Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chapak, Chapak Goes the Demon

He was an old man, with crinkled eyes, wrinkled skin and a slight stoop.

He was a young man. He was still fascinated and keen to learn.

Having lived in the village all his life, working in the fields till his back broke. Watching the sun, watching the rain and watching his land were the only things he knew and understood. He heard about the city lights, which made a day out of the night. He heard of the vehicles that moved without horses or bulls. Sometimes he saw them in village too, raking up dust in its trail. He heard of tall buildings that one had to lean far back to see the tops of.

A small, teeny weeny desire to see this place that sounded right out of a fairy tale sprouted in his heart. But he had work and he kept postponing the trip. One day, he could bear it no longer. The fascinating tales filled his ears, flowed into his brain and like a bee, buzzed only one message in his head, Visit a City.

Finally, on a day when his work was light, he went to his neighbour - an old man of the world. "Sir, I have dreamed of seeing the city for long and wish to visit it today. How should I go about it?" he asked humbly.

The old man, remembering his own younger days when he had visited the city often, tried to prepare the younger man for the surprises in store there. This further fed the younger man's eagerness to visit the city. But the old man added, "Beware, don't get lured in by the attractions of the city. Not everything is as it seems. There are many demons there that will lead you astray."

When the young old man reached the city, he found that the old man had not exaggerated at all. There was so much to see that one day seemed too little. He saw people going by vehicles without bullocks and now realised what the old man had said about demons. He was careful to avoid them. He saw people coming out from a temple and put something on their feet and start walking faster.

This was really the last straw. Having resisted all temptations of the city till now, he couldn't control his urge and slipped his feet also into these contraptions. It seemed so simple and involved no devilry.

His heart shook just a bit when it caught his feet snugly. He looked around at the others shiftily. No one seemed perturbed and he was reassured. It was not comfortable though - the feet were, but his heart wasn't. Would he have to pay a heavy price for giving in?

Soon, he became aware that he was not alone. Every time he walked, he thought he could hear the sound "chapak, chapak" near him. He stopped, looking around to see who was making that noise. The sound stopped too. No one minded him, no one seemed to take note of him or pay him the slightest attention. He started walking, and he thought he could hear the chapak chapak sound around him faintly. He looked around sharply but could detect no one around him. The sound, though, continued unabated.

He felt nervous and lost interest in his surroundings. There was something following him, and something that refused to come out in the open. He said a prayer and started walking again. The sound followed him. Oh god, the demon had caught him, he thought nervously, speeding up. As he walked through grassland, he was relieved to note the demon had left him. But the moment his feet touched the muddy track leading to his village, he heard the sound again. If he ran, the demon ran too. If he slowed down, the demon slowed down too. Fear nearly paralysed him. By now it was dusk and the oncoming night would see him standing ripe for plucking in the middle of nowhere. He decided to run for his life, but by now he was hungry and tired and the demon seemed neither tired nor hungry. Or maybe, just hungry.

He was relieved to see another villager come by in a bullock cart. He hailed the cart and was relieved to be given a ride. Seeing him limp and flustered, the cart driver asked him the reason. Shamefully he told him of being chased by a demon. "I think it doesn't like company," he said looking around him. "The noise has stopped," he added with evident relief.

The cart driver laughed sceptically. But when he dropped the villager at the corner temple and heard the demon every time the villager walked, their eyes met in fear. The villager took a step towards the cart, but the cart driver wanted none of it. He drove away fast.

It was night now and the villager stood shivering in the new contraption. He wondered if that were the reason for the demon to follow him. It had trapped him and he was now unable to shake it off. Crying, he ran through the lonely paths towards the old man's hut, wondering if he could guide him on how to be rid of this chapak chapak demon, which was also running with him. What did it want? It hadn't eaten him up yet. What was it waiting for? Its friends to join in the killing?

Tearfully and fearfully he banged on the old man's door. When the old man opened the door, the young old villager fell at the older man's feet. "Save me from the demon," he cried out pitifully.

