COFFIN


Original in Assamese: Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi
Translation: Bibekananda Choudhury

The old lady died suddenly. She was not too old by count of years though. Just a few strands of hair turned silver. There had not been any specific illness either. There had been nothing on her part to worry about or any physical strain involved. She was just happily spending her days. There was no speciality to describe her. Very few people knew her, and it was just because she was the mother of a minister in power. Had her son not been a minister, she’d have been living hand to mouth toiling in the fields in a remote village on the China border. Perhaps her life would have been shorter - she would have died much earlier than this day. Or maybe, perhaps, she would have lived some more days, some more months or even a few years longer. But she was destined to die today, destined to die not in her village home but in the government bungalow in Itanagar, in the minister’s bungalow itself. Yet she died on such a day when she was not supposed to. She should have chosen some other time to die. Then her children, relatives and the few people that knew her, would have found ample time to express grief. She died on such a day when everyone was busy with election. She died without any disease, without any foreboding of impending death, putting everyone in trouble, specially her son, contesting the election for the third time, and in great risk of being routed.

Luckily her minister son was present at Itanagar that day as he had to come to collect the party ticket. He was planned to move to the district headquarter of his home district the following day. Because only a couple of days remained to submit nomination for candidature to the Returning Officer. No one from the family has been staying these days in the ministers’ bungalow. Everyone has moved to their home to do their part for the election campaign. Is it a matter of joke – this election? To work for the party, apart from cooking for the workers engaged in the campaign practically round the clock - so many voters just drop by to enjoy food and free swig – one practically loses count at the end of the day. And one cannot guarantee that those voters enjoying free food and drinks would eventually vote in favour of the candidate. One comes across such a category of voters who would drop by at every candidates house, enjoy the hospitality, take money, and finally cast the vote in someone else’s favour.

Last time the old lady went to her home and got engaged in cooking round-the-clock, took care of the people engaged in election campaign, and, as such, she wanted to go back to her place, i.e. to the tiny township that has sprung up near her native village. But everyone left her back to be the sentinel of the bungalow at Itanagar. She was told just to come back a couple of days before the poll day - just to cast her vote. Because value of a single vote matters very high at times in this State with very small number of voters. Last time too, her son won by an extremely thin margin of five votes. This time it would be really tough. People are in angst against her minister son. There is no scope for winning if one does not spend two-three times more this time. But, to put the matter to worse, all the avenues to distribute cash has been closed. They have set up check gates at various points to check such activities. The minister son of the old lady is worried about that. He arrived from his constituency to formulate a strategy to win the election if one cannot cough up a good amount of cash among the voters, met the high command of the party yesterday and sought advice and simultaneously received the ticket. Today he was planned to move very early. Then it happened. After sitting on the car, suddenly he remembered about his mother. So just to say hello and bid bye, he got down from the car and strode towards her bedroom. As she, an early riser, did not come out on his calling, he pushed the door open and stepped into the room. Then he discovered that he was actually shaking a dead body as he made an effort to wake her up. It was as if the sky had crashed down over him. What to do at such time! He must, under any condition, reach the district capital of his constituency - it is so far that it takes about twelve-thirteen hours by car - provided no hurdle is encountered on the way, otherwise it takes a couple of days. Why should his mother leave him forever at this juncture! The minister did not feel any sorrow-pain-remorse at his mother’s demise, rather he felt irritated, felt angry, and the anger made him swore looking at the dead mother’s face – ‘Why should you have died today? Why could not you choose any other day? At least you should have died after casting the vote. What do I do now? I can’t even leave you like that. If I do that, the opposition would find ample scope to malign me. They’d say I am running after election deserting my mother’s dead body back at Itanagar. It would have been nice had there been someone here. At present there are none except the menials. What do I do, mother, you advice now’. The fact that Saab got down to bid good bye to his mother even after taking the seat, now the very person who had been prodding them to hurry is taking so much time took the driver and bodyguard by surprise and the bodyguard rushed inside to find out the reason. As he set foot inside, the security person heard saab scolding his own mother in a very harsh voice. During his long association with this gentleman, the bodyguard had never seen him talking to her even in a raised voice, so he was taken aback hearing with his own ears her son scolding the old lady and strode into the room.

