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"What happens! Anything can happen in a crematorium."
"Didn't you feel scared to be left alone with a corpse?"
"Scared? You know, I have cremated at least 1000 corpses."
This statement silenced Moni; Gopal Uncle, indeed, had every reason to brag.
Some spades were lying on the ground; Gopal Uncle picked up one of them and said, "You fellows arrange the logs while I build a clay stove."
Uncle busied himself in making the stove, and we engaged ourselves in arranging the logs. Noru suddenly remarked, "The corpse seems to have become bloated."
Without looking up from his work, Gopal Uncle said, "Bloated? Of course, it will appear bloated, what with the shroud and quilt getting soaked in water."
"But uncle, cotton on soaking should shrink and not bloat."
Uncle was annoyed at this impertinence. "Very clever!" he remarked sarcastically, "stop the blabber and continue with your work".
The work of arranging the logs was almost over. Noru had kept a watchful eye on the corpse. He suddenly yelled out, "Uncle, I saw the corpse move!"
Uncle had completed his work. He threw away the spade and said, "I haven't seen a bigger coward than you, Noru. Why do you volunteer for such kind of tasks? Go and fetch the remaining logs while I make the fire. Real fool!"
After a few minutes, it was Moni this time who was startled and quickly moved back a few paces. "Uncle, the body has indeed moved; I saw it with my own eyes."
Uncle broke into a guffaw. "A bunch of kids, do you think you can scare me? Me, who has cremated over one thousand corpses!"
Noru pointed in the direction of the body and said, "Look, it has moved again!"
"Yes, it has turned into a ghost to gobble you ..." Gopal Uncle could not complete what he was saying. The corpse, wrapped in a shroud and quilt, slowly rose and sat on the stretcher. Then, it screamed in a terrible nasal voice and said, "No, no ... not Noru; it is Gopal whom I want to eat."
Good heavens! We dropped everything and ran for our dear lives.
Gopal Uncle had the heap of logs in front of him, so he could not follow us; instead, he ran in the opposite direction and flung himself into the Ganges. Standing in chest-deep cold water, he howled, "Aaaah! The ghost is swallowing me! Lord Rama, save me!"
Meanwhile, the ghost had cast off the cloth covering its face and began shouting in a human voice, "Whoa, Nirmal! Whoa, Moni! Whoa, Noru! Fellows, don't run away; it's only me, Lalu. Come back, come back."
The sound of Lalu's voice reached us, and we returned, feeling very foolish. Gopal Uncle, shivering from cold, climbed back on to the shore. Lalu knelt and took the dust off Gopal Uncle's feet in reverence. "Everyone ran away when it started raining, but I could not leave the body behind," he said. "I stayed back and pulled the quilt over myself to protect me from the rain."
Gopal Uncle said, "Very clever boy! I haven't seen a worse scoundrel than you! Now go and bathe in the waters of the Ganges."
But, deep in his heart, Gopal Uncle forgave Lalu. He knew that even he could not have shown such fearlessness. Lalu had thought nothing of remaining with the corpse all alone at such a late hour! He had remained by the body despite knowing it was a cholera death; he had cared nothing about his own wellbeing!
Lalu wanted to light the funeral pyre as he had promised Bishtu Master, but Gopal Uncle would have none of it. The person who lights the funeral pyre has many responsibilities, and Gopal Uncle did not want to burden the boy. "His mother will never forgive me if I allow him to light the pyre," he said.
We cremated the body, bathed in the Ganges, and returned home just as the first rays of dawn made their appearance.
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