Chapter - 1
The moment Shyama's eyes fell on Rukmini, she felt an intense hatred towards her. Since this was their first meeting, such a strong feeling might appear to be abnormal, but there was more behind the scenes than what met the eyes.
Shyama was a young girl of twenty years, who was raised in a poor family. Apart from his surname, her father inherited nothing from his forefathers. Shyama was the second among his six daughters. During that time girls' education had little or no importance in our society. Right from their childhood, they were taught to cook, learn household chores and look after the family. The only aim in their lives was to get married to a financially stable man and raise a family. Shyama was no different. After the marriage of her elder sister she eagerly waited for the day when some rich man would marry her and relieve her from this life of poverty. She was reasonably good looking and an expert cook-cum-house keeper. She thought these were qualities enough to get her a good husband. But she was wrong. Little did she know that after bearing the wedding expenses of her elder sister and fulfilling the dowry demands of her in-laws, her father had almost become a pauper. The marriage of his other daughters looked like a far fetched dream.
Shyama had a distant cousin-cum-friend named Kamala. She was a beautiful and educated young girl belonging to a rich family. Her father got her married to Prakash, a highly educated boy of a well-to-do family. Kamala had a brother-in-law who was of marriageable age. She felt that Shyama would make a good wife for him. It would also help her uncle if she could get one of his daughters married. She arranged the match and requested her father-in-law not to take any dowry from his poor uncle. The old man, who was fond of Kamala, agreed to her proposal and got his younger son Prabhas married to Shyama.
On their wedding night, Prabhas disclosed many family matters to his new bride. His mother Abha had died when they were very young. She had left a huge set of ornaments for their only sister Rukmini, who was now fourteen. Not only that, according to their father's will, Rukmini would be inheriting an equal share of their property (which was pretty huge) when she became eighteen or earlier if she got married before that age. The lucky man who'd marry her would become rich.
Shyama did not like what she heard. During that age only the sons inherited their father's property. Daughters were married off and forgotten. She failed to understand why it should be different for her sister-in-law. Moreover the knowledge that she wouldn't be getting any of her deceased mother in law's jewellery infuriated her. In her opinion it was the height of injustice. Her poverty-stricken father couldn't give her any ornament except a gold plated steel bangle which was the symbol of a married woman. Now she learnt how her dead mother-in-law had deceived both her daughters-in-law. Kamala, her cousin-turned-sister-in-law, did not mind because her rich parents had given her a lot of ornaments during her marriage. But Shyama did mind. Since her Ma-in-law was out of her reach, she directed all her hatred and jealousy towards Rukmini. Even before she set foot in her new home, her unseen sister-in-law became her major enemy.
Rukmini, who couldn't attend her brother's wedding due to a last minute stomach upset, had no wind of her new sister in law's dislike towards her. She smilingly received Shyama, without knowing how much hatred and jealousy lurked behind her pretty face.
Most of the girls who grow up in large, poor families are forced to sacrifice and suppress their desires. They have to surrender to their fates but their unfulfilled desires remain hidden in a dark corner of their heart waiting to surface at the right opportunity. They also learn to hide their true feelings behind a well maintained mask. Shyama was no exception to this. She could see that Rukmini was the apple of her father's eyes and, as the youngest member of the family, was pampered by all. Even Kamala loved her like her own sister which made Shyama abhor her even more. But she believed in the old saying, 'Stay close to your friends but closer to your enemies.' Hence she carefully hid her actual feelings and made a great show of love and affection towards Rukmini.
Kamala, who was the eldest daughter-in-law and the mistress of the joint family, had a lot of responsibilities on her. She also had to look after her little son Kisholoy. Hence it was impossible for her to gossip and chit chat with Rukmini the way Shyama did. Hence, within a very short time, Shyama became Rukmini's best friend.
It was the Shraddh Ceremony (obsequial rites) Day of Shyama's father-in-law. The old man had died of a sudden cardiac arrest from which he never got the time to recover. Prakash, Prabhas and Kamala were busy attending to the guests. Shyama was with Rukmini, consoling her as the poor girl hadn't recovered from the shock of her father's sudden death.
Though Shyama wore a mask of sorrow, inwardly she felt very happy. She had been waiting for the day when her father-in-law would die and her husband would inherit his share of the property. Not only that, she might even get hold of Rukmini's share, if played her cards correctly. She had learnt from Prabhas that Rukmini's money lay in fixed deposits. Since Rukmini was a minor, her father had made the FDs in his own name and made her (Rukmini) the only nominee. The FDs and her ornaments were kept in the old man's iron safe in his bedroom. The interest on the FDs was deposited into Rukmini's minor account which was operated by her father. But after his death, she couldn't operate her bank account as she was still a minor. Their family lawyer suggested that one of her brothers could be appointed as the custodian of her property till she became an adult after two years. This was where Shyama lay her hopes on. She made plans to make sure that Prabhas became the custodian of Rukmini's property. She showered love and sympathy on Rukmini to take her completely into her grip. She even neglected her twin infant daughters to be near Rukmini at all times. Rukmini, who was already fond of Shyama, now became emotionally dependent on her as well.
