Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A rendezvous with ghosts

It was a large green lawn with colourful flower plants encircling it. The line of full grown trees at regular intervals on the periphery provided cool shade, though after 4 pm they made the place somewhat dark. Arogyasami enjoyed the scenic beauty daily sitting on the bench and often lost in thought on his many problems and a few happy memories, sometimes frowning and sometimes smiling. The frequent cool breeze laden with the scent of flowers made the place a happy hangout. He preferred to be alone but some days other people came to the lawn like him. Even when there were several benches, it irked him they always chose his bench to crowd together.
Today he had come earlier than usual and luckily there were none in the lawn. The sky was overcast and the place seemed darker than usual. He saw with interest a little yonder an overgrown squirrel struggling repeatedly to break a hard nut with its teeth when abruptly it dropped the nut and hurried into a bush as if it sensed danger. Wondering why it ran away, he saw to his horror a creepy figure that seemed like a bent human form flailing its arms and covered in black rushing towards the bush. It was just about 20 feet away. He crossed his chest with his fingers. Arogyasami strained his eyes hard into the darkness and saw the figure moving quickly towards him. Even as he wished to run away, his legs froze in fear and he fainted.
When he became conscious and opened his eyes, he saw three persons bent over him with their faces breaking into large smile and exclaiming, “He is alive.”
“What happened to you?” one asked and added, “You look as if you had met a devil.”
“True, I saw a ghost clad in black trying to catch a squirrel and failing in its attempt, it came after me. I could not see its face clearly but I will swear it was a wicked and violent ghost,” Arogyasami said somewhat recovered from the shock.
“All crap, why would a ghost catch a squirrel? There is no ghost here. I have been coming to this place for years and have never seen one or heard of such a thing. You must be hallucinating,” said Appadurai, a frail old man with a beak like nose.
“How could you say like this?” interrupted Rajappa, a tall and stodgy guy. I have heard that many people have committed suicide on these trees and their ghosts freely roam here, a few peaceful and most are harmful. They roam sometimes in white robes too not necessarily in black always. Many have died stricken by them or in fear. I am told nobody comes here after dark. In fact, I have myself encountered one such. It had grotesque misshapen features with hollow cheeks, toothless mouth and protruding tongue much longer than for us. It never walked on ground and caught me in a trice. I thought my heart would burst but summoning my nerve, I pleaded with it to leave me alone. It took a hard look at me and said with a weird smile that was scarier to look, “Sorry buddy, a case of mistaken identity. I am looking for one Appadurai who is responsible for my present state.”
The frail beak nosed guy turned pale and asked in shivering voice, “Did the ghost say Appadurai? I have never driven anyone to death.”
Arogyasami interrupted to say to Appadurai, “Ghosts never forget till they wreak their vengeance. I suggest you avoid this place for a few months. I have heard they have elephantine memory and haunt the place frequently. You are lucky to have escaped today.”
Gopanna, a short and stout guy, who was silent hitherto spoke at last, “I have personal experience with a ghost. I killed my neighbour who tried to misbehave with my wife when I was away. I came in the nick of time and hit him repeatedly with a hockey stick till he died. He said before he lost his consciousness,’ I will never let you go unpunished. Wherever I am, I will catch you and kill you.’ I spared my wife as she did no fault. I was let off by police. I have myself heard strange cries and noises at unearthly hours outside my house. We vacated the place. I am no more troubled.”
“You are lucky, “said Arogyasami.
It was already dark past 6pm on a wintry evening despite the dim lights on the lamp posts. It was then Appadurai screamed, “Turn behind and see. Three ghosts in white are rushing towards us. Let us run to safety,” even as the white figures closed in on them. Arogyasami fainted again. Appadurai started crying hoarsely while Gopanna tried to run. Rajappa stood still utterly confused.
When the three men in white uniform caught all the four, one of them shouted at them telling, “What are you doing here? You are all supposed to be in your cell by 6pm. Come along quietly or I will beat you blue.”
They followed the wardens meekly without demur to their cells in the mental asylum.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Raju mama's presentience

(An old story of 2009)
It was a rainy Sunday at Seattle. With nothing pressing to do, Ram was rummaging an old box of his. He found to his delight a tiny book of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam(1000 names of Lord Vishnu). He took it in his hand and fondly caressed it. As he turned the pages of the book, a dry rose petal fell from it.
