20
Nov
11

The Ballad of Bakersgunj

“Can you hear the voices? Can you hear the cries? Do you know they’re here with me? Watching you through my eyes?” – Angel of your darkness

He was the smartest retarded person I ever met and for some obscure reason reminded me of the dog in ‘The Zoo Story’. He disgusted and fascinated me. His real name was Wilson but people called him Pagala!

I remember the day I met him. It was a cold winter morning, and I had huddled in the bus that groaned itself towards Bakersgunj – its last stop and my destination.

“What a name!” I had thought when I received the invitation from the Mission school. I was thrilled, as the residential school was well known. But to teach in a girls’ school run by nuns?

“Shit!” I said to myself, confirming my own realization that I would have to watch my language there.

The letter from the school had very politely informed me that my “name had been recommended by Fr. J____,” and would it be possible for me to “accept this short assignment”. The fee wasn’t much but everything else was provided for and as I was between projects, I sent in my acceptance looking forward to Bakersgunj – which incidentally, had nothing to do with bread, cakes and biscuits!

 *

Getting there, however, was not so exciting. Spent two miserable days on the train to Haldipur and then 20 kilometres by road. The place was surrounded by hills, their tops covered with thick grey clouds. Not wanting to get caught in the rain, my eyes scanned the primary health centre, few shops, some dhabās, deserted looking hotels and the post office!

“Give us a call from the post office when you arrive,” another letter from the school had mentioned.

“Ah! You must be the new teacher,” beamed the fat man sitting behind a table, “will you have some tea?” And before I could answer, he majestically over-ruled my obvious hesitation, turned his head and bellowed, “Master Saab ke liye chai lao!”

I mumbled my thanks and enquired as to how long would it take for the vehicle to come from the school and pick me up?

“Long enough for you to have tea,” said the fat postmaster whose name turned out to be Laxmanji.

“Are you a Christian?” enquired he.

“Does it matter?” I shrugged with a little annoyance.

“No, but…” he was interrupted by the entry of a woman, “the post office is also my home,” continued Laxmanji, “and this is my wife.”

The woman put the tray down and I prepared myself to take in the greasy tea and some tri-coloured methai.

A strange thing happened then.

“Master Saab is going to stay with Pag__, Wilson!” Laxmanji informed his wife and ‘heh, heh, hehed’ with great pleasure, his huge stomach jiggling and shivering. I noticed that his wife had stopped suddenly at this apparently significant and mysterious remark and given me a quick second look, then departed.

“Who is Wilson?” I asked, “And Laxmanji, how do you know where I will be staying?’

“Master Saab, this is a small place and most of our work is with the school,” he said and added dreamily, “you should see this place when the parents come. They have made arrangements for you to stay at Baker Nivas.”

“But,” I questioned again, “who is Wilson?’

“Ask Andrew, the driver,” was the jiggly-giggly reply as a green and white van stopped in front of the post office.

 *

The clouds hung like swollen udders, threatening to burst open as the vehicle made its way through an old cemetery pock-marked with tombstones – most crumbling or covered with lichen. Lightning flashed in the distance and crowned the clouds with an eerie glow and the ever-darkening sky seemed to add a malicious touch to the gloomy weather. Suddenly, with a sigh the clouds gave way and visibility became so bad that Andrew was forced to stop the van.

The unknown Wilson, the cemetery, the rain and all the horror movies I had seen were doing wonders to my over-imaginative mind and just as I was about to ask Andrew to move on, he said, rather apologetically, “I hope you didn’t have to wait long, Sir.”

“No,” I replied, and keeping my thoughts stuck firmly on what seemed to be the theme of the day, asked, “Who is Wilson?”

“So! Laxman has been talking, eh?”

“No,” I said again, with some irritation, “Laxmanji has not told me anything except laugh,” and sounding like a parrot asked, “who is Wilson?”

Andrew peered out, shook his head at the deluge of water flowing down the windscreen, sighed heavily and turned towards me.

“You shouldn’t trouble yourself un-necessarily, Sir,” he said, “People talk all the time. They have nothing else to do and gossip keeps them occupied.”

He then continued to give me a history lesson, informing me about some Englishman named L. M. Baker, who had disgraced himself by marrying an Indian woman. Commissioned out of the army and not desirous of returning to England, Baker and his wife had moved to this place. Some years later his wife had started an elementary school for the village children.

 *

No one really remembered the original name of the place or when the first Missionaries made their presence felt. It didn’t really matter as the area and its people flourished, untouched by the revolutionary atmosphere that had begun to spread in the rest of the country.

More families settled down in what was now known as Bakersgunj. Many Englishmen sent their families here whilst they themselves stayed over in the plains of India, desperately trying to keep the Union Jack flying. Many, like Major Baker, had fallen in love with India, or its women, or its very essence and didn’t want to go back – and Bakersgunj was the Retreat.

