ROAD TO HEAVEN AND HELL - A SHORT STORY
Colonel Ramaiah (retired) starts his morning walk at 6 AM sharp. He starts from his home, a three storied building, in the posh DD colony, abetting the sprawling Osmania University campus, walks slowly till he reaches the gates of the campus and then walks briskly on the pavement of the road that leads to the other gate of the campus. In all he covers a distance of eight kilo meters to and from his home. Before embarking on his daily sojourn, Colonel Ramaiah ( retired) sips the mug-full of South Indian filter coffee made by his loving wife Seetamma.
Colonel Ramaiah (retired) is seventy years old but looks like a middle aged man. He is sturdy, his face radiates an inexplicable glow,he has broad shoulders, his hair is still black without the artificial tinkering with colors and he wears a moustache that he cared for, next only to his wife.
Seetamma is the Itihasik Seetamma who has devoted her entire life to the service of her husband and children. An ideal couple, we hardly witness. She is well short of seventy, with wrinkles on the face showing her age. Her hair grayed early in life, as she struggled hard to educate and settle their three children in good positions abroad.
The day 6th January, 2016 was no different in the lives of Colonel Ramaiah (retired) and Seetamma. It was a bright sunny morning. The Moon who till then was singing lullabies to the world with borrowed radiance slowly vanished into the West soon after the Sun, the punctual servant of humanity and all things living, appeared in the East with blazing rays to wake up the world from slumber. The white night turned the plate and became dark red. A mild Southern wind was blowing carrying the frangrance of early morning dew and flowers in the garden of Colonel Ramaiah (Retired). The world was peaceful like the serene mind of a just born baby. Budding flowers dancing in their own places looked like a teen aged girl who wore the saree of her elder sister first time in her life. Birds started singing solo and duets. The world was still in a camatose stage and looked like a lazy servant, who, hearing footsteps of his master still sat lazying "Let him come, then I shall see".
People living in posh bungalows are enjoying the cool air- conditioning in their houses. Middle and poor classes woke up early unable to bear the heat, sweat and biting mosquitoes. Milk vans started arriving with the sound of horns and polluting smoke. News paper vendors sat on the pavements making bundles of news papers of the day. Small shops catering to the colony residents opened shop. Early morning daily shoppers thronged the shops to buy a milk sachet, a news paper, a cigarette, a coffee or tea with buscuits. Mothers of babies and toddlers came out to buy chocolates and buscuits for their small ones to keep them in good humor until their daily chores were finished. Teen aged students were cycling their way to the early morning tuition classes. Here and there parents were waking up their boys and girls to prepare them for the tuitions. Teachers woke up early to get ready for the day's gruelling tuition sessions. In all the world was hesitant unable to decide whether to sleep or wake up like a night duty security guard closing and opening his eyes. Back in the backyard of the bungalow of Colonel Ramaiah (retired) a cuckoo bird sitting pretty on a mango tree sang "Coo, Coo" announcing arrival of spring. A crow sitting on a neem tree shouted "Caw! Caw!" as if admonishing the cuckoo bird that spring was far away and it was too early to sing Spring songs. The cuckoo bird flew away from the garden and settled on a mango tree in the neibourhood. The crow defected to the mango tree. "Must have been a politician", thought the cuckoo bird and again started singing "Coo, Coo".
Colonel Ramaiah (retired) woke up sharp at 5.00 AM, as had been his practice of fifty and odd years. He finished his toilets and washing and brushing, combed his black hair proudly to set it neat, got rid of his night dress and wore track suits and jogging shoes and called "Seetamma! Coffee! " His wife, who is as punctual as the Sun in the East came out with a big coffee mug. Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) inhaled the aroma of the coffee for the umpteenth time in his life and said, " The aroma of your coffee is waking up the entire neighborhood. Even the cuckoo bird mistook that Spring arrived" for the umteenth time in his life. Seetamma giggled and the dimples on her cheeks showed themselves prominently. "Seetamma! You will go to the Heaven and I to the hell for troubling you daily so early." Seetamma chided him mildly, " Why do you talk death early in the morning?" Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) showed the news paper of the day and said, "See! Everywhere there is death only. Not a single heart -warming news" Seetamma did not even look at the news paper and went away to bring her coffee. Colonel Ramaiah giggled and enjoyed his dose of a big mug of coffee. His big black moustasche danced funnily on his face as he giggled.
