(3rd and concluding part of Story 2 : Tales From Paharpur. BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 7)
“What is there to explain? You ……..”, I could hardly contain my anger and my tongue was ready with a hundred expletives. But I controlled myself.
“Well anyway, I cannot share this with anybody as it will ruin the future of a girl from our village. But, now I am in no mood to listen or say anything.” I banged the door and left.
Next day I heard that Jaya had fallen into the well in their backyard. Everybody wondered how she had fallen accidentally, because the well had a very high protective wall around. I wanted to talk to her and assure her that I was not going to tell anybody regarding what I saw. But how was I going to do it? In our village, it was near impossible for a young man to talk a young woman in private. Being a sensitive issue, I couldn’t eve risk sending a message through someone.
Of course, Prakash was the exception. For him everything was possible. I went to him. He was alone in his consultancy room
“I don’t know how you get this message across. But, assure her that I am not going to tell anybody about what I saw. You also assure her that this will remain a secret among the three of us. Let her get married and go to her in laws’ house without any trouble.”
She must have got the message and the assurance. No such accident happened afterwards.
All four of us – Prakash, Tirky, Ranka and I joined other villagers and her relatives to help in the marriage arrangements. Kewda flowers adorned the pandal where she was to get married. It was Prakash’s idea. He was the director of the pandal decorations. One could see kewda flowers everywhere in and around the pandal. Even the entrance of her house.
It was the summer of the year I completed my graduation. Two years had passed since Jaya’s marriage and one year back she was blessed with a daughter. Prakash had once again become my friend as usual. Meanwhile my house too had electricity. Still, during the hot summer nights we slept on our open verandas or sometimes on the roof top of Prakash’s house.
Theft was a common problem during summer as the house doors were left open for the sake of the ladies who could not make use of the open verandas. Coolers and air-conditioners were still a distant luxury and fans did not provide any relief in closed rooms.
But, that summer it was not the sighting of thieves, but the encounter with ghosts that became the prime concern of the villagers. Some people reported that they had seen the ghost of Sarman near the kewda bushes of Kalindi river. Sarman was dead five years back. He used to be a drunkard.
After some days, the apparition of a young girl was reported to be seen by some people on the back side by lane of Prakahs’s house. It resembled a girl who had committed suicide two months back. She was from the neighbouring village and she had some mental problems. Her parents came to Prakash for consultations. Sometimes she also came along with her parents. He assured them that everything would be alright. He proposed to conduct a special puja. The family agreed. The elaborate puja rituals were conducted in the presence of the girl in a room where no one else was allowed for five hours.
After that the girl seemed to have recovered to some extent. But when the situation became worse after a few months, Prakash advised them to go to the government hospital in Bhubaneswar. The day before they were to go to Bhubaneswar, the girl was found hanging from her neck from the ceiling of their house. There were rumours that the girl was in her initial stage of pregnancy.
One day Prakash’s father spotted the apparition on their rooftop. At that time there was no one else other than Prakash and his father in their house. His mother and two sisters had gone to attend a marriage in a distant place. His father was recovering from a knee injury.
His father called and begged me, “Look son. I advised him not to dabble in these weird practices. Now this dead girl’s soul is coming to haunt us. I am afraid one day it will kill him. Both of us can’t move fast. You are his best friend. Will you, for some days, till my wife and the daughters return, sleep in our veranda?”
For me, whether I slept on our veranda or theirs did not make any difference. Moreover, I was myself curious about this ghost. Coincidentally, after I started sleeping on their veranda the apparition was not seen around.
The village folks used to organise many kinds of pujas and rituals for the overall wellbeing of families and to purify their houses. One such puja was dedicated to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It was called Trinath mela. The offering during the puja included sweet beverages with generous doses of bhang.
As suggested by one of the village priests, his father organised Trinath mela in his house even though his wife and daughters were not back yet. All of us eagerly waited for such a puja. There was no need to circulate formal invitation to attend the puja. Whoever got a hint of it, came.
It was a full moon night. Hundreds of people from our village and the surrounding ones had come. They were seated on the mattresses spread on the open street in front of his house. After the Sanskrit chanting part was over, the priest started to lead the bhajans to the accompaniment of mridangam and cymbals. Everyone joined the chorus. The otherwise sleepy and silent night atmosphere of Paharpur was abuzz with activities. As the sounds of the bhajan spread around, more and more people joined in.
Tirky, Ranka and I were the volunteers to prepare and pass around the bhang beverage. We were told to be the last ones to drink. We followed it. After the first round of bhang, people became more and more involved in the bhajan. The sounds of mridangams and cymbals and the singing became louder.
