Walking with the unknown
Ranchi, India 1973
No one got off the bus, he didn’t know which would be a worse decision, not getting off the bus and unable to meet the family or walk down 7 kms of dark, deserted road leading to the Veterinary colony. The driver shouted – “chaliye chaliye jaldi” (my reader, this story is set in Kanke Ranchi & giving respect is an inherent part of culture and hence the driver says chaliye rather than chalo). It was a split second decision and Ram was out on the road with his overnight bag.
The first thing which hit Ram was not the cool breeze but the vulnerability he had exposed onto himself. He was alone on a pitch dark road with Eucalyptus & Gulmohar trees on both sides forming a canopy. Next to the road was a 15 ft. high boundary wall of the mighty Kanke mental institution & on the other side was gentle Subernarekha River bordering the fertile fields. All alone Ram could be mugged, stabbed or even chased by stray dogs (back in 1973 Kanke was infamous for stray dogs). Though his watch showed 8 pm but it looked more like 12 am. In spite of all these Ram a young man of 28 was determined to walk 7 kms to meet his family.
It was June, the monsoon season, and the moon played hide and seek behind the clouds. Ram could smell the fresh moist ground, clean cool air, crickets were chirping in perfect harmony, it seemed the road had been washed and cleaned for his arrival, as if destiny had set a date.
All alone fear crept in Ram’s mind with every step he took; his own mind had started playing tricks on him, survival instincts were asking him to flee while a determined half pushed Ram to go on. There were conversations going on in Ram’s head,
Do you believe in ghosts?
Aren’t you scared of them?
If I don’t believe in ghosts there is no question of getting scared
Aha I see, do you hear someone crying
Come on don’t deny, there is someone crying
Ram heard the faint crying of a woman; he strained his ears to locate the source. The barbed mighty walls of Kanke mental institution were high enough even for the most dangerously insane patient but could not stop the faint wailing of a woman’s voice. It wasn’t a child’s innocent cry or an old woman’s “hollow” wail but the heart wrenching cry of a young girl. Though Ram could hear the cry his mind refused to accept.
So you heard it!
No I did not
Come on Ram now you are ignoring
No I am not
Okay since you don’t believe in ghosts tell me who do you think is crossing the road
Ram froze in his steps like water in Antarctica; there was someone or something crossing the road. He could see a pale white shadow with a rope around its neck crossing the road. Ram didn’t move.
So now you have finally seen a ghost
Come on say something
(Still no response)
Ram’s mind had gone numb. Even if he wanted he couldn’t have gone back as the last bus had left for the day and sitting out in the open didn’t appear to be a good idea. Ram had no choice but to continue moving forward.
His muscles were strained not with fatigue but with tension and fear as Ram continued to walk. By 8:30 he reached Block. Block was like an outstation post for the people living in the colony. It had a few shops, almost all of them were shut except a Paan stall. Ram couldn’t stop from cracking a smile not because he liked paan but because he will get someone’s company to cover rest of the 5 kms.
The Paan stall also served as a secret hideout for youngsters to smoke or enjoy paan away from the peering eyes of the family and neighbours. There were a few youngsters enjoying a cigarette.
Ram – ek paan dena
Paanwala – Maghai ki banarasi (paan has been a delicacy for hundreds of years; the shopkeeper was asking what kind of paan leaf would Ram want)
Ram was trying hard to keep his nerves under control
Paanwala with a humble smile – Sir, hum puch rahe hai kaun sa patta lenge (what paan leaf would you prefer)
Ram pointed to one set of leafs
By now the youngsters had stubbed out the cigarette and were about to leave. Ram got ready to join them only to realise none of them were going towards the colony.
Sahab yaha ke nahi lagte, kaha jana hai aapko (you don’t appear to be a localite where are you headed)
Ram – Veterinary colony
Aree baap re itni raat ko, wo bhi paidal, jaldi jayiea sabab (at this time of the night and that too walking, you must hurry up sir)
This is when Ram noticed someone walking towards the colony. From the outline Ram could make out that the person walking ahead was a man of average built. He was wearing trousers and a loose shirt which was un-tucked. By now heavy clouds had covered the Moon, the night was pitch dark. Ram wanted to call out to the person who was roughly 300 metres ahead, instead he hurried his pace. There were 5 more kms to be covered and the idea of some company felt nice.
As Ram neared the distance, the man started walking off the road towards the field. This was strange, why would anyone go towards the field at this time? Ram wanted to ask but the man had moved into complete darkness. Ram continued to walk.
Fear had started to set in as Ram once again heard the girl’s voice. This time she was not crying but giggling. Involuntarily he turned around only to find no one, not even his shadow. He quickened his pace but the giggling closed in. He could hear footsteps but then his mind (whatever part was still keeping him conscious) reasoned the sound is coming from his shoes. Ram stated to walk on his toes but the footsteps kept closing in. He once again turned around but there was no one. Then something happened which drained blood from Ram’s face, he was not alone.
Back in the colony his wife and kids had come to visit their scientist uncle, Dr. Suman. They had expected Ram to be home by 7, there was no telephone in the house and most of the visits were pre planned. When Ram didn’t turn up even by 9 pm, the family was convinced he has been caught up at work and would have left message at Dr. Suman’s office. There was no need to worry and the family went off to bed.
I must tell you my reader that back in 1973 electricity was a luxury which was available only for 4-5 hrs. a day, usually in the early hours of the day for the people to complete their daily chores and charge the battery for back up. There were no street lights. People in the colony preferred to sleep early as there was nothing much to do. The colony had single storeyed bungalow and three storeyed apartments, in total around 50 families lived there. Dr. Suman’s house was almost at the rear end of colony.
Ram gaped in horror as there was movement in the Eucalyptus trees next to him. The air was still, yet the branches started to shake. Ram tried to see through the darkness but his eyes didn’t catch anything. The girl’s giggling came nearer, involuntarily Ram turned back. The man who had walked into the fields was back and was walking straight towards RAM. He was not alone!+\\
Every muscle in Ram’s body was ready to make him run but he didn’t rather he kept staring at the figure. The figure once again started walking into the fields, into the darkness.
Ram’s had quickened his pace, in fact he was a step away from sprinting. He was moving from pole to pole (electricity pole) and kept looking back. The figure would often return as Ram left one pole and moved to another, but never could come close enough for Ram to see his features.
Finally at around 9:50 Ram reached the colony’s entrance. This was the last time we would turn back to see the figure standing at the edge to the field, from here Dr. Suman’s house was 400 metres away. Ram started to run.
Dr. Suman woke up to some loud knocking on the door. He was shocked to see Ram standing at his door. His family was delighted to see him. The next few hours were gobbled up by Ram’s story with a lot of questions from the audience. Dr. Suman said no one in their sane mind will try to walk down from the bus stand to the colony and that too in the night!
The sky had cleared and the stars were shining brightly. A mild breeze had started and somewhere Ram could still hear girl’s giggling.