Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE HOUSE


It’s true what people say- every house has a story behind it. Especially one that comes cheap, like the one Rajiv and Anita bought in the outskirts of the big city. You will hear all about it in due time.

            Rajiv had achieved success at a very young age, out of sheer luck according to him. But others said it was pure hard work on his part. He had started out as an insurance salesman in a private company, making door to door visits be it storm or hail. Within a couple of years he had risen to the post of Area Manager. Recently he had been promoted again to be made the Zonal Manager of the East Zone. He was only 26. He married his childhood sweetheart Anita. She worked as a lecturer of English in the local college. They were the ideal couple. There were no disagreements, let alone fighting, between them. The newly-weds opted to take a house in the suburbs, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. They had visited many an agent, but there were always problems. Either they didn’t like the place or the asking price was way out of their budget.

            It was a Saturday when both of them went to look at yet another house after work. Anita fell in love with it the moment she laid her eyes on it. Rajiv was not so sure. But the price was pretty less.

            “Isn’t it kind of dilapidated?” he asked.

            “It is not that bad. Besides, look at its surroundings, babu” Anita replied. “We can take a few days off and repair it ourselves. It just needs a new coat of paint, and the roof has to be re-laid. It would be such an adventure!”

            Now, Rajiv was not much of a Vasco da Gama, but he had to acquiesce that the view around the house was breathtaking. Well, one had to drive for better part of an hour from the city, through a mostly rutted and desolate road, to reach it. The location more than made up for it, though. The house, an English style bungalow, was situated atop a small hillock. There was a driveway leading up to the front door from the gate at the bottom of the hillock. It was overgrown with weeds, but wouldn’t more than an hour’s work to be cleared up. The bungalow even had a chimney, although it was only for show. It had a veranda and four rooms. A big sitting-cum-dining room, two bedrooms off to the right, and a kitchen towards the rear of the house. Both bedrooms had attached bathrooms. It was quiet adequate for a small family. There was also space for a small kitchen garden in the backyard. A small, clear stream ran close to the house. Beyond the stream was a wood, which looked foreboding yet inviting in some strange way. The sound of the birds chirping in the trees had a soothing effect on the mind.

            Anita was flitting around the house, bubbling with enthusiasm, already deciding which would be their room, which would be the guest room, and how to decorate the house. “We will put up that painting by Neel Pawan Baruah up here,” she said pointing to a spot on the sitting room wall. Rajiv had never seen her so happy in his life. He smiled, in spite of his inhibitions about the state the house was in.

            “So?” asked the agent impatiently.
           
“We will take it,” Anita said. “Won’t we Rajiv?” He just nodded his head.

            “Okay,” said the agent with a fake smile on his face, “you make the advance payment by tomorrow, and the house will be yours by the first of next month.”

            “What would take so long?” Anita enquired.

            “Painting the house would be an adventure, no?” he said repeating her words. “But you don’t need to worry. I will have it painted and fixed before you take possession. No extra charge. Take it and go!” He flashed his fake smile again, exposing his tobacco stained teeth.

            “But how come it’s so cheap?” Rajiv asked.

            The agent frowned. “You like the house no, madam? You want to live in it? You should be thankful I am giving it to you so cheap. And this husband of yours is asking stupid questions. Just take it and go!”

            “No, No. Of course we will buy the house,” Anita said, giving Rajiv a severe look.

            “If you are not interested, then I have other parties waiting...” he let the implied hang in the air.

            “Fine. You will get your advance by tomorrow,” Rajiv said drily.

            The lovebirds drove back to their apartment- what city folk nowadays unabashedly calls ‘home’. Anita had a big smile on her face and a wild twinkle in her eyes. “I am going to change into something sexy,” she announced when they reached home.

            “Why?”

            She winked at him. “Because we are going to the disco tonight, tiger,” she said as she walked into the bedroom. Rajiv shook his head and smiled to himself. It always made him very happy to see Anita smiling and satisfied. Soon she emerged wearing a blood red tank-top, a hip hugging denim skirt, and a pair of red heels. She hadn’t applied any make-up, other than some kohl on her eyes- but she didn’t need to. Rajiv gave a wolf-whistle as he went in to change too.


