'very good night' category.
 "Tony is always in the thick of it - but, did you notice, even Gerry was stroking his hair back and looking belligerent! If Gerry had mucked in...that would be something again - he's an ex commando! God that would be something."

            Bobby decided it was time to negotiate the road home. He carefully stepped out into the rain. Edna kept her peace...he looked pretty sozzled, she thought; anything she said now would start a shouting match in the car; Bobby was likely to claim he was a little under the weather, but sober. Definitely Sober! She knew she would suffer a night of heavy pawing - he wouldn't be up to more - and then a nightlong dose of drunken loud snoring. But she too had enjoyed the night: Larry had danced with her through the night; they had tangoed, waltzed, cha chaed and...held each other tight during a fox-trot, and kissed lip-to-lip in a darkened area of the dance floor.    She was tired now and would love to fold her legs under her on the front seat and fantasize Larry's many charms. But Bobby was lurching all over the road and she would have to keep him awake. She started to sing - Bobby loved that. He loved her clear soprano voice and so she sang elatedly. Bobby glanced around at her appreciatively. He attempted to kiss her - "Keep your eyes on the road, my love, let's get home first".

            Presently the plantation gate loomed up and Edna inwardly thanked the Lord; another five minutes and either Edna's voice would give out or Bobby would slide off the road - his head was starting to nod and his stare through the misting windshield, was becoming glassy.

            After a few jabs of the horn, the Chowkidar tottered out of the gatehouse holding his hand over his eyes to shade them from the headlights. He fumbled with the keys and finally got the gate open.  Also standing outside was a man waiting for the gate to open. Bobby lowered his window and peered at him.   "Isn't this the chap we gave a lift to?" he asked Edna.
"Yes it is." Edna confirmed.
 "Hey, you!" Bobby addressed the man. "What are you doing here? I gave you a lift to Mal Bazaar - weren't you going to visit your in-laws?"

            The man joined his palms in supplication, "Please, Sir," he wailed. "I was with my in-laws for the last two days and walked back today all the way in the rain and reached here when you took me back again. I have walked all night in the rain to get back. Please, Sir, please spare me and let me go home to my wife and children. I'm very tired now."

  Bobby sat stunned. In his bid to do 'good', he had, instead, inflicted so much pain.

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June 27th
An Amusing Anecdote 

                                                --- By Jeff Tikari            

The basics of this story originated in the tea plantations of North Bengal (Dooars) India. Some claim it is true. Whether true or fictitious it is a good yarn. All names are fictitious.

Ajit and Pratap were assistant Managers working on neighbouring tea Plantations. Both were bachelors, which left them with not much to do at the close of day. Their options for the evening were limited: they could drive to the nearest suburban town and watch an outdated Hindi movie (and get bitten raw by bugs - not an appealing prospect), or visit other bachelors and down some pegs of their favourite libation. The best scenario was to be invited to drinks and dinner by a young married couple: a lady brought that certain warmth to the company.

However, those invitations were sadly like the proverbial 'blue moon'. Weekends were fine, for one usually took part in sports at the ‘Planters Club', danced like 'wolves', got slurring drunk and flirted outrageously.

Saturdays were movie nights when one saw an outdated‘English' film and afterwards argued animatedly at the bar. When married planters left with their memsahibs, conversations became more colourful: talents of bachelor friends and their prowess' with the opposite sex were loudly debated, derided or ridiculed, swear words became more the norm than the exception.

Sundays were recuperating and nursing-hangover mornings.

By lunchtime there would be a gathering at the club to down that hair-of-the-dog, usually, with pink gins and beer. The vigorous types would sweat it out on the tennis court or the golf course and 'beer' after. But soon one felt the weekend slip away and it was back home to face the grind at 6 a.m. next morning.

Ajit and Pratap did their normal share of merry making on weekends, it was the evenings after work that were like being marooned on a lonely island. Of the options available to bachelors, Ajit and Pratap chose to add company to the island and so visited each other every second day. The evenings were then pleasant. Ajit had a radiogram and a collection of long playing records, which made it an obvious choice to meet at his bungalow. Pratap would drive across along with his bottle of whisky. The two drank, and argued until dinnertime. Dinner was unerringly ‘Western fare' starting with a soup and going through to a desert. They would end the evening with their usual postprandial peg of sherry and cigars.

