Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Part 9 of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story based in India.


                                                       THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 9)

Now my journalistic story on Neela Ghosh was getting rather complicated. First, she herself seemed to be so other-worldly and now, in addition, she was even associated with a fakir who was far from ordinary. I was not sure how I would present the story in the newspaper and prevent it from appearing like a fairy tale. Of course it would take weeks, or months, before I c
ould get to the truth of the tale. I would adorn the role of a researcher till I got to know more about the woman. I decided to write on her under the caption of “The Starched Woman” because she always looked stiff and straight and she was all skin and bones. She never looked this side or that and went straight ahead, unbothered about what was going on around her. Her looks focused on something in front of her, beyond the here and now. She was unaffected by the cows, the dogs, the goats or the speeding vehicles on the road. It was a miracle that she never had an accident. Or, if she did that it remained unnoticed by others. People seemed as indifferent to her as she was towards them. She seemed to have reached a state in which nothing mattered. She had no desire to do anything else apart from going on her mysterious evening walk and her morning drive to the children’s school. Even in her car she looked straight ahead in her typically starched manner.

I was getting frustrated at not being able to follow her unnoticed to the place where, according to the fakir, she would go to meet her dead son. I was then struck by an idea. Instead of following her, I should reach that place ahead of her and wait for her to turn up there. I could then see what she did every day in the mysterious wooded patch. This was probably a better plan of action for me. Of course whether this could succeed still remained a mystery.
The next evening I reached the little forest in which this woman would enter daily. It had a narrow path leading straight into the wooded area. There, in the middle, was a clearing around a tall but slim peepal tree. I found this an apt place for me to sit and wait for the starched woman. Before two minutes could elapse I heard the sound of leaves rustling and thought someone was coming that way. But then the sound became louder and was accompanied by an eerie trembling voice that was difficult to decipher. I thought it was a male voice that had been muffled and brought to the pitch of a female’s. Then a monkey that had been sitting on the peepal tree suddenly made a strange sound that frightened me. I looked upward and found a great deal of commotion in the branches of the tree. Something was disturbing the monkey but what that was I could only guess. Then a huge bull came charging towards me. I had to instinctively move out of its way and I escaped its attacked very narrowly. At this point two dogs began to whine and cry out almost in a human way. The scene was getting very inauspicious and things didn’t seem to be boding well at all. Then the huge monkey came down on the ground with a loud thud and sat very close to me. It smiled at me, its big teeth showing, in an ominous way and I decided to run back the way I had come. For the first minute or so I felt that the monkey was chasing me but then that feeling diminished as I reached the boarder of the wooded land. There I found the woman standing. For the first time I saw some expression in her eyes. She was looking at me furiously, as though I had entered her territory or violated her peace. I was not in the right frame of mind to talk to her and so just kept moving. I left the place as my confidence was shattered. I had made an ass of myself. What an idiot I was, I thought, to have entered an unknown place like that, and without another living presence to assist me.

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