My Tryst With The Occult.

When I was around sixteen or seventeen, neither a child, nor yet a man, I had my first experience with the occult.

It was on a fiery afternoon, when the sun was burning pedestrians, vehicles and tar, I was at a bus stop , trying to board a bus. I wanted to go to this one and only multiplex in the city then, to get tickets for a famous English movie for my sister and her friends. She was a literature student and into all things bookish, especially movies from her favorite novels.  I faintly remember that this time it was, Dr. Shivago.

Anyway, being at that time (as my grandmother used to say) a young calf who knows no fear, I  ran to board a moving bus and jumped on the foot steps , trying to get inside.

I slipped, lost my hold and fell down, right beside its rotating back wheel.

I lay side ways on the road, facing the bottom of the bus and could see the network of iron and gird coated with  dust and smell the crude acrid diesel smell. I was going to be run over. I cringed and rolled my long limbs in a fetal position, waiting for the inevitable and my last thoughts before I lost consciousness were of my mother and father and how they would take to the news of my death.

But I did not die that day. The wheels of the bus missed me by a hairsbreadth and went on its way.

I lay prone on the road, till a good Samaritan splashed cool reviving water on my face  and I came to my senses.

Getting up slowly like a puppet whose  controller had forgotten which finger to manipulative, I was thankful that my bones were in tact. Then I walked home.

I thought I was alright after my altercation with death and did not expect any delayed reaction to set in.

But late that night I came down with high fever, head ache and chills. Every time I closed my eyes, I had terrible nightmares. I was sweating profusely and looked like a chicken drenched in the rain. I slipped quietly into my parents’  room and lay next to my mother, holding her hand for comfort.

Early next morning , my father rushed me to our family doctor. His medications brought my fever down. Not for long. After my dad left for work, it started again.

My father had to rush home, because my shivering and rigors started immediately after he left. But it subsided if he was near me. It was a tricky situation and as I had not mentioned the bus incident, they did not know what to make of my intermittent fever.

If my father was near me, comforting me, I was alright. But he could not give me company for many days, as work called and he got irritated that I was behaving like a child and calling to him to stay with me. This went on for four or five days, despite visiting a specialist and changing medicines. The worst part was, I started mumbling in a delirious half-awake state. I started throwing up and told my mother that the manager at my dad’s business place was making me eat curds. I am not particularly fond of curds or yogurt.

That is when my grandmother announced, “he has seen something eerie and has got scared.”

This is actually an euphemism for, “He is possessed.”

Now the matters took a different turn. All scientific knowledge deserted us. It was my grandmother’s words against all else. A self styled tantric was called to exorcise the demon tormenting me and cast it out.

Her name was Kader Bee and I have met her when she came to visit my grand mother sometimes and  proudly boasted about her prowess in driving out demons. She was just an ordinary woman, nothing spectacular about her and I used to laugh hearing her stories.

Kader Bee was summoned and when she sat before me, she metamorphosed from a poor woman into this swaying shrieking person, a medium according to my gullible grandmother.

Her eyes bulged out like newly boiled eggs and her hair flew around her in a frizzy frenzy. She rocked on her butt like she was drunk on opiates. She spoke sometimes in whispers and sometimes in a crescendo and whether she was talking or singing, it was hard to decipher.

She made my father hold my hand and release it many times. Her yowling and panting scared the life out of me and I was crying uncontrollably. My father thought, enough was enough and took me away after a few minutes.

But from that moment, I was healed. Really. No more fever or nightmares.

Kader bee, got her pay, a hefty sum from my dad and went away.

I often wonder what happened that day. The mind is much more powerful than we believe. After a shocking event during the following contemplative period, the mind goes into a hysteria and conjures up many symptoms. The Shamans and sorcerers step in then and do their hocus pocus and we are healed.

I don’t believe that the lady drove out any demons from my body that day. I am really skeptical about what happened.

A good psychiatrist would have healed me, with just a few pills, without the din and babel.

A quiet gentlemanly thing it would have been too. Without the disapproval of the neighbours.

If only I had told my father about falling near the wheels of a moving bus.

If only…

 

Please leave your comments in the comment box below. I would love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy Augusto Ardonez and Clikr-Free-Vector -Images and Memed Nurrohamed and Evegene Techerkaski  at Pixabay.

 

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The Story Of How They Got Their Watch Back

Suja’s mother was in an irritated mood that morning. The woman who used to come everyday to sweep their yard had been absconding for a few days and the premises looked unkempt and messy.

Guessing that the regular maid was not going to turn up that day too, she stood at the front gate, looking down the road to see if she could find someone to clean her yard. A young boy walked up to her just then and begged for some food as he had not eaten since morning.

The boy was bedraggled and  had a bandage above his left eye. When questioned about it, he said that he had fallen off a tree and hurt himself. 

Taking pity on him, Suja’s mom gave him some leftover food and as he was wolfing them down, she decided to enlist his help to get the work done.

When she asked the boy if he would clean the back yard and get paid for it, the boy nodded eagerly.

Happy to have found a volunteer for the job, she took him to the back of her house. She told him what work she wanted done, gave him the broom and dust pan and watched as he started  sweeping vigorously.

