Saturday, December 24, 2016


THE PARK - A SHORT STORY

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If you  take a walk till the dead end of Gandhi Bazar in Tenali Town on the banks of river Krishna, you will find a sign board written in bold letters, "CURSED PARK - DO NOT ENTER". Yes! It is right, it is a cursed park in the midst of a very civilized society. The colony abetting the park, that was once a lower middle class locality turned posh with change in the economics of a nation that fought every challenge except superstition. The locality boasted of a communally harmoniously living communities of various hues. They rarely differed on any issue including superstitious beliefs,

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A decade ago I was living in a colony half a kilometer away from the colony in which the park was painstakingly developed by the residents of the colony society. Yes! It was a real park. It was a park like any other in the country and the world. It had four walls and a gate. And there was prominently displayed a sign board on the gate that read "Entry for all except dogs". Timings 5.15 AM to 8.15 AM and 5.15 PM to 8.15 PM. Another board read "Close the gates when you enter and exit, lest dogs enter and spoil the beauty of the park" Such was the civic sense of the colony residents. The park was proud to have large trees with no flowers and small plants with flowers of various hues and colors. They were reminding me of the richest people with no wisdom and the poorest people rich in wisdom. I am an observer of   nature and also nature of human beings. Grass that was grown in the middle of the park was being dressed neatly like your hair dresser was doing your hair dressing. And just as the hair dressing fashion was changing with the release of a new style of the hair of a new hero in a new film released in a new theater in the old town, the grass too was changing its style with the passing of each year and with a new committee taking charge with new ideas in their old brains. There was a fountain in the midst of the park that was working when the park was open to public All was beauty around the park, what with a children park too on a side.

As most of the parks were having "walking trails" this park too was having a lengthy walking trail in a circle. There were lots "Good Mornings" and a lot more "Bye, Bye"s on and off the trail daily. And what else? There were a good number of Senior Citizens walking, talking, running, puffing, talking, sneezing, coughing, laughing, moody, happy, depressed, enthusiastic to live more, enigmatically silent and know-alls and what-do-I-knows. I was a writer those days. I was interested in fiction. I had a notion that a writer should talk less and hear more. If a writer talked he could do so with one, two or five people. If he heard he could hear lots and lots of people. Hence, I could be categorized as one of the "enigmatically silent"

It was a treat to hear the conversations of the early morning walkers who used to assemble in groups well before sun rise. Groups of two, three or four used to walk in unison. Same people used to walk and talk together. I gathered from my own intelligence that the groups were either having equal pace of walking or common, garden-variety or serious topics of talking. When we are walking in a circle where other people or groups of people are also walking and talking and we change our pace to eves drop on the topics of conversation either to enjoy the fun, empathize with the sadder ones or gather enough intelligence to make good "fiction" out of the hearsay for the benefit of making a life out of it or making the lives of others merrier at a small price, we have a lot to learn and earn there by.

What a merry go-round it was for me? The plethora of subjects ranged from the taste of Idly on the push-cart across the street, to the spicy mirchi bajji he makes in the evening.the sons in America , the Sense of America, knee pain to a brand new key chain acquired by an old man, travels to travails with servants. And you have to hear the Senior women. Their topics of conversation always revolved around work maids and working maidens (daughters-in-law). It was fun for the gallery but pain for the supposedly injured party.

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"There are no queerer things than abandoned houses"  a septuagenarian said grimly.  A placid looking man nodded his head in agreement. Another grim looking  octogenarian quipped, "No! there are rummer things than abandoned houses I know, there are, I know there are" Age and infirmity started casting a spell upon him that he started repeating words forgetting he already spoke them.  The placid man said coolly, "Yes! There is a possibility" "What possibility? Let him prove." the first man said angrily. He wanted to win the point.  "Yes! He will, certainly he will" smiled the placid one. "Yes! I will prove, I will prove, I will prove"  repeated the oldest of the group. A fourth gentleman who was sitting silently till then turning his head from one to the other finally spoke. "Yes! Gupta Jee! Please tell the story you know". For, the name of the octogenarian was Mr. Gupta and the gentleman that just spoke seemed to have heard the story earlier. All these four seniors were sitting on a reclining wooden bench in the park before saying "Bye" to each other and I was relaxing on another bench by the side resting my legs a few minutes before heading home myself.
 A placid looking man nodded his head in agreement. Another grim looking  octogenarian quipped, "No! there are rummer things than abandoned houses I know, there are, I know there are" Age and infirmity started casting a spell upon him that he started repeating words forgetting he already spoke them.  The placid man said coolly, "Yes! There is a possibility" "What possibility? Let him prove." the first man said angrily. He wanted to win the point.  "Yes! He will, certainly he will" smiled the placid one. "Yes! I will prove, I will prove, I will prove"  repeated the oldest of the group. A fourth gentleman who was sitting silently till then turning his head from one to the other finally spoke. "Yes! Gupta Jee! Please tell the story you know". For, the name of the octogenarian was Mr. Gupta and the gentleman that just spoke seemed to have heard the story earlier. All these four seniors were sitting on a reclining wooden bench in the park before saying "Bye" to each other and I was relaxing on another bench by the side resting my legs a few minutes before heading home myself.



