Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Yakshini

As Norman Scott walked out of the NHK office in New Delhi, he had a smile on his face. He got what he wanted. And all he wanted, was to stay in Calcutta.

Things in his life had taken a strange turn, when, after chasing stories in Africa and Latin America, the BBC had posted him in Calcutta, about five years ago. When he finished his three, he was asked to pack up and move. But, he didn't want to. So, he quit the job and found another one with an American broadcasting company, that would let him stay in Calcutta. And, a few weeks ago, when that company showed signs of packing up, he went and talked to the Japanese. The NHK deal was not that bad, really. The job would let him stay in Calcutta, and that was all that mattered to him.

When he quit the beeb, his boss at the time had asked him why he wanted to stay on in Calcutta. He had asked if there was a girl involved. Norman had said "maybe" rather mysteriously, adding that there existed quite a wide gap between him and her. His boss had left it at that, thinking that Norman was perhaps talking about cultural differences.

Norman Scott, the foreign correspondent, was indeed in love. But, it was something that he couldn't talk about, without being considered crazy.

It all started when in his first week of posting at Calcutta, he had taken a walk inside the famous Indian museum. Thinking, that he would perhaps come across an interesting story. And then, he walked into a large hallway with a few stone sculptures from the Gupta period. Admiring the workmanship of the ancient artists, he wandered to the end of the hall, where, he saw a life-sized sculpture of  a Yakshini, or a mysterious mythical woman, involved in the protection of wealth. The sculpture was embedded in a wall with delicate carvings in stone, that was standing on a platform. And, symmetrically located on the other side of the platform, was an identical Yakshini. Norman took a closer look at the sculpture. She was beautiful and voluptuous, and had a very full figure. As Norman looked at her face, he froze for a second. He had seen this woman somewhere, he couldn't quite remember where. And then, a sudden shiver went through his spine, because, he thought that the Yakshini had smiled at him. Briefly. Norman rubbed his eyes, and looked at the impassive sculpture again. And then, he quickly walked away.

That night, Norman had a strange dream. He was on a white horse, slowly moving through a busy street of what looked like an ancient Indian city. The men and women were dressed like the men and women he had seen in the famous Raja Ravi Varma paintings. They wore silk and gold, and ornaments made of sweet smelling flowers. There were richly stocked stores around him. The buildings were majestic, and had ornamental carvings on them. As he moved past the market area, he crossed a few houses. All of them were large, and had beautiful gardens around them. His horse seemed to know exactly where it was headed, and apparently, he did too. He saw a beautiful house with a garden full of red and white flowers in the front. He tied his horse to a thin tree, and walked over to an ornate window on the back. Then, he knocked on the window. Rather quickly, the window opened, as if he was being expected. Behind it, stood a beautiful woman. She threw him a beaming smile, and spoke rapidly in a strange language. She had a very mellifluous voice. He seemed to fully understand what she was saying, and, strangely enough, when he responded, he spoke in the same language. And then, he took a closer look at her face. She had the face of the Yakshini.   

Over the next few years, the dreams became more frequent. Every time, he had a dream, he would make a trip to the museum in the next few days. To visit the Yakshini.  And on such nights, he would dream of her, and the beautiful town that she lived in. Over the years, he was intimately familiar with the lanes and the by lanes in the small town of his dreams. And the various stores, from which, he would buy little gifts for her. Their conversations grew longer, and so did his fondness for her voice and her countenance.  

Norman Scott was in love. With a woman from the past, who lived in a town in his dreams. And with time, that strange bond, grew stronger. Strong enough for him to stay on in Calcutta, in spite of the many career opportunities that passed him by.   

Sometimes, he would travel on business. And when he was back, he would promptly visit his Yakshini in the museum. On those nights, as he would dream of her, she would complain to him in her sweet voice. About his absence and how much he was missed. And then, he would make amends by buying her gifts with his gold coins, that had strange engravings on them.  He soon realized that he was a trader, who would bring goods from faraway lands. Incense, silk and gemstones. And sometimes, he would sell those articles to the nobility. And once in a while, to the king himself. But, whenever his trips brought him to the small town of the Yakshini, he would visit her first, and the king later. He seemed to know what was important to him.


After Norman joined the NHK, life suddenly got very busy for him. He had to travel for a month, chasing stories in Southeast Asia. All the while, he kept longing for the Yakhshini.  He often wondered where this relationship was headed. Sometimes, he would wonder if he should see a psychiatrist. After all, what he was doing, was extremely irregular. This was not a normal relationship, and this was not headed anywhere. But then, this relationship, with a woman from his dreams, had given him more satisfaction, than all the ones from his past. Combined.

After he came back to Calcutta from his month-long absence, he went straight to the museum. The Yakshini looked less alive to him that day, and he wondered what she had in store for him. When she would come to him in his dreams that night. On his way back to his apartment, Norman got caught in a typical Calcutta downpour, and that evening, he realized  that he had a fever. When he went to bed that night, he had a very high temperature. And his dream, was very strange.