            It was about one in the morning when they returned from the disco. They had danced almost non-stop and Rajiv was tired from it. He took off his clothes and slid under the covers in his boxers. But Anita had other ideas in her mind. She went into the bathroom, and emerged wearing a neglige√©. Rajiv couldn’t keep his eyes off her, and thanked his stars once again that this goddess loved him so much. Anita was uninhabited in bed that night. She did things that Rajiv had always wanted to do, but had never dared ask her fearing that she would be offended. They made sensuous, passionate love; and it was dawn by the time both of them fell into a contended sleep.

            The rest of the month went by in a bout of frenzied activity for the couple. They were busy packing the stuff they owned, and buying new stuff for their new home at the insistence of Anita.  The Neel Pawan Baruah original was the last to be packed and that too with utmost care. It was one of Anita’s most prized possessions. She had loved that painting since she had been a child. Her ‘Neel uncle’ had known as much and the great artist had gifted it to them on their wedding. They finished all their packing on the 31st and called up the agent to ask whether they could send the things over that evening, and then take possession of the house the next morning. “Madam, you can start living there from tonight only,” he replied. Elated, they took their stuff over to the bungalow, after depositing the key to their flat to the secretary of the apartment committee. Once there, their elation vaporised though. They had not taken into account that the house would be cleaned and painted alright, but the beds still needed to be unpacked and reassembled for one to sleep in. Anita’s face fell, and so did Rajiv’s spirit.

            “Don’t worry wifey, we will make it into a proper home by tomorrow evening,” he said to soothe her.

            “But where will we sleep tonight? On the floor?” she frowned.

            “You let your tiger take care of that,” he said with a smile.

            He drove her to the best hotel in the city, the only four star one, and booked a suite there for the night. “After all, we are moving to our own house tomorrow. Let’s spend the night in style,” he told her as an explanation. They went up to the suite and spent the time till dinner standing outside on the balcony looking at the star-lit sky. “I think it’s time we had a baby,” Anita said all of a sudden. Rajiv assented with a nod and said, “Let’s wait till we are settled in our new home, okay love?” “Okay,” she said and they lapsed back into silence. They stood for some more time enjoying each other’s company in the tranquillity of the enthralling night. They then had a sumptuous supper and went to bed.

            The next morning Anita woke up very early and ordered bed tea. She then pestered Rajiv till he could no longer feign sleep. He jumped out of bed and started chasing after her around the room. She kept darting out of his reach, giggling like a schoolgirl all along. “Let me just catch hold of you, you pixie!” Rajiv exclaimed. He has just caught Anita and had pulled her into his arms, both of them breathless, when the doorbell rang. “Room service,” someone spoke from beyond the closed door.

            “Let go of me, you brute!” Anita giggled. “I had ordered bed tea.”

            He snuggled against her and buried his head in the crook of her neck. “He will go away.”

            “We have to go to our new house. Let go!” she playfully beat his chest and tried to extract herself from his hug. He let her go with a sigh.

            They washed, had their breakfast, and checked out of the hotel by ten in the morning. Both of them had taken the day off, and they drove to the house. They passed a small dhaba on the way from the city, which they had failed to notice the first time they had drove down there. They drove on for another few minutes to their new home, to be welcomed by the sound of the creek and the chirping of the birds in the trees. Anita could barely hide her excitement. They set about straightening their stuff and making the house into their home. They even skipped lunch and were almost finished when Rajiv suddenly realised they had had nothing to eat since breakfast.

            “Anita, let’s go and have something to eat,” he said.

            “Where?”

            “There is a dhaba nearby.”

            “You go ahead. I will finish straightening up.”

