THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (9)

Chapter 7

The Black Face At The Window

We drank a glass of cold water each and sat in the living room. It was then two thirty at night.

Bimal said, ‘No sleeping tonight. We’re leaving for Assam by tomorrow afternoon’s train.’

Surprised, I said, ‘What! So soon?’

Bimal said, ‘Hmm, it won’t do to delay. Karali rascal now bears us a grudge, he must have realised by now that only we could have snatched the skull from him, who knows what trouble he might create? We have to say our farewells and leave tomorrow itself.’

I objected and said, ‘Ma has gone to Shantipur, to my uncle’s. How can I leave without letting her know?’

Bimal said, ‘Send her a letter – tell you’re off on a sightseeing trip to Assam, but you couldn’t meet her because the plan was made at such short notice.’

I said with a worried expression, ‘Fine, I’ll write the letter, but we’re going on such a big mission, there’s a lot to prepare. Will I be able to organise everything by tomorrow afternoon?’

Bimal said testily, ‘You don’t have to do anything special, I’ll do all the organising that needs to be done. You just carry clothes and a couple of sets of coats and trousers, all right, my worthless genius?’

‘Why? What do we need coats and trousers for?’

‘We’re going to jungles and hills. Fussing with your dhoti like a dapper gentleman from the city will not do there – you’ll be in constant trouble then.’

I pondered this in silence.

Bimal said, ‘I had thought that the just two of us would go. But looking at how immature you are, I’m thinking it would be better to take one more person along.’

‘Who’ll you take?’

‘My manservant Ramhari. He’s an old family retainer; trustworthy, intelligent and very strong. He can give his life for me with a smile.’

‘Not a bad idea. Then I’ll also take Bagha with me. I hope you don’t mind -‘

‘Hush!’ said Bimal and stood up with one swift movement. Then he suddenly ran to one of the windows and pushed it wide open. I clearly saw a grotesque black face move  to one side at the speed of lightning. Someone must have been eavesdropping on us. Bimal didn’t pause either, he picked up a man-high thick bamboo stick from one corner of the room and ran out. I bolted the door and sat down stiffly!

After a while, Bimal returned and called me from outside. I opened the door and asked him hurriedly, ‘Could you catch him?’

Still panting, Bimal returned the stick to its old place and said, ‘No, I chased him for a long distance, but couldn’t catch him!’

‘Who do you think the man was?’

‘Who else? One of Karali’s men, most probably a hired goon. Kumar, do you realise the seriousness of the situation? That man’s probably heard every word of what we’ve said!’

‘Bimal, you’re right, we shouldn’t delay any longer. We have to leave tomorrow.’

‘That we will, but Danger will probably accompany us.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning Karali will probably travel with us, along with his retinue.’

I was totally discouraged at this. Bimal too, sat and thought hard. After a long time, he said, ‘Whatever happens will happen. But curling up in our rooms like a pair of earthworms for fear of Karali Mukherjee, that is not going to happen. Its settled, we’re leaving tomorrow itself.’

I pleaded, ‘Bimal, don’t be pigheaded.’

Bimal punched the stool and said, ‘I will go, come what may. If you are afraid, stay at home. I’ll get the yaksha’s treasure and deliver it to you personally – let’s see who loses, Karali or me.’

I held his hand and said, ‘Bimal, I am not afraid. I’ll definitely come along if you’re going. But just think through this, it could culminate in bloodshed in the middle of the jungle. Karali has many more people, we won’t be able to do anything.’

Bimal smiled in derision and said, ‘To hell with Karali. Kumar, I am not just strong, I also have some strength up here in my brains. You don’t worry about a thing, come along with me and watch me lead him to a merry dance.’

I know Bimal very well. He doesn’t know what idle boasting is. If he’s reassuring me, he must have thought up a new plan. Therefore, free of worry,  I said, ‘Fine, my friend, I’m okay with whatever you say.’

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THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (8)

Chapter 6 (continued)

As soon as I let go of the branch, I landed with a soft thud on the terrace. Bimal slapped my back and said, ‘Well done!’

But I was just not easy in my mind. We’d entered someone else’s house like thieves and were sure to be handcuffed like thieves if we were caught. Then there was the other worry – how shall we escape? We had entered by leaping on to the terrace, but we couldn’t very well leap up to that high branch to leave. I told Bimal my concerns.

