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What Constitutes Child Labour?

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As per a recent report released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there is an estimated 10.5 million children who are employed in various industries across the length and breadth of India. From brick kilns to tea stalls… from garment factories to begging, from farming fields to working as household help, children are employed indiscriminately by elders.

Most of these children have either studied up to primary class or not even seen the face of any classroom for that matter. For some of them, books are as alien in their lives as aliens are to earth. The reasons for these children to be working at such a tender age where instead of going to school or playing, they are forced to work in some of most dangerous environments, vary from child to child. While some of them are orphans, there are those who have been sold off by their own parents or relatives and some are working as bonded labourers for the debt own by their family members. But everyone has a story to tell as to why they were forced to take up employment at such a young age.

As compared to children in western countries who opt for small menial tasks like newspaper delivery, moving lawns, washing cars, etc. as a means to earn pocket money, these kids are not forced to work but do it out of their own free will and at the same time duly invest time in their studies. In fact, even their parents at times support these kids so that they understand the finer nuances of finance management and work ethics.

So do kids mentioned above only constitute child labour? Agree completely that poverty is the prime reason for these kids to take up jobs but then what about kids who work in the film, television and the advertising industry as child actors and models? Doesn’t their work also constitute as child labour? Aren’t they too made to slog for hours either shooting a movie or a television show or an advertisement?

We might argue that these kids in the media field are made to work in a controlled environment where their wellbeing is of prime importance. They get their much deserved breaks at regular intervals and at the same time, these kids take huge amount of money home as remuneration. Most of the parents of these kids work as their kids’ managers. That means they don’t have regular jobs. In other words, they live off their children’s money. So in a way, they too a cause for child labour supporting it indirectly by forcing their kids in the glare of their media world.

Like its said, poverty is the prime reason for most of the kids in towns, cities and rural areas to give up schooling and take up jobs to support themselves and their families. But kids who work in the media world and are often from metros come from a decent background where its not necessary for them to slog out in front of the camera but yet in some cases are forced by their parents who in turn are lured by the magical worlds of films and television.

If these kids are work in a so called controlled environment, it’s time for the government, the society and us largely to make a similar so called controlled environment for the poor kids engaged in child labour. They have minimal to no options other than to work and support themselves and their families, no other source of income other than to slog in the hot brick kilns, wash dishes in dhabas, mop the floors in houses or sell newspapers and other assorted items.

We need to give them a better environment – a mix of work and worship i.e. they can work part of the day and the rest of the day worship Maa Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) by way of going to school for a better future. Can we do this for our children for their better tomorrow ?

Wait for Best Foreign Language Film, Oscars continues…

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And so the news is out that India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category, film ‘Newton’ is out of the Oscars 2018 race.

‘Newton’ as we all know has been one of the countless Indian films that had made an attempt at winning the coveted trophy over the years without any luck. What is it about the Indian films that fail to meet the high standards set by its contemporaries from across the world? Even small countries with miniscule film industry have bagged the honours and India despite being the numero uno in filmmaking and churning out hundreds of films year after year, fail at the Oscars.

In the last 100 years of Indian cinema, only 3 Indian movies had managed to reach the nomination level at the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language film. The fact that they didn’t win is secondary. The real picture was that they put India on the global map of filmmaking.

First, it was Mother India way in 1958, the first Indian film to make an attempt at the Oscars but ultimately lost to an Italian film Le Notti Di Cabiria. And then after a long wait of 30 years, another film Salaam Bombay directed by internationally renowned director Mira Nair made it to the shortlist but again was a losing cause to a Danish film, Pelle Erobreren.

And then came Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan starring Aamir Khan in the lead make a dash for the Oscars a decade later. Frankly speaking, the film had no chance at the Oscars simply for the fact that most of the jury members wouldn’t have been able to digest the four-hour length duration of the film nor would have understood the fine art of cricket around which the movie was based. And the end result – Lagaan too turned a damp squib at the Oscars.

All these three films did fairly well at the domestic box office and was a hit with the local critics as well but on an international platform, it failed to deliver.

And now Newton too left no impressions in the minds of the jury at the Oscars. So another year and another wait to get the maiden Best Foreign Language Oscars home.

Why our films fail at the Oscars needs to be introspected.

Published on wordrays.com

What’s your name dear?

Germany was loosing the war as the allies kept drawing closer towards the German camps. But this woman just prayed for her unborn baby in her womb as she dodged both the German army and its enemies who were out to snub the lives of the Fuhrer and his men.

She tried hard to forget her husband who had opted to sacrifice himself so that she could live, so that their child could live as she maneuvered the treacherous paths in this ghostly German town. She had hardly been married 48 hours and already she was a widow. Countless lives have been lost in this battle for dominance and she was going to ensure she and her child in her womb conceived couple of weeks ago, wouldn’t be counted among the dead, at least not for now. They had to live to celebrate the sacrifice her husband had endured for their sake.