This pleasant way of using-up long (otherwise lonely) evenings became routine treasured by both; and if one of them postponed these evening get-togethers, the other would banteringly ask whether the errant partner was finding the present company boring or had found solace in the arms of one of the local bazaar women.
            The planting community looks forward to the onset of ‘cold weather'; the climate then is pleasant and work is at a minimum. All picking of tea leaves is over; the factories are dismantled for the yearly overhaul, and club activities reach their peak. This is the festive season: a season of parties, fetes and club sport championships (tennis, golf and some indoor games). It is a season when planters travel far and wide to other districts to join in the revelries offered. A club-hosted dinner is part of the function. Each club also has its yearly ‘do' then, replete with a live band, to enliven the occasion.

Ajit and Pratap awaited this season of revelry - like parched amphibians do to the onset of the monsoons. Teenage daughters of planters would be back on ‘cold-weather' vacations to liven club evenings. The mood change of the friends was discernable; their banter was easier and lighter and drinking a bit heavier. Their prized bottle of sherry too appeared to take on a joviality of its own, for it emptied its self faster and quicker. This concerned the two friends for the sherry was imported and considerably more expensive than the local whisky. They questioned the night watchman as to how the level of their favourite tipple was dwindling so alarmingly, but he ‘straight facedly' claimed to be a teetotaller. The house bearer too claimed ignorance but admitted that when he did have an occasional drink, it was always ‘local country' hooch - haria
The two young executives were not too happy with the excuses they were being fed by the servants, and over the following weeks hatched a plan to expose the culprit. They conspired to almost finish the sherry that night and fill it up to the half way mark with their own urine. They rubbed their hands in glee in anticipation, for this would surely expose the secret toper.

When next they met they eagerly checked the adulterated bottle of sherry: the level had gone down by a good peg and a half. The friends were stunned. ‘Let's not say anything yet,' they decided. ‘Let us see what happens tomorrow.' The following night the bottle was a further large peg down.
‘Impossible!' said Ajit, ‘do you mean some idiot can't tell the difference between Old Sack sherry and our piss?'

This called for a thorough investigation, the servants were lined up in the sitting room. Questions as to how their cherished sherry was dwindling were getting no answers or admissions.

‘Come on,' bellowed Ajit. ‘Own up or the lot of you will be

sacked from bungalow work and be relegated to field work.' The servants were shaken and nonplussed; they shifted uncomfortably and looked at each other accusingly. The kitchen help quaveringly piped up in a small voice, ‘Sahib, I...I have seen the cook opening the drink cabinet. Perhaps he should be questioned.' The cook was summarily fetched who, like the others, claimed he did not drink.

‘Who then has been drinking my sherry?' Ajit flashed the bottle for all to see. ‘We haven't had a drink from this bottle in the last two nights and yet it is short by two or three large pegs?'

 He glared at them fiercely to hide a chuckle that was rising

in his throat; for who ever admitted to this dastardly felony would soon be writhing on the floor with disgust when he learned he had been drinking his and Pratap's urine.
The gathered employees looked goggle eyed at the offending bottle.

‘But, Sir,' stammered the cook looking bewildered. ‘I...I
mean that is the sherry drink, Sir, a peg of which I put in your honor's soup every night.'

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June 25 2005

                               By Jeff Tikari


The story opens in the late 1950s in the tea areas of North Bengal known as the Dooars. Most plantations had their head quarters in England. A Visiting Director, usually, visited India once a year during the cooler months. His itinerary, normally, required him to visit the Calcutta Managing Agents and then travel upcountry to the plantations where he was put up by senior Managers or the Superintendent.

Indians were being employed in larger numbers at this time as Assistant Managers some whom had made it to the post of Managers and to Superintendents. The social fabric closely followed the British way: clubs, dances, flower-shows and other social activities that reflected the British way of life to which the Indians adapted adequately.

Tea grows and flushes in the humid climate of North East India where rains commence in March/April and strengthen to a monsoon deluge around June and continue to the middle of October when they weaken and give way to the "Cold Weather," - as planters like to call the winter.

This is a time of the year that planters get to enjoy an otherwise humid and oppressive climate. 

The story
Toast, bacon, and fried eggs were laid on the damask covered breakfast table on the spacious veranda that opened to a view of the massive Himalayan range comprising the Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Bhutan ranges. Nitin loved this time of the year: the wet period was over and the 'cold weather' was just beginning to make itself felt. The morning air was crisp and clear and carried the soft aromas of the flowering shrubs lovingly planted around the veranda. A sparrow hawk rode the thermals high above the valley, its plaintive calls carried in the cloudless crystalline air: "Karee! Karee!"

