Sudhir Pal suppressed the urge to relieve himself as he rushed towards the baggage conveyor belt to get his luggage. After a wait of ten minutes, he espied his suitcase on the belt and picked it as it came in reach.
In the meantime, his urge turned into agony and he rushed with his suitcase towards the nearest washroom. He kept the suitcase on a rack and banged open a cubicle door.
Deed over, he picked up the suitcase and was out of the airport. Man, it feels a bit light. Oh, the pleasures of pressure relief, even a suitcase can feel lighter, he smiled to himself.
Booking a local blue taxi, he reached his home, almost at 1.30 am. He was returning from Guwahati, after 7 days, back to his rented ground floor flat in Dadar, Mumbai. He had been away to participate in the National Power-lifting championships.
His maid had refilled his refrigerator that morning. Feeling hungry, he decided to eat an apple.
Taking a bite and holding the apple between his teeth, he fished out the keys of the suitcase lock from his pocket. Where’s the damn lock, he thought as he fiddled around the bag. He made a mental note to lodge a complaint with the airlines and clicked open the suitcase. Careless buffoons!
What he saw inside shocked him. It wasn’t his bag at all! All he found were some dirty clothes, a plastic packet wrapped with care and a sheaf of crumpled papers.
He took out the plastic packet and tried to check the contents from outside. It seemed to contain broken pieces of earthenware. Who would pack these pieces of junk? He thought. Archaeologists? he wondered.
Curious, he took out the sheaf of papers. Oh, I will repack them and take the bag to the airport lost baggage counter tomorrow, he assured himself.
The papers seemed to contain some details of an archaeological site. While going through the papers, one slipped from his hands. He picked it up. His interest piqued when he found some symbols and directions on it.
Leaving the other papers, he started studying this particular paper. He saw something written but couldn’t perceive it as it was unclear on that yellowing document. He held it against the light and now some of the words were legible.
The script was Devanagiri and the language seemed to be Sanskrit. Sleep forgotten, he started studying it.
Minute observation enabled him to read some of the words. ‘Hiranyam’, ‘Karunaad’, ‘Dev avaas’, ‘viniguhit’, ‘tat’, ‘yavya’, ‘desha’, ‘guhya’.
“GOLD!” he blurted aloud in his excitement when he saw the word ‘Hiranyam’.
But what were these other words? Were they talking about some gold treasure? Now he was wide awake…
With a knife in his hand Konda glanced threateningly at the man sitting in front of him.
“Professor, you have a long life in front of you. Why sacrifice it for few papers and some information? You just have to accompany me to Mumbai.” The threat in his voice was ominous.
“I have told you; I am repeating it again. I am not going to part with my papers, come what may,” professor Achyut replied adamantly. The professor’s house in Bangalore, where they were sitting now, was in shambles.
Konda rose from the chair and circled the professor. Suddenly he poked the knifepoint into his neck.
“Your papers…or your throat, the choice is yours.”
The professor screamed, “I will neither give the documents nor go with you.” Without warning, he attacked Konda and tried to bite his hand.
A professional assassin that he was, Konda overpowered the short-statured professor with ease. But, in the melee, his knife punctured the professor’s carotid artery and blood spurted. The professor’s life ebbed away as a pool of red spread on the floor.
He won’t like this at all, thought a panicking Konda. The instructions had been explicit – ‘Retrieve the papers. Use force if needed’. Additionally, the professor was to be brought to Mumbai. Konda had never known who ‘he’ was but the payment was good.
His rowdies could have plucked the professor from the streets of Bangalore. But, discretion was vital. Hence, the solitary approach. What do I do now?
He gathered all the papers from the table drawer where the professor had kept them. He shoved them into a suitcase which was lying about the house, without bothering to empty it of its contents and closed it. He then rushed to the airport to catch a flight to Mumbai.
Landing at Mumbai late in the night, he had a strong urge to relieve himself. He kept the suitcase on the rack and went in.
