Jambudveep's Blog

May 1, 2010

The Home Coming

Filed under: Stories — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 4:43 pm
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This was a short story I wrote couple of years back…..

The Homecoming

By Yogeshwar Shastri

Daylight was fast giving way to darkness as the veteran state transport bus sped along the thin strip of broken tar that posed as the highway and cut through the heart of the forest. The glow of its lights danced on the shadows of the surrounding forest which threatened to engulf the road.

Looking out from the sliding glass window which was jammed shut by years of dust and dirt, Sahyadri watched in fascination as in the last snatches of daylight he could see the forest interrupted in places to give way to paddy fields and coconut plantations.

“The forest cover has thinned a bit”, he thought, gets thinner year on year. Some things never change though, the bus is the same, is as packed as before and the road gets even worse every year. Sitting in the back of the bus he could feel every bump and break in the road beneath and wondered how many new craters had the rains made since his last visit home.

His musings were interrupted by the snores of the person on the seat next to him. Looking over the shoulder of the person sitting in front he could see the mass of people and their baggage spilling over into the drivers cabin/space. He wondered how the driver could change gears and focus on the road while chatting up with the passenger crammed into his seat.

More worrying was the fact that the road dropped off sharply on both sides to give way to deep rain water gullies/channels and the way the bus was hurtling along, he was certain it would topple into the gully any moment.

At last after what seemed an eternity, the bus came to a grinding halt being accompanied by a hoarse shout seemingly ensuing from the conductors mouth “Tallikatte!!!”

There was a banging sound as the bus door was thrown open. Sahyadri pushed his way through the mass of humanity to the front and as soon as his feet hit the ground the bus started off into the night.

Standing alone at side of the road, in the pale luminescence of the full moon overhead he could make out the beginning of the wide unpaved mud track which ran perpendicular to the tar road and would take him to his home, three kilometers in the interior. At present it was wide enough to take a small lorry or a tractor but in the monsoons shrunk to less than half its width.

Familiar household sounds and smells wafted through the air from the thatched huts belonging to the farm workers, which clustered around the side of the road and near the mouth of the mud track.

On the other s ide of the tar road was an open clearing which was dominated by an ancient banyan tree with a low platform of concrete built around its circumference. During the day people would sit on the platform under the shade and wait for the bus or just pass the time chatting. But at this time of the night it was deserted.

Pausing for a few minutes to take his surroundings in he started to move along the mud track which was flanked by thin forest cover on both sides. Moving along he could see at the left side of the road, the dark shape of the primary school building .It was a rite of passage for village children he thought, moving from the primary school here to the secondary school five kilometers away in Manchikeri, then to the higher secondary further away finally going to hostel in Dharwad for intermediate.

As he came near to the school he was startled by a shout from behind him. Looking behind to see the source, he saw he could see the figure of a man clad in a traditional dhoti with kurta and a shawl thrown over the right shoulder.

As he came closer, the moonlight cut into slivers by the overhanging branches reflected off his face, highlighting the face of a man in his mid sixties. His gait was rapid and within a few moments he was barely few feet away.

Recognition dawned on Sahyadri and he shouted, “Ram master!”

A smile appeared on the person’s face, gently pushing the creases due to age into the background.

“I thought I might bump into you. I had heard that you were coming on the night bus from Sirsi”, said Ram master, all the while vigorously shaking Sahyadri’s hand.

“I nearly missed it; my connecting train from Bangalore was late by almost an hour. I had to do a nice sprint to catch the last bus,” replied Sahyadri while starting to walk further along the track.

“It’s a good thing we met this way; I’m going to Dharwad tomorrow morning, to my daughter’s house. The only thing to do in retirement is to become a pest to others”.

“I didn’t know you had retired”, exclaimed Sahyadri with an expression of incredulity on his face. His childhood conception of Ram masters as an immortal whose only task on this earth was as headmaster of the secondary school, which was carried well into adulthood, received a painful push. It brought into focus the fact that he wasn’t getting any younger.

