“My husband had been very ill and the doctor was insistent that we must give up living in the town. It was essential for him to breathe the purer air of the country if he was to get strong again. So, I was feverishly house-hunting. Of course, I had seen innumerable houses, but there was something foreboding with all of them.”
Meghna looked at the woman sitting opposite her. She looked calm and composed. There was not a trace of anxiety or stress in her.
She had visited her clinic four days back along with her husband. A common friend had recommended her name, it seems.
Her interaction with them in the first few days made it clear that Srujana wasn’t ready to admit that she was in a state of shock. Her husband was reticent Did he feign it or was by nature so?
On the fourth day, she felt Srujana wanted to talk to her.
“Sir, if you could wait in the lounge, I would like to talk to her.”
As soon as he left the room, she dug into her bag across her chest, took out a leather-bound brown-coloured diary, and thrust it in Meghna’s hands.
“Madam, relax. You can talk to me if you feel like it.” Meghna ignored the diary.
“You read it. I showed it to him also, but he doesn’t believe me. I wrote what I saw and felt.”
“Srujana madam, can you tell me what happened that night?”
“I am not mental. I am speaking the truth about what happened that day.” She was almost in tears.
“I believe you. But you must open up. Don’t worry I will not tell anyone, not even to him.”
Meghna assured her. Srujana looked at her as if trying to assess her.
As though satisfied, she stood up, went to the window and gazed at the blue sky.
“The doctor suggested that we go to the countryside and live there. You see, he was going through stress……. We lived so happily till….”
“Ouch! Should you be doing this, Nitin?” Vineeta snapped at him. “Move, you lazy b….”
Nitin did not budge from the bed. He tucked the quilt under the mattress and made himself more comfortable.
“Mom, this is irritating. Why can’t he watch the TV in his room? He almost pushed me out of my own bed. Imagine if I had fallen, I would have hurt my head, there would be blood streaming from my head, I would be almost unconscious……” She loved to describe horrifying scenes.
“Mom, sis is a drama queen. It was a gentle push.”
“You…. how dare you make fun of me?” She grabbed her pillow and walked out looking sullen.
This was a routine on weekends. Though the teenage fights could turn out snappy at times, I had learnt to ignore these petty quarrels otherwise I would land in an asylum
I shuddered at the thought.
Vineeta, Nitin and Suman, my three teenage imbeciles had the most indistinct mood swings. There were times when I wished I was a psychologist so that I could understand their behavioural patterns.
My thoughts would then hover around before-life, afterlife myths.
Were they enemies in their previous life?
I would laugh at my conjecturing.
How did my parents deal with our tantrums? They were humble souls who followed the written law of the family to the T – not to scold children, to talk softly and gently, to understand child psychology and act accordingly. I disagreed with them. It was easier said than done. It wasn’t easy to grapple with everyday nerve-racking incidents. Understanding the psychology behind changing behaviour would mean going into the recesses of the mind, knowing and analysing the connections, verifying facts and so much more.
I wasn’t the kind who would like to explore those psychological factors that influence human nature and behaviour. The little knowledge that I had acquired during my college days in my English Literature classes was that emotions define a person and all literature was an expression of various emotions of love, anger, aversion, disgust, affection and courage. These emotions in Indian literature are called ‘Rasa’; drama and poetry abound in these rasas.
Literature required that I delve deeper into the minds of the characters and situations that create various moods and atmospheres. Book Review was an integral part of the syllabus which meant I had to understand the why and how of the characters and incidents, whether in the mystery or socio-political thriller genres. My favourite expressions -analytical, socio-political, descriptive, explorative etc were commonly used phrases that would sum up my book reviews.
But while dealing with baffling situations at home and at work, I understood the depth of those expressions, which I took a fancy to, but used so frivolously.
Each time I had to handle a situation like that in the morning, I wished I was a bit more serious during my literature classes. ‘Psycho-analyses was no more a high-sounding phrase; it had its own connotations now.
As I pondered over the past and its relevance in the present, it occurred to me that my children were a good subject matter for psychoanalysis. I had often wondered why my elder daughter was so fond of gory incidents, why my son was so keen on watching horror movies and why my younger daughter was besotted with Dracula stories. If psychology was to be believed then this indicated their weird nature. Psychology was definitely not my cup of tea. But to know the nature of things and why people behaved the way they did, I had to dig deeper into my teenagers’ minds.
Though the incident at home did not warrant any special reflections, I had a strange feeling that in future I may have to wake up the dormant analyst in me. Why and about what was a mystery to me too.