Finally, she stumbled upon a small house in the open field and rushed towards it even as sounds of artillery whispered softly in her ears from a distance.

A kindly woman in her early 40s opened the door to find her exhausted with all the running she had been doing last few hours in the dead of the night. She knew her life was still in danger but she had to trust this woman. She wasn’t sure what her background was. But the elderly woman’s smile said she was a human being and the young woman knew she could trust her.

The elderly woman welcomed her in the house and fed her. The young woman learnt that the elderly woman’s husband had been killed by the Fuhrer’s soldiers and she had just about managed to escape with her two kids. She was grateful that the war was about to end and there was hope of a new beginning for her and her small family.

The young woman felt pain in her heart. Their lives were so intertwined and so eerily similar. And then came the one question she had been dreading all along as the elderly woman gently asked her, “What is your name dear?”

Hesitantly, she looked back in the warm eyes of her saviour and then momentarily closed her eyes to remember the woman who had taken her place by the side of her late husband to mislead his enemies. “Eva…” she replied softly with an uneasy calm…

Chapter 1

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‘I tell you solemnly, one of us shall betray God.’

‘Today, I’ll begin to unravel this dream, a dream which had always been sort of a big curse to me. This is the first time that I am traveling to the land that my people had ruled over some centuries ago. For me, Goa has been just a dream since I was born and today as the aircraft lands on its soil, I will begin to unravel this disturbing dream which had been plaguing my sleep since I had become old enough to think. Dreams which had given me many a sleepless nights. Dreams that I couldn’t fathom. Dreams about people who had lived hundreds of years ago. Dreams about an unknown mystery… of an unanswered question. And after this journey, I wish to sleep peacefully, forever.’

These thoughts ran in Cathy’s mind as her eyes took the passing clouds through the small window of the aircraft. Cathy, short for Catherine, was a young college going girl from Lisbon, Portugal. She was a beautiful girl, of creamy complexion, slim and of medium height. But where here face emitted exquisite and delicate features, her eyes kind of betrayed the pain and the fear that lurked in her mind.

She turned to look at her companion, Sanjose, her fellow classmate and her boyfriend. Sanjose was of the same age as Cathy. Tall, dark and with sharp features, he was the cynosure of girls’ attention. But to him, Cathy was everything. Little did he realize that 3 weeks ago when Cathy had first popped the question to him to accompany her and the students of her University on their annual college trip to Goa in India instead of some traditional place in Europe, his nonchalant yes answer would be so readily accepted by her.

Cathy had always wanted to visit Goa but had dared not venture alone. Her parents wouldn’t have allowed it. It was only at Sanjose’s behest, her parents had agreed to let her go to visit her ancestral place. And in no time, their classmates too had readily agreed to make this trip. For the students, this was a novel idea to visit the land that their forefathers had ruled over centuries ago. The land they had learnt about in high school.

Goa, one of the smallest states of India, is located on the western coast of the country facing the vast Arabian sea. Till 1961, Goa had been a Portuguese colony since 1510 when Afonso de Albuquerque captured the island state and brought it under the Portuguese rule. Soon the land of Goa turned into a great trade center under the Portuguese.

In the years to come, various Viceroys ruled Goa and the locals managed to live without much of negative repercussions though there were some strict regimes to follow which the locals bravely followed. But at times, the Portuguese did witness some revolts from certain sections of the locals who demanded freedom. However, their actions were quickly and harshly curtailed by the Portuguese authority.

But in 1925, with the rise of power of a dictator in Portuguese, lots of new and strict laws and bans came into force. The locals soon started demanding collectively for a free Goa but their actions and pleas went unheard until 1961 when the Indian Army liberalized it and brought it under its fold after years of peaceful negotiations with the Portuguese authorities had failed. Thus ended the Portuguese rule in Goa.

Cathy’s thoughts were broken as the captain’s voice boomed from the speakers, announcing that the aircraft will be landing in about 30 minutes on the Indian soil at the Dabolim Airport. She kind of felt elated but at the same time she felt some apprehension.

She peered outside to look at the vast Arabian Sea spread out below. It looked so majestic in the shimmering sunlight. In the distance, she could see the land as it loomed nearer and nearer as the aircraft made a slow descent. Her breathing became heavy. She was nearing her goal.

The aircraft made a smooth landing at the Dabolim airport and slowly taxied itself to a stop in front of one of the terminals. The group of 20 students all bumbling with excitement, picked up their handbags and rushed excitedly to the exit ahead of the other passengers.

Cathy remained seated, eyes closed trying to savor the uncanny feeling that she felt. She then took a deep breath to ease her heavy heartbeats. Letting out a huge sigh, she opened her eyes and slowly pulled herself up from her seat. She pulled open the overhead cabinet and dragged her handbag out and with baited steps, walked to the exit.

