Momo is a strange name. But when my mother said she was eating momos when her labour pain started and I looked like a crumpled bundle wrapped in an old cotton saree when she first saw me and the name came to her instinctively, I forgave her for giving me a name like that.
When I completed my degree and started looking for a job, I decided not to be choosy about the place I would start.
As a young girl, raised in a congested big city full of pollution and noise, I wanted to be in a place where the air and the water would be clean,I could see the star studded nightsky and hear the cuckoo bird sing in the morning.
The opportunity arived quite unexpectedly. One of my friend's uncle had a holiday retreat and he was looking for a draftswoman. Even though I had no prior experience, I applied and send him some of my sketches. He send me an appointment letter. Perhaps my friend had put in a word for me.
I took a train because the place had no airport nearby and the train journey promised to be picturesque and exciting.
When I arrived at Maungunj, which was the name of that place, it was early morning.
The station looked deserted and my spirits lifted. I had never seen a deserted railway station before. I walked out of the station with my heavy trolley bags and started looking for a taxi. After standing on the deserted road for half an hour,I decided to call my employer.
He picked up the phone and said that his town was a sleepy place and it was difficult to find public cabs there. He said he would send his own car in half an hour for me.
I put my heavy bags by the side of the empty road and sat on one of my bags. I was hungry so I took out a packet of nachos and started eating hungrily ruefully thinking that perhaps it would be my last packet .
After half an hour the car came and after priliminary exchange of words, I hopped into it. The chauffeur looked tall and strongly built. He wore a felt hat and I only saw his moustache. His voice was gruff and he didnot seem interested in talking. I sat at the back and enjoyed the empty countryside views from the car window while the wind played with my hair.
The car finally entered a big house of gothic architecture and stopped under a covered portico. The whole place looked as if nobody had lived there for ages.
The paint on the walls had lost its glow and the plaster was peeled off at many places. Moss and lichens covered the walls and pillars. The shutters of all the windows were tightly shut as if the owner of the house didnot want the sunlight and the fresh and cool morning breeze to enter his house. The forlorn house stood in the middle of a vast stretch of grassland with tall trees scattered here and there.
The chauffeur helped me with my bags and then without a second word or a glance at me he started the engine and went off, probably to garage the car because he didn't go out the way from where we came.
I walked up the dusty front steps and knocked. A sound of bells echoed inside the house and I could hear it from outside.
I was surprised because I didn't press any calling bell switch. I had knocked. The door opened on its own and closed quietly on its own after me.
A voice boomed from a small speaker on the wall.
' Your room has been prepared. It's the second one in the corridor.'
A wooden winding staircase went up to the first landing of the house and a huge painting of a girl holding a pitcher in her hand stood staring at me from the wall. I could not see anymore in the semi-darkness inside.
I looked around and saw a corridor starting from beneath the wooden staircase and going towards the back of the house.
'My room must be there', I thought.
I had foolishly put on high heeled sandles and they made tiktok sound on the bare floor as I walked towards the dimly lite long corridor.
The second door on one side of the corridor was open and I pushed the door further inside to enter a small room and looked for the light switches. I could barely see inside that unfamiliar room but I found a bell hanging with a rope and tugged it. The room became flooded with light.
It looked a nice room as my eyes adjusted to the sudden bright light. There was a queen Anna bed at one corner and a writing chair and table at the opposite side.Another door revealed a bathroom with a shower and a full length fitted mirror and cabinets for towels, soaps and other things.
I sat on the bed and felt the cool sheet under my touch. Kicking my sandles away from my feet I walked barefoot towards the curtains and drew them aside. The curtains revealed windows whose wooden shutters were closed. I opened them to brighten up the place and saw a tangled trunk of a big tree blocking the view partially. I saw a broken well outside from between the branches.
Just then I heard a bell and an announcement that breakfast was served at the flower garden and I had to cross the long corridor and take a right turn to see the door leading towards the flower garden.
I was hungry but the strangeness of the house had somewhat spoilt my appetite and I started having thoughts that maybe I should not have come to that house.
My breakfast was served on a pretty white painted chair and table and I sat on the chair and poured myself a cup of tea and picked up a sandwich made of freshly baked bread and homemade butter.
I could see the broken well from where I sat and something made me want to go near it. I took my sandwich in my hand and walked towards the well. It had a flight of steps reaching down to the bottom.
'Maybe,in olden times people used to go down and clean the well', I thought.
I descended the stairs and reached the bottom of the well and stood on a kind of concrete level with a few more steps down submerged in the dark water.
I found a door beside and opened it. It led to a huge room full of books of all kind and a book half opened on a mahogany table.
I couldn't stop myself from going towards that table and forgetting everthing to read what was written in that book. Maybe that was the design of some unseen, unheard force in that area. I sat on a wornout couch which was surprisingly clean and started reading.
It was a diary entry made by some girl named Meghlata
She had written that her husband was always busy with work and she was lonely and sad. A new family had come to stay as paying guest in the house and she knew that the man named Noton was attracted towards her even though he had an obedient and devoted wife and two lovely children.
She further wrote that the man named Noton came to her everyday and flirted with her. Meghlata wrote that one afternoon when Noton had come her daughter named Duhita barged into the room and saw them together.
Duhita was old enough to understand that something was going on between them. She went and told everthing to Noton's wife Taanji. Taanji told her inlaws and they left the house and went to another city, away from Meghlata's influence.
Before going away Taanji insulted Meghlata as well as Duhita because Noton was also attracted to Duhita. She didn't scold her own husband but blamed Meghlata as well as Duhita for trying to break her family and marriage.
Meghlata came to know that it was actually Duhita who had spilled the beans of her relationship with Noton. She got angry with Duhita.
After Noton left with Taanji and his children, Meghlata started plotting against Duhita because she was afraid that Duhita would tell others.
One afternoon she took Duhita to the well and pushed her into it. Duhita fell down unconscious and then Meghlata bound her hand and feet and threw her into the dark water of the well and left.
Duhita died but her body remained inside the water of the well. Meghlata then told her husband that Duhita had become a characterless girl and had eloped with a man.
Duhita's father loved Meghlata so he believed everything she said.
After reading that diary entry I felt somewhat guilty that I was peeping into somebody's personal life who had probably died a long time back because the pages of the book had become yellow.
I came back to my room and went inside the bathroom to wash myself and looked at the full length mirror.
I saw the girl whose painting I had seen with the pitcher in hand reflected from the mirror instead of my own old self.
I stood dumb and numb with shock for a few seconds and then realisation dawned. I was Duhita reborn as Momo and maybe a strange connection had brought me to the old house.
As I lay in the bed, I thought that if I really was Duhita why didn't the house seem familiar when I came in the morning? Not only that, I didn't feel that I had ever been in that house before.