Since he was doing a good job, she did not stand there to supervise him. Instead she went indoors to cook lunch. She did not  lock the back door after her in case he called out to her for something.

They lived in their ancestral home and the back door would open directly into the kitchen which also had a dining table in one corner.

It was afternoon by then and the lady busied herself, getting the meal ready.

 Suja’s dad usually came home  for lunch, unless some work kept him away. That day too he came and as was his  habit when he arrived, he removed his watch, left it on the table. He then went to have a wash.

It was just a matter of minutes. Suja’s mom who was bending over the stove, kind of sensed the boy whiz in and out and before she could comprehend what had just happened he was gone . So was the watch!

It was the work of a minute and Suja mom was too shocked to react.Then calling out her husband, she explained to him in a few words what had just happened and they both run outside looking for the boy. But he had disappeared.

He had sprinted away at top speed and was no where in the vicinity. Not anywhere in their neighborhood , even though Suja’s dad took his vehicle and drove up, down and all over looking for him.

They asked passersby and neighbours if they had seen a little boy with a bandage running down the roads. No one had. The boy had  scaled walls, taken short-cuts and like a mole fleeing, he had escaped through obscure roads . He was safe somewhere, out of their reach.

Suja’s parents were appalled that such a thing could happen in broad daylight in their house.

The watch was  a classic edition of  the brand  Favre Leuba and cost quite a bit. Suja’s father used to be very proud and possessive about it .

“You are so gullible taking strangers into the house” he shouted at his wife, who replied, “but he was just a child.”

“So careless, leaving the backdoor open.” was his next reprimand

“Why do you have to remove the watch as soon as you come home, and leave it lying on the table like that?” She cried, being at a loss for words to justify herself.

Anger and their inefficacy at such a situation, made them querulous and right in the middle of their argument, Suja came home from school. She heard the whole story and felt sorry for her parents. Her mother could not stop talking about it.

“Such a young boy.”

A thief at such a small age.”

“Had an innocent face.”

“Must have been waiting for an opportune moment to pilfer anything he could lay his hands on.”

She rambled on, all through the afternoon, till it was time for Suja to go to her music class.

Suja used to learn music from a master who lived some distance away. Her friend and she would walk together to his house, talking and giggling incessantly, like how only ten year old children could. That day the topic of conversation was of course  the stolen watch and the boy with a bandage over his left eye.

“My father was very proud of that watch. Do you know that the brand Favre Leuba  is the second oldest watch company in the world. It is a Swiss company.” She explained to her friend.

When her friend tried to console her, she said with resignation , “That thieving brat would not know its true worth. He has probably sold it already for a pittance. It is gone for ever. I don’t think we will ever get it back.” 

Talking in this vein they reached the master’s house. At that moment the friend just happened to look behind the master’s house as some movement caught her eye. She spied a boy hiding near the wall and peeping out surreptitiously.

She whispered to her friend, “Don’t turn immediately. There is a boy standing behind the house and he has a bandage over his eye. It might be the watch thief.”

Looking at him from the corner of her eye, Suja also thought her friend might be right. The boy was behaving queerly, peering out and then ducking back in as if he was hiding from someone.

Though excited, the girls kept walking to  class, acting normal, as they did not want the boy to get  suspicious and bolt from there.

Once inside, they told the master all that had transpired that morning, about the stolen watch and their doubts about the boy hiding behind his house.

The master did not scoff at the girls as being too fanciful.

He believed that there might be some truth in their words and decided to investigate.

He went out through a side entrance, and walked stealthily up to the hiding boy and caught him in a tight grip. The boy was taken unawares and  struggled to free himself . But the master was too strong for him.

The music teacher started bombarding the boy.

“We know that you robbed a watch from this girl’s house today. Come on, give it back or I am taking you to the police.”

It was just an empty threat but the boy did not even try to deny the accusation. He was too young and too scared to come up with an excuse. Or may be it was his first offence and he did not know how to talk his way out of it.

Frightened by the intimidating master, the kid put his hand into the recess of his pocket and brought out Suja’s father’s watch.

It was like a miracle.

They could not believe their eyes.

Just a hunch had made the girls enlist the master’s help and now the watch was back in their possession. It was too good to be true.

As they stood examining it, the boy chose the opportunity to free himself and run for his life.

Suja and her parents still believe that it was pure luck that got their watch back. 

What were the possibilities that the boy should be hiding right behind the very house that Suja came to learn music? An one in a million chance that such a thing should happen.  It was also a lucky shot that her friend had just happened to catch sight of the boy.

The most providential part about the whole incidence was that the master believed the two girls and went out of his way to apprehend the culprit.

The biggest give-away had been of course the bandage over little fellow’s left eye.

“He should learn to disguise himself better.” They laugh, now that they had got their property back.

That evening her father could not believe his eyes, when Suja strapped the watch back in his wrist.

When he heard the full story from the girls, he  praised them for their quick thinking and their presence of mind in enlisting a grown up’s help to nab the miscreant. They could not have restrained the boy on their own.

It was such a beautiful coincidence and a happy turn of events, that friends and family who had been informed about the theft of the watch, were now told about how they got it back.

“Incredible .” said an aunt who had listened to Suja’s mom moaning about it over the telephone that evening.