            He held her face in both of his hands, and said “We will do it together. But first let’s have something to eat and get some rest.” Truth be told, both of them did look tired and haggard. Anita acquiesced. They walked hand in hand at a leisurely pace to the dhaba. They had some puri-sabji. Rajiv wanted to pack something for dinner. Anita protested at first saying that she would cook. But he insisted and told her that it had been a tiring day: she needed to take it easy. They walked back home, Rajiv carrying the take-away food.  They finished with decorating the place by nine at night, had their dinner, and went to sleep in each other’s arms; Anita with a contended smile on her face.

            Their lives soon settled into a comfortable routine. They would wake up early and go for their customary morning jog. Rajiv would drop Anita at her college and drive to his office. In the evenings they would come back home, watch some TV and cook dinner. Once in a while their friends would come over for a game of bridge and a cocktail dinner. At night, they would make mellow love before going to sleep. But then, an ideal life cannot go on forever. A couple of months later, Rajiv was at his work when misfortune struck. He got a call from a harried Anita. It seemed that his mother-in-law had had a heart attack. He drove Anita to the hospital. It turned out that it was a minor attack and Anita’s mother could be discharged, but she would have to make certain changes to her lifestyle. She was taken home by evening. Anita said that she would stay with her mother for some days. Rajiv didn’t complain. “I will get you your things tomorrow,” was all he said. He kissed her on the porch and drove home.

            He sat in front of the TV at home, not really watching anything and feeling lonely. It was the first time he and Anita had been apart since they had got married. He didn’t feel like cooking, so he decided to go to the dhaba for a beer and dinner. He drove down there, feeling too washed out to walk. The place was half-filled when he got there. From the congenial environment, they seemed to be regular patrons. He sat to one side on one of the cots and ordered a beer and peanuts. Soon he was guzzling down a second beer, before he ordered his food. The waiter appeared a few moments with his dinner of rice and chicken curry. Rajiv gave him a smile. The waiter smiled back. “Sahib, you are new around here?”
            “Yes, we moved in about two months back. My wife and I. We wanted to get away from the city, you see, and raise our kids here,” he said.

            “Where is madam ji?”

            “She went to stay with her mother. That’s why I am here.”

            “You fight with her?”

            “No, no,” he smiled, “her mother had a heart attack and madam ji wants to stay with her mother for a few days.”

             “Oh no! That must be bad?”

            “Actually it was a small attack. And anyways it’s only for a few days.”

            “OK. So you live at the apartment complex down the road?”

            “There is an apartment complex here?” Rajiv asked between bites, only half interested.

            “Yes. About half an hour drive down the road from here. You don’t live there? So where do you live?”

            “In that small house on the hillock.”

            The waiter’s amicable expression underwent a drastic change. “You are joking with me Sahib?”

            Rajiv shook his head while he chewed.

            “Why did you buy that house? No one told you about it?”

            “Well, Anita loved it,” Rajiv after swallowing his food. “It was beautiful and cheap too,” he added as an afterthought.

            “You don’t know that a ghost lives in that house? A female ghost in a white saree. She kills anyone who lives in her house. She had been burnt alive by her husband and in-laws for dowry. They then managed to get away clean by bribing the inspector who was handling the case. Some days later their rotting were found hanging in the woods behind the house. Next day, the inspector who had taken the bribe was found in his bathroom, with his head twisted to look backwards, and his severed right hand held in his left. Since then many people have died, those who have come to live in her house. The last family who lived there were found dead in the front yard, all four of them, and not one mark on their corpses. That chudail is very evil,” he said and started to chant the Hanuman Chalisa under his breath. Rajiv couldn’t but laugh. He never had believed in the supernatural mumbo jumbo.

            “You can laugh all you want sahib. You educated people think you know too much. That is your problem. But if I were you, I would go as far away from that place as possible. You are lucky anything bad has not happened to you so far.”

            Rajiv finished his food, smiled and said to the waiter, “And nothing bad will happen to us, because the ghost was scared of me and ran away!”
           
“One shouldn’t make fun of powers greater than oneself.”

            “Okay, I won’t do it again. Please bring me the bill.”

