PrEm Ji

HOLY INNOCENTS (Short story)

 

 

HOLY INNOCENTS

 

It was a pleasant morning with a lot of sunshine…

Simon Sir was having a cup of tea at my home in Kollam city. He used to stay with my family whenever he visited the city. Mine is an old house, might be around fifty years, without any modern sort of amenities. There is a huge mango tree in front of the house which served us like a live air-cooler. Plenty of creepers adorn our little palace, which is very close to the railway station, and there ends the list of merits. It belonged to one of the oldest professors in the city. I wouldn’t have purchased it unless Simon Sir didn’t force me to do so!

Though Simon Sir is in the beginning of sixties, his body remained as strong as an athlete. His face was so calm and graceful like some holy saint.  When my niece was about to collect the empty Coffee cup, he asked her name.

“Ananya,” she replied.

“Good name… It means ‘matchless’… Of-course you are!” he said.

“Thank you,” she walked away with the empty cup.

“What is she doing now?” he asked me.

“She is learning English, in the same department which you were heading earlier.”

“That’s great!”

Simon Sir runs a retirement home in his ancestral village, which spans in a huge seven acre plot beside a small lake in Kandanchira, ‘Shalom’ - it is the name of that retreat, hardly around sixty kilometers away from my house.

‘Someday, you shall call it Om...’ he used to joke.  

Most of the houses there, are simple in design, eco-friendly and very tidy.  The inmates are aged between sixty and ninety, and most of them are retired teachers, some were his colleagues. Dr. Rini Simon, his young daughter, takes care of the health issues of all inmates. She offers almost all the latest technologies so that their children across the globe could regularly monitor their parents. They are constantly in digital communion with their parents!  

Simon Sir conducts regular intellectual meetings, literary festivals etc., since most of the inmates are noted intellectuals. Most importance is given to happiness, and the least for religion! He ignored most of the religious festivals. As far as you happy with the least element of self-contempt, there ends the whole burden of life!

When Simon Sir was about to leave in the evening, he asked me a simple question. “Prem, can you tell me the importance of today?”

“Sir, I am afraid, no…”

What could be the importance of today? Unfortunately, I stopped reading almost all dailies as they spew most dangerous venom than anything truly important, on a regular basis.

“Human memory is temporary, my friend… It was on the same day, Shirin was introduced to our lives... It has been nine years since then…” he told. “And, I have come all the way to invite you all to ‘Shalom’ for a couple of days. Claramma is very anxious to see your little boys…”

♥ω♥

 

Ten years back …

Quite unexpected, my wife got her first transfer, immediately followed by my promotion transfer. It’s really funny, every promotion is accompanied by a compulsory transfer. And our little boys, hardly three and five, were entrusted to the safe custody of their grandmother. Both of them used to stay awake till mid-night to receive us on Fridays and were very keen to sleep in between us! Somehow, by the end of one year ‘out-station service’, she managed to get a transfer to a college in Kollam city.

“What next?” she asked.

“Let’s find a small home for rent…”

“I prefer an independent house, than living on someone’s upstairs…”

“Why?”

“House-owner will kick us out because of naughty sons… and the house must be very near to my college…”

“Anything more?”

“We must enroll the boys in a school near to my college…”

I could manage everything except her dream for an independent house. And the ‘house-hunt’ ended up with the spacious upstairs of Simon Sir’s house.

It was a beautiful house located in the heart of Kollam city, with a lot of trees in the compound. Mrs. Claramma Simon was a very devout woman with a strange passion for farming. Soon, my wife became her closest friend and associate, since she is having a doctorate in Botany. Together, they used to plant a lot of flowering plants.

She taught the middle-aged woman the art of layering, budding and grafting technics. They grafted tomato on egg-plants, which resulted in amazing yield. My sons were happy to move around the large compound like free-birds as it resembled their ancestral home. They became the key-assistants of Claramma aunty in almost all her agro-innovations. The little boys even designed some crude version of ‘drip irrigation’ using discarded soft-drink bottles.   

