FICTION - Ishita Saikia
Lost in her fond memories, Anisha soon reached the high gates of the Burha Bungalow, this time with proper authentication to not get shooed away by the gatekeeper. She was soon ushered in by the caretaker.
The Bungalow looked the same, she felt, with some renovation here and there. She was always enamoured by the enigma of the Bungalow and its people ever since that incident. The Bungalow dated back to the British era, and housed the descendants of the first tea planter of the town. The Bungalow was raised on stilts, and hence, also referred to as the Chang Bungalow. It was a mishmash of colonial architecture of Burmese teak, with intricacies carved out exquisitely by Chinese artisans. Surrounded on all sides by lush greenery, the Bungalow encapsulated the serene, simple, yet utterly indulgent life of the tea planters. The walls of this century-old structure reverberated with its glorious history, steeped in culture and heritage.
She was asked to straightaway head to the office block, which was located in a separate RCC building away from the main Bungalow. Thus began her journey as a Legal Intern at Salonibari Tea and Co.
Anisha caught sight of the Managing Director of the tea estate at times, getting down from his swanky car, driven by a chauffeur. He appeared to be a man in his late fifties, mostly dressed in suits and formals. With his military style moustache and Aviator glasses, he was an embodiment of elegance and royalty. On formal evening parties at the Bungalow, she often saw the wife of the MD – a remarkably beautiful woman, in elegantly draped chiffon saris in soft shades of pastel, worn with modest, long-sleeved blouses. The parties were grand affairs: laid out on tables in the open verandah were arrays of fruits, fresh juices, seared tomatoes with spots of cheese, marmalade, scrambled eggs, heaps of toast, the best of Continental dishes, and a ceaseless supply of steaming-hot Assam tea. Honestly, she, at times, had selfish thoughts, wishing how her life would have panned out had she been born into such a glorious family, instead of to her middle-class parents. But soon, she quashed her childish thoughts.
She often heard from her colleagues that the entire family had an air of mystery about them, which kept them aloof from the rest of the townsfolk; perhaps, due to the vast disparity in their class or some other reason. But, however it might be, she was in awe of the lives of the Burha Sahibs – their nobility and sophistication, as she lamented over her mundane, middle-class life.
On one such occasion, Anisha was asked by her senior to get signatures on a document from the MD, who had just returned from a trip to Scotland. As she entered the Bungalow, she couldn’t stop gasping at the posh interiors. There was a jaalikamra to the right side of the entrance to the Bungalow which looked splendid, with a smattering of white cane chairs and panoramic views of the gardens, leaning deep into the horizon. The vast drawing room was infused with aquatic blues and sea greens, with a plump sofa, matched with spacious armchairs. The British-style fireplace warmed the room, making a cosy hideaway to read her favourite novel with a cup of hot chocolate. As she waited for the MD, Mr. Baruah, she caught sight of a girl, again, of the same age as hers, hiding behind the curtains, and holding out her hand very anxiously, as if asking for some kind of help. She had a lump in her throat - “Is this the ghost girl I had seen ten years ago? But ghosts don’t age, do they?” As she was juggling these thoughts in her mind, the girl behind the curtains ran off upstairs, and a few minutes later, she could hear the shrill cries of the same girl shouting out for help, bawling like a mad woman. The family members were nowhere to be seen, and the cries went on. Panicking, Anisha ran out of the Bungalow and dialled the number of the nearest police station. The police arrived soon after, followed by the press. The horrific incident spread like wildfire, with all credit to the Opposition political party who left no chance to besmirch the name of Mr. Baruah, whose company was the key investor for the ruling party.
“21-year-old autistic daughter of tea tycoon rescued, family kept her in chains for years, fearing shame and dishonour to the family name.”
It was the top news for the next few weeks, as Anisha and her dad watched the evening news in horror. Her dad said, “Beta, appearances can be very deceptive. Never judge a book by its cover. The cowl doesn’t make the monk.”
Indeed, the Burha Bungalow had insurmountably high walls for the middle-class, bearing testimony to the legions of dark stories from the past, and the present.
Fiction entries should not exceed 1,800 words.