The old man woke up with a start. He looked around groggily and squinted as his eyes settled on the cloudy sky above. A droplet of rain landed on his forehead. He brushed it off and sat up. The little puppy that had been sleeping beside him on the stone bench sat up too. The inclement weather had driven most of the people back home and apart from a few stray dogs, a couple of cab drivers and some pedestrians, the lane was largely empty. He ran a hand through his unkempt hair, rose, stumbled and then steadying himself, began to walk towards the little tea shop at the end of the lane. The puppy followed him. It knew that a treat was in store.
He sat on the little stool outside the tea stall while the puppy settled at his feet.
“Will pay tomorrow,” he grunted as the young boy, who worked at the stall handed him a cup of black tea and two biscuits.
The boy nodded and held out a biscuit to the puppy.
“Here, take these too,” the old man dropped the two biscuits on the ground, much to the delight of the puppy.
He sipped his tea noisily and stared into the distance. He wasn’t sure what had woken him up. It wasn’t the drizzle of rain. It was something else. Perhaps it was a dream. Hazy images of faces came flooding into his mind. Had he really seen those faces in his dream? He shook his head restlessly. Perhaps he needed to go back.
Submerged deep down in his train of thoughts, sipping his tea noisily, a familiar pat on his shoulder jolted him back. Turning back he saw Kamal, his friend, smiling.
‘So finally your day begins.’
Giving a cut short smile he quickly brings his smiling lips to brooding kiss and nods his hanging head in yes. This energyless nod conveyed Kamal that he had the same old dream again.
Pulling another stool beside him, Kamal sat and placed his order of a cup of black tea to young boy Chotu, the one and only nimble waiter there.
Sipping the tea, Kamal probed Pappu, as they have named this zippy lost old man, ‘So what did you see this time?’
Tired of all these dreams which always followed the same sequel and a new suspense scene added to the tail of the story, kept Pappu tensed all the time. He lifts his pain stricken eyes that directly meets Kamal’s and mumbles, ‘The same old house and the same old faces ever since I have been here.’
Pappu feels that he knows every corner of that house and every shadowy faces that flash now and then, in front of his eyes. It is old-style-tiled roof house, typical Keralian style. In the courtyard, on the right, was the portrait of an old man. That face looks familiar to him, but is hazy. He feels…. He knows him very well. To the left, was the kitchen. Straight through the courtyard was the hall. Few steps further, an inner room, where he reaches and wakes up always.
Whenever Pappu had been to this room, he had been the witness of a conversation between a couple, I think… Yeah a tall, thin man on to Pappu’s left and a faded image of a girl. In that room, on to the left, just adjacent to the door was a bookshelf full of all kinds of books.
Today also, as above, his dream began with the courtyard. Then he was there in the inner room customarily as he had seen in previous dreams. But this time he can see the beautiful girl closely and hear their conversation distinctly.
Completely jolted by this dream Pappu says, ‘I don’t know why I visit that house all the time?’
Patiently listening Kamal answered, ‘Maybe you have some connection to it.’
‘But what could be the connection to a pauper like me,’ yelled Pappu.
‘Why not?’ added Kamal. You have been in this locality for past ten years only. None of us know about your childhood, your work, or anything. We saw you old like this all the time. You were found lying in a half dead condition on this street which has now become your home. None of us know you but out of humanity we all took care of you and you became a part of our open sky family. We know nothing about you except for these dreams that you share with us.
They both finished their tea, and as a daily routine Kamal cleared all the dues and they strolled back. Pappu snapped his fingers indicated the puppy to follow them.
The puppy sincerely followed them without a sign of resist.
Comforting himself back on those cemented chairs, Pappu rolled his hands over his unkempt head and uttered, ‘Who was she?
Pointing towards a passing by white-haired-lady, Kamal whispers, ‘Shhhheee?’
Pappu giving a killer look announced, ‘No man I am talking about the one who came in my dream. I saw her, for the first time. ’
Visualizing with his inner eyes, Pappu mutters that she looked beautiful in Kanchipuram sari. He wanted to ask her who she was but before that she pulled a book from the bookself of the room. And within a wink of an eye he saw two robust men grabbed her by arms and dragged her away.
That tall, thin guy stepped ahead to help her but she only uttered, ‘Run Arun. Run.’
And she quickly threw the book towards him, which he caught and…..
‘And what?’ inquired Kamal.
And I think…. They stabbed someone. There was pool of red blood flooding all over the floor which Pappu saw and woke up and found himself drenched in sweat.
Okay that means there were murder/murders for which you are the witness. ‘And you were whacked badly and left here, thinking you were dead,’ added Kamal with a brooding face.
‘Do you remember who they both, in your dreams, were?’
