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The Seven Jars

Sikdarpur, Pre-partiton Bengal 

Bibhuti huffed as he trudged through Sikdarpur’s clammy paths with three fresh hilsas* in his hand.

He passed the lush paddy fields, whose harvest had tasted their farmers’ sweat and seen their endless toil under a scorching sun.

But that wasn’t Bibhuti’s concern. He had to rush before the lunch hour began at the Sikdar Mansion, where he worked for the Sikdars, the proud landlords of Sikdarpur.

It wasn’t just the scent of fresh fish which enticed them. Bibhuti had caught a whiff of the only other thing that could.

The Sikdar Mansion looked like an ivory palace located right at the heart of the town. Rumour went that it was built in the 16th century, with no expense spared. The Mansion’s marbled floors, muslin curtains, and the magnificent frescoes on its ceilings could put the finest of British residences to shame.

It was now owned by Debakarnath Sikdar, Bibhuti’s master.

Alongside a long lineage of Bengali nobles, the house had also sheltered a lengthy line of servants. Bibhuti’s forefathers had served the Sikdars for ages. Now he was in charge of the entire house staff. He panted as he hurried into the house. After handing the fish to the cooks, he rushed to meet his master.

It was ten in the morning. He knew where to find him.

Bibhuti padded into the living room like an edgy cat, where Debakarnath was busy smoking his hookah.

“Master, I found something today… in the river,” Bibhuti began.

“Huh?” Debakarnath replied with his eyes half-closed.

“Master, this might sound incredulous.”

“What?”

“There are spirits in the river, guarding treasures. Seven jars of them.”

Debakarnath smirked, “Are you drunk, Bibhuti?”

“No master, I swear on my dead mother.”

Debakarnath threw his old servant a smug glance. Bibhuti had been loyal beyond doubt. Most of the staff were his family members, who followed him blindly and would do anything for him. He decided to indulge the man a little more.

“So, what did these spirits say?”

“They called out to me and showed me the jars, all filled with gold coins, jewels, and other priceless stuff. I’m not joking, sir. See this,” Bibhuti took out a pearl the size of a walnut and handed it to Debakarnath.

Born into a family that was used to wearing precious ornaments right from their birth, Debakarnath couldn’t contest the authenticity of the gem.

“Where did you get this? Did you steal, you traitorous dog?” he barked at Bibhuti.

“No, master!” Bibhuti knelt with folded palms. “I didn’t steal. It’s from one of those jars. I swear.”

“Fine, show me these jars. Remember, if you are playing me, it’s the last time you’ll be doing so.”

***

Word spread around the Sikdar Mansion like wildfire. On a full moon night, Bibhuti stood on the banks of the tempestuous Padma River to prove his veracity.

Debakarnath brought his entire household, bodyguards, and staff to witness the incident.

Bibhuti stepped into the glacial waters of the river with a prayer on his lips.

An hour and several underwater dives later, he sprang from the river triumphantly, “here they are, master!”

Clutching a mucky brass jar in his hands, he returned to the banks. Gasps and astounded cries filled the place as he uncovered the jar. Golden mint glittered as the moonlight caressed them.

Debakarnath stood there, stupefied. “Good work, Bibhuti. Bring me all the jars and I will reward you as per your wish.”

***

They brought the jars home under strict vigilance. Debakarnath twirled his moustache as the fortune was transferred to his treasury. In a buoyant voice, he summoned Bibhuti before the entire household.

“I am a man of my word,” he announced with pomp, “tell me what you desire.”

Bibhuti bit his lips, “Master….”

“Go on, don’t be shy.”

“Master, please don’t take offense; but the spirits in the river told me that I and my family own a quarter of that wealth.”

A commotion broke out in the hall, and Debakarnath’s smile evaporated like camphor.

“What did you say? You want a part of the treasure?”

“The spirits ordered so. They warned me that if I am robbed of my share, great misery shall befall the perpetrators.”

“Mangy dog,” Debakarnath bellowed, “you are threatening me in my house, before my family! You’ll pay for this.”

