तथास्तु – Part II

Unable to hold on to sleep, Dhuni sat doubly frustrated on the edge of his bed contemplating how to quench his ire. The machines; they were the reason behind that villager’s promotion. Dhuni could make them work too! He’d show them all, he decided. A mere jumble of knobs and screws could not intimidate him. Getting out of the bed, he swiftly made his way to the warehouse. The night watchman was genial and let him in without asking any questions. A machine of monstrous proportions stood in there, surrounded by heaps of cottons, chiffons, crepes and silks. Determined, Dhuni made his way thinking of David and Goliath.

When did the fire start, Dhuni would never remember exactly. Was it after he dozed off thoroughly exhausted from his unsuccessful attempts or did he faint after he saw the machine catch fire? Either way, by the time he got back to his senses, the fire was blazing too high to be stopped. Few minutes passed in horror, and then his survival instincts took over. Making a rope out of the cloth lying around, Dhuni managed to climb out of the warehouse just in time. He tried calling for the watchman but found himself unable to speak due to suffocation. He ran as far as he could, behind him lengthy flames and smoky clouds spawned rapidly, covering the brilliant night sky with an ominous grey. No stars could be seen twinkling.

~

What was more horrific, Aamna later wondered, the disaster or its consequences?

Bhaanu lost not one, but both his jobs that night. The fire had reduced most of the marketplace to ashes. Finally, Pankhi had her husband absolutely to herself, but not happily so.

Shyama was woken awake by the doorbell. It was the owner of the town bakery. Rajan had helped save a dozen men and women from the fire that ravaged the market last night, but he had not survived it himself. The owner handed Shyama a thick envelope full of cash; a consolation for the widow of Rajan, a local hero. Few years later, Shyama would open her own bakery under Rajan’s name from that money. It would make Rajan a household name just like Shyama dreamed, but posthumously.

As for Aamna, she rushed to the crumpled marketplace as soon as she heard the news next morning. It had been the fire and not some wedding! If only she had raised the alarm sooner… Ridden with guilt, she at once began to help the victims even when none of them were known or related to her. While at it she discovered a makeshift rope of really expensive cloth stuffed beneath the debris, and somehow she knew that it was no coincidence. She ran with it to her mother, who lived up to her skilful reputation.

When Aamna stood up on the dais that evening dressed in green and golden silks, she spoke not from preparation but from her newly gained wisdom. Who is a better teacher than a calamity, indeed. Years from now, she would still wonder if the entire fire and all the destruction had happened just so that she could find those idle scraps of cloth in the debris, because she had wished for it. Was that really possible?

 

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