Author: Chandan Sach
It was a small compound. There was something written on the door but I could not read it. I could hear the people chatting inside. The chit chat made me curious and I entered inside the compound. As I entered, I saw there was a big tree under which stood a group of people. There was also a small room next to it. Every now and then someone was going inside or coming out of there. The people gathered under the tree were talking among themselves but I could not understand the language in which they were conversing. Nobody paid any attention to my presence there. After a while, I showed myself inside that room.
As I entered the room, I had this feeling that I had already been there but when? Couldn’t recall. There were many pictures pasted on the walls. However, the picture which got my attention the most was of a man riding a big bull with long horns and he was laughing in the meantime. I was lost in the picture, then an old man standing next to me asked me “In which entry log would you like to sign?” I could see there were two entry registers on the table and whoever comes, signs their name on it. I noticed there were 304 entries in the register. I could recognise one of the names which was Guddi because it was the name of my friend, who committed suicide a few years back. I was about to sign my name under his but then I decided not to. So I closed the register. I could see there was something written on its cover : “When life takes a detour, that’s when you have to bury all your dreams.” I left the register in its place.
There was another room next to it. I opened the door and showed myself in. There were many old, dusty shelves inside, full of books. An old woman was sitting there reading a book. I took a book from one of the shelves without bothering for permission and sat there on the floor and started reading.
The old woman got up, approached the shelf next to me and started talking to me. “Where do you come from?” “I hail from a village called Syaho Baint on the basin of Mount Mullaran. My mother has sent me to find a white pigeon from the wilderness.” I said. She continued, “So have you found it?” “No, I have looked everywhere in the wilderness but I couldn’t see a single pigeon. However, I saw a man there and he told me that I would find white pigeons near the shore so I was about to head there.” I replied.
Then she asked me “why did you come here, instead?” I said, “I was passing by from here and I saw the compound. I thought to take a look inside to see what’s going on here, that’s why I am here.” She then sat back on her seat. A little while later, she again spoke, “The book you’re holding, do you know what it is about?” “No, I don’t know. I just like books so much that wherever I see a book, I want to read it.” I answered. Once again, she got up from her seat and started putting the books in her hand back on the shelves and continued talking to me.
“All the books you see here are written during war times by women. When you head out of this compound, not far from here, there is a graveyard. All those women who wrote these books are buried there. Let me tell you something else. They didn’t die of natural causes, they were rather hanged.”
As we were talking, somebody entered the room. It was the same old man who asked me to sign the logbook. Once he saw me there, he spoke, angrily, “What are you doing here? This place is for the people who brought light into the darkness. This place is not for everyone. These books are not for everyone to read, but for those who have lost their lives only for the future generations to follow in their footsteps.” He then dragged me out of the room saying, “This place is not for someone like you.”
Once outside, I see no one under the tree this time. I headed out to the direction I was supposed to. Not long after, I found myself in the same graveyard, the old woman back in the library was talking to me about. There were yellow flags waving on each grave.
There was a nice sea breeze blowing and I kept marching on. After covering some distance, it was dusk. The stray dogs were barking at me as they were approaching me but when they saw a stick in my hand, they ran away.
At the end of a street, I could see some string lights flashing. I headed towards the flashing of the lights. Once there, I could see it was a shrine and in front of it in the empty space, there were big drums being played. There was fire and smoke, with which food was being prepared in huge cauldrons, at least twenty of them. People were dancing and gathering there. They were going inside the shrine. I decided to go inside too.
I could see a man wearing white clothes inside the shrine. People were lining up to kiss his hands and make their exit from the other door. I stood in line too. Not long after, it was my turn and after kissing his hands, I asked him, “Mister, my mother has sent me to find a white pigeon. I have been everywhere in the wilderness but I have come far from finding a single one. I saw a man who guided me to this shore and he told me I could find a white pigeon here. I followed his instructions and ended up here.”