The old man, perplexed, raised the younger man and asked him what happened.

"Wherever I go, the chapak chapak demon chases me," he said looking around him as if fearing the demon would spring on him from nowhere. "I promise you, just as you said, I kept away from every city allure. And yet it has trapped me. It follows me everywhere," he said, now bawling more openly.

The old man looked at uncomprehendingly. "Chapak chapak demon? What is that???"

"Every time I walk, it walks with me. If I stop, it stops too."

The old man shook his head puzzled. He had heard of several novelties of the city, but never of a chapak chapak demon. "I do not know what it is. But you say it follows you when you walk? Can you walk for me?"

The villager trembled. 'Do I really have to?' he seemed to ask. But with great difficulty, he brought his feet frozen with fear to move. First, the old man could hear nothing. Then, when the young man walked a bit faster, he could hear it distinctly. "What did you do in the city?" the old man asked, his eyes twinkling. "Surely you were up to some mischief?"

"Not at all!" the villager sat on his haunches, his hands together in supplication.

"What is that on your feet then? Surely not your own. Did you steal someone's slippers?"

The villager looked at the old man perplexed, then he looked at his feet. "These are slippers? I didn't steal them. People came out of a temple and wore them as they left. I did the same." Then, as if he realised something, he said slowly, "Only I didn't go into the temple. Do you think that is why...?"

The old man laughed and patted the villager on the back. "No, that is not why. It is not a demon." And when he explained what the sound was all about, the villager looked sheepish - it was the contraption, the slippers, that had been making that sound? The younger man felt foolish, laughing at himself for believing in demons.

He was cured of his fear, and he was cured of his desire to visit the city too.

Finding Her Way - Children's Short Story

Ammu lived with her two young sons in the fringes of the forest. The elder son, Somaiya, was all of 10 and acted all of 20 - responsible and helpful.

Rangaiya, though, was a brat and at age 5, needed to feel the stick on his back before he quietened down. For a while. Then his mischief would begin - climbing trees, hiding behind pots and pans, toppling them in a hurry to escape his mother's wrath.

Ammu tried hard to remember that Rangaiya was just a child. But at the end of a hard day, it was difficult. Though their needs were minimal, even to meet them, she needed to work in other people's homes when they needed her help in exchange for food or old clothes they gave her as payment. The days there was no work, she would venture into the forest nearby to collect wood, fruits and trap small animals.

At least one good thing was that Rangaiya also went to school, giving her respite. But taking the boy through the forest to reach the nearby village for the school was a nightmare in itself. He fearlessly tripped ahead of her, sometimes hiding behind trees and jumping from branch to branch to boo her from behind. Even Somaiya seemed tempted to follow his younger brother's lead, sometimes running away with him.

One afternoon, when the boy continued being high spirited despite a supposedly grueling day at school, she stopped half way. Glaring at her younger son, she said, "Will you stop it?"

The boy didn't even seem to hear her as he ran ahead and turned left suddenly. Something snapped inside Ammu. She retraced her steps silently, dragging her elder son and warning him to be silent. She took a circuitous route back home, sure that her son will find his way back home.

But all through the way, she started imagining the worst. Leaving Somaiya behind at home, she walked through the regular trail and panicked when she found no signs of Rangaiya. She paused at the point she thought Rangaiya had turned, but did not find him there. She wove her way back and turned into the clearing she had taken. She was relieved to see her son lying under a tree, and then she panicked, wondering if...

She ran to him, crying out his name. The boy got up with surprising agility, though it took him a minute to realise who was calling his name. Running to her with a laugh, he said in his baby voice, "Oh, I am so glad to find you. Did you get lost? Were you scared?"

Stunned, Ammu paused in the process of lifting her son up and stared at him in disbelief. Then she laughed, pure joyous laugh and hugged him tight. "I am very hungry now," he declared. "Do you know the way to the house?" he asked like a grown up, drawing a bigger smile.

"You guide me and I will follow," Ammu replied gamely as she carried the little bundle in her arms.

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