Shyama's efforts soon gave dividends. A few days after their father's Shraddh Ceremony, Prakash and Prabhas decided to divide their father's property as per his last will. Since Rukmini was a minor, the court asked her to choose one of her elder brothers as her custodian till she attained adulthood. Influenced by Shyama, she chose Prabhas for that role and indirectly signed her own death warrant.
After getting the court's orders, the deceased father's iron safe was opened. Rukmini's FDs and ornaments were handed over to her custodian brother Prabhas. He gave them to his wife for safe keeping. In this way, Shyama's plan of getting hold of Rukmini's ornaments and property became successful.
Shyama's only headache was Kamala, who truly cared about Rukmini. Kamala was a no-nonsense woman who could easily see through Shyama's mask. Once they had been cousins and friends. Hence Kamala knew how twisted Shyama's mind was. She was suspicious about the latter's new found affection towards Rukmini. There would have been nothing to worry about had Prakash and she(Kamala) been her guardians. But Rukmini herself had chosen the wrong couple. Hence Kamala should be, in no way, be responsible for the outcome of Rukmini's choice.
Still Kamala failed to distance herself from Rukmini. When she had come in this house as a new bride, her father-in-law had introduced Rukmini and said, 'This luckless girl has lost her mother at the tender age of four. I hope you will be like a second mother to her.' Kamala had felt a strange protectiveness towards the thin, little girl. She made her sit on her lap and told her a fairy tale. From that day Rukmini had become like a daughter to her. She fed her, played with her and told her bedtime stories. But probably their love was not mutual. Otherwise how could Shyama alienate them so easily with her false show of affection and sympathy? Kamala felt sad, but couldn't stay indifferent. Let Rukmini live with Prabhas and Shyama if she must, but Kamala would definitely keep a close watch on them.
Chapter - 3
Prakash's school friend Alokesh was the chief cashier in the national bank where the family maintained their accounts. One Saturday when Prakash went there to draw money, he had a chat with Alokesh. By the by he learnt that Prabhas regularly drew the interest money from Rukmini's account. Prakash was shocked. That money was supposed to be spent at the time of Rukmini's wedding. When he returned home and confronted Prabhas about it, the latter said, "You seem to forget that Rukmini has certain expenditures of her own. I don't draw a fat salary like you. How can I bear the expenses of an extra person if I don't get some extra money?"
"That money is meant for her wedding," retorted Prakash. "If you don't have the money to maintain her basic necessities then you better leave her responsibilities to me!"
Before Prabhas could reply Shyama intervened.
"I have a request to both of you. Please don't sacrifice poor Rukmini's sentiments to satisfy your ego. I hope you haven't forgotten that she herself chose her custodian in the court."
Prakash had no reply to that. It was true that Rukmini herself chose her fate. He decided to maintain silence about her affairs in future.
But Kamala couldn't be so indifferent about Rukmini.
"Isn't it high time that we should find a suitable boy for Rukmini and get her married?" she asked Prakash one day. "She's already sixteen and so pretty too."
Prakash couldn't deny that Rukmini's wedding would solve many problems. In fact, a good marriage would be a blessing for her. With her looks and property, there would be no dearth of eligible bachelors. The following day he talked to Prabhas and the two brothers decided to appoint a 'ghatak' or matchmaker to find a suitable groom for Rukmini.
Shyama was aghast to learn about Rukmini's wedding plans. She couldn't even think of parting with Rukmini's ornaments or her FDs. She thought that she had two years in her hand to scheme of cheating Rukmini of her property without getting into a legal mess. In fact she and Prabhas had already chalked out a plan to make Rukmini sign on a gift deed giving away her share of the ancestral house to Prabhas. But for that she needed to be an adult. Shyama was sure that by the next two years Rukmini would become a puppet in her hands. Then it would be easy to make her dance to her tunes. But all her dreams would be shattered if Rukmini got married now.
Shyama quarrelled with Prabhas for agreeing to Rukmini's marriage plans.
"Do you have to say 'yes' to everything your brother says?" she fumed.
"What else could I do?" asked Prabhas. "What reason could I give for saying 'no'?"
"I don't know. That's for you to find out."
"I don't have time for such nonsensical talk. Stop the marriage if you can."
Prabhas left for his office and Shyama realised that the ball was now in her court.
Shyama had a distant aunt who lived with her since her father-in-law's death. Her main job was to look after Shyama's daughters Rumela and Mridula, alias Rumu and Mridu. Though the aunt's name was Mandira, her nature was more like Manthara. No one could beat her in giving evil counsel to others. It was this wicked woman to whom Shyama turned for advice.
"Do you believe in black magic?" asked the aunt.
"Who will perform black magic? You?" Shyama asked disbelievingly.
"I know a Tantrik Baba who's famous for these things. But you must have faith in his powers."
"I have faith in anything that can bring me success," replied Shyama.
"Success is hundred percent guaranteed!"
"That's great. What do I have to do now?"
"Babaji and a few of his 'chelas' (disciples) live in Tarapith 'Maha-smashan' (crematorium). He visits Kolkata every Saturday and Sunday and stays in his 'shishya's (disciple) house in Shyambazar. There he meets people only in the afternoons. Today is Friday. We can go and see him tomorrow."
