BY RAHAD ABIR
The boy was born with a tail.
After three girls, finally, a boy. The mother and her newborn received great care during the birth—care that was absent during the female births.
The nail-like flesh protrusion, much less than half an inch, right on the top of the boy’s tailbone, didn’t concern the parents initially, until it started to grow. It grew to an inch within six months. On a market day, the boy’s parents went to see a doctor.
The doctor examined the protrusion thoroughly. ‘‘I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s strange. It seems like a tail.’’
The boy, began to cry. The mother looked at the doctor. She tried to calm her son, nestling him against her chest, rocking him. The doctor asked for some more details and ended up saying, ‘‘I don’t see any harm in it. Don’t worry, just leave it as it is.’’ He was right; everything was going fine apart from the protrusion. Because it was more than an inch by that time, you might have actually been tempted to call it a real tail. And a new problem came up sometime later. Neighbours began appearing.
‘‘Is it true that your boy has a tail?’’
Embarrassed, the mother tried to be tricky. ‘‘No, who said that?’’
They elbowed each other and winked. ‘‘Let us have a look.’’
Now villagers not only from Durgapur but also from all around were coming by house at ridiculous times. The boy’s father who did betel leaf farming in the lands surrounding his house, found it hard to concentrate on his job and to turn the visitors down, as well. ‘‘I’ve come from far away just to take a glance. You can’t say no,’’ they would say. Some did not seem happy only viewing; they wanted to touch. They wanted to see if the boy had any feeling there. The father decided that he’d bring the boy to the visitors only in the afternoon because it was getting too difficult to handle the unexpected visits.
At school, children got on the boy’s sisters’ nerves. ‘‘Your brother is a monkey, right? How long has his tail grown now?’’
‘‘Here goes monkey-dad, blessed with a boy, after three daughters. How’s he now?’’ villagers said to the boy’s father.
The boy’s mother, a housewife, rarely went out since his birth. Yet, something more was waiting for the family.
Early in the morning, the boy’s grandma called her son into her room, dishevelled. She looked much older and thinner with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.
‘‘Are you alright, Ma?’’ The father asked.
‘‘I had a dream last night,’’ she whispered, gazing up at him, with wide eyes. ‘‘Lord Hanuman has come to us. He’s born as your son.’’
Thinking of the possibilities, the boy’s father tossed and turned all night in the old bed, woke up at dawn, and went out to his farm. Wandering around and looking at the young betel leaves in the soft morning light, he let out a satisfied sigh. He felt complete for the first time in his life.
One day, a mid-aged man donning a brown blazer, appeared. His name was Joy, and was the owner of Rajkamal Circus which was due to be set up in the district for a month. He asked the boy’s father if he’d be interested in making some easy money.
‘‘You’re telling me to do business with my child?” he frowned.
‘‘No, take it easy,’’ Joy corrected immediately. ‘‘I know people gather here in the afternoon to see your son. Why don’t you show him at the circus instead? Just for two hours in the evening.’’
Joy, before heading off, handed him five thousand taka, enough for a month’s expense, in advance. At the end of the day, it created a strong stir in the family.
‘‘How dare you, you wretched man!’’ Grandma exclaimed to her son. ‘‘You’ll be cursed. He’s the God Hanuman, you know that.’’ She looked at him so hard that he felt uncomfortable. She then shared her recent dream where she was advised to erect a temple for Lord Hanuman.
The very next day the advance was returned. The boy’s father, out of a feeling of fear and guilt, soon sorted out a location in the front yard of the house, and within a month the temple—made of bamboo and straw—Hanuman Mandir, was completed. A modest clay statue of Lord Hanuman, in sitting position—with legs folded in a lotus pose, was placed there too. Although this was the first time the village idol-maker made a statue of Lord Hanuman instead of making Goddess Durga or Kali statues, his effort was commendable. Inside the temple, hogla mats were used as floor cover. A paper toran, garland were hung in the doorway. Soon all over the place a strong scented incense created a holy atmosphere.
