Tracing the flight of a butterfly across the garden from his veranda, the sound of the creaking gate distracted Piku. The sunrays presented him with a familiar silhouette – Dadu. As Piku ran down the stairs, the doorbell rang and Minati Masi opened the door.
Piku spotted someone accompanying his grandfather and immediately took refuge behind the sofa. He had had too many unknown people testing their muscle power on his cheeks and was wary of strangers now. “Come Joga Da,” Dadu was saying, “Piku, don’t be frightened, come out, this is my old friend. You may address him as Joga Dadu.” Piku was not listening. He was observing the visitor.
Drops of perspiration glistened on a shiny, smooth oval pate. A bright yellow shirt clung onto a dome shaped mound. Each time the mound rose, the shirt stretched ominously. Just when the shirt buttons accumulated enough force to fly off, the mound would collapse, averting the calamity. The man was trying to wiggle his hands into his trouser pockets. Dazzling red trousers. Insulted by the brutality with which they were stretched and twisted onto ungainly limbs, they now refused to budge.
Piku received a nudge from his grandfather, “Have you said ‛Hello’ to Joga Dadu?”The visitor made the first move. He bent down bringing his face at level with that of Piku. Piku stared at an enormous, bulbous nose. A buzzing feeling of familiarity erupted in Piku’s mind. After some more staring, he successfully matched the man with an image already imprinted in his mind. Without a word, Piku ran off.
“Sorry about that. He takes a while to warm up to new people. I am so glad to see you, Joga Da. Since the accident, these past two years have been very difficult,” Mr Banerjee sighed.
“At least if your Komola Boudi was by my side, it would have been easier. Losing, both parents at the age of three, what a strange twist of fate!” Mr Banerjee paused to steady his shaking voice.
“I have had to take up financial responsibilities again. Even though I don’t go to court actively now, a steady stream of my clients come visiting at home. I don’t get enough time to spend with Piku.”
“Enough about me. What brings you to Kolkata, Joga Da? It must have been at least twenty years since we last met. How are things in the village?” Memories of his childhood village infused Mr Banerjee’s voice with enthusiasm.
“You know I have always been quite a traveller. Not having a family made things easier. Last month I retired after serving for the past 10 years as the Postmaster of Dumru. I have spent most of my life in the rural country side. An urge to experience urban life from close quarters has brought me to Kolkata.” Joga Da explained.
In the meantime, Piku was busy. After a frantic search, he had found the book he was looking for. Hurriedly turning the pages, he came to an abrupt stop. A long hard look followed. Yes, this was him. The nose, the ears, even the colour of the clothes matched. But the eyes? Piku was stumped because this man’s eyes were smaller and he wore glasses. But then in the picture he looked frightened. His eyes were big with fright and maybe his glasses had fallen off somewhere.
After some time, clutching the book, Piku tiptoed towards the guest room. He could hear the visitor shuffling around. Edging along the wall, he craned his neck to catch a quick glimpse. The man was now wearing something like his Dadu. A knee length white robe and loose pants. His resemblance to the picture seemed a little far-fetched now. Piku hesitated.
But Joga Da had already spotted the boy. A few minutes later, Piku sat facing the visitor, sucking an orange flavored lozenge. The book was still in his hands.
“What is that? May I see it?” the man asked, pointing to the book. Piku handed it over. Is he going to be surprised to find his own picture? Would he feel ashamed that Piku knew all about him? Is he going to run away and never come back?
“Hmm, rhyme book, which is your favourite rhyme?” Piku started turning the pages. Then stopping at a particular page, he handed back the book. Piku was now observing the man with the suppressed excitement of a kid who has just lit a firecracker and dashed back to watch the outcome.
“Oh, this one. Why do you like this one so much?” The calm response unnerved Piku. He was expecting the man to jump up in horror. Piku blurted, “Isn’t that you?”