‘Lucky you. Losing and finding an expensive ornament on the same day” commented a friend who had also heard the whole story from the same source.

“Divine interference,” asserted  the great aunt.

“Pure luck,” declared a well-wisher.

But everyone was unanimous in their praise of Suja and her friend for the part they had played in getting the watch back.

 Suja’s mother later told her, ” I am glad your father got his favourite watch back or I would not have heard the end of it, for the rest of my life.”

She sighed with relief, “Praise be to God.”

 

Image courtesy: OpenClipArt -Vectors, Clker-Free-Vector-Images, eriko okuno from Pixabay.

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Grandmother’s Diamonds Are For Ever. (Part Two)

You must have learnt from the previous story, about Rati’s Ammama.

Married at nine and widowed at twenty-one.

Even in these modern times, being a widow, holds a subtle indignity and disgrace. During Ammama’s times, it was  terrible to be a widow. A woman became a nonentity and a persona non grata when she loses her husband.

When Rati tells me about the oppression and drudgery of her grand mother’s early years, tears well up in my eyes.

Ammama worked as a cook, midwife and farm help to eke her livelihood never sacrificing her morality and or her respectability.

It was only after she got her daughter married, that her humdrum life took a turn for the better.

The young couple moved to Chennai, started a business and slowly began to prosper. They brought Ammama to live with them. Ammama’s eldest son was married by then and she was free to come and live with them.

Ammama”s life changed for ever. Once more.

In the city too, she stuck to her traditions and antiquity. This endeared her to the neighbours, relatives  and friends. Her culinary skills and knowledge of medicines made her a household name. City bred people came to her for advice and she dispensed them with love and a smile.

People just loved her expertise. She was active and engaged, as her kai -vaithiyam (literally meaning hand-medicine) was much sought after and without side effects. She became a legend.

People would tell her all their maladies, from aches and pains, to flatulence and constipation. By just prescribing things from the kitchen or the grocery store, she able to alleviate their problems. Her post-natal  herbal medicines and food (pathiyam) were therapeutic and much sought after.

Today people are monetizing their knowledge. But Ammama gave her advice eagerly and freely.

When Rati was born, Ammama was over the moon. The bond between them was very strong with Rati’s love for her grandmother bordering  on idolatry and adulation.

The  courage and strength  that ran through Ammama’s veins, ran through her grand daughter’s too. The grandmother’s sage advice helped shape who R is today and also learn about their heritage and traditions.

Rati, her mother and grand-mother lived together in Chennai.

When asked about how she coped as a young widow in those regressive times, she would say philosophically,  “the person who planted the tree, would water it also.”

After a long time, the lady found happiness. The sorrow of her early years were obliterated.  She lived to be eighty three years old, secure in the love of her family and friends. 

She was the queen of their hearts.

When she died, R was disconsolate.

About the Diamond ring that Ammama bought with her own earnings, it always shone in Rati’s mother’s ears as long as she lived. She would remove it only on the days she had an oil massage and a hair wash and would keep them safely in her cupboard.

That particular day, contrary to her custom, she had placed them in a crumbled piece of news paper and put it in the TV cabinet.

Later in the day, she had a massive heart attack and breathed her last.

When Rati remembered about the ear rings and searched for them, they were no where to be found.

The diamond rings were lost for ever.

Or so everyone thought .

The studs were lying in that cabinet for almost for two years. New maids had been employed and fired, men had come to paint the house, electrician, plumber, driver, you name them, they had all been in and out of their house.

But no one bothered to look at a small piece of crumbled news paper lying in the TV cabinet.

Not even Rati herself.

Two years later, Rati’s father sold their house and began shifting most of the furniture to a new location.

A worker who was cleaning the cabinet picked up the crumbled news paper and was about to toss it away. Curiosity made him smoothen it, to read the news.

He discovered the diamonds.

This particular person had been working in Rati’s dad’s business concern since childhood and had been indebted to her father for the numerous help he had received from him. He was not enticed to pocket the diamonds. The thought did not occur to him. Instead he returned them to Rati

Seeing the diamonds after two years, Rati was very much moved. She had heard about every disgrace, every pain her Ammama had gone through to buy them.

 “If it had been any other worker who had first seen the diamond studs, he would have surely pocketed them and the prized jewels would have disappeared from our lives for ever, to be seen only in my mother’s photographs. Their whereabouts would have been one of those unsolved mysteries in our family history.” Rati  says wonderingly. “It was surely divine intervention, that it was this honest man who found it.” 

Now the diamond studs sparkle in Rati’s ears and she feels the presence of her grand mother close by her.

The studs are a reminder of a widow’s perseverance despite the adversities  that life had tossed at her when very young.  Rati is more proud of them than any other expensive  piece of jewelry that she owns and Rati says proudly:

” They are more precious to me than the Kohinoor itself.”

***********************

Photo credit:Claudia Van Zyl, Luma pimentel on Unspalsh

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P.S. When I asked Rati, if I could retain her name in the story, she replied happily, “please do. I am proud to be her grand daughter.”

