The Little Green Woman from Innerspace
The monsoon of 1998 saw me excited upon a spectacular journey, a nice getaway that every tormented prisoner of Chaos City longs for. Thanks to my close college-mate, Sridhar, Kaushal and I got a berth for an exciting offsite training at the IPCL plant at a distant place, Nagothane. The three of us were quite a group
Accomodation at Pen:
While Sridhar had a direct bus from his outskirts residence leading to the plant location, Kaushal and I had to stay at a nearby town called “Pen” ( n pronounced with the stronger syllable), which is famous for its plaster sculptors who supply the whole world with plaster statues of Lord Ganesh. Thanks to my father’s colleague, we got ourselves an accomodation in the innermost precincts of Pen, which was a stronghold of Maratha warriors of yore, whose presence could still be felt through the family temples and the large residences named “Waadas” prefixed with the family names (eg. Daataarwaada). The Waadas and the fragrance of the place were frozen in time ever since the last Maratha warrior raised his war cry, save the falling plaster and structural deterioration of the buildings, inspite of which the structures stood tall and sturdy.
The clouds and the left-overs of the sunshine that it spared through, ensured that the grays matched with that of the old town.
When we asked for the residence of Mr. Gokhale, our host, we were pointed to an old, ramshackle tumbledowned home. It was made of mud with a roof of burnt-red Mangalore tiles. The central portion of the structure had already given way, succumbimg to the forces of nature and neglect. We came to know later that this demolished part of the house partitioned the two occupant families of the house like a no-man’s land between conflicting countries. The courtyard was a fine red paste of mud, the blend of which told us aloud that the place was well rain-fed. The dripping droplets from the trees above did its bit to keep the dampness of the place alive, despite the strong showers having left the place about an hour back.
Our host was very courteous well in his eighties, and had lots of stories to tell us about ayurveda and the silver screens of yest years where he served as a technical person. The posters of the old movies which he proudly showed with his name in the fineprint, with the innocence of a child showing his high grades, were all faded. But in the glimmer of his faint eyes, the colours of Madhubala’s costumes showed with its full lustre, just like it did on the silver screen on one of the first eastman colour movies that he edited.
After his wife’s demise, Mr. Gokhale stayed all alone by himself in this house but for a companion whom he called “the Laxmi” of the home. I discovered this “Laxmi” later, a small mole rat, when she was having her share of the khichdi that I cooked with chef Kaushal’s directions, thankfully she did that after we were done with our share. She was harmless as Uncle Gokhale had told us, she came uninvited and left at her own will, but paid regular visits. The house was lit by three bulbs, one flickering tubelight and had bare minimum possessions like a primus original kerosene stove and a couple of vessels for cooking and heating bath water. We were about to crib for a fan before the onset of the night that blew a cold breeze with torrential rains over the place. We sought refuge under our blankets.
The Dark Damp Night.
At the end of the first long day Kaushal and I were done with our dinner and so was “Laxmi”. We were also done washing the utensils and the clothes which took over two days and nights to dry in the damp weather. The one’s which dried anyways became wet when we wore it and set off in the windy rains.
The last lamp in the house was finally switched off and Kaushal immediately dropped asleep. While I somehow made it to the bed in the pitch dark, I was lost in the darkness even after settling in the bed. I could feel just my eyelids flickering with not a pixel illuminated on my retina to prove that I still had the ability to see. Goodness!! had i turned blind!!?? or do such dark places actually exist on earth!!?? My eye lids continued to blink with an experience of total blindness less the sixth sense of a blind man.
The next morning, Mr. Gokhale gave us a small surprise and said that he is leaving for Mumbai to collect his pension and the house would remain in our charge. He asked us to religiously light a lamp or an agarbatti in the place near the kitchen where he had the photographs of few Gods and his departed grandmother who had taught him ayurveda. He gave us some medicines to take care of ourselves, and a mysterious powder which was supposed to have the effect of sanjivini.. the elixir of life kind of drug. I later on found that the same medicine had cured my tonsils without operation, long back when Mr. Gokhale’s son had sent me during my troubled days.
The Damp night Returns.. She Came with her torch.
The night repeated with her mysterious darkness, tranquilizing Kaushal almost as fast as the lights went off. Once again I marvelled at the immense darkness of the place till I had the encounter which was waiting few moments ahead.
Just when my eyelids were almost done with their routine flicker and were about to close like the falling curtains of a concluded opera show, they swung wide open to a spectacle! This time they did not flicker…my eyelids were held wide open…. for the entire room was filled with a green haze that was bright enough to light every detail of the room, just like the zero watt bulb of the room in the brown-out low voltage.
For the first few minutes I could not trace the source of the light, until a tiny green lantern came flying across the room and hovered for a brief instant over my head with her full lustre in which i could now see my own nose. She proved to me that i did not turn blind after the lights went out and that my faculties of vision still remained active. I realized that the room and I were haunted, as much as I was enchanted, by this glow-worm who had just graduated to become a firefly. Her tail had the faint green steady light which was unlikely of the bright strobelight flashes of the fully grown firefly. She settled on the wall like the night lamp on duty, while her green glow into sweet slumber.
I was beginning to believe that it was a dream until the next night she returned to redeem me from the blinding darkness of the night, giving me company till I fell asleep, giving me rays of green hope even under the grey clad skies and the burnt mangalore tiled roof.
The night after, she never came, but by then my heart was full of her beauty and lustre and I was pretty much convinced that it was the darkness of the night …. nay not loss of sight which defined the black canvas on which my imagination drew green images.
A page in my diary Tales of Gokhale Uncle and Pen