DOUBT OR NOT TO DOUBT
DOUBT OR NOT TO DOUBT
It was late winter afternoon when I entered the small hutment on the sides of a large pond with tranquil and clear water surrounded by trees and shrubs all around its periphery. A small window, bare and half-broken, was overlooking that water body. While entering, my mind was somewhat apprehensive. Shaanu Sengupta, my dear friend, was at my side, whose hand I caught with a vice grip; my palm was cold as I held him.
He looked at me with a smile, "Do not be afraid, Gauri; all you hear about this pond and this area from the villagers are bunkum. We will prove that there is nothing supernatural here. Staying one night here is sufficient."
Darshan Majhi, the head villager, standing just outside the door, stepped inside with a serious face. "Sir, please do not take this place lightly; there is something ghostly here that no one can explain. This has been happening for years, and many people confirmed this extraordinary phenomenon."
"Can you once again explain in detail why all you villagers are so scared about this hutment and the pond?" asked Shaanu.
I did not want to hear all these a second time, but Darshan was willing to repeat the incidents again.
According to him, in 2016, a middle-aged gentleman named Karan Goswami came from Kolkata to this village, 'Ram-Gaon,' in the Munger district of the State of Bihar, to study flora and fauna; he was a biologist. While scouting around the adjoining areas of this village, he came across this pond situated around two kilometers to the west, inside the forest. The hutment was also there, most probably constructed decades ago by the British, who had also developed this area to unwind and fish.
One Sunday afternoon, Karan told Darshan that he intended to go to that region for fishing and stay overnight to examine nature at night. Since he knew about an old electricity cable connecting the hutment to the village's central electric transmission tower, he wanted to see if it was still functioning. That was, and so Karan Goswami left for the pond with a fishing pole and other gears.
The following day, when he failed to return to the village, Darshan Majhi, with two of his friends, went to find out what had happened. There, they met with a totally unexpected sight. Karan Goswami was lying on the floor, unconscious. With some difficulty, he was moved to the main hospital about five kilometers from the village in the nearest district town, and he recovered after several days of hospitalization.
On inquiry by the local police, he could only say that night he had heard perplexing noises of splashing in the pond as if there was some supernatural large-sized creature in the waters. And this repeatedly happened whenever he switched the electric light on inside the hutment to try to see the cause of the noise correctly. The same noise was heard when he switched the light off. Initially, he went out in the darkness near the pond to check but was clueless. By and by, he became so scared in that faraway place inside the deep forest that he lost his senses. He never remembered anything after that.
With this incident, fear developed around this area, and in general, the villagers avoided going to this side of the forest.
A year later, a young man named Hemendra Ghosh came to the village to investigate the strange incident. He was a friend of Karan Goswami's son and had learned about the incident from him. After staying overnight, he also harboured the same impression that there were ghostly creatures inside the pond that nobody saw in the daytime, but one could experience them during late nights.
That second visit and reaffirmation of the inexplicable occurrences inside the pond created a further fear psychosis, and seldom had anyone visited there for the last many years.
Then another unrelated incident happened last year, during the winter. An old woman was found dead by drowning in that pond! When a couple of farmers traversing that area at a distance discovered her rotting dead body in the water a week later, it was believed to be a mishap. She would have wandered away inside the forest near the pond during darkness, missed her steps and plunged into the water. The odd thing was that she was totally an unknown woman, and someone remembered that she had alighted from a train from Kolkata a day earlier. Eventually, the police failed to identify her, and she was cremated after a few days with Hindu rituals. That could have been the end of the matter; however, some villagers doubted that she was a victim of those ghostly creatures.
That late winter afternoon, Shaanu and I were in that area to investigate that incident we had heard from the 'Seekers of Ghosts Club' in Kolkata. Shaanu, although interested in the supernatural and ghosts, he firmly believed that all these were figments of the imagination of pathetic minds, and he had to prove that. There were no ghosts!
But I was not so sure. For centuries, people had experienced ghosts and paranormal activities, and considerable research and investigation continued. While there were never any authoritative findings, I kept my options open and worried about the unknowns.
As I looked intently at the expanse of the pond water in the fading sun and the shadows of the greenery reflecting on the water, there was nothing to be frightened of. The inside of the hutment was in a disused state with semi-concrete broken floor and walls with peeling and ruptured paint and plaster. The lone electric bulb was just across the open window on the opposite wall, and it worked when I tried to switch it on.