His mind went back to his childhood days at Chennai where he lived in a colony that had several blocks with six apartments in each  building on both sides of the road. He lovingly remembered Raju mama(uncle) who had given him the book. Ram was then ten years old living in the adjacent building to Raju mama’s. He had preserved it carefully as a priceless possession.
Raju mama who had just retired from a high position in government was about 60 years and lived with his wife. His children were in Northern cities. A well-read man, he was proficient in Valmiki Ramayan and could quote shlokas aptly with ease. He conducted Vishnu Sahasranama chanting sessions in his apartment where about a dozen young boys and girls in the vicinity assembled daily to chant and learn by rote the shlokas. He gave the book free to all the boys and girls who attended the session that started sharp at 6 pm. Most of the children did not need the book as they had memorized it.
Raju uncle looking stern by appearance was a disciplinarian and would get upset if someone came late to the class. It was generally mami (auntie) who came to the support of children when he upbraided them for wrong pronunciation or missing words. He gave the kids candies, raisins or plantain fruits at the end of the session daily.
Uncle had a soft heart behind the rough exterior and helped many poor children with tuition fees and books. He carried commonly used patent  medicines in a bag during evening  walk and gave them to needy people who were aware of this good habit of his. His contributions to charitable causes were never spoken about though his wife used to confide to Ram’s mom. Though his children were in comfortable position in the North, he never left Chennai. Raju mama as a rule never spoke about himself or his kind acts.
Ram lost touch with Raju mama after his dad was transferred out of Chennai. He studied in Delhi, did his IIT and left for US for his MS and doctorate. He never went to Chennai in the intervening years.
He broke from his reverie and decided to invite him and mami personally for his wedding scheduled to take place luckily at Chennai itself
He was lucky to get Raju mama’s email address from a friend in US who was also in the Sahasranama group along with him. His friend was not sure whether the email address was current. Nevertheless, Ram wrote to him immediately.
Respected mama,
This is Ram who lived in the adjacent house and learnt Sahasranamam from you about 15 or more years back. I am now working in Seattle after my higher studies here. I wonder whether you remember me. To assist you in placing me, I can give two clues. One is I have hazel eyes and when mami remarked on seeing me first time that I had poonai kannu (cat’s eye) you chided her. The second one is,  one day not a single boy or girl had turned up for the Sahasranama recitation due to heavy downpour save myself in drenched clothes. I still remember your rebuking me for coming in the rain. You hurried inside to fetch a towel and fondly wiped my head dry. Despite my being the only one present, you sat with me to recite the Sahasranamam. You had kindly praised me sky high the next day in the class. I hope, mama, these two would suffice for you to recollect me.
I have one good news to share with you. My marriage is fixed with Sita next month at Chennai. She is a colleague and her parents are from Chennai. I will be meeting you soon next month  to invite you both personally.  Kind regards, Ram
Pat came the reply from Raju mama that he remembered him well and even his face. He said the Sahasranama sessions have stopped and that Valmiki’s epic never goes stale presenting new insights each time he reads  and is keeping him busy.He had also said that both mami and himself are looking forward to meet him.
Ram landed at Chennai after six weeks. His parents had already arrived from Delhi. There were lots of relatives  assembled in his house. Ram wished to meet Raju mama that evening itself. But he could not as his parents wanted him to accompany them for some urgent shopping.
The next morning, he took the invitation, the gifts he had bought for uncle and mami, bought some sweets on the way and went to the old colony where he had lived long time back. The houses all looked the same except for some additions in the front. When he got out of the car opposite uncle’s building with the packets in hand, he saw a cluster of people standing silently outside. It looked ominous though there were six flats in the complex.
He approached one gentleman and asked him which was Raju uncle’s flat though he knew very well. Seeing Ram well dressed with sweet packets and invitation on hand in hand, he said “Don’t you know Raju Sir passed away last night? It was a massive attack and the end came immediately even before medical aid could reach him. So sad for he was a good and venerable man. May I know who you are?”
Ram replied, “I used to live in the adjacent building long back. I am his old student in Sahasranamam class. Are mama’s children there?”
“No, only his wife is there with some ladies from neighbourhood. Her children are expected any time today. Poor mami, she is devastated.”
Ram returned to the car and left all things in it. When he went up he saw mami sitting crestfallen by the head of Raju uncle. He looked very much older but the features remained the same sharp ones he was aware of. He went to mami and sat by her side. There was a sign of recognition when she saw him. He held her hands and with tears streaming from his eyes, he said “Mami, I am Ram. Do you remember me. I had told uncle that I would be meeting him. I wanted to come last evening itself. It is my bad luck that I missed seeing him alive.”