As per their plans, Shyama and her aunt visited Tantrik Baba on the following day. There were at least a dozen people in the queue before them. After a long wait of nearly two hours they were finally called inside the chamber.
Tantrik Baba was a huge, dark, evil looking man in his mid-forties. He had matted hair that almost reached his waist. Most of his face was covered with thick beard and mustache. He wore a lose, red cloak and a big sindur tilak (vermilion dot) adorned his forehead. His eyes were red and swollen from the effects of marijuana. He was attended by a couple of disciples who were continuously at his beck and call.
A tiger skin was sprawled on the floor in the centre of the room. Baba-ji sat on it in 'Padmasana' (Lotus) yogic posture. A huge photograph of Smashan Kali (Goddess Kali of the crematorium) adorned the wall behind him with a number of red hibiscus garlands hanging from it. The grey smoke from burning incense sticks enhanced the dark atmosphere of the ill-lit room.
Shyama was impressed by what she saw. She felt sure that this Baba-ji, who looked like an incarnation of Devil himself, could help her. She narrated everything to him and eagerly waited for his answer.
"There's only one way to solve your problem," said Tantrik Baba. "The girl has to be removed permanently."
Shyama felt goosebumps growing on her neck. Was Baba-ji a mind reader? She had been thinking on the same line for the past few days.
"I'm sure you too have thought about it," continued Baba-ji. "Don't worry. I will help you to get rid of this girl. But this will cost you a lot of money."
"Money will not be a problem Baba-ji," said Shyama with folded hands. "But how do you propose to do it? I don't want any police enquiry later."
"You don't know me or my powers. That's why you're asking me such a stupid question. Have you heard of 'Prana ghatini vaan' (killer arrow)?"
Shyama said she hadn't.
"It's a mantra, the chanting of which slowly deprives it's target from getting life giving energies."
"Really?" Shyama sounded distrustful.
Tantrik Baba noticed it and shook his head.
"You won't believe it until you see the results," said he. "As a demo I'm giving you this small root. Crush it and mix it into the girl's food."
He took a small root and chanted some mantras mentioning Rukmini's name. Then he forwarded it to Shyama.
"Is this root poisonous, Baba-ji?" asked Shyama eyeing the root suspiciously.
In reply, Baba-ji broke a small portion from the root's end and threw it into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed it, but no change was visible in him.
"I hope you've got the answer to your question," said Baba-ji. "This 'mantra-siddha' root will only work on the targetted person. For others it's just a harmless root. Go home and try it out. Come next week if you're satisfied with the results."
"Will... will it k-kill her?" stammered Shyama in nervousness.
"Your questions are too direct," said Baba-ji. "Mantras are powerful, but they're not as powerful as bullets. It takes time to get the desired results from them. So relax and go home."
Shyama tied the root securely in the pallu (loose end) of her sari and returned home with her aunt. They decided to crush the root and mix it with Rukmini's food on the following Monday, after her brothers left for their office.
Chapter - 4
That night Shyama learnt from Prabhas that the match maker had brought a very good marital proposal for Rukmini. The prospective groom was a young doctor from an affluent family. Soon he would be leaving for London for higher studies. His conservative parents were afraid that their son might fall in love with a white Christian woman and marry her. Hence they wanted him to get married now and take his wife along with him to London. They had liked Rukmini's photo and were coming to see her in person on the following morning. If everything went fine then the wedding must be fixed within one month.
"Get ready to part with the ornaments and FDs," said Prabhas with a sigh.
"Never!" hissed Shyama. "They're mine now!"
"Calm down Shyama, and speak sense. We have to return Rukmini's belongings to her. Or else Dada (Prakash) will bring a court order and force us to do so."
"Don't worry. She'll never get married."
"How can you say that? Her FDs are worth much more than the dowry that the boy's parents are asking for. Then there are her ornaments and a portion of this house too. She's good looking and reasonably educated. Which boy's family would refuse her? Had Baba been alive, she would have got married much before."
"Leave everything to me. You just stay aloof and don't interfere."
"Your attitude scares me. Don't do anything to arouse Dada's suspicion. He and Boudi (Kamala) are extremely protective about Rukmini."
"I know. Have faith on me. I won't do anything stupid or illegal."
The next morning the boy and his parents arrived at the appointed time. Rukmini was looking extremely pretty in a red silk sari. It was quite obvious that the young doctor and his parents liked her a lot. Looking at her smiling face, Shyama was suddenly filled with intense jealousy.
'Women like Rukmini are born with silver spoons in their mouths,' she thought grimly. 'They get everything even before they ask for it. But this time it won't happen. I will see to it that she doesn't marry that handsome doctor and travel to London. There's no reason why she should she get all the good things in life.'
With these thoughts, her hesitations about mixing Tantrik Baba's sanctified root with Rukmini's food vanished. Jealousy and hatred strengthened her determination. Prabhas noticed the dark expression on his wife's face and took her aside.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked. "You're looking like a murderess!"
