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Sunday, 23 September 2012

THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 3)

Part three of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story set in India.
Blog on, Dudes!

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                                                        THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 3) 

Her ancient looking Fiat had the same story to tell. Its paint had given way to rust. She drove children to school in the noisy car with holes in its rare end. The mudguard hung loosely from one point and the faded number plate suggested that the car was normally not used after the wee hours of the morning when she could be stopped and fined by prying inspectors. Only 
three or four children went to school with her whose parents could bring them back on their own in the afternoons. These children were small enough not to get scared by her manner. The older ones knew that she wasn’t the right person to be with; her scary silence disturbed them. In the evenings, around sunset, she walked alone always going in one direction and then returning after an hour or so. Some had seen her enter a little wooded patch which housed a mazaar in which someone lay buried for centuries. It was said she sat there trying to comb through ions of time. Neela Ghosh was indeed unsocial. She kept company with the departed, having lost interest in those alive.
If you once develop interest in the world of the dead, then you can get so engrossed in it that then the living world fades into insignificance. Neela was a good example of this. When she married Parimal Ghosh she was still a woman of the world, with interest in everyone who lived and died but something happened at some point in her life which made her indifferent to the living. When I came here as a journalist, in the southern part of Kolkata, I couldn’t help noticing the unique existence of Neela Ghosh. I had begun to wait daily in my Alipore flat balcony to see her pass from there and at times even tried to follow her for some distance. I once tried to stop her to interview her but she walked on looking quite through me as though she had not heard or seen me. She just wouldn’t allow you to interrogate her. She had hardened both from inside and externally. Her face seemed to be made of an off-white wax. Her hair was much like a grey nylon wig that was not properly combed.
Then I was told that she was the widow of the late Parimal Babu, the factory manager of Darshan Tiles. This information provided me with interest in Darshan Tiles. That very day, I found myself in the New Alipore factory campus trying to discover something about Parimal Babu and his widow. People are generally hesitant to talk about their colleagues to journalists because they can always be blamed for spilling the beans. For days I got no reply from the workers and the executives at the factory. But I was determined that I would continue my effort as I was certain that someday someone would come up and speak to me. Then one day I saw a woman bring in some food for a man who seemed to be her husband. The man was one of the gardeners of the factory compound. He took the food from her and said something to her pointing towards me. The wife looked at me with interest and then came to me. She wanted to tell me something but was not opening up easily. At length she began to speak.
‘We are poor people,’ she said at length. ‘For a little money we can pass on important information. My son’s school fees have not been paid.’
I knew this was the woman who would help me get my first clues for the big story I was planning.

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