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I did some mental arithmetic; 86 years had elapsed since the year when Sergeant Parkins received the medal. Even if he had been only 20 years old then, he should be 106 now. So it was improbable that he was still living.
The day was Saturday, a half-day for the school. I had previously decided to visit my native village. There was a person in the village whom I respected as an uncle; he was a historian of sorts, and lived in the village. I thought he would be excited to see the medal. I requested Sudhir to lend me the medal, promising to return it on Monday. After school, I returned home, picked up my suitcase, and boarded the train to my village from the Sealdah Station at 2.30pm. When I reached the village station, it was 5.30pm. It was a two-mile walk to my home, and when I arrived dusk had already fallen; I could have reached earlier but I had walked rather leisurely.
It was towards the end of the rainy season, but it had not rained much lately and the village paths were quite dry. The rain-bathed fresh green foliage on either side of the pathway was a treat for the eyes, especially to someone who had lived in Kolkata for long; for this reason, I walked leisurely instead of hurrying along the way. I must mention at this point that no one else lives in my house; an old woman from the neighbourhood comes and cooks for me whenever I arrive here for a short stay. A childhood friend, Brindavan, had been living abroad for many years now; my aunt had informed me that he too had arrived in the village about a fortnight ago. This was wonderful news, and I was looking forward to meeting him later in the evening. I made myself a cup of tea and, then, stepped out for a stroll by the river; before leaving I pocketed the medal because I wanted to show it to Brindavan.
The river was swollen and had burst its banks. I sat watching the river for a long time. It had grown dark. Bats darted back and forth as they returned to their roosts; there wasn't a soul in sight. The recent rains had caused a breach at one spot of the bank; it was quite a high spot. Curious to see the extent of damage, I approached nearer. The spot was quite high and the level of the gushing water was low there. Suddenly I was seized by a strange urge; I wanted to jump into the river! The longer I remained there the more intense the desire became. The water below flowed with great force; I don't know how to swim; the river was deep at that point. Yet, I felt that I must jump, else there would be no happiness for me!
Somehow I managed to repel that fatal attraction, and forced myself to leave. My legs felt leaden, and I was certain that if I did not leave immediately there would be no returning back for me!
The moment I took the path that led to Brindavan's house, the urge deserted me as quickly as it had seized me. How strange! Why should I have experienced such a fatal desire? I had smoked too many cigarettes during the train journey; it had not been wise to do so in such hot and humid conditions. Then, I had consumed a lot of tea. The cigarettes and tea could have produced the disquieting effect. Yes, that was the only plausible explanation.
I arrived at Brindavan's house; it was wonderful to meet him after such a long time. We sat talking of old times. It was a warm evening and there wasn't any breeze. "Let's go up to the terrace, we will at least get some air there," Brindavan suggested. "And, yes, you will have your supper with us; it is Ma's order!"
We went up to the terrace of the two-storied house; there was however only a single room on the top floor. I knew Brindavan's uncle lodged in this room. I noticed that scaffoldings had been erected on the rear of the house. "It seems you are renovating the house," I remarked. "Yes, uncle's room needs to be repaired; the bricks on the southern wall also have to be replaced," Brindavan said.
Brindavan entered the room, but I was overcome with an uneasy feeling. We talked for some time and, then, I requested to have a glass of water. Brindavan went down to fetch water and I started pacing the terrace. Excepting for me, there was no one else on the terrace just then. It was dark. I went to the side of the scaffoldings and, suddenly, felt an overwhelming urge to leap down from the terrace.
Yes, I must jump down. I was about to carry out the urge when Brindavan called from behind, "Hey, come inside; Ma's going to send us some tea; why are you standing there?"
We talked of this and that for half an hour when tea was delivered from downstairs. We sat chatting late into the evening, and then Brindavan went down to see whether supper was ready.
It was very warm inside, so I once again stepped out of the room and began pacing the terrace. When I approached the scaffoldings the urge to jump off the terrace once more seized me. I must jump this time; there was no one to intervene. But, at the same time, something deep inside me said, "Don't jump, fool; you will break all the bones in your body!" My head swam and I couldn't think clearly.
I can't say what actually happened at that instant, but subsequently I was jolted out of my daze by Brindavan's shouts; he had caught hold of my hand and was pulling me back.
"Good heavens! I saw you jump off; fortunately, your legs got entangled in the scaffoldings! What's the matter?"
It was as though my head was still spinning. "I really don't know what happened," I told Brindavan.
Brindavan helped me into the room and made me lie down on the couch. Everyone said the train journey and summer heat had made me giddy. But I know for certain it wasn't giddiness; I had jumped on purpose. However, try as hard as I could, the recollection of that instant when I jumped eluded me.
I felt quite restored after lying on the couch. When I turned to my side, I felt something hard pressing against my chest. I felt in my pocket and found Sudhir's medal.
Some useful links for
- Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
- IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
- Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
- Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
- IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
- Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
- Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
- Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
- Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu