Awaiting Doomsday / Dev Kumari Thapa
[Translated by Kumar Nagarkoti]
"They say all nine planets are going to crash into one another and that the world is going to get submerged in water."
"Surely not the whole world. Only the places with sinners, I am sure. God will protect holy places."
"Nothing's going to be spared when all nine planets crash, neither the sinful nor the holy, everything will be razed to the dust."
The villagers are warming their hands on the fire completely engrossed in conversations like these. The women continued about their chores but with great anxiety. Everyone was sacred because of the rumours of the impending arrival of doomsday.
Having completed his bachelor level education in the terai, Bikram had come to this village and had been teaching at the village school, since the last year. Because of the worsening financial situation at home, he had had to drop out of college but he kept appearing in the exams independently. He started teaching and continuing his self studies. He quite liked the village. His meals were cooked at the house where he was staying. He didn't have to bother with cooking. The landlady and her daughter treated him as one of their own family members.
At first he laughed at the rumours going around in the village. But as people continued on and on about this doomsday issue, he too started having his doubts. Although he believed that an educated person like himself should not fall for such superstitions, that inherent flow of human nature was making him loose his footing. He reached the spot where the villagers were warming up by the fire with all these musings in his head. Everyone called out to him in a welcoming note, "Hey master nani, come on over here. Come and warm your hands. So young, not even settled yet and now all is going to end."
Bikram asked," Who is forecasting this end of the world phenomenon?"
An elderly man responded" Who else but that holy saint. Sure a pure soul! Every morning we go to him and pay our respects. I am sure some of sins have already been washed off merely by the sight of him. Haven't you been nani?"
Bikram answered" I did hear about the holy one but I haven't been to him as yet. I think I'll go soon."
Villagers said," You must go right anyway, nani, as within a week, a great catastrophe is going to take place and everything ends."
Bikram said OK to go but he wasn't quite resolved to do it. He thought," What nonsense! The comet Dhumketu has already made its round of earth and disappeared and nothing happened; so what could this catastrophe be?" He didn't think it wise to try to unconvince the villagers' thought. Their superstition had already taken roots. He spoke to the villagers for a while and went over to his rented place.
Once he reached there, the landlady called him for his meal. He walked into the kitchen from his room. There too was talk of the impending doomsday. The landlady's daughter Maiya's was forlorn. Time and again she looked at Bikram's face as though she were trying to say something to him. Since the mood was quite somber there, he didn't stay on to talk as he used to do on other days.
He went into his room and turned down the lantern a little. He lay down on the bed without taking off his clothes. With his fingers crossed behind his head, he stared at the ceiling. All kinds of memories surfaced in his head like the tides rising in the sea. He fell asleep thinking about all sorts of issues.
Someone caressed him and kissed him in his sleep. He got up with a startle and looked all around. When he woke out of his sleep, he saw that it was the landlady's daughter Maiya. He looked at her in total surprise and asked her" What happened Maiya? Why are you here at this hour?"
"Nothing's happened. I came just like that," said Maiya with her head bent down. Bikram added a note of harshness in his voice and said, "Go to sleep. You shouldn't be here at this time of the night. What'll people say if they saw you?"
Maiya responded a little flirtatiously, "Who cares what they say? We'll all be dead and gone soon anyway" and at this latter statement, her voice was heavy with emotions.
Bikram was shocked to realize that this was the other side of Maiya. Today she was speaking like a matured adult. What could he say to her? The teacher felt that he should try to work some sense into her "What childishness! You shouldn't believe in what any and everyone says. Is this what you have learnt from that I taught you so hard for?"
Maiya suddenly caught him in her arms and started to cry. "What's going to happen to us now?" Bikram had yet to adjust himself to this unexpected attack when Maiya started kissing and touching him. The more he pushed her, the more she stuck him like a leech. In the end, he gave up. The long dormant thirst of a man suddenly gushed out in search of an outlet and gorged out. He pulled Maiya into his covers.
It was already morning when Maiya went to her room.
