The illuminated streets; the blaring loudspeakers; the well-decorated pandals; the posters of Pooja releases; the sound of dhaak; the rising smoke of incense sticks and dhoop; the scent of newly purchased clothes; the laughter of excited residents; it felt good to be home when the aroma of Durga Pooja hung this heavy.
This time, I was traveling alone. Mom had decided to spend her time in Jabalpur, with my sister Jhinuk and her newlywed husband. My wife was supposed to join me for Ashthami. So, there I was, peeping out of the bedroom window. I pulled out the last cigarette from packet, pressed it between my lips, struck the matchstick against the coarse surface of the matchbox and held the newly born fire closer to the tip of the cigarette. Having taken the first puff in, I partly raised the curtain, which guarded my view of the lane. Enjoying the sight of twirling smoke take odd shapes in the air, I fixed my gaze at a middle-aged man, who seemed to have just stepped out of the home in our neighborhood and rapidly walking towards my direction. Before I could turn my gaze away, he screamed.
‘Just like the flame you hold at the tip of your cigarette, your home will go up in flames as well. Everything will turn into ashes, you son of a bitch. You will die craving for that last drop of water. Die, you bastard. Die!’
Almost shaken by the abusive onslaught, I quickly dropped the curtain and ran out of the home to catch hold of the abusive man. But by the time I opened the door, he had disappeared. Shaking with anger, I slammed the door behind me and chose to take action. Just then, the doorbell rang. On opening, I saw my friend Bitu standing with a huge smile on his face. The moment he saw me, he announced, ‘It’s Durga Pooja. Why have you locked yourself inside? Let’s go out. Annual adda is overdue.’
Since I was still recovering from the abusive episode, I invited Bitu in and thought of bringing up the issue with him. I asked. ‘Bitu. What’s wrong with the guy in our neighborhood?’
Surprised but not too shocked, Bitu asked. ‘Which guy? Are you asking about PaglaDa, who has just moved in as your new neighbour? Don’t tell me, he did something absolutely notorious to you!’
Slightly put off by Bitu’s reaction, I remarked. ‘You seem to be taking this too casually. I am serious.’
Seeing me in a slightly disturbed state of mind, Bitu spoke. ‘PaglaDa moved to that home in your neighborhood a few months back. All we know of him is that he doesn’t possess a sound mind.’
Once again, I wasn’t too convinced with Bitu’s reply and asked. ‘Does that mean, he would abuse anybody?’
Bitu told me that they had registered a complaint with the police, but they never arrested him. Whenever they tried packing off this slightly disturbed man to the mental hospital, he managed to escape from their custody.
Bitu and I decided to share a smoke in the bedroom; thereafter we planned to pay a visit to the nearest pandal of Durga Pooja. Locking the door behind us, Bitu and I started moving out of the street, when this neighbor almost jumped in front and guarded us from moving any further. This time, he abused again. ‘How the hell is that home of yours still intact? It seems it hasn’t started burning yet. I really wish to see it burning. Die, you bastard, die.’
Unable to contain my anger this time, I chased this man, who seemed to be quite an athlete. Bitu followed suit. The man entered his home. He tried his best locking it from inside. But I had barged in by then. Bitu was just behind me. Chasing the man, we crossed the drawing room, the kitchen and the bedroom. But the so called PaglaDa didn’t stop, he ran into the bathroom of his bedroom and locked himself in. Bitu and I were both panting for breath now. We couldn’t figure out how to pull him out. We decided to wait. But Bitu was a bit scared; what if this man kills himself inside or simply dies staying locked. We had to pull him out. Putting our strength together, we broke into the bathroom to found PaglaDa standing naked; almost trembling. It was a disturbing sight for Bitu and me. We decided to hand him over to the mental hospital. We sought help from the local police to help us with the handover.
The festivities commenced. As planned, my wife joined me on Ashthami. Bitu had brought his wife and children over too. We hopped numerous pandals and then headed back home. I asked Bitu, if he would be interested in joining for a drink. He agreed. So, it was decided that ladies, if interested can join us or simply spend the night out talking. As I stood unlocking the door, Bitu stood guard of the ladies and the children. Just then, out of nowhere, my neighbour, PaglaDa struck back. Surprisingly, instead of hurling abuses, he jumped to my feet and spoke in a repetitive tone. ‘Forgive me. Forgive me Dada. Forgive me. Forgive me. But I can’t help. You will die.’
My wife was left scared. Bitu’s wife and children were shaken too. Bitu and I were shocked to realize that PaglaDa could have escaped from the custody of mental hospital again. Slightly tired and lot more angered, I walked in and closed the door behind us. After a few drinks, Bitu and I too retired to sleep.
We woke up to a pleasant morning of Navami. But the memories of previous night hadn’t faded out. Bitu and I sat discussing the same. My wife too wanted to delve deep into it. Bitu’s wife was still asleep with the children. After having our morning tea, Bitu and I decided to check upon the so called PaglaDa. Surprisingly he was nowhere to be seen within the lane. As we reached closer to his home in our neighborhood, we found the door slightly ajar. Gingerly we stepped in, PaglaDa was still missing. The drawing room was empty. The kitchen was empty as well. We entered the bedroom and were shocked to see PaglaDa hanging from the ceiling fan. Bitu and I were lost in a state of absolute shock. We informed the police, which arrived with a doctor and an investigative team. The investigating team didn’t see any signs of struggle or foul play. It was a plain case of suicide.
Once PaglaDa’s body was taken out of the lane, silence gripped the locality. The locals of the street decided to tone down the loudspeakers. Bitu and I were speechless. The festive occasion had taken an ugly turn. We may never know about PaglaDa’s past or what drove him mad. We may also not know the reasons, which compelled him to commit suicide. But, whenever we return during Durga Pooja, we will sit talking about a certain PaglaDa, who used to be our neighbor and had committed suicide just around the same time.