Mr. Rinku Simon, the elder son, was doing final year Mechanical Engineering at TKM College of Engineering and Miss Rini Simon, the younger daughter, was about to join for MBBS at Christian Medical College, Vellur. And that was the only reason to rent out the upstairs for some decent family.

My sons were so fond of Rinku because of his engineering skills.  Soon they became his supporting team for each and every new project. He was very close to me because of my engineering background. And his father was even closer because of my passion for literature.    

Rinku was very popular among students and teachers, since he was a man of ideas. He had been working on some innovative idea on his personal ‘tinkering lab’, which was nothing but a covered area on the first floor open terrace. I too joined him wherever I had some free time. He was a fantastic fitness freak too, which ended up in frequent combined jogging sessions along with him. Even, I too lost six or seven kilograms under his inspiration and instruction.

♥ω♥

 

It was a Saturday afternoon.

“Is Preetha Miss staying here?” I heard a beautiful girl enquiring about the whereabouts of my wife to               Rinku, who was busy speaking with someone on mobile phone near the front gate.

“Excuse me… What did you ask?” he asked her after a couple of seconds.

“Is Preetha Miss staying here?”

“Preetha Miss is not staying here… But, Mrs. Preetha is staying here…” he replied her coolly.

“What do you mean?” she was getting irritated…

“Even I am asking the same thing…”

“We add ‘Miss’ along with the name of our lady teachers… I have come all the way to clear some doubts…”

“Good… But, we add ‘Miss’ along with the names of beautiful girls like you you…” he said calmly with a naughty smile on his eyes. “By the way, you are Miss?”

“Miss Shirin… and you are Mr.?”

“Mr. Rinku Simon ‘the Great’…” and the conversation ended up in a big laughter.

I was the only witness of the whole episode from our balcony. He started walking towards the external stairs, closely followed by her.

“Put your right foot first…” he told the young girl.

“What?” she didn’t understand what he had in his mind.

♥ω♥

 

Shirin used to visit us at least once in every two or three weeks since her favorite most teacher was my beloved wife! And her ambition was to become a Botany professor, preferably like her mentor and role-model. Whenever she used to come, she had a chit-chat with the handsome boy.

“How did the movie ‘Titanic’ emerge as a global hit?” I asked my wife one night.

“Because, it was directed by James Cameron, ace Hollywood director…”

“No… There were many movies based on the sinking of ‘Titanic’ and none of them became so popular like the recent one… You know, it was a love story… Love sells…”

“What has ‘Titanic’ to do with our lives?” she asked me.

“Nothing important… another love story is going on right behind your doubt-clearing cessions… Claramma aunty will kick us out very soon…”

“You are simply crazy… Her marriage has already been fixed… and her final year exams commence from next week onwards…” she switched off the light with a lot of anger…

Sad! Husbands are destined to be holy-fools…

♥ω♥

 

“There is absolutely no need for any new agreement,” Simon Sir told me when I approached him for the renewal of the rental agreement after a year. “Rinku is almost settled in Cochin City along with his new start-up business… My daughter needs another four more years to complete her medical degree… We need a family like yours be with us… It’s not a matter of an income or safety or something else… People with same wavelength always move in harmony…”

But, nightmares began to appear from next month onwards.

 

♥ω♥

Claramma aunty paid an unusual visit to our place in the evening. Though it was her own house, she valued our privacy more than anything.

“Something, quite unusual, happened today…” Claramma aunty said. We both were eagerly waiting for her words. “Rinku came along with Shirin, immediately after you both had left for job…”

“Rinku and Shirin?” my wife couldn’t believe her ears…

“Yes… It seems, they got legally married today morning…” she wiped her eyes.

“Are they here now?” I asked…

“No… I told him to stay away from our lives…” she replied firmly… “We are devout Christians… But, he got married to a Muslim girl…”

“We are very sorry for what all had happened… It could have been avoided, if we were not allowed to stay here…” I tried to console her.

“You are not at all responsible, Prem… Everything is written… Let ‘Him’ decide their fate…” Claramma aunty wiped her tears.

“Please forgive them, aunty…” my wife requested calmly.