 

 

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Grandmother’s Diamonds Are For Ever. (Part One)

A beautiful diamond ear ring sparkles in Rati’s ears. Though small, it dazzles despite its age and brightens up her face. The studs were her grand mother’s gift to her mother on her wedding. They were presumed lost once, but she got it back under surprising circumstances.

She tells me the story of her grandmother, who was married at nine years and widowed at twenty one. It brings a lump to my throat when I hear her.

When you look at a photograph of my friend Rati’s grandmother, you see this elderly lady with tonsured  head wearing just a dull coarse saree and no blouse.

But despite the widows garb, if you looked well, you will see the intelligence in her eyes, the determination in her stance and you will  know that she came of a good lineage and a pedigree stock.

When Rati would beg her Ammama to tell her about her grand father, the lady had one grouse. She  was a midget when she was married at nine and her husband was a short thin man in his twenties. Over the years she grew tall and stately and towered over her husband . When they walked side by side, the  town folks would tease them saying that she looked like a milch cow and he, her suckling  calf.

How cruel can people be?

When she was 21 yrs old, her husband died of jaundice.

Life changed for ever.

She came back to her parent’s house with two children, aged three and one -and-half years.

It was the terrible 20’s. Widows were tonsured and made to wear coarse saree and no blouse. They were ostracized and made an inauspicious entity delegated to the background.

Sometimes Rati would ask her grandmother, why she let her long tresses be snipped off, and she would smile feebly and say,  ‘my father threatened to kill himself if I did not.”

“But why?” Rati persisted. “Why was your father so heartless?”

“He was a typical man of the times. It would have brought shame on his family if his widowed daughter did not look like one.”

Their argument was that, young widows fell prey to lecherous men and making them look unattractive was actually for their protection.

So a barber was brought home. When his work was done, he left behind a  disconsolate Ammama,  clean shaven and shorn – a  twenty-one year old widow deprived of not only her beautiful sarees and blouses but also her dignity.

His periodic visits continued to keep Ammama, with a bald pate always.

Her humiliations and hardships started from then.

As a widow, she was debarred form gracing auspicious occasions, stopped from eating food like onions because of their aphrodisiac properties, mocked at if she laughed or came before men. The list was endless.

Coping with life, became her way of life.

Ammama’s  father owned fields where the woman folk would pitch in and work. Ammama found herself there, working strenuously to earn her keep.

“Was it not inconvenient to be without a blouse?” Rati would question her.

“Yes, specially since I am so well built.” She would say.

Being of a big stature, this is what she found embarrassing.Wrapping the saree round and round around her bossom  for support and to keep out ogling eyes and ‘male-gaze,’  (her words) she managed multiple household duties and field work. Everything from cooking and washing to weeding and hoeing the fields, fell on her shoulders. She worked from dawn to dusk without shirking any duty.

Since, babies were being born quite often in the family,  she helped the midwife and took an interest in obstetrics. Soon  she was delivering babies on her own.

Ammama also became interested in medicinal herbs and began to concoct mixtures and potions as  remedy for many kinds of  illness. Her post natal medicines and food were very therapeutic  and  she became a name to reckon with.

It was Rati’s proud comment that her Ammama had a herbal portion to stop even epilepsy.

Life continued. Years rolled by. Her children became adults.

It was time to find life partners for them.

Ammama bought a small diamond ear ring to present her to daughter as her wedding gift, the only jewel she could buy with the money she earned as a cook, a midwife and a farm help.

Family and friends, came forward and helped the widow get her daughter married.

The inauspicious widow, stood far from the marriage proceedings, and watched as the groom tied the thaali (wedding thread) around her daughter’s neck.

Theerga Sumangali Bhava.

May you live a Sumangali (with your husband) always.

Her inner voice repeated gain and again, more sincere and heartfelt than all the others who had gathered to witness the wedding.

Photo By Avinash Uppuluri at Unsplash

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Real Comedy Of Errors.

This happened to my friend and her sister when they went to visit  their brother in USA. The elite area where their brother lived had not been provided with so much entertainment as this before and the two sisters became the uncrowned drama-queens of that town.

My friend ‘s brother was doctor  He was as  intelligent as he was amiable. But she liked to call him crazy. Why?   Because the good doctor had given his four year old son a real  SKELETON to play with.

“Of all the toys a little kid would have enjoyed, my brother had to go and present him with a skeleton.” She would complain in mock anger.

This skeleton was the cause of the brouhaha  that took place on the day they arrived, culminating in the police breaking into their brother’s house.

A Real Comedy of Errors!

On the first day, after dinner, the two sisters went up to the guest room to sleep. The little nephew came to wish them good night. With him, he came dragging the three foot high skeleton.

The two Desi aunts had no prior knowledge about his bizarre toy. Seeing the skeleton with the grotesque skull and limbs akimbo , the two ladies did what any self respecting Indian woman would would have done when confronted with such a monstrosity.

They screamed.

Their screams rang loud and clear, piercing the stillness of the night and setting off a flurry of activity.

A  police patrol car was just outside their house at that very moment. The conscientious officers, were immediately out of their car and running towards the source of those screams to investigate.

Meanwhile, the boy hearing his aunts hollering became frightened. He set up a howl of his own and ran to find his mother. The police officers outside jumped to conclusions on hearing a kid’s voice. They suspected nothing less than murder .