After few minutes, he emerged and lifted the suitcase. Why is this feeling so heavy? he thought. He placed it again on the rack and checked it.
Bloody hell! This is not mine.
Motherfucker! I have to find the bastard now, or I am dead. Whoever he is, he wouldn’t have gone far. Maybe I can still exchange it.
Lugging the heavy suitcase, he tried to run as fast as he could. Craning his neck as the exit came in sight he thought he saw a similar suitcase carried by a well-built man.
Motherfucker, he is almost out. “Hey…hey…,” he shouted from inside but the man was gone.
Got to run, man. I can still catch him, he thought and paced feverishly. Bloody bastards, these pesky kids playing everywhere. Give way!
A small boy crashed into him. Imbalanced as he was, running with the heavy suitcase, the impact toppled him over.
In other circumstances, he would have collared the boy but he was in a rush today. He picked himself up and started running with the suitcase again. When he reached outside, he saw the man sit in a taxi and zoom away.
Shit, shit…why is this happening to me? What do I do now? He kicked the suitcase in rage. It fell, showing him the name tag on it. Is the owner’s address mentioned?
He checked and smiled.
Mr. Sudhir Pal, here comes Konda…
He had never burnt the midnight oil, not even in his college days but here he was, studying a yellowing paper as if his graduation depended on it.
Shit, what does it mean? At least the script is Devnagari, otherwise, I wouldn’t even be able to read.
He decided to write down and try and decipher the words which were visible –
Hiranyam – mostly gold
Dev avaas – an abode of God? A temple?
Desha – country? Land?
And what the hell are these other words in fine print below, he thought.
Sudhir was pretty certain that since the paper talked about gold and had symbols and directions, it had to be a map to a treasure. But, to where?
His nocturnal research not making much headway and tired, he decided to sleep over it. Tomorrow is another day, he thought.
The rains were unrelenting though not heavy. Sudhir walked along the river bank which was slushy and slippery. The steady patter of raindrops and the noise of the flowing river were interrupted by the random ribbits of frogs.
He picked up speed. He aimed to reach the next bend of the river, which was about 1 km. away.
Sudhir had arrived in Bellary district of Karnataka as per the directions in that yellowing document. He had trusted the interpretation of the Sanskrit words by the four Sanskrit scholars whom he had consulted. He had written down the words separately and showed them to different scholars. He didn’t want anyone to understand the full meaning of the entire verses, for obvious reasons.
Once he had the meaning of all the words, his confidence in his interpretation grew. He was on the verge of something which promised to deliver him from his mundane life.
He had deliberated. Should I keep the gold or turn it over to the government? After much thought, he had decided.
So, here he was, alone, walking along a riverbank in the wilderness. He crossed the bend –
a vast but abandoned archaeological site lay before his eyes.
Bloody hell, now where do I start, he thought. Time to refer the document.
Fetching the laminated document from his backpack, he sat on a boulder to decipher the various symbols and directions.
He soon located the river bend on the document. From that vantage point, he saw four small rectangular blocks on the document, and then, a bigger one.
He followed those directions and soon neared a huge, rectangular pit. Its construction suggested that it might have been a public bath in the ancient times.
Whoopee! Soon I will be rich!
Upon reaching there he referred to the document again. From here, it showed a location marked by a temple shikhara in the north-western direction.
But from where he was standing, there was only thick tree cover in that direction.
Where’s that temple? What do I do now?
Suddenly, he heard a splash behind him. He turned. There was nothing except a big, wild lizard darting across on a tree branch.
Okay. Let me walk in that direction. Take one step at a time, man. Don’t be too hasty.
Soon he came near the thick vegetation. Still nothing.
He fetched the small machete from his backpack and started hacking the shrubbery.
The machete hit a stone. Excited, he extended his hand to check. He felt something hard behind the vegetation.
Yess! Is this the promised temple?
He started clearing the surrounding vegetation with renewed vigour.
The entrance to a small temple was now visible.
The document is right. He was grinning from ear to ear.
