The mystery that Chandu had unveiled in the morning was propelling me towards the door. But the Sun was burning hot and mummy had been accusing us and our notoriety for the June heat. Just the previous day they were discussing something pertaining to Radha Aunty, who usually wore scarlet lipsticks on her dark face, but had suddenly started to grow white on hands and feet. Chandu and I were unanimous that she had got a cosmetic tip from Roosi (Russian) Bhabhi and in a few days she will be as white as her daughter in law. But the gossips insinuated something I could not fathom except Dadi (Grandma) insisting "paap (sins) of children have to be borne by their innocent parents." Mummy was looking outside the window and I bet she was worried at the fact that I was committing some paap. She repeatedly avowed that the rate at which I was going, I would certainly end up becoming a Gunda (Rogue). But papa had reflected that I will be an engineer and I spent that night reciting e-n-g-i-n double-e-r- engineer. My own ideas of being-what were confused varying from signboard painter, to gardener through carpenter.
But the desire was desperate. Sneaking under mummy's thoughtful eyes, I stood on the gate only for a moment to declare in a loud vent
“Mummy!! Gonna play.”
I could hear the yells of "You'll burn!!","Don’t run!!", "Stop!" (which in local dialect sounds something like "Etek dhoopa mein jal na jaibe","Ruk na,"Waise na nu bhaag") and what not as if I were a nursery kiddo. I was then in Montessori one and Chandu said 'we were grown-ups now’.
The road from our quarter to Chandu's was long for people who took them. We had our own highway. Jumping just one fence we were on our narrow five incher; which separated Sanjay’s home from the dark mossy courtyard in which an old woman lived and we had no doubt that she was the witch that gave 'Sleeping Beauty' that apple. The conditions were overcast with horror. Running swiftly to evade both the white haired witch and Sanjay’s mother (who was presumably her nearest kin); I stood on the boundary wall of Chandu’s quarter and yelled
The wild Mowgli inspired call was heard by a frocked figure peeking through the window on my back. Sony lived just on the other side of the boundary with her mother. She always made small greetings for her father and stored them in a small box. She read in the government school where her mummy taught. I wished my mummy taught in my school which could have certainly reduced the cut marks on my palm. Though Sony was very cheerful otherwise but I can remember she bitterly wept when I showed her the bicycle that Papa brought me. I asked her to get similar one from her daddy and she choked to tears. Girls look silly when they weep.
On my holler, Chandu jumped from inside as if he had been waiting to pounce out. Together we jumped into Sony's sludgy verandah and our slam-bang was enough to tempt another expectant. Her eyes mischievously hopeful, Sony prowled out not to disturb her sleeping mummy and whispered imploringly
"Take me witzya. I can’t play at home. Puhleese"
Chandu’s smile withered. I had expected it as he disapproved her presence and reiterated that we were grown up boys and it was shameful to play with a girl. Initially I had a speck of doubt but his knowledge was far superior and eventually I accepted it as a fact. I was telling her to go but could see that she would cry. I hastily pressed
"Ohkay let’s take her together. Just for today."
Chandu looked astray and walked towards the barrier that separated us from our heaven: Miscott’s garden.
We did not know how heaven was supposed to be then, but this place had all that we needed. The pavements were broken; the fountain in the middle had a thicket of moss floating over stagnant rain water; the bathrooms in one corner had been long deserted. There was a small ruin which appeared to be a room or watch-post of some sort. Shrubs occupied most of once-might-have-been-lawns. Clusters of marigolds and wild roses were strewn with tall grasses and myriad weeds. Overall it was a long bereft topiary where only likes of us treaded for adventures. Occasionally some grass snakes could be seen which were more fun than fear for all but for Sony who shrieked at their mere sight. But if this horror was clamped with her we all were petrified by a common dread: the lonesome ochre-black haunted villa in the west corner.
Chandu had heard several wails and ghostly noises out of it and when it seemed every other child in the colony had heard similar things; I to create a niche in metaphysical echelon carved out a story that I had seen a white sari clad bhootni (she-ghost) holding a candle moving towards the fountain at 12 o’clock night. The story made me an instant cameo and people thought me awfully lucky to see such a thing. Only Sony knew the truth and she was a trustworthy confidant.
But today Chandu had special designs. In morning he had narrated me the incidence of the previous night when he woke up to pee in late hours but frightened enough to go to dark bathroom, went to balcony and poured out; he saw the first floor of the haunted-villa flooded with a tube-light's aura. When I suggested it may be the same bhootni; he reacted with logic that ghosts used candles not tube-light and the humble me went mum. He was adamant that they were some bandits or smugglers meeting there and if we could bust their hideout we would be like the Batman or Super Commando Dhruv and we will have a comics of our own.
