The Cynic And The Spirit
The Cynic And The Spirit5 mins 102 5 mins 102
The setting is an old "Tharvad" (ancestral home in Kerala) in the hamlet of Tellicherry. My great grand father who was the 1st Doctor in the community built a sprawling house for his brood of children - a cricket team of 11, no less. Each of the children was a character - from the popular to the unpopular, the good looking to the smart thinking, the selfless to the selfish.
The protagonist of our story is Madhavan (4th eldest of 11 children) - a suave looking smart man, who in his youth was passionately in love with a young woman, who jilted him for a rich man. Poor Madhavan, could not bear the jolt that many young people who jump into the treacherous waters of young love experience. He decided that the only way to get through life was by being a cynic - cynical of life, love and experiences of others including ghostly encounters of others on the 1st floor of the house which housed a library and a bedroom. Now this house was not like the average house which we inhabit today but one which through its presence seemed to convey an air of mystery that made the spine tingle. On the outside it had coconut, jackfruit, papaya and mango trees stretching into the distance. Beyond that was the alley which did not allow entry of motor cars since it was narrow. After walking for a couple of minutes one reached the road. Coming to the inside of the house it had cement floors, high ceiling ending in typical Kerala tiles called "Odh" and huge wooden doors which swung reluctantly, creaking and complaining to anyone who cared to listen. The doors also had these big pointed brass knobs on them, as if to keep what was inside in and what was outside out...
On the day, rather night, in question the house was chock a block full with relatives preparing for a wedding. The ground floor was filled with children and adults, laughter and banter and the air vibrated with joy and fun which a wedding can provide. Madhavan took one look at the atmosphere, a sneer curving the right side of his mouth up, decided that he needed some peace and quiet and announced that he was going up to the library to read the day's papers. The adults stopped the inane chatter and looked at him like he had not just lost his love many years back but also his sanity. No one went to the 1st floor library after dark - you had to be slightly mad to do that and someone said as much. However Madhavan was not to be deterred since he felt that other world spirits were a more companionable option than the animal spirits being displayed by the people of this world. Off he marched up the wooden staircase, paper tucked under his arm and with dozens of eyes staring at his receding back.
Madhavan climbed up the stairs, swung opened the heavy door which complained at being woken up at this hour and finally obliged him. He entered and switched on the light, shut the door and the cacophony coming from below. He settled in an easy chair - a typical feature of many Kerala homes - a chair usually made with a canvas seat and having extra long arm rests on which you can plonk both legs - if the plonking is not done properly then the chair can be a great revealer with the Kerala mundu (dhoti) going down and the underworld exposed briefly. Madhavan however did it expertly - constant practice over many years spanning maybe 10,000 hours made it seem like poetry in motion. He settled down to cynically examine the happenings of the world in the last 24 hours. A few minutes later, however, he became aware of a cold, clammy feel around his ankles - it seemed like someone had left a pair of gloves in the freezer and then used them to catch hold of his ankles, only thing was that there was no one in sight. The pressure was not forceful, just a little insistent that he place both his legs on the two separate arm rests instead of one that is most comfortable and also the most decorous when you are in a mundu dhoti. Madhavan obliged. However the cynic in him whispered how the morons downstairs and their silly beliefs and stories was playing with his mind. The newspaper was all but forgotten since the news in that room seemed more urgent than anything in the paper. A few minutes later Madhavan decided that he was going to try again and this time his mind dare not play any tricks since a parting of legs was not going to happen again. Determinedly he placed them one on top of the other and his lip went into the familiar cynic curve that threw the gauntlet down - a veritable challenge so to speak. For a minute nothing happened and then the cold, clammy and unseen hands clamped down on his ankles and separated both legs, the only difference this time was that there was nothing mischievously friendly this time and also the pressure did not relent after his two legs were on different arm rests. As any Malayalee who has worn a mundu dhoti will tell you, this was a highly compromised position and in Madhavan's case it was as much mental as physical. After what seemed like an eternity during which time Madhavan's meticulously swept back Brylcreemed hair became damp and stuck to his scalp, the pressure relented gradually and then vanished. The fight had been snuffed out of him and Madhavan's predominant thought was a retreat. He jumped and rushed out of the room down the stairs to the different world down stairs. While his exit had been marked with decorous and leisurely composure, the entry was indecorous, hasty and anything but composed. The elders realized immediately that something was wrong - so chairs were pulled out and water called out for. It was many minutes before Madhavan was able to relate his experience to the the assorted bunch of relatives.
Needless to say the library always lay undisturbed after dark from that day on....