“You know, I have a young daughter too… Tell me, how do we get a good marital alliance for her with such a family history?”

We didn’t have an answer…

And in the evening, a violent group of people from the Shirin’s family, tried to storm into our house compound. They were all set to take her back home. But, they were immediately confronted by a group of tough men who belonged to the progressive youth organization, in which Rinku was also a prominent member.

Rinku and Shirin settled in Cochin. Claramma aunty spent her time, carefully divided for prayers, household works and gardening. None of my wife’s students were ever allowed to enter our rental portion after that incident. Simon Sir was not at all worried about the happenings, for him the world is a family! Whenever he had a chance, he visited his daughter-in-law and son. But, he was very careful not to mention it to his wife. She knew it, but, not even once she asked about it…

♥ω♥

 

Cochin is a lovely city where I spent the peak of my careless youth. I am a frequent visitor to the city even today. I happened to be there in Cochin on the very day Shirin delivered twin boys. None of the relatives were with them except a house-maid in her early sixties. The little ones looked like cherubs! Their lovely eyes began to speak with me in the most-known alphabet-less language of love.

“He is Ian and this naughty one is Ryan...” Shirin told me.

“Names with Scottish- Irish origin?” I asked.

“At least, let them have some progressive names, free from the overburden of religion…” Rinku said.

“Beautiful names…” I took some snaps of their little family on my phone which was ‘not that smart’ that time… “I will show them to my wife…”

“And?” Shirin asked.

“She might show to it to Claramma aunty…”

“Will she curse us, Sir?” She asked me while patting the curly hairs of the little ones resting beside her…

“Never… All she knows, is to love every-one… You will come to know about it someday…” I saw a large drop of tear flowing down to her ears.

♥ω♥

 

“Have you seen this?” Claramma woke her husband early in the morning, with Manorama daily in her hand.

“What is there so important?” old man got angry as he was playing with his grandsons in a beautiful dream.   

“Now, read the latest adventure of your beloved son!” she showed him the news on the front page of that daily with more than a million in subscription…

“Please don’t irritate me… Just tell me the content…”

“Your six year old grand-children, became the first in South India to get NCNR certificate…”

“What the hell is that?”

“NCNR means ‘No Caste, No Religion’ identity certificate…”

“Thanks Jesus… at least, they can be peaceful at least at their homes…” he said passively while getting up from bed.

“How can you say that? They should also believe in Jesus… That’s our right to religion...” cried out the zealot in her…

“Right to religion means, right not to have any religion also…” he replied before closing the bathroom door…

“You will never change…” she threw away the daily and walked to the kitchen swiftly…

But, the poor woman fell down with a thud….

♥ω♥

 

We were sitting in the large bedroom of Simon Sir…

“You are very lucky...” my wife to told Claramma aunty while sitting beside her bed.

“Why?”

“You fell over a couple of pillows and a torn bed kept in the doorway…” she replied while applying some pain-balm on her pale hands…

“Is it? Now-a-days, I suffer from low BP…” Claramma aunty said.

“Your grandsons are very cute…” my wife said while glancing through the daily.

“Have you seen them in person?”

“Several times… We even stayed several days with them, without your knowledge…” she smiled...

“Is it?”

“Shirin sends their videos regularly to us… Would you like to see them? They resemble you a lot…”

Claramma aunty closed her eyes for some time… She then went through their WhatsApp videos several times… Every-time, her face was glowing with immense happiness…

“You are right, they resemble me a lot! You know, my daughter is coming back tomorrow…”

“After the completion of her MD course?” I asked.

“Yes! Actually, she doesn’t like to stay with us. She never misses even the slightest chance to blame me… I am going to give her the greatest surprise of her life this time… Do you have her number?”

“Rini?”

“No… I would like to speak with Shirin…” a cute smile appeared on Claramma aunt’s face… “Please get her on phone… Will she speak with me?”