Shyama immediately slipped the mask of goodness back on to her face. She silently scolded herself for making her emotions so transparent and felt thankful that no one except Prabhas had noticed it. The family gave their approval to the marriage and invited the brothers to visit their house on the following Wednesday to fix the wedding date. After their departure Prakash and Kamala expressed their happiness and congratulated Rukmini for getting an eligible boy as her groom. Prabhas and Shyama too congratulated her, but their wishes lacked in warmth and genuineness.
On the following morning the brothers left for their respective offices at the usual time. Shyama and her aunt exchanged meaningful glances. Rukmini was talking to her friend Nalini over the phone. They were giggling over some common joke. Kamala must be busy with her son now. Hence this was the ideal time to carry out their plan. Shyama crushed the root, mixed it with a glass of lassi and offered it to Rukmini. She was annoyed to see that her hand was slightly trembling. Rukmini, whose attention was fixed on the telephonic conversation, noticed nothing. She drank the lassi at one go and returned the glass to her sister-in-law.
Shyama wiped her sweaty face with her sari pallu and returned to the kitchen. She thoroughly cleaned the glass before returning it on the shelf.
The same evening Rukmini complained of severe stomach pain and started vomitting. The family physician checked her and diagnosed it as food poisoning. He gave her some medicines and said she'd be fine within the next day. But it took three days for the loose motion to stop. She recovered but her weakness remained for a week.
Shyama was ecstatic at the tremendous impact of the root. No one suspected of anything abnormal. She decided to visit Tantrik Baba on the following Saturday. In the meantime Rukmini's wedding got fixed in the first week of the following month.
Chapter - 5
Rukmini's health deteriorated with each passing day. At regular intervals she suffered from severe stomach upset that lasted for days. The family physician tried his best to cure her ailment but it seemed to have become a chronic disease. Her wedding was initially postponed and finally got cancelled. Her would be in-laws said that they couldn't ruin their son's life by getting him married to a chronically sick girl.
Shyama's joys knew no bounds. She wore a mask of sorrow in public and danced behind the closed doors of her bedroom. But her wicked aunt was not at all pleased to see her secret celebrations.
"What makes you so happy?" said she one day. "You have broken her wedding, but other marriage proposals will surely follow. Mark my words, there will be no dearth of suitors who'll agree to marry her for her money. What will you do then? There's an old saying that says, 'None but the fool keeps his enemy alive'. That applies to you too."
Shyama realised the truth behind her aunt's words. The longer Rukmini lived, the greater would be the chances of losing her money and jewellery. She must be removed from the way permanently.
Shyama went to visit Tantrik Baba on the following Saturday. Her aunt couldn't accompany her as she was looking after her daughters.
"These stomach upsets are not enough Baba-ji," said Shyama. "You must do something that would clear my way forever."
"Are you asking me to kill her?" asked Baba-ji with savage directness. Shyama averted her eyes and nodded.
"Death rites don't work when the target is at a distance. Either he/she comes here or I go to his/her house to perform the sacrificial rites. It's mandatory for the target to be present at the place of sacrifice."
"It's difficult to bring her here as she mostly remains sick nowadays. My brother-in-law and his wife will ask hundreds of questions. It would be better if you come to our house in the daytime when the men are not at home."
"What about your sister-in-law? How will you explain the matter to her?"
"I heard that her mother is very sick and she'll be visiting her for a few days. I think next Saturday there will be no one in the house to disturb us."
"Okay then. Next Saturday I'll come to your house with the necessary materials and a few disciples who'll assist me. But it's an expensive affair. I hope you have the money to bear the costs."
"Don't worry about money, Baba-ji. If needed, I'll sell off a few of Rukmini's ornaments."
"It's final then. Leave the address and direction of your house with my disciple Akroor. We'll reach there by 10 am."
Shyama returned home and narrated everything to her aunt. She felt both nervous and excited.
"Calm down and control your emotions," scolded her aunt. "One look at your face and anyone will understand that you're up to some mischief."
Shyama splashed some water on her face to control her excitement.
Tantrik Baba and his disciples reached their house before the scheduled time. Baba chose the balcony in front of Rukmini's room to perform the death rites. Baba's disciples quickly made the puja arrangements and asked Shyama to bring Rukmini there.
Rukmini, who was still weak and spent most of the day in her bed, was brought there and made to sit on a tiger skin 'asana' on the floor. Her long hair was dishevelled and her tired eyes were barely open. Tantrik Baba made her wear a big, red hibiscus garland and put a bright red sindur dot on her forehead. Then he made a fire and started chanting mantras in a loud voice. He poured ghee into the sacrificial fire, making it burn bigger and brighter. The air became smoke-filled, dark and suffocating. Rukmini looked sick and possessed as she started swaying with the rhythm of the mantras. Tantrik Baba sprinkled holy Ganga water on her head and made her shiver with cold.
"What the Hell is going on here?"
The loud voice of Kamala made everyone start. Nobody had noticed her enter the house. She had forgotten her purse and had returned home to take it. The loud chantings could be heard from the street. At first Kamala thought that some drama was being played on the radio. But the scene she saw upon entering the house shocked her! She told the ayah to take her son into her bedroom and stay there. Then she silently walked towards the altar where the ritual was being performed. What she saw infuriated her. She did not know the purpose of the puja, but Rukmini's presence indicated that it had something to do with her.
