Like any other child, I was very inquisitive when I was a kid. And what is childhood without fear, especially of ghosts? I wasn’t an exception to this phasmophobia. It took both these qualities of mine to unravel a mystery when I was 8-ish. Booh!
I returned home after my play in the school right behind my house. My Mom and Dad were talking to my tenant. It appeared as though they were assuaging her. With no intention of hiding my enthusiasm, I asked Dad what the matter was. Ma intervened and said “It’s not for kids, stay out of this”. Oh a cliché! As though I would stop nosing around. Another cliché! I had my own ways of eavesdropping and heard bits and pieces of what the discussion was about – noises, backyard and as one might expect, ghosts.
I could grasp no further and out of fear and lack of information, I let that conversation slip out of my mind. After a few happy and usual days, as I was entering my house I heard the tenant saying “..and that Swami said that there’s nothing to fear because Brahmins(we, the owners) do a lot of Puja which would protect the whole house from anything and everything evil”. Swami? Did she go to a Swami about that noise? What noise was that? Where did it come from? There’s only one way to know.
That night, Grandma spilled everything I wanted to know. My tenant began hearing jingling of anklets at night from the playground of the school behind our house. Her husband testified the same too. When they came to tell my parents (that is the first time I heard them talking about this) who are a tad more scientific, Dad said there would be a more plausible and rational explanation to the noises. Apparently unassured, Aunt sought the advice of a Swamiji who, without denying the presence of a ghost, comforted her that God was with us and thus she was relieved.
My elder brother and I decided to stay awake to see if we hear the anklets too. And we did! Next part of the plan was to check on this for a few days. I used up all the vermillion in the house to fall asleep that night and every night thereafter as the sounds continued.
I shared all this with my friend Divya who lives by my house, who, in turn passed it on to her mother. When someone told her that ghosts are scared of footwear and broomsticks, she kept a pair of her husband’s sandals and a broomstick on the window sill at the back of her house. The very next day, one of the sandals went missing. There were blood stains on the other and she became hysteric about it. She and I talked to the watchman of the school about this after which we learnt that even they believe that it’s the ghost of the woman who was fired by the school management and then died due to ill health.
As much as I was scared to death knowing this, I wanted to see what a ghost looks like. Is a ghost visible? Does it roam around in a white sari with hair let loose as in movies? Can it be touched or felt? It was Mission SeeGhost for my brother and me then. One night, we waited till we heard those jingling noises and sneaked out of the house with several photographs of Gods in pockets. We jumped over our compound wall and into the school’s dining room.
There it was! Yes a damn ghost! I could feel the shivers down my spine as I saw a figure walking alongside the trees! Whether it is due to the darkness or my own fear, I remember nothing but the silhouette and the sound its anklets were making. My brother wanted to go back to our room before it saw us and came hunting. Despite my fear and his warnings, I insisted on having a closer look so that I could boast about it in school. Without noticing that the ghost changed its direction, we advanced a few steps and ducked down behind a wall. We had no idea what was coming for us.
In no less than few minutes, we could hear it approaching us. I could feel the sweat trickle on my forehead as I hoped and prayed not to be dead in its hands. I froze when I saw a foot at the entrance of the dining room. Lesson I: All ghosts might not have their feet backside-front. While I was trying a lot not to squeak, the full figure of the ghost came in to picture. Lesson 2: Male ghosts exist, judging by the apparel it was wearing. The story of the fired female teacher didn’t fit then. So who’s this? For a moment I thought I should say, “Hey if you’re not the teacher, who are you and why are you here?”. I just saw a ghost and it’s obvious that I couldn’t make any sound.
It moved towards a chair and sat down. Lesson 3: Ghosts feel things. It raised its legs and started taking the anklets off. Lesson 4: Anklets aren’t a built-in feature for them. But why was it getting rid of those now. I couldn’t understand why a male ghost would go to the extent of wearing anklets for a night walk. Also, why would it just come and go? Lesson 5: Ghosts aren’t omniscient or it would have noticed us. It then sprang from the chair and leaped into the backyard of my house.
I could stop neither following suit nor screaming at the top of my voice as I thought about my family. With our unexpected presence, the ghost must have got startled that it stumbled on a cobblestone and fell heavily. Lesson 6: Ghosts are humanlike in several ways! In the meantime, Dad and Mom rushed out to see what ruckus was going on in the house. As Fa caught glimpse of the figure that was lying down on the floor, he said, “Gopal, have you come to rob my house?!” Perplexed I said, “It is a ghost, father”. Brother added, “He’s the one that walks with anklets. We just saw him in the school!” By this time, Divya’s father who came in unnoticed took the so called Gopal by his collar and shouted some obscenities at him.
When I woke up, I was in my room. Dad was pacing up and down the living room talking to someone over the phone. I went to ask him what happened after I passed out. It turned out that Gopal, son of the previous watchman, was no ghost but in order to drive the new watchman and his family away from his father’s job, tried these theatricalities! Thought Fa was upset with our adventure, people in the neighbourhood were happy to learn the truth and brother and I received loads of praise and candies. Behind the missing sandal and blood in Divya’s house was a stray dog. Gopal is now working as in-house electrician in the school and dumped his anklets.
Lesson One and Only: There are no ghosts.