COFFIN

‘You too don’t worry, sir. We would elect you the Chief Minister once more. Please accept our congratulation too in advance.’
After departure of the Chief Minister’s cavalcade, the minister moved near to the sobbing woman –‘Aunt, please don’t cry. No use now.’
‘I visited her yesterday itself. No sign of any ailment. What happened so suddenly?’ – She mumbled in between sobbing.
‘Perhaps sudden heart failure. As I did not find her in the morning, came here to wake her up and discovered that she had passed away.’
‘How many times did I advise to let her sleep together with someone. These bungalows are so large. Now have you seen the effect of letting her sleep alone in a corner room’ – she said in a voice overflowing with grief.
‘Whoever was to have gone has gone. What can I do? One can’t hold back’. – the minister said with a voice laced with repentance.
‘What are you thinking to do now?’
‘Thought of carrying it to my native place. But you are to accompany. There is no one to sit beside my mother.’
‘I’d certainly go. Also would take another lady with me. Are you moving out today?
‘Thinking of moving by night itself. Arrangement is yet to be made. You just wait beside mother here. Let me arrange for transportation and other formalities.’ Saying this, the minister conveyed some orders to a few officers of his department. Immediately they swung into action to find and fetch coffin, hearse etc.
In due course the officers carried in a wide bodied decent looking coffin. Another officer quipped – ‘So large a coffin? What for? Mother was quite short. Couldn’t you find a smaller one?’
‘What do you know about our custom? We have to carry all her belongings inside the coffin along with the corpse. Those are to be buried together - our custom.’  One of those that brought the coffin commented.

After arrival of the coffin, the corpse of the mother was shifted to an inner room from the table where she was laid for public view. Only a handful of trusted aides were allowed to remain inside. There are a series of rituals that need to be performed before putting the corpse into the coffin that cannot be performed publicly. By this time number of people coming down to show respect thinned out and the atmosphere was serene. Only the ones involved in laying the corpse into the coffin, a few additional hands to lift it into the hearse and the two women to accompany the deceased remained. Finally the convoy carrying the corpse from the minister’s quarter rolled out. The cousin of the deceased and another lady brought by her took their seats beside the coffin in the hearse. A couple of Grade IV employees too were seated in the van. The hearse followed the minister’s car. It was past nine at night by that time. As directed by the Election Commission, special checking squad had set up naka* at various points of Itanagar resulting in a long queue of vehicles at all those points. Vehicles belonging to many ministers and legislators are lined up amongst those – because nomination date starts tomorrow at respective district headquarters, so everyone had set off at night. Some even got their supporters with them. Because most of the supporters of the legislators-ministers are village dwellers for namesake only, actually they stay at Itanagar. Everyone dashes to Itanagar as soon as election is declared to play the tricks of politics. So Itanagar appears deserted. Now methodical checking is on in all those vehicles to thwart attempt to smuggle wine, cash and weapons. Verbal duel with the owners ensues, sometimes some heated situation too arises.  But it is election time - it is the reign of election commission, no argument or objection is accepted, hence the legislators and ministers had to leave behind wads of cash, wine or weapons against a receipt. The minister was watching the fun from the window while waiting for his turn in the queue. He was in the notion that no police officer will accost him, as the Chief Minister has gave him word that there’d be no checking by special police squad - the news of his mother’s demise has been well circulated with the instruction that he should not be perturbed with unnecessary checking at this moment of grief. The minister observed the Deputy Superintendant of Police who had been involved in an argument with the legislator in the preceding car has come along and shone the blinding light of the powerful torch on his face and enquired – who are the occupants in the car?
‘I’
‘Oh, sir. I have learnt about your tragedy. My condolences. I pray for eternal peace of your mother’s soul’. The minister understood the customary words spoken for the sake of formality and he too completed the formality - ‘Thanks’.
‘What to do, sir. Election Commission’s order, sir. Must be complied by. We have been told not to conduct any search from Chief Minister’s cell, but I am helpless. During election, Chief Minister or even the Prime Minister’s word can’t be honoured. We are ordered to check each and every vehicle by the Election Commission. We didn’t even spare the Chief Minister’s cavalcade defying his irritation. We must check your vehicle too.’