“Master, please listen–”

“YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN YOUR PLACE! BETAL,” Debakarnath commanded his bodyguard, “take this ungrateful wretch along with his entire family and bury them alive. NOW!”

Bibhuti cried and pleaded even as they dragged him and his people away. “Master, don’t do this… the spirits will curse your entire line. Every Sikdar child born henceforth will suffer from madness or deadly diseases. You’ll never be able to touch the treasure. Trust me!” His voice faded and died as he disappeared from Debakarnath’s sight.

***

Weeks passed. No one dared utter a word about Bibhuti or his kin. But a shadow had fallen over the house. An uneasy silence, an evil gelidity that threatened to swallow everyone in the mansion.

Debakarnath, however, was happy. His wife was pregnant with his first child. Debakarnath’s gunshots in the air reverberated throughout the mansion the night his son was born.

With euphoric spirits, he went to the treasury to get a fitting gift for his wife.

He flinched as soon as he uncovered one of the jars. A snake as dark as coal raised its hood at him. Debakarnath staggered and recoiled.

How did snakes get there? He wondered. Before he could scream for help, the reptile struck him.

By the time they discovered his body, the entire treasury was swarming with cobras.

That was just the beginning of the curse.

***

Present-day

The inspector observed the girl who sat before him, gazing at the wall.

“Ms. Sikdar, why did you murder these people?” He pointed at some pictures.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “it’s a calling, I guess.”

***

 Hilsa* – A fish species

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Narayani

    The story started on a promising note. Liked the Bengal setup. However, I felt that it lost a bit of a steam in the end. The ending was a bit hurried to me. I guess the word limit is the culprit. Else, I would have savoured it a bit more, like a Bong would relish his ilish.

    Rating 7/10

  2. Avatar
    Sudha Viswanath

    It is an engaging story, no doubt, but I failed to see the prompt adherence here. Please help me understand if I have missed something.
    Again I have this doubt that after an open inverted comma shouldn’t the first letter be in capital?
    Whom did Ms.Sikdar kill? There seem to be many victims since you have mentioned, ‘pictures.’ Debakarnath the evil brain behind the treachery was already gone, so who are these whom she killed?
    As a stand alone tale it makes good read. I am not someone to decide about the prompt adherence, the judges will do so better.

  3. Avatar
    Neepomanjaree

    I loved the setup of the story… old Bengal, zamindars, humble servants, jars of treasures, a curse, hilsa! ingredients of an interesting story.. enjoyed reading it..
    My rating 7/10

  4. Avatar
    Sudha Viswanath

    I am sorry that I forgot to rate the story. 7/10

  5. Avatar
    PSU

    An evil story, really. The second half has a pal of gloom over it. I really liked how u ended the story. The mentally disturbed offspring.
    But again – prompt adherance. I could not find it. For that 6/10

  6. Avatar
    Luvv A Sanwal

    I loved the setup but got confused in the end… I m sorry if I have missed something to understand the ending and I couldn’t relate to the theme of 2nd anniversary given.

    rating 6/10 (for setup, story flow, and built-up)

  7. Avatar
    Urmi Chakravorty

    Liked the Bengal connect, the descriptions, and the world building. The story unfolded well. The character of the zamindar was well fleshed out.

    However, I was left with a few doubts at the end. Was the servant speaking the truth or simply pulling a fast one about the fairies? There’s a gap of about 80 or more years between the setting of this story and the present day. So who is the young Ms Sikdar and who/who all did she kill? Why? Was the curse still tormenting them?
    And most importantly, where does the second anniversary figure here?
    As a stand alone entry, my rating would be 7.

  8. Avatar
    Lakshmi Menon

    The story started very well but seemed rushed towards the end. Whom did the young lady kill?

    There independence setting is created very authentically. I also liked the part where the servant was killed for asking 1/4 the of the treasure, which again was a reality in those times.

    Couldn’t figure out prompt adherence.

    My rating 7/10 for the story (setting, character, flow/and narration).

