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Rudraksha - When Gods Came Calling
by Sutapa Basu (Book Preview) | Published On: 03-May-2016

Rudraksha is an anthology of mythological stories. We present to you one of the stories.

Come Back As Anyone by Paulami DuttaGupta

Sridevi sighed and looked at the letter on her table. Keekatpur? O Lord! Why Keekatpur? She heard the questions echo in her mind. The little town on the Andhra-Odisha border was not only in the dreaded red corridor but it also had a history of atrocities by the henchmen of the local netas. Agreed she had opted for the Civil Services, but the job of an IAS officer didn’t seem quite so appealing to her now. Would she even manage to survive there?

   Sridevi looked up at the TV news and switched it off. There had been serial blasts once again. As if the news of the train derailment that morning was not enough! There was bloodshed all around; so much that Sridevi had begun to smell blood everywhere. She closed her eyes, touched her temples feeling the familiar throb rise again. Going home wasn’t a wise decision. Her idealistic father would admonish her apprehensions and tell her that she must go  to Keekatpur. Her old man just didn’t understand the reality. He would chant verses from the Bhagwad Gita to shore up his opinion and then beat her in the debate.

  She looked at the little figurine of Kanha on the table, and the Colonial Cousins played in her head. ‘Come back as anyone,’ she said, almost subconsciously. Her mobile buzzed. It displayed the number of the senior officer that she reported to. She would have to respond to the order lying in front of her. In fact, she had only two options; go to Keekatpur or put in her papers. Yes. She would have to choose the second option. Suicide was not what she had in mind when she had joined the Services, and taking this posting was going to be just that.

‘Hello,’ said Sridevi in a shaky voice, ‘I . . . I will join office in Keekatpur next month, sir.’ The exclamatory sound at the other end made her realize that he was not bothering to conceal his shock. Everyone knew why she was being transferred. Trying to stop the mining mafia here obviously hadn’t gone down well with the adminstration. But she wouldn’t just let go so easily. She would fight back. She had all the evidence carefully calibrated, and a transfer certainly couldn’t deter her. Sridevi knew she would have to make her moves more carefully this time—one wrong word at the wrong time and all her hard work would go down the drain!  

Yet she could not but wonder what had made her change her mind in a split second. ‘O Lord, please protect me,’ she said to her Kanha and placed the idol in her bag. Wherever she went, he went with her ever since she had been a little girl.

 When Sridevi’s car entered Keekatpur, two weeks later, nausea had been knocking at the back of her throat for some time. She could not decide whether the cause was fear or revulsion. What was happening to the world? Over the last few days all she had heard was only destruction everywhere. The vile smell of blood filled her nostrils all the time. It just didn’t leave her. She quickly checked her face in the mirror and realised she was looking hideous. As they drove through the local market, a white horse raced past them.

‘Careful,’ Sridevi warned and sat up in the back seat. ‘What is wrong with that man? Why was he racing in the middle of the road?’

 The driver smiled and said, ‘Madam, he is Guruh and that horse is Devdatta. He rides it always. We have got used to seeing him around. He does not bother us.  You know, he has large stakes in the mines in this region.

Oh dear God! Again mines! Then Sridevi looked at her driver and sighed. Even the government employees are under the influence of these local henchmen, she thought with a grimace. Guruh must be the ringleader.

Keekatpur was worse than she had imagined. There was no regular power supply, the files in offices just didn’t move and the motorable roads consisted of just toposheets. As Sridevi was taken around the administrative buildings, the first few days she was in a haze considering it was a new locale. Not just that, there were so many things that were not according to the rulebook that she didn’t know where to start the clean up. The police station had an excuse of a lock-up, but no ammunition or even a decent pistol.

‘But you would be sitting ducks if there is a Naxal attack,’ Sridevi burst out in frustration at the excuses being muttered by the OC.  

‘Madamji,’ the man spoke words, one normally heard in Bollywood films, ‘We have families to look after. So we--we don’t get into any face-offs with the Naxals. We look after them and they look after us. We understand each other. In our hearts, we know that we are brothers, Madamji. They are poor people too.’ Sridevi’s head was spinning at this intrepid explanation. Where had she landed? Is this the reality of working in the Services? And she had pledged to work for the nation, serve her people and believed she would be able to do a dozen other unrealistic things!

   As she walked out of the police station, she realised she badly needed a drink. The OC filled her in with information about the local bar. Apparently it was nearby. Right now, even a rustic bar would do. She needed to get this muck off her mind. A beer---a chilled beer, was what she needed.

Keekatpur was just a small town and news got around fast. Sridevi was no longer a stranger here. As she entered the nondescript bar, she could hear whispers. She ignored them and ordered her beer. But just as she was about to take her seat, she heard someone say, ‘Hey Beautiful, I didn’t know you fancied such places too. Why don’t you come to my rodeo? We will hear some nice country music and drown in wine.’

   Sridevi turned towards the direction of the voice. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to come here after all. She noticed Guruh perched on one of the higher bar stools, grinning at her.

  He was a repulsive sight. He seemed to be from some other world, sporting a cowboy hat and tattoos while a pipe lay carelessly next to him. And he had mentioned a rodeo! So Guruh, whom people around here respected, was in fact, a confused cowboy! Sridevi  ignored him and waited for her drink to arrive.

 Five sips into her drink and Guruh appeared at her table, a silly grin plastered on his face ‘The offer is still open,’ he shot off again in his accented English. It had an American country punch, and Sridevi wondered how he had picked it up in this remote town.

‘Does it look like I am interested?’ she replied, haughtily and gulped her drink.

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