My wife did, what exactly was asked…  Shirin couldn’t believe her ears… All she could remember was… “Welcome home…”

Suddenly, my mobile phone began to vibrate… Rinku was crying on the other end… His words were choked with happiness… “We are coming… we are coming…Mom…”

But, only four coffins reached home at the early hours of nightfall…

♥ω♥

 

It was one of the saddest days in my life. Four coffins rested on the elevated platform in the living room. Nobody had the courage to open them as they were nothing but a small pile of flesh and broken bones brutally crushed in a fatal car accident.  

Whose flesh?

Whose bone?

God only knows!

Claramma aunty was even denied to give them a last kiss. Each and every friend of Rinku were there in and around the house.

“Shirin’s father has come,” my wife came near and told. “to take her away…”

“What?”

“Yes… Please come with me…”

We took him to Simon Sir, who was sitting alone in our balcony.

All of us were standing on the crossroads of life unaware of which direction to take!

“I have no objections my friend… You are free to take her away…” Simon Sir wiped his eyes… “But… I have one and only request… Please take the bodies of her husband and children along with… They were together till the last breath of their lives… Let them be together even in their last sleep…”

But, in a quick move, Shirin’s father hugged Simon Sir tightly…

“I am sorry, Sir… Islam permits only those who have constant faith in Allah, to be buried inside our common graves…Sir, I shouldn’t have come here to claim my daughter… I know it’s totally against her will…and personally, I am not all interested to separate them… Beyond everything, I too am a human-being… But...” he began to weep uncontrollably… “Can’t you see a group of young people standing near the gate? Raging with anger, they are all set to snatch her dead-body away… They are waiting for a word from you…  Irrespective of consent or dissent, they will take her away even on the cost of their lives… I am helpless, brother…Forgive me, please…” he hugged Simon Sir again…

“Who are they?” Simon Sir asked.

“Unfortunately… such 'intolerance' is called ‘religion’ today… Sir, will you please show me her coffin?”

“I am afraid, I don’t know…”

“What do you mean?” Shirin’s father could not believe his ears.

“Even I don’t know…” I told the old man…

“Forgive me… Allah!” poor man knelt on the balcony floor…

We took him down… A few drops of blood from Shirin’s body, spilled over the small coffins when they lifted her for the last journey in another ambulance…

“Don’t worry boys… Mama is with you always…” the yellow garland placed on the coffin began to wave in air…

Soon, it began to pour cats and dogs. We were plunged in huge trouble as the dead-bodies began to deteriorate. Simon Sir finally decided to bury their bodies in their family grave situated in their ancestral village, next day morning. Simon Sir sat with his blood inside the moving ambulance. Claramma aunty rested on the shoulder of my wife in our car. Our boys began to sleep in the front seat. I drove the car like a zombie.  

♥ω♥

 

Kandanchira was one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited. Simon Sir’s family were the most revered people in that parish. Their ancestral home, stood very close to the small lake, was one of the largest houses in that village till recently. Many people visited them and paid respects early in the morning. A lot of incense sticks were burnt to overcome to the smell coming out of the coffins. But, dark clouds were forming in forefront.

The ancient Church which stood amidst a huge area was constructed by his great-great grandfather. A legal battle between two fractions of Christians in Kerala that lasted over a century came to close in 2017 when the Supreme Court of India delivered their final order. The clashes were even brought down to the streets for the control of thousands of parishes, Churches and their innumerable properties.

Kandanchira Church had been closed for several months after violent clashes had erupted between feuding rival Christian fractions over its ownership. Finally, the Church was handed over to rival fraction of Simon Sir’s family under Supreme Court order. But, it remained closed to avoid further violence.

Unfortunately, the new Church authorities denied burial rights for Rinku and sons mercilessly. Many heated discussions were going on in front of the house.

“What is their decision?” Claramma aunty asked my wife.

“Finally, the new Church authorities allotted to burial space for Rinku alone…” she replied in tears…

“What about the little ones?”

“Both the feuding groups are so adamant, not to bury them inside the Church’s cemetery… They are highly united since the boys belong to ‘No Caste, No Religion’”

Claramma aunty got up from bed and opened the Bible… Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord instructs us to ask for direction, walk in the good way, and find rest.

On firm steps, she walked to the living room. Clergy from both the feuding fractions well still continuing their heated up discussions. There was pin-drop silence when she began to speak…

“I am a devout Christian till this moment… and I am throwing a simple question before you all, including the all-powerful Clergy and the believers… Can any of you find Lord Jesus in places under disputes?”

Unfortunately, there was a great silence. People were eagerly looking on each-other’s dead eyes.

“The little ones can be treated as ‘Holy innocents…’” the senior priest told his opinion.

“But, they are more than seven years old…” a voice of dissent raised from somewhere.

“These little ones were among the babies who were massacred by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the Infant Jesus... Do you have any doubt?” an old priest raised from his seat and shouted. “Are you human-beings or devil incarnate?”

“Now, let’s take them to Church for the burial service…” Finally, the parish members unanimously decided to bury them in their family grave.

“With due respect to all, I decline it…” Claramma aunty said.

“What do you mean?” Simon Sir was thrown in deep confusion.

“They will sleep here… in our own land…” she said firmly while pointing towards a most beautiful place beside the lake… “I will grow flowering trees and plants around them... Even, I and my husband will sleep beside them like their guardian angels…”

My lungs began to crave for more air… I was about to faint…

People began to cry as if they were thrown in a state of frenzy! Some knelt before her as if they were in the living presence of the ‘Mother of All Sorrows’…

“World is a family, my husband used to say always… And I never understood the true meaning of it, till today morning… And I would like to remind you all… World is the largest graveyard! The most coveted Cemetery of the Church, and Khabaristan of the Mosque, are a mere dot on it... Now, you may please leave…” she said firmly.

But, not even a single parish member left the house compound till the burial was complete. They dug the pit, placed the little boys on both the sides of their father. Everyone tossed a handful of soil on the coffins.

“Ashes to ashes… dust to dust… Amen…”

The burial service was over…

“Those who believe in our Lord Jesus, please follow me…” the senior priest announced loudly and started walking away from the fresh grave. Everyone followed his feeble, but firm steps, like sheep following the good shepherd. He stopped before the closed gate of the ancient Church. Policemen guarding the closed gate on day and night basis didn’t even try to stop him. He broke open the ‘sealed’ locks with a stone and walked inside the Church compound where he had spent the lion-share of his life in prayers and in service of people. People followed him through the open gate like the most disciplined men of God. With shivering hands, he push-opened the ancient door of the Church. The unlubricated hinges cried out in pain…

“Those, who still believe in feuds and fractions, money and muzzle power, please stay away from the Church of God... No space is reserved for you…” he warned them and started walking towards the altar covered with dust and cobwebs and buried himself in deep prayer.

And the huge bronze Church-bell continued ringing for almost two days to drive out the demons from the dark corners of their mind…

♥ω♥

 

Premji

8/3/2021

 

  • Author: PrEmJi PrEmJi (Pseudonym) (Offline Offline)
  • Published: March 8th, 2021 11:14
  • Category: Unclassified
  • Views:

Comments1

  • L. B. Mek

    you dear gifted wordsmith, stretched the very limits of my speed reading capabilities, because I refused to give up and simply surmise concepts or meanings to your well thought-out write,
    I dare say I may need to reread this again to grasp all its nuanced sentiment's, but still
    devoid of any alignment with theological or other concept's you've so skilfully introduced,
    I can proudly proclaim to marvel at your ability to keep your readers engaged and enthralled, utilising few literary devices,
    a wonderful display of your inking's practised skill:
    'As far as you happy with the least element of self-contempt, there ends the whole burden of life!

    When Simon Sir was about to leave in the evening, he asked me a simple question. “Prem, can you tell me the importance of today?”

    “Sir, I am afraid, no…”

    What could be the importance of today? Unfortunately, I stopped reading almost all dailies as they spew most dangerous venom than anything truly important, on a regular basis.

    “Human memory is temporary, my friend… It was on the same day, Shirin was introduced to our lives... It has been nine years since then…” he told.'

    • PrEm Ji

      Thanks a lot for your kind words... Life is bitter in every part of the world... Thank you...



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