by Sharmila Roy Ghosal
Mahadeb! Look! It’s Mahadeb”. Children screamed in excitement, men stared and women stopped their daily chores, to peak out of their windows at Tapas Das as he walked into the heart of the small town dressed as Lord Shiva.
For Tapas was a bohurupee and just as a chameleon had the power to change color, Tapas Das had the capacity to appear in different guises.
Sometimes he was Ganesh, other times he was Hanuman.
This was his profession. His father was a bohurupee and his grandfather.
Tapas travelled from city to city entertaining people and never stayed in one place for very long, in this town however he had a very close young friend. His name was Gautam and whenever he came here he made it a point to visit his friend.
Tapas waited outside the local boys’ school. Gautam finally came out. “Oh, hello Tapasda”, Gautam exclaimed in delight. It was after months that the two were meeting.
It was at a fair in this small town that Tapas had first met Gautam. He remembered their first meeting. After performing at the fair, Tapas was to travel to Allahabad the next day. He had bought his train ticket with whatever money he had and was really looking forward to the trip. There would be a mela in Allahabad where many bohurupees would come from different parts of the country. The TV crew would be there he had heard, and it would give them coverage.
Happily he had sauntered towards a stall selling jalebis. But when he put his hand in his pocket he could not find his wallet. Tapas became frantic. All his money and the train ticket to Allahabad were missing. He had been pickpocketed. As people around him gathered and watched, a young boy put his hand on his. “Come home with me I will help you”, Gautam held Tapas’s hand who was in a daze and led him home.
The boy’s mother who was a school teacher and a widow had said to Tapas,” I have great respect for bohurupees and their art, don’t miss this chance”, she insisted that he accept some money. Reluctantly Tapas had accepted the money, his Allahabad trip was a huge success all due his young friend and his mother.
“Tapasda”, Gautam’s voice shook him out of his reverie. “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, nothing really”, Tapas mumbled.
“You know something? There will be a fancy dress competition at the town hall lawn,” Gautam said his eyes sparkling with joy. “There is a cash prize of five thousand rupees for the winner”. Tapas looked at him through the corner of his eyes, as the young boy continued. “Two people can participate in one event. For example Mary can take a lamb and Krishna can take Radha with him. The two if they win can share the prize money”.
Tapas nodded. Gautam’s eyes had a faraway look. He moved closer to Tapas. “You know Tapasda I have decided to be Ramkrishna Paramhansadeb”. Tapas smiled, “Why did you decide so?”
“I have no money to spend on lavish clothes and Ramkrishnadeb doesn’t need expensive clothes”.
It was just three days left for the competition but Tapas was leaving for Burdwan the next day. “I can’t stay in one place for long”. Tapas shook his head as Gautam pestered him to stay, “I travel from village to village in different guises, people give me money and I earn my livelihood in this way”.
The participants walked in one by one mostly in action, there was Mirabai singing a song. Krishna came with a flute on his lips and Radha by his side. Gautam sat alone under a tree with his eyes closed and hands folded as if in prayer. Suddenly the sound of clapping made him open his eyes and he stared in wonder at Goddess Mahakali who was standing in front of him with her hand raised in blessing.
Just then the lights went off and people watched in awed silence under the moon Goddess Mahakali and at her feet Ramkrishna Paramhansadeb. The lights came on within a few minutes but by that time Goddess Kali had disappeared.
The decision was unanimous, the prize money went to the participant dressed as Mahakali and Gautam they would share the money. But since there was no sign of Mahakali the judges gifted the entire amount of money to Gautam.
Five thousand rupees in his pocket Gautam started for home immersed in his thought.” Who was Mahakali?” At the gate the durwan made a victory sign at him and gave him a wig made of long hair. “Mahakali left this for you with best wishes”. He laughed. “Kali after all was a man”.
It was then that realization dawned on him. Of course it was Tapasda! Who else would be so perfect! Gautam hurried home to tell his mother everything. ***