Bimal said, ‘We had to enter via the tree because the front door is shut from the inside. When we escape, we’ll just leave the  through the front door.’

‘But the house has a guard!’

‘We’ll fix him when the time comes. Now, let’s check out where the stairs are. Remember to tiptoe.’

We found the stairs at the west corner of the terrace. Bimal led the way down, I followed behind. There was a room immediately after the stairs ended. Bimal put his ear on the door and told me in a quiet voice, ‘Someone’s sleeping in this room – and snoring.’

We made our way to the main corridor using the darkened lantern’s narrow beam to guide us. Three rooms on one side – all shut from the inside. Bimal stood in silence and considered this conundrum. As for myself, I lost all hope. Such a huge mansion, we knew nothing of the layout inside, somewhere in this maze lay hidden a small skull, how on earth were we supposed to sniff it out? Bimal was such a lunatic! All this hassle, all for nothing!

All at once, Bimal said, ‘There’s a bit of light visible through one of the doors on the other side of the corridor. Let’s go there.’

Bimal tiptoed over to the door of that room. The door gave way to the slightest push. Bimal peeped through the gap for a while, then turned to whisper into my ear, ‘Look!’

What I saw through the gap in the door made my heart dance with joy! Karali, snoring with his head resting on the table, and close to his head – what we’d come looking for – the skull! Karali must have been trying to understand the cipher, then had nodded off, exhausted. Then he really was the thief!

Very gingerly, Bimal opened the door a little wider and tiptoed into the room. Then, standing behind a sleeping Karali, he picked up the skull from the table. Then, grinning, he stepped out of the room. I had never imagined that we’d succeed so easily.

Now for the escape. Once we were outside we were home free!

We climbed down to the ground floor. The front door was just across the courtyard. But here’s the rub – the beam of the lantern showed a burly man spreadeagled in blissful sleep right in front of the front door!

However, Bimal didn’t hesitate for a moment, he just stepped over the guard very softly and started unbolting the front door. My heart thumped in fear against my chest – the slightest sound and we were ruined.

Bimal was such a hero! He opened the door so carefully that not a single sound was made. But a bug played spoilsport – it suddenly rushed into my nose and I let out a great big sneeze right away.

The guard woke up! He let out a terrific roar – ‘Who’s there?’

The lantern was in my hand at the time. In its light I saw Bimal turn around at lightning speed, then leap on the guard like a tiger, holding his neck in a death grip. The guard let out a few moans and soon fell in a dead faint.

What’s left to say? We ran for our lives! No racehorse could have caught up with us then – we sprinted back home in one stretch and then breathed again freely.

THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (7)

Chapter 6

Burgling the Thief

It was a moonless night. The darkness seemed to coalesce around us. Only the fireflies occasionally blinked everywhere – just like the thousand eyes of the demon of the dark.

Our house is in the outskirts of Calcutta, the neighborhood isn’t as dense as the rest of the city yet. The house are all far apart – there are more trees than residents. In other words, we live in Calcutta only by name, this place cannot quite be called Calcutta yet.

Right next to our house is an open grassland and in that grassland Bimal and I sat hidden in a large taro bush, waiting for the opportune moment. Karali Mukherjee’s house was on the other side of the grassland.

Sensing our presence, the mosquitoes around us were playing an upbeat music in anticipation of a free meal. Every mosquito in the vicinity had turned up on hearing this band and were lovingly caressing us with their collective probosces. Unable to take this terrible caress any more, I whispered to Bimal, ‘Hey – this can’t be borne for much longer!’

Bimal only said, ‘Be still!’

‘Can’t you comprehend how difficult it is to be still?’

‘Of course I do! How do you think I’m keeping still?’

I couldn’t argue with that. So I kept still.

By the time there were swollen blotches all over my face and limbs, it was the dead of night; the church clock loudly tolled one o’ clock, making my heart thump.

Bimal stood up and said, ‘Now it’s time!’

I was ready anyway – I leaped out of the bushes.

Bimal said, ‘First put this mask on!’

Bimal had bought two expensive imported masks from Radhabazar this afternoon. Both were terrifying faces – guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of anyone who suddenly saw them in the dead of night. The idea behind wearing these was that no one would recognise us even if they saw us.

We put on the masks and walked towards Karali’s house in silence. Once we reached the rear. Bimal said, ‘Tuck your dhoti pleats into your back.’