She slowly peered outside and watched the airport with anticipation. This was the modern world. This wasn’t what she had expected but then this was the airport in the heart of the city. And her destiny lay on the outskirts of the city where there was hardly much of human dwellings. Once again, taking a deep breath, she started down the staircase and then took that final step to touch the ground. Finally, she was standing on the land of her ancestors.

She stood still, closed her eyes for a brief second and then bent down. As her fingers touched the ground, she opened her eyes and brought her hand to her lips to kiss it. This was it… her motherland. Her dreams were unraveling. And then she heard the soft laughter that’s been ringing in her ears since she was a baby. She closed her eyes again for a second and the laughter slowly diminished. She was getting closer to understanding the mysterious laughter… the mysterious words that has been haunting her since she was a baby.

Chapter 2

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Back at the hotel, after a hot luxurious bath, Cathy was eager to start with her quest. So far, she had never told anyone about her dreams. Dreams that popped up in her head time and again which she had been unable to understand. And each dream had been different from the other – some haunting while some beautiful. She had kept these dreams a secret from her parents and even her boyfriend Sanjose wasn’t aware of it. Sanjose had no idea what was going on in her mind, of the heavy weight that she carried in her heart, of the disturbing dreams that had plaguing her for years.

That evening she surfed through a dozen or so Goa guides tracing out important historical sites, important enough for her at least and decided that one particular Church ruins whose pictures vaguely looked familiar, would be their first stop on the tour the next day.

That night Cathy had trouble sleeping. The images of a church kept haunting her in her dreams as she tossed and turned around in the bed. It wasn’t however the ruins of the church that disturbed her. Rather it was a different look of the church that disturbed her as if the church was just built and in its pristine glory. She woke up with a start. Dawn was just breaking in.

The tour bus took them to the outskirt of the city and came to a stop at the base of a hill. The small group alighted even as Cathy strained her neck to take a look at the top of the hill – their first destination – St Ignatius Church, the images of which had haunted her the night before.

It was a long walk up the dusty track and it wasn’t as splendid as the group had thought it would be since the path was jagged with huge boulders and dusty. But nevertheless, it still carried a trace of wilderness around it. It also offered the group a lovely panoramic view of the countryside. The long climb up the hill was tiring but everyone was too excited to notice the hard work.

They had climbed the hill half way when they reached a clear ground and beyond it, they could make out the ruins of the church. As Cathy trailed behind her eyes were riveted on a bird as it circled majestically in the sky and finally came to settle on the steeple of the church. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand with excitement.

She slowly took in the sight as she swept her eyes from the steeple of the church, down to its entrance and its huge building now lying half in ruins. Just as she had seen it in her dreams, she thought to herself excitedly but in a better condition than it appeared now.

She felt a strange feeling as she walked towards it with a slow gait. The guide had started his litany and his voice guided his excited visitors on the history of the church but Cathy wasn’t paying too much attention to it. Ignoring the group, she walked towards the half burnt church entrance.

Across the church, a few meters away, the guide’s shrill voice rose a bit higher. Maybe to attract her attention, she thought to herself. But her attention was riveted on this ancient monument which still bore faint traces of its lost glory. Over the years, it seems to have been neglected and wild creepers have covered most of the structure. She knew this was the church that held the answers to her dreams.

The guide was getting distracted seeing that Cathy had no interest in his speech. But to keep him happy, Cathy pointed a glance or two in his direction as he went on. She repeated his words slowly in her mind word by word as he babbled again.

‘And what you see here friends was once upon a time one of the most magnificent churches of medieval Goa. Build somewhere around early 16th century by Viceroy Fonseca, the then head of the Portuguese rule in Goa, it was ministered by a young priest, Fr. Kane. This church took 3 years to be built but didn’t last for more than a year…

For a moment, a smile crossed her face as she heard the guide rant. Her friends were listening in awe to the guide’s narration. The guide, a skinny character with a thin moustache, in his mid 30s was talking at a fast pace and hearing him speak, Cathy wondered aloud where he kept his energy stuffed within that frail body. Even Sanjose was bowled over by his talks as he listened in rapt attention, hardly noticing that Cathy was not with them.

The guide’s shrilled voice continued.

‘It was the doings of Fr. Kane who soon got mixed up in some scandal at that time. The villagers in a fit of anger had tried to burn the church down along with Fr. Kane.’ The guide paused again for a dramatic effect as he looked around at his eager audience and then continued. ‘It was rumored that Fr. Kane escaped the burning inferno and over the years, the locals had waited in anticipation and in fear for his return till the epidemic struck and the entire village got wiped out though some of them managed to escape the devastation to safer locations.’

Sanjose broke in curiously. ‘What kind of scandal was Fr. Kane involved in?

The guide turned around to look at him directly. He then paced a step or two to give it a dramatic effect before turning abruptly to face him.

‘Lots of stories floated around that time and over the years many new versions came up. But the one that was rumored to be true was that Fr. Kane had an unholy relationship with a woman and had fathered a child…’

‘Fathered a child? But wasn’t Fr. Kane a Catholic priest. Surely he must taken a vow of celibacy?’ Bono butted in.

The guide threw a mean look in his direction. Bono was a stout but rugged looking boy with a voice to match.

‘Yes, he was a Catholic priest. But one of the local girls, a daughter of a trader, a girl with exotic beauty and charm, had fallen in love with him and it was rumored that Fr. Kane too loved her. Mind you, all this is just a story handed down generation after generation. How much of it is true, no one knows and I guess never will.’

‘The girl must have been pretty hot for sure.’ Bono said with a naughty smile winking at Sanjose.

Even the guide had to force a smile hearing such a crass remark. But then he had learnt long ago, that foreigners were capable of saying and doing anything.

‘She was beautiful beyond comparison.’ He replied turning to look at Cathy. ‘Just one look at her and men would forget all their sorrows and sufferings.’ He turned to look at the small group and continued. ‘Even the wild animals, it was rumored would let her bask in all glory when she played or strolled in the jungle without harming her in any way.’

‘Then surely, Fr. Kane too would have been a handsome man?’

The guide seemed to mellow at this question. His tone become gentle and slow. His voice seemed to quaver or it seemed to Sanjose as he listened in rapt attention.

‘It is said that he was one of the most striking figures of his time. Just his presence would make a girl go weak in her knees. And when he spoke, it was like a gentle flow of the river waters, so soothing. Even men would at times feel envious of him. But he was a kind-hearted man and a gentle soul and the locals loved him for it till the scandal broke out.’

Cathy heard Sanjose’s voice break in again as he interrupted the guide. She realised with pain that she already knew what was coming from him.

‘So what about this girl who was besotted by him?’

‘The story goes around that the girl was married to the handsome and brave Captain Antonio, son of Viceroy Fonseca. When the locals came to know of her alleged affair with Fr. Kane, she was charged with adultery and treason against the church and finally burnt at the stake. In fact I wouldn’t blame Fr. Kane for falling for her charms. The story states that she had the power to seduce with such ease.’

So what was this girl’s name?

The guide pondered for a few seconds and slowly spoke, his voice just a faint whisper as if it was taboo to speak aloud that name. ‘Well, she was called by various names but her real name was…’

Intuitively Cathy found herself uttering aloud, ‘Rosalin…’

Chapter 3

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The small group turned around to look at Cathy but her back was turned towards them. Her eyes trained on some Portuguese inscription on the cemented marble plaque at the entrance of the church. She slowly raised her palm to wipe the dust away from its face and tried to read clearly the writings.

The group surged towards her to get a better glimpse of the plaque she was reading, anticipating a mystery. The guide seeing the crowd’s interest was waning in him, was clearly annoyed. Cathy couldn’t miss the sneer in the voice even as she slowly read the inscription. ‘Miss, I don’t think that name is inscribed on the wall?’

One of the other girls from the small group pushed herself closer and tried hard to read the inscription. Though she could make out the characters, she couldn’t understand what it meant. She turned to look at Cathy.

‘Hey Cathy, can you make out what’s inscribed. Is that name mentioned there?’

The guide seemed to flinch in anger. ‘Are you crazy miss? How can a taboo name like Rosalin be inscribed on a church wall?’

Seeing no reaction from the young crowd, the guide was now fuming with hatred for Cathy. For him, his fee and his tips depended how well he kept his customers engrossed and entertained with his bullshit history talk. But this one girl was blowing it away for him.

He quickly walked over to a small crumbling raised concrete platform like construction that measured about five square feet and about a foot high and located bang opposite the church.

‘Hello! Listen… listen folks… listen everybody.’ The guide clapped his hands for attention. ‘I think this little place will interest you…’

The group turned around to look at him except for Cathy. She was still engrossed in reading the inscription and trying to decipher what it mean. But still her body stiffened slightly. She could sense what was coming up next. She had dreaded this moment but there was no way she could let it go or give it a miss. She had wanted to be here. She had wanted to live this moment.

She remained still, her back towards them, her fists tightly clenched, eyes closed awaiting the shocking moment.

Having attracted back the crowd’s attention, the guide quickly climbed over the small crumbling platform. Turning around, he stood dramatically to attention, his hands clenched together, obviously pleased by the interest he has managed to regain from the group as they walked towards him curiously.

‘So what’s with this place man?’ Bono asked him inquisitively as he eyed the non-descript place.

Cathy knew she didn’t have to look at the place to know what Bono was talking about. The place was the center of everyone’s attention now. And once again, she found herself answering Bono’s question as much as she didn’t want to. She started slowly, her voice trembling in grief and just about in a soft whisper.