We settled in, and eventually, at 9.45 p.m., after a frugal dinner, we both tried to be comfortable on the floor with a mat rolled out while sharing a warm blanket to keep the cold out. The single bulb was burning brightly, must be 200 watts, lighting up the small room as if there was sunlight; the rays of the bulb were percolating out and visible from outside the hutment through the cracks of the door and the single open window overlooking the pond. The darkness outside, with no moon, formed an overarching black cover; the virtually invisible tall trees nearby, with rustling noise, accentuated the environment. Shaanu went out to make a reconnaissance of the area. On return, he shook his head and said, "I was practically blind as a bat outside; the only exception is that the light leaking out the hutment makes it seem like an alien structure sitting on the ground. There is no movement of the pond's water, which is perfectly natural in this windless weather, and I would say that all these ghost fears inside the water are bogus."
I said nothing, especially since I felt a constant tremor of fear in myself. Shaanu was nonchalant; an adventurous feeling was the dominant attitude for him.
We found nothing amiss as we tried to keep awake. I reckoned my eyes were gradually closing due to sleep when we heard a noise in the pond. Shaanu was on full alert right away, and we sat up, trying to look outside the window. Nothing was heard after that.
Shaanu waited for some time after saying in a low tone that we should switch off the light; perhaps whoever was outside was repelled by the light. Even the experience of other men here had pointed to a particular link with the light.
He got up and switched off the light, and almost immediately, we heard a loud splash in the pond. We moved near the window and checked, but we could see nothing other than dark waters. Then he nodded at me, I moved back, switched on the light, and then there was another splash noise; dimly, we could see that the water was moving with significant ripples. Shaanu stared at the scene for some moments and indicated to switch off the light again. There was another noise; next, I put on the light again of my own volition and, after counting a few seconds, put it off, causing repetitions of the noise in the pond.
Almost immediately, it was becoming clear to us that no supernatural activity was happening here. The reason was straightforward; the pond was full of fishes, small and large, and in the absolute darkness, the intensely bright light of the electric bulb was falling on the water like a burning spear attracting the fishes. Therefore, as soon as the light was switched off, the school of fish drawn to that spot of light moved away, creating a splash, and as the light was switched on, those fishes jumped back towards the spot, making another, stronger, splash. Thus, there was a perfectly natural reason for which no cause of fear could arise.
The next day, after we explained the phenomenon to the villagers, the pond and the natural surroundings of the hutment ceased to become a place of terror to them, and we prepared to return the same day to Kolkata.
While this was the end of our ghost investigation in this part of Bihar, I remembered that before leaving in the afternoon, when I was still inside the hutment, alone, packing a few things, I heard a noise of very loud splashing in the pond. While looking out, I could see nothing. The pond was so tranquil, as if there was no splash of fish at any time. Thinking that my imagination was going wild, I refrained from raising this subject before Shaanu, who had gone ahead towards the village.
Later, Shaanu became more emboldened to say that there were no ghosts or any supernatural activities and all such experiences by various people over the years had natural or logical causes, even weak hearts. Even though I had to agree reluctantly at that time, my fears did not leave me. I did not want him to get into another paranormal environment where he could get into trouble. I loved him too much and could not afford to lose him.
Almost three months had passed after we returned from that village, 'Ram-Gaon,' when Shaanu's passion for proving that supernatural or ghosts did not exist reared its head again. This time it was a mansion just outside the city limits, which had decades of the reputation of being haunted. Stories abounded; it was difficult to understand what exactly made this place creepy.
As usual, there was no way I could talk him out of it. So, we made the plan to visit the mansion, stay the night and prove that there was nothing like a ghost.
That Sunday late evening, I entered the gates of the dilapidated ageless mansion with a certain apprehension. Shaanu had already gone in.
The fading sunlight played hide & seek in the edifice in various nooks and corners, pathways, broken down veranda, staircases, and all around the mansion. The inside from the doorway looked dark and forlorn. The inner view from a few scattered windows presented the same picture. For miles, the overgrown trees and shrubs surrounding the structure depicted closed, forbidding, and scary greenery!
I looked around. Shaanu, too, was surveying the area.
"This place has something frightening I can feel in my bones," I said. "Moreover, there is no electricity here."
"So what? Do not jump to conclusions. Let the night pass." Shaanu said loudly; he was in his usual disbelieving self, more so after the incident in that village.
There was another reason for his being aggressive about this visit. There was a stormy argument in the college cafeteria the day before with one of his friends. "There is no ghost … ever," were his final words, "… no more arguments. We will prove it tomorrow!" Shaanu had said.
"But" his friend Rohit had smiled, "it is well known that you will never see one if you go looking for ghosts."
That evening we were prepared for the night. The sun was going down fast; a long night was coming.
