The boys asked the gentleman, ‘Where are you going and what will you do there ?’ ( Page 82 from Rats’ Feast A TAGORE OMNIBUS stories * poems* plays)
The sudden entry of the boys into his small room startled Satya. He dropped the lion mask into the open suitcase.
“Esho ! Esho, bondhu (Come ! Come friends)”, said Satya.
Riju, Piku, Babu, Sonai and Toppo barged into the room. They had been frequenting Satya’s shack almost every afternoon after school. The windowless room was a tiny one, 10ft by 10ft. There weren’t many things in the room. The chatayee (sleeping mat) was rolled neatly and put in the corner. There were a few utensils, a gas stove kept on one side. A rope was tied diagonally across the room. Satya’s gamchaa ( towel) and shirt was hanging on it. There were two racks in the room. The top rack had pictures of Ma Kali, Ma Durga, Shiv Thakur, Hanumanji, Radha Krishna ( Hindu God and Goddess). The lower rack had a small mirror, a comb, a bottle of coconut oil, vaseline, a little box of vermillion and Satya’s shaving kit.
Riju the leader of the boys picked up the sword from the suitcase and brandished it in air. Piku picked up the bow and arrow and aimed it at Babu. Bang Bang !Babu inturn fished out the rifle from the open suitcase and pretended to fire at Piku. Satya’s suitcase was a treasure chest for the boys. It was full of toy weapons, masks and costumes.
For the past three months, Satya had been working as an accountant in Toppo’s father’s grocery store. The boys were very found of him. Every aftertoon after school the boys came to Satya’s room to listen to interesting stories.
Satya seemed to be a wise man who had travelled far and wide. Sometimes he told them stories about cities – of tall buildings and of fancy cars. ” Ore Baba!( Oh My God)”,the boys rolled with laughter when Satya told them that during winter pet dogs in the city wear sweaters.
Satya enjoyed telling the boys mythological stories about Hindu God and Goddess, stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The parents didn’t mind the boys spending so much time with Satya. They thought it was time well spent.
Satya was a Bahurupi – a folk performer who portrays several characters from Indian mythology for a living. Bahurupis of West Bengal, India have been performing for over 150years. They wander from village to village, city to city. They accept whatever they get- money, rice, vegetables but they never beg. They are excellent actors switching roles, voices,appearances and characters.
Three months ago, Satya had come to this village with his group. He was dressed as Ma Kali, the Goddess of power and destruction. The woman folk bowed in respect and offered him rice, vegetables. The children followed him wherever he went, though they were too afraid to come near him. However, just before his group was about to leave for another village, Satya fell ill. Toppo’s father was a pious man.He gave him shelter and later when Satya recovered, he allowed Satya to work in his store.
For Satya, life now was comfortable and predictable.
But alas, Satya was a gypsy at heart. He yearned for travel and adventure.
The boys were unaware of Satya’s plan. Infact Satya wanted to sneak out of the village before afternoon, before the boys came to his room for stories.He did not want to meet the boys. He was afraid it would shake his resolution.
” I’m going to the cities and villages to collect stories for you”, Satya said and continued packing his suitcase.
“No ! no, you can’t go anywhere”, shouted the boys. Dropping the toy weapons they run up to Satya and hugged him tight.
“I’ll be back soon, lets see who can recognise me when I come to the village the next time”, whispered Satya, trying to reassure the already sobbing lot.Fighting back tears, Satya slowly kissed their forehead.
“Bondhu Biday ( Friends, farewell)”. Satya picked up his suitcase and walked out.