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.
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 negligeé. 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.
“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?”
“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.