We entered the mansion through the main door, cleared the cow webs, kept handkerchiefs on our noses to ward off the dust of God knows how many years, walked through numerous rooms, corridors, and corners, negotiated a few flying bats, and ultimately found a small room which had only one door but was relatively clean.
We settled in for a long wait.
"How long do you reckon?" I looked at Shaanu.
"Your guess is as good as mine. God Knows." He seemed dismissive. The darkness was by then absolute, night insects were making noises, and the night seemed to be taking its grip. The atmosphere was getting more and more ominous. Our one flickering candle looked like it was fighting a lost battle.
Some hours must have passed; we were dozing off, not strictly keeping a tab on time, when suddenly we heard a low moan! It was as though somebody was suffering pain.
We were immediately alert, looked at each other, and got up after a silent nod. With our torches switched on, we took our bearings and moved.
Shaanu was at the front.
We paused, crossing a long corridor and coming near a room where the low moan appeared to be permeating. The door was partly open, but it was inky dark inside.
Shaanu pushed the creaking door in and flicked the flashlight beam around.
I gritted my teeth, my heart was palpitating painfully, I felt short of breath, and sweat formed on my forehead.
God knows how Shaanu was feeling.
At first, we witnessed nothing, but the moving light caught a glimpse of someone lying on the ground in the far corner. Turning the light, an old woman with a white sheet covered up her chin came into our view. Her snow-white hair contrasted with the darkness. Her pinched-up thin face was the most pathetic sight, showing despair and deep pain.
She groaned once more.
We moved swiftly into action.
"Who are you? What happened?" Shaanu touched her forehead. "My God, she is burning with fever."
The old woman muttered, "Please help me...I think I'm dying … give me water." She started gasping for breath.
I ran out of the room towards our room to fetch the water bottle.
When I came back, Shaanu was kneeling at the woman's side, holding her gnarled thin hand.
I opened the bottle and gently poured water into her mouth. She abruptly shuddered and closed her eyes; her frail body became still!
I reached for her pulse and felt her nostrils; there was no beat, no breath. The poor woman had died! Shaanu, too, checked after giving a little gap to ensure this fact.
Her body was ice cold! So was her tattered wet saree.
"What should we do now?" I looked at Shaanu with trepidation.
It was something we never expected.
"Let us not waste any time; this woman is dead; we must do something...inform the police."
I nodded, and we came out of the mansion, carefully finding our way through the darkness, and reached my car, parked nearby.
Before that, I had taken a photo of the poor dead woman from my mobile camera; it was on an impulse.
Shaanu said, "She is human; now you know there are no ghosts. This mansion is just a relic with beggars occupying it over the years, and their movements made people think this was haunted. And you find another destitute dying of hunger and disease."
"But," I said, "one can argue like this; the old woman may not have anything to do with ghosts, but this mansion could still be haunted."
"All bunkum!" Shaanu retorted loudly. "Let somebody convince me … I challenge anybody." He sneered.
I did not like this attitude but kept quiet.
When we reached the nearest police station, it was 2.30 a.m., and very few personnel were there, but we managed to convince the in-charge to go to the mansion. They could not ignore the photo of that dead woman on my mobile phone.
The police said that they would act and asked us to go home.
It was a long drive entering the City; an hour later, I dropped Shaanu near his hostel gate and drove off to my house, thinking of the unexpected anti-climax to our search for ghosts.
The following day, I was awakened by my mobile ringing. It was bright and sunny, and the time was 10.20 a.m. I was acutely late due to our night adventure.
The call was from one Inspector Rathod, whom I remembered we met during the night. "Ma'am, you should at once come to the police station." He seemed disturbed.
Before I started, I gave a call to Shaanu, but there was no response. I was sure he was still sleeping. Deciding not to disturb him in his hostel, I went to my car.
After another long drive, I reached the police station and walked into the room of Rathod; he seemed restless.
"What is the problem?" I looked at him feeling slightly troubled. The police were not supposed to get agitated.
Rathod sat down. "Ma'am, you know whom we found when we went to that old mansion around 6.00 a.m. today after you and your friend came to us?"
I stared at him.
"There was no old woman in that room, dead or alive; instead, your friend's unconscious body was lying there! We have shifted him to the local hospital. But I thought both of you had gone home. Who removed the dead body? What sort of complexity is this?"
I continued to gaze at him and could not believe what I had heard; my head reeled, and I sat shakily on the nearby bench.
Soon I got up and reached the hospital to find that Shaanu was recovering; he was conscious. Inspector Rathod had accompanied me.