‘That’s the place where Rosalin was burnt alive for adultery she never committed and in front of a cheering crowd. The very crowd whom she had favored in various risky situations, that very place where she had ordered a stop to the practice of Sati, a tradition of the locals in which the widow burns herself to death on her dead husband’s pyre.’ Cathy paused and took a deep breath. She then continued, yet not daring to turn around.

‘That very place where she uttered her last dying words…’

She stopped. She felt a deep premonition that something horrifying was about to happen. Something that shouldn’t occur. She could feel it and she deeply regretted answering Bono’s question. She could feel the crowd’s eyes pierce her back as they stared at her in awe and in anticipation that she would continue. Her eyes were still glued unconsciously to the small inscription on the plaque. She seemed to have instigated the guide with her words but she couldn’t help it and he in turn couldn’t help himself from questioning her sarcastically and in a loud voice.

‘Oh really… so you were there that time…’ The guide said with a sneer. ‘You seem to have done your homework pretty nice. Ok… ok… so what were her last dying words? Go ahead tell me. Let everybody hear her last words… tell me! Come on tell!’ His voice was now filled with resent and anger directed towards her.

Slowly Cathy turned around to face the guide, her heart beating wildly. There was a painful expression on her face. She looked around at the faces of her fellow students. They were all waiting patiently for the answer. Most of them had a queer look on their faces as if they were not sure if it was really Cathy who had so much knowledge of this place. With a heavy heart, she turned to look at the raised ground forgetting the guide who was staring back at her. Seconds passed. She closed her eyes as she tried to reminisce the dream that was so clearly etched in her mind. Softly she began as she recalled the words.

‘Her last words… Yeah her last words… No… No…’

She jerked her eyes open her and stared hard at the raised ground as a scene flashed before her eyes. She felt as if she was transported back in time 400 years ago. It was as if she was there at this particular place watching a live scene as she saw Rosalin, a young girl about 18 with a slender body and dressed in an exquisite gown tied to a stake on the raised platform. Her loose beautiful hair blowing with the gentle breeze was obstructing the view of her face. There was a slow fire burning around her but she was obvious to it or to the crowd. Her mind completely focused on the church opposite. There was a big crowd gathered around the platform and cheering wildly shouting slogans, waving sickles and knives in the air.

Rosalin, her face still obstructed by her flowing hair, watched with fear as a small group of men piled dry wood and hay all around the church wild with enthusiasm. They too were shouting slogans against the Church Padre. Satisfied, one of the men then picked up a burning wood from near Rosalin’s stake, even as her gown caught fire and rapidly spread across her body.

Rosalin tried to free herself violently but failed. She watched in fear and desperation as the man walked lecherously to the Church and threw the burning piece of wood on the hay.

The guide and the group of students watched the fear emote on Cathy’s face as she stared with wide eyes at the illusion that played in front of her. They had no idea what was going through her mind as her eyes simply stared at the spot profound with fear witnessing a spectacle that happened hundreds of years ago.

Sanjose broke out of the group and quickly walked towards her while the others continued to watch her pensively and slightly afraid now, afraid for her sake. Sanjose quickly wrapped her in an embrace but over his shoulder, her eyes were still trained on the platform. Words came tumbling out of her mouth as her eyes kept viewing the spectacular vision, seen only by her.

… No… don’t do it… please… please… he is innocent… And Rosalin’s voice played in her ears as Cathy repeated her words, her tone matching Rosalin’s pleading voice.

‘… Please don’t do it, please don’t… he is innocent… don’t hurt him. He is a man of God… He is innocent… please dooooooooooooooon’t …’

For a second, the guide too felt the fear gripping his heart hearing the chilling voice of Cathy. Sanjose turned his head to look at him on the square with deep anger. The guide knew what was going on in his mind and he quickly raised his hands as he jumped down to indicate that he had no hand in the mumbo jumbo that was going in Cathy’s life. Sanjose turned his face to Cathy and pushed her to arms length and held her but over his shoulder, her eyes were still locked on the stake on the square in deep fear and shock.

Chapter 4

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When she regained her composure, Cathy found herself propped against a huge boulder, her legs pulled up and her arms wrapped around it with her head resting on her knees. She had no idea how long it had been since she saw the frightening illusion flash before her eyes. She looked around hesitatingly. All eyes were trained on her peculiarly. Sanjose, sitting next to her became aware that she was out of the trance. He took a deep breath and moved closer and gently put his arms around her. She could feel the concern in his voice as he asked her, ‘You ok Cathy?’

Cathy shook her head in affirmative. The crowd heaved a sigh of relief. Even Sanjose couldn’t help but smile.

‘Jesus, you gave us a fright. What’s happening to you darling? I think you need rest.’

‘I’ll be fine… obrigado.’ She said forcing a smile on her face.

‘I think this place is evil.’

‘No!’ She quickly blurted aloud.

The others looked at her perplexed. Sanjose started to say something and then stopped. He gave her a queer look. Over his shoulder she saw the guide walk towards them. As he neared her, his shrilly voice rang out.