Times changed, people died, forgot and many did leave, and while Bakersgunj as a place ceased to be a Retreat, the school prospered and gained a remarkable reputation as an educational institution.

*

“Most of the land over the years,” continued Andrew “has been bought by the school.”

My blood pressure had by now reached an alarming level and desperately controlling an urge to commit a homicide I said, “Yes! But who is Wilson?”

Oblivious of my murderous intentions, Andrew started the engine and said, “Oh! Didn’t I tell you?” and ignoring my maniacal whinny continued, “He is the last of the Baker family and is a little mad!”

Success at last! And then it struck me. Mad?

Pretending absolute nonchalance and what I hoped sounded like normal clinical curiosity, I said, “Oh! Mad, Uh hunh! Ah! That’s interesting…ummm…how mad?’

“Not much,” said Andrew, “But people consider him a Pagla. He’s really safe though,” He added giving me a knowing look.

“The house is right next to the school,” continued Andrew, “There is a woman who does the house work and looks after Wilson.”

The rest of the journey was passed in silence as my mind sought to adjust to the idea of staying in a house occupied by a raving lunatic! In a very perverse way, my ever fertile mind conjured-up images of sudden attacks, wild screams and insane laughter. To my horror, and no pun intended, I realised I was looking forward to this meeting.

 *

How does one describe Wilson? It has been years since this incident and I still can’t describe him the way I want to……because from this point onwards I do not have any pages left. It is just another crypt in my memory bank – about a man’s body, walking around and reacting to the world with a mind of a young person.

He was dark skinned, balding, had a slouch, small hint of a hump, dragged his feet; couldn’t always control the saliva that sort of dribbled down the side of his mouth when he spoke or shovelled-in and simply swallowed food; large bulging sly eyes that focussed on you knowingly but in very different and minute ways. It was as if, the body had not one but two or three characters inside. Was he afflicted by split-personalities? Nobody knows. I didn’t but I felt that there was more to Wilson that met the normal eye.

 *

Unbelievable mood swings, disregard for personal hygiene and two really revolting predilections.

He had this habit of sitting on the sofa watching television and for all practical purposes, focussed on what was happening on the screen but still absent. During this time he would constantly and diligently explore the depths and innards of his nostrils with great deliberation – his finger a probe – like the tongue of an ant-eater, would latch on to the smallest bit of the never ending stock of snot, pull it out carefully and with his eyes still glued on the television screen, roll the excavated material between his thumb and index finger….rolling, rolling till it turned into a dark mass of ugly, sticky rubbery ball which then he would carefully fuse to the sides of the sofa and wipe his fingers, momentarily glancing to check if there was anything left on his thumb and before you could say “yuk”, he would be scooping-out again.

It was an absolutely unbearable sight, which meant that I spent most of my time in my room or building an invisible barrier when he was around.

His other great artistic resourcefulness; much to the increasing exasperation of his caretaker and chagrin of the senior nuns, was his mastery of wiping his hands on the walls after crapping. There wasn’t a day when the shrieks and curses of those cleaning his bathroom did not reach the ears of the Mother Superior.

 *

I was told he could have received professional help when he was young but his condition was kept obscured by his parents who were ashamed to have given birth to Wilson, the Pagla. So, till the physical age of ten he was deprived of outside human contact and medical advice. Soon after that the father deserted – never to be heard of again. The mother, became a born-again Christian (not because she really believed in it), but primarily as an excuse to leave Wilson in the hands of those who served God. Somewhere down the line she re-married and left the place.

It was found much later that the mother had bequeathed the house to the school. Eventually, the ground floor of the house became Wilson’s domain and the first floor a hostel for neophyte nuns.

 *

Many years have flown past and today as I attempt to sift the torn pages of this diary trying to recreate and remember what I had scribbled then – I wonder if I am doing justice to Wilson and the fabric of those lives interweaved with and around him. I am sure that my words and feelings are not as potent as earlier.

Of course, there are plenty of images. Not many of the actual teaching but it must have been appreciated because I was offered a permanent position there. I do remember some of the students and definitely remember the wonderful bunch of nuns running the school. For someone with no religion to speak off, I have always wondered about the devotion and zeal displayed by nuns. Also, not once during my seven months stay there did a single person tried to convert or thrust Jesus unto me. There was a beautiful old church that I visited occasionally for the sheer pleasure of listening to the choir and at times sitting quietly in the pew to have my senses bathed by the exquisite waves of organ music played by Father J.

Then the ever-affectionate, ever-understanding Sister Y. They were a tough lot – no doubt about – tough and sharp as nails with hearts of pure treacle pudding!

