- A short Story -
Randhir Kumar Yendrembam *
The local Community hall was ready for inauguration on that day with a public meeting of the locality also being organized there as a part of the occasion. Merajao also attended the meeting. In the meeting speakers after speakers shared their views for the development of the locality, love and harmony in the locality, the need for sharing each other's needs. The surrounding atmosphere of that day was filled with the scent of beautiful words. Merajao was very happy because beyond his expectation he could observe those good thoughts and ideas enshrined in the hearts of his neighbors. It was indeed a good sign of development and it makes his heart glow up. Even he put a few words on such ideas and thoughts as suggestion or opinion.
A grand feast with different items was also arranged as a part of the inaugural function of the community hall. On other days the taste of the food might have been thought be so bad but on that day, each item of food tasted to be delicious and though the cooks were new in the field they received applause as all the participants were so friendly.
After that luxurious feast, Merajao wanted to take a quick nap at his home. So, he slipped out of the hall quietly while the meeting was still going on. As he stepped out from the gathering and came on the road, a bus came and halted near him. Though his home was only a walking distance from the premises of the meeting, Merajao did not miss the chance and boarded the bus. When he reached near his gate, he got down from the bus with a yawn which is a prelude to his longing for a nap. But the prelude collapsed when a gust of warm wind brought to his nose the smell of a rotten flesh of a dead animal or so. Merajao felt as if the whole item of delicious items which he stored in his stomach a few hours ago came out in his mouth.
When Merajao entered the gate of his home, his wife Tanoubi who was drying the clothes in the courtyard approached him hurriedly with large steps.
Merajao felt surprise.
- What's the matter?
-Ta Tomcha's dog had brought a rotten cat and dropped it here near our house. The smell was so nauseating that all of us couldn't take dinner." She narrated the episode with her hand blocking her nose in distorted face.
- Yes, it smells rotten.
-Your sons have also gone away entrusting the task of burying the rotten cat to you.
-Such feeble minds, they have.
-It doesn't matter now, you have to bury it.
The topic of the discussion brought Merajao the necessity of digging the earth with a spade and he had lost his spade 3 days ago.
- Then I've….
-I have to ask for the spade of Ta Kanhai.
Merajao didn't change his dress when he went out.
-No further chatting, come soon.
A few minutes ago, Marajo wanted a quick nap for which he made lame excuses which reddened his face in the meeting place. Now when he arrived at home, the stench of the rotten cat rubbed away entirely the sleep from his eyes.
Merajao stood at the courtyard of Kanhai.
The Kanhai's wife appeared at the door.
-Iteima, is Ta Kanhai in ?
-He left for the meeting.
-Then, please lend me a spade in his absence.
-I don't know where the spade is, you better ask him when he comes back.
No sooner did Merajao turn his back and on his heels, then Kanhai came out of the door cleaning his teeth with a toothpick.
Merajao and Kanhai are neighbors. They grew up in the same environment. In their childhood they enjoyed together in bathing naked in the river, in plucking berries in the wild. Both roamed through the nearby bushes with catapults in their hands in search of birds. How happy the days were for Merajao to be in kanhai's company. That memory is still lingering in Merajao's mind even today. But his wife told him lies for not lending a spade and Kanhai hid himself inside his house.
Merajao, next, visited the house of Tomcha, opened the gate and stood at the courtyard like before.
-Ho Ibai. Is Ibai Tomcha in?
- Merajao, what is the matter?
-Ibai, let me borrow your spade for a while.
-I haven't any spade Merajao.
Merajao still vividly saw Tomcha's twisted muscular arms, his broad sun-burnt shoulder blades raising a spade to prepare the beds of his garden yesterday. But what could helpless Merajao do as the reply was negative.
-Ah, Merajao, Ta Sajou has three spades, you better ask him.
-Okay, I'll go and ask him for it.
Merajao even thought that the spade which Tomcha used yesterday might have been borrowed from Sajou and had returned it already and his kind heart recommended him to do the same. From the loud speakers from top of the community hall, Merajao knew that the post-lunch session of the meeting had started.
Merajao had a great respect for Sajou. He respected him to be an honest man who was always associated with any activity for the welfare of the society. Merajao heard the beautiful speech of Sajou in the meeting. At the same time he knew that Sajou also slipped away quietly from the meeting after the feast like he did.
When Merajao repeated the same request to Sajou, the latter replied promptly, "Merajao, even I am just thinking of asking you for a spade as well". Merajao stood silent. He even felt quite satisfied with the idea that someone had also wished to ask him for something. But immediately Merajao saw a spade with a new handle leaning against the wall of Sajou's out-house. For a while, he thought of coming back and asked Sajou for that spade. But he changed his mind as Sajou had already told him that he had no spade.
Merajao just remembered that in the last Panchayat Election he did not give his postal ballot to Sajou for which Sajou had an ill-feeling towards him since.
With this thought in his mind Merajao arrived at the threshold of Meino and asked him for a spade. Before Meino uttered even a single word his wife snatched the reply from her husband, "Merajao, our spade has lost its handle and not fit for use." Meino gave no further comment on the subject as his spokesperson had already explained the matter clearly. Merajao saw a spade lying near the garden. Merajao did not believe his eyes. He rubbed his eyes for a better look; yes, it was, of course, a spade. As he was walking away from Meino's, he slightly turned back and through the corner of his eyes saw Meino hurriedly going into the room with the spade. Merajao acted as if he saw nothing.
At last, Merajao stood at the courtyard of Toijam Samden. Wiping out the sweat from his face with a handkerchief, he called aloud,
-Khura, please lend me your spade.
-Merajao, someone had borrowed my spade and did not return it as it had been lost.
Merajao left but he did not fail to hear the words of Samden's grandson –"Pupu, our spade is still here". Samden gave a hoarse rebuke to the boy and the boy kept silent.
As his search for a spade turned out to be repeating the same question for the same answer, he did not want to ask any more. Many images appeared before his eyes. He saw many layers of barbed wires putting up fences distancing every one and all. He saw the barbs grew sharper and sharper and within the fences Merajao saw each man having the same ugly face. He had lost his hope of finding a spade from his big locality.
A bus bound for Imphal came. Merajao raised his hand automatically to signal a halt. The bus stopped and Merajao boarded it quickly. By the time Merajao returned home, the sun with its purple rays was almost half-hidden behind the western hills. He carried a black polythene bag in his hand. When he reached his own courtyard, his wife Tanoubi came quickly with a frowning look and rained her angry words over Merajao.
-Where have you been for so long? You are just like a naughty boy, an unbridled horse.
Instead of giving any reply, Merajao handed the polythene bag to his wife. Tanoubi got puzzled. She took the bag from her husband and put her hand inside it. She took out a new unsharpened spade from inside it.
-Where did you bring it from?
-Why have you bought a spade for a small deed? You can borrow it from someone else?
Merajao did not give the exact answer but said, "Tanoubi, let's fix a handle to our new spade and bury the dead rotten cat with it."
-Darling, that stinking carcass had been removed by Ta-Tomcha's dog and dumped it in their kitchen. Ta-Tomcha had no other way but to bury the dead cat with his own spade and he did it.
-Okay, then with whose spade?
Merajao looked beyond his garden with a sigh. In the last rays of the setting sun he saw Tomcha on the way back to his home wearing a kokshet (cloth worn around head) and bearing a spade on his shoulders. He was returning from his paddy field then.
He also heard the secretary of the club conclude the day's meeting with the permission of the president.
(Translated from original short story in Manipuri into English by Oinam Anand)
* Randhir Kumar Yendrembam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on August 08 2014
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