“Me?” The man sounded surprised now. He squinted down at the page, then walked to the table, put on his glasses and squinted again. A frown appeared on his forehead. He surveyed his reflection in the mirror and examined the yellow shirt and red pants now hanging against the wall, suspended from a hook. Suddenly, his eyebrows sprung up high into his forehead. Now his eyes look as big as they are in the picture, thought Piku to himself.
“Of course that is me,” Joga Da bellowed, rocking to and fro with glee.
A triumphant Piku clarified, “So you are Umti Dumti?”
“Yes I am Humpty Dumpty and I am very happy that you recognised me.”
“But I thought you would be sad. Worried that I will make fun and laugh at you like everyone in my school does when I fall down,” said Piku. Joga Da lifted Piku onto his lap. Piku did not resist.
“Are you not angry at the people who had put the picture of your fall in the book and showed it to everyone else?” asked Piku.
“No, I am not angry at them. How would you have recognised me if they hadn’t done so?” The rhyme book has been his companion since Piku first started learning the alphabets. He had found it very easy to befriend the characters in the book. They shared their stories willingly without ever questioning Piku like real people always did. Umti Dumti was his special friend. He had always felt sorry that Umti fell from such a high wall and no one could fix him again. Hence, came his next question.
“How did they fix you up?”After contemplating for a while, Joga Da said,”Everyone left me and went away. There I was lying on the floor and crying. As night descended and the stars started flickering, I looked up into the sky and prayed for help. Suddenly, I noticed a star flying towards me. As it came closer, it grew brighter. So bright it was that I had to close my eyes tightly. After a few moments of silence, I heard a very sweet voice singing,
Poor little Humpty lying on the floor
Shivering with cold, broken and sore
Come little wand, let’s work our magic
Fix Humpty up and mend a scene so tragic.
No sooner were these words uttered than all my broken body pieces flew up into the air and were glued back together. The pain was gone and I felt healthier and happier than ever before.” Piku listened with eyes as full of wonder like those of a child encountering magic for the first time.
“Magic? What is that?”
“Magic is what makes the impossible possible”
“I have never seen magic,” replied Piku.
“Yes, you have. Magic is all around us. We just do not recognise it.” Thus began the journey of Piku and “Umti” into a magical world. A world which they both created and into which no outsider never could and never did enter. Mr Banerjee imposed strict instructions upon his friend. “Joga Da, you may roam around the city as much as like, but you have to stay here in this house.” But it was Piku and not the city who drew Joga Da to his side.
Piku would walk to his school van with his hands wrapped around his “Umti’s” thumb. Every day Joga Da would be waiting when school got over and they would walk back together. These were not just walks, but adventure filled memorable journeys.
They stopped to feed the fish in the pond that they crossed on their way back. Joga Da had told Piku that an evil queen fish lived in the pond. She protected a demon’s heart and traumatized all the other fishes. It was only during hot afternoons when she slept that the other fishes could freely play and eat.
Some days they would join puppies at play while on another they would rescue runaway balloons from tree branches. Within minutes, Joga Da’s creative imagination would churn out names and backgrounds for every creature, living or non-living that they encountered. As days passed, a fictional world with more and more everyday objects and people kept forming around Piku. He, now, had an infinite playground to exercise his imagination upon.
It was three weeks since their first meeting. Piku and Joga Da were sitting on the terrace watching the sun turn crimson. Piku loved to see the flocks of crows, parrots, mynas and sparrows return to their nests wedged in the trees of his garden. The birds would always feature in a pre-bed time discussion and Joga Da would relay these discussions to Piku, choosing one flock a day. That day he had just begun relating how the crows were passionately discussing a plan to launch a crusade against house owners who prevented them from sitting on their balconies and enjoying their meal of dead rats and stinking fish. Suddenly, Piku said, “Umti, where are my Maa and Baba?”Joga Da paused. He knew Piku had asked this question to others before. He also aware that their elusive replies had never satisfied Piku.
“They have gone to work,” said Joga Da. No one had told Piku this before. “Work? What work? When will they come back?” Piku asked with interest.
“Why do they need to come back? They are right here with us.”
Piku looked around. “Where? I can’t see them.”
