We lifted the body as pallbearers and commenced our march towards the burning ghat, chanting the Lord's name. Bishtu master stood leaning against the frame of the open door and watched our receding backs in silence.
The burning ghat, on the banks of the Ganges, was at a great distance - almost 7 miles. When we reached, it was 2am. Tired after this long walk, we gently lowered the cot and lay down on the ground to rest our weary limbs. In the clear moon light, we could see the sandy shore stretching out very far; excepting for us, there was nobody else to be seen. The cold wind blowing from the north agitated the waters and created waves; occasionally, the waves reached up to Lalu and crashed against his feet.
The wood required for the cremation would reach here in a bullock cart from the city; we weren't certain when that would arrive. The burning ghat attendants lived about a mile from the creamatorium; on the way we had alerted them to be ready but their time of arrival, too, was uncertain.
Meanwhile, a thick blanket of dark clouds had unexpectedly covered the sky on the other side of the Ganges; under the influence of the strong winds it sped to our side. "Hey, things don't look good! It could rain; if we get drenched in this cold weather then we have had it, " Gopal uncle said.
There wasn't any shelter nearby, not even a tree! At some distance were huts belonging to gardeners who tended after a temple's mango orchard; but it would have been difficult to reach the place in a hurry if we did get caught in the rains.
Within a very short time, the sky became covered with dense dark clouds and the moon disappeared; the rains, approaching from the other side of the Ganges, rushed at a great pace making a whistling sound which became fiercer and fiercer as it came nearer. And, all at once large drops of water pierced us like arrows, and the next moment the rain came down in torrents. Everyone ran for his life in whatever direction his legs carried him leaving the corpse behind.
After about an hour, the rain stopped as abruptly as it had come. We returned. The moon once again found an almost cloudless sky and shone with daylight's brilliance. Meanwhile, the bullock cart also reached; the woodcutter unloaded the logs and other materials, and was preparing to leave. But the burning ghat attendants had not yet arrived. Gopal uncle was annoyed. "Those fellows are like that; they don't like to come out in the cold weather," he said.
But Lalu was also nowhere to be seen. "Where is he? Why hasn't he returned? He had said he will light the pyre," Moni pointed out. "Has he run home out of fear?"
Gopal uncle was very angry at Lalu's thoughtlessness. "He is is like that," he repeated the phrase he had uttered for the crematorium workers. "If you are so scared why did you have to promise Bishtu master you will light the pyre?" he asked addressing an invisible Lalu. "Had I made such a promise I would never have abandoned the corpse even if I were struck by thunder."
What happens if the corpse is abandoned, uncle?"