‘If she is alright, let’s move on.’ He turned his back on them without waiting for a answer. ‘Ok guys we are moving.’ He yelled out aloud. ‘We still have a few more places to visit before the night sets in.’

Sanjose turned to Cathy. ‘Think you can manage?

She simply nodded. She didn’t want to spoil their fun. She called out to the guide. ‘Hey mister, do we visit the inside of the church?’

The guide looked at her hard. ‘Not after what we witnessed outside. No way!’

Sanjose intervened quickly. ‘Ok ok no problem. So what’s next on the itinerary?’

The guide replied with disdain. ‘We visit the palace of Viceroy Fonseca. The place where evil took it’s roots and calamity befell this village.’ He looked at Cathy with a sly smile and turned to face the young crowd. ‘The place where Rosalin first met Fr. Kane and the very place where the family had their last supper together.’ He started to walk away. ‘Come on, follow me. The palace is just a short distant away.

Cathy stiffened again. She badly wanted to visit the church again and explore the interiors. She knew the church held the key to the mysterious illusions she had been seeing and the dreams that had been haunting her all over the years. She dreaded the idea to visit the palace so soon.

The trek uphill on the other side of the small mountain was much lighter. Unknown to the visitors, the guide had his reasons to avoid visiting the inside of the church. It was rumored that the ghost of Fr. Kane still stalked the interiors of the church. And this has resulted in the church being completely neglected from the interiors though the church was of historical importance to the people of goa.

The dusty patch ended in front of a huge crumbling palace surrounded by high walls that kept the intruders at bay. A wide wrought iron gate now dark brown with rust and half open beckoned them. The small group marched towards the gate. Cathy raised her hand to push the gate a little to see if it would move but over the years, the gate had cemented its position and wouldn’t budge. But as her hand touched the wrought iron gate, a shiver seemed to pass through her body. She quickly pulled back her hand and wrapped her arms around her waist to ease herself.

The palace had faced the wrath of some rough weathers over the years. The small group observed its aged facade as they walked through a half broken entrance of the old fortified palace and in the empty and barren courtyard. In the courtyard, on either sides of the path that led to the entrance of the palace, there were two big gardens facing the palace. In the middle of both the gardens, there were old fountains made of the finest marbles of those times but now in complete ruins. The gardens were untended and covered by wild grass and shrubs.

The group looked across at the majestic palace as they slowly walked up the path and entered the main building. They looked around in awe taking in the magnificent construction work, the beautiful arches, the carved pillars and the huge hall with rich carvings that was done ages ago.

‘Man, this is a magnificent palace for sure. It still hasn’t lost its old glory. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life here.’

‘Yeah with some ghosts of the past for company.’ Bono remarked.

The small crowd burst into laughter as the last boy walked in the hall followed by Sanjose and Cathy, his arms around her shoulder. As she took a step inside the hall, Cathy gave a quick shudder, her breathing got heavier. She abruptly closed her eyes as sounds of a female laughter echoed in her ears yet unheard by others. Sanjose pulled her closer impulsively. The sound seemed to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes to find the group staring at her oddly. Embarrassed, she kept her head down.

‘Cathy,  are you ok?’ Sanjose asked her gently.

She gravely looked up at him. ‘I…I think I want to go back.’ She told him haltingly.

Someone from the crowd broke in.

‘Hey come on Cathy, you are spoiling all the fun. What’s wrong with you baby?’

‘What’s wrong with me? How do I answer to that question when I don’t know myself what’s wrong with me? Why am I living through this horrifying dream? Cathy thought to herself. She slowly turned around to look at him.

‘You stay. I’ll go back to the hotel alone.’

‘Cathy! You crazy? You seem to be behaving awkwardly ever since we landed here in Goa. Our mistake that we listened to you and followed you all the way to this godforsaken place. Only if we were to know that you’ll be a spoilsport!’ Bono exclaimed wildly, waving his hands in the air in resentment.

‘He’s right Cathy. You have brought all of us over here and now you are the one to spoil the show.’ Sanjose joined in.

Cathy looked at him pleadingly. She felt bitter for being a spoilsport. She looked around at the others.

‘I am sorry. I just don’t feel too well. I think I want to go back.’

The guide was adamant now.

‘Miss, the hotel is quite far and it’s not easy to get transport here to go back to the city. And we can’t let you take the bus.’

‘Hey Cathy baby, the dude’s right. We’ll all be stranded in this spooky place and the sunset’s just a couple of hours away.’ Bono quipped in as he read the city guide from his pocket.

‘Hey cut it Bono…’ Sanjose yelled at him. He turned to Cathy with a sympathetic look. ‘Cathy, what’s wrong? Tell me. You have been behaving weirdly ever since we arrived here.’

Cathy looked at him tearfully, unsure what to tell him.

Bono slowly looked around the hallway with a pensive look. Others too follow suit in apprehension as they saw the make believe look of concern on his face.