As if reading his thoughts, Ram master said with a sad smile, “When you get old, you forget things; it becomes difficult to cope with the stress of everyday tasks. But lets not bother about an old mans groans, tell me what’s up with you?”

As they continued walking, the conversation grew increasingly animated jumping from village gossip to family problems, the hot topic being the financial difficulties in the village brought on by crash in the market value of vanilla. They passed small gaps in the forest on both sides of the road where a clearing had been made to allow lorries to back up.

In one of these clearings they were joined by a dog, the kind kept by the farm laborers, some unknown country breed, which followed them, all the while keeping a cautious distance. Sahyadri barely paid any attention to the dog, assuming it to be following in the hope of getting some crumbs.

Ant hills of various shapes and sizes dotted both sides of the road, rising into space like the towers of lost cities .The track curved gently while undulating up and down following the contours of the hillock. Narrow foot trails trampled onto the forest floor by years of use, radiated outwards from the track at regular intervals. They led to individual houses usually of landowners tucked away in the corners of the forest.

Being engrossed in the conversation, Sahyadri did not notice when the trail leading to his home came into view.

“I believe this is where we part company”, said Ram master breaking Sahyadri’s mental reverie. “Be sure to visit our house for lunch or dinner, whatever is convenient for you. Everybody at home will be very happy to meet you.”

“It’s a pity I wont be able to meet you though”, said Sahyadri, wondering if Ram master would be all right walking alone. Ram masters house lay nearly a kilometer further down the road, where the road was abruptly cut off by paddy fields. He dismissed the thought, comforted by the fact that Ram master was perfectly at home, navigating the track innumerable times over the years.

“Don’t fret over it, we will definitely meet up on your next visit”, replied Ram master starting to move along the road.

Sahyadri waved goodbye and stood for a few minutes watching Ram masters figure disappear around the curve.

He turned his feet in the direction of the trail and doing a brisk walk reached within a few minutes a cluster of huts. These belonged to the farm laborers and the house lay beyond them in a shallow depression cut into the side of the hillock. A deep moat was dug running along the entrance, its purpose being to divert floodwaters in case of torrential rains.

The house itself was a two storied building, the older portions made of timber and mud, intermingling with newer portions made of bricks and cement. The house had a large courtyard with a tulsi plant in the centre and was ringed by a perimeter wall approximately eight feet high, built by his great grand father to keep out wild animals.

The moat was spanned by a crude walkway made of logs lashed together and covered with red mud.

He noticed the dog still following him, making a mental note to ask Anna to feed him some morsels on reaching home. Passing the huts he came across the engravings of the serpent (Naga) gods right at the beginning of the walkway, who stood as guardians to his ancestral house.

Mentally bowing to them he crossed the walkway and began his descent down the steps which led to the wooden door in the perimeter wall.

Finding the door open he made his way across the courtyard to the main building calling out his elder brother’s name, “Ramanna, Rammana!!!”

The main door was thrown open and a tall, well built person rushed to embrace his brother in a bear hug.

“Where is everybody?” asked Sahyadri disentangling himself from his brothers’ hug. He was used to the house busting with activity and the silence puzzled him.

“They are off to Yellapur to attend a marriage. I stayed back as the vanilla harvesting is about to begin. Lets go inside, wash your hands and feet at the tap here and we can have dinner,” Rammanna said, propelling Sahyadri towards the tap.

“I was worried about you coming alone from the bus stop till here at this time. Not that anything happens, but it’s easy to get a nasty stumble on a dark night. Luckily the sky was clear tonight,” Rammanna said while holding the tap open.

“Nothing to worry, I’m grown up now, besides I had Ram master for company along the way”, Sahyadri said, washing his face with his back to his brother.

For a split second there was no reply from behind him. Then Rammanna asked in a low voice, “Did you say Ram master?”

Sensing something, Sahyadri looked behind and saw that his brothers’ face had gone deathly pale.

His hand were shaking as he said, “Ram master died three weeks back”.

1 Comment »

  1. ladu,

    wonderful,keep up the good work,wish you all success.


    Comment by padmakesiraju — May 7, 2010 @ 4:19 am | Reply

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