Saturday, 15 August 2020

Chavi Saxena, ShortStory 2020 Longlist

Return of The Dead


Years back in a far-off village, there lived Shyam and Mohini. Shyam was a great sculptor. Mohini was his student. Both had no one in their family or relatives, so they both stayed together in a small house secluded from the village huts. Shyam made such lively sculptures that everybody would say that they would come to life. He put in a great deal of effort and time to prepare each one of his artwork- sometimes weeks and sometimes months at a stretch.

So far, Shyam had made only five sculptures- AN EAGLE, A HUNTER, A GALLOPING HORSE, A DEVIL, AND A GOD. People from near and far off villages came to have a look at his masterpieces. Shyam never sold any of his sculptures no matter how much money anyone offered him as he was completely in love with all his creations and had kept them in a beautiful workshop created especially for it. He was working on the sculpture of a man these days. It was only half made.

Both Shyam and Mohini were very content with their lives. When Shyam was busy in his artwork, Mohini took care of the household chores and when he was free, he taught her the art of sculpting. Shyam preferred to be alone while working so Mohini never disturbed him and often watched him secretly from outside the workshop as he carved. She had a great fascination for his talent and wished to be a sculptor like him some day.

Once or twice a month, Shyam and Mohini went to the adjoining town to buy various items of day to day needs, as well as new paints, brushes and clay for sculpting. One day, they were returning from a similar market trip. They were so involved in their conversation that they did not notice a speeding tractor coming down the road. Before they could move to one side, Shyam was run down by the tractor and the driver being horrified by the accident, fled away with his vehicle before anyone could catch him. Though Mohini had got a minor injury on her forehead, Shyam died on the spot. A shriek escaped her mouth as Shyam breathed his last. No one came to help as the road was a deserted one. Mohini fell down and fainted.

Mohini knew not how long she stayed there unconscious, but when she came to being conscious, it was already dark. Hours had passed and Shyam’s dead body had stiffened. It was impossible for Mohini to move it without someone's help. She cried and waited for quite some time but no one passed by that road. She glanced at Shyam's blood smeared face and as the pain of losing a dear one gripped her, her eyes once again welled up with tears. The way to her village was still a long way to go and she did not had the heart to leave behind her mentor's body in such a state for scavengers to feed on. She decided to wait until morning when someone would come by and she could ask help in cremating the body. She somehow dragged his body to one side of the road and then leaning against a tree, Mohini fell asleep.

In her sleep, Shyam came in her dream and spoke to her in a deep husky voice-
" MY DEAR MOHINI! DO NOT BE SAD. MY DEATH IS JUST MY DEPARTURE FROM MY BODY, NOT FROM MY PASSION. PLEASE DO NOT ORGANIZE ANY SHANTI PAATH FOR ME. I WILL COME BACK TO YOU SOON."

Mohini sat up startled, waking from her strange dream. It was already dawn. She looked around and her eyes paused at Shyam's lifeless face, and strangely this time, she neither felt pain nor loss. Was it the effect of that dream?....she knew not. Maybe deep down her heart, she had a belief that her dream of this dawn was indeed going to be true. She came out of her thoughts as she heard someone coming along the road. She waved to the passer-by who luckily came to her help. After cremating Shyam's body with his help, Mohini headed back to her hut.

Days passed in silence. Mohini was living everyday like a lifeless soul. She idled away her time, lost in her thoughts and did not feel like making any sculptures after Shyam's death. Her dream kept troubling her all the time. Their house was secluded from the entire village so she had no friends to talk to. People who came to admire Shyam's artworks, had no relation to them so when Shyam died, no one came to know of this. Mohini too, kept mum.

One day, someone from the village happened to pass by her house and seeing her, he enquired about Shyam and his next venture of art. Mohini wasn't prepared for this question. Her mind somehow framed a lie and she spoke out-"Shyam is busy working in his workshop and his new endeavour is the sculpture of a man that he had just started."

When the man was gone, Mohini's eyes welled up in the memories of Shyam. Thousand of moments spent with Shyam flashed before her eyes. Was it the loss of a dedicated mentor?...or the loss of a partner?...what made her heart heavy...she knew not. She ran and locked herself up in Shyam's workshop and stayed there for hours. Since then, it became a daily routine for her. She spent most of her time in the workshop amidst the sculptures. It brought some kind of peace to her mind and heart. She still had vivid memories of her strange dream of that fateful night. Shyam's words kept ringing in her ears- "I will come back home soon." and her heart just asked her "When?"...she had no reply.

Almost a month had passed to Shyam's death now. One morning, as Mohini entered the workshop, she felt a strange presence in the room.Her heart racing fast, she glanced around the room with meek investigating eyes. Her eyes passed over each one of the sculptures that stood in the room- the God, the devil, the horse, the hunter and.....as her eyes came to eagle, a frightened shriek escaped her mouth. The eagle opened and closed its eyes in a slow rhythmic fashion. She was about to run away, when a voice made her pause.…

"Mohini! Do not be afraid. Its me, Shyam. As promised, I have come back."