Pappu shook his head negative and added that they were hazy images. Straining a little more to his memory he said that he remembers the address on the door. It read as ‘Vallaki…… Tharavard……., # 112…., Palakkad……’
Hearing this Kamal screamed, ‘What did you say, “Vallaki Tharvard.”’
‘Where did you hear that?’
You know this name jumped Pappu with delight. Holding Kamal with his hands he fired questions.
Kamal responded, ‘I think it was in news a few years back.’
Recollecting he states, ‘As far as I remember it was something about family murder….., no no…. killing of a couple, I think.’
‘Tell me more about the story,’ insisted Pappu.
About ten years back at this Vallaki Tharvard, there lived a happy family. Arun
Nambiar was the only son of the famous diamond jeweler Sanish Nambiar of Palakkad district. Everyone admired their keen eyes that never missed the fascinating beauty of the diamonds. His business ethics and trustworthiness were world renowned. People all over the world did business with him only because of this quality of his.
Being a world renowned businessman and personally knowing multiple cultures and their heritage world over, Sanish was very open-minded. He married his son to a muslim girl called Tabassum Nasir, who were in love, in a quiet marriage to avoid feud. The Sarpanch of the village was not at all happy with this move. Filled with envy he wished to kill them there and then, but because of the fear of the mob he quietly gave supari, to the Kerala gangsters, to finish the family completely.
On that fateful day, as newspapers read, blood was all over the floor. Pool of blood, blood on the walls, blood trails that railed from Tharvard to the streets, right where the bodies of the young couple were hung. For many years of unsuccessful attempts, finally they managed to kill Arun and Tabassum, that day. They were brutally killed and hanged at the street to give a lesson to all the villagers that if they indulge in intercaste marriages, this will be the result. However, Sanish escaped their trap. No one knows about his whereabouts.
Pappu was nonplus. Those blurred images were although clear now but yet did not made much sense to him. Abdrupt drizzle broke his preoccupancy and made him to rush to the shade nearby. The big drops of rain not only dampen the street but also camouflaged Pappu’s emotions. The dreams which were shadows till now, promptly cleared by the droplets of emotions that were rolling down his eyes, nonstop.
Racing after Pappu, Kamal too found a place under the shade. Seeing his wet eyes Kamal inquired for reason. Pappu uttered that he always saw Arun and Tabassum hanging.
‘What?’ exclaimed Kamal.
Yes said he. But why he saw them in his dreams? What is his relationship with them? He knows not.
These new developments left them clueless. The unfolding of story didn’t solve their problem, in fact intensified it more. Now he wants to know why on earth only he saw Arun and Tabassum in his dream? What they want from him?
To find and answer to all these questions flooding him, Pappu decided to visit Vallaki Tharvard. Carrying his dilapidated bag pack and the puppy in his lap, Pappu and Kamal metered their path to Vallaki Tharvad, in Palakkad. After a day journey, they finally reached there. The moment they were there the puppy jumped off Pappu’s lap and ran inside, joyously. Lifting his eyes up as Pappu saw the house, his head started whirling as if all the flash dreams in shadow were popping up in his mind. The front courtyard which was exactly what he is seeing now, the kitchen on the left and the inner room everything were exactly the same.
How is he able to see the exact same thing even though he was never here before? thought Kamal.
Kneeling at the courtyard, Pappu started wailing loudly which brought back Kamal from his conscience struggle and he ran to comfort him. Holding him tightly Pappu mumbled that this is his house and Arun and Tabassum, whom he saw in his dreams always, were his children.
That day, they both stood right there conversing and he was at the door here when Tabassum yelled, ‘Run Arun’ as they grapped her and stabbed repeatedly in front of them. Arun first ran to help her but then turned towards me and held my hand and we both ran away out of our house only to be caught by another lot that had just arrived in the jeep.
Gangsters brutally stabbed Arun in front of Pappu, then flipped and hit him repeatedly on his face and head. And the last thing that he remembers was that he stumbled and fell down in the deep dark jungle. I think they must have picked him and thrown him in that lonely street so that no one could find him.
Hearing this Kamal first thought Pappu must be insane and uttered these words. So he corrected him, ‘Pappu this is Sanish’s house not yours.’ To which Pappu bumbled that this is his house only and he is Sanish. He took Kamal to the room where his clean shaven photo was hung with beautiful black attire and a diamond button on his coat.
Kamal was shocked at that sight. His look was enthralling. He thought that this rich diamond merchant stayed with them, all these days, yet they never came to know about him. This was because his face was distorted by violent attacks on his face and complete loss of memory when he recovered back. They threw him on that lonely street thinking he was dead.
But fate was with him and the open sky slum dwellers, who normally never visit that place ever, came there that evening to see their stolen treasure that they hid long back. They found him there, lying half dead. They took him to hospital and brought him back to life again.
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Photo by Elliot Mann