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Black Cat

I got down at Sanjan from an overcrowded train. It was the only available train that had a scheduled stop at this nondescript village. It was just about 8 pm but felt like mid night. I came out of platform and the deserted view of the street ahead forced me to start walking towards my final destination,Girgam, which was about 8 kilometers from railway station.

It was drizzling and I had no intention to walk. I could recollect my dad telling me about his childhood visit to Girgam. He would reminisce the walk he would take during his visits to his granddad's farm from this very station. It was not the same for me though, in this situation.

Soon a black cat crossed my path and added to my anxiety. I started cajoling myself that it had nothing to do with omen and it was just another animal going somewhere.

After walking for about a kilometre, I spotted an autorickshaw. I asked the driver - Joshi chi wadi , Joshi's farm in Girgam. With some reluctance he agreed for double fare. This Double-fare gave one point to the cat. However, getting an auto was against cat.

I had no option but to come to this village as Surat was completely flooded and all the students started moving out of hostel as the water level had started rising. When I fled the hostel, 3 steps of admin building were under water.

This village was my favourite place since our first visit 2 years ago. We were on our tour to south India and while coming back, my father planned a visit to Girgam, his maternal village, where my grandmother was born and bred. The visit changed our perception of a village. My uncle was well off and well known person in that region as he had been the head of village committee for 5 years. His home had cable tv, telephone, car, tractor and all the luxuries that were uncommon in villages.

Since then Girgam became my dream destination. After moving to Surat for graduation, I started visiting it frequently. The scent of mangos and sapotas in the air would take me to a different world. I would tell my college friends- if you take me on a train journey from Surat to Mumbai with my eyes closed, I will be able to tell when we cross Sanjan by the scent in the air.

The visits were always special as I would get to roam aound in ambassador car and tractor. I would accompany my uncle to see the mango farms, rice farming and was treated well by almost everyone I met.

However, this was unplanned visit and I could not even inform my uncle about it as the phone lines were dead.

The auto-driver was not much talkative and the silence of the village street was chilling.

After a short ride, the autorickshaw came to stop just before the river bridge. The autowala said - Saheb, the bridge is overflowing and I will not risk crossing it.

I was short of words as I didn't have any option now. I still asked him for help. He said, he would keep the lights on and let me cross the bridge on foot. That black cat crossed my mind but I was convinced that it was no bad omen.

I gingerly crossed the bridge with knee deep water. I thanked autowala from other side of the bridge. As soon as the auto took U turn, the darkness of the night deepened.

I started chanting all the shlokas and prayers I could recollect and started walking towards my uncle's farm.

There was complete silence and no houses in sight. Once in a while, I would hear a distant barking of dogs. The mind started to stray from god to thoughts of encountering stary dog or

wild animal.. I stopped chanting and was able to hear my own breath. I had no guts to look back for rustling trees and stridulation had already scared me to bones.

The walk was much longer than I had thought. I would invariably look up to sky. To my surprise, I heard an autorickshaw approaching from behind. I waved desperately to stop it. The autorickshaw stopped; in an instant I boarded the auto beside the driver as the back seat

was full and told him "Joshi's wadi" .

This autowala knew Joshi's wadi and started driving without asking directions. He left me at the wadi's gate. I asked him - how much? He smiled took U turn and went. I had defeated the cat.

I went in through the main gate. The pet dogs didn't bother me now but their barking made my uncle come out - who is it.

I was greeted well by my uncle. The light rain had drenched me on my way to his house. My uncle asked me to get dry and waited on me in the verandah. Uncle asked me - How did you reach home. To avoid telling him my misadventure, I said - one autowala dropped me here and he didn't charge me anything.

Uncle - What was his name?

I - I didn't ask.

Uncle - He must have been Vitthal's son as he is the only one who plys at this time. How did he manage to cross the bridge.

I didn't react.

Uncle - You were lucky to get autowala that agreed to cross the bridge as no vehicles are coming to this side of the river since evening. Without telling him how did I manage to cross it, I hesitantly asked why so?

Uncle said - This evening an overloaded auto tried to cross the bridge and got washed away. The bodies are still not found.

I - I would like to sleep now.

Next morning as I woke up, I heard my uncle talking loudly with the farm's caretaker, who

informed him about the recovery of bodied from river - How is it possible, he dropped my

nephew here at night.

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