THOKUR KUTH ठोकुर कुठ

“Puja Room”
ठोकुर कुठ
A short story

*B. L. Dhar

ina Nath Koul was still in college when his friends gave him the title “Dronacharya” for his great skills in learning that stuck to him through the years. He was good in his learning capabilities and good as well in his teaching others that he finally ended up as a school teacher after graduating in Science and Mathematics. He had never imagined that the title of Dronacharya would bestow on him the historical fiasco attached to the legend when a lie about the death of his son Ashwathama turned out fatal for the legend himself. The story that goes with it is summed up thus:

Dronacharya was the royal guru to both Kauravas and Pandvas who had a great weakness for his son Ashwathama whom he loved dearly. He was a master of military arts and Arjuna was his favourite student and loved him second only to his love for his own son Ashwathama. Lord Krishna suggested that someone convince him about the death of his son Ashwathama so that he change his mind and participate in the battle against the Kaurva’s at Kurukhestra. Yudishter and Arjun were not happy with this arrangement but agreed on the condition that they kill an elephant with a similar name, break the news to Dronacharya that Ashwathama was dead so that this was not really a lie. Bhima, the strongest of the brothers, killed the elephant and then told Dronacharya that Ashwathama was dead without being specific about the real identity of the one so named. Dronacharya was shaken by this news and totally heartbroken. He recovered enough to fight once again but his spirit was dead and was soon slain in the battle.

Now at age 61, Dina Nath Dronacharya sat in his favored Thokur Kuth – the puja room and performed his daily rituals early morning after having his bath at the riverbank. He was a great follower of Lord Shiva and had a “Lingam” of the lord that he bathed everyday with fresh milk and then decorated it with flowers and clean “angavastra” which he changed every day. Just on the wall of this room hung a large framed picture of Lord Krishna. Alongside was the small black and white glossy picture of a small boy set in a heart shaped design inside a silver picture frame decorated with a garland of flowers created from sandalwood shavings. No one needed to remind him of his son who died at age three in an accident along with his mother when they were going to Jammu by bus that skidded and fell into a gorge at Banihal pass high in the mountains. That was the time when the Jawahar Tunnel was yet to be built which ensures a safe drive now. Their bodies were never found and were among the 35 other passengers on that fateful day. Only eight dead bodies could be located. His wife was in fact going to meet her parents who were on an annual posting to the city during the winter season. It took Dina Nath’s father another four years to find him another wife, the daughter of a poor farmer from the village of Shopian, before he also passed away after performing his son’s second marriage. Dina Nath was blessed with three daughters in quick succession and they were all married and settled now. His second wife looked after his comforts and kept the house for him. She was at least ten years younger than him and still in good health.

Having now retired from service, Dina Nath spent most of his time in the Thokur Kuth where he gave all attention to the gods around him and in particular to the only son he ever had. He would pray for him and speak to his picture for hours on end. He used to feel incomplete without his son and particularly on his birthdays he performed special puja for him just as if he was still alive. It was the 40th Birthday of his son today and he had made special preparations for the puja asking his wife to prepare “taher” and bring it up to the Thokur Kuth for “naveed” that was later distributed in the neighborhood. He would then carry some “naveed” to the temple and distribute it there as well and pay a Dakhshina to the priest for his blessings for the dead soul. The picture on the wall was brought down on his birthdays and a new sandalwood shaving garland put around the frame that stayed there for one year until the next birthday. Having finished with the puja in his Thokur Kuth Dina Nath left home to go to the temple a couple of miles away carrying with him all the puja material. He had put on a fresh kurta and pajama and the saffron Tilak on his forehead gleamed red in the early morning sun.

Dina Nath had been a very good teacher and he was very much sought after by parents of young aspiring children to get him for home tuitions that had of late become a fad in the valley. He was good in teaching different ways to handle questions in Mathematics and his pupil were assured of good grades in their matriculation board examination. Those days the results of the matriculation examination used to be relayed on radio and this was quite an exciting affair not only for the affected parties but to the general public as well. But there were those few students of the school who despised Dina Nath for him being vengeful and outrageous as he beat them hard for their inability to grasp the subject of Mathematics. Dina Nath would get into a frenzied rage when he found some of his students unable to understand simple out of the box solutions to the mathematical problems. The kids used to be beaten with whatever he could lay his hands on at the moment and was particularly aggressive with using a weed called “soi” that was brushed on their exposed skin leaving blisters that pained for a long time. Hardly would this treatment improve the learning capability of the affected students and they only hated the subject more. The Principal of the school did not try to reign in the erring teacher.

One such affected student was Kapil who lived in the same locality where Dina Nath lived. Dina Nath had been his teacher in class VIII before he finally signed off on retirement. Kapil was firm in his mind that he got to teach this Dronacharya a lesson of his life and for long he had been nursing a desire to punish his teacher. He never got an opportunity but had not totally given up on the idea. He had now cleared his board examination and satisfactorily heard his roll number being announced on the radio, where the fact that he had passed in the third division was not announced. When Kapil saw his old enemy walking on the road with a puja thali the old grudge took a rebirth in his mind and he looked for an opportunity to strike. He followed the man silently and made several plans in his mind but did not come to a conclusion about how to render his punishment. As Dina Nath approached the temple premises he started his descent on the stone steps leading to the temple. Kapil closed in fast and jammed his foot in the next step that Dina Nath took. He lost his balance and rolled down the remaining steps with the thali flying aside and his head hit the stones many times over. A cry escaped his throat that sounded like a call to Krishna and before anyone could realize he lay dead on the last step. In the Thokur Kuth back home the sandalwood garland dropped from the picture frame of present day Ashwathama, son of Dina Nath, whose name was Krishna.

B. L. Dhar was born and educated at Srinagar. Did Master's degree in Mathematics. Took up appointment with the Civil Aviation Sector of the G.O.I. as a gazzetted officer and later joined the PSU, Airports Authority of India (AAI) from where he retired as General Manager in 2000.

At present residing at Delhi with frequent visits to the US and Europe where his kith and kin reside. Has interest in writing.

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Added By Chander M. Bhat
Wow. That is a great story. You have taken us back in time when matriculation results were announced on the radio. Must have felt fretful and exhilirating at the same time.
Added By Sabita Raina
Very well written article. It indeed took me down the memory lane.
Added By Aruna Thussu