I said, ‘But there’s no back door here!’

Bimal said, ‘Who’s using the door? Have we been invited to dinner? There’s a big banyan tree here, one of its branches falls directly on to Karali’s terrace. We’ll use the branch to gain entry!’ Bimal raised the darkened lantern in his hand and a thin beam of light fell on the branch.

I wasn’t too happy with the mode of entry – but I said nothing and climbed the banyan tree along with Bimal.

Once we’d climbed a fair height, Bimal said, ‘Now – very carefully – come along here! Look – that’s the branch – we have to climb this branch and jump on to the roof.’

I saw the vague outline of the branch in the darkness. Bimal moved along the branch first – a slight thud told me he had landed on the roof.

I held on to the branch with both arms and legs and inched ahead – fearing I’d fall at any moment! Not even the goddess of healing would be able to save me if I fell from that height.

Without warning, Bimal’s muffled voice said, ‘That’s it! Now swing from the branch.’

My heart in my mouth, I held on to the branch with both arms and swung.

‘Now let go!’

THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (6)

Chapter 5

A Consultation

I said, ‘How did the skull get stolen, Bimal?’

Bimal said, ‘Don’t know. I woke up in the morning to find my study door open, someone had broken into the room last night! My heart immediately missed a beat. I had kept the skull in my table drawer and locked it. I ran in to see that the drawer was pulled wide and that the skull was not in it!’

I exclaimed, ‘This must be Karali Mukherjee’s handiwork. It is he who’s sent goons to steal the skull. But what surprises me is how Karali Mukherjee knew the skull was at your place?’

Bimal said, ‘Karali must have stationed spies everywhere. He knows all about what we’re planning, what we’re doing.’

I said, ‘But what will he achieve with just the skull? He doesn’t know the coded message after all.’

Bimal said, ‘Kumar, never underestimate the enemy. If we could understand the message, then why can’t Karali understand it as well with just a bit of effort?’

I said, ‘But even all of the message is not on the skull anymore! Do you remember, it fell from my hand yesterday and got nicked?’

Bimal absently said, ‘Still, one can’t be complacent,’ while thinking of something.

All of a sudden I remembered something else. I hurriedly asked him, ‘Is Thakurda’s pocket-book stolen as well?’

Bimal said, ‘No, that is one saving grace. I had taken the pocket-book to bed with me last night to read it once again, properly. Before I went to sleep, I put it under my pillow – the thief couldn’t take it.’

Somewhat relieved, I said, ‘Well – we’re still saved, my friend. The actual address to the treasure is in that pocket-book. Without the address, Karali can’t do anything even if he can work out the message! But be very careful Bimal! The pocket-book shouldn’t get stolen now.’

Bimal said, ‘I’ll arrange for that today itself. Wherever the pocket-book mentions the route and the address, I shall obliterate with ink in such a way that no one can read it.’

I said, ‘But then, we’ll be in trouble as well!’

Bimal laughed and said, ‘Never fear. I’ll copy down the route and the address on a fresh sheet of paper in code – no one has the key to that code other than me.’

After a pause, I asked, ‘What shall we do now?’

Bimal said, ‘First we have to retrieve the skull.’

Surprised, I asked, ‘How to do that?’

Bimal said, ‘Just how he took the skull from us!’

I said, ‘Burgle the thief?’

Bimal said, ‘What other way is there? I’ll break into Karali’s house somehow this very night. You’ll come along as well.’

A bit nervous, I said, ‘But if Karali gets to know, he’ll get us arrested as thieves! There is no proof that he has stolen the skull from us, after all.’

Bimal said, sounding desperate, ‘We have to do what destiny has in store for us. But it is true that Karali cannot catch either of us while I’m alive.’

Unable to convince myself, I said, ‘No Bimal, let’s avoid this. Shall we finally have a scandal in the neighborhood?’

Bimal flew into a rage at this and said, ‘Damn it, you coward, you’re planning to go to Roopnath caves with this brand of courage? Why don’t you just be the mollycoddled little boy and sit on your mother’s lap at home – I’ll return your pocket-book right away,’ saying this he briskly strode towards the door.

I quickly brought him back and said, ‘Bimal, you’ve misunderstood, I am not scared at all. I was just saying -‘

Bimal interrupted me and said, ‘I don’t want to listen to what you’re saying. Tell me clearly, are you ready to come with me to Karali’s place tonight or not?’

