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Anand Banerjee



Anand Banerjee


Legend Of The Luguber

Legend Of The Luguber

9 mins

Gramimi And the Legend of The Luguber

I solemnly wish that I could flip the pages of my life’s book back to where the chapters of my childhood are etched…and never flip forward anymore!

It seemed as if it were just yesterday when as a wee little child, I used to sit by the clay stove while Gramimi (that’s what I used to call my maternal grandmother) would cook delicious food over it every evening. But more than the food, it was the fairy tales and the scary tales she used to narrate that I used to look forward to. These stories used to rev up my vivid imagination and transcend my mind into amazing wonderlands full of handsome princes and beautiful princesses, where abominable ogres and voracious monsters lived alongside fairies and elves; a world that knew no bounds, and always had a…a, happily ever after!

I wish I never had grown up to be Sixteen and selfishly set off to college and beyond, chasing hollow dreams while leaving her alone, never to return. Never to return, until now; now when she was gone forever, and I’ll never again be able to see that ebullient smile on that angelic face, nor those twinkly big eyes filled with incredible love and affection.

I did try to get to our ancestral home back in this village (where I grew up sans my parents) as fast as someone from thousands of miles away could. But alas, it was all too late! Anyway, here I was now, reminiscing an age gone by, and yet wondering how very little had changed in this sleepy little hamlet. Not surprisingly, just like the rest of the village, nothing had changed in this little mansion I once called home. The floor seemed spick and span as always, in fact the gleaming marble could mislead you into believing that the flooring had just recently been re-laid. The ceiling, the old creaky fan hanging from it, the mud lamps, everything, yes everything was just the way I always remembered. My eyes eventually fell on the old trunk where Gramimi’s most precious treasures rested. A childlike curiosity suddenly gripped me, and I could not resist my greedy urge to crank it open and traverse myself into the nostalgic world of Gramimi and me. It had all the usual contents I remember from back in the days – the story books, the jewellery case, the makeup kit which was essentially just a comb, a small oil-based perfume vial, a tiny face powder box with an aging mirror, rusty old hair clips, a teeny weeny bottle of coconut hair oil and a small round container of kohl.

Just as I was scouring through her treasure chest, my eyes fell on something that I’ve always wanted to explore, but was forbidden to. It was something neatly wrapped in red cotton cloth with tight knots to hold the object inside. Well, I had to open it, didn’t I? After all these years of not being allowed to see or even touch it, I really had to! And anyway, after all Gramimi had legally bequeathed all her belongings to me before passing away to her heavenly abode. So, I undid the knots with utter care yet hurried excitement. There, inside the cloth sat an old tin box of biscuits that seemed to have not aged much considering the fact that these kinds of tin boxes may have last been produced when my Gramimi herself may have been a little child. Nonetheless, I force open the lid, lo and behold! What do I see? There were hundreds of coins of One rupee carefully stacked row by row.

Suddenly, my fervid excitement turned into an ominous shiver that ran through my spine. Oh! my goodness! I remember what these coins were for, or where they came from. I remember the details now. Did I make a mistake by planning to stay overnight at this house? Was it true? Will I be safe? Am I being naïve by believing in such childish legends? Come on, I’m a rational adult now. It can’t be true. Wait. No, let me at least first recollect that stupid legend.

Although I had come to terms with my parents’ untimely death at a very tender age, I still was a child and had a fervent belief in fairy tales and legends. So, yeah, I was a weird child who had somehow managed to maintain the balance between being outright practical yet overtly imaginative. Nonetheless, back to the story about the coins. Of the myriad tales and legends that Gramimi narrated to me, the one that I believed in most and was haunted by the most, was the legend of “Luguber - the wailing demon”.

Luguber was apparently a wailing demon that haunted the streets of the village every new moon looking for a house that would not honour him, so he in return could take one soul away from each such house as his prize. Now what exactly did each house have to do in order to honour the foreboding Luguber? Simple, make sure that you place a one-rupee coin at the threshold of your house and you’re out of harm’s way. Well, that’s not all. As a token of appreciation for honouring him, Luguber would display his magnanimity by doubling your offering of the one-rupee coin with another one-rupee coin.

