I had slept till late that morning as I had been working till four on my novel. It was coming together well and I was quite happy with it. I got up past 12 feeling content with everything and with a smile on my face. It was going to a good day. By the time I showered and had breakfast it was lunch time so I was not surprised that no one was out on the streets. The children would have come home a while back, the lunch tables would have been set and everyone would be having their meals. In Kasba, people followed the dictum of early to rise and early to bed even in the afternoon. So, after what was usually a heavy lunch people dozed off for a while and the streets would be empty.
I liked the silence of the afternoon. It was during then that I brought out my notebook and made simple observations about life. Sometimes, I would walk to the river bed which was dirty beyond repair and watch the women from lower strata of the community wash the clothes and dishes. These women lived in the hills and walked for an hour to reach Kasba and neighbouring villages. Each women had a devoted household where she worked. This woman could recount more of your family history than you, knew all the generations of your family, and moreover she knew which homely treasure was kept where. I knew a few of these ladies who worked in my grandmom’s house. Everytime they saw me, they asked about my well being and I theirs. I still remembered partaking their lunch after finishing my own with my family. They were lovely ladies. The lady who worked for me, though good in the household department, lacked the warmth they readily gave out. It was a different matter I wasn’t 15 anymore. She would prepare the lunch, do her chores and leave each day.
After I had finished my activities for the afternoon which included reading the paper from front to back, making my notes, re-reading parts of my novel I wasn’t satisfied with and lounging about all a man could do, I would get up for lunch because the grumblings of my stomach could no longer be ignored. I would have to heat the dishes on the stove as there was no point bringing a microwave to a place that played peek a boo with electricity. As i reached the kitchen, there were no dishes on the gas stove. The lady usually came around 11am, did the cooking and the other chores and left before 1pm. I figured she might have gotten late today as I fixed my breakfast of eggs and toast. But as a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen her at all today and was quite oblivious to her absence until now. Maybe she was sick. I decided I will call her house and ask if everything was okay after I repeated my breakfast menu for lunch. I was really hungry and eggs was all I was prepared to make. Once the hunger pangs were dealt with, I did call her home but no one answered the call. I was intrigued for a while but I just let it go thinking there was some good reason and she would return tomorrow anyway.
I sat working on my novel in my room till the evening taking short breaks in between. It was in one of these breaks as I wandered onto the front porch that I realised something was wrong. The street was still empty. This was quite an anomaly as the street outside his house led to the main street, you might think of it as a highway, that connected Kasba to other villages and was always peppered with people.
I stepped out of the house to investigate. Not seeing the women discussing others’ lives in the veranda or children playing had disquieted me a little. I was in need for some companionship. Sometimes or as it often happens with me I get so lost in writing that I need people to anchor me to reality. I knew I was just being paranoid but I hadn’t seen a soul that day. I headed to Kunal uncle’s shop which was always swarming with guys as it was the local hangout point. It stood empty. Even Kunal uncle or ‘Mamu’ as we all endearingly called him was absent. The other shops were also as silent as a graveyard.
Unnerved by now, I went downhill desperately looking for people, even barging into some doors of my close relatives who would pardon the interruption. But there was no one to find. I went back to my street and stormed into the houses of my neighbours not caring what anybody thought about me. All i cared about was to find a living soul who i could lay into and yell and curse. I was so angry or rather scared inside that I once again made my way uphill to the police chowki. I had never before visited the place. Kasba was a peaceful place, everybody knew everybody and so really there was no need for police. There wasn’t even a chowki until a few months back when a robber stole some things from quite a few houses and people decided to have an outpost. A single constable was posted here from the Tarsa taluka that governed Kasba and neighbouring villages. As I went into the chowky now the constable was missing too. I wanted to swear out loud. What the hell was happening in this village? It was Preposterous! Crazy! Insane!
I didn’t know what to do. I needed to hear a human voice, feel the presence of civilization. I went back into my empty home and dialed my mom in the city. She didn’t pick up. I dialed her cell. No answer. I called my brother. He didn’t answer. The walls of the house that until that evening was a bliss started closing in on me. The air whistled through from outside spooking the hell out of me. Quickly, I switched on the lights and ran into the front porch. Swallowing my fear, I dialed Prashant, my editor and friend. I had never prayed so hard for someone to pick up the phone. One ring….three rings….five…
“Hello Prashant, Ajay here. F***, I can’t tell you how great it is to hear your voice.”
“Hey, Ajay. How are you? How is novel progressing? Enjoying the village?”
“The village…..the village has gone Prashant…everyone has disappeared. I’m all alone. I don’t know what to do. I went to the police but even the constable was not there…What do i do Prashant?”
“What are you talking about? Just calm down, you seem nervous, and tell me what happened.”
As I narrated it all to Prashant, I could hear his disbelief. I didn’t blame him if one fine day anyone rang me up and told me all this I would think the caller was simply mad and had lost his sanity. We talked, I yelled, he yelled and finally I decided to go to Mumbai and meet him.