"What the Hell is going on here?" she cried.
Kamala's sudden appearance shocked everyone, especially Shyama. Initially Shyama was fumbling for words, but when she saw Kamala taking away Rukmini from the sacrificial altar she couldn't contain herself any longer. She had spent a fortune on this death spell. Tantrik Baba might not come to her house again after this insult. It was now or never. She sprang to her feet.
"Don't you dare touch her, Didi!" she screamed. "Leave her where she is. Don't forget that we are her legal guardians. You have no right to interfere."
Kamala turned to look at Shyama. She looked ferocious and aggressive.
"Shut up!" she lashed out. "How dare you invite this evil Tantrik into our house? Now I understand the reason behind Rukmini's prolonged sickness. Tell me, since when is this dirty game going on? Oh Shyama, how could you stoop so low to satisfy your greed? Listen, from now on I will take care of Rukmini. We'll settle the legal matters in court. Don't worry, I too have a few things to disclose in front of the magistrate with ayah as my witness."
Without waiting for a reply, Kamala took Rukmini away with her. A frustrated Shyama looked at Tantrik Baba, who was a silent spectator to this family drama.
"She spoiled everything, Baba-ji!" lamented Shyama. "What do I do now?"
"Nothing," replied Baba. "Everything has already been done."
Then he gave a black coloured root to Shyama and said, "If possible, mix this root with Rukmini's food tonight. She'll die on the third night. If you fail, then also she'll die, but on the thirteenth night."
After Baba-ji's departure, Shyama's aunt expressed her wish to see the root. Shyama closed the door of her room and untied the root from her pallu. The ugly black root was bigger than the earlier roots and resembled a crouching spider.
Suddenly Shyama felt the root move in her palm. With a cry of horror she threw it on the floor.
"What happened?" asked her aunt.
"That darned thing moved in my hand."
"What nonsense! You must be imagining things!"
Shyama did not reply. Her aunt picked up the root from the floor.
"How will you mix this with her food?" she asked. She's no longer living with you."
"I'm not touching that thing again," shivered Shyama. "She should rather die on the thirteenth night."
Chapter - 6
Kamala and Prakash did everything they could to cure Rukmini. They consulted the best physicians, did every pathological test the doctors suggested and got all the medicines they prescribed for Rukmini. But all their efforts seemed to go down the drains. Rukmini's condition deteriorated with each passing day.
Shyama was very happy the way matters were going.
"What happened on that day was a blessing in disguise," observed the aunt. "The girl will die under their care and nobody can blame you for her death."
"You are right," agreed Shyama. "In fact it will be us who'll blame them."
"Right. You can say that Tantrik Baba came to cure her ailment, but Kamala took her away in the middle of the ritual and caused her death."
"Yes! I'll make such a sorrowful scene and make them feel so guilty that they'd be too ashamed to enquire about her ornaments and money. Oh! I can't wait for that day to arrive!" exclaimed Shyama gleefully.
What they did not know was that, Kamala too was thinking on the same lines.
"Maybe I did the wrong thing by taking Rukmini away from the altar," said she to ayah one day. "I should have kept my cool and asked Shyama about the purpose of the ritual. If it was to cure Rukmini then my interference was unjust."
"I don't think your purpose was wrong, Boudi," said ayah. "Whatever you did was to protect Rukmini and your action reflected your love for her."
"But what do I do now? What can I do to cure her?"
Ayah thought for a while and said, "I know a Tantrik guru named Aghori Baba who lives near Nimtala Crematorium. People say that his mantras are very powerful. If you agree then we can go and see him tomorrow."
"Okay, we'll go," said Kamala. "There's no harm in talking to this Aghori Baba. I've heard that some of them really possess unearthly powers. Luckily my sister has come to visit me now. She can look after my son and Rukmini for a few hours."
On the following day, Kamala and ayah visited Aghori Baba. He turned out to be a young man who has recently come into this profession.
"It's impossible to say anything without seeing the girl," said he. "If you don't have any objections, I'd like to visit your house tomorrow after 2 pm."
Kamala did not object as the next day was a Friday and Prakash would remain busy in his office. She had said nothing to him regarding her visit to Aghori Baba.
Next afternoon, Aghori Baba arrived at the scheduled time. Shyama, her daughters and her aunt were then having a power nap and hence remained unaware of his visit.
Aghori Baba was taken into Rukmini's room where she was sleeping in her bed. The sound of voices woke her up. Seeing a stranger in her room she tried to sit up. Then, comforted by Kamala's presence beside her, she closed her eyes and lay down again. Aghori Baba closely watched her from the moment he entered the room. He walked about the room, sniffing here and there. Then he sat down in front of Rukmini and intently looked at her face for a brief period. After that he rose and left the room with a sigh. Kamala and ayah followed him.
"I'm afraid that a fatal death spell has been caste on her," said he. "She'll surely die if that spell is not inactivated immediately."
Kamala felt an ice cold wave going through her. So, her intuition had been correct!
"Please do something to save her, Aghori-ji!" said Kamala with folded hands. "We'll forever be grateful to you."