For as long as I can remember, I used to reach out for the threshold of the house before it got dark every new moon evening to place the coin and then once it stopped being dark the very next morning, I’d reach out to excitedly collect two! One thing consistent with both these events though was the fact that my hands trembled; with sheer anxiety in the evening, and with absolute excitement in anticipation in the morning. This process kept repeating new moon after new moon, for as long as I lived here.

And now, after all these years I wasn’t sure what to believe in anymore. I remember a few of the villagers had passed away precisely on new moons’ days over the years while I lived here, thereby strengthening the legend. Add to it, my Gramimi’s lexicological backing of the demon Luguber’s name. She had said that the dictionary word “lugubrious”, meaning looking or sounding sad and dismal, actually originates from this fearsome demon’s name.

 All this thinking had exhausted me presently, good thing I had carried my potent bottle of red shiraz. I quickly took a few swigs and then kept fiddling with the contents of Gramimi’s trunk, then I remember walking in and out of the door, finally slumping into the good old teak wood easy chair.

I suddenly woke up with a start as the sound of the djembe (a traditional drum) beating far away kept throbbing in my head, it felt as if it had been playing for long. I slowly dragged my tired body out of the chair, it was almost dark outside. I know not how much time had already passed since I conked off somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. It was getting a bit chilly, so I thought I should close the main door. There apparently was a power failure (not unusual in these parts), so I had to grope my way through the dark somehow. But just as I walked up to the main door, my heart skipped a beat. I just remembered that it was a new moon night. Well, simply because according to Gramimi the villagers beat the life out of the djembe each such night to remind us of the lurking presence of the ominous Luguber. I froze in horror; I didn’t have the courage to move toward the front door anymore. But if there was any chance at all that it wasn’t too late to honour the Luguber, I must take it. My heart began to beat rapidly, I didn’t know how, or from where would I manage to find the one-rupee coin while the house was pitched in complete darkness. I was stranded. I knew my fate; I’d be dead soon! Just when I began to count my last few breaths, sudden epiphany struck me as my clenched sweaty left palm felt the coldness of a round metallic object in it. Oh dear! Am I lucky or what? Therein sat a one-rupee coin, I must have been playing with it when I feel asleep and somehow managed to hold on to it thus far.

Nonetheless, I still had to get to the main door and push the coin across the threshold before it was too late. I hurried myself to the main door, only to find it closed, to my utter dismay. I really should give up drinking now, I do not remember closing it! But now that I’m here, I must ensure that I put the coin on the threshold with whatever little chance I can take. With trembling hands and a racing heart, I slowly held the door ajar. There was a sudden flash of incandescence that almost blinded me. I sure as hell that will be dead now. But I somehow managed to hold myself together, telling myself that I need to go out as a brave soul. I wanted to see how horrible could Luguber look: I pushed every iota of courage, gathered every nerve, and gave that one final push to lift my head up and look straight into the light that shone.

Wait a minute now! Am I already dead? Or is it the wine? Am I dreaming? What the hell is going on here? This can’t be! That…that, face! That’s, that’s my Gramimi!!!

But before I could of think of reacting, the light disappeared. There was utter darkness!

I woke up the next morning, trying to recollect what transpired the previous night. I ran toward the main door to find it slightly ajar, everything outside seemed serene and usual. My eyes subconsciously turned its gaze toward the threshold. And as sure as the morning sun, there rested two glittering coins of one rupee next to each other. I left the house and the village within the next couple of hours.

It’s been four decades since that day. I have my own grand children now, the ones who’re ready to set off to college and then on to chasing pointless material gains. Me? I made a lot of money, acquired a lot of assets, won a few coveted awards, achieved almost everything that most men, let alone a woman like me from a humble background, could ever dream to achieve. Yet, I will lie restless in my grave wanting to know if that night it was Gramimi trying to protect me from the Luguber by being there to place a coin that I had forgotten to place, or was she simply fulfilling her duty like she always may have been doing all those years by placing the other coin and crediting the munificence of the Luguber instead. Did the scourging Luguber even exist? Or was it an anecdotal lesson for life from my wise and sagacious Gramimi? Alas! I’ll never know!

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