Shiva lying unconscious on the bank of the Batane River, his body covered in wounds and cuts. The young boy who narrowly escaped certain death a short time ago had to compete with a vicious current. Dogs licked at his wounds all night, and flies buzzed around him. His body was drenched in mud and blood and lying helpless in the sand when the predators of the sky began hunting. A villager came to his aid immediately. He regained consciousness after an hour of medication administered by a local doctor and a few more hours of rest.
Outside the house, a large crowd had gathered. Each person was curious about the stranger. They were curious, but the stranger was unable to satisfy them. All he would say was that he had come from the west, drowned in the river and that he went by the name Shiva. He was allowed to stay in the house by my father, the Sarpanch (head) of the village because he believed his words and considered his situation.
Shiva and I were of the same age. Over the course of a few days, we became great friends. I learned that he had a remarkable ability to tell stories. Every conversation he had contained a story. Story after story would transport me to a new world of fantasy. It wasn’t long before his tales became well-known throughout the village. When he was well enough to leave, the villagers begged my father to let him live there. We built him a hut near the river.
Everyone began to gather around Shiva’s hut in the evenings and travel to the imaginary village that he had created. Bishu, a young boy, lived in that imaginary village. The story of Bishu was so beloved that everyone relived their childhood. In his mischiefs, they would laugh like children, cry when he fell, and smile at his innocent acts and all of that.
Shiva and I both grew older as time passed. Each day of Bishu’s life, from the day he was born to the day he turned seventeen, had been re-narrated and retold hundreds of times over his 53 years in the village. After that, he would only say, “That’s the last chapter of his life, I won’t tell you anything else,” and he’d start crying as if there was some great loss associated with it. Over time, Shiva aged and developed Alzheimer’s disease. In his mind, everything began to blur. He would sometimes forget about me, and other times he would forget about himself. Even Bishu’s memory was foggy. There was no longer any evening storytelling. As evening fell, he would spend most of his time at the foot of Satchandi Hill, gazing westward, the direction from which he had emerged many years before. Was it the sunset, the river, or the memories of his homeland that he enjoyed most while sitting there? I wondered.
The days went by and he stopped sitting there as well. He was confined to a wheelchair. It was common for the villagers to stop by and assist him with eating, cleaning, and other daily chores. He called me to his house one evening after I had gone to see him in the morning to tell me the last chapter of Bishu’s story.
Shiva didn’t tell me a story when I went there in the evening. Instead, he kept his last wish from me. He longed to return to his native land. Shiva said, “I want to see my homeland one last time before I die.”
It was the fact that he couldn’t remember the name of his village that made fulfilling his last wish far more difficult for me. There were hundreds of villages west of the Batane River, but I had only visited four or five.
With faith in God, I loaded Shiva into a cart and drove to the west the following morning. By then, he was in a coma. As Shiva’s death drew closer, I made every effort to fulfill his last wish.
On our way into the sixth village, we had already passed through five other villages. The sun was about to set and the moon was glowing dimly in the sky. In this village, I noticed something that was out of the ordinary. As I looked around the village, it seemed as if I had been there before. Even though I never believed in the stories of past lives that were widely circulated in those days, I was certain that I had never been there in my lifetime. I recognized the old school, the huge banyan tree in the middle, and the haunted pond behind it.
Under the shade of a banyan tree, I stopped my cart to listen to a group of middle-aged men chattering. I asked them if they knew of any Shiva who had left their homes many years ago. Only one of them, a bit older, was aware of a man whose younger brother had gone missing a long time ago. I was taken to the old man’s house by the man who sat on my cart.
Shiva’s face was illuminated by the light of a lantern held by a man in his seventies who walked slowly toward the cart. It seemed as if he was trying to dig up some memory from his brain that had been buried for years. To my amusement, the old man finally broke down in tears, dropped the lantern from his hand, and caressed Shiva in his lap as he sobbed.
I was satisfied and happy that I had kept my promise to find Shiva’s home.
My happiness was overshadowed by the shock that followed. “Bishu” was being called by the old man instead of “Shiva.”
The old man told me that Bishu was a very mischievous child.
Every day, after causing all sorts of trouble in the village, he would return home with a story to prove his innocence. One day, our father, who had grown tired of his attitude, rebuked him, telling him that his story-telling would one day get him into trouble and prevent him from accomplishing anything worthwhile in his life. Angered by his father’s words, he ran away from home and tried to commit suicide in the batane. We all assumed he was dead after that.
Suddenly, it became clear to me that Bishu was telling his own stories. In addition to this explanation, I understood why the village appeared familiar to me. Because I had visualized his village so many times in Bishu’s stories, everything appeared to be familiar to me. This didn’t get him into any trouble, but it did make him popular with hundreds of people. Bishu’s final chapter was written in his own way by the storyteller.
Originally published at https://vocal.media.