Mohini listened in shock and turned around. The voice spoke again....

"My soul has come to reside in my beloved workshop. I will dwell in each of my sculptures day by day."

....Mohini, still afraid, ran away from there. She was troubled with this happening, the entire day. At night, she pondered over it. Though, Mohini had been waiting for Shyam's return, ever since that day, yet she had not anticipated it to happen this way. She gathered some courage and decided to go back to the workshop again.

Next morning, in the workshop, the hunter opened its eyes and Shyam talked to Mohini. This time, Mohini's fear faded a little as she listened to his voice. After initial hesitation, their conversation progressed and Mohini began to open out her heart to him and cried. She told him how lonely she had been after his death. Shyam sadly expressed his helplessness over the situation and tried to cheer her up by promising to come and talk to her everyday. He even proposed to continue his lessons on the art of sculpting to her. Mohini felt very happy to hear this and nodded her head in affirmation.

Day by day as the horse, the devil and the God sculptures opened their eyes in the workshop, Shyam and Mohini talked uninhibited as before. Mohini started spending most of her time in the workshop, having talks with Shyam to her heart's desire. They started having talks on all sorts of things and shared joy and sorrow. Gradually. Shyam once again inspired her to make sculptures. He guided her by his voice as she sat with clay before him. Mohini took interest and carefully grasped all his lessons. In between their lessons, Shyam and Mohini talked about their past and shared sweet-sour childhood memories. Mohini knew not when, but as days passed, she started falling in love with Shyam. Listening to his words, she felt she had met her long-lost soulmate. Day and night, she was lost in his thoughts. The image of his face and appearance was still fresh in her mind and now, very often, she felt upset for losing him in person forever. Almost two months had passed to his death and thus to their soul-talks too. How long will she console herself talking to the eagle, the hunter and the lot?- there was no answer.

One day, as Mohini sat admiring the sculptures in the workshop, a brilliant idea struck her mind-
"What if I make a sculpture of Shyam? What if I carve out every fine detail of his face and body in the sculpture to make it look exactly like him? What if his soul comes to stay in his own sculpture?"

Yes!!...she had found her reason of bliss. She could have his Shyam, open his eyes to her once again.

That day, when Shyam opened its eyes through the horse, Mohini took his leave from him for fifteen days without telling him any reason. She promised to return to the workshop after a fortnight and took his promise on not trying to pry on her during this time. Shyam had no idea what she was up to but before he could ask her anything, she ran away, excited to start her secret venture.

Without wasting any more time, Mohini took away with her, the half-made statue of a man that Shyam had started and collecting all the required materials, she set to work with full dedication. It took her five days to make a life-size rough model of a man. It was now time to give it the appearance of Shyam- the hair, the eyes, the smile, the dressing- all of it to resemble Shyam exactly. Every now and then, she closed her eyes to recollect every minute detail of Shyam's facial features before shaping the sculpture. She vigorously worked day in and day out and even sacrificed her sleep. After eleven days of concentrated hard work, the sculpture was almost ready except for the colours. Mohini stood admiring Shyam's statue that she had created. She was elated to see that it looked exactly like him and was so lively that by the look in its eyes, Mohini could already find herself blushing.

The statue was finally complete with all the colors and touch-ups. On the dawn of the fifteenth day, Mohini set up the statue in the workshop in line with all the previous ones and waited eagerly. Shyam's soul always came to the workshop at the first ray of sunlight and left at sunset. Mohini was very excited to see him open his eyes through his own earthy form. She kept her gaze intently fixed on its eyes, awaiting that moment. Hours passed swiftly and as the morning sun showed up, Mohini watched in disappointment- it was not Shyam's statue but the sculptured eagle that opened its eyes. After a gap of fifteen days, his soul had started his dwelling journey from the eagle once again. Now again, she had to wait for five long days till it was the turn of Shyam's sculpture to come alive with his soul. Locking the door of the workshop, she ran inside the house and sat crying. She had missed their conversations during these days and her feelings for him had grown even stronger. Not a single moment had passed without his thought in her mind. She felt it strange, but now that she had made Shyam's own sculpture, she could not bear to talk to the the eagle, the devil, the horse or even the God sculptures. She spent another four days inside the house and not for even once she went to the workshop.

On the sixth day, her happiness knew no bounds when Shyam's statue indeed opened its eyes to her. When Shyam enquired her about the reason for her absence, she didn't utter a word and simply shifting a mirror to face her creation, she stood silently, waiting for his response. Shyam was dumbstruck at the striking resemblance of the statue to him. He showered Mohini with many praises and thanked her for making him proud as her mentor.