He shone his torch inside. It was empty. Taking out a hammer from his backpack, he started hammering at a stone slab at the shrine entrance.
‘Shilapatt tadaghat’ were some of the additional words which the document had revealed during one episode of furious examination of the document.
Nothing happened for a long time but he still kept at it. Then, the slab moved but only just. He started hammering with renewed vigour and the slab moved more.
This is the fruit of my labour, he exulted. He had correctly deciphered a passage in a long-forgotten language, albeit with some external help.
“In kannada land (Karunaad desha) on the banks (tat) of a river/stream(yavya), lies a hidden (guhya) temple (Dev avaas). In this temple, concealed (viniguhit) gold (hiranyam) can be found by hammering away a stone slab (shilapatt tadaghat)”
Out of the many rivers in Karnataka, he had identified this particular one by undertaking extensive research in government libraries. He had concentrated his research on abandoned human settlements and archaeological sites on river banks and hit a jackpot with this site.
His head jerked up. He was definitely not alone.
Overcome with fright, he blindly swung the hammer behind him and hit the leg of someone who fell backwards. It was a man.
“Aargh!” the man howled in pain. “Motherfucker, your job is over. Now you can go to hell.”
Konda stood up and whipped out a knife. He held it threateningly and jeered, “You did a good job…for me. That bastard professor died on me, putting my life in jeopardy but then I found you. A greedy man you are, Sudhir. But, no issues. It made my life easier, didn’t it?”
“But…but, who the hell are you? How did you follow me…why are you following me?” Terror writ large on his face, Sudhir watched the knife in Konda’s hand. He needed to buy time to find a way to defend himself.
“Well, well. Look who is asking. A man who opens others’ bags and steals from them? Your misfortune that you opened my bag this time,” Konda sneered. “Now that I am going to finish you off, I may as well divulge my secrets.” Konda loved talking about his exploits.
Cackling loudly, he said, “I am Konda. You opened the bag of a hired killer, motherfucker. Well, not really. I just borrowed it from a kind professor. Yes, just one of the persons I killed.”
“Don’t be so cocksure, Konda. I too know a trick or two.” Sudhir said with false bravado. Even though scared, he stood his ground holding the hammer tightly in his fist.
Incensed Konda hollered, “Bastard, you almost got me killed so I followed you to kill you. I would have killed you that very night but, I happened to see you through your open window. I saw the bag and your excitement on finding the papers.” Konda smirked at Sudhir’s quizzical look.
“Ha, ha. I heard you exclaim loud and proper – ‘GOLD’ you said, didn’t you? So, I decided to bide my time.”
Think fast, Sudhir. Or this swine will loot your fortune and kill you.
Eyeing the long knife, Sudhir yelled, “No, I won’t let you have any of it. If it is not mine then I may as well give it all to the government.”
Konda blustered, “No, you bastard! It was my decision to let you find it for me. Once I take all the gold, I will go to some foreign shores and start afresh.”
Then he added in an ominous tone, “You will be my last kill.”
Saying so, Konda swished the knife at his quarry. Sudhir attempted to weave out of harm’s way, but the knife caught his arm. He lost his footing and fell.
Looking for an opportune moment, Konda lunged, raised the knife for a final thrust and swung his arm. The knife dug deep into Sudhir’s chest but the hammer he held in his hand caught the side of Konda’s head, smashing into it.
The following day the rain stopped. A weak sun struggled to shine through the cloud cover.
Two bodies lay at the mouth of a small shrine.
The laminated paper that had led them to this gory end, had floated away to find its next victim.
“In Kannada land on the banks of a river/stream, lies a hidden temple. In this temple, hidden gold can be found by hammering away a stone slab.
But those who are unfortunate (durbhaga) to find it, are cursed (abhishapta) to meet the God of death (niryana) instantaneously. So don’t make haste (tvara) in looking for it“
Team: Chekhov Guns
Prompt: The MC comes home from the airport to realize that they picked up the wrong baggage. What follows this incident?
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By N
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