2

We lifted the body as pallbearers and commenced our march towards the burning ghat, chanting God'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 far away - almost six miles. When we reached, it was 2 a.m.

Tired after this long walk, we gently lowered the stretcher and lay down on the ground to rest our weary limbs. In the clear moonlight, we could see the sandy shore stretching out very far. Except for us, there was nobody else around.

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 sure when that would arrive. The burning ghat attendants lived about a mile from the crematorium; on the way, we had alerted them to be ready, but we did not know when they would come.

Meanwhile, a thick blanket of dark clouds had 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, we will be in serious trouble," Gopal Uncle said.

There was no shelter nearby, not even a tree! At some distance were huts belonging to gardeners who took care of the temple's mango orchard. But it was not easy to run that distance in the rain.

Dense dark clouds covered the sky within a short time. The moon disappeared behind the clouds. The whistling sound of the rains, approaching from the other side of the Ganges, reached our ears. Before we could decide on a course of action, large drops of water pierced us like arrows; 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 carter was preparing to leave after unloading the logs and other materials required for the funeral. But the crematorium workers had not yet arrived. Uncle was annoyed. "These 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 would light the pyre," Moni said. "Has he run home out of fear?"

Gopal Uncle was very angry at Lalu's thoughtlessness. "He is like that," he said. "If you felt so scared, why did you have to promise Bishtu Master you will light the pyre?" he asked, throwing the question at an invisible Lalu. "If I had made such a promise, I would never have abandoned the corpse even if struck by thunder."

What happens if the corpse is left alone, uncle?"

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