  9. Avatar

    Excellent buildup and narration that flowed smoothly. The ending was very abrupt, and left me with a sense of incompleteness – maybe that is because of the limit on word count. This almost reads like the prologue of a horror novella.
    Loved the line “…lush paddy fields, whose harvest had tasted their farmers’ sweat…”
    Why Bibhuti did not take the entire treasure, or atleast his share for himself before informing Sikdar is not clear.
    Couldn’t figure out the adherence to the prompt.
    My rating is 6.5 for the smooth flow, characterisation, setting, and engaging plot.

  10. Avatar
    Lalitha

    As a stand-alone tale this was gripping and intriguing. I loved how the author weaved try atmosphere. The jars and the spirits added an almost horror like atmosphere to the story. I felt sorry for B. After the story jumps to current day, it leaves questions for interpretation. Who did the girl murderer and why? Was it on grounds of insanity.
    The other issue I had was that I couldn’t find second anniversary there. Perhaps the curse was unleashed on the second anniversary of B’s injustice ? Or by the second anniversary of the incident D died?
    Very interesting story but on account of prompt 6/10

  11. Avatar
    Priya

    An extremely riveting plot. It really got me hooked from the beginning and that is very tricky. I enjoyed the overall mystery and how the story engages the reader throughout. I had to go back and re-read towards the end of the tale because I was missing what happened with the girl. The second anniversary was not clear. My rating 6.5/10

  12. Avatar
    Dakshata Kudanekar

    This was indeed an intriguing story. However, J didn’t understand who killed the zamindar actually. Was it cobra or his wife. And if it was his wife, why did she kill him was she possessed? And where did the treasure go then? Overall, a good story but climate could have been more elaborative. My rating. 7/10

  13. Avatar
    Moonmoon Chowdhury

    Brilliant storytelling. Loved the atmosphere, characterisation and dialogues. The ending was cleverly-crafted too. The only missing element, unfortunately, is any mention of the prompt. Even so, I shall rate it at 7.5/10, as I loved the story.

  14. Avatar
    Jayashree Pillai

    The story started off extremely well and was indeed very promising. The latter half was very rushed and ended up being rather confusing and ambiguous. I would love it read this as a fleshed out tale . My rating – 6 .5

  15. Avatar
    Ramya Srinivasan

    Loved the creepy atmosphere set in the story. And the idea of the curse passing through generations. The end could have been more powerful. And I didn’t get the connection with the theme. However, the story flows well, has a fable-like quality, and I was engaged throughout. My rating: 6/10

  16. Avatar
    Ratna Prabha

    Nicely crafted story with most of the thriller elements in place. A tighter narrative could have freed up word space needed for a more comprehensive ending. Always a challenge to write stories limited word count.

  17. Avatar
    Vaijayanti Panchal

    Absolutely brilliant plot! I could imagine the while thing while reading it. The atmosphere of the days long gone is captured very well. The only glitch is that there is absolutely no connection to the prompt. For that my rating which otherwise would have been more is now 6.5/10

  18. Avatar
    Alipi

    Those old times of Bengal, the stories we grew up listening to, were very well captured through the story. I was hoping that by the end something would pop up related to the theme of the second anniversary but nothing was mentioned.

  19. Avatar
    Sheerin

    The story started smashingly. The world building was excellent and the characters are well fleshed. More than the characters, I liked the subtle spookiness of the tale. The introduction of the jars and the spirits were deliciously chilling. I felt so sorry for Bibhuti and his family but it was a sad reality of the times.

    The end is good. However the groundwork hasn’t been laid for it properly. If an epilogue had been there mentioning the deaths and then it had been tied to the end, the story would have been stupendous.

    The second anniversary relation was missing from the story. But as a standalone story it is a marvellous read.

    Ma rating- 7.5/10

  20. Avatar
    Lavanya

    Very Interesting story. I loved the backdrop. And it has also been showed well. Spirits and their curse. Quite intriguing.
    The ending was rushed and more left to the reader’s imagination. But couldn’t really understand the usage of prompt Here
    Hence rating 6

  21. Avatar
    Ashvani Sachdev

    A gripping story. Possibly the showing part would have been much more effective had a word limit not been there. I was with the story from the beginning till the end and really liked the ending although it is not really a happy one. Nice read. 8/10

  22. Avatar
    Alipi

    6

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