            He paid the money, got into the car and drove back home. He took off his shoes and shirt, lay back on the couch, and put on a movie on the TV. Soon he dozed off. Suddenly, he saw Anita standing in front of him, smiling at him. “Hey wifey! How did you get here?”

            Before she could even open her mouth to answer, she abruptly burst into flames! Rajiv tried to leap out of the couch but found that he could not move. Looking down he saw he was bound to the couch with strong ropes. Anita screamed like a banshee, the flames engulfing her, as he fought against the bonds holding him. She tried to run towards the bathroom, presumably to get to a source of water. But a beautiful lady in a white saree glided effortlessly through the wall of their sitting room. She was laughing hysterically and turned slowly into a charred body as she reached Anita and held her in a bear hug. Rajiv was still struggling to set himself free, and could do nothing but watch his wife writhe in pain, held tight by that...that thing. He saw his wife slowly melt into the arms of the hideous creature, as the macabre dance of death came to a painstakingly slow end. Rajiv was left screaming, looking at the heap of ash that had once been his lovely wife. His cell phone started to ring.

            It continued to ring as he opened his eye slowly and shook his head. He was disoriented and confused. The cell stopped ringing. He realised he had fallen asleep in the couch itself. The TV was still on and dawn had broken in the eastern sky. It had just been a nightmare- a startlingly vivid one. He cursed the waiter from the previous night. His phone started to ring again. An unknown number. “Hello?” he asked into the phone.

            “Is this Mr. Rajiv Sharma?”

            “Yes?”

            “You are Ms. Anita’s husband?”

            “Yes. Why? Who are you?” He had a premonition that something really bad had happened.

            “Well, your wife was brought to the Emergency room of our hospital by her mother. She had allegedly been found unconscious in the bathroom. We have put her in the ICU for management.”

            “Is she...is she..”

            “No, no, Mr. Sharma. She should be okay in some time. There is no cause for undue worry.”

            “Okay, I will drive over right now,” he said, barely able to hold back his tears. The first time they were apart, and she ends up in a hospital.

He put on his shoes and the shirt from the previous night. He didn’t even shave or brush. At that very time, the doctors were giving CPR to Anita. There was a hint of moisture in his eyes by the time he got into his car, and he was weeping freely in a moment. He drove his car out of the driveway and into the road. He was racing his car in the deserted road, pushing almost a hundred kilometres an hour. He saw a woman standing in the middle of the road. He braked hard and swerved to the left to avoid hitting her. It was a fraction of a second before he hit the bole of the huge tree by the road, when he saw that the woman was dressed in a white saree and was fast metamorphosing into a burnt corpse. His car crashed into the tree at more than eighty kilometres an hour. The engine collapsed inwards. The steering wheel smashed into his chest, breaking his ribs, crushing his heart and lungs, and killing him instantly. The doctors in the hospital put away the defibrillator, covered the body with a sheet, and declared Anita dead.


             
            

Sunday, April 15, 2012

FAR, FAR AWAY FROM MY REACH

A sunny, sweaty day passes by; harassed by many a petty chore,
Here comes the cool and breezy evening, and my spirits soar.
I wait for that moment when I will hear her voice, and let my worries go
To a place where they will be buried tonight; and I will no longer feel low.

She came and we talked, and she sat with her hand held in mine,
She smiled, and she ruffled my hair, the moon never ceased to shine.
Time flew by much too soon, and then we had to part,
We said goodbye and then I left; a heavy stone upon my heart.

It is pouring now, a torrent of water, as it had never rained before,
The gloomy sky where the dark clouds float: emptiness in the core.
No moonlight, no coveted place, where my love would soar.

One more time may I see her face, to the Lord I beseech,
And I contemplate the impossible, as I sit on the sandy beach.
May she be happy, though she is far, far away from my reach.