Urmilla, fresh from a hot bath, joined Nitin at the breakfast table. "Hello, darling. Did your morning kamjari go well?" She poured him a cup of tea - recently manufactured in the factory at the bottom of the hill.

"Yeah, I guess," said Nitin looking affectionately at his wife. "The unions are going to agitate about the Puja Bonus...buggers! These union chaps have nothing better to do."

The turbaned, uniformed, house bearer appeared at Nitin's elbow. "There is a call, Saheb, for you from Siliguri."

"From Siliguri?" Nitin repeated a bit annoyed at being disturbed at breakfast. "Yeah, hello! Who is this?"

      "This is Tim Saunders, Nitin. Do you remember me?" 

"Tim Saunders... from the London Board?" asked Nitin, his voice now much subdued.

"Yes, right Nitin. Look, I'm terribly sorry to disturb you like this, but I am in a bit of a fix."

"Yes, Sir, carry on, please tell me how I can help?" Nitin was now almost standing to attention.

"Well, you see...I actually had a few days to spare in Calcutta when somebody suggested a few days at salubrious Darjeeling. Why not? I thought to myself and without further fuss or dithering I got the Calcutta chaps to get me a ticket to Bagdogra from where I'd take a taxi up the hill."

Nitin was still wondering what all this had to do with him -keeping in mind that he was a very junior Manager.  He had heard that a board director was coming out to India, but he was only supposed to visit the head office, straighten out some snags, and then head back to London.

"Well, and so I'm here," continued the director. "That bloody earth quake last night - you probably felt it - has caused a landslide and the road to Darjeeling is blocked."

      Nitin's mind was racing; he almost anticipated, with dread, the directors next words. "I am just wondering Nitin, if it's not too much of a bother, could you possibly put me up for the night."

      Nitin was still finding words to say, but his mind wasn't supplying them. In a flash his mind was looking for alternatives. He had just received his new jeep, so transport problems were out. What? What then? Why couldn't the bugger stay in one of the hotels there in Siliguri?

The director's voice continued, "As you are near Siliguri, I thought you could pick me up and tomorrow morning your driver could drop me back for the afternoon flight to Calcutta? How does that sound?"

"P...p... perfect, Sir! I've just finished breakfast and shall be off in a jiffy. I'll pick you up at the hotel on the main Hill Cart Road."

"What happened, darling?" asked Urmilla, "you look like you've just spoken to the vassals  of misfortune."

"Worse, worse, darling. Tim Saunders..." and Nitin told her

the whole story. She listened and her eyes turned larger with alarm.

"What are we going to do?" she wailed. "We don't have

proper crockery, cutlery or decent curtains in the spare room, and what do I do with all the children's toys and paraphernalia that are strewn across the spare bed room?"

"Bundle it all up, darling, and send it to the Assistant Managers bungalow for the night. And ring up one of our friends and borrow a decent crockery set. I am sorry, darling, but I'll have to rush. I wish I could stay and help organize things, but I shall have to rush and leave every thing to you. Do your best, darling, what else can I say? Send the kids somewhere for the night. See you for dinner."

"English Dinner?" She asked tremulously?

"Yes, of course. What else? Ask Sheila to lend you her cook for just the one meal."

Nitin jumped into the jeep and raced the engine. He looked across and waved to Urmilla. She was already on the phone.

The Director was in a good mood and chatted elatedly with Nitin over a Kingfisher. He mentioned how much he looked forward to these trips to India and how disappointed he was to miss going to Darjeeling. He had even planned a trip to Tiger Hill to view Mt. Everest. "Nitin, I don't wish to sound uncaring or anything like that, but I seem to have this memory lapse. You know, meeting so many people in India one just gets a bit muddled at times. Tell me, Nitin, you are married, aren't you? I feel so stupid asking you this. But I hope you will understand."

"Yes, Sir, I am and I have two daughters: two and five years. You'll meet them all."

             Obviously the director was not supposed to make this halt and meet Nitin and so the head office had not briefed him on Nitin's family.

"I haven't met your wife though, have I?"

"No, Sir, I don't think so. But, as I said, you'll meet her soon."