Sometimes a hunch does prod you in the right place. But we may miss it thinking that to be an unnecessary, baseless feeling.
In the days to come, I would be regretting not having paid heed to that ‘hunch’.
Some of the best memories of my childhood are connected to the house we lived in when I was a teenager. It was nothing like today’s posh apartments. An independent house with a front and backyard, an open space in the middle of the house, and rooms around the open space. The kitchen was a little away from the rooms and a big storage room to store monthly groceries. A fan was a luxury, cots were meant only for grandparents and nursing mothers.
The Garden in the front yard and kitchen garden in the backyard lent the house a natural beauty. The greenery, the colourful flowers with moths and butterflies hovering over for nectar…… pleasant memories.
A house becomes a home when people living together maintain harmonious relationships- this was the ground rule that we were made to understand and remember. The puja room was a sanctified area and we could enter only after taking bath. It was believed that lighting the lamp morning and evening would drive away any evil spirit from entering the house.
Vaastu – the science of building construction, was an important aspect for considering both constructing or renting a house. A house without cross ventilation, airflow, and the light was considered unhealthy and not suitable for living.
These ground rules impacted me so much that after marriage I, literally, used to carry a compass and verify whether the house was east facing or west facing, even for a rented house.
My strong belief was that unless the house had all the elements of good construction, was not just a finicky thought but a tested and verified principle.
I had often heard people say that ever since they moved into their present house, ill health and financial losses have affected them.
Haunted houses and evil spirits, sound illogical in this science and technology era but there have been instances of people experiencing the presence of some spirit in their houses. One of the scariest incidents that I had heard about was a haunted house, my grandmother.
They had moved to Madras (present-day Chennai) from Vidarbha (Maharashtra). My grandfather was an LMP doctor working in a government hospital. They were given government quarters within the campus.
The house was spacious but a little dark and dingy. The hospital administration had provided a maid and a cook (my granny was a nursing mother at that time). Since my grandfather was on duty till almost 9 o’clock at night, the maid used to stay till he returned so that my granny did not feel lonely and lost in the new city.
One evening around 7 o’clock after the cook had left, the maid was clearing up my grandfather’s study. My granny was narrating the epic Ramayana to the new-born. Suddenly she heard a growling sound just behind her and got the scare of her life when she saw the maid standing behind her with the weirdest expression on her face. Her hair was loose, eyes were blood-shot red. With outstretched arms, she dashed toward the new-born. My granny turned, picked up the child and fled. The maid, growling and whimpering followed her to the gate and collapsed as soon as she stepped out.
After the maid recovered, she told my granny that there was someone lurking in the study room. What happened after that she couldn’t remember.
My grandfather did not believe in ghosts and evil spirits but he requested the hospital authorities to allot another house as it wasn’t comfortable for my granny.
I do not know to date whether my granny believed in this ghost story of the maid but she would narrate this incident to us whenever some horror stories came up. My youngest paternal uncle was fond of thrillers and ghost stories, many a time he played pranks on my mother after watching horror films. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind thrillers, horror, and mystery left an indelible mark.
Vaastu hence became an important element in my life. Was it a psychological impact or just belief I had decided never to write it off as baseless, conservative thoughts bordering on superstition?
After marriage, the house in which I started living in had a different aura. It was double storeyed building. The first time I took the stairs I felt some kind of chill. My heartbeat doubled and I had a weird feeling in my tummy. I did not dare to share this with anyone lest they should think me weird. The uncomfortable feeling continued for years.
No, it did not vanish, became an integral part of my discomfort and fears. Gradually I got used to it!
I realized, for me, that a house was not just a shelter or a roof over the head, it is life, it is an emotion. Four walls, few windows and doors matter only in so much that they protect us from rain, wind, cold and sun. That was the definition I had learnt in class 1. And there was much more to it than what one learns, as I did, in school.
Whenever I watched or read a thriller or a horror film, I observed that the house or a building gained more importance than the characters. The incidents, surroundings, and characters were connected to the building either because of their involvement or non-involvement. Like in ‘Bhoot Bungla’ 1960s movie. The title was both intriguing and creepy.
That took me on a thinking spree.
Why did we associate so many emotions with a house?
Considering the huts, squalid brick and mud houses, one-room houses, and slums…. they too housed people; people who were less fortunate and underprivileged. They couldn’t afford to think of good or bad about a locality or the material used, nor could they associate their ill luck with the house they lived in.
They too lived…happy or unhappy, healthy or unhealthy. The truth was that since we could afford to look for all these factors, we associated happiness or unhappiness with the structure and its surroundings.
What a jolt it gave me!
