AN INDIAN GHOST STORY (part two)
Tonight I'm posting the second excerpt from Lakshmi Raj Sharma new book "That Night" an Indian ghost story from a bygone age.
That Night (part two)
Those were the days when India had a much smaller population. The edges of towns were dark, quiet and unfrequented. It was rarely that a loner was seen and when he was, the one spying him looked out to decide whether it was a man or something that could no longer be described by that name. It is not that India has no ghosts left now. Only, its growing population has forced the poor creatures to leave the towns, where they had once inhabited in their human form comfortably, and to loiter towards haunts where there are fewer suspecting minds and pointing fingers. Of course all ghosts cannot be described with a single definition. There are ghosts and ghosts. There are the peace loving ghosts and the noisy ones; there are the inquisitive ghosts and the unconcerned ones; there are the pretty ghosts and the ugly ones; and so the categorizing goes on. So let us enter this world of the years gone by, when the odd ghost walked into a town to see what was going on in the lives of its not so dead counterparts. Ghosts may leave the living world, but they seldom leave the living to themselves. Several tribes and communities in Asia and other regions of the world link all good and ill actions in our lives to the spirits that hover around us. Tibetans, particularly, believe that if a man has fallen ill, the reason can be traced to some evil spirit that has started taking interest in him.
Though ghosts do not have names I am naming one of them Pran for the sake of convenience. I am here to investigate from some spirits certain facts for my novel. Human beings of that time are now all dead and gone, long back. It is only these ghosts that had left Allahabad in the 1960s, to settle in darker, more remote, places that could help me with information. Ghosts cannot be interviewed like living souls, and there’s no one more conscious of this than myself. Ever since I have come to this very rural setting of Gaipura, I have felt the near uninterrupted presence of Pran in this region.
He is not exactly an ugly ghost. He actually has fairly good features. But there is a perpetual disgruntled look, a kind of peeved expression. This expression is made more evident by his sliced off nose. He probably does not shave. I don’t think ghosts can shave and surely they don’t need to. But he does not have a beard or moustache. It is an unshaven look that his face wears, making him sufficiently rough. I have never seen him smile unless it is to point out some shortcoming in me. He and I have developed a relationship of sorts, a relationship in which the chief emotion is that of bitterness against each other. If you ask me why he entertains my questions the answer as I have understood it is this, he has some expectation from me, an expectation of which I am yet ignorant. It is as though after not getting on with practically every ghost around, Pran has decided that he will allow me to remain near him. He does not mind my company, though he creates problems for me whenever he can. He wants to use me for his recreation and then put hurdles in my way. And yes, he cannot tolerate my attempts to access other spirits who live in this region. He is a jealous ghost who will never fail to tell me that I am kinder to others than him. Forgive me for using the word, ‘him’ for a ghost rather than ‘it’. I have felt that he has some features that make him so much like some living people that I have started looking upon him as someone with flesh and blood. But then, suddenly, he gives me a a vacant look that sends a chill down my spine and makes me shiver in the heat of June and July.
I am now clearly on the wrong side of seventy though I have often tried to seem sixtyish. I have used every chemical dye and natural colour available to make my hair look black and have kept the right food habits to keep my skin from sagging. Either the ghost in Pran is unaffected by human aging or he has been deceived by my age-defying strategies because he has treated me as though I am in my late forties. I have often wondered whether this is what happens to those who step out of human time into that timelessness which makes them feel like ghosts. Yes, talking about trying to look younger than I am, I am reminded of a senior boy in my school in Allahabad, the well known actor, Amitabh Bachchan. I am only a few years older than him, and if he can work hard to look younger, so can I. Pran has, I would like to correct myself, a love-hate relationship with me. He is either at my side with sweets to appease me or he is insulting me with weird allegations, making me feel like that I am unkind and unfair. Ghosts are sometimes rather fond of sweets and I have found Pran and the other spirit, that I call Manoj, picking up sweets, on the sly, from the shop of the halwai in Gaipura. They have even fought over sweets with each other.
Now that I have mentioned Manoj, I must tell you that Manoj is a nobler ghost. He has never insulted me or made allegations of any kind against me. Manoj is a very pleasant ghost, you always see him smiling and promising to be helpful. When I am fed up with Pran’s rudeness I find myself complaining to Manoj. He always hears me out and promises to set Pran right. But I always ask him to avoid that as Pran can be dangerous. But how can he be dangerous, Manoj once asked me. He is so revengeful and psychotic! He can commit suicide, I said. Manoj laughed at the word ‘suicide’ and I remembered that these two were already dead. Why was I spending all my time with these more than dead things? Only for one reason, I still thought of Sonali decades after her death. The lovely Sonali!