‘You bet Sanjose, this place is giving me the creeps too. It looks like Rosalin’s spirit has got hold of Cathy. Woohh  Cathyyyy… Woooaaaahhhhh.’

‘Will you fuckin’ shut up Bono? Cathy lets…’

Words got stuck in his mouth as Sanjose looked back at Cathy. Her face had turned white in fear. The sound of laughter seemed to ring in her ears again. She quickly covered her ears with her hands to ward off the sound, her eyes tightly shut. Sanjose pulled her close and held her in a tight embrace in reassurance. The sound of laughter seem to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes. And then she heard another laughter, a soft, mellow laughter of a man. She quickly pushed Sanjose away and looked around in fright.

A white light flashed in front of her eyes and once again, she found herself witnessing an illusion of the long gone era. She saw herself in a strange place and among a strange crowd. It took time for her to realize where she was. She was back in time when the palace was at its majestic best at the time of Viceroy Fonseca. She could see the other side of the hall in the palace richly decorated for a festive occasion.

Towards one end, around a big dining table, she saw 12 men and women seated as they enjoyed the supper. She had no trouble recognizing them from her dreams. As they ate, they were watching Rosalin, the girl she had witnessed earlier being burnt at the stake. She was playing a musical instrument something that looked like a harp, on a raised dais just a few steps away.

Rosalin looked beautiful. What surprised Cathy was that she was looking at herself. Rosalin was an exact copy of her. Rosalin must have been about 17 just the right age as Cathy, elegantly dressed in a white flowing silk wedding gown that clung to her well shaped body. Her hair was neatly tied in a bun and she wore the minimum of jewelry that did justice to her natural tanned beauty. Servants walked in and out of the room carrying food and other items serving the guests. Soft music was floating in the air.

One of the men at the table appeared to be in a cassock, the dress priests wore. Cathy tried hard but couldn’t see his face. His face was hidden behind the others who were seated ahead of him and obstructing the view. Next to him was Antonio, a man in his late 20s, a handsome and debonair looking man, dressed in official uniform of the court. Antonio’s eyes were trained lovingly on Rosalin as he watched her play. His body thrust prohibited Cathy from having a look at the priest’s face as Antonio kept blocking the view unconsciously as he conversed with others, eyes glued on Rosalin. Pascal, Rosalin’s father was seated next to an empty chair. He was a short fat man with a huge belly and a huge handle bar moustache.

At the end of the encore, the small crowd applauded eagerly. Rosalin stood up elegantly and giving a soft bow, walked down with slowly determined steps to the table gracefully, her hips swaying like gentle breeze.

Cathy could see Marcos, a man in his 30s, with broad shoulders and a face that portrayed hardness about him, say something to Antonio who smiled back at him and got up as Rosalin neared. He pulled out her chair. She in turn smiled and nodded her head slightly at him and sat down. Antonio followed suit. He then lovingly turned to her. ‘Vos sois belos, my rapariga… (‘You were beautiful, my girl…’) …that was beautiful music I should say.’

Rosalin smiled at him appreciatively. ‘Thank you dear.’

Cathy then heard another voice. She felt a lump in her throat as she realized that the voice belonged to the priest as people at the table turned to look at the man in the cassock seated among them. But try as hard as she could, Cathy still had found to it difficult to see his face as she heard him say, ‘Your excellency, if I may be permitted to say, Senora Rosalin here is truly gifted and beyond comparison and you, your excellency is a man beyond words and rightfully deserving this lovely and talented young woman.’

‘Why, thank you Padre.’ Antonio replied with a smile, his chest swelling with pride. ‘But I’d say you deserve a better praise than I, Fr. Kane. For you have devoted your entire life for service to God and to our fellow human beings from such a tender young age.’

The priest, Fr. Kane seemed to shake his head sideways. ‘Your excellency, my life is God’s gift to me. He has given me this life and he has the command over it, to do as he pleases.’

‘You are being humble Padre.’ Marcos interrupted with a faint trace of snicker in his voice.

Cathy knew that the ensuing seconds would be the turning point in Rosalin’s life as Rosalin deliberately cleared her throat as she looked at Fr. Kane directly, her eyes not leaving his face, still behind the veil of others and hidden from Cathy.

‘Your excellency.’ She said with a mellow voice. ‘Marcos is right. Fr Kane too is an enigmatic figure. He is as charming and as beautiful as the morning sunrise. And as pure as the dew drops on the dark and cold winter night. If only he would have chosen another profession, he would have made some poor rapariga…’ Rosalin trailed off just as her father clamped his hand on hers harshly.

‘Shut up Rosa!’  Pascal intervened with masked anger. He quickly turned towards Viceroy Fonseca and Antonio and hastily bowed in forgiveness.

‘I am sorry your excellency…’ He then turned back to Rosa and in a hushed anger tone yelled at her, ‘Rosa, think twice before you say anything stupid. Fr Kane here is a man of God!’