He was in her room, but she didn't notice his presence. She was sitting on a large bed, chatting with a woman that looked exactly like her. She had an identical twin!  A maid walked in with two golden cups, and handed it to the twins. They kept talking and drinking. After a few minutes, they both fell asleep, as if, there was something in the liquid they drank. The maid rushed in with two tall and well-built men, dressed in black. Then, they carried the women out to a bullock cart outside the house. He wanted to stop them, but he felt paralyzed.

Suddenly, he was transported to a different location. He was in the middle of a clearing in a dense forest. There were hundreds of soldiers carrying flaming torches. A big platform had been constructed in the clearing with hundreds of idols carved out of stone. In the centre, a large pit had been dug in the ground, that was being filled with gold coins. And precious gemstones. People were literally taking out cartloads of treasure and dumping it in the pit. There were a few priests dressed in red. They were sitting around a ceremonial fire, and chanting.  On one side of the structure, he could see the panel of the two Yakshinis from the museum. In front of each Yakshini, a deep pit was being dug.  Suddenly, he saw the king himself. He was standing very tall, and barking orders to his soldiers. Then, to his surprise, from one of the bullock carts, they carried the two sisters out. They were still alive! The king pointed to the pits and the twins were slowly lowered into them. Then, the men started covering the pits with soil, as the priests chanted loudly. He wanted to draw out his sword and attack them. But, he felt that he was being restrained. By a fellow trader. A compatriot from the distant land he had come from. 

Norman woke up in a delirium. There was thunder and lightning outside, and the wind was extremely strong. He could hear the windows rattling. Then, through the glass door in his balcony, he saw the strangest sight of his life. The Yakshini was standing on the balcony! She looked more beautiful than ever, and as he walked towards her, he saw that her face glowed every time the lightening struck. He noticed that she had a sad smile on her face, as she extended her hand to him. As Norman walked towards her, he saw that the dense urban landscape of Calcutta had been replaced by the beautiful town that he was so familiar with. And downstairs, he saw his white horse by the street. It was waiting for them!


Inspector Tarapodo Ghosh was overwhelmed. Two events in just two days, had left him in a state of exasperation. And both, required tonnes of paperwork, that he hated with all his guts. First, there was this mysterious theft of a Yakshini sculpture from the museum. In spite of the tight security, no one in the museum had a clue about how a sculpture could simply disappear from the museum. The guards had seen nothing, and heard nothing. They kept saying that the only way they could explain the situation was if the Yashini had somehow come alive, and walked out of the museum by herself. The security cameras had been knocked out after a major thunderstorm yesterday, and they had no way of knowing who had stolen the sculpture. And then, this morning, he received the call about the British journalist. Apparently, there was no reason for him to jump out of his balcony in the middle of the night. And kill himself. The theft of a major archaeological specimen, and the suicide of a foreign national -- both required a lot of paperwork. Which he hated. His only hope was that his good friend, Professor Rudro Pal, would be able to to something about the theft at the museum. He had locked the place down, but he could do nothing about the journalists trooping in and out. He hated the newspapers, specially, when they had things to write about crimes in his area.    

Rudro Pal kept staring at the wall on the platform. And, he kept shaking his head. For all his life, he had thought that the Yakshini was chiseled out of a solid piece of rock, with only the front of the sculpture visible to the world. He has no idea that the sculpture was actually a complete three dimensional representation of a woman, and then, it was somehow embedded in a hollowed out cavity in the stone wall. Now that he was looking at the cavity, he kept wondering about what it took to make a life sized sculpture and then, embed it in a cavity in the rock. If he was not formally trained in archaeology, he would have said, very easily, that theYakshini had just walked out of the wall she was embedded into. Leaving a cavity in the wall behind her proportional to her dimensions. Whoever had stolen the sculpture, was as accomplished as the artist, who had created it.

To get a better idea, he walked over to the other side of the platform, that held a similar sculpture. In front of the wall, a white man was standing spellbound, looking at the other Yakshini.

"Magnificent, isn't she?" said Prof. Pal. The man was startled, and quickly regained his composure.

"Absolutely," whispered the man. "She is simply beautiful."

Prof. Pal broke into a monologue about the artists of the Gupta period, and when he was done, he smiled and said, "I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Rudro Pal. I teach archaeology at the university here."

The man held his hand out. "I am John Walker, I work for the BBC. I just got posted to Calcutta. Professor, your knowledge of these sculptures is quite impressive. She looks so real.  I must confess, that while looking at the Yakshini, it seemed to me, that she had come alive.  For a second, I thought that she was smiling at me.


  1. babu,your post is the stuff dreams are mad of.
    this yakshini gets attracted only to men?

    Why the hell YOU DON'T POST OFTEN???
    *ok.ok.won't shout*

  2. Nice read....I was deprately hoping that there i an end to this peice.

  3. This is so beautiful, and such a wonderful story too. It has stayed with me for many days now--I'd love to see it as an illustrated book, but will have to settle for the images in my mind's eye.

    Thank you for your writing.

  4. Thanks Kathleen! I am glad you liked the story. The illustrated book will have to wait for the time being, unless one of the blog's readers volunteers to draw a picture. Or two. :-)