Prakash’s father called me. When I went near, he asked, “Have you seen Prakash?”
I looked around and could not trace him. “I don’t see him here,” I said.
“All three of you go and search. Do it now.”
We knew that he was not inside their main house because we used to go inside frequently to the store at the back of the house to bring sweeteners and other items. He must be in the adjacent house, maybe, in his consultancy room.
The front room was locked from inside. We knocked and shouted, but there was no response. We wanted to see if we could enter from the back side of the house and surprisingly, the back door was open.
I saw a veiled figure moving at a distance among the bushes in the back alleys. I told them, “Both of you go inside and see. I have a ghost to catch.”
Tirky said, “Don’t go alone. Let me come with you.”
I said, “No. Don’t worry. There seems to be some serious problem inside. Why would this back door be open? Don’t waste time. Go fast.”
As I started in the direction of the veiled figure, it started running. I too started running and increased my pace. The veiled figure tripped and fell down.
It was Jaya. Recovering herself she fell at my feet. She was crying.
She said, “Please save me. I came to kill him. But I did not kill him. When I went there he had already been dead.”
“But, why did you want to kill him?”
“I had no option…….”
I heard Tirky’s shout, “Babu, where are you? There is something seriously wrong with Prakash. He is not moving. He is not talking.”
I shouted back, “I am coming in a minute. Go and alert his father and others.”
I said to Jaya, ‘”I don’t have time to hear your story. But don’t worry. I believe you.”
I ran back. It was a strange sight. It was for the first time that I was entering this room at the back of his consultancy room. He never allowed anyone to come here. The room was full of weird objects like skulls, strange coloured liquids in different bottles, and old palm leaf manuscripts. The smell of mogra incense sticks mixed with kewda flowers filled the room. A big photo of Goddess Kali was adorned with kewda and red hibiscus flowers.
There sat Prakash, like a statue, leaning against a wall, his head hung to one side.
Prakash’s father came with a few others. Among them was a faith healer and a tantric from a nearby village. He checked his pulse, eyes and breathing and said, “He is dead.”
Praksash’s father gave out a weird shriek as he came and hugged his son. Some more people were spotted coming inside.
The tantric said, “One of you go and stop the puja. Tell people to go home. Tell them Prakash has suddenly fallen ill. Don’t spread the news of death right now.”
One of Prakash’s uncles was present. He said, “Should we inform the police?”
The tantric said, “Have you gone mad? As far as I remember our area has never seen the involvement of police in any of our affairs. It will only bring more problem to your family. By the way do you all know the cause of his death?”
Everyone fell silent and looked at one another.
“I can clearly see the symptoms. He died due to ghost bites.”
Later on, after a couple of weeks I met Jaya at the Rajnagar Bus Stand. She was going back to Bhubaneswar after a prolonged stay at her parents’ house.
She said, “Yes, I wanted to kill him. I had no option. After my child was born I received a letter from him along with samples of the letters I had written to him. In fact it was he who made me write those love letters. I was a fool in those days. Before I realised, my sympathy for him had turned into love. It was not actually love. Well, I don’t know. He made me write those letters. I also have some of his letters. But what use are those for me?
Even what happened that day, when you caught us by surprise, was part of his black mail. He threatened to prevent my marriage. I went to him to plead to spare me and destroy those letters. He said that he would return the letters on one condition. He did not want intercourse with me. That would spoil my virginity. Scoundrel. As if he was doing me a great favour. But he wanted that somehow I helped him release his urge.
After my suicide attempt, he sent me a message that he was destroying my letters and was not going to harm me in anyway in future. I thought he had reformed and the storm in my life was over.
But it was not to be. He had not destroyed my letters. Now he did not want sex from me. He wanted that I offer him my child. He wanted to use her to be used as a human sacrifice in the ritual to cure his legs.”
I handed over a bundle of papers sealed in an envelope. “Here are the letters. I found these when I was helping his father clean out his trunks filled with strange ancient books and palm leaf manuscripts.”
I could sense the thankfulness and gratitude in the whole of her being even though she did not say anything.
I asked, “Do you also believe that he died due to ghost bytes?
“I don’t know. All I can think of is that God has been kind enough to save me from trouble.”
Many people of Paharpur continued to believe that he died due to ghost bites. There were other theories. Some said there were serious procedural lapses in the conduct of Puja. Someone seems of have noticed and pointed out to the priest that the photos of Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh was upside down. But the priest did not take any notice of it being under the influence of bhang even before the puja stared. Some said that the devotees who gathered were not satisfied with the quality of the bhang served that night.
There were also rumours that whenever the ghosts were sighted that summer, Jaya’s bother Vikram was invariably seen somewhere nearby.