KURU

The Tantric lived in the forest. He was old beyond age. His teeth were filed to points. He wore a loin cloth. He didn’t need food or water; but ate people and drank their blood when his God required him to. One day he started laughing. He laughed so hard, he had convulsions. He died.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

I know you wouldn’t believe me, no matter how hard I tried to convince you that what I am going to say really happened. So, I am not even going to try. Go ahead and read this as a figment of imagination of a crazy, inebriated mind.

My house is a few minutes walking distance from a place called Ganeshguri Chariali, Assam, India. Let me give you a description of the place so that I won’t have to come back to it later. It is basically a busy crossroad with four roads leading off in four different directions- one towards my house, one towards Chandmari, and the other two towards Khanapara and Ulubari respectively. There is a small by-lane, on the road to my house, that leads to the venerable Guwahati Medical College. There is also a daily bazaar near the by-lane. So there. Now, my state is pretty well known when it comes to tea and insurgency, especially the latter. Anything related to terrorism- extortion, kidnapping, bomb blasts, political assassinations- you name it, you got it. Things have changed for the better now, though. Anyways, Ganeshguri again is famous for bomb blasts. Someone once told me that the place holds a name in the Guinness Book of World Records for the maximum number of terror attacks at a single place- nineteen. I could never find anything to substantiate that snippet of information, but I hold it to be true simply out of pride and love for my place of birth.

That’s enough of background information. Let’s get on with the episode. I had been to a friend’s place that evening for a party; the reason for the party being that his parents had gone to visit his uncle, who was ill, in another city. Before leaving for his place, I had asked my mom whether I could stay over at his house. Her reply was “Yes you can. But you may not”. I took that as a simple “No” and left. The party was great. Booze flowed like water, and there was no end to plates of pork cooked in the Naga style. I didn’t drink much since I was the only one who would be going back home that night. I started to strum on my friend’s guitar and the guys started to sing along. It reminded me of Cacophonix of Asterix fame, as well as of my good friend Nepu.

Before long it was ten at night, and I wished the guys goodnight and got ready to leave. The guys started to harass me with comments like “Sissy”, “Yeah li’l kid, go on home. Your mommy must be waiting to change your diaper”, “Suck on this nigga’, yo”, and many more things to that effect. I decided to make a final rally and called up mom. Peer pressure, you know. Bad for health. This time I inquired if I may stay over and she replied, “Yes, you may”. I was elated when she added after a pause, “But you don’t have to come back home ever again”. Mothers are smart, they are. So I told her I would come home but it would be late since I was going to have my dinner with my friends. Compromise, you know! “You should have told me you would be eating there. I wouldn’t have cooked for you. There are so many people in this world who don’t get to eat two square meals a day, and you don’t care if any food is wasted just because you have never faced that problem. By the way, since when is 1030 at night early?” she retorted. I mumbled something incomprehensible into the phone and disconnected.

The four bottles of whiskey my friend had bought were already empty before midnight, and two of them went to get some more from a place nearby which sells the stuff in black- Hotel Prince it is called. I decided it was time for me to have my dinner and be off, if I were to be in any condition to go home that night. The pork was awesome and I had more of it than the burnt rice. I was wishing them guys a very good night, when one of them spoke up in a slightly slurred voice:
“Let me drop you home on my bike, bro.”

“No, thank you. I am too young to die, and so are you,” I said.

“What the fuck do you mean? Just because you can’t drive a bike even when you are sober doesn’t mean that I can’t even when I am drunk. Now I will drop you home. Otherwise this is the end of our friendship,” said he and stood up unsteadily and looked around for his keys.

I sighed inwardly. Never argue with a drunken man, believe me you won’t get anywhere. It’s like arguing with a woman, only a tad bit less worse. I thumped my mate on the back and said, “Hey chill it bro, I was just joking. I want to walk home to get some fresh air and talk to someone over the phone.”

“A girl, eh?” he asked with a wink and a lecherous smile.

“Yeah. A girl.” I smiled too.

“Okay then bro, have fun,” he said and thumped me on my back. I took their leave and started walking back home.