Sony resented all our attempts to do such things and started howling that she would run and tell everything to my mummy. Before I could even say a word, Chandu burst out saying
"I told ya. Thiz gals are cowards. Leave her alone to rot with her dolls. We are brave enough to go."
Sony hurt at being called a coward took up the challenge and half-heartedly agreed saying “Okay then I will show you that I aint no coward.”
I was left clueless as I was banking on her for an excuse.
Trembling we crossed the blind shrubs and slippery pavements into a new world and discovered that the garden was in backyard of the villa. Chandu stealthily opened a small gate and ohh! We could locate the difference. Yes; someone had certainly been around there as everything had a cleaner air about it. Under rugged, webbed porch and in the 4 o’clock sun we could see a beautiful lawn in front of us. Although it was shabbily trimmed and was covered with Peepal leaves which made eerie sound under our feet; still it had blossoms of dahlias, marigolds, bela, harsingar to name a few. While I and Sony were dumbstruck by wildness blended with glory, Chandu was still looking for his villains. Suddenly Sony shrieked
“Milan. Look there.”
Horrified we looked in the direction of her finger and were left gasping to find several butterflies, red and yellow all over, so big that one of it covered the whole dahlia it sat over. Chandu jumped with excitement. "I will catch and keep it in a bottle as a proof of 'we-came-here'.”
It gave us a game. Crushing the Peepal leaves, jumping the shrubs, rambling through the lawn we followed the flying beauties. But they would not be caught. It was a long time before the ultimate happened. The sun was burning red down into the horizon over the villa and still without any success I was following one of them. Slightly crouching, I stealthily pounced upon a beautiful butterfly. Ecstatic I squalled “Chandu, I got one..." and hurried towards them...
Their eyes with anticipation saw me landing unconsciously on a soggy segment where I tumbled down; the butterfly still in my hand. Bang!!!Hurt but still jovial; I got up but with a pain in my knee and a pulp in my claws. I understood nothing and opened my fist to them. It had the broken wings of the glossy beauty and the pulp of a caterpillar that owned those wings. Chandu took to brooding, Sony burst to tears and sinister-me tried to console her.
I understood that I had committed a heinous sin and Dadi’s verdict was hovering in my head "The paap of children have to be borne by their innocent parents". Instantly a lot of things flashed through my mind. They being sick, old, angry, papa failing in office exams, mummy burning her hand on stove and many more and I joined Sony in her tears.Chandu suddenly added another aspect to the drama.
"The ghost of butterfly will never let us be happy. I know it will avenge."
Horror coagulated my tears while flooded Sony’s. We sought after Chandu for respite.
“Then what are we to do?”
Chandu after thinking for a while came out with a solution. "In a movie I saw they killed the ghost by burying its body in ground and putting a stone over it. And they did like this.” He said crossing his heart thrice.
The Sun had already gone down and it was quite dark all around. I got a twig, removed the leaves and started digging. Chandu went to look for a fitting tombstone. When we were done Sony placed the poor thing into its small grave, her eyes still moist and I hastily covered it with soil. Chandu placed the orb-stone and we stood abreast; our eyes closed, heads down, hands on the hearts; praying for reprieve.
Our condolence lull was broken by a spine chilling cough followed by some light footsteps. Dumbstruck I opened my eyes to find a bleak candle light around me. In reflex I turned towards the source and was leaping unconsciously away from the shadow that sprawled over the porch peeping into us. I recognized that Sony and Chandu had shared the same fate only when I had reached her verandah and my heartbeats had restored. For a week we couldn’t sleep and the pensive cough haunted us for years to come.
An era has passed by. I am an engineer. Chandu had taken to drugs and is in a rehabilitation centre. Sony’s father never came back but she has grown up into a damsel and her face has a tinge of shame in front of me. Dadi is paralyzed and scolds me no more. I know that the shadow that day was of Ramzani chacha-the bicycle mechanic who happened to be the caretaker of that villa. The tombstone would have been long ago displaced and there stands a Gulmohar (Royal Poinciana) tree; which with its red and yellow flowers appears as if lots of that butterfly are sitting upon it, silently whispering the tale of three immaculate kids. It stands as a living mausoleum of the dead butterfly and the innocence that died long ago...
Picture Credit :http://teluguone.com/vinodam/wp-content/gallery/oil-paintings-of-lovely-childrens/painting_children_childhood36.jpg