"Curse! Curse! Curse is rummer than abandoned houses. Yes! I know the curse of the dead is the ghastliest thing I ever noticed." 



"I agree Sir! I too heard the dead come back as demons to haunt those who troubled them" agreed the placid man. 



All heard with interest. " One of my uncles was very rich. His sons had an eye on his wealth. But he lived  more number of years than the sons bargained for. As they grew in age, their frustration increased, for, my uncle was too miserly to let them enjoy their lives. So, one fine morning they did him in. they did him in, yes they have done with him."



"Murdered?" the placid man lost his cool the first time.



"Yes! Murdered, murdered, murdered" repeated the old man. "But the truth never came out. And time passed by" 



"A year or two later the family members of the old man started hearing strange noises. The noises increased with time. They were so scared that they wanted to flee the place. Finally one Tantrik performed rituals and declared that it was thee dead man's curse that was causing all the trouble. So they left the place and sold all properties. Now the house is locked and abandoned."



All including the septuagenarian agreed that it was the most bizarre story they ever heard. I had a hearty laugh inside my heart and we all left.  



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Months passed by.  The ritual of walking, talking, hearing and noting down for fictionalizing continued. One morning, when I entered the park, majority of the joggers were assembled at various corners in a gloomy mood. Overhearing, I noted that Mr. Gupta Jee, expired the preceding night. He was old. So, the condolences were restricted to Gupta Jee's good qualities. 



A week later, the scene repeated. A fifty five year old man, very healthy and agile died of heart attack that early morning. The whole climate in the park turned very gloomy.  "Very young, very young"  was heard umpteen times. The placid gentleman's face was pale with fear. I did not understand why death, that was as natural as birth, was to be taken so seriously.  



Then, the unimaginable happened. Seven deaths occurred in a short span of two months. All were regular morning walkers. Some  were very young and some very old. Death came in different forms. Three died in accidents. Others, though naturally, cause of their deaths varied.. For the first time a seed of superstition started planting itself in the minds of regular visitors to the park. The seed was planted by none other than the septuagenarian who heard the story of "curse"  from his friend Gupta Jee! The word spread fast. Slowly the numbers  of morning walkers depleted. Within a month I was the only one along with another young man who recently came to the colony who were taking rounds in the park.  I was very distressed and disappointed at human nature.  But I was never a friend to  any one. I  rarely talked to any one. My trying to convince them did not arise at all.


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Months have gone by. I never stopped my routine, nor the new youth. Two or three more new people joined us. I never saw the earlier group of people again. Then it happened. One morning, I saw an octogenarian, who was earlier a regular jogger rejoining the routine. He did not come alone. He was accompanied by a young couple. They were not taking rounds on the trail but were  sitting on a bench, on the same bench daily, After a few days I came to know that they were his son and daughter-in--law. I would not have known this had I not sat on a bench adjacent to theirs. I overheard the daughter-in-law commenting, " I do not know when this cursed park takes this old man's life. I am vexed feeding him and serving him."  I was shocked  at this revelation. 

Soon, the old man died it seems. All the three stopped coming to the park.. I  had no confirmation until young couples queued up to the park bringing their old ones to the park. The crowds swelled, Some youngsters took to walking and running exercises. One, two, six months passed. Nothing happened. There were no further casualties. The youngsters seemed to be getting restless. I overheard murmurs, "After all! The "curse"  seems to be a misnomer, we are wasting time" and "Wait! Have patience! The curse must be true!""

Then, it happened. One young couple accompanying an old man was found murdered in their apartment. No clues were found.  And soon, another young man died in an accident. Police suspected it was not an accident but a crude way of murdering. This news spread like wild fire. Gloom descended on the park. People stopped coming to the "cursed park". Two or three guys like me did not stop going. 

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One fine morning, when I went for a stroll in the park, gates were closed with iron chains and locked with a heavy metal lock. There was a notice board on the gate.

"IN VIEW OF THE RECENT DEATHS, ACCIDENTS AND MURDERS OF AND TO PEOPLE VISITING THE PARK, THE SOCIETY DECIDED TO CLOSE THE PARK AND INFORM THE PUBLIC THAT IT IS A "CURSED' PARK. AUTHORITIES WERE INFORMED ACCORDINGLY'

I was dumbfounded. I could not believe such things happen in a civilized society. I had no contacts locally. I wrote to the authorities that it was stupid to close the park on such silly rumors and requested them to reopen the park forthwith. My letters did not elicit any response.  After a period of time I too stopped going there or thinking about the issue.

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One day I read a news item that a real estate baron masterminded the murders of the youth to cash in the superstition that the park was haunted by a curse and to encroach upon the valuable land.  But, unknown to him superstition won and the park was closed. Police religiously followed leads and arrested the realtor and two others. Grapevine has it that the realtor will get death penalty for the gruesome murders.. And those in the know of things still talk about the "curse" on the park or else "why would the realtor get such gruesome idea to murder people?"

I still believe it is the greed in the man that is the real curse. Greed of the old in not allowing their wealth to be shared by their posterity, greed of the young to grab the wealth of the elders and finally the greed of sharks to swallow everything available. 


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