The Clubhouse of Chanderi

I have an inborn obsession towards stories and gossips which compelled me to become a member of the famous clubhouse of chanderi, a so called literary club, originally formed to discuss Premchand and Dharamveer Bharti but it’s members were more fond of the naughty adventures of Mastram. Within it’s worn out walls, I have witnessed many fascinating tales and experiences but the singularity of uncle Mohan’s tale still gives me goosebumps.

Five summers ago, in a Saturday morning, we gathered in the clubhouse to carry out the usual tittle-tattles. At that time we were ten members in our group but that day we were eleven. Raju brought his uncle with him who introduced himself as Mohan, a middle aged banker having long beard and keen, intelligent eyes. The wrinkles on his forehead were suggesting the ongoing rumination in his mind. The seriousness of his appearance made us curious. Probably, he was voyaging through his unconscious to bring some stuffs that could feed our curiosity.

“Have you ever witnessed uncanny my dears?”. The abrupt question of Uncle Mohan broke the long silence of the room. ” Have you ever felt like getting crushed between the dilemma of truth and phantasm? “. He was leading toward something; the voyage had ended. The stuff was ready.

” I was transferred to Lucknow ten years ago, as a probationary Officer in the SBI branch of Gomati Nagar. My official living quarter was half kilometer away from the bank. It was a terrible room for a man to live. Nobody had cleaned it since ages. Spiders were making love on the ceiling, cockroaches were dancing on the floor. Everything was messed up. The setting of the room reminded me of Gothic castles in “Jane Ayre”. The most dreadful things were those four frightening females standing in each corner of the room. Yes, that’s how the walls looked like. It was the first time that I discovered a circle on one of the walls facing my bed. At first I considered it as just a circle and ignored. I started cleaning the room. It took me three to four hours to bring it to a liveable condition.

Change of place never caused me good. Before Lucknow, I was transferred thrice and each time I became ill during the initial days. The same happened again. After a week in Lucknow I started developing a fever. The heavy work load aggravated my condition. I consulted a doctor and he strictly advised me to stay at home. I took a off of one week and started resting at my room.

The circle that I noticed earlier on the wall was not a mere circle now. It had taken the shape of a face; a human space; or more specifically a female face. The white lines, that appeared around it, were resembling blonde curly hairs.

I was a strong nonbeliever of the uncanny; still, I was becoming obsessed with that shape because I was lonely. A lonely man with a fever either writes poetry or searches for life in every single object.

The next morning when I opened my eyes, I saw the phantasm right in front of me. The evolution of the uncanny had come to finality; a fair face was staring at me. A pair of Blue eyes just above two snowy cheeks separated by a rosy nose and two vermilioned lips; certainly it was not Indian; It was British. I forgot to contemplate about the logic behind the appearance of a face of a British lady in a faded room situated in the suburb of Lucknow. I was busy in observing the delicacy of that face. After spending some hours in that manner, a preposterous idea hit my mind. I thought that there must be a lady to whom that face belonged and just because it appeared in my room; the lady must be somewhere in Lucknow and there’s a supernatural power who wants us to rendezvous.

I decided to find her out. I had seen the face enough; it got printed on my mind. I started my quest on the basis of the presumptions: the owner of the face was a British Lady, She’s in Lucknow, and as she was here; she would definitely go to the famous places. I made a list of all the famous places and started visiting them one by one. I started my quest from the famous Buddha Park. Millions of faces were moving here and there but my eyes were searching for the one inscribed on my wall. I went to several other parks, museums and restaurants . I wasted my whole one week wandering in Streets, staring at random girls. But, nothing turned out.

Something inside my brain was continuously warning me to stop the quest as it was leading me to nowhere; at the same time Something inside my heart was compelling me to keep on searching. I chose my heart. I took another one week off but this time I was clueless about where to search the ‘face’; as I had already dwelled upon most of the areas of Lucknow and I had seen millions of Lucknowi faces.

“The solution lies in the problem”, I heard that before but that day I realized it. Some interceptive lines emerged on the wall just beneath the face. At first glance it seemed like a fish but after a moment of thorough examination it turned out to be an aeroplane. ” This could be a mere interception of some random fats”-my mind said. “This could be a clue to the heavenly face”- My heart counter argued. Again I chose my heart.