Drawing out their guns they began to climb a pipe outside the window.

The boy’s parents hearing the alarming cries from the room above, ran to it and were just in time to catch sight of the police peering in through the window, guns pointing.

Seeing the faces of two men appearing outside their first floor window, it was the boy’s mother’s turn to let out a horrific cry.

This was too much for the police. Thinking that some heinous crime was being committed inside, they smashed the window open and jumped into the room. They had cocked their pistols and were in a position to take aim and shoot.

It was a scene right out of a crime thriller.

But  much to the chagrin of the officers who had made that dramatic entry, there was no criminal activity taking place and no seasoned criminal to over power. No one to yell the climatic words, “stick’em up.” or whatever it is the law enforcement says at a time like this.

No crime taking place. Just a crazy Indian family who were as surprised as them.

What? What? What?

Bewilderment was written large on everyone’s faces.

After things had quietened down and the air had cleared and the frightened boy pacified, the police interrogated the ladies.

When they heard the reason for the hullabaloo, they became furious.They had risked life and limb to climb a pipe and jump to the call of duty and what did they find?

Just some silly women in their night clothes who, now that they were safe, were trying desperately to quell the laughter that was  rising up in them.

This was too much and the officers gave the  lot an ear full of  reprimands.

“We could have you arrested you know, for disturbing the peace of our area.” They said with much indignation, angry at having their heroism brought to naught.

It took the doctor some time and effort to pacify the officers and send them away with sincere apologies.

While this was happening inside the house, the outside had also become a scene of furor and activity.

The police had left the siren on, in their vehicle. The noise from the siren, coupled with the flashing of blue and red lights  and the sound of breaking glass  had unsettled the whole neighborhood.

Lights were switched on in  the houses. Dogs started barking and people were shouting across to each other to know what was happening. Many of the neighbors had ventured outside to find out who had violated the law.

It was quite a melee and a free for all, outside as well.

What? What? What?

The question was asked  again.

After hearing from the officers about ‘them crazy Indian ladies’  and their stint with a skeleton, the crowd dispersed. Slowly. One by one. Some laughed. Some were annoyed. When every one had gone home, the police vehicle left the scene, carrying some disgruntled men.

Peace reigned once more.

But in the small town where the brother lived, every one knew everyone else and the visitors from India became an over night sensation. They were talked about, discussed and their behavior dissected. Most of all they were recognized.

To the end of their stay, where ever they went, people would wave to them and give them wide smiles and understanding nods.

Their popularity increased so much that their  doctor brother was fond of telling his family and friends:

“Even as  a renowned heart specialist,  I did not become as popular in my town as my darling sisters who screamed at a skeleton.”

Image By Openclipart-Vector, Clker-Free_vector-Images, Annalise Batista, Christian Dorn at Pixabay.

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Skeleton In The Well.

I must tell you about the time we employed some men to clean a well in our backyard. The work was abandoned even before it  started , because the hired help dug up our family secret.

Never in all their lives had they been called to clear something like this. It scared the daylights out of them and  made them run for their lives.

Though it makes a hilarious story to tell your family and friends and we laugh our guts out while recounting this tale, my father refuses to join in.

I must start the story at the beginning to make you understand how it came about.

When my brother joined  Medical College, he bought himself a human skeleton – the whole 206 or so bones and  joints, all in their right places.

These days online notes and photographs are at hand to clear the student’s doubts. But in the 80’s,  students procured a set of bones to help them with their anatomy lessons.

My brother proudly brought the skeletal system home and my father  blew a fuse. He hated it and this skeleton  literally became a bone of contention between my dad and my brother.

My brother  often left  it lying around all over the house, sometimes deliberately to scare my father. The skull would be perched on the dining table, where my brother would sip his tea and scribble some notes in a notebook or it would be lying recumbent on my brother’s bed  or be  swinging from a hook in my brother’s  room where he would be studying through the night.

“Is this a morgue?” My father would say, making no bones about his hatred for it.

After five years, my brother completed his course. My father gave a sigh of relief.

“Get rid of that.”  He said pointing to his pet peeve. “No more skeletons tumbling out of your closet.”

But my brother would not put it away. My father looked for ways and means to get rid of  the offensive thing. No one was willing to take it off his hands. There was no place at home where we could store a box of bones.

As a last resort,  he  decided to dump it into the dry well in our backyard.

This well was the  recipient of many useless things from our house, swallowing up stuff nobody wanted or could not be sold off to the rubbish collector. Even in the heaviest of monsoons the well remained somewhat dry, hiding ugly trash in its depths.

My father flung the abhorrent bones unceremoniously into the belly of the well, to join other junk, hoping it would disappear from our lives for ever.

Soon we forgot about the skeleton in the well.

Some months later, a relative visited our house. Seeing an unused well in the back yard gathering rubbish, he pointed out that it was probably dispensing bad energy. He reprimanded my father and said that according to traditional beliefs it was unlucky to have such a well so close to one’s living quarters. A dry well meant a drying of fortune and would bring bad luck to the family.

Though my father did not believe in superstitions, he decided to clear up the well for health reasons. He felt that it was attracting rodents and insects.

