Chapter 2 – The Case Begins

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It was the last day of school and just at the bell rang for the day announcing the end of the last paper, I rushed to the teacher to hand over my answer sheet. It was 11 in the morning and just like the lovely early morning weather, I was hoping for an encore. Alas, the rain gods had other things on their mind. They ensured that the few bad clouds hit each other in the middle of the scorching summer heat and lo and behold, rain started pelting on the unsuspecting victims across the city. My mother always believes that when it rains off season, some thief is getting married. I was to prove her wrong much later that some thief wasn’t getting married but was looting a Church in Hoshiarpur and not far from our school.

As the kids huddled together in the safety of the school building waiting for the sky to stop crying, I dared to venture close to the exit to see if Harleen was around. Yes, she was there standing at the porch safely guarded from the rain by its roof. There was something about her that was compelling today. I looked at her, from afar, I could see her eyes were droopy much like the cartoon character Droopy Dog’s. I stared at her for some time not wanting to go across and talk to her knowing well that other classmates and probably teachers will notice us and add up two plus two and make it five. Eh? Now I don’t know how that is possible.

Anyway, I leaned back against the door frame and continued to look at Harleen. Harleen was my age and even her height was the same. But what differentiated her from me was her physique. She was a bit on the plump side and weighed probably 10-12 kgs more than me. She was fair, had a chubby cheek and a dimpled chin. Yes, I sighed in defeat. She was a poetry in motion (yes, I had heard this cheeky line on television). She had a brother named Ranauk, 6 years her senior and in junior college. Brute of a boy I’d say. Always giving me a dirty look whenever he saw me with his sister. Not that I blamed him. So back to Harleen, Harleen was a soft spoken girl with a demure nature but when angry, she could babble at 100 kms an hour at the top of her voice which could be shrilly at times and piercing ear drums within a 10 mile radius.

The heavy rain had now transformed itself into a slight drizzle. Students started to leave the safety of the school building to go back home. Some kids took to the rain water puddles like pigs taking to the sewage water. As if on cue, Harleen turned around and looked over at me. Our eyes met and lingered on for a few minutes. She kind of tried I think to smile but she faired badly at it. Well, she seemed a bit upset I thought as I walked across towards her. She turned around and started walking towards the school gate and as she reached it, with my big strides I was there besides her walking side by side.

We walked in silence for some time soaking each other’s presence.

How was your paper, I asked.

She didn’t seem to hear it.

Would you like an ice cream? I asked her glancing at the ice cream cart by the side of the road.

Again silence. She was definitely not her usual self. They say woman when silent has a thousand things running around in her head. Who said I don’t know but he must have really studied a woman very closely I thought as I stared at Harleen’s tensed face as we walked, two strangers at that moment.

Suddenly out of the blue, Harleen turned towards me and slapped me hard, tears now clearly visible in her eyes.

“Hey what did I do to you?” I asked her obviously taken back by her display of strength. My cheek were burning with rage where had palm had connected with it.

“You… you also don’t care for me. Nobody cares for me”, she said sobbing.

I wasn’t sure how to reply to this emotional outburst. Some of the onlookers and passerby’s had started giving us curious looks.  I had a deep premonition that the earth was about to open up and gobble me over as I stood still deeply shamed with embarrassment. No, the embarrassment wasn’t on account of Harleen’s tears but her spicy connect with my face.

“My father doesn’t care for me. My mother is lost in her own world of chole batures and that devil of a Ranauk, forever chasing that bimbette Julie.”

Hearing of chole batures kind of made my mouth water but I quickly gulped it back inside and turned my attention on her.

“Calm down Harleen. Tell me what the problem is.” I asked her.

“You… you are my biggest problem.”

“Now what did I do to you?”

As if on cue, she seemed to recover. “Sorry, you didn’t do anything. It’s just I had to blame someone.”

“Then blame your good-for-nothing father”, I blurted and instantly regretting it.

“Yes”, she screamed. “You also blame my father for everything. So what if he’s a drunkard and a good-for-nothing. At least he doesn’t ask my mother for money nor does he beg or steal.”

“Then where does he get his money from to indulge in his favorite pastime?

“How will I know?” She genuinely didn’t have an answer to my Kaun Banega Crorepati question. But then I didn’t give her the four options.

The conversation seemed to have run dry as we both stood still unsure what to say next.

We walked the rest of the journey in silence. As we took the turn towards her house, she turned around and looked at me earnestly.

“Fateh, would you marry me and take me far from my home?”

I was dumb founded. Was this the big question that all the older boys often spoke about? Even on television or in films, this kind of a situation didn’t come all of a sudden and in our case, it was like being pushed into giving the graduation exam at the age of 12. She could tell that I was speechless looking at my mouth agape.

She stood still, both the hands on her hips waiting for an answer and I was pretty sure, she wasn’t going to take a ‘No’ as she stood staring at me, her big eyes digging deep in mine, trying to read my thoughts. I surely liked her but wasn’t sure about love. And worse, I didn’t even know what love was. And marriage? Well isn’t that something that took place when you are big and old enough?

