Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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On the bank of river batane, with wounds and cuts all around his body, Shiva was lying unconscious. The harsh current had proved much ferocious for the young lad who escaped certain death a while ago. He laid there unnoticed and unconscious for the whole night, being licked by the stray dogs and the flies sitting all over the wounds. In the morning when the predators of the sky started hunting for their prey, I noticed him lying helpless and almost naked, drenched in sand and blood. I quickly called for help from the village and brought him to my house. After an hour of medication by the local doctor and rest for few more hours, he became conscious.
A huge crowd had gathered outside the house. Everyone wanted to know more about the stranger. But the stranger had no answer to end their curiosity. The only thing that he said was that he had come far from the west, drowning in the river and his name was Shiva. Believing his words and considering his situation, my father, Sarpanch (head) of the village allowed him to stay in the house till he gets well enough to return to his homeland.
I was of the same age as that of Shiva. In a few days, we became wonderful friends. I discovered that he had an exceptional skill of telling stories. His every conversation had a story in it. Every time the stories would carry me to a different world of imaginations. Gradually his storytelling became famous throughout the village. People had been so much in love with his stories that when he became fit enough to leave, the villagers pleaded my father to allow him to live there. A hut was made by us near the river for him.
Slowly it became a habit of the villagers to gather near his hut every evening and travel to a village of imagination created by Shiva. In that imaginary village, lived a little boy whose name was 'Bishu'. Our love for Bishu was such that everyone relived his own childhood in the story of Bishu. They would laugh like a child in his mischiefs, cry when he would fall, smile at his innocent acts and all.
Slowly, the time passed and both, me and Shiva became old. In his 53 years of life in that village, he had narrated and re-narrated hundreds of times each and every day of Bishu’s life in great detail from the day he was born to the day he turned seventeen. On asking of what happened to Bishu after that, he would say only one thing, 'that's the last chapter of his life, I won't narrate' and would cry like mad, as if there was some huge loss attached to that last chapter.
With passage of time, Shiva became older and also developed Alzheimer’s disease. Everything started getting blurred in his mind. Sometimes he would forget me while sometimes he would forget himself. Most astonishingly, even Bishu got hazy in his mind. Now, there was no more storytelling in the evenings. He would spend most of his time in the evening sitting at the foot of satchandi hill, looking towards the west, the direction from where he had emerged many years ago. I always wondered what he liked most about sitting there, the sunset, the river or the memories of his homeland.
As days passed, even his sitting there stopped. He had become bed ridden. The villagers would come to see him and helped him in eating, cleaning and all those stuffs. One morning when I had gone to see him, he called me alone to his house in the evening as he wanted to narrate the last chapter of Bishu's story to me.
In the evening, when I went there, Shiva didn't tell any story. Instead, he kept his last wish before me. He wanted to see his homeland once again. 'I want to see my homeland once
before dying', said Shiva. But the most difficult part for me in helping him fulfill his last wish was that he didn't remember the name of his village. To the west of Batane River, there were hundreds of villages and I had been to only four or five.
The next morning, with faith in God, I took Shiva in a cart and drove towards the west. He had gone in coma by then. I knew that Shiva's death was near and I was trying my best to get his last wish fulfilled.
We travelled five villages and were entering the sixth one. The sun was ready to set behind the horizon and the moon had been lit in a dim light in the sky. I found something unusual about this village. It appeared to me that I had visited the village at some point in the past. Though I never believed in stories of past lives widely talked about in those days but I knew that I had never been there ever in my life. The old school, the huge banyan tree at the centre, the large haunted pond behind the school, everything appeared familiar to me.
In a confused state of mind, I slowed down my cart below the banyan tree where a group of mid aged men were chit chatting. I asked them whether they had heard of any Shiva who had left his home many years before. All of them had no idea of any such story except a bit older one who knew of a man whose younger brother had gone missing long ago. The man sat on my cart and took me to the old man's house.
An old man in about his seventies walked slowly towards the cart and brought his lantern close to Shiva's face. He gazed at his face for long, as if he was trying to dig some memory out of his brain buried ages ago. At last, to my amusement, the old man broke into tears, dropped the lantern from his hand, took Shiva in his lap and cried loudly. I was satisfied and happy that I succeeded in keeping my promise of finding Shiva's homeland.
But what overwhelmed my happiness was the astonishment that followed. The old man was calling my 'Shiva' as 'Bishu'. On enquiring, the old man said that Bishu was extremely mischievous in his childhood.
'Everyday, after doing all sorts of mischiefs throughout the village, he would return home with a story to prove that he was innocent. Tired of his attitude, one day our father rebuked him and said that his story making would one day lend him in trouble and would not be able to do anything good in his life. Hurt with father's words, he left home and attempted suicide in the batane. From that day, we all believed that he is dead.'
Now I understood that the stories of Bishu were that of his own. I also understood why the village looked familiar to me. In Bishu's stories, I had imagined his village so many times that everything appeared to have been seen. His story telling habit didn't lend him in trouble but made him loved by hundreds of people. Thus, the storyteller completed the last chapter of Bishu's life in his own way.