Bikram took a bath and went to the kitchen for his meal. He was feeling a little odd, a new kind of sensation. He felt a little stronger; a little matured and also felt a sense of victory. He stole a glance at Maiya who was serving the meal. How amazing! Maiya looked like a good housewife serving food and she neither seemed unsettled nor scared by the events of the night before. Her face looked bright and content. She had the grace of a new bride in her appearance. There was no expression of insecurity or remorse in her. Overnight Maiya had turned into a woman from a young girl. After having done with his meal, Bikram went to teach.
The rumours regarding the catastrophe started spreading even more. People were spending money without care. "What to save for when there was to be no future?" they said. Dambare Karki cut his big goat which he had saved for Dashain and gave a big party. Hakucha slaughtered his string buffalo and distributed the meat the meat for all. Whoever had saved a little to avoid financial problems, started to spend it all. More than the fear of the doomsday, people seemed to be taking pleasure in spending without a worry and having a great time. It was as if the festivities had arrived.
There was an equally vibrant atmosphere in the hermit's hut. There was a mound of jwellery, money, fruits, cereals, that the devotees had given to the saint in the offering and on the other side was the darkly bearded and mustached, healthy and proud looking saint sitting cross-legged on top of the leopard skin. Bikram was really taken aback. So much gold and silver in such a seemingly poor village. He too bowed down at the saint's feet like everyone else but he didn't offer any alms. The saint showered Bikram with blessings "May you live very long" and Bikram accepted the blessings with open palms. It seemed to Bikram as if the leopard skin the "Maharaj" was sitting on had come alive and was sitting right in front of him in the form of the saint. There seemed to be the same expression in the eyes of the leopard and that of the "Maharaj" captured the prey in your gaze and attack! Bikram was frightened by these sinful thoughts and rushed home fast.
Maiya was waiting for Bikram with food she had cooked. He felt a little awkward. He wasn't sure how to accept this new relationship but he could also feel a sweet sensation within himself.
Maiya gave him some food. Her natural and unashamed demeanor thoroughly amazed him. He even felt suspicious that "Is she a girl of loose character?"
Saturday arrived-the day of the professed catastrophe. From Friday night people started singing devotional songs and praying to the lord. They stayed up all night in prayers and in the morning gathered and had a feast- the Last Supper!! Rice flour doughnuts, beaten rice and mustard greens, potato, pickle, salad and curd. The villagers waited doomsday with much eagerness and excitement. But Saturday turned into night and passed midnight but the catastrophe never fell. People started getting restless. They behaved as if a loved guest had failed to arrive and started pacing back and forth. They stopped singing.
On Sunday morning the elderly people in the village walked up the hill to pay their respects to the "Maharaj". To their total disbelief, the hut was empty and neither the "Maharaj" nor the mound of alms was there. Scattered all over the floor were flowers, greens, garlands and tika. The villagers were totally taken aback and collapsed into the floor of the hut.
Once news got out, people started getting angry. The youth went running in search of the saint as there weren't any seeds or grains left in the village. How were they to survive now? All their goats and lambs, ducks and chickens, buffaloes and boars were consumed. Thanks God! At least the cows and bulls were still alive.
The villagers started justifying but some lost their cool totally. Some even resigned and started making fun of the whole situation. The most surprising thing was that no one seemed relieved at the failure of the catastrophe. It was this very failure in the so awaited doomsday that proved them to be fools. Some outsider had walked into their village and made fools out of them and that to them was the most and made fools out of them and that to them was the most shameful thing of all.
Bikram was lying on his bed and thinking "I was the educated one, I was the teacher and yet I was proved a fool too. I had noticed that the "Maharaj" looked more like a leopard than saint but how I didn't warn the villagers? I didn't have the guts for. But a cowardly youth that's what I am." Suddenly he felt a little bit uplifted by the events of the events of the night before. That young woman, Maiya, had at least shown her courage. She made sure that she got the man she liked. Circumstances prove a person, he thought. And from depth of his heart, he felt love budding into shape for Maiya.