Some years ago, I was a student in a professional college in Chennai. Our college was on the East Coast Road, which was at that time being ‘developed’ with modern buildings and shops and amusement malls.
But the area behind our college and hostel was still undeveloped, comprising mostly of vacant land, agricultural fields and nameless hamlets.
Our college hostel was very strict about students going out on week days and especially after 6pm. One day, towards the end of our final year, about five of us decided on a whim, to scale the hostel walls and take a hike through the vacant terrain behind our student lodging and visit a shopping mall on the main road.
It was dusk as we stepped into the empty pastures at the rear. There was neither light to guide us nor any road to follow. Though a little scared, we walked in a single file, trying to laugh at our audacity. Suddenly the boy coming last, said:
“Hey, somebody is following us at a distance and he is coming very fast.”
We all stopped short and turned in the direction he pointed to. We saw this shadowy figure coming very quickly seemingly jumping adroitly over the obstacles in its path. Even as we watched, the apparition went towards the next field and suddenly disappeared near a well. For a moment we did not know what to make of it. At first we thought of going back to the hostel. But then we feared that we would become the butt of our friends’ jokes if we turned back half way. So we continued to cross the field and reached the main road.
We took a bus to the mall and had fabulous time. Then we hitched a ride back to a spot adjacent to our hostel. As we neared the pastures through which we had come earlier, we saw an old woman sitting on the road, weeping. We asked her the reason for her tears.
When we heard this, a chill ran up our spines and we shivered.
We put our heads together and discussed what to do. Few of us said that it would be better to risk the warden’s ire and walk in through the front gate and be grounded for the next few weekends.
The others vetoed the idea and said that we would return the way we had come. So we walked back in the dark field again in a single file, but this time we were holding hands and some of us were secretly mumbling prayers.
Suddenly the boy coming at the very last started to scream.
“ Hey, hey, somebody is pulling me from behind”
I was coming right in front of him. He clutched my hands so tightly that his nails tore into my flesh. He would not let go but went on shrieking that someone was tugging at him.
When the three boys in front of me heard him, they gave a yowl of terror. They took to their heels and fled from the scene, abandoning the frenzied boy and me.
I was alone with my hysterical friend and there were just two options open to me. One was to ditch the lad and escape. The second was to pull him along with me and run to safety of our hostel. I chose the second option. I freed myself from his terrified grip and holding on to his arms with both my hands, I dragged the struggling distressed boy along the field as quickly as I could and reached the hostel walls.
The three boys who had fled before me had reached our dwelling. They had woken up many of the inmates, who came to our aid with torchlights. We hoisted the apparently possessed boy over the walls, by which time he had fallen into a swoon. We put him to bed and watched over him hawk like. It was a subdued set of boys at the hostel that night.
The next morning the boy woke up and seeing our scared faces started to laugh. He said that he had been pretending the night before in the open grounds. All the tamasha about spirits pulling him was just play-acting and he had screamed for fun, wanting to scare us and see our reaction.He said that our “mass hysteria” was too good to be true.
But none of us believed him, even though he repeated it to many of our class friends emphasizing on the cowardice of the fleeing boys and how he had fooled us.
To this day, we do not know if the boy had made a mockery of us and tested our bravery, or if something had really happened.
I was there that night. My arms carried for a long time the scars where his nails tore into my flesh when he had clutched me in a terrified grip.
Real or Reel? I still wonder.
As told by : Zubin. Chennai….Written by : Gulsum Basheer @ talkalittledo.