The minister, though extremely enraged, realised that there is no use arguing with this officer. Whatever little cash he brought with him after assurance from the Chief Minister will now be confiscated. He had to relent finally and allow the officers to carry out checking in his vehicle. They found a suitcase full of currency notes. Fifteen lakh - and a pistol.

I have not carried crores of rupees like the others. This is just fifteen lakh. If you seize this also what shall I do in election. I need this money.’ He pleaded fervently.

‘Sir, you show this receipt to the Chief Electoral Officer and take out the amount as permitted by the Election Commission. We are tied down by our duty. Our job is at stake.’

‘One really can’t escape from you’.
‘Yes sir. We are helpless. Please don’t mind sir, we need to inspect the truck carrying your mother’s coffin.’

‘What? What did you say? Don’t you see how my aunt is crying sitting beside my mother’s coffin?’ The minister was actually enraged this time.

‘Can’t help, sir. We are only duty bound. Our job is at stake.’ Saying this, the police officer ordered the two constables waiting beside him in Hindi, ‘You two go and check the truck’.

The two constables climbed up onto the truck and checked the contents of boxes and other packages stacked in the truck in the beam of the torchlight. One even opened the lid of the coffin to confirm its content. Then he reported from the truck, ‘Saab, nothing else except the dead body.’
‘Ok, come down.’
As they climbed down the police officer permitted the minister to move on and said, ‘Sir, Please carry this slip. Just produce it at any point on the way - no one would bother you’. 
 ‘Thank you. We would form government after the election. Then I would deal with you. Today you didn’t even spare the coffin of my deceased mother. I’d remember that’. The minister told him in a tone of veiled threatening and ordered the driver to start the car and drive along. Without bothering to the minister’s words the police officer engaged himself in checking the next vehicle in queue.

Checking was encountered at several points on the road but as the minister produced the paper issued by the police officer from the first check-gate and  they allowed the two vehicles to move on without further checking. It was already evening the next day when the minister reached his residence at the tiny subdivisional headquarter town alongwith the coffin of his mother. He informed everyone there that he would be quite late in reaching home. So there was no one waiting for him. On arrival, the minister brought down the coffin and ordered it to be carried to a room located much inside. Then he latched the door from inside and opened the coffin. Lifting the dead body of his mother out of the coffin, he lay it on a bed nearby. He also took out the bouquets and garlands arranged over and along the dead body. Then he lifted the plank supporting the corpse from the coffin. There lay neatly stacked bundles of thousand rupee currency notes worth several crores. The minister’s mind filled up with a rejuvenated surge of love and gratitude for his mother. Now he started sobbing for the first time holding onto the lifeless legs of his deceased mother.  



About the author: Born on 13 June 1952 at Jigaon village in Arunachal Pradesh, Shri Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, IAS, started literary pursuit from his childhood. He was appointed as Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service Officer and inducted to Indian Administrative Service in 1992. He is receipient of some distinguished honours like Sahitya Akademi Award (2005), Bhasha Bharati Award (2005), Phulchand Khandelwal Sanghati Bata award (2001), Basudev Jalan Award from Asom Sahitya Sabha, Bhupen Hazarika Award (2017) from Sarhat (a Pune ased NGO), etc. His literary contribution is like a bouquet of many flowers in all areas of literature including Poetry, Novels, Short Stories, Folktales, etc.

About the translator: Shri Bibekananda Choudhury, Editor-in-Chief of dimorianreview.com e-journal, is an electrical engineer by profession and an eminent author and translator in Assam. He studied MS in Systems and Information in BITS, Pilani. He has also earned a diploma in French language from Gauhati University. He has got published works (both original and translated) in Assamese, Bengali & English in popular periodicals and newspapers. His translated poems has been published in 'Indian Literature', ‘Poets International’, Poetry International’, Rupsi Bangla, etc.  'Suryakatha', the Bengali adaptation done by him of the Assamese novelette in verse in the same title by Prayag Saikia was well accepted. His English translated publications include – one short story collection and four poetry collections and one Information Book on Kaziranga, apart from few others in manuscript form.
 
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