I replied, ‘I’m ready.’

Gladdened, Bimal shook both my hands in a mighty handshake and said, ‘Hmm, there speaks a good boy. If you want to be man, be a daredevil first.’

I laughed and said, ‘Daredevils get strung up, though.’

Bimal said, ‘No one who lies in bed cheats death either. If we have to die anyway, it’s much better to die like a warrior than die lying in bed! All these good boys you all approve of, I can’t stand those whimpering lumps of lard. They are the ones terrified of the British, they are the ones who can’t survive danger, they die – but like cowards. These are the bane of the Bengalis. The races who are living with their head held high in today’s world have all disregarded Death and aimed to be the best. Do you understand, Kumar? Danger makes me happy.’

THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (5)

Chapter 4

Ruin

I said, ‘But Bimal, now that we know the meaning of the code, what shall we do?’

Bimal interrupted me and said, ‘There are no buts here, Kumar – we have to go! Such a momentous, strange affair, I won’t be satisfied until I see this through to the end.’

I said, ‘Who’ll come along with us?’

‘No one. Just you and I.’

‘But it’s a very inaccessible place. Should we go without a team?’

Bimal said, ‘It’s not inaccessible at all, I know the way very well, I can take you up to Roopnath caves myself.  I don’t know the way from there of course, or how the path is, but it won’t take us long to find out. Are you afraid of danger? Don’t be. Don’t fear danger. Humanity wouldn’t have reached where it is today had it feared danger. Even a child can take the easy path, where’s the credit in that? But a Man among men allows danger to temper him with a smile and emerges truer.’

I said, ‘But how will Humanity gain if we lose our lives to pigheadedness? I’m not a coward, of course – I’m ready to go wherever you say. But we shouldn’t do anything blindly – you know how the proverb says, “Look before you leap”.’

Bimal said, ‘I’ve thought through everything there is to think of, no more thinking now.’

‘When do you want to go?’

‘I’m ready. Tomorrow, day after, whenever you say.’

‘So soon! We have to organise ourselves before we leave!’

‘Organise my foot. We’re not going there to set up home – it’s best to travel light when it comes to jobs like these. Two odd bags and the two of us – that’s it.’

‘Which route will you take?’

Bimal said, ‘We have to cross Kamrup and then climb the Khasi hills. Right next to the Khasi hills, like a twin, there’s another – called Jayanti*. To the north of these lie Kamrup and Nabagram*. To the east lie North Kachar*, the Naga hills and the Kopili river. To the south lies Srihatta* and to the west, the Garo hills.’

(*Translator’s comment: These are the old Bengali names for – Jayantia hills, Nagaon, North Cachar and Sylhet.)

‘Are the Khasi hills very high?’

‘Uh-huh. Four thousand in some places, five thousand in others and nearly six and a half thousand feet high sometimes. There are many waterfalls in these hills – among these the Mawsmai falls near Cherrapunji and Beadon falls near Shillong are the large ones. The first one is one thousand, eight hundred feet high, the second one six hundred feet. Mawsmai is the second highest waterfall in the world. There are hot springs in the hills too. The Khasi hills have two seasons, monsoon and winter. Rain and thunderstorms are common. March and April are a bit dry, so one gets a touch of spring. Cherrapunji in the Khasi hills is famous for its rainfall.’

I said, ‘Are there tigers there?’

Bimal laughed and said, ‘Why just tigers? The jungles there have them all – elephants, rhinos, wild buffaloes, wild boar. But hardly any snakes.’

I scratched my head and said, ‘Hmm, there is that.’

Bimal slapped my back and said, ‘Kumar, you think the jungles are more dangerous than they actually are because you’ve never stepped out of Calcutta. And I’ll be there with you, so what do you need to be afraid of? You know I have experience of big game hunting, even at this age. I hold two gun licenses, I’ll give you one. You’ve not hunted any game yet, but I taught you how to shoot ages ago, this will be a good test of your skill.’