Of course he had met her, remembered Nitin, during a cocktail party in Calcutta, and the bugger was pissed. He had taken quite a shine to her. But Nitin didn't want to embarrass the director.

"I say, Nitin, I hope I'm not putting you out too much at such short notice, or hardly any notice at all. I don't want to be a pain." The fifth bottle of beer lay slaughtered.

"Not at all, Sir, it is a pleasure." said Nitin, "An honour to have you with us. I shall be the envy of all Company Managers."

"Well, I don't know about that. But just a quiet night and I will be away first thing tomorrow morning. Sorry to impose on you like this."

`           "No impositions at all, Sir. Don't embarrass me. We've arranged a little party for you, just our close friends."

 Nitin realized he had got carried away. What party? He was even dreading putting up the Director.

"Hey, that's pretty capital of you. But have you really?"

"Of course, Sir, nothing elaborate, just the people around".

Gosh! What am I saying? What am I doing? What party? I am pissed! I'd better ring Urmi and tell her. She'll kill me. O' God! What's wrong with me? But how do I get out of this?

"Hey, Urmi," said Nitin over the phone, "this chap is expecting a party. He's bloody mad! But what can we do? Do you think you might be able to get a few friends together? You think some of the senior blokes may condescend to come across? Urmi, I'm drunk. I told him we are having a party for him, anyway, if that doesn't happen I am sacked for flibbing." he slurred.

And as happens so frequently in that area, the phone went dead.

Nitin was apprehensive on the drive back. What questions would the Director ask him? Would Nitin have the answers? Tim had just visited Calcutta where he was looking at figures and assessing performances. Nitin would have to know the right answers; there was no way he could bluff his way through.

"So, what was the crop like? Were you happy with it?" Here it comes, thought Nitin. "Yes, Sir, I was happy with the ‘out-turn'. It was almost an all-time record crop."

"Yes, your plantation did better than the others."

      And that was it. No more was said about the plantation throughout the trip.

It was dark by the time Nitin turned into the bungalow. The lights were ablaze and quite a few cars were parked on the lawn. Nitin's heart gave a leap. Urmi had done it...thank God! He had saved face. And then his eyes opened wide: coming down the steps was the Visiting Director of the neighbouring Estate. How had Urmi managed this? The woman was a miracle worker.

The evening was a blur of dancing and drinking. The Visiting Director and Tim Saunders were old friends and were thrilled to meet up again. Drinks flowed - where had it all come from? Dinner turned up trumps: a five- course serving ending with cheese, cream crackers and coffee.

Nitin walked around in a daze. The house looked different: the crockery; the cutlery; the beautiful tablecloth; the decoration pieces; the table lamps. Where had it all come from? He kept shaking his head in wonderment. He hadn't realized Urmilla had such organizational talents. "Wonderful, darling, wonderful." he kept whispering every time he came close to Urmilla.

Finally it was time for the guests to leave. Everybody was in a jolly mood. Urmilla and Nitin were thanked profusely. Nitin's hand was pumped by all. "Damned good show, I say."

The driver took Tim Saunders to the Airport next morning. Before leaving, Tim gave Nitin a little present as a token of his appreciation: a Mont Blanc. Life settled down to its normal pace after that. Urmilla was kept busy writing thank you notes to all who had so generously helped-out to make the evening memorable.

On the eleventh day after the departure of the Director, a heavily sealed envelope arrived for Nitin. With curious apprehension Nitin ripped open the envelope.

"My Dear Nitin:

The Board of Directors is pleased to offer you the post of Visiting Agent for the Bengal & Upper Assam Tea Co. Ltd. The incumbency is vacant as of date and requires your confirmation of acceptance.

Your' Terms & Conditions' is attached as Annexure No. 1. You will notice it offers a substantial elevation in you employment status and emoluments.

I will take this opportunity to congratulate you personally. I am very impressed with your organizational abilities and enthusiasm and hope you will infuse this energy into the day-to day working of the company.

Please convey to Urmilla my heart felt thanks for a very enjoyable stay on your plantation."

The letter was signed, Sincerely, Tim Saunders.

 Nitin was dazed: "My God! Just looking after a Board Director could do such wonders"? He wanted to immediately ring all his friends and tell them the good news. But he waited. He allowed time to let the news sink in. He did an assessment of his performance as a Manager against the other company Managers. His plantation had certainly picked up since he had taken over. A straight out comparison of his personal achievements against those of the others would well nigh be impossible for Nitin rightly realized that in his mind there would be a natural bias in his favour.