"This spell has been caste by someone who's much more powerful than me," said Aghori Baba. "It's beyond my powers to stop his spell. But my guru Mahakaal Baba is a very powerful Tantrik. I'm sure he'll be able to help you."
"Then you must arrange for a meeting with him as soon as possible."
"Normally Guru-ji is not available on Fridays, but luckily for you, today he is. If you want, we can go right now."
"How long will it take?"
"Not more than three hours, at the most."
Kamala knew that her husband wouldn't return home before 6.30 pm. If they started right now, they'd be able to return latest by 6. She agreed to go. There was a long queue of 'bhakts' (devotees) waiting in front of Mahakaal Baba's room. But Aghori talked to one of his disciples and managed to enter his room with Kamala and ayah through a side door.
"Come in Aghori," welcomed a familiar voice. "What brings you here? Who are these women?"
Aghori touched his guru's feet and was about to talk, but he stopped as his eyes fell on his guru and the two women who had just entered the room with him. Both parties were staring at each other with shocked silence. It was Kamala who broke that silence.
"This is conspiracy," she hissed. "We have been brought to the very person who had caste the death spell to kill my sister-in-law!"
Then she turned to face Aghori.
"So this is your guru who kills people to earn money! And you think he'll save her!"
To Mahakaal she said, "How much money did you get to perform Rukmini's death spell? It's shameful that a lowdown murderer like you call yourself a guru!"
Ayah tried to control Kamala and take her out of the room. She was afraid that her angry outburst might provoke the powerful Mahakaal Tantrik to take his vengeance on her family. Aghori opened the door for them and signalled them to leave. Mahakaal broke his silence as the women were about to leave the room.
"Stop! Stop them Aghori!" cried he. "I must talk to them."
"What's there to talk about now?" cried Kamala. "You have done everything in your power to harm her."
"It's true that I performed that girl's death spell. But it's also true that only I can save her and no one else."
"Then do save her," said Kamala with folded hands. "I will pay you three times the money that Shyama paid you. Let that poor girl live."
Mahakaal Baba looked at Kamala and smiled.
"Yes, I take money for causing harm to people. But it's not completely my fault. Most of the people come to me with that purpose only. They are ready to pay any amount to remove the obstacles from their path and fulfil their greed. Seldom people come to me with a noble purpose. But when they do, rich or poor, I never refuse them. Maybe that's my way of showing penitence for my sins."
"You will save her then?" asked Kamala hopefully. In reply Mahakaal Baba nodded his head.
"How much shall I pay you?" asked Kamala. "I have some money and gold jewellery with me. If they're not enough..."
Mahakaal Baba put up his hand signalling her to stop.
"You don't need to pay me anything at all," said he. "Now listen to me very carefully. The girl is destined to die on Saturday, that is tomorrow, at midnight. But don't worry. I will give you a sanctified candle. Light it and keep it on a table near her head along with a new matchbox. At midnight the flame will go out. Stay alert and light the candle immediately. Remember, the girl's life entirely depends on how promptly you can light the candle."
Kamala thanked Mahakaal Baba and returned home with the sanctified candle.
Chapter - 7
Kamala realised that now she must reveal everything to her husband. Without his knowledge it would be impossible to carry out Mahakaal Baba's instructions. She knew that Prakash would scold her for believing in such unscientific 'mumbo-jumbo', but she didn't care. She must do everything in her power to save Rukmini.
Shyama, who was unaware of Kamala's visit to Mahakaal Baba, felt too excited to sleep that night. She began the following day by enquiring about Rukmini's health. Kamala, who already felt nervous thinking about the night's happenings, was irritated at her inquisitiveness. She brushed her off with non committal replies.
Shyama felt offended at Kamala's off handed behaviour. She planned how she'd insult her (Kamala) on the next day and accuse her for Rukmini's death. She felt an immense pleasure in thinking how she'd point her finger at Kamala and call her a cold blooded murderess who killed Rukmini to get her property and jewellery. The whole day she remained engrossed in her wicked dreams.
Rukmini's health drastically deteriorated that day. Her hollow, dark circled eyes and pale, sunken cheeks indicated the approach of death. Kamala spent most of the day keeping a watch on her. At 9 pm she briefly left her room to have dinner. Tension and nervousness had robbed her of her hunger, but she knew it would be difficult to remain awake in the night with an empty stomach.
Shyama, who was keeping a secret watch on Rukmini's room, saw Kamala leaving her room. She did not miss this opportunity to have a look at Rukmini's health condition with her own eyes. But when she entered the room, to her surprise, she found a woman sitting on Rukmini's bed near her head. She was a middle aged woman wearing a blue silk saree and heavy gold ornaments. Shyama couldn't remember ever seeing this woman, yet her face had a familiar element in it.
"Who are you?" asked Shyama. "What are you doing here?"
The woman, whose eyes were the most prominent features in her dreamlike appearance, glared at Shyama and said nothing.
Suddenly Rukmini, who was in a delirium, whispered, "Maa!"
The woman in blue saree affectionately kept her hand on the sick girl's forehead.
"Maa! You've come?" whispered Rukmini.