I didn’t say anything further and returned to my place. I was scared, but I was also excited. I had always wanted to see new places. When I read about remote places in books, my heart would grow wings and fly off there. Sometimes I wished to build a hut with my own hands on a desolate island like Robinson Crusoe and live there for days on end, sometimes I wanted to be Sindbad the sailor and fly to the skies with a Roc bird, cook on the back of a whale and serve the old man on the island his just desserts. At other times I wanted to delve into the depths of the ocean in a submarine and loot all the treasures of Pataal! I cannot tell you how many of these dreams I have dreamed – you will laugh at me if you hear them all.

The truth is, more than the yaksha’s treasure, the thrill of seeing a new place cheered me up considerably. All my worries and fears faded away.

As soon as I was near my home, my dog Bagha greeted me with six inches of hanging tongue and a wagging tail.

I said, ‘So Bagha, want to come along to the Khasi hills with us?’

It looked like Bagha understood what I said. He stood on his hind legs and wrapped my waist with his front ones, then proceeded to lick my face with great enthusiasm. I quickly moved my face and extricated myself.

My Bagha isn’t some foreign pedigree dog, he is a local mongrel, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at him. Bagha is living proof of the fact that with proper care, our local dogs can look just as impressive as the pedigreed ones. He is huge, yellow-brown with black spots on his coat, a bit like a leopard, which is why I call him Bagha. Bagha didn’t know the meaning of fear and was very strong. Once a huge hound of some sort had chased him, but one bite from Bagha and he had nearly died. I decided we’d take him along with us.

Early next morning, when I hadn’t woken up, someone woke me up with a great deal of commotion. I opened my eyes and saw Bimal by my bed. He was panting.

Surprised, I sat up and said, ‘How come you’re here so early in the morning?’

Bimal, still panting, said, ‘We’re ruined!’

I said quickly, ‘Ruin! Why?’

Bimal said, ‘Last night the skull was stolen from my home.’

‘What!’ I exclaimed, dumbstruck and at my wits’ end.

THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (4)

Chapter 3 (continued)

 

I rushed to Bimal’s place as soon as it was light the next day. His door was always open for me. I went straight to his study and found him poring over his table, writing something, with the skull in front of him. At the sound of my footsteps, he quickly picked up the skull in an effort to hide it – then relieved at seeing me, said, ‘Oh, it’s you! I thought it was someone else.’

‘You were full of bravado yesterday, so why are you so scared this morning?’

‘Yesterday? Yesterday I hadn’t figured all the details out. I have realized that we have to do everything with the utmost caution from now on – no one should know anything about this.’

‘Could you understand the calculations?’

‘Everything that needed to be understood, yes.’

I jumped up in joy, shouting, ‘You understood everything? Really?’

Bimal said, ‘Hush! Don’t shout! You never know who might overhear. Calm down and take a seat.’

I pulled up a chair and said, ‘Tell me what’s written in the skull.’

Bimal said slowly, ‘I couldn’t make out anything at first. When I’d nearly lost all hope after trying for four hours, I suddenly recalled something. Quite a while ago, I had read an English book which had explained many ciphers and codes at length. This book had mentioned that thieves and robbers in Europe often use a cipher not very different from this one. They allocate a number to every alphabet, so ‘A’ is 1, ‘B’ is 2, ‘C’ is 3 etcetera. I thought perhaps this skull employs something similar as its code. On trying, I found that my surmise was correct. Then I deciphered these symbols very easily.’

I asked eagerly, ‘So what could you make out after reading it?’

Bimal extended a sheet of paper towards me, saying, ‘The skull’s symbols are divided into 40 cells. I’ve arranged them in exactly the same way.

The sheet had the following words :-

behind

the

broken

shrine

the

pine

tree

from

the

trunk

base

ten

yards

east

stop

go

right

eight

yards

buddha

in

the

east

to

the

left

six

yards

ahead

three

rocks

dig

under

for

seven

cubits

and

find

your

path

I read the sheet, thinking how marvellously clever Bimal was.

Bimal said, ‘Let me explain the code to you. The script is divided into vowels and consonants. The vowels are given numbers from 1 to 5. So ‘A’ is 1, ‘E’ is 2 and so on. The consonants have likewise been given numbers as well. Here, ‘B’ is 1, ‘C’ is 2, ‘D’ is 3 etcetera.

When a word has a vowel, it appears next to the consonant in brackets. So 1(2) stands for ‘be’ and 6(3) stands for ‘hi’. When a vowel starts a word, it appears on its own. So (3) stands  the vowel ‘i’ and 11 under it stands for the consonant ‘n’ – ‘in’.