Colonel Ramaiah (retired) started walking. He is still walking. After a few minutes or was it hours or days, Colonel Ramaiah found himself in a no-man's land. For a split second he had an idea that he was not walking but floating in the air. He turned right. There he saw a beautiful garden. Flowers of various hues, colors and fragrance adorned the garden. Are they Angels there or Elves floating in the air carrying beautuful flowers and fruits in golden plates? Who are those beautiful maidens? They are going up, floating in the air. Then he saw up. On the right side, up, up and up, there is a golden lettered sign board. "WAY TO HEAVEN". Unconciously, he turned right to go on that road. But a strong hand pushed him forward. He was unable to trek on the road to Heaven. A short, plump man was seen going behind the beautiful maidens. Who is he?It is a familiar face. The short and plump man was enjoying himself. "Poor Indians! Half naked fakirs!" Did he say that? Is it Winston Churchil? Even now he treats us with contempt? Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) wondered. "Yes! My son! I am Churchil! I am in the Seventh Heaven! When you are going to hell, keep walking!" He laughed all his way through the gates of Heaven, the beautiful maidens preceding and welcoming him. For a split second Colonel Ramaiah felt that Churchil was jeering at him. "But where am I going?" thought Colonel Ramaiah (Retired). " See the board my son!" "Father! Is it you! Where are you?" "See the board, my son!" the voice repeated. He raised his head and saw the board, "ROAD TO HELL". " What a beautiful road!" he exclaimed loudly. On the right side a man was walking seven steps at a time. If he missed the count he was going back and again starting his steps. Who? Is it not Samuel Johnson? "Yes! My son! The road to hell is laid with good intentions" so saying the apparition jumped seven steps and reached the gates of Heaven.
"Is there no single soul here to clarify on my doubts?" he shouted. "There are only souls here my son! Good souls on the Right and wicked souls on the Left." "Father! Is it you again? But I was not wicked. I always helped people." "Yes! My son! We are your family. Yes! You always did good to others. But that was your curse. Whatever good you did, the fruits of it accrued to you. But you donated the fruits too, in your enthusiasm tohelp others. Today morning only you blessed your wife to attain Heavenly Abode. Your balance in the fruits exhausted. Immediately, you left your body and started walking on the road to hell." Your wife followed you in a few minutes. See to the right." , thus spake his father in a conciliatory tone. " He saw to the right. His wife was on a golden chariot, being driven by seven Angels with seven horses pulling the chariot speedily. "But, how did I die? " " You were poisoned by your wife. Your coffee of the morning had poison." Thousands of ghost-like apparitions appeared in the horizon. "Poisoned! Poisoned! Poisoned by the most loving wife! And she is on the road to Heaven!" Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) was confused. He was not allowed to stand. He was being pushed. He was not alone now. Billions of souls were following him. What is this stinking smell? Is it so polluted here? So thinking he reached the big gates. "GATE TO HELL" A large sign board greeted him.
"What is this?" he asked a black man who was continuously writing something. "Hell Jee!" Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) misheard it as Delhi and thought it was natural with the smell and all. He thought for a second and saw the man once again. A familiar face! On his shirt, it was written 83 B. "Oh! Our Journalist friend from Delhi? So he landed at the hell's gate!"
Colonel Ramaiah (Retired) could not control his laughter. He was laughing, laughing and laughing, until he choked. But he continued laughing. "Ha, ha, ha, ha! "
Seetamma rushed from the kitchen. "Jee! Wake up! What happened? Did you dream? You will choke yourself to death!"
"Death!" Colonel Ramaiah mused loudly.
Colonel Ramaiah woke up, finished his toilets, brushed and washed, combed his hair proudly, sat on the reclining chair and called "Seetamma! Coffee!" She brought a mug full of South Indian filter coffee. He enjoyed the aroma for a second, took the mug and started sipping the coffee. He said, " Seetamma! Sit! I had a funny dream! I will tell you! ". He narrated the dream without missing a sequence and started laughing and sipping the coffee simultaneously. He laughed, laughed and laughed until he choked. He fell down. The coffee mug was broken into pieces. Coffee spilled all over. And what else fell down? A dead lizard in the coffee mug.
Looking at the plight of her husband and the dead lizard in the coffee, Seetamma swooned and fell on the thick edge of the reclining chair on which Colonel Ramaiah was sitting and relishing the coffee. Death was instant. Colonel Ramaiah opened his eyes for a split second and blessed her, " May you attain Heavenly Abode!" and his head dropped down. He too was dead!
The roads to the Heaven and hell were opened for the immortal souls!