It was almost midnight then. It was a full moon night and only a few stars sprinkled the clear sky. I called up this girl who I flirted with shamelessly. Yes, she flirted back too. She picked up on the second ring and we started talking. Walk while you talk. What an idea, Sirjee! I was almost heedless to the world by the time I reached Ganeshguri market. The market was a very busy place during the evenings. (It was near that very market that a powerful bomb had went off a few months back, killing a lot of people and injuring lots more.) Of course all the shops were closed at that time. The roads were deserted too. My city didn’t boast of much of a night life then. A red auto-van was parked in the by-lane. I passed it by and walked on, crooning a ballad to my newest love-interest over the phone. A few pegs do tend to make one romantic, yes? I had finished the song and there was silence at the other end. She must have been busy searching for an appropriate response, I thought. At that very moment, I heard a voice from behind me.

“Hey, brother!” he called out.

I turned around and a saw a young man of about ten standing a foot behind me. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. He was dressed in a pair of clean jeans, a polo-neck tee, and loafers. I raised an enquiring eyebrow.

“Hey you there”, he said again.

My girl was saying something over the phone, but I was too intrigued by the situation to listen to her. A well dressed boy in the middle of the night in a deserted place, and that too alone? I asked her to hold the line. She was so full of questions. I ignored the questions and asked her to hold the line once again. I walked up to him.

“Yes, kid?” I asked

“They are calling you to come and meet them.”

I was a little confused. I thought by ‘they’ he meant my friends whom I had taken my leave of a few moments back. But then I wondered why they would send a kid to get me when we all have this wonderful invention called the mobile phone. And I would have known had one of them called because my call waiting was on.

“Who they?” I asked, “and what are you doing alone so late in the night?”

“Nothing. They just want you to come and meet them. They say they want you to come away with them. With me.”

“What are u rambling about, kid? Tell me where you live.”

He pointed towards the direction of my house. “I live that way too. Look, I will walk you home. It’s not good to be out so late at this young an age, even if you had a fight with your mom. Right? So walk on ahead. I will be right behind you.” I gave him a little nudge and he started to walk. I was telling the girl over the phone about the strange thing and had barely taken ten steps when I heard his voice from behind me again. I was kind of surprised, since he had not passed me after I had nudged him forwards. And trust me, I would have noticed him pass as there was not another soul around. I told my girl I will call her later, disconnected the phone, turned around and said, “You like playing games, eh kid?”

“I can’t go home. My parents won’t believe it’s me. And anyways I belong with them now,” he gestured over his shoulder. “They want you to come and join us too. Come on we will have lots of fun.”

I lost it. “Fun, eh, you little dickface. You want fun? You will have lots of it when I spank your teeny little bottom,” I said running towards him. He turned and ran into the by-lane. I followed only to find no sign of him. I tried the doors of the auto-van. It was locked. I walked around it and peeped under the chassis. Nothing. I looked around for another probable hiding place for some for time. Zilch. Only the silence of the night and the eerie light shed by the moon. “Wait till I meet you the next time, you little fuck!” I shouted into the silence. I was huffing with anger. I took some deep breaths and tried to cool down. Then I took out my phone again to call the girl. She was full of questions again but I managed to evade almost all of them. I got back to the ‘walking while talking’ adage. By the time I reached home, I had forgotten all about the boy and was laughing merrily at her jokes. We talked for maybe another hour and I fell into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, I told my mom about the incident from the previous night. She was shocked and started fussing about like a mother hen. From what I could gather from her anxious speech, was that many people had claimed to have met ghosts in that particular area after the bomb blast but she had never believed those stories. Now, her only son…oh God no..please come to his rescue…blah, blah. A puja was also to be organized for my well being within the week. It was only then that I realized that it really might have been the spirit of a young boy killed in the blasts. “And anyways I belong with them now”. That line kept playing over and over again in my mind. I had mixed feelings of fear and surprise. Surprise, as I had not felt an iota of fear the previous night when I chased after the boy. Maybe booze makes one a bit of a fearless superhero too, eh? Food for thought.