I picked up the skull to inspect it once more, but it accidentally fell on the marble floor with a loud crash. Picking it up immediately, I scanned it once and said, ‘Oh no! A bit of the skull’s nicked.’

Bimal asked, ‘Which bit?’

I said, ‘The first seven cells, – behind the broken shrine the sal tree – that bit.’

Bimal said, ‘Had this happened earlier, it would have ruined everything. But there’s nothing to fear now, I’ve copied the symbols on to a piece of paper. But we have to be very careful, it is best to keep the calculations and destroy the words now.’ Saying this, he tore the sheet of paper into shreds.

When required, we would be able to solve the code in five minutes, but no one other than us would be able to get at the message from the symbols on the skull.

(Translator’s comment: The code in the original uses Bengali script and the use of matras. I have had to modify a little so that the essence of it is clear to the reader.)

THE YAKSHA’S TREASURE by Hemendra Kumar Roy (3)

Chapter 3

The Meaning of the Code

 

Ooh! Karalibabu’s such a dangerous man! He had tried to trick Thakurda, but couldn’t quite manage it. But he still hadn’t given up hope in all these years. I now realized that Karalibabu had landed up at home just to learn where the skull was kept. The thief had come at night with the sole objective of stealing the skull, there was no doubt about it. Thank goodness I had chucked it into the ditch next to our house!

What should I do now? The key to the treasure was right here on this skull, but I couldn’t make head or tail of it even after going over it many times. I flipped through every page of the pocket-book, Thakurda had left no clues there either. I was very annoyed with Thakurda. There was no way to understand the actual message.

Then I thought, what would have been the point of understanding the message anyway? I am seventeen years old. Studying in my second year. Never stepped out side Calcutta in my life. And there were the Khasi Hills, who knows in what corner and somewhere in them the ‘Roopnath caves’ – just finding out all this was impossible for me. To top it all, that dense forest, where wild animals roam freely in broad daylight! And finally some Buddhist monastery, where there is a yaksha’s treasure – yet another spooky thing! What if I lost my life, like Alibaba’s brother Qasim, in my lust for wealth? Just thinking about all this made my heart flutter.

Suddenly I thought of Bimal. Bimal is my closest friend, from our neighborhood. He is three odd years older than I am, appearing for his B.A. this year. I haven’t met a cleverer person than Bimal. And he’s as strong as an ox, he wrestles every day – does three hundred bench presses daily. To top it all, he has travelled widely even in this young age – why, just last year he had been to Assam. I never hid anything from Bimal. I decided, whether I go or not, let me just show Bimal the skull once.

That afternoon when I landed up at Bimal’s place, he was sitting and cleaning his gun. Seeing me, he said, ‘Kumar, I see! What brings you here?’

I said, ‘A puzzle has put me in a complete spot, my friend.’

Bimal said, ‘Which puzzle?’

I took out the skull and said, ‘This one.’

Bimal stared at the skull for a while in surprise. Then he said, ‘What’s this?’

I pushed the pocket-book towards him and said,’My grandfather’s pocket-book. Read it and you’ll understand everything.’

Bimal said, ‘Fine, hang on. Let me quickly finish cleaning the gun. I’d gone hunting for birds yesterday. The gun’s collected a lot of dirt.’

Having cleaned the gun, Bimal washed his hands and said, ‘What’s the matter, Kumar? Are you interning with some tantric? Why do you have a skull in your hand?’

I said, ‘Why don’t you read the pocket-book first?’

‘Fine,’ said Bimal and started reading. Some time later, I saw his expression change from one of resignation to wonder and curiosity.

As soon as he finished reading, Bimal quickly picked up the skull and scrutinised it, turning it over several times. Then he sighed and said, ‘How astonishing!’

I asked, ‘Could you make any sense of the sums?’

Bimal said, ‘No.’

‘Neither could I.’

‘But I’m not letting go this easily. You go home now, Kumar. Let the skull remain with me for now. I am determined to learn its secret! Come back tomorrow morning.’

I said, ‘But be careful.’

Bimal asked, ‘Why?’

I said, ‘Because Karali Mukherjee had sent a man to steal the skull from me last night.’

Bimal said, ‘Karali? None of his henchmen will have the guts to stick their necks in my home.’

‘I know that. Still, it never hurts to be careful,’ saying which, I came back home.