So why was I so deeply concerned about the house that we lived in or will be living in if we were to move out of the city?
“Mom, come back. You have been in a different world for the past hour! What’s bothering you? Don’t tell me you were worked up about our verbal combat. You know, teenage whim and all that stuff. I am sure you too would have shown such impulse as a teenager. We will patch up, mom.”
Vineeta hugged me fiercely.
“Vinnu, too much drama you put in.” I pushed her gently and freed myself from her hug.
“Ok, tell me, mom, what’s troubling you? Office tensions or something else? Can I help you sort it out?” She sounded concerned.
“No beta, it’s nothing serious. I was just thinking about……”
“Mom, my phone is ringing, will be back in a while.”
I paused my thoughts and went around doing chores.
Sujal, my husband, was still enjoying the cosy warmth of the mattress and comforter. I did not have such luxury.
It was around 10.30 in the morning and I was late again. I could visualize my boss’s frenzy. I was supposed to lead a meeting.
I hurriedly got into an auto and it sped like a jet.
“Sir, I am sorry for ….”
“Srujana madam, the meeting is cancelled and the client has gone to our competitors. This is the fifth project in a row that we have missed. This year hasn’t been an uplifting one for us. Not sure of the reason but overheard someone say Vaastu of the building. Shifting to this building has been a wrong decision….”
‘Oh, no! Not again.’
My mind which was all knotty with bizarre thoughts did not want food for thought.
“Sir, maybe our competitors have something more to offer? Why should we think that something is wrong with the building? I mean, in these modern times don’t you think it is a little out of place?”
My boss left the room abruptly.
Throughout the day I kept myself busy so that my mind didn’t explore the Vaastu of the building.
Back home, I got busy cooking, and after dinner, I felt the need for a strong cup of coffee. I was in a whirlpool of disturbing thoughts. As I made coffee, I saw something strange moving beyond the compound wall. The street lights were off for some reason and I could only catch a blurred glimpse of that thing.
Was someone snooping around?
Oh no, Vineeta’s boyfriend? Suman’s classmate?
But why would they hide? They have visited us several times, why would they behave in this abnormal way?
I switched on the lights at the gate. In that sudden flash of light, I saw something that hit me like a blow. Before I could run to the gate it disappeared into the dark lanes.
I was rooted to the ground. Was it someone or something? Why was it hiding? Where did it spring up from?
“Mom, what are you……” Vineeta ran to me on seeing my paralysed look.
“I think I saw something weird. I don’t know what or who. But that look of it was terrifying. I just had a glimpse of it/ him/her…. whatever.”
“Mom, let’s get in.”
In that warm weather, I was sweating. I was trembling and had to hold on to Vinu for support.
“Suman, Nitin, come here. Fast.”
They ran down the stairs and stopped in their tracks seeing me wobble as I walked. My unsteady gait told them something wasn’t ok.
“Mom, Vinu what happened?”
“Don’t know, but mom got scared of something that she saw near the compound wall. It disappeared when mom tried to chase it.”
“Oh, must be some creature that has lost its way. Maybe from the nearby jungle?”
“Jungle? What’s that? We aren’t living near a jungle. We live in a city. Of course, a little away from the hustle and bustle but not so far that we have lost contact with the human habitat. So, stop imagining.”
“Will you all calm down? Get me a glass of water. Quick. My throat is dry.” I said tiredly.
Suman went to fetch water and then …. She screamed.
Her scream rented the air. She kept shrieking till we all reached the kitchen.
She ran and hugged me.
“Mom, I …I think I..ss..saw it.”
It’s here. Lurking behind those bushes.”
She pointed to the outhouse.
“I saw something dark and grisly there. And in a fraction of a second, it vanished behind the bushes.”
“Inform dad. He must be on the way home. If it is still there it could attack him.”
“Also call the police. It is an emergency.”
I kept giving instructions and did not notice that Suman was hiding a smile.
When she couldn’t control it anymore, she burst out into a peel of laughter.
I failed to understand what was so amusing about it.
“You…you stupid girl. Is this the time for a prank? Don’t you see mom is numb with fear?” Nitin chided her.
I wasn’t amused. I did see something in the dark.
“Mom, I am sorry. I thought I will lighten the tense atmosphere.”
“Lighten the air? It has only added to the tension. It’s not funny.”
Vineeta held me close and took me to the living room. I slumped into the recliner and shut my eyes trying to relax.
Whoooshhhh…. I heard the sound of the wind flowing tempestuously across the premises. It sounded uncontrollable and violent. It sure was a sign of something drastic approaching.
I cautioned them. “Did you hear that sound?”
