Biltu was a coward, a reticent, and an introvert so long as the sun rays poured on him. Thin and lanky, his eyes glistened at dusk, and there emerged a totally different personality in enveloping darkness. He had a rare gift of combining frivolity with recklessness in his nocturnal activities.
The long winter holidays in the school afforded Biltu the opportunity to undertake perilous undertakings. It was outrightly dangerous to be with him in his projects, and a shortcoming to miss them. He boasted of being a 'performing artiste of the hyemal kind.'
Of the numerous pranks, the most striking one even faced an intensive though unsuccessful police inquiry. The police came to the neighborhood and questioned all the boys. Biltu was luckily interrogated during his 'solar affliction.' True to his nature, he winced, trembled and stammered his way out. He was not daring enough to pull such a job, the police presumably concluded.
Wintry Darjeeling, nestled in the Himalayan foothills, forced people, particularly at night, to wrap up heavy woolens from head to foot, making movement up the road awkward and slow. The oldies even added thick mufflers on top of balaclava caps that virtually kept only the eyes bare.
Equipped with a black balaclava cap Biltu used to spread out all ten fingers, palms facing backwards, elbows partly folded, crouch-walk silently in a peculiar gait, stand erect right behind his unsuspecting victim, and shrilly shout, 'aau aau' several times before running away the way he came.
He used to pull back his Adam's apple, and force the vocal chord to let out the gibberish sound coupled with a nasal tone in an unearthly fury. The impact was tremendously traumatic. Many a victim, usually a solitary figure in a deserted street, actually cried out in panic.
One such night we spotted a man sauntering his way laboriously up the hilly terrain. Biltu took a couple of deep breath, and silently went on his crouch-walk. We waited with bated breath. The 'aau aau-s' broke the silence, but something was amiss. Instead of at least four times it was uttered only twice.
Two movements occurred simultaneously. The victim clutched his stomach and sat down on the road, and Biltu took a different escape route. We waited in vain for him to reappear. There was no trace of him for the next four days.
Our patience exhausted, we hazarded a visit to his residence. His father came out to announce that Biltu had been grounded for the rest of the winter holidays. “And don't you boys mix up with that bad boy, or he will get you all in trouble.”
After much persuasion, we were granted ten minutes with Biltu inside his bedroom. The 'performing artiste of the hyemal kind' was in a bleak mood.
“I nearly busted his hernia,” Biltu whispered rapidly, “that man was my father. Unlike others he had looked back, we looked into each other's eyes just for a moment, and that was enough for recognition.” His 'solar affliction' was cured after the incident, he informed us, instead he was now afraid of the darkness. Perhaps it was now a case of 'lunar morbidity,' he speculated, as we took his leave.
BY TAPAS MUKHERJEE
BY TAPAS MUKHERJEE