As I smoothened his forehead, he looked at me with a weak smile.
"How are you feeling, Shaanu? What is this strange happening? You were in your hostel last night. Why did you go to the mansion? What the hell is going on with that dead old woman?" I asked.
"You will not believe what I will say…," Shaanu replied in a low tone, quite unlike his robust behaviour. "After you dropped me at the hostel and I had gone off to sleep, I dreamt about that old woman asking me to go to an apartment at the rear of some hospital; I could see that apartment building and its door in my dream. When I woke up or regained my senses as per the doctors, I found myself in this hospital, which I think is the same one that the old woman was telling me about. I do not remember leaving my hostel at any time… I know nothing else."
At this time, Inspector Rathod explained the facts to him. Soon Shaanu became reticent and, with a sigh, said, "Everything … so very weird, I do not know, I feel very shaken, scared…." He stopped and took my hand, which was trembling.
Two days had since passed after that tragedy; after getting discharged from the hospital, Shaanu and I searched for that apartment building which we found quickly enough.
It was afternoon when we climbed the rickety stairs of the building and rang the doorbell of that apartment.
Moments later, a middle-aged lady opened the door and looked at us inquiringly. It was very awkward for me to explain why we were there, but instinctively I took out my mobile phone and showed her the photo of that dead woman. As that lady looked at the photo, her eyes moistened, and she started swaying but supported herself by holding the door.
"Who are you? How did you get this photo? What do you want?" Her voice was shaky.
"Can we come in?" I asked.
Soon we were sitting in the minuscule ramshackle drawing-room.
When Shaanu ended his short and astonishing narrative, that lady, whose name was Jharna Dutt and standing before us, started weeping silently.
I stood up and gently coaxed her to sit down.
By and by, she controlled herself and told us her part of the tale. It was heart-wrenching.
The photo of the dead woman was that of her maternal grandmother. Her name was Sulochona Devi. The grandfather had died long ago, and even Jharna's parents were no more. Besides, Jharna was a spinster, and no other living relatives existed.
So, there were only Sulochona Devi and Jharna, who lived together in that apartment for many years, happily.
Unfortunately, these two ladies had some difference of opinion last year, which became so severe that one afternoon, Sulochona Devi left home in great annoyance without informing her granddaughter. After that, Jharna tried to trace her but in vain. Soon, her remorse knew no bounds, and she went into a depression. She could never forget the mutual love and affection they had shared since her childhood. How could a minor turmoil bring about such a drastic step? She was sure that her grandmother would realise her folly and return to her; she loved her too much. But that was not happening!
When we arrived today, her emotional state was apparent while we showed her the grandmother's photo and told her this incredible tale!
In the end, she could not bring about to think that her grandmother was dead. Even if Jharna acknowledged that demise, she repeatedly asked why she could not see her physical body; did she not die only recently? The mysterious disappearance of the body was not acceptable. The police should be able to track her down. Many questions remained unanswered. We felt it was our responsibility to sort out the unknowns.
That evening itself, we visited Inspector Rathod. While I was briefing him on our visit to the granddaughter, I had a couple of hunches.
Was there a connection between this dead woman in the mansion and what we heard about the death in the forest of 'Ram-Gaon'? I recalled Darshan Majhi had said that an old woman was found dead by drowning in that pond! She was not a local woman and had come from Kolkata. Ultimately, she remained unidentified by the police after the investigation. So, could they have kept any record, including a photo of that woman?
And finally, what about my odd experience while leaving this village? To bring to mind, when I was going away from that hutment, I heard a noise of very loud splashing in the pond. What was it that I had tried to ignore? Was that the supernatural signal of that old woman falling into the pond and dying?
The inspector was helpful and promised to do whatever possible to sort out these queries.
Later, when we again visited Jharna's tiny apartment, I had the photo of the unidentified dead woman, taken by the police in that village after fishing her out of the pond but before cremation. It was not a pleasant sight, but her face was unmistakable.
When Jharna saw that police photo and again the mobile phone photo I took while in the mansion, which matched, she broke down completely! She was convinced! The old woman who drowned was indeed her grandmother, who had reached 'Ram-Gaon' in a fit of anger and unfortunately met her death, probably accidentally. And her apparition was seen by us in that dilapidated ageless mansion; in fact, she wanted that!
Here we understood one reality very clearly. Even after death, deep love and affections had prevailed; otherwise, why would she want to connect with her granddaughter from the ethereal world? Providentially we were made the mystical medium between these two 'SHEs'!
Shaanu was now a reluctant believer of unknowns, and justifiably so!
Sample story from new book: FOREVER SHE