Dumber was taken out from army custody. While going out, a woman asked the head guard to see Dumber. She came straight towards him and started hitting on his chest. She cried and said,” You good for nothing, you made my husband blind.” Dumber stood there motionless without uttering a word. He had no idea why she was hitting him.
Dumber was brought up in a tea garden, which was a walkable distance away from Darjeeling town. He studied in St. Robert School, Darjeeling. He was a good football player. He started playing football at the age of 8 and had played for several football clubs by the time he reached 15. He was a center forward. He had long hair which fell up to his lower back neck and used to put a red ribbon on his head while playing.
He was just 5feet 4inches but was quick and was quite strong. Boys and girls from Darjeeling didn’t miss his game. He was known for his dribbling and accuracy level even from a distance. Football lovers never grew tired of talking about his skills with the ball. Almost all used to say that he was born to play football. Girls ran after him but his best friend was Ajnabi. He kept this a secret from his friends. Ajnabi used to study at St. Teresa School, Darjeeling. They first met while they used to take Mathematics tuitions.
In June, the army recruiting team GRD Jalpahar. Dumber along with his friends went there early morning. As he was physically fit, he got selected for the physical exam and easily cleared the written exam too. When he reached home in the evening, he told his parents about the results. His parents were proud of him but they wished their son to finish his schooling first as he was about to finish class 10. Other relatives and friends, suggested he join the army as he would get a chance to study after joining the army too. Dumber was anxious to join the service as his parent’s financial conditions were not good. He was in his early seventeen and left his town with a big dream of playing football in the Army Division. He did not get a chance to say goodbye to Ajnabi. While he was undergoing training in Dehradun, he sent a letter to Ajnabi.
The period came to an end and Dumber got a chance to visit home. He was so happy to be in his birthplace, Darjeeling. When he got back he met Ajnabi and took her out. Together they went to the zoo, birds hill and also went to the cinema. A month’s leave for him seemed like a day. The time came to return to his unit, Gorkha Regiment, Subathu, Himachal Pradesh. The place looked like Darjeeling due to which his mind used to wander home. He became a popular footballer in the army. He played almost all the tournaments throughout the year. Being a football player he need not perform extra duty. Most of the time, he remained engaged in coaching camps. He used to visit home every year. As time passed by, he built a new house in his ancestor’s place and made his parents happy. They were now forcing him to get married soon. He used to jokingly say, “My wife has not yet been born.” He was in his 4th year since he joined the army.
It was Monday, Ajnabi had just arrived from college and was resting in her room. “Ajnabi”, her mother called out from the sitting room. “Mom, I’m resting”.” Come here”. She entered her room and found her mother alone. “Do you know Shyam of Ladenly Road? He also studies in St.Joseph College in 3rd year in Science stream.” “Why should I know him?” “His mother met me yesterday in Chowrasta and wanted you two to get to know each other.” “Mom, I’ve already selected my boyfriend.” “Who? Where does he live?” “Dumber, an army man from the tea garden area.”
“How can you select that type of guy even after being educated? I myself being illiterate selected a good man like your father who has decent government service. Do you know the family background of Shyam? His father is a tea garden manager posted at the prestigious Thurbo T.E. Mirik and his mother is a head clerk of the D.C. office in Darjeeling. They have been staying in Ladenla House for 5 generations. They have a garments shop in Mal Road and another near their house. We too have come from a tea garden after our marriage. We are just here for just 2 generations. You have not realized the miserable condition of the tea garden. Take the feelings for Dumber out of your heart. Be practical and think with a clear mind.”
Dumber was resting in his room after his morning drill. He received a letter. He knew looking at the envelope that it was from Ajnabi. His face enlightened and kissed the envelope several times. He opened the letter and started reading.
It was Friday and Ajnabi was in out her college and was looking for a shared taxi. Suddenly, a young man came and introduced himself – ” I’m Shyam, if I’m not wrong, you’re Ajnabi, right?” Ajnabi casually said, “Hi” “Shall we go together up to zoo road?” Together they boarded a taxi. She was now sure that this guy was the one her mother was talking about. Ajnabi looked at him curiously. He was tall and smartly dressed. She could not deny his proposal as she had seen him in college many times but had never spoken with each other before. They both got down on zoo road and started walking up the small road. While walking, Shyam asked Ajnabi – “Which school did you pass out from?”
“St. Teresa School. You”
“St. Joseph School. What is your honors paper?”