People from far away began coming to Durgapur village not only to seek blessings from the boy, but also to visit the temple, claiming that this was the first Hanuman temple in the country. Visitors lined up at the temple from early afternoon. The boy, accompanied by his father, was found sitting on mat wearing dhooti, laying the end of his seven-inch long tail uncovered aside to be touched by the blessing seekers. Visitors knelt and paid Pranams, and touched the tail to get cured of their ailments or their secret wishes to be fulfilled. Before leaving they put some money in the offering box. Some, who could not afford to give any money, brought stuff like coconuts, bananas, papayas, pumpkins, betel leaves and nuts, and the like.
The boy was a little over three-years-old now. His eyes were big and dark, and a serious sort of look on his soft face that was mingled with childish innocence seemed to indicate that he knew about his role there. In actual fact, it turned out now and then that he didn’t know — or perhaps didn’t want to — what was going around him. Some days after sitting for a while before the devotees he started yawning, his eyelids drooped, and in no time he fell asleep. Other days he started asking his father too many questions: Baba, why they put money in the box? Are they all mine? Baba, I don’t eat pumpkin. Throw it, now. Baba, why he has no hair? Often he found things funny, and suddenly burst out laughing himself: Baba, look, she has only one tooth. Sometimes he was stubborn: Baba, she is so untidy, tell her to go away. Occasionally he was so wild, ran off the temple just like that, and began climbing a mango tree by the pond. It wasn’t something the devotees looked forward to, but they watched in awe the little boy’s natural climbing skill. Just like a Monkey god, they murmured, and then paid pranams at the foot of the tree. Some days, however, the boy didn’t want to attend the temple at all. He screamed. He cried.
Soon after getting blessing from the boy a childless woman miraculously got pregnant, a young girl suffering from severe asthma got completely cured, and many stories went around that people had improved their bad condition after coming to the temple. Because of the growing number of visitors, a neighbour opened a tiny shop on the way to the temple to sell various religious items including pamphlets and souvenir amulets. The small temple, over time, turned into a tin roofed well-shaded one with more open spaces around. Other improvements began to be made on the house. And the boy’s father bought substantial plots of farm land.
One morning in late monsoon, the boy woke up with a backache. The next day he developed a fever. This was somewhat unusual. He had always been healthy, never even fell ill other than getting a cold. As time went by, his body temperature slowly rose and he got sicker. On the fourth day, he couldn’t keep anything in his stomach, and kept throwing up a little after he ate. Being very weak he looked so scrawny and poorly. Home treatment continued, traditional medicine from local ayurvedic doctor, too. Devotees visiting the temple prayed for his fast recovery as well. But the fever still remained high. And the pain in his hip, especially right on the spot of his tail, became intense. His big sharp eyes, now puffy, didn’t seem any water left to shed. He didn’t even have much strength to whimper.
Because of a thunderstorm the night before, on Tuesday morning the sky was very clear and the air felt pleasant and fresh. After about a week the boy was sleeping better at night. When he opened his eyes in the morning, he felt better and stronger since he had been ill. He looked around. His mother and father were still asleep on either side of the bed. His sisters were sleeping with his grandma in the next room. He slightly moved his body and turned his face to his mother. Then he felt uneasy around his hip joint. He reached his left arm to touch his tail. His eyebrows raised in disbelief. ‘‘Ma’’ he shook his mother’s arm.
‘‘Yes, dear,’’ his mother sat up instantly from her gentle slumber.
‘‘Ma, where’s my tail?’’ he said.
His mother looked closely at him as if she didn’t understand his question. She immediately pulled his shorts down. By the time the father was up. They both gazed at the boy’s naked hip joint, taken aback. Their eyes bulged out, couldn’t believe what they saw. They looked at each other.
‘‘Where did it go?’’ uttered the father’s staggering voice.
The father and the mother dug into the bed, and almost together they found the tail laying at the very bottom of the bed. It was half hidden into the twisted bed sheet. They fell silent for a while, both holding the tail gently. Nothing could be more sad, more surprising, more shocking in their entire universe then.
This blow made the grandma take to her bed. ‘‘God has left us,’’ she said. Her eyes, wide open, blinked no more. The words dribbled from her mouth, nonstop: ‘‘God has left us.’’