‘What happened sir? We are late! Won’t you go?’ he asked his saab from behind before actually surveying the situation.

‘Look what happened. Why should this old lady do such acts at this crucial juncture?’ – the minister replied angrily.
‘What did she do? Oh, it is really bad. She has died. Perhaps passed away in sleep. It is good that you were present.’ The guard commented after touching the old lady.

‘What good? She died at a time when I am in a great hurry putting everything in jeopardy. What do I do now?’

‘May I take the liberty to say something? Let us take the dead body along. We can bury it in the village.’

‘Yes, I am also thinking the same. But how do we carry it?’  The minister suddenly sat down on the nearest chair with such an expression as if he has been totally drained out.

‘Sir, why should a minister like you worry at all? We would take care of everything’. The bodyguard swung into action instantly and left the room. He returned a few minutes after accompanied by the driver and the household help engaged in the quarter. Everyone present went into action mode after they were convinced on personal verification about her death. Without waiting for their master’s instruction, all of them carried the corpse to an inner room and laid it on a long table that had already been converted into a makeshift bed. The guard and the driver practically broadcasted the news of demise of minister’s mother using their mobiles. So the news spread in the town within a considerably short time and people thronged the minister official residence in no time. They made a beeline to offer their last respect to the corpse laid on the long table covered with clothes in the inner room in the minister’s bungalow. As if the society faced an irreparable damage because of the demise of a popular respected leader, social worker, artist, litterateur, player or any personality shot to fame because of any reason. Those ministers or legislators that were ready to move to their respective constituencies made a detour to the residence of this minister and offered floral tributes to his deceased mother, a word of condolence and the customary piece of advice. The Governor, too, sent his representative with a bouquet and a condolence message. Then the Chief Minister himself turned up with his entourage. As the Pilot car of Chief Minister’s cavalcade entered into the campus blaring the siren there was some commotion and an undeclared competition ensued among the close circle to inform the minister about Chief Minister’s arrival. Someone advised – the minister should come out and usher in the Chief Minister from the car, a few others vehemently opposed and advised the minister to remain seated beside his mother’s corpse. While he was pondering what to do best, the Chief Minister reached him with a huge bouquet. As soon as the minister, who did not shed a single drop of tear since morning saw his leader, the chief minister, tears started rolling down in streams from his eyes. The sound of sobbing instantly transformed the environment inside into sombre. At the same time, people saw a woman coming to the house crying loudly all the way. Everyone understood that she must be someone very close. Without bothering for the Chief Minister who had been praying with a silent murmur for eternal peace of the deceased soul putting the bouquet very tenderly near her feet and standing there she hurled herself over the dead body. Just at the moment someone came forward to take her away, the chief minister put an end to his prayer session and pulled the lady himself and asked the minister – did she suffer from any disease?

‘No, nothing like that. She had been perfectly all right till last night.’ The minister replied, controlling his sobbing.
‘When did she expire at night?’
‘Don’t know. I just sat on the car in the morning and was about to start, then I realised she has not come out to bid me off, so I stopped and entered her bedroom, and…mother…’ his voice broke down.
‘Don’t cry. What is the use crying now? But you must move with the dead body now. You are to file nomination.’
‘I am thinking of burying her here.’
‘How can you? This is a government property. It is not your personal property. So carry her to your place. Bury there. I need to talk to you in private. Let’s go sit somewhere for a few minutes.’
The minister entered his office room in the bungalow with the Chief Minister in tow. He instructed the guards to stop visitors. As they came out after the discussion the minister’s face appeared bright. He accompanied the Chief Minister to the car and bade him farewell. Before departing, the Chief Minister, ensuring that everyone present also hears clearly, told the minister – ‘I am congratulating you in advance. We would form the government after the election. You’d be the minister again.’ [Read More] [eBook]



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