On my father’s instructions, our driver hired four men to clean up the well. Their regular work was to remove silt from wells and clear the debris. The men were professionals. All their lives they had been cleaning wells and promised to do a good job.

The men had brought the necessary tools of the trade. Two guys were let into the well with stout ropes tied around their waist while the other two  waited above, ready to haul the refuse the men inside would send up in a basket.

No sooner had the two men gone down, then there was a great furor and commotion among the crew. In a few minutes, all the four men were up, packing up their paraphernalia and fleeing from our house as if they had seen a ghost. Which if you think about it, they really had.

As they fled they shouted  obscenities at the driver who had engaged them to do the job.

My father was nonplussed by their behaviour and could not understand what had incited the  men to bolt like that. He asked my driver.

“Nothing sir. Nothing sir.” Our driver tried to dodge my dad’s questions.

After much coaxing, he told us the reason why the men had sprinted away like that at top speed.

“Sir, they found a skeleton in the well. They think you murdered someone and hid the body there.”

My poor father cursed the set of bones for never giving him  any peace, since the day my brother brought it home. It is another story how my father got the well cleared and put a mesh door over it so that it just collected water in the rains and nothing unsavory.

PS: My cousin told me this story and I have written it exactly as she told me.

Image courtesy: Zixwix, Abilash Jacob, luc Mahler, Jazella, Clikr-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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Grandmother’s Red Chillies.

 

In our home town deep in the south of India, people believed  in the powers of the evil eye. When your life was all smooth sailing and suddenly  calamities appear to rock your boat then it was assumed that an envious person had sent bad vibes your way and cast his or her evil eyes on you.

Asma’s grandmother was a staunch believer in the detrimental effects of the evil eye.

If she suspected that someone had cast their evil eyes on the family, she would take immediate action to avoid its effect. She had a potent countermeasure to ward off these malevolent forces.

Red Chillies!

When ever she spied Asma being listless or coming down with some illness  or if some unforeseen misfortune strikes their family, she would bring out the red chillies.

This is how it worked.

She would take an odd number of chillies in her fist and she would wave her hand before Asma, from down to up and inside to out,  in a circular manner muttering her chants.  Asma herself thought that the casting off  process  was all hogwash  She laughed at her grandmother’s  chanting as mumbo jumbo.

Asma would run to hide if they saw the chillies come out. The chants muttered by her grandmother were also too funny to say the least. It went like this:

“Go away evil eyes of the demon, evil eyes of the neighbors, evil eyes of the maids , evil eyes of the relative, evil eyes of the strangers …”

Asma would make fun of her grandmother by adding her own take on the charm.”Go away evil eyes of this one, evil eyes of that one …” while her grandmother gave her dagger looks to make her hold her tongue.

After the casting off ritual was over, the grandmother would take the chillies and burn them in the charcoal stove in the backyard.. The smoldering peppers let off  a pungent  smell and made everyone sneeze. But her grandmother would be pleased as  punch saying that the effect of the evil eye was leaving their house.

After her grandmother died, this practice petered out. But some years later something happened to make Asma remember her grandmother’s red chillies.

A few ladies  had come to visit Asma. They came from a lower middle class family and were awed by everything in her house. They kept exclaiming over her possessions, all the paraphernalia she had collected over the years and beautified her house with. They commented on the furniture in the hall, the crockery in the kitchen and even the plants in the garden.

In the beginning, being an innocent person, Asma was actually very pleased with their praises.

After tea, when they were about to leave, Asma’s mother who was getting ready to go to the beach with Asma’s dad and her children, offered to drop them home on the way.

One of the ladies in the group being more impertinent than the others blurted out, “you rich people, with cars and drivers…can go anywhere you want, any time you want.”

Asma was shocked and put off by their words, so full of envy. But her mom just laughed at their impudence and gave them a lift to their destination.

Long before her parents and kids were expected home, her door bell rang. Opening the door Asma found that it was them outside, all in an agitated state. Her dad was bleeding in his legs, with his clothes all torn and soiled. Her mom was in tears and the kids weeping in distress.

“What happened? What happened?” Asma asked terrified.

“A stray dog on the beach was growling at the children. I tried to chase it away. But it turned on me and  took hold of my pant legs and would not let it go. I got bitten while trying to free myself from its hold.

Her father was trying to sound brave despite being thoroughly shaken by the experience while her kids would not stop crying.

“Ring up your husband quickly.” Her dad ordered her.  Asma’s husband was a doctor and the need of the hour.

What had started off as  a happy outing had turned into a blighted one. It was quite a horrible evening and a long time before everyone settled down. Her father was attended to, the kids were pacified and her mom’s tension was mitigated.

Asma’s thought about her grandmother who would surely not have let them go out after hearing those ladies’ envious words. She would have done her ritual to ward off the evil eye, before she let her family venture out.

Asma talked about the day’s events with her mother later that night. Words like  Evil Eyes, Drishti and Buri Nazar  which her grandma used to repeat often, came to her mind.

“Are these things true?” Asma questioned her mom.

“May be true.” Her mother replied, still shaken by the bad experience at the beach.  “You are never quite sure about such things.”

Asma agreed with her. Yes, you can never be sure about some beliefs.

True or not. Asma does not probe deeper. She is wary of the green eyed monster.

These days, Asma says that she  finds herself reaching for the red chillies container, every time she fears that someone might have cast their evil eyes on her.

“Better  to be safe than sorry.” She says, shuddering at the memory of that evening when the envious relatives visited her home.

Image courtesy: Hieu Ngo, Clkr Free Vector- Images @ Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Pop Died.

When my friend’s daughter  joined a professional college, she made a few new friends. Since their classes started by 8 am every morning, the friends would ring each other up at around 6 am, kind of like a wake-up call, so that none of them would oversleep and they could all come to college on time.

This arrangement suited them fine and everything went on well for some months.

Early one morning when my friend’s daughter was hovering between sleep and wakefulness and wondering how many more minutes of shut-eye she would be able to squeeze in before the wake-up call came, the phone rang.

Cursing her friends for being more prompt than a rooster on a farm yard, she answered the call and in her semi comatose state heard her friend Geetha say:

“My pop died.”

Jolted awake by the appalling news, she tried to find words to console Geetha, but her grief stricken friend had rung off with a sob.

My friend’s daughter called the other friends in her group and told them that Geetha’s father had passed on.  The unhappy girls discussed the matter for some time and decided to make a condolence visit to Geetha’s residence and pay their last respects to her father and also support their friend who would be disconsolate at a time like this.

It was agreed among themselves that they would meet in college, take a call-taxi and go to the bereaved one’s house.

They acted upon their plan and arrived at their friend’s place with much trepidation.

The house was quiet with no signs of any activity.

The door was opened by Geetha’s mother who lifted her eyebrows in surprise to see the bunch of  sad girls standing at her door steps.

The girls stammered, “Aunty, Geetha told us … we came to offer our condolences.”

With more eye-brow lifting the lady exclaimed, “Good Heavens! ” and took them indoors.

“Anyway he was lame. Good he went quickly without suffering much.”  She said and her levity troubled the visitors.

Also there was no sign of her husband’s body or of her daughter Geetha.

“Where is Geetha, aunty? they dared to ask.

“I made her go to college. She would have been crying the whole day, if she had stayed home.”

The girls sat for sometime not knowing what the protocol was at such a place and also bewildered that Geetha’s mother was making small talk with them.

After sometime, they stood up to leave.

“It was very sweet of you to have come.” The mother mouthed even though her expression seemed to say that she found them droll.

“So sorry aunty.” They said as they trooped out, somber as pall bearers at a  funeral.

Geetha meantime had reached their college. Searching for her usual group of friends, she was told that they had gone to her house. They had received information that her father had died.

It was Geetha’s turn to be shocked.

She hurried home and just as she landed at her door, bawling like a baby,  her visibly distressed friends came out, followed by her mother.

The mother already thinking that it was a bit too much that she had to deal with a crowd of  dismal youngsters on an empty stomach prior to eating her well cooked breakfast, was put off to see her daughter joining them as well, crying, ‘daddy, daddy.’

A minute later, someone else also stepped out to join the bewildered party.

It was Geetha’s  father himself.  Large as life. “Can a man not have some peace in this house?” His voice rang out.

Petrificus Totalus!!

The girls  stood shell shocked. What was happening? It was the most awkward two minutes of their lives.

Imagine this scenario. You think a man is dead. But he is not . How do you tell him, “Sorry uncle. We thought you had died. You haven’t?  Our mistake. Sorry again.”  That too after you had just offered your condolences to his presumably bereaved wife.

It was a tricky situation. Not something you could talk your way out off. Nothing but the truth would suffice.

So the preposterous story was told in halting tones by the friends, punctuated with loud guffaws from the father, many exasperated noises from the mother and giggling from Geetha.

Geetha’s original message which had made her friends hurry to her home had been:

My pup died.

Their loyal Pomeranian, the darling of the household and Geetha’s loving pet had breathed his last that morning and had been buried under the neem tree in the garden.

A message received while still half asleep had led to this embarrassment.

For all their troubles, the girls did not get to see a corpse that day, of a man or  an animal. 

They went back to college having missed most of their morning classes and  their classmates who heard the story never let them live it down. They were always known as ‘the girls who went to a canine’s funeral.’

As for Geetha’s pop, he did not miss an opportunity to tease my friend’s daughter with these words:

“On the day I died,  it seems like your  hearing faculty had gone to the dogs!

 

 

Photo Credit—Eominna, Open-ClipArt-Vectors, Natalia Laverinecko, No-longer-here, Coffee-Bean @ Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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Shyam And His Woodpeckers.

Though my neighbour Shyam and I live in a large metropolis we are one of the few lucky ones to have our residences in a sylvan locality aptly named Aspiran Garden.

Huge trees grow on either side of our colony roads. These trees are the Copperpod trees also known as the yellow-flamboyant. The trees  throw a canopy of shade on our houses and during some months of the year,  bloom in all their glory . The strewn flowers completely cover our roads as if  they had been deluged by golden showers.