He mulled over the contents of the letter and the offer all day. The office staff noticed his preoccupation and as the day wore on, his expression became grimmer. By evening when it was time to break off, Nitin wore a stern and determined look

That evening, after a steaming bath and whilst sipping his first peg of whisky, he pulled the letter out of his pocket and offered it to his wife. "What do you think of this, darling?" She unfolded the letter with a little frown. As she read the letter her frown changed to wonderment and then to plain delight. She looked up from the letter with a huge smile.

"Why? That's fantastic, darling. Yipeee! Gosh how lucky!" She studied his face again. "Hey, what's the matter? Why are you so serious? Why aren't you jumping with joy?"

He caught her by the arm and sat her down on the settee. "Listen to me carefully, darling... I can't accept this position."

"Oh, I see...and why ever not?" she looked at him in bewilderment. "For Heaven's sake, why not? Tell me. I don't understand."

"OK, listen: Tim Saunders was here a fortnight ago. Yes?"

"Yeah, yeah, so?" she looked perplexed.

"And he was very impressed with the party. Yes?"

"So was every body else. So what then? Come on give it to

me quick."

"He said the party was very well organized. No?" Urmi nodded her head, "Yes!"

"Well, he thinks I organized it and he is judging my organizational skills by the smoothly organized party. Well, I will have to tell him who really did it. That it was you and you alone. You need the kudos not me. I can't let him promote me under a false premise."

Urmilla felt her anger rising. "So what was all that crap you have been feeding me that you got the highest crop per hectare in the company?"

 "That was no crap."

"And that bull about you getting the highest price for your teas."

"Hey, easy. That's no bull." Nitin was on the defensive.

"So are you telling me that to pull a plantation to the top position in the company doesn't require skill and organizing? Is that what you are saying?"

"No, no, don't get me wrong. Of course it requires skill and organizing." Nitin conceded. "But all that considered I fear it was the party that really, really tilted the balance in my favour."

"I spite of there being no mention of the party in the letter? So what do you intend doing?"

"I have thought about it all day and have considered it from all angles. I'm afraid I shall have to regretfully decline the offer and continue as a lowly junior Manager." Nitin produced a little half chuckle.

Urmilla looked into his eyes. "I'll say this once, Nitin, and you'd better hear me good. There are deeper issues involved here than the simple declining of an offer. My advice will be final and binding. Do you accept? "

"Yeah, o.k. shoot. I'm all ears." Nitin saw the seriousness in Urmilla's demeanour.

"Take the offer, Nitin, for I am not going to accept this voluntary subjugation of your EGO in my stead. This misplaced martyrdom will become the caning stick that will hang over my head for all time to come and will destroy our relationship. I can not and will not have that!"

Nitin could see the rationale in Urmilla's assessment. He slowly nodded his head.

 "Okay Urmilla." he said. "You win, and I suppose you are right-I needed your assessment"."

Urmilla smiled and offered her hand, "Congratulations Mr. Visiting Agent."

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June 24 2005


A true story from Bunum Wo plantation in Papua New Guinea

After a tiring day's work, I relaxed on the verandah of my bungalow with a peg of my favorite libation: bourbon. It was evening and the air carried the smell of magnolias and the subtle aroma of the nearby tea fields.  I took a long deep breath and gazed languidly at the reddening sunset. The roosting sounds of the birds chirping in the trees around the bungalow soothed the tiredness of an arduous day. Night was gathering and gently closing the day.

Life of a Planter involves mainly outdoor work: looking after and supervising the tending of acres and acres of tea and coffee fields. The tea picking labour in Papua New Guinea comprises mostly casual labour: short stocky men, physically muscular; the women: stogy and strong. Very simple people, but an inherent violence runs through their buildup and apparently imbues in them a senseless destructive trait. Tribal warfare, I supposed, had colored their basic attitudes in life. Amongst their arsenal of weapons of warfare, fire played a major role of incineration and destruction.

Hearing the deep resonant notes of an owl, I stepped to the verandah's edge and looked up into the branches of a Casuarina tree. I espied a ‘Brown Owl', bobbing its head and looking around with its large gray and yellow eyes, hooting a deep, ‘Hoo, hoo'...some people consider the hooting of an owl at sunset inauspicious.

"Shoo it away!" said my wife coming on to the verandah from within. "It brings bad luck!"  

I turned around and smiled at her "You don't believe that, do you?" But she wasn't looking at me, her eyes were widening with alarm and confusion.

 "What is it?" I asked, seeing her agitation. She pointed into the distance, "look!" she said. "What is that flame?"  I turned around and stared horrified. The fire appeared to be within the boundary of the plantation; I judged the plantation ‘Trade Store' was on fire.

I jumped into my car and raced down to investigate. By the time I neared the store, the canned preserves in the store started to explode like muffled bombs. Soon the air was heavy with the smell of roasting meat preserves and tinned fish. I had to stop at some distance: the exploding cans could be dangerous.

On investigation, the following turn of events was narrated to me: after work in the field, a group of labourers decided to have a little ‘get together'. They lit a bonfire and sat around it in family groups, singing and passing cans of San Miguel around from mouth to mouth. Just after twilight, a band of men approached the revelers; they were travelers, they said, and had come across to warm themselves before proceeding to Kimel, a plantation a few kilometers down the road. The visitors were made welcome and beer was passed to them as well.

Soon, thereafter, one of the visitors picked up a burning stave off the fire and threatened the store keeper asking him to open the store to them. The store keeper refused and a scuffle ensued. Out of sheer cussedness the intruders set fire to the store and decamped.

I was aghast at the sheer pointlessness of the destruction. No one had gained by this wanton action. My wife's warning lurked at the back of my mind.

Had the hooting of an innocent owl foretold the fiery end of the Trade Store? Or was the beautiful, but fiery sunset an omen?

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June 21 2005

 Surge of Blood    

A story based in the tea plantations of Assam, India

By Jeff Tikari


The setting of this story is loosely placed around the early 1950s in an area of eastern India - the Tea Plantations. ‘Perks' to the executive staff included a large retinue of servants who looked after their needs and maintained the company bungalows. The executive staff consisted mainly of English and Scottish planters, many of whose family lived at ‘Home' in the UK. The expatriate staff, however, was, at that period, being largely replaced with Indians

 The story
I rang the bell again - a long sustained angry ringing; the kind of ringing that would tell the house bearer that I was now getting impatient and annoyed and that he'd better drop anything he was doing and hurry to my bidding - in my senior years I was becoming demanding and, I suppose, crotchety.

            No one answered. No body came. I swung my legs to the floor and padded down to the pantry in my stockings... not a soul there - only the stale smells of a pantry. Where were they all? This was unusual, the house bearer knew the routine, at 3 pm it was my teatime: a cup of tea before I left for work again. I am a stickler for time.

            I looked out the grimy kitchen window - no body. There was a woman washing at the tube well. I shouted asking where everybody was; not realizing that the glassed outer window was shut and the woman could not hear me. I was getting annoyed. I put my hand through the window grill and undid the latch... the woman stood up  - she was topless... her figure was stunning! I stood there with my blood surging. Her wet flimsy white underskirt outlined her young voluptuous body in tantalizing detail. God! I gasped.

            I heard footsteps and the girl covered herself. Someone was coming. I saw the bearer come around the corner heading for the kitchen. I quickly tiptoed upstairs and got into bed.

            Though it was not common, some single Managers discreetly keep a young concubine. I was divorced, childless, and lonely. A young thing like that could get my juices flowing again - perhaps cure my creeping arthritis as well. I scratched my head thinking: they would likely call me a ‘dirty o'l man'. Those Managers that were keeping local women would look pleased and would smile conspiratorially. They would likely assure me that, "It is only but natural; nothing to feel guilty about, o'l chap."

I saw her a few times after that, but not at the pump - even though I crept down some afternoons hoping to catch her bathing. I took to roaming the back vegetable garden which was adjacent to the cook, bearer, and night watchmen's houses, and that way ran into her a few times. She would join her palms and say Namaste and not much else. I discovered she was the night watchman's daughter, come to visit from her village.
            My constant preoccupation with her memory was emptying my mind of all else - the fever was progressing relentlessly. I brought the subject up one evening at the club with a Scottish planter. I had had a few to drink and was in a ‘devil-may-care' mood.

