My classmates were busy preparing for the upcoming term assessments, along with them I tried hard to concentrate but shuffled. Finally, I walked out of the laboratory aimlessly. My mind was confused, and my heart was ripping me apart. The two major factors in my life were creating an imbalance, one was my academic career of dissecting the cadavers, and the other, my love life gone awry in a minor spat.

On one side, the river flowed serenely, and on the other, the dancing flames from the corpses reared its ugly head, the eventual reality of life. The temple of the almighty deity stood in the middle, creating a balance between nature and mortals. I entered the area and sauntered amongst the shrieks and shrills of all kinds of human beings, from children to the aged, from virile to the venerable.

I sat at a desolate place. The cool breeze from the river blew and caressed me with all its charm and softness. My heavy heart began to calm down when I visualized the various phases and attributes of life. I contemplated its long and short journeys, and the ultimate end, the dance of death.  

“Do you want a sip? You can pour in this cup.” A man probably in his thirties with a stout figure, stained teeth, noodled hair and only in shorts, sat next to me with a bottle, and a dirty mud cup protruding in front of me. I accepted his offer and gulped it down.

Drinking from his bottle, he said, “This is bliss; it has the power to heal. Do you know what’s the irony of life?”

Pointing towards the pyres, he continued, “That’s the all-encompassing truth, but no one accepts.”   

The effect of the environment was like a trance. The man after some time ushered me to follow him, 

“My name is Matang, I grew up here. Let me show you the place, every nook and corner are familiar to me.”

I swaggered like a piglet behind its mother, grunting as I passed through the crackle of the bones and the skulls.

Matang now offered me a hookah and country liquor in a pot. I guzzled and reveled in my newfound ecstasy.

The drink and the smoke had their charm. The place was eerie and shrouded in mystical elements that didn’t affect me. The day progressed into the dark moonless night, and we rested amongst the chanting of weird mantras, performances of mudras and magical rites by the Tantriks.

“Come let’s break that skull and pour the holy river water on it to appease the Goddess. She’ll be satisfied with our offerings,” one of the Tantrik instructed me. He had the same bloodshot eyes,

long knotted hair and an amber loincloth to cover him like the others.

I staggered and lost my self-control and consciousness.

My eyes were blinded by the scorching sun, my head throbbing with unbearable pain as I struggled to sit up. I shriveled as my leg touched an object and to my utter dismay, it was a half-burnt skull.

The broken earthen pots were scattered around me, and the smoke of the strewed burnt ashes filled the air.

I walked towards the river and splashed the water on my face. The cold water refreshed me from yesterday’s ordeal.

The same Tantrik was bathing in the river, I smiled at him, but he gave a strange look and ignored me.

Without paying much heed I walked towards the road and found Matang. I called out to him,

“Hello, Matang.”

He didn’t respond so I walked up to him and tapped,

“Hello, Matang.”

He turned surprised and asked in return, “Who is Matang? Whom do you want?”

I was completely taken aback and fumbled for words, but he was gone.

Briskly I walked towards the tea stall and asked the lad, “Do you remember, yesterday I drank tea and did not have the change amount to pay you? You’ve asked me to pay it today.”

He looked stupefied, “Mumbling under his breath, at last he reasoned,

“Sir, I don’t do business on loan ever. Once they leave without paying, they’re gone for good. My money is lost forever so I take cash up front. I don’t remember serving you tea yesterday.” 

Now I was at my wit’s end, the cigarette shop was next door. I took out a lighter from my pocket and told the man,

“You gave me this lighter to light my cigarette, sorry, I forgot to return

it to you yesterday.”

The man shrugged and said, “I can’t recollect lending you a lighter, this is not my lighter.”

Without turning back, I headed straight towards my college.

At the gate, I met the cobbler who polishes my shoes.

“Take the money, I forgot to pay you.”

He smiled and said, “Sir, yesterday you didn’t get your shoes polished.”

I shrieked, “Yes, I got my shoes polished yesterday.”

I could sense the cobbler’s nervousness, I just turned and left.

I entered college and met my classmates, “Hey, where were you yesterday? Nowhere to be found, vanished in thin air.”

I gave a short smile and hurried towards my hostel room.

My roommates gave a curious look, “What’s up buddy? You never miss a single laboratory

session, and yesterday you weren’t there.”

The other one chipped in, “Is everything alright? You didn’t attend any classes as

well.”

My stomach was twitching, the head was reeling, and my entire body was convulsing. I ran towards the restroom, shut the door and retched.

There was an incoming video call on my mobile. I picked it up from my study table and slowly asked,

“Mom, did we talk yesterday? I think we spoke briefly, and I rushed for my classes.”

 My mind was becoming disoriented, I could faintly hear her,

“I was worried dear. Every day you call me up once and provide me with the updates, but yesterday there were no calls, neither audio nor video.”   

 Tantrik – one who practices Tantra, concerned with powerful ritual acts of body, speech, and mind. 

***

When was the last time you read some modern sea stories—stories of ships and the seafarers who man them? Tales of adventure, love, romance, piracy, intrigue... and human nature? Well, look no further.

These are twelve stories of the sea, but not necessarily for seafarers alone. They are for anybody and everybody who likes to read fiction. And a ripping good yarn, as sailors used to say once upon a time.

Written by a sea captain who has spent his entire adult life at sea, more than forty years on the waves and still counting, these are stories set in the 70s, 80s up till the present day.

Will you come aboard now? The voyage is about to begin.

Link to buy this book: https://www.amazon.in/Driftwood-Beetashok-Chatterjee/dp/9385854771 and also at selected bookstores all over India.


Author:Beetashok Chatterjee, ex-Claws Club member at ArtoonsInn.

***

The story you've read is an entry for UniK-5, #Invisible, a room8 Writing event by ArtoonsInn.
Check the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/unik-5-writing-event-artoonsinn/

Photo by: Suhas Rawool

Thanks for reading.

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