She replied “Even last evening he was talking about you. He even wrote something on a piece of paper and left a sealed envelope for you on the table. When I asked him what it was, he brushed aside my question and only asked me to hand it over to you. When I said you could yourself give, he kept quiet. It looks  in retrospect as though he had a premonition of things to happen.”
Mami cried inconsolably even as Ram tried to console her. After some time, she went to the table and handed  him over the envelope.
It was only the next day he opened the envelope. There was a small note with a thousand rupee note.
My dear Ram,
My blessings to you. Kindly accept my best wishes and the token gift. I am afraid I may not be able to attend your wedding. I still remember your young face with your drenched clothes that evening years back. You made me very happy that evening. I hope you recite Sahasranamam regularly. Affectionately Raju mama”
Ram could not control his tears and sobbed inconsolably.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The slingshot

In the corner of dimly lit and smoke filled hut, Rani was struggling to boil a broth before her parents came home tired and hungry from the field. The firewood she picked in the nearby wood was damp generating more smoke than fire. Her eyes, red and burning with nose running, the young girl of 13 persisted in her efforts to ignite the flame. She felt her lungs would burst by the repeated blowing through a narrow cylindrical bamboo pipe.
“Akka (elder sister), can I help you by blowing the pipe? You look worn and tired, “asked her brother Babu of eight years. Though lean and short for his age, he was agile and his eyes shone brightly.
‘No, I don’t need your help. Open the door fully for this oppressive smoke to escape. Get me the hand fan from that corner. Amma was using it last night. Take the chimney lamp as it is dark there,” replied Rani.
Babu gave her the fan and sat by her side meddling with the slingshot in his hands. The boy and the slingshot were inseparable.
Emaciated and bony, she was tall for her age giving an impression of a young woman. Her unkempt hair that had not seen oil for long and her ill-fitting faded clothes subdued her well defined features. Her mother stopped her from school after she came of age. The school was two kilometers away in another village and the kutcha road passed through an arrack shop. There were a few incidents of harassing young women in that desolate stretch. Babu alone attended school.
The broth was almost ready. Seeing Babu aiming at a cockroach in a corner with his slingshot, Rani shouted,” Babu, you are with that wretched slingshot 24 hours of the day. Can you not put it aside for a while? You have got addicted to it.”
“Akka, unless I practice daily my aim at distant objects will not be accurate. Do you know I got the first prize in a competition held with my friends in school? Watch me aiming at the cockroach in that corner.” Taking a pebble from his pocket, he hit it on the first attempt. Clapping her hands and hugging the young boy, Rani said,” I am proud of you. But you should spend only limited time in practicing. You must study well and come up in life.”
“Akka, I will study well, help you in your chores but please do not stop me from practicing. I beg you, akka,” pleaded the urchin.
“No you can play with it in the evening from 4 to 6 pm. I am ordering that you should keep it aside after that. Otherwise I will inform dad who will break your slingshot,” she threatened the boy.
Babu made faces at her and ran away with the slingshot in hand and pebbles of assorted sizes in his trouser pockets
The 12x12 room was all the area in the hut doing the duty of living room, bed room and kitchen. There was no running water and the common well a little away served their water needs. The folks in the village relieved themselves in the open fields under the cover of bush or rock or the banks of canal. The women generally went in the evenings in groups of two or three after the sunset when it became dark but not very late while men went in the mornings. There were complaints that some men on cycles from other nearby villages making catcalls at lone woman. There was a funny incident of two men accosting a frail old woman defecating in the open around 8pm mistaking her for a young woman and ran away when the old woman yelled at them.
It was a week later on a Sunday, Rani’s dad brought from a fair in the adjacent village a large bagful of groundnuts and chikki (bars made by mixing nuts with gur) to the glee of children. Two days later Rani was having slight pain in her tummy and drank some potion in the morning made by her mom.
Seeing her lying on the floor for long, Babu asked her, “Akka, aren’t you well? Shall I go and fetch amma?”
No, no, not necessary. I will be fine tomorrow. Do not tell her anything. Both of them would be tired after a day’s hard work,” she told him.
Around 11 pm that night, she felt an urgent need to relieve herself. Not wishing to wake up her tired parents who were fast asleep, she gently rose from her mat taking care not to disturb Babu by her side. She did not go far into the fields afraid of evil men and sat by a bush. There was a slight drizzle and moon was covered by clouds. A few minutes passed when she heard a shuffle of feet behind her and before she even got up to run, a sack was put on her head that covered her up to waist and two men lifted her like a bundle. Her shriek from inside was muffled.
