Remnants of a vanishing world

Remnants of a vanishing world

I was born in a small village in undivided Bengal with no electricity or pucca road.
But more noteworthy is some of the characters, the likes of whom have vanished with time. 

Our village had a post office. The ‘Runner’ was the man who carried the mail (including cash for money order) back and forth the sub post office in our village and the main post office in the town.  The term ‘Runner’ originated from the fact that in the old days the mail carrier used to run between the two post offices, often in the night.

However, the most interesting character was the local postmaster, Sanat Uncle. He was a master story teller.

There was an old mentally deranged destitute named Kamini who used to live in a dilapidated hut near our house.

Sanat Uncle told us that Kamini becomes a different woman on ‘amavasya’ night.  He had seen through the crack of his window that Kamini was walking on her hands, feet up, with a lamp in an earthen pot balanced on her feet and blood woozing from her mouth.

Uncle warned us that if anybody came face to face with Kamini in this state, she would shoot fiery arrows straight at the heart of the person and there would be no escape from death. 

He also told us that witches look like ordinary women except that their ankles would be twisted frontside back. The village was full of widows wearing white saris as there used be a big age difference between the wife and the husband with the result that most of the husbands died long before their wives.

We would be dead scared to look at the feet of these ladies with faces almost covered by veil. We would hurriedly pass those ladies without looking at their ankles, muttering “Ram, Ram,” as advised by Sanat Uncle.

Fakir Uncle used to deliver mail.  But he also provided medication for snake bites. People would come running to him from distant villages. He would make the messenger (not necessarily the person who had been bitten by the snake) drink a glass of his medicated water and rush back to the village. We were told that in many cases, the patient got cured. Much later, I could see the reason. 

Most snakes are not poisonous. Even those which are poisonous may not get the time to inject sufficient amount of venom into the bloodstream of the victim. In addition, if a snake releases poison once, it takes time to build venom in the sack behind its jaw.

Finally,  a person bitten by a non-poisonous snake may sometimes feel sick out of panic. For all such people bitten by snake, the water of Fakir Uncle was a "miracle cure." But in all other cases (which were statistically much less than the other group) it would not work. Since it helped in a majority of cases, the faith in people like Fakir Uncle persisted in the minds of believers.

Standing today, these characters seem like dreams transported from an age of innocence.

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