Shyama felt goosebumps growing on her neck. Suddenly the room became ice cold and her limbs felt too heavy to move. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out of it. She gathered her last drop of strength and somehow managed to escape from that room. When she reached her room she was panting and sweating profusely.
Her aunt, who sat near her sleeping daughters, was surprised to see her so frightened.
"What's wrong Shyama?" she asked. "You look scared out of your wits."
Shyama drank some water, mopped her face with her pallu and tried to compose herself.
"What happened?" asked her aunt again.
"Nothing Maasi, nothing!" she replied.
Then she rummaged through the shelves of her wardrobe and extracted an old photo album from the farthest corner of the topmost shelf. She opened the album and slowly turned it's pages. It did not take her long to find out the photo she was looking for. It was an old hand painted (originally monochrome) photograph of a middle aged woman wearing a blue silk saree and heavy gold ornaments. She was the same woman Shyama had just seen in Rukmini's room! Shyama felt she would lose her consciousness. Now she knew that the woman was Abha, Rukmini's mother and Shyama's mother-in-law. She had been dead for the past twelve years!
Shyama shivered and replaced the album into the cupboard. Then she narrated everything to her aunt making her face turn ashen with fear.
"The mother has come to take her daughter away," whispered aunt. "Be careful. She may cause harm to your family."
Before Shyama could reply, Prabhas entered into the room.
"What's the matter Shyama? Why didn't you come for dinner? Have you seen the time? It's almost 10.30 pm. Go and have your dinner right now!"
Shyama opened the door and nervously walked towards the kitchen. Her body felt heavy and her feet refused to move. Sinister shadows seemed to move about in the dark corners. Every small noise made her start. It felt as if someone was watching her. She looked around but saw nothing.
To her surprise the door of the kitchen was ajar. This was something unusual. Kamala never forgot to latch the door of the kitchen before she left it. Shyama switched on the light and started. A big tomcat was crouching in a corner. He must have entered through the open door in search of food, she thought. Shyama was not fond of cats, and this particular cat evoked fear in her mind. He was pitch black and his eyes glowed like twin coals in his black face. It was the most ferocious looking cat she had ever seen.
She took a ladle and tried to shoo him away but he refused to budge from his corner and stubbornly glared and hissed at her. Shyama decided to ignore him and have her dinner. She found some rice and fish curry on the shelf which were still somewhat warm. She mixed them on a plate and turned back to take a green chilli from the vegetable basket. She was shocked to see the black cat standing immediately behind her!
The cat was bigger than she had imagined. His back was arched and his fur stood on ends. His flat ears, dilated pupils, flickering tail and hissing growl indicated that he would jump on her any moment. There was something else that made a chill move up her spine. It was a dazzling red sindur dot on the cat’s forehead! Shyama put her hand over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. She fled from the kitchen and rushed into her room, closing the door behind her. She was panting with fear. Prabhas noticed her agitation and said,
"What's the matter, Shyama? Did you have your dinner?"
Shyama wiped the sweat from her forehead and said,
“No. I am not hungry.’’
“What made you so afraid?"
Shyama shivered and said nothing. Prabhas did not pressurize her. He too had felt the presence of evil spirits in the house. Shyama folded her hands and prayed for the welfare of her family. But she said nothing about Rukmini's well being. Neither did she feel any pang of guilt conscience.
Chapter - 8
After having a nominal dinner, Kamala hurriedly returned to Rukmini's room. But, unlike Shyama, she didn't find anyone in the room. Prakash, in spite of his aversion to anything unscientific, had agreed to give company to his wife during her vigil for the night.
Kamala had arranged for a dozen candles and half a dozen matchboxes as safety measures. She stuck the candles on a plate and kept it on a table near Rukmini's bed along with the matchboxes. She put Mahakaal Baba's sanctified candle separately in a candlestick. Lastly she kept small deities of Sri Krishna and Goddess Kali at a corner of the table and lit incense sticks in front of them. She folded her hands in front of the deities and prayed for Rukmini's life. Soon Prakash joined her.
The time was nearly 11 pm. There was more than an hour to kill. They settled down in two chairs and waited. Prakash, who still had doubts about the whole thing, read a book in silence. Kamala felt restless in tension and nervousness. Rukmini was almost senseless with fever and weakness. The doctor who checked her that day was not too hopeful about her survival. She was not responding to medicines and her tests had failed to identify her disease.
Kamala felt terribly depressed. She looked at the sickly girl lying before her, all skin and bones, and compared her to the lively, pretty girl of a few months back. Her transformation would break the heart of anyone having minimum feeling for her. Kamala wiped the tears off her eyes and looked at the clock. Still 45 minutes to go.
She looked at Prakash who was sitting like a statue, engrossed in his book. He must be feeling the same tension and nervousness that Kamala was experiencing now. His readiness to participate in an unscientific experiment reflected his love for his little sister and his eagerness to save her life at any cost.
A few minutes later Prakash went to the balcony to have a smoke. Kamala looked at the clock again. Thirty minutes more to go. She sighed and looked at Rukmini. Her eyes were open.
"You want something, dear?" Kamala affectionately caressed her forehead with her fingers.