He spoke- "Mohini! I'm lucky to have you as my pupil."
Mohini's eyes were twinkling with tears of mixed emotions and she could no longer hold back her feelings…
She said-"Shyam, not just your pupil..."
She hugged the statue and closing her eyes, she confessed, "Shyam, I love you!!"

Shyam was dumbstruck on hearing this. Meeting her eyes through the sculpture, he could actually feel the intensity of her words. Ever since the day he had returned to the workshop after his death and started his lessons with her, he had been noticing the slow yet steady change in her behaviour and talks, her blush and smiles. But he had never thought that all his conversations with Mohini made her build the castles of love for him. He respected her feelings yet he could never reciprocate them back. He belonged to the world of dead and she, to the living world. Moreover, he recalled his initial reason of his return- and it was the passion for his workshop and sculptures and not for Mohini. His love was his artworks and not Mohini and so he had come to live back with his sculptures. He was a connoisseur of art and his dedication for his art had made him teach Mohini, the art of sculpting. He now felt, guilty for being the reason for unknowingly invoking such feelings in her heart.

The next few hours passed in Shyam trying to convince Mohini to be a practical thinker and forget him but no words proved fruitful.
She argued, " I love you Shyam. I know I can never get you back in person, so I made your statue. Every time you open your eyes through it, I will get my divine bliss of being by your side."

Few more alternate rounds of convincing each other went on until it was sunset and thus time for them to bid goodbye. Mohini ran back to the house.

As his soul left the statue, Shyam threw another look at it and now he understood the absolute power behind its magically perfect creation....It was the power of love. Ever since his death, it was the first instance, when he truly wanted to mourn his death. How sadly ironic it was-he had found love after his death and he could not even reciprocate it, for a love affair with a dead could only bring pain to the living. He himself was in a dilemma. He never wanted to leave the workshop due to the love he had for his sculptures and if he continued to come and reside in them, there was no way Mohini could be convinced to forget him. It was his statue that was posing a barrier. He remembered how she had not come to the workshop for five days until his soul had come in this very statue. Yes, She now wished to hear him through this statue alone and as long as he opened his eyes through it, her hope and thus love will remain ignited.

An idea struck him-
"What if I skip this sculpture and continue my soul journey in my own self-made sculptures once again? ...this time silently, not speaking a word to Mohini?"...Yes, he would do this.

Next morning, as Shyam returned to his workshop, he was about to open his eyes through the horse, when he noticed Mohini already seated there. He had to put his plan into action so he kept horse's eyes closed and heard silently.

Mohini however, sensed his presence and desperately examined all the sculptures to see which one had come alive. For once she found it strange to see all the pairs of eyes closed but then she noticed the fluttering eyelids of the horse sculpture. She was now sure that Shyam was present there and was avoiding her.She cried in tears-
"Shyam! I know you are here."
**SILENCE**
"Shyam! I love you!"
**SILENCE**
"Shyam! Please talk to me! Please!"
**SILENCE**

Mohini repeated her words again and again but got no reply. At last, she gave up and ran out of the workshop in sobs. She didn't notice a lone tear that ran down the horse's eye.

Five days passed but nothing changed. Every day, she would feel the sculptures open and close their eyes and yet she heard no word from him. Sixth day, she went with a hope to atleast see his statue open its eyes to her but when once again, the eagle opened its eyes, her anger mixed pain knew no bounds.Her love driven selfish mind suggested her a destructive yet 'win-win' plan to her-
"What if I break all the sculptures in the workshop except his statue?"
Mohini's eyes gleamed with victory as this way Shyam would have to reside in this very statue each day and for all her life she would see him open his eyes to her and then, perhaps she could gradually have him love her back and have his companionship forever.

She waited eagerly for sun down and entered the workshop as the last rays of Sun hid behind the clouds.Without another thought, she picked up an iron rod and began hitting the earthy masterpieces with swift energetic strokes till all but one were reduced to pieces, scattered all over the workshop floor.

While Mohini rejoiced her victory, up above in the heavens, bound in the chains of helplessness, Shyam's soul was watching the sad end of his beloved creations. His sadness turned to pain and then to anger.

Just as Mohini turned to leave, there was a loud thunder in the skies above. She looked in horror as all the remains of Shyam's sculptures began assembling back to their forms as if by some magical force. Swift stormy winds blew away the roof of the workshop.…The ‘GOD’ flew to the sky, guiding the ‘HUNTER’ on the ‘GALLOPING HORSE’, making their journey towards the heaven, its reins being held by the mighty ‘EAGLE’.

The moment they were lost in the thick black clouds, the ‘DEMON’ shattered the statue of ‘Shyam’, that Mohini had made and with his loud reverberating laughter, he too disappeared in fumes.

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