The two men happy they had their quarry finally in their hands for their merriment walked carrying her towards a pump shed a little yonder. Hardly they took a few steps, one of the men dropped the sack when he was hit by something hard as if a lightning had struck on the back of his head. He fell down unconscious.
The other guy, confused at this unexpected development and unable to bear the weight of sack, dropped it and looked around to see what was happening. The next moment he wailed in pain and shock as something hard hit him between the brows with blood gushing out and making him giddy as he also. fell down.
As the sack was not tied at the mouth, Rani came out wondering at the miraculous happening when she heard,” Akka, come away quickly before they get up.”
When she saw Babu with slingshot in hand, she surmised what had happened. “How did you come here? I came without making noise and making sure you were asleep.”
“Akka, sorry, when I saw you getting up, I closed my eyes pretending to sleep. I followed you and was hiding on the other side of bush. When I heard your stifled scream, I sized up the situation and chose the biggest pebbles. They were like cockroaches and the aims were perfect, akka, though from a distance and in the dark. I knew I cannot afford to miss. Come on let us hurry home,” he said as he walked along with her proudly.
It was a week later when Babu had his birthday, Rani presented him with a packet wrapped in glittering red paper. When Babu opened eagerly, he saw it was a nicely made slingshot unlike the home made one he had. Jumping in joy, he hugged her and . asked ,"Is your order that I play with this only in the evenings holds good now?"
Rani joined him in the laughter.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pandian’s second wish

Pandian had come along with his three friends to explore the green dense forest on a Sunday afternoon and to spend time with nature to savour its raw beauty. He had heard there was a beautiful lake, clean and circular, surrounded by wild and colourful flower plants He wished to find it out and spend a few minutes. But his friends demurred telling it was getting dark. His enthusiasm overtook his caution and he went alone deeper inside after requesting them to wait for some time. Unfortunately, once inside every side looked alike and he lost his way and his friends. He tried to reach them through his mobile but the charge had drained.
 It was only 4pm but it was pitch dark. He heard unusual and strange noises and he was particularly afraid of slithering reptiles. He was scared and started praying even as he kept moving into the maze looking for a  clearing or brightness of sunlight. Something soft and cool slightly rubbed on his cheek and he jumped startled that it could be a python from the overhead branch.He could see nothing and moved away quickly.
After several harrowing minutes when he lost all hopes of escape, he was happy to see an opening that was a little brighter. When he went near, he found to his great relief,an old man of indeterminable age sitting bare bodied under a tree. He was sitting with his legs crossed in Padmasana, had a flowing white beard and his eyes were closed obviously in meditation. He sat quietly before him waiting for him to open his eyes. Pandian was afraid to disturb lest he got angry and refused to help him find his way out. Minutes clicked past and it was almost an hour and he was still sitting before him when the weird noises around him grew shriller and louder. But, nothing seemed to wake the old man from his musing. When a fly sat on the edge of Pandian’s nostril he could not stop the loud sneeze despite his attempt to smother it. It was then the old man opened his eyes and surprisingly smiled at Pandian.
In a soft voice that was almost a whisper, he asked “Son, what are you doing here in this dense forest? It is a risky place to be here with crawling reptiles and roaming wild animals.”
Pandian prostrated before him and prayed “Swami, I lost my way here and could not find my friends with whom I had come. I am afraid I have strayed deep inside the jungle. Can you kindly help me get out of the forest?”
“I have not seen a human for several years this far into the forest ever since I came here as a young boy in search of meaning of life. I am not normally visible to others eyes. Lucky you could see me. I am pleased with you. Ask me three wishes and they would be fulfilled immediately.’
“My first wish is to be out of this jungle” he said
“”It will be done immediately. Express  your other two wishes” said the sage like person
“Swami, I love Swarna, my former college mate very much but she is not reciprocating. Can you please make her fall in love with me?” asked Pandian
“What is your third wish? Tell me now this moment before I become invisible to your eyes”
“Swami, I am so tired and exhausted after the walk all day that I can scarcely think and  I wish I had a sound sleep before telling my third wish,Pandian said unwittingly.
Everything was blank till Pandian  heard his mother’s shrill voice, “Pandia, why are you sleeping like Kumbakarnan. You said you have an interview today. Get up fast as it is already late.”
I leave it to the readers to wonder like Pandian whether his  wish about Swarna would materialise.