Hesitation dogged his steps, pouring doubts into welcoming ears, but Sunder kept walking.

This is madness. Life isn’t a fairytale.

The night was a nightmare not a fairytale; dark as despair. He could barely determine the shape of the dilapidated building, full of mystery and promise. If the Aughad Baba* was right, this place had the answers to his desires, if only he had courage. He faltered as the weight on his shoulders squirmed. 

Hadn’t he and his wife suffered enough? Ten years of whispered innuendos and sly smiles. Years of running pillar to post from defensive doctors to doubtful quacks, from sleek hospitals to slick shrines, pills popping and pious prostrations; but their luck hadn’t smiled on them.

He recalled the day he’d met the man. Filthy as a used rag, the grime of months coiling his tresses on his sinuous naked shoulders, the muscles under them rippling like snakes. He looked scary and yet something in him- a disdain for the ordinary, his utter indifference, had pulled Sunder to him. He’d stood there mutely when the baba opened his blood shot eyes, knowledge and pity among the red flecks swimming in them.

“I can help you. Can you do what’s needed?” he’d enquired, before Sunder had even uttered a word.

“I’ll do anything.” Sunder assured, hope blossoming in his heart. 

“A life for a life. That’s the rule,” he’d muttered.  A chill crawled up Sunder’s spine. “There’s an unused cemetery deep in the woods. Cemeteries are custodians of death. There’s power in the air. Make sure it’s a dark night and your heart steadfast when you go.” He’d gone back to smoking nonchalantly.

Sunder reached the structure garbed in the musty smell of decay. The threshold, held together by a few broken planks, gave way at a slight push. A gust of air whooshed through the interior as if a long held breath was released. He felt the chamber was stretching awake from a long deep sleep.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, his eyes fell on a huge earthen jar, full of shining gold coins. The walls shuddered as a resonating voice filled the claustrophobic confines, “Family or fortune?”

He answered, “A son.”

The chamber vibrated again, “Do you know the price?”

Sunder opened the sack he had in his hands and brought out the drugged infant, his cleft lip imparting him a hideous look. It’d been easy to persuade his poor mother to part with him. He was surprised to see his hands steady as he let his knife make the payment in blood. The jar of coins slithered away, leaving a sonorous echo in their wake. The structure fell silent once more having received its due.

Nine months later, Sunder’s wife presented him with a gift. A boy, black as night and with a cleft lip, a haunting reminder of the ransom he’d fetched.


Glossary :

Aughad baba – ascetics who are said to indulge in tantric rituals and possess magical powers.


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