by Jyotirmoy Sil
2004. It was half past eleven o’clock in the night. Dense winter fog already had descended in Rajbalhat entangling the dim moonlight. The utter silence of the village, smoky fog, chilly breeze, and intermittent barkings of the dogs made the scene surreal. A faint light bulb was seen gleaming amidst hazy darkness from a small laundry shop beside a narrow brick road. Akhil, a boy of fifteen, and his father still had to work for a few more hours to complete the remaining tasks. Akhil’s elder brother was heard reading out loud the molecular formulas from a Chemistry book aloud from the adjacent room.
“Baba, I can’t work any longer. I will have to complete my study for tomorrow’s Math tuition.”
“Wait for just half an hour more.” Akhil’s father replied briskly. Akhil’s face turned reddish with suppressed distress, eyes turned teary, but he did not speak a word.
Half an hour passed in no time.
“No, it’s almost done.”
“You said half an hour.”
“Just do whatever I say.”
Akhil could not hold his tears. He started to sob and yelled at his father saying, “Tell dada (elder brother)…Why it is always me whom you force to labour like a donkey?”
“What about me? My final Matric Examination is just two months away! It does not matter to you? Does it? As if he is your son and I a slave…”
Akhil’s father slapped him hard this time, and added, “He’s good in studies. Not a nincompoop like you. He has his engineering entrance examination soon. And this is your future… So do what you are good at…washing clothes and ironing.”
Terrible anguish overpowered Akhil; choked his voice. His lips trembled, but could not utter a single word. He hurled the cloth he finished ironing, covered himself with a dhoti (white cloth), and started walking through the brick road. His father saw his son fading amidst the sombre fog but continued his work undisturbed.
Rajbalhat High School, the only boys’ high school in the village, was over a hundred years old. In 1916, a local zameendar took the initiative to establish this school. At night, this large dilapidated main building of the school, its faded yellow colour, large timber windows, and the sound of crickets at night, would excite awe within any brave heart. Moreover, there was a crematorium, Sishutala, just a half kilometer away. One more thing, the school was adjacent to an infamous pond named Shilpukur. Every night, this Shilpukur ghat became the most coveted place for all the marked drunkards of the village; for here desi cholai (country alcohol), Tari (intoxicating drink made of palm trees’ sap), and other varieties of ale were available all night. This infamous night market was known to all the villagers including the police officers. The police used to raid this place frequently and vandalise the jars of ale, usually, frankly speaking, whenever the bribery did not reach them from the sellers’ end, or before the elections.
Aviram Das, the peon, part-time clerk, night-guard, and what not of Rajbalhat High School, was smoking a bidi (leaf-rolled tobacco) and thinking about preparing a fense-like structure with bamboo sticks surrounding his bed. Last night a fox jumped into the school’s precinct and hindered his sleep. Along with his mosquito net, he had bought a lantern today. The dim red light of the lantern, as per Aviram’s weird perception, would scare fox and ghost away for red is the colour of Maa Kali. Suddenly, Ramen, a rickshaw-puller and a known drunkard, came to the school gate hurriedly yelling out Aviram’s name.
“Huh? Who? Ramen? What’s now?” Aviram perceived Ramen was panting heavily. “What?”
“Just come outside…I spotted a ghost upon the guava tree…”
“What? Nonsense! How many glasses did you take today?”
“No no…just come outside…and see yourself.”
“Ei…go home…you are heavily intoxicated…that is your delusion.”
“No no…If I am not mistaken…I’m kind of certain in fact…This is the spirit of Atul master (teacher)! Raaam! Ram! Ram! Ram!”
“What?…(ha ha ha)…Why should Atul master stay here any longer?…Ok ok…let me see.” Aviram opened the gate and went outside to have a glimpse at the guava tree. “What? Where…you drunkard!” Aviram was about to slap Ramen’s head, and at this very moment his eyes fell upon a white cloth-covered figure.”Hey hey…ei you…Who’s… Who’s there…?”
Ramen bowed a little and started to address the figure in a trembling voice, “Atul sir…pranam sir…This is Ramen…I used to sit in the last bench in your class…remember…seven years back. Still, I miss your Math classes sir….Why are you here sir? Don’t hurt us sir!…We are your students sir…”
The figure moved a little. Aviram stood there horrified and motionless. He then gathered courage and asked, “Ay sir…Are you really Atul babu sir?…”
“No” The figure upon the tree replied.
“Then who are you?” Aviram tried to imbibe a manly bravado in his voice.
The figure did not reply. But, after a few seconds began to moan loudly.”
“Oh baba! Spirit is crying! Killing me! Killing me!” Ramen fled away towards Shilpukur ghat yelling. Aviram also followed Ramen with hurried steps.
In Shilpukur ghat the drunkard folks gathered all around Ramen and Aviram. In the dim light of a lamp, a serious discussion was going on over the sudden appearance of a ghost.
“Our primary task is to find out what sort of spirit is this.”, as Poltu Kaka, the senior most of them all and a novice spirit expert said. “As per Ramen’s description, I think it is either a Brahmadoityi (Brahmin ghost) or Gechho bhoot (Tree-dwelling ghost), or even a Mamdo bhoot (Mohammedan ghost) is a possibility.” He looked upon the curious and anxious faces of his fellow drunkards, and felt a teacher-like sensation. He went on to elaborate on his remarks taking a long puff of a bidi. “You might have heard the names of such ghosts. But you perhaps don’t know why they are called so…Folks, in order to communicate with a ghost, you need to know about their types, power and all. Actually, my guru (master) Sri Sri Katyayana Tantrik (tantra expert) taught me so.” He held his ears in admiration of his guru.