After listening to my plea, he whispered something in the boy’s ear who was sitting next to him. The boy got up and asked me to follow him. We got out of the shrine. We did not speak throughout our walk. We arrived at a house. He took me inside. There were two candles lit. He made me wait there and went out.
There was a huge clock hanging on the wall but it was not working. There were also pictures hanging below the clock. As I was examining the room, the boy showed up with some water and tea.
He told me, “You are our guest tonight. My father is pretty occupied with the pilgrims. He will come to you as soon as he’s relieved of his duty.”
I noticed there was a bookcase and I could see some books inside. I got up and approached it. It was not locked or anything. I started looking at the books one by one. There were fifteen of them, at least. I could not read the cover of a few. Eventually, I found two books whose cover I could read. I grabbed them and came back to my seat.
In the meantime, the boy entered the room once again. This time he brought food for me. He and I ate together. After the meal, he inquired which type of books were these. As he himself had no idea about these books because he was illiterate. However, he knew these books were brought by the guests whenever they visited them. He had no idea who these guests were but they spoke foreign languages which he was unable to understand.
Then, he set up my bed. I grabbed a candle and brought it near my bed. Opened one of the books and started reading. The text on the first page was, “One day I asked a beggar what he hoped to achieve by wandering around everywhere? To my utter shock, the beggar gave me some money. I love traveling. I just want to store all the scenery of the world in my eyes so that even after my death, I will continue cherishing them.”
“I was so inspired by him that I also decided to travel the world. This book contains what I had witnessed during all my travels. But unlike him, I do not wish to take them with me in my grave because I have no such desire.”
After finishing the first page, I put aside the book and grabbed the other book.
I was reading the book but I became drowsy and at some point, I passed out.
The next day, very early in the morning, the man in white clothes showed up with a white pigeon in a cage for me. Then, a young girl brought a belt for me. After that, I told the man I had to leave. He accompanied me to the door and bade me goodbye.
I, along with the pigeon in the cage, headed towards home. Around midday, I arrived at my village. As I was getting closer, I saw there were people gathered outside my home. Once my eldest sister laid her eyes on me, she hugged me while crying and wailing.
The first thing she told me was that we had become orphans as our mother was no longer with us. Seeing her wailing, I could not stop my tears as well. I sobbed for too long. People were trying to comfort us. As for my sister, she was sobbing so much that she was fainting every once in a while and people had to pour some water on her or fan her in order to keep her awake.
My mother was lying dead and people were paying their last respects one by one. When I went to see her face for the last time, I somehow could not do it. My vision got blurry and I was unable to see properly.
A little while later, they carried mother’s corpse. I was completely static. A lot of people were trying to comfort me but I was not paying any attention to them. When we made it to the graveyard, I was surprised that it was the same graveyard of women “who did not die of their own death”, the old woman in the library was telling me about. Anyway, we buried my mother and came back home.
Three days after my mother died, the old man and woman from the library visited our house. They spoke to my father for a while. Then I saw them heading inside our home with my father. A little while later, they came outside and I saw them carrying books of the same color that I saw in the library.
I rushed to them so that I could take them back. But then my father stopped me. He said, “If you take them back, your mother’s soul will curse you.” However, I did not listen to him. I approached them and told them “These books are written by my mother so I must read them first and then you can take them with you. But you have to return these books to me so that I can understand what my mother’s remaining thoughts were.”
The old woman looked at me and said, “First you must go to your mother’s grave and hoist a yellow flag and inscribe on her tombstone : ‘I need a piece of land where I realize my dreams, where my dreams grow like trees and people benefit from their fruits.“
“Then you can come to our library and I will hand you over its keys. I’ll make sure to leave you alone with the books as our life is almost coming to its end. However, whenever we have the yearning for the library keys, we’ll ask for them but you can take them back from us whenever you want before dusk as after that we head to the graveyard to light candles.”
- Paspaan is a medicinal herb in Baluchi culture. It’s also used for warding off evil eye.