Well I calculated my words delicately. “Sure Harleen but not now. First we need to finish high school.”

“Hmm, that’s fine with me. Even I need to finish my high school and then we can get married, take up jobs and live happily ever after.”

She surely had been watching too much of Shahrukh Khan films these days.

I heaved a sigh of relief and then again there was a long awkward silence between us broken ultimately by the shrilly screams of Harleen’s mother. Like daughter… like mother.

We quickly looked across at Harleen’s house. There was a police jeep standing outside her house and a couple of cops dragged a drunk Manjit to the waiting jeep. Manjit uncle is Harleen’s good-for-nothing father.

“Yes, take him away and lock him up for good. I don’t want that thief of a man back in my house.” Screamed Harleen’s mother, shaking her hand viciously.

I looked across at Harleem with a triumph look in my eyes to say see, your dad steals stuff to support his drinking habit. Her face looked ashen and it seemed she would collapse any moment. I quickly held on to her arms but this time, her palm connected with my hand with a big sting. Whatever be situation, Harleen surely maintains her physical characteristics. I then turned to look back at the scene outside her house and wondered what Manjit uncle had done now.

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Chapter 1 – Fateh Singh’s Introduction

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I, Sardar Fateh Singh, may be on the verge of defying my community protocols. And maybe I might even get court marshaled for it. Yes, that is a possibility since there are many from my community who are into armed forces and untiringly and unselfishly safeguard our country from outside enemies. Our community is known for its generosity and for being fearless and most of all for our simplicity. And yet, for generations, my community has been the centre of jokes. No party or a group conversation is complete without a Santa-Banta joke. One of the most noted humour writers was the late Kushwant Singh, a Sardar who too never shied from a good Sardar joke. And being the Sardars that we are, we digest everything with a smile. Big eaters that we are.

But then like I said earlier, I was going to defy my community, my family protocols. I was going to defy my parents. I was going to defy my elder sister Pammi. I was going to be different from all the other Sardars put together. I was going to be an accident little detective for a change, so very different from my friends and community members.

Accidental, did you ask?

Okay, let me start at the beginning. My name is Fateh Singh and I am twelve years old. I am a student of St. Xavier’s School in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. Hoshiar you all know means clever or learned whichever way you look at it and I for one, am proud to be born in this city and to have lived here all my life… okay okay at least have lived here so far.

I have never been one of those studious students. But being a brat of a student in the school, I always found time to spend either standing on the bench or in the corner of the classroom with my face facing the wall or at times outside the classroom kneeling down. The last one happened more often than not. I guess since most of our teachers at my Jesuit school being Christians, they were trying to imbibe some Christian values in me by making me kneel regularly outside the classroom. My mischievous ways was just the route taken by them in this path to atonement.

But mind you, it wasn’t that I didn’t have my own religion’s values imbibed in me. Being a Sikh, my orthodox but highly religious parents brought me up like all other parents ensuring I follow all the norms of our community.

However, me at the ripe old age of 12, standing at four feet two inches tall, skinny and weighing about 32 odd kgs have defied other Sikh boys my age who were far more healthier than me and not to mention cleverer. Not that I cared. For me it was, much ado about nothing.

My parents come from a lower middle class background. My father Anantbir Singh is a truck owner/driver and ferries sacks of grains from our city to various parts of the country because of which he his away from home most of the time. So, it’s just me and my mother Jaswinder and Pammi who have to face each other most of the time. These are the times I eagerly look forward to as it gives me ample opportunity to explore the city on my own in my free time.

While my father is a strict disciplinarian who forever keeps a check on my movements like a programmed GPS device, my mother is more than happy to give me my space as long as I am home on time for my lunch and dinner as well as loyal to my school and studies. My school gets over by one and by quarter past one, I am normally home to enjoy my mother’s cooked rajma chawal, my favourite dish. My mother is simply the best cook in the world. But then I am not exaggerating. We sardars simply love our mothers’ cooking.

Did I tell you about Harleen? Okay, well Harleen is the love of my life, my girlfriend. I know at my age, boys are not allowed to have girlfriends but then it’s not written in any books or in the school manual na? I mean, I have studied our school’s rules and regulations printed in our school calendar thoroughly, once twice thrice and nowhere it states that a boy and a girl can never be friends. So in short, if Harleen is a girl and she is my friend, logically she becomes my girlfriend na?

So back to my becoming an accidental detective, the reason was Harleen or to be precise, Harleen’s father – a compulsive alcoholic and a good-for-nothing man. And it all started one rainy day even as the sun shone brightly – the day as the myth goes when a thief decided to get married or some idiot decided to eat straight from the vessel and not from the plate or some sadistic guy stepped on ants or some poor hungry dog had to forego his daily dose of bones and ate grass…that’s the day when the sun and rain party together. This day when my life would go balle balle…

Quotes

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What Constitutes Child Labour?

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child-working-making-boxes

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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…’