“Good. Mine is Botany. I have planned to go Tokla training and join garden manager just like my father.”
“Do you like Birds Hill, Ajnabi?”
“I’m very much connected with the place. My parents used to bring me here during childhood every weekend. So I love the place. We can have a clear glance of Darjeeling from here.”
“Ajnabi, I feel great today. What about you?”
“Shall we come here regularly”
“We can come here during the weekend”
Elsewhere, Dumber remained quiet after reading the letter and started thinking about Ajnabi. It was football season so there was no chance of getting left. He had applied for special leave but was outrightly rejected. After a month he got a special leave sanctioned just before Tihar. A day before his journey back home, his army company had arranged a cultural program. He was impressed by the dance in the popular Hindi songs – Gore rang pe Itna Ghumman. He liked the dance better than the dance if he had seen it in the movie, The Train (1974).
After 3 days and 2 nights journey, he reached Darjeeling. Intending to see Ajnabi, he walked up the railway station road. Just above Ajnabi’s house, he stood for about 15 minutes but couldn’t see her and decided to come the next day. He reached home just before nightfall. He gave “dhok” (touching his parent’s feet with his forehead). It was Laxmi Puja. The next day morning, Dumber got up at 7 and took a warm bath, and had his breakfast. It was Kukur Tihar (Dog’s Festival). As he was putting on his best shirt to meet Ajnabi, Kamala Ajnabi’s friend came and asked him why had he not come for Ajnabi’s marriage. Hearing this, Dumber couldn’t believe his ear. He became weightless and holding onto the mirror he holds his head with his hands and fell.
He spent his leave remaining indoors and left home to join his duty weak and feeble. His parents felt sad and couldn’t say anything. He reached his duty in time. Seeing his poor health, the officer advised him to join the Army Hospital. After a week, he regained his health. His officer asked him to visit his quarter. He saluted the officer and sat down. The officer told him that he could arrange a longer stay in the hospital, in return Dumber should help him in his household activity. He was asked to wash clothes. When he entered the bathroom, he saw clothes belonging to Sahid as well as Memsaheb, like a bra, petticoat, socks, etc. He denied washing these clothes. His officer got annoyed and wrote a letter that Dumber was mentally sick and couldn’t be discharged from the hospital.
As soon as he joined the hospital, he noticed corruption in the meal menu. Patients were not given meals as per the menu. He complained several times about the poor quality of food. One day after day’s meal, Dumber entered the kitchen room while the head-cook went outside. He checked the tiffin carrier of the head cook. He saw that the tiffin carrier was filled with cooked meat and boiled eggs to take it home. Dumber quietly kept it in his cupboard just to make fun of the head-cook. After returning, the head-cook started searching for his tiffin carrier. Finally, he got it and started scolding Dumber. He toured the clothes of Dumber and started beating him ruthlessly. He was tall and strong. Dumber requested the head-cook to spare him and acknowledge his guilt but he continuously hit him. It became unbearable. Intending to save his life, Dumber picked up a bottle that was full of water and hit him on the back of the head.
All of a sudden, the room turned into a pin dropped to silence. Both eyes of the cook had come out and were lying on the ground. The doctors and the nurses rushed immediately and took the cook to the operation theatre. Dumber was arrested. He was kept in lock-up. He went without eating for 3 days. On the fourth day, he was lying in his lock-up when a man started speaking in his mother tongue. “You know, I studied in your home town. Tell me all about the events that took place. Treat me as your younger brother. I will try my best to save you but must narrate the factual events.” Dumber raised his head and saw that the man was a doctor who studied in Darjeeling. The doctor again requested him to narrate the events. Eventually, he told the doctor everything about what had happened. The doctor knew that Dumber was declared an unsound person. So, he was referred to a mental hospital to save him from accusation.
The very day, he was brought to the mental hospital. He found himself getting carried away by 4 people while he was sleeping. He found himself among people doing peculiar things. Some were crying while some were talking with themselves and others were continuously singing and dancing. The doctor told him that all patients were not actually mental but were pretending just to avoid the punishment of their bad deeds.
After a week, a medical board was formed and Dumber was declared a normal person. He returned to his unit to join his duty. The very next day, he submitted his resignation letter addressing the competent authority. The department made proper inquiry of his position and allowed him to leave the service.
After returning home, he joined the garden work in place of his mother and carried on his normal life, lonely.
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