The old building at the end of the village has occupied the people’s imagination of late. The current story is about the spirits which have occupied it and have made the lives of the villagers miserable.
I am Ram, an inhabitant of the village and have witnessed the building all these years doing no harm to the people as such. Only during the summers, when the howling winds bring the palm & nut trees to the ground and the rain drops drum the rooftops of the houses with big droplets of water, one gets to hear the strange stories about the old ramshackle building. The villagers who were unfortunate to pass the building at odd hours of the day or at night are full of haunting experiences, how the spirits made deliberate effort to scare the hapless victim from behind, or the lock of grey hair which flew in the wind at dusk and entangled the victim, leaving the poor man blind for the rest of his years.
But neither me nor Mr Rao, another inhabitant of the village, believe in these stories. Rao belongs from down south of India and has a firm belief in God. And spirits and ghosts, he would say, if God created them why fear? But, time and again skeptics like us had to remain silent at the decision of the learned & wise men of the village.
The village school teacher was one of the wise men whom the panic stricken inhabitants approached one day. A long and tedious proceeding of the meeting was prepared and after much discussion and debate, the spirits were found to be guilty of the mischief. A number of cattle had died in the previous days whom some villagers had seen grazing near the haunted building. No one spared a second thought about the probable reason but cussed and ill mouthed the spirits which have illegally took possesion of the ruins.
The water supply engineer came next. He listened to the stories of the people and promptly came to a solution to bring down the structure and construct a hospital for the poor villagers. The idea was welcomed and a couple of villagers ran to their houses to bring refreshments, pen, papers, stool and home made plamfans to fan him while he wrote a letter to the District Commisioner. The bulldozers never arrived and the spirits continued to dominate the village with their creative antics. The shops closed at dusk and no one ventured out after the temple bell alarms in the evening.
Sadhu ji Maharaj, a reknown soul who was a spiritual healer and exorcer, healed a number of villagers with his magic and amulets. He organised a sacred fire for the spirits and the villagers co operated whole heartedly in the ceremony by offering sacrifices & other knick-knacks. But at the end of the ceremony, a branch of the tree below which the ceremony took place, snapped with a loud sound. Sadhu Ji stood up alert and informed the villagers the meaning of that bad omen. He left the village the next day.
Mr Rao took morning and evening walks. I met him one day while he was taking an evening walk on the road, which made a serpentine curve towards the haunted building a quarter of a kilometer ahead. After exchanging niceties, we decided to take a walk to the building and come to our own conclusions regarding the hauntings and sightings.
I had never met God and was very interested to meet a ghost, maybe, to ask him have you met God yet? But apart that, I had no idea whether such things existed. Only once, while I was waiting for too long near the woods one late evening, I felt two or three pebbles thrown at my direction from inside the woods. I could never ascertain the person behind the woods who threw those pebbles at me. Maybe, it was a ghost, I thought. Sadly, ghosts are not an empirical phenomenon. There is always only one guy who experiences the ghost and since he has no one else to confirm his experience with, such narrations always remain shrouded in mystery or open to your conclusions.
Mr Rao and me formed a good team of ghostbusters. Whether we were successful in dealing with the spirits mattered less, but, what mattered was the thrill and exhilaration of witnessing the grey haired witch which sat by the window and let her hair loose during tempests while she sung high pitched notes which were heard at distant places of the village. The two dirty imps which would suddenly popup from nearby bushes at passerby’s and run away with evil shrieks seeing their victims fall hard and bruised on the road. And the rotten smelling plump one, who pollutes the air with his bad rotten smell making the hapless victim puke on the spot.
The sun was setting. A few monkeys jumped atop the mango and guava branches. The compound of the building was visible from the end from where we were approaching. There was no sign of anything haunted around the place. A number of birds chirped their evening notes while we advanced with careful steps. One side of the building came down. The remnants of a huge tree which had fallen down on the building long ago, was visible. The was no upper storey, even if it had one, it didn’t exist now. The erect corner of the building provided some sort of a shelter to the animals at night, but there was no sign of the imps, or the witch or the rotten one. The ruins looked peaceful. After a considerable period of ghost hunting, Mr Rao and I returned back to the village, chatting and rubbishing all the truthful stories of fear & panic while greeting a number of bewildered villagers who were hurrying back to their homes in the fading light.