“Right right…I know about him. He came to my house when I was a boy to exorcise my aunt.” Kuntal commented, “A powerful tantrik indeed.” Some of them nodded.
“Hum! Whatever. I first met him seven or eight years ago.” Poltu da said. “I was smoking a biri at Shanta’s tea shop. Suddenly he arrived and asked me to buy him tea and loaf. He looked at me while chewing the loaf, observed something in my forehead closely, and said with grave tone, “Son, you are no common man. You are made for greatness. Till you are here in this village, no ominous thing would happen here.”” Completing his tale, Poltu da smirked with a touch of pride and sipped twice from the glass of ale. “Now listen. You all know about Bhamhadoityi as it is a popular ghost. Only pious Brahmins make Brahmadoityi. Gechho bhut relates to tree. Usually, they stay at Neem, guava, jackfruit tree. Now, Mamdo is a non-Hindu Muslim spirit….I presume, from whatever Ramen has said, it is a mere Gechho bhoot…Someone’s spirit that did not attain its salvation for some unfinished wish.”
“So now…If that ghost stays at the tree we…I mean…people might be afraid to come here.”, one of them said.
“Ok…So we will go near that guava tree and ask what it wants. Then, we would simply ask it to leave. As simple as that.” Polti da commented.
“But that would be risky…I’ve heard gechho bhoot breaks the necks when it gets angry.” Amit remarked.
“Hum…That’s true…If that is really a thirsty gechho bhoot with an unmitigated desire…Then it might be risky…Amit, run and tell Chandu ojha (exorcist) about this. Since he is a professional exorcist, he can handle it better. He lives just a few yards away.” Poltu da said.
“No excuse. We need to sort this out as soon as possible. Hurry. Run.”, ordered Poltu da.
Chandu ojha arrived within half an hour and prepared himself for the grave task. He wore several garlands of rudraksha beads, put a thick red tilak with sindoor on his forehead, took a broom in one hand and a bowl with ashes on the other. Then yelled out before walking towards the spot, “Jay Maa Taaraa (Hail mother Kaali)…Jay Jay…Let’s go.” Chandu ojha, Ramen, Aviram, Poltu da, and the three others began to walk chanting the anti-spirit chant “Ram…Ram…”
The spirit was still upon the tree the white colour of its attire was flickering in moonlight. The figure seemed to be moving seeing them coming. s if, startled
“Hey…Who are you? What do you want? Get away from hence” Chandu ojha yelled at the spirit in a loud grave voice. The figure trembled a little, and then started to get off the tree by leaping from one branch to another. Ramen yelled out, “Oh baba! It’s coming towards me…to….to break my neck!”, and fled away. Chandu ojha also was terrified to some extent, but tried to pose brave, and said “Hey gechho bhoot…Don’t come near us…else…I will beat you with my broom!”
The spirit did not obey this time. It continued to climb down. The troupe stepped back including the brave exorcist. Ojha chanted his anti-spirit myntra, “Om chhot phhot…wring..wing…Chamundaye…”
The spirit was almost down. “Uncle…”
They all heard the spirit speaking something. There was a pin drop silence for a few moments! The light of the torches made the spirit’s face visible.
“Akhil?” Chandu Ojha asked.
“Yes!”, the spirit replied.
Brave Poltu da, who had remained almost tongue tied out of fear, shouted out at him with grave tone, “What are you doing here right now?”
“I’ve left my home.” Akhil replied.
Aviram smacked Akhil’s head and said, “What? Go home!…I know this boy. He is a student of class ten in our school.”
Akhil started to cry loudly. And said, sobbing, “I won’t go back. I will leave this village this morning. Would stay somewhere else. Find a job at a tea shop.”
Aviram said to Ramen, “Ramen, take him to his home. He is Binod dada’s son.”
“Oh yes, the laundry shop.”
Akhil was taken back to his home that night. Ramen told his father about the incident. Akhil’s father remorselessly slapped Akhil once more. Akhil remained numbly silent this time. In the Matric Examination that occurred just two months after this incident, Akhil passed with average marks. Subsequently, he decided to pursue a vocational training course in Mechanical Engineering held by the same school; after two years, he got a chance in a government polytechnic college and tried harder; and later received an undergraduate degree from an Engineering degree college. Subsequently, the boy who was supposedly only good at ironing the clothes of others as per his father, joined a reputed company in Bangalore, and annually earned more than his exceptionally brilliant elder brother. Their aged father still runs the laundry shop all by himself, and often mutters something blaming his sons for leaving him behind.
About the Author:
Jyotirmoy Sil is a dilettante writer who writes both in Bengali and English. Presently he is an Assistant Professor of English in Malda College, West Bengal. His writings were published in several Bengali and English magazines including Aparjan, Bichitrapatra, Achin Pakhi, Daak Bangla, Muse India, Madras Courier, Spillwords, and International Times, Setu: Bilingual Magazine, Boundless 2022: the Anthology of the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival.