Call of the Ghost
Call of the Ghost
Sometimes in life, events happen and shake you to the core. One such incident occurred in my life which I am narrating below. There was a call from a teacher of yesteryears all of a sudden. His name was Govind Rao. He was very fond of me and used to call me Razoo in his typical Telugu accent although my name was Raju. Razoo became my name, and my friend would tease me a lot especially whenever they wanted to pull my leg. I had lost touch with him for more than a decade and got to know some information about him now and then. The last news I had heard about him was that he left his family and has become some sadhu living in Himalayas. It was with a mixed feeling of delight, bewilderment I received his call. The teacher said he was in town and he would be delighted to meet my family and me. We fixed up a meeting the next day in the evening at about 7 pm in a famous old café in south Bangalore, near-by to where he was staying.
As I was commuting in the taxi towards the café, in my memories, I recalled my association with my teacher. Govind Rao, Raoji, as he got called fondly, used to teach Irrigation engineering. I was very fond of water myself and enjoyed the sight and sound of river flow as I grew up in my native village by the banks of the river Tamaraparini. I enjoyed this particular subject and had decided to become an irrigation engineer. I topped the class in this subject and went on to do MTech in minor irrigation as advised by Govind Rao as he was a well- known expert on this subject. Through his offices, I got my initial appointment in a World Bank irrigation project for three years as a technical consultant. I designed my first minor irrigation project under the tutelage of Govind Rao which got much acclaim.
I did my job well and got absorbed into World Bank, New Delhi office as a minor irrigation expert and worked there for several years until I resigned a few years ago and got commissioned to write a few books on small irrigation projects by a well- known publisher. There were several success stories of minor irrigation projects that I was associated with during my stint with the World Bank, the narration of which was what the book included. On and off I got some assignment as well from the World Bank itself and other private agencies as I too was considered among a few international experts of repute in the country. I was leading a comfortable life in Bangalore except for the growing traffic congestion which virtually made mobility extremely difficult.
The next day turned out to be busy, and I had to request my wife to go ahead and be with Raoji at the café, while I would join. He had said he dressed himself in a grey robe, has a salt and pepper flowing beard and matted gray hair and would be easy to recognize. I did get delayed and could manage to reach the café by about 7.30 pm. The café had got crowded by then. There was a couple sitting in the cafe when I walked in. As the light was low, I didn't know who they were until the woman turned around, and I saw it was my wife. Only when I got near to them, I could make out my teacher. I bent down to hug him and sat beside him. He looked a ghost of his self in the dull light.
When it was time to order, he suggested an alcoholic drink and could we move to the adjoining room where they would serve drinks. We did that and ordered two whiskeys and a cocktail for my wife. We were silent until the drinks got served and he took a large sip and started narrating his story as if in a reverie.
It was after his retirement, 5-6 years ago, he had gone to Himalaya with a group of friends for a trek when he met with the middle-aged naga sadhu, Anand Nag. This sadhu had taken sanyas when the calling had come and left everything to become a naga sadhu himself. Raoji said his family life had taken a beating with the collapse of his daughter’s marriage and also with his son getting disarrayed in his career. His wife had become quite cranky. The domestic life had become torture, and he had taken to prayer and drinks to find solace which he never found. Then a chance trip with his friends brought him to the Himalayas where he had got in touch with the sadhu Anand Nag. Sadhu had accompanied them in their trek for a few days, and they had talked much. By the time he returned to Bangalore he had made up his mind to become a sadhu. He wrote out his will with his good friend of his lawyer Gopalakrishnan and left one day without telling his family. He was on and off in touch with his lawyer friend.
The first winter was hard. He thought he would succumb to the chill. The younger sadhu, Anand Nag, served as an inspiration and helped him through physical hardship. Luckily, he was in good health himself otherwise, and that too helped him. The mind was slowly becoming free, and gradually the family and other concerns left him.
I had ordered a refill of his glass. There was some silence before he began again. He said there were several steps in the process of becoming a naga sadhu and he was only halfway. By now he had got used to having one meal a day consisting of herbs and fruits, sometimes not even that, sleeps only on the ground, goes around naked with the body smeared only with ashes, had gone through penance and training so that all his libido had left him entirely. He was due to perform his death ceremony, a kind of final act of renunciation. That was when he thought he would call his lawyer friend and talk to him one last time. The lawyer had told him that his wife severely developed cancer and he had come one last time to visit his family. Raoji further informed us that his wife had passed away two days ago, and he had performed her last rites. It was then he had met another classmate of mine and got my number and decided to call me as he had felt warm memories of me. He was leaving for Delhi the next day by train. Usually Akhand (highest council of the nagas) don’t permit such trips, but they had made an exception as he was still in the process of becoming a naga.
I was so excited about meeting with my teacher, so the very next day my wife and I met with another classmate of mine Sekar from the college to share the experience of yesterday's meeting. I excitedly narrated the story beginning with the call. My friend patiently listened to the story and burst out laughing at the end. My wife and I were quite annoyed and said we didn’t tell him a ghost story and it was then he brought me a paper cutting of an obituary published in Deccan Herald dated 5th April, 2018.
April 14, 1947 to March 31, 2018
My dear friend Govind Rao had passed away on 30th March, 2018. He had lived a good life and excelled as a teacher In his twilight years, he had taken to spirituality and was in the process of becoming a naga sadhu. The Lord Shiva, in his kindness and generosity, had embraced him in his final travails. His wife Seethamma, son Chandrasekhar and daughter Alamelu are his immediate family. May his soul rest in peace.
However, my wife and I would have none of this obituary business as we had met with Govind Rao in the flesh the previous day. My friend Sekar called up the lawyer who confirmed to him that Seethamma had indeed passed away three days ago. Gopalakrishnan would not believe when Sekar told him that we had met with Govind Rao the previous day. It was the young Sadhu, Anand Nag, who had called the lawyer and informed him of Govind Rao’s death. Gopalakrishnan knew that none of Rao’s family would care to go to the Himalayas to perform Rao’s last rites. So, he had flown to the informed location himself, and completed the last rites. The younger sadhu had told him that Rao got bitten by a poisonous snake and succumbed to death, a rare occurrence in those parts. He then returned and published the obituary as a concerned friend to bring Rao’s life to a closure.
Then Sekar picked up my phone and dialed the number of Govind Rao and passed the phone to me after he heard an automated message. I listened to the automatic message say “This telephone number does not exist.”
We met with a scientist at the famous Indian Institute of Science who was researching on paranormal activities. He remarked he had heard of similar stories from people but he was unable to offer any explanation for such a phenomenon. It was not as if the restaurant we had met with my teacher was like some house on a haunted hill. But yet the whole incident sounded spooky and till date my wife and talk about it on some occasion or other.