There could be only one possible role of an aeroplane in this absurd business: it was definitely suggesting me a place ; a place associated with an aircraft.

There was only one airport in Lucknow: Choudhary Charan Singh International Airport. The next morning having woke up early, I started preparing for the last pursuit of the fair Lady. I looked into her eyes. They were not silent today. I could hear the symphony in their hopeful glances. Her lips were becoming desperate to smile. ” I can’t imagine what would be your reaction when you would see this”. I said to the most beautiful face in the world.

Having arrived at the airport I went to the check-in lounge and ask the attendant about the next flight to London.
“We have only one flight to London, sir, and that will be leaving at”. It was 8.15 am. I had to wait for almost two hours. I grabbed a cup of coffee and went to the waiting room.
” Would she be taller than me, what would be my first utterance, would I be able to speak in front of her”. So many random queries engulfed my consciousness. I closed my eyes.

“This is the final boarding call for passenger Erica Matthews booked on flight 130A to London City.”
The airline announcement broke my nap. It was 9.55 am. The room was empty except few security and cleaning staffs. It started again; ” I repeat this is the final boarding call for Erica Matthews. The gates will be closed in five minutes. “
I started looking here and there helplessly. The world around me was falling apart. I was doomed. There she was in the plane; after five minutes she would be on air, flying towards her home. Here I was napping like a fool. I felt like a dumb moron. But believe me craziest things happen when you don’t have any faith left. She rose from the ashes of my disbelief. Here she came, the goddess of the face inscribed by some random fats and curves upon my wall. Amusement metamorphosed in to tears and rolled down from my eyes. She was running furiously toward the runway. I started following her. “You need to stop her, you have to tell her everything,” my heart was telling me.
Suddenly someone grabbed me from behind. “Who the hell are you, show me your boarding pass”. It was the security officer.
“Leave me sir. I need to talk to her for two minutes. For God’s sake leave me.”
“Are you insane. She is the last passenger to board. It will take off within Three minutes. What the hell on earth is so necessary that you want to tell her.”
I was sorrounded by at least ten guards, pointing A.K 56 at me. With numb eyes I looked at the runway. She was not there.

They took me to the security room. At first they had suspected me as a terrorist but then I showed them my id card and Bank id card. They made a confirmatory phone call to my bank. Having satisfied that I didn’t have any illegitimate background, they released me.

At that moment I was unable to decide whether to cry or laugh. I was happy because my presumption was true; that face inscribed upon the wall was not just a mere interception of lines, that belonged to Erica Matthews. I was sad because I couldn’t bring her with me to show the magic of uncanny.

I came to my room. My eyes automatically moved towards the wall. It was sad. The Eyes were looking at me in a complaining manner.

I woke up late next morning. My head was terribly paining. The torments of previous day jeopardized my illness. I got up from the bed. Having opened the door, I picked up the newspaper lying on the ground.
I was always lucky in my bad luck. That’s what I realized after reading the headline; “Virgin Atlantic Air Crash: flight 130A crashes in River Thames: Nobody Survives”.

Unaware of my disconsolate ambiance, here she was smiling on the bottom of the paper along with 188 random faces. There was an epitaph written right above the pictures: ” Destiny is a good thing to accept when it’s going your way, when it isn’t, don’t call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery or simple bad luck. Amen.”
Despite the frigidity of the winter morning, I started Swithering. I gathered all off my remaining courage and looked at the wall. It was disappeared.

Everybody’s eyes were numb except one person: Uncle Mohan. He was done with his exceptionally singular and tragic experience. He looked at our sad, sympathetic faces and started laughing like a maniac. We thought that the reminiscences of his sorrowful past had brought insanity in him but we were wrong. Our Young minds couldn’t decipher the sarcasm behind that laugh. “Do you kids know the most important part of the story?”.
” what?.” All of us asked simultaneously.
“That I cooked up the story half an hour ago after seeing that thing”. He was pointing toward the wall. We all looked at that direction. There was a circle on the worn out wall.

Story by-

Venkateswar Pradhan

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