 *

Being the rogue I am and I am sure they knew it – I invariably landed-up doing things that would have probably sunk a ship! But the nuns took it; literally, in Great Spirit (I think they welcomed this intrusion not only because they secretly enjoyed my antics but also because they could pray for the salvation of a ‘gone-astray’ person). There was this Sister S…..tall, thin, severe person who never allowed any emotion (except censure) to grace her face. She was sort of omnipresent, waiting for me to commit a sin or have a misplaced thought. She was also the librarian and I think I really tested her patience and sense of propriety.

I used to secretly, just for the fun of it, sneak into the library at odd hours during her absence and leave a red rose on her table ever day. It went on for nearly a-month-or-so with breaks. At the end of it everybody knew – from the gardener to the students to some senior nuns to some of the priests and Mother Superior! I can’t explain why I did it and wonder if I would do such a thing today. Also, doubt if there are still any nuns of that calibre left.

Sister S would fume and fret and wave the rose in the assembly whilst we all sat gravely with the right expression of concern and horror on our faces. I made it a point to avoid Mother Superior at all times and like a wayward student was petrified of being summoned by her. It was like a secret pact that all had signed. Eventually, and sensibly I terminated ‘Operation Rose’ (as it came to be known).

Sister S had beamed at me the day I was leaving. I don’t know if it was a smile of relief or happiness that I was leaving to plague elsewhere. I have often speculated if she wasn’t part of a concordat playing her part with great finesse! But the highlights of my stay were the events that followed the arrival of Felicity’s younger sister, Gracie.

 *

Felicity was Wilson’s caretaker-cum-warden. She was overworked and forever seemed to be at the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to handle Wilson. She was also managing the house and taking care of her two young children. Her husband worked in the village and made monthly trips, primarily to take money and go back to his drinking binges and paramours.

I don’t know how old Felicity was, but she came across as an extremely tired person – neither beautiful nor attractive – with all the hard lines, folds and imprints that life had offered her. Gracie had been summoned from the plains to assist in the household chores and she oozed sex!

Gracie and Felicity couldn’t have been the products of the same consummating adults. The genetic material was so contradictory. Both women were poles apart in looks, style and behaviour. Not a very scientific observation but there you are!

The Kama Sutra would have a lot to say about Gracie and still find it difficult to put her under any category. Voluptuously plump but with no noticeable excess fat, burnt golden-wheat skin tone, thick hair, coarse round face, thick lips and with breasts and buttocks representing the classical Indian figure of women.

She was smart and first established herself as a well-behaved, properly dressed and dutiful person in the eyes of the novice nuns and then went on to convince and strengthen her place to others – as to how assiduous she was in her conduct. But she was a blatant, shameless, titillating tease.

Long sleeved blouses, decorously covered bosom, polite and eyes not making any contact, never glancing at any man – all very thoroughly acted out. She didn’t fool me though and I was wary of her from day one, when she tested me out by letting her dupatta slip down….Oh! So verrry sloowwwwly as she served tea, staying in that position long enough for me to fix my eyes on her cleavage. Then bashfully adjusting her clothing and with eyes bombarding trailers of ‘further attractions’ had walked away with those buttocks twitching and swaying.

I wasn’t going to fall for this. Never had a roving eye nor interested in such liaisons. She tried some more tactics later and realised that I had seen through her. I also made sure that her entry into my room was banned and never allowed myself to be alone in the house with her. We dismissed each other but there was Wilson.

 *

Little did I realize but too late that she had already tickled his fancy and he was hooked – line and sinker – the suppressed testosterone stimulated. He had no idea that it was just amusement for Gracie. And, nobody ever found out who really was playing this dangerous game? Was it Gracie? Wilson? Those that lurked within him?

Felicity was just too relieved, I think, to have her workload lessened and Gracie the nymphet did not lose a single opportunity to ensnare Wilson ever so more. I was out most of the day so am not aware of the going-on’s during my absence. But I perceived that Gracie was like a limpet around Wilson.

The changes in Wilson’s behaviour were so subtle that even I missed them. At first, they didn’t register but slowly and surely I noticed that there was something amiss. Most obvious was the fact that Felicity had, more-or-less, surrendered her duties, as far as Wilson was concerned, to Gracie. Wilson on the other hand, looked clean.

I was in the veranda one afternoon and happened to look through the window, into the room where Wilson was sitting in front of the television. I wanted him to turn the volume down a bit but saw that he was actually not looking at the screen, but rubbing his crotch with great fervour looking at Gracie who was standing at the kitchen door caressing her breasts! What was I supposed to do? Go up to Mother Superior and say, “Excuse me, but I would like to tell you that Wilson sits and masturbates whilst Gracie watches him doing it!” Nobody would have believed me?

Then, one afternoon I came back early because classes were cancelled for some reason and met Felicity on my way back to Baker Niwas. She along with her children was going to a nearby village for two days to attend some function. “What about Wilson?” I queried and got the reply I didn’t want to hear. Add to this the fact that the nuns were in Retreat.

Entering my room, I opened the connecting door leading in to the rest of the house. I thought Wilson was napping as it was rather quiet, but then heard these soft silly laughs, groans and sounds of splashing from Wilson’s bathroom. It was Gracie giving him a bath and other ministrations.

 *

If I were of the Christian faith – it would have appeared as if the devil had sent the Whore of Babylon to this little corner of India. The situation was getting to be rather dicey and I decided to report this matter.

However, things never happen the way one expects and life has these unexpected twists and turns. The same evening Felicity’s husband arrived and everything changed. Gracie the great manipulating temptress found a soul mate – two absolutely debauched individuals coming together like magnets. As far as Gracie was concerned, Wilson did not matter anymore; she had had her fun and couldn’t care less!

Wilson’s was in love with the woman who had aroused his sexuality. For him, Gracie was his and he could not comprehend the unique sickness of her mind. The sudden neglect and brusqueness first confused him and then put him in instant rage.

There was no sign of Gracie the following morning. Wilson went and knocked loudly on the door of the outhouse and returned furiously.

“She….she is inside….with him!” he snarled through his froth. I mumbled some utterly ineffectual soothing words, put his breakfast on the table and left.

What happened during the day remains pure conjecture till date.

 *

I generally returned to the house late afternoon and the moment I opened the gate, I knew something was wrong. Even today, I can taste the fear, horror and my absolute alienation from the scene.

The door of the outhouse was ajar and I moved as if walking bare feet on broken glass.   As I crept closer, I thought that there were people inside – talking. Then, heard thuds, snickering, mutterings and more conversations. Warily, I peered in.

There was Wilson with a sickle hacking away on the already mutilated body of Felicity’s husband. Gracie lay in a pool of blood on the ground. Jealously and rejection had triggered all the switches in his mind and he sat there chuckling and talking to himself, occasionally nudging Gracie’s body with his foot. The most creepy thing was the different voices coming from someplace within him. All I could hear or understand through my mental miasma were voices talking about love. Like a bloodied spectre he rose, and limped towards me. There was no retreat or escape, so I waited. He shuffled close enough and peered at me. There was a metallic stench and then a combination of odd voices said, “Hainnnnaahennnanhaaarrunnn!” or something to that effect.

I don’t think I was able to move even after he made his way out of the house towards the grove.

The rest of my stay at Bakersgunj and the school was uneventful and an anti-climax to say the least. The rains came down making it impossible for anybody to follow and search for Wilson. The local police were helpless and senior officials and investigators came-up from the valley. They really couldn’t do much and for them it was an ‘open-and-shut’ case of ‘sexual madness’!

 *

I was questioned along with numerous others and the school community clamped down on thrill seekers and newspaper reporters. We all knew that something dark had descended. Somehow, I had a feeling that the investigators didn’t believe a word of what I told them and thought that I too must have supped on the overflowing cup offered by Gracie. I showed them the notes I had been scribbling but they remained indifferent and unconvinced. They didn’t have any proof though and the general verdict piled against Wilson’s insanity was greater and more convenient than the damage that Gracie had instigated.

And, Wilson, the Pagala – he was not difficult to track down. They found him more-or-less naked, raving, and unpredictable. I am told it took a couple of men to overpower him and he bit a few. He was beaten rather badly. Where was the real madness?  I heard he was later sent to the Agra mental asylum.

I didn’t pursue the generous permanent position offered by the school and they never asked again. Que será será.

Was I the only one who heard the different voices that came from Wilson? Why did I sense them? Are there others in me?

Hillo-hillo ray, Hillo-hillo ray

Pagaley ka janam

Ab sunno-sunno ray.

Diyyo-diyyo ray, Diyyo-diyyo ray

Vilsonwa jo

Huvvo-huvvo ray.

Khello-khello ray, Khello-khello ray

Mariyam godi

Sutto-sutto ray.

(Remains of a popular regional ditty – from the chewed pages)

 


2 Responses to “The Ballad of Bakersgunj”


  1. 1 amishi gandhi
    November 21, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Where in the world is Bakersgunj? Love the way you tell the story – but not sure I actually like the events – the manipulation of a mentally challenged person is very disturbing.

    • 2 bichhubooti
      November 22, 2011 at 4:34 am

      Yes, the events were dark and manipulation is disturbing….something that seems to happen most of the times. It becomes worse when a challenged person is involved. And, that is another madness, isn’t it?

      ‘Bakersgunj’ still lies snuggled in the upper northern hills but I always tweak the exact names.


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