The sick girl lay stiffly on the bed. Her dark circled eyes looked enormous on her thin, sunken face. Her face had a deathly pallor and her frail body trembled. Kamala noticed that she was frightened.
“What is it darling? Tell me, what makes you look so scared?”
Rukmini’s voice was barely a whisper.
“He has come to take me away.”
“Who has come?”
“The messenger of Yama.” (Yama is the Hindu god of Death)
Kamala violently started.
“Stop that nonsense! There is no such thing. They’re all stories!”
“Boudi, please tell him to go away.”
There was something in Rukmini's voice that made Kamala shiver in fear.
She tenderly held the sick girl to her bosom.
“Ok dear, I will. Now close your eyes and try to sleep.”
But Rukmini furtively glanced at the dark corners of the room.
“He is standing there. I can see him. He is black and huge and his eyes are like burning coals. He is calling me! Tell him to go away!"
Kamala started seeing hallucinations. She felt as if a dark, sinister man was indeed crouching in the corner. Her taut nerves could take it no longer. Her loud screams made Prakash throw away his unfinished cigarette and rush into the room.
"What's the matter? Is Rukmini okay?"
Rukmini had again fallen asleep. Kamala controlled herself and said, "She's okay."
"Why did you scream?" asked Prakash.
"A...a cockroach..." lied Kamala.
Prakash shook his head and settled back into his chair with his book.
Time was drawing near. It was only fifteen minutes to midnight. Kamala closed all the passageways to air, like doors and windows, and carefully lit all candles, including the sanctioned one. She emptied a matchbox and kept the matchsticks on a china plate. Now she was ready to face the deadly midnight challenge.
The clock ticked away. Kamala barely fluttered her eyelids as she stared at Mahakaal Baba's candle. Five more minutes to go. A sidelong glace at Prakash told her that her scientific minded husband was also staring at the sanctified candle. She picked up a burning candle from the plate. She could barely breathe in tension.
Rukmini's breathings became laboured and irregular as the time approached midnight. She was clearly sinking. The clock started chiming twelve!
The next incidents happened very fast. Suddenly the flame of the sanctified candle flickered and extinguished. Kamala, who was ready for this, immediately rekindled it with the burning candle in her hand. Prakash guarded the new flame with both his palms till it burned brightly. After that the sanctified candle burned with a steady flame. The couple flopped on their chairs feeling empty and exhausted.
Rukmini's breathing slowly became regular. Her temperature also dropped considerably.
'I think she'll survive,' thought Kamala. She decided to spend the night in her room. Prakash returned to their room and fell asleep almost immediately. Both he and Kamala had the relaxed feeling that the crisis was now over.
Shyama spent a sleepless night amidst fear and anxiety. Her aunt also felt very scared. She had requested Shyama to let her sleep on the floor of her room on that night. But Prabhas, who didn't like outsiders sleeping in his bedroom, objected and sent aunt back to her room. Shyama felt pity for the old woman and wondered if she would be able to sleep that night.
As midnight approached Shyama was filled with a strange excitement. She eagerly awaited the wails and cries associated with death. When no such lamentations were heard even after three hours, she concluded that Prakash's family must be sleeping in their own room and hence were not aware of Rukmini's death. She would have to wait until someone discovered her dead body in the morning.
Shyama spent the rest of the night thinking how she would blame and abuse Kamala and her husband for Rukmini's death and derived immense pleasure from it. She rose from her bed even before sunrise and kept a close watch on Kamala's quarters. Morning came, but nothing happened. She could take this no longer. Finding the door of Rukmini's room open, she walked straight inside her room. To her bitter surprise she found Rukmini popped up on her bed, with ayah helping her to eat soup from a bowl. The scene made her speechless with shock and sorrow. Only the previous night she had seen Rukmini on the verge of death. She wondered what happened in the past few hours to cause this miracle.
Rukmini's eyes turned to look at her and Shyama was shocked to find raw accusations and hostility in them. This was the same Rukmini who, till a month back, was Shyama's blind supporter. Shyama failed to meet her gaze and hastily returned to her room. It seemed destiny was playing a dirty trick with her. Otherwise why would Mahakaal Baba's death spell fail to work on her?
The clock chimed eight. Shyama noticed that her aunt was still sleeping in her room. This was unusual as the old woman suffered from insomnia. She entered her room and found her lying dead on her bed. Shyama did not know that a death spell never went fruitless. When Mahakaal Baba decided to save Rukmini's life, he diverted his spell at the wicked aunt who drove Shyama towards black magic.
Shyama's punishment did not end there. Soon Rukmini got married and Shyama was forced to hand over her ornaments and FDs by court order. Prabhas got involved with the young widow of an old man who had left her a huge fortune. Soon he married her and fathered two children. After marriage he lived in the palatial mansion of his second wife leaving Shyama and her daughters at the mercy of Prakash and Kamala. Shyama's elder daughter Rumela eloped with a Muslim man and married him against her mother's wish. Her younger daughter Mridula got jilted by her lover and remained a spinster throughout her life. She took a teacher's job in a residential school of Himachal Pradesh and left home.
Shyama lived a long and lonely life of ninety, hated and rejected by all, wishing for her own death every moment of her damned life alike the cursed warrior Ashwatthama.