            "Hey, Malcolm," I said, "I'd like to discuss something with you's rather delicate and you may not want to speak about it. But unless I broach the subject I won't know whether you will talk about it or not..."  "Stop blathering, mate, get on with it. If I don't like it, I'll tell you.  "It's about a woman... I want to keep. I ‘m wary, though, of what others will say. I just don't know how to go about it."
 "Well, as long as it is not my woman you want to take over..."
"Don't be an ass, Malcolm. I'm serious.
  "If you are serious and determined and have your tongue hanging out...(I didn't care much for that simile)... install her in your bungalow and be done with it. For Christ's sake don't worry about what people will say. They say a lot about every one ...some people just love poking their nose into other's business. You think I was worried about what people would say when I kept a local girl.  "Yeah, but I am Indian!"

            "So look around, matey, fifty percent of the Indians here who are not married have a mistress. You wouldn't know, but my woman tells me these things."

            A month skipped by. I was kept very busy during the heavy tea-flushing season. At the back of my mind I knew I would like to tackle the girl, Malti, before she left to go back to her village. She would likely stay put during the main monsoon season, for she lived up in the Naga Hills area and the road was prone to landslides.

            I got my chance, luck, break...or whatever, the following week. It was market day and there was no one around the bungalow. I saw Malti making her way to the rear houses through a side gate. I hurried and intercepted her. She had got used to talking to me now and wouldn't clam-up on me  "Where have you been?" I asked  "To the market." A naughty smile curving her lips. "And what did you buy?" My heart is beginning to thump. She showed me hair clips for her silky long black hair - naughty smile, again. "I saw you bathing at the tube well when you first arrived." Thump, thump, thump! She looked at me with wide unblinking eyes -
"You were not wearing anything on top and I saw your breasts... they are beautiful." Choking with thump, thump She blushed heavily and attempted to run away. But I had a hold of her hand. "I want you to live with me - will you?" Blink, blink, blink in anticipation. "In the big house?" she asks. So sweet, I tell you! "Yes. I'll keep you like a memsahib." Ahem!  "Like the British sahibs keep their women?" Looks up, all innocence."Yes. And when you learn some English you can come with me to the club." That should swing it. She clung on to my hand - she had entered a dream world in her mind.

Malti was a happy soul:  In six months she had transformed my lonely life to one filled with laughter, gaiety, fun. She loved parties and I began calling some friends to my bungalow. And to give her some young company, I invited younger people too. Malti loved parties and her whole demeanor would change: she would flit around untiringly, picking up empty glasses, emptying out ashtrays, helping guests in any way she could, smiling coquettishly ... all liked her...adored her.
I was promoted to Group Manager - a feather in my cap! Only, it kept me away from Malti, at times for days. And I missed her, missed her fussing and missed her endearing ways. I longed for her hungrily. She was a breath of freshness in my stogy life. I felt younger, her enthusiasm was catching, and it's true; I swear to God, my arthritis was almost gone!

I decided I would live my life with her. I would buy property in this area and live my happiness forever!I looked for property - I had enough money stashed away, I could buy a small tea plantation - that would keep me occupied and give her something to do.

There was a crisis: an Assistant Manager had been murdered on one of our plantations - my presence was required. Malti was desolate; she was worried for my safety. We had a tearful parting - she did Puja and put a vermilion mark on my forehead. She cried inconsolably. I was torn in her love: please God look after her and me; she will not be able to live without me nor I without her.

It took ten days to sort out the trouble. The union and Management worked out a grudging solution. Tea picking had started again and I was able to leave. I was strained and tired and looked forward to being in Malti's consoling, caring embrace.

She came rushing down the steps to meet me. Her smile was effulgent; she looked even more beautiful than before. I could feel my body relaxing already. Her incessant chatter soothed my tension.

Later, lying on my back in bed smoking and stroking her hair, I commented that she was putting on a bit of weight. I didn't want her to become fat and ungainly. I liked her the way she was: slim and nymphet like. She giggled deliciously and snuggled up to me - she put the tip of her nose in my ear and whispered, "I'm pregnant."

That was six months ago.

Malti complains that I work too hard, that I come back very late. She complains that I drink too much and spend evenings with friends returning very drunk. I snore heavily, she complains and she has noticed that I am in pain a lot, "Your arthritis has flared up. You'd better see a doctor."
Malti was big in her pregnancy - her time was almost up. I had arranged that she would go back to her mother and have the baby. I would give her enough money to take care of all expenses.
Malti left on a gray rainy morning. I began hastily to pack my personal belongings. I will leave within the week. I had resigned and the company had given me an early release. I am going to an undisclosed destination.

You see I am one of those rare people whose sperm count is zero

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