I thought they winced.
“I am as confused as you all are. But let’s not panic. It will not help us. Let us sit calmly and think. First, I will call dad and tell him to be cautious. What we need to ascertain is whether this is happening across the city or only in this locality or…. just here.”
“Mom, I will call Sanjana, she stays in the heart of the city.”
“Mom, she says it is as calm as a millpond. I have checked with a few more friends, same report. It means something is brewing here.”
I trembled. Something sinister!
Nitin and Suman hugged me. I took them under my wings. Time to comfort them.
I knew something unusual was happening around us.
“Let us watch the news. If something uncanny is happening in the city the media would definitely report it. One way of keeping ourselves informed.”
We all got glued to the news channel. It was the routine news about films, politics and sports. None of the channels had any news about weird happenings in the city.
We were watching the tv with such rapt attention that we did not hear the doorbell or the banging on the door.
When the phone rang, we jerked into the present.
“You… dimwits, it’s me. I have been ringing the bell and banging at the door. What are you all up to?” He was annoyed.
I quickly opened the door and let him in. Before he could resume shooting questions at us, I bolted the door, clasped his wrist and almost dragged him into the living room. I am sure my actions would have shocked him.
He looked at me as though he was seeing me for the first time.
“Would you mind explaining this crazy act of yours?”
Before I could utter one word, three of them enacted the entire incident with perfect narration.
At that moment I forgot all my anxiety and fear and laughed aloud.
My husband was perplexed. A moment back he had seen an unusual reaction in me and a second later he sees me laughing. Anyone in his right senses would doubt my sanity.
His questioning looks brought back the panic.
“Sujal, if this isn’t happening anywhere except here, then it a matter of concern and safety. Imagine teenaged kids going through peculiar incidents of which they have not the slightest clue, how it would disturb them. What should we do now?”
I was at the fag end of my patience.
“Srujana, I think you are looking through a magnifying glass. Let the matter rest here. Off you go to bed.” There was a finality in his tone that made the three kids say goodnight and leave.
“Suman, shall we all sleep in the same room tonight? It was more of a request than a question.
Vinu smiled and three of them disappeared into Vinu’s room.
“Ah, no dear. Had something on the way. Was feeling exhausted. Shall we retire for the day now?”
I nodded and followed him into the bedroom.
Something awaited us the next day. Something that was going to change our lives.
Sometimes a bizarre incident may have a deep impact on our minds. They may not have any relevance immediately but in the long run, they pop up giving us a jolt. Those incidents keep recurring, like a motif, to remind us of things that are not in our control. These could be warning signals which if ignored could blast all that we have procured so laboriously, including our peace.
And sometimes our dreams may not come true, disappointing us momentarily but that too could happen for a reason.
After my graduation, I did my Post -Graduation in English. Was keen on doing M.Phil. and later PhD. My ambition though high was achievable. I wanted to be faculty in the university. I was sure of getting a seat for my research as my father and sister were professors in the Psychology department.
But I could neither pursue my M.Phil. nor complete my PhD. Both left halfway through. Post-marriage circumstances did not allow me to pursue my dreams which I regret even today.
As I said maybe I was destined to take up a job in a company and go through some of the strangest experiences and gain wisdom.
Moreover, had I been in the university job I wouldn’t have learnt important, practical lessons in life. My thoughts about Vaastu shastra remained one of the strongest doubts that eventually got unclogged after some of the most gruesome incidents.
Our life took such a turn that it left us shattered and shaky.
As I had said that night’s spooky incident of sighting a vague creature on the premises followed by that whirlwind, had left me aghast though I did not express it. When Sujal said he was feeling tired, I should have called the doctor. But when horrendous things are slated to happen, the mind goes in the opposite direction. Wisdom and perception go for a toss.
I always considered myself cut above the rest types, whether in office work or managing the household chores, I respected myself for my presence of mind in dealing with crises.
How wrong I was!
The next morning first thing I did was to go to the outhouse and check for any signs that the creature may have left. But for the dried leaves and twigs, I couldn’t find any footmarks. As I turned to leave, I saw bunches of hair in two or three places. I bent down to pick it up but stopped myself. Maybe the police should be informed. An alien? A crossbreed of something?
‘Stop imagining, you are a novice and better remain one.’
I also checked near the gate and the nearby area for any damage that the whirlwind would have caused. Nothing in sight. If I were to tell anyone about the incident, they would make fun of me.
So baseless and meaningless were my doubts.
But my mind refused to take it as imagination. Didn’t the children also experience it?
I was in a dilemma.
I went back and started my chores. I had decided to go on leave for a few days.
