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Mysterious visitation

Statesman News Service |

On the last leg of a winter morning, when the seasonal break was about to bring about a transition in the climatic conditions in the suburbs of Kolkata, the pouring rain outside ought to have come as a relief for one sustaining a breather for warmer days to come. But not to Bimala Bhaduri, a middle-aged housewife who was observing Saraswati Puja and, on that auspicious occasion, hated the rain to intervene, play spoil sport and mar the festivities.

She could hear the rituals of arati in full swing, evident from the blowing of conch shells from another flat in the housing estate where she’d lived with her family at the time. She was reminded of conducting the same puja to be held sometime later in her apartment in reverence to the Goddess of Learning and was left with a lot of work in arranging the prasad (puja offering), cooking bhog and adorning the Goddess with garlands of bright marigold. 

So Bimala kept herself busy preparing food and cutting fruits and vegetables for the puja offering in the kitchen, with her young son Manish for company. In the next flat, her sister-in-law and mother-in-law were also engaged with the puja preparations and the rituals to follow. Reaching their flat would take a little time and Manish was really raring to get to grandma&’s, but Bimala was yet to finish cooking bhog.

“Ma, let&’s go, the puja will start soon!” Manish yelled.

In response, Bimala said, “We will go. Don’t worry your head over it. We will go when the purohit (priest) arrives to perform the initial rituals. We will also have to wait till the rain stops.”

But Manish was adamant and again yelled in the form of a Bengali couplet, “Aehi bristi themey ja, Lebupata, garam cha.” (Rain please stop while we take lemon leaves and hot tea).

The blinding rain accompanied by the crackle of lightning intensified and Bimala felt a pang of remorse that the weather should continuously ruin the day. Who would love rain on the occasion of Saraswati Puja? With this thought in mind, she went back to the kitchen to shut the windows because the rain was beating in. She banged them shut, turned around and noticed a strange figure clad in a veiled sari that covered the head in an orthodox fashion glaring at her.

At first startled, Bimala soon took stock of the situation. Given the gloomy weather, she took control of herself and addressed the veiled woman, “How did you manage to come here in this pouring rain? You’re drenched to the skin, change into dry clothes.”

The mysterious visitor did not appear to 

heed her words but simply vanished. Bimala, having enough presence of mind, stirred out of her reverie and, suddenly realizing her 

mother-in-law was sick, she rushed to her son&’s room and asked whether he’d seen anybody arrive. 

“Who did you expect at this hour? Father and uncle could easily have taken us to the puja venue,” Manish replied.

Bimala seemed not to take any notice of what he’d said. Instead, she wondered about what she had seen. Still in doubt, she took Manish, despite the torrential rain and the thunder — to her mother-in-law&’s flat, more with the idea of checking on the old lady. But to Bimala&’s astonishment, she was nowhere to be found. How could this be, she wondered. Could she have expired and her spirit appeared before her? 

Somehow, Bimala could not disclose this matter to anybody as no one in the family was likely to believe her if she narrated her account of what she perceived was a mysterious visitation. On the contrary, her relatives knew Bimala was fasting the whole day to observe Saraswati Puja and were more likely to poke fun at her for hallucinating. They would crack jokes at her expense.

So Bimala decided to return to her flat, leaving Manish behind to enquire about the matter. She started turning the situation over in her mind and wondered if she should call anyone over the phone and verify matters. She then returned to her mother-in-law&’s room, drenched to the skin, but there was no sign of her.

Retrning home, she changed into dry clothes but the thought of the strange figure refused to leave her, haunting Bimala as to who this mysterious woman could be.

In course of time, her sister-in-law&’s son Rahul arrived and announced the sudden, sad news that grandma had expired. And when Bimal asked him whether it was at 5.25 pm, the boy was taken unawares. “Aunty, how did you come to know?” he asked.

In a hoarse voice, his aunt replied, “Did you know that she came to see me for a brief moment when the time showed 5.25 pm?”

Rahul was flabbergasted. That was precisely the time the old lady had passed away. As for Bimala, she was left wondering whether she had actually encountered the soul or the spirit of the departed grandma.