“But you see and feel them everyday,” said Joga Da.
“No I don’t.” answered Piku indignantly.
“Piku, do you know the three things we cannot live without?” asked Joga Da. Piku shook his head.
“Air, water and soil,” Joga Da answered. “Air is what we breathe. Water is what we drink. And the soil nurtures all the plants and trees around us. Water, air and soil are the creators of life. Only very special people, like your parents get a chance to live as the creators of life.”
Piku looked confused. Joga Da continued.
“You know the Gondhoraj tree just outside the window of your room?” Piku nodded.
“Your father is the soil who made the seed grow into the Gondhoraj tree. He feeds it so the flowers blossom every night. Your mother is the breeze which carries the sweet smell of these flowers to you every night and puts you to sleep.” Piku was listening intently.
“Remember the times you have wished very hard that the rain would stop so you can go out and play? And the rain stopped?”
“It was your parents who persuaded the clouds to fly away.”
“But why were my parents chosen to do this?” Piku asked.
“They loved life very deeply. So God gifted them the power to create life.”
“Also, they had to pass a test”Joga Da added.
“What test? Like the ones I have in school?”asked Piku.
“No. Only God can take this test and it is very difficult to pass.”
“Have you given the test? Did you pass?”
“ My time has not yet come for the test. When it comes, God will take it.”
“May I sit for the test?”
“ No. You have many years before your time comes.” said Joga Da firmly. Piku was silent. Then he said slowly with a lot of effort. “This year on my birthday I was very sad. One of my school friends told me that I must have been a very bad boy. So, my parents had left me and did not come to see me even on my birthday. I was sitting under the big Gulmohar tree at the corner of our garden and crying. Suddenly one by one the red flowers started falling from the tree and covered me up to my knees.”
“Was that because my parents were around? Were the flowers my birthday present?”
“Of course Piku, who else could it be? It was your 5th Birthday. How could your parents not give you a present?”
Piku did not say much after that. Joga Da decided not to say anything more till Piku himself brought up the subject again.
A week after this conversation, Joga Da informed Piku that he was going to his village to finish some work and would be back in two days. Piku immediately insisted on accompanying him and was dissuaded after much effort.“ But I will be so lonely without you,” he kept saying.
“But you have so much to do, Piku. How can you feel lonely?”
“What do I have to do?” asked Piku sullenly.
“Deciphering the messages delivered by your parents, helping them when they ask for it. Searching out the stories which lie hidden all around you. Making sure all the birds have reached home safely and listening to their tales about far away lands. Do keep an eye out for the naughty ghost who stays on the coconut tree and tries to drop dry coconuts on the cat’s head. Also, do not forget to feed the fish in the pond regularly and check on the puppies. Remember to go to the plants every evening and stroke them lovingly the way I have taught you. If they feel unwanted they will wither and die. If you can manage to tell them a few stories you will notice they bloom faster and the flowers look bigger and brighter. You have so much to do my child, you will not have the time to feel lonely.”
Two days later when Joga Da did not return as promised and Piku grew more and more impatient, Mr Banerjee called the number Joga Da had given him.
“Joga Da passed away after a sudden stroke yesterday evening,” an unknown voice informed. He disconnected the phone and turned to Piku. Numbly, he said, “Your Humpty Dumpty will never come back Piku. He has also gone away, like your parents.”
Piku became quite. He turned away and walked out into the garden. On reaching the Gondhoraj tree outside his room, he flung his arms around it and stood as if frozen into a statue. The words that Umti had told him on that evening on the terrace were running through his mind. “Maa, Baba” he said, “Has Umti also gone to you?”
As if in answer, the wisps of cloud covering the moon shifted and a beam of moon light fell on a young Rajanigandha stem a few meters way. It had been planted by the gardener the day before, but Piku became aware of its presence at that very moment. It fluttered in the cool evening breeze beckoning him. Piku went closer and its intoxicating fragrance wafted up to his nostrils. “Umti Dumti’ he whispered. “I know it is you. You passed the test, didn’t you?”
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