The children too wanted to skip school/ college.
Oh, so we can have a gala time at home.
After that awful previous night, I felt all of us needed an off.
I prepared an elaborate breakfast, had my tea and watered the plants. It was almost 11 o’clock and neither Sujal nor the children had stirred from the bed.
‘He said he was tired. He should have breakfast and take some multivitamins. Let me wake him up.’
When I entered the room, I almost fainted. There he lay on the bed unconscious. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily.
I let out a cry and all the three children bolted from their room.
“Mom, what happened? Did you see…”
And then they saw their father lying unconscious on the bed.
“Mom, mom… I will call the ambulance. Nitin and suman be here. Lock the door. I will call you once the admission formalities are completed. Don’t worry.”
I was astonished to see Vinu take charge of the situation.
Sujal was in the hospital for more than a week. MRI, Ultrasound, and Blood tests were done and reports were awaited. Nitin and Vineeta stayed in the night and I was with him during the day. The doctors had assured us that there was nothing serious and he was responding well to the treatment.
Despite myself, I kept thinking of that incident that shook all of us. Was that a sign of this untoward incident?
On the day the reports were received the doctor informed me that the reports seemed normal and it could be because of high-stress levels. Workplace stress-related exertion. He needed complete rest and healthy, nutritious food, and no alcohol.
“He needs rest and the best medicine for stress is family. Family is a stress buster. Make the most of it. Let him have the company of his lovely family. Children always take off the stress. He will be discharged the day after tomorrow. Lots of fresh fruit juices, protein-rich food and rest.”
I felt relieved. Nothing serious.
We were excited that we would be moving to a quieter place where there wouldn’t be any cacophony.
This exhilarating thought quietened my ruffled nerves. I was sure Sujal would recover fast with a such soothing atmosphere.
I wasn’t sure how to go about it -maybe my colleagues could help me find a place which would suit our purpose.
But life doesn’t go the way we plan. Other issues started surfacing as I started mapping our plan of action.
Should I quit my job or go on long leave on loss of pay? Would that be a dent in my pocket? I had to think practically – children were in middle and high school, how would they travel to and fro?
The more I thought the more perplexed I was. The solution for one issue set off another issue. It seemed like an endless flow of irresolvable issues.
My boss suggested I go on long leave and regarding the financial aspect he promised to help me out without much loss.
I checked the newspapers for rentals and enquired via my friends but all in vain.
Time was running out. Sujal was discharged but would take a long time to recover. Vinu spent most of the time with him, and suman and Nitin lent a helping hand in the chores. But that wasn’t going to help him recover.
I took off for a week and decided to do a bit of house-hunting in the countryside. The beauty of nature was indescribable. The tranquillity of the surroundings, green pastures, lakes and ponds, and nature at its best.
The house that I came across was a little away from the village and surrounded by tall trees and bushes. It didn’t appeal to me. There was something gloomy about it, call it my hunch or my deep concerns with Vaastu. I wasn’t prepared for yet another nightmarish experience. When I enquired in the village, none of them could tell me about the previous tenants or the owners.
It was all strange. Were they hiding something from me? In spite of liking the ambience, I decided not to go for it. ‘The next and the next and the next …. The series kept going but couldn’t decide on either a house or a location.
Sujal was getting annoyed and complained about my indecisiveness.
“I am baffled by your strange behaviour. I have no clue about your fears and apprehensions. I somehow feel your forebodings have affected your reason and logic. When I fell sick, you thought it was because of some ill- omen, a vague creature and wind that came from nowhere. Children too are speaking your language. Can we just focus on finding a place without any qualms?”
His tone irked me. Is he suggesting that my imagination is running amuck? Is he hinting that I am losing my sanity?
What I saw that day wasn’t my imagination. I can still feel its presence. That is what caused Sujal’s sickness. Why doesn’t he understand?
I closed my eyes and tried to relax. A whooping sound next to me jerked me into the present. It was all dark around and there in the corner were those glinting eyes that bore into me.
All I remember is that I shrieked and shrieked and when I lost my consciousness I do not know.
Meghna patted her back and said, “Don’t worry madam. You are good at analysing. Let’s spend some time together. I have a lot to learn from you.”
The dairy spoke volumes of Srujana.
Her mind was caught between two worlds.
“Mr Sujal, she needs therapy. There is a pattern in which her mind works. If you see the diary there is a repetition of the same thought. Her mind is entangled between reality and imagination. She relives the good and the sinister moments; switching between the two has disturbed her balance.”
Srujana was secretly looking around for those flashy eyes that had become a part of her life.
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