The Horrors of Nischintapur
The Horrors of Nischintapur16 mins 226 16 mins 226
Those days, the state level elections were getting conducted all over West Bengal. My wife was a high ranking officer with the Government and she had lots of responsibilities during elections. She was posted in Nischintapur, a remote block at the fag end of Howrah district. I spoke to her and decided to help her out during this critical period. I spoke to my office management and got myself a 7-day break so as to be able to accompany her. The bungalow where we were supposed to stay was located close to her office but adjacent to it no one used to live. There were many quarters though, but all in awful dilapidated condition. This was the first time I was going to stay there at night.
We reached there by morning. My wife needed to go to the office so she quickly got ready and left. She had instructed to get food delivered to me and said it would be late as work was piling up. I quietly nodded. Around noon I went out for a bit and suddenly came across a lightning fast cobra dashing from one end of the jungle to the other. I couldn't help but think that the place was in such awful condition with all the dilapidated buildings nearby that such occurrences would be a norm. I had a camera with me, but unfortunately that creature was so fast, that I could not get a good photo.
"Sir, where are you going?"
I looked around. A man in his 50s. I knew him. One of her staff.
He smiled, "No problem sir. Suggest that you not venture out after evening though."
"Oh! Why is that?"
"It's just that the street lights are all fused and as not many people stay here, no one cared to fix. Madam hardly cared about herself so even she does not say anything."
I went back inside the bungalow and decided to check out the rooms. The rooms were well maintained, but it was evident that the construction was quite old. I remember asking someone who had said the construction dated back to the period after India gained independence. Huge rooms. There used to be provision for chandeliers and manual fans at one point in time. Many of the rooms were locked and none of the recent residents bothered to find out why or what was there behind the locked doors. I had asked my wife once. Her nonchalant reply was -
"Lots of garbage and old files dumped there. Why do you even care?"
True, there was nothing to care about. But honestly it wasn't easy for anyone to stay in this huge bungalow, I thought. Meanwhile around 7 p.m. she arrived with a packet of hot pakodas. I smiled looking at her. She knew I loved pakodas.
While she decided to freshen up, I quickly arranged the plates and neatly arranged the pakodas. We had a wonderful snacks time and discussed with her what went on in her office throughout the day. She nicely elaborated. Meanwhile I noticed whatever lights there were outside had gone out, it was basically pitch black.
In this huge bungalow just two of us. While it sounded romantic, somehow I was getting a different feeling... a feeling of eerie silence.
"How do you manage to stay here?"
"I don't", she laughed. "I stay in the normal staff quarters residential complex, though I am entited to this."
"Oh! Then I could have stayed there! Why did you take pains to have this one opened?"
She smiled and said, "Mister, that's because, there we did not have enough provisions for two of us to stay for days. Besides, I wanted some privacy for the two of us. You never understood, did you?"
I smiled. I looked at the clock. It was just 8 p.m. but somehow looked much more than that. There was no means of entertainment, no television sets, no radio. Thankfully there was an inverter set for electricity backup and I had my books and a camera.
After around 30 minutes one of her staff came with some food we had ordered.
"Thank you Ramlal", she said and closed the door.
We had a good meal. The food was very tasty and perfect for our appetite.
"You don't have any caretakers for this bungalow?"
"That guy, Ramlal, he takes care. He stays a little far away, but says he can be here in 30 minutes if needed."
We closed the windows nicely so that no unwelcome guest might creep in. Visions of this morning's slithering assassin were still fresh on my mind.
I looked at the watch. 9 p.m. only. In Kolkata, we would usually have another cup of tea by now and here we were already hitting the sack.
I still remember the weather that night was pleasant, so even in unfamiliar surrounding, it didn't take long before both of us fell asleep. The sleep was peaceful before there was a strange sound somewhere nearby. I opened my eyes to pitch black darkness, although I distinctly remembered getting the night bulbs on. The only plausible reason could be an inverter failure after load shedding. I could hear my wife snoring although I could not see her. I decided not to wake her up and rather check the condition of the inverter myself. I switched on the torch in my mobile phone and cautiously got down, careful not to wake her up. From a distance I could clearly see the red light, indication of battery failure, in the inverter. I wanted to go and check the water levels, but somehow I did not want to. I was still not sure what could have caused that kind of a sound. Some kind of a gentle knock on the door. The mobile clock told me that the time was 2:30 a.m. The whole of Nischintapur was immersed in deep sleep. I realised I was already perspiring for some reason and did not know why. I got back to my bed and closed my eyes, hoping that the morning is ushered in soon.
I was awakened by my wife.
"Hey look at the time! How long do you have to sleep? I am already done bathing. I have to leave early today. I have to visit some polling booths and check the preparations. One of my senior officers is also coming down from head quarters. Hey! Wake up now."
Reluctantly I opened my eyes.
"Did you have a good sleep, dear?", I asked her, without telling anything about my experience last night.
"Yeah, it was good."
"Will you be late tonight?"
"Depends on when I am done. I hope by 8 p.m., I can wrap up everything. Ramlal would provide you the lunch. I'll eat during field visit, don't wait for me. I'll bring dinner packed, hot and ready to serve.", she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"And yes your breakfast is on the table. Ramlal would be around. If you need anything, just give him a call. You have his number right?"
I nodded yes silently.
"Okay sweetie, bbye!"
She hurried on.
I bade her bye from the door.
I looked outside. It was a beautiful morning. I almost forgot about the night before. Birds chirping. Beautiful wild flowers blossoming. Colourful butterflies flying around. I took the newspaper in my hand and sat down on an arm chair on the verandah and spent some