With her eyes still lingering on Fr. Kane’s face, her soft voice filtered across gingerly. ‘Yes Pai, that’s what I meant… that he is a man…’

Fr. Kane broke into a soft chuckle. ‘It’s okay, Pascal Costa. I am sure she didn’t mean what she said.’ Even Antonio seemed relieved though Cathy felt he must have not heard the last line that Rosalin said. He smiled  and raised his hand to calm Pascal down. ‘Hey peace be upon you homem. A rapariga bonita e joking… (The beautiful girl is joking). Turning around to look at Rosalin, he gently asked her, totally smitten by her, ‘Aren’t you my dear?’

Before she could answer in, Marcos broke. ‘You bet Antonio, Lady Rosalin has a way with words. Surely a woman of many hidden talents.’ Rosalin looked at him with a sly smile.

At his words, Antonio broke into a loud laughter. ‘You bet Marcos. That’s what I had told her during our initial meetings. That she is an enigma yet to be solved.’ Antonio continued with his laughter. Rosalin looked at him and soon joined him with a soft chuckle and soon everyone followed the couple and as heads fell behind in laughter, Cathy’s eyes fell on Fr. Kane and she saw his face clearly for the first time. A face that had always been a blur in her dreams. A face she had so desperately wanted to see and hear. Fr. Kane was a handsome and debonair looking man with striking features and with a certain softness around him. His eyes were bluish and oozed of serenity. She saw him staring back at Rosalin devoid of any expression on his face. And then she heard the soft whisper of his voice that echoed in her ears like a thunderstorm.

‘I tell you solemnly, one of us shall betray God’

Words that that echoed in her ears all these years. Her face bored a tormented look as the voice filtered across to her ears distinctively. She realized that Rosalin must have heard him for she abruptly cut short her laughter and stared at Fr. Kane gravely with just a wee bit of a smile lingering on her face while the others continue with their laughter. But suddenly they too stopped as the deep meaning behind his words sank in. Some of them were unsure if they had heard it right. They stared at Fr. Kane and than at each other in apprehension and bewilderment, trying to decipher if they had heard it right and the significance of it. Cathy closely monitored Fr. Kane’s face as he stared solemnly back at nothing in particular, but looking directly in Cathy’s direction or so she thought.

And suddenly the illusion flashed out of her sight as abruptly as it had come. There was a shocked expression on her face as she kept staring at the other part of the hall where she had just seen the vision where she had seen Fr. Kane stare back at her. Her breathing had become heavier as Fr. Kane’s last words rang in her ears again and again. Her body seemed to tremble again as she shuddered in fear at what she had seen and heard.

‘Cathy… Cathy… you okay?… Cathy!

Cathy slowly toppled on the ground unconscious.

* * *

She got up with a jerk, her body covered in sweat. She looked around pensively and found herself in her hotel room. She had no idea how she landed herself back in her room. The last she remembered was the palace episode up to where she had entered the hall. She looked across the bed. Sanjose was sleeping at the edge of her bed.

She stared at him for a moment feeling sorry for the pain she was making him endure for her sake. She closed her eyes for a brief second and then opened it again with sheer determination. She then looked around the room.

Taking a deep breath, she got up, careful so as not to disturb Sanjose. She gave him a slight peck on his cheek, pulled a flashlight out of her bag and walked out with determined steps.

The moonlight cast an eerie glow on the old ruined church as she entered it, shining a flashlight in the dark interiors. Somehow tonight, she felt no fear as she took a firm step inside. The flashlight didn’t offer her much light but she  wasn’t paying attention to it as she hurriedly looked around. She was unsure of what she was looking for in the dimming light.  Her eyes then trailed the path of the light down the aisle. She stared with glazed eyes down at the ruined alter now lit dully in the dimming yellow glow of the flashlight.

And then the scene changed in front of her again as she saw another illusion of the past. She saw a crowd of smiling people as they stood in the pew as Antonio and Rosalin in bridal costume, walked down the aisle towards the alter where Fr. Kane waited patiently. As they walked towards him, he stared at them somberly. Rosalin watched him with a sly smile with every step she took towards him.

A rat scampered across the floor, over her feet and jolted her out of the illusion. She reverted her eyes away from the altar, searching again. She closed her eyes for a split second, trying to remember something.

As she recalled, she quickly opened her eyes and looked around. She rushed to one side of the church and frantically started to look behind a thick foliage. The flashlight was fading fast but her anxiety had increased as she struggled to pull aside the creepers.

There hidden behind the thick foliage, she could make out what she was looking for. It was a confession booth. With difficulty and after much struggle, she managed to pull the thick creepers aside to find a half-burnt wooden door of the confession booth. The door easily creaked open at her push and what she saw inside made her shriek aloud again and again just as the battery in the flashlight conked out completely plunging everything into darkness.

* * *