Our trees are also home to many birds which awaken us early every morning with their choruses. The Indian Koel which shouts cuckoo  in a plaintive voice as if  soulfully calling out to a lost lover. The  pigeons roosting in apartment crevices,  the omnipresent ravens and some parrots too . The rare addition is a few woodpeckers whose pecking sounds  can be  heard consistently, making us marvel at their perseverance.

Being a lover of nature, Shyam watched as a few pairs of woodpeckers inspected the  trees near his house. One pair selected  the huge old tree right opposite his house. From early April, the mated pair started excavating the tree trunk, bored a hole and made a cozy nest for themselves. It was a tremendous and meticulous job by his feathered friends. 

By May, the eggs had hatched and Shyam could hear the young ones chirping in their cubbyhole while the adults took seriously to parenting which mainly involved feeding the hungry fledglings. It was a beautiful sight seeing the hovering birds flying about, neither minding the watchman who sat near the tree nor the cars that plied that way. They were not bothered by the early morning walkers nor kids on tricycles.

They lived their life , free as a … ummm… bird.

Then the lockdown happened.

Shyam was at home because of the quarantine. Though he could watch his adopted pets from afar, he could not venture to peep into their home as his curiosity prompted him to. The apartment complex which housed the woodpecker’s tree had Covid 19 patients and was out of bounds to all.

Shyam could only spy on them from his house a few metres away.

Last Sunday,  around mid morning, the birds fell ominously silent. Not a tweet or a twitter out of them The parents were not to be seen and the juvenile birds  also seemed dead to the world.

What happened? Did they fall prey to some wild cat or had they moved away? But the chicks had not learnt to fly yet.

Shyam grew restless. He had come to love the birds and wanted nothing unfortunate to happen to them.

Then he noticed that the colony had grown dark. The solar eclipse was making the world grey and unreal. The residents of the colony were all indoors. The birds had followed suit.

 Did they fear the eclipse?

 Shyam  realized with a surge of joy that the birds had thought  that it was dusk and they had come home to the safety of their homes as they do every evening. That was the simple answer.

The dear little birds had mistaken the eclipse induced dullness to night time.

They had come home to roost.

When the eclipse was done and gone and the world became bright again  the people began to stir in their homes. Then the birds came out. Bright and chirpy as they did every morning.

The parent birds began feeding their chicks in a frenzy of activity and vocalization as if making up for lost time.

The area was filled with their happy bonhomie noises.

Shyam was happy.

God is in heaven and all is right with the world.

PS: Now Shyam is waiting to see his babies soar.

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A Tribute To My Father.

My father was a school dropout.

Yet there was no man who loved education as much as him. His English knowledge was mostly self taught. Our house was filled with books and magazines of the highest caliber: Time, Span, Illustrated Weekly Of India , National Geographic and The Hindu Newspaper.

Yet his English tripped him up often.

Once when we were going by road to our native town, we passed by rows and rows of Gulmohar Trees, profuse with orange and red flowers.

I pointed it out to my sons and said that they were also called, “Flame of the forest.” My father loved that name.

“I did not know that.” He said wonderingly. “Why is it called that?”

“Because it would look like the forest was on fire, if a whole lot of these grew close together.” I told him.

Later when we were coming back, we passed by the very same trees. He excitedly pointed them out and said, “Fire in the jungle trees!” In fact he said ‘jungle’ in our native vernacular tongue, “Fire in the kaadu.”

It took a long time for our laughter to subside and he joined with us in laughing at himself.

“I studied in a village school pa. Not in your prestigious ———– school,” he said mentioning the famous school where he had got admission for my sons with great difficulty.

Once my father was searching for a word in the dictionary. We had a humongous English to Tamil lexicon at home . My father was flipping the pages in frustration not able to find the word he wanted. The morning paper was open before him. Then he called me to his aid.

He pointed to the headline in the paper which said, ‘Railway station sans trains.’

“What does ‘sans’  mean? I am not able to find the word here”.

Seeing his predicament, I told him that ‘sans’ was a French word which meant ‘without.’ I flipped the dictionary to last few pages where there was a section dedicated to “Foreign words used in English often.” Sure enough, ‘sans’ was listed there.

I do not remember why there were no trains in the station that day. But I do remember my father, whenever I come across the word ‘sans’.

One faux pas of my dad, which I thought was too funny was this.

My father ran a big hotel and was used to seeing different types of people coming in to eat at the restaurant.

One day my father mentioned a big business man’s name and said that he had come to lunch with a ‘sweet in the hand.’

“What?” my sister and I were flummoxed. “Why would he bring a sweet to a hotel. Was he not satisfied with the desserts on our menu?”

“No ma. You know ‘sweet in the hand…sweet in the hand.” he said laughing.

“What sweet in the hand?”  We asked not knowing what he meant.

“You said that if an older man came with a young pretty girl friend, she was his sweet in the hand.”

Now we under stood what he was trying to say. As usual he had stored that word in our mother tongue Tamil in his mind and made a literal translation into English when articulating it.

The expression my poor dad was trying to convey was:

ARM-CANDY!!

PS: My father is no more. But today as I write this I know that what I am , is because of him. He made books my best friends for life.

He may have got his ‘fire in the jungle’ wrong.

But his children and his children’s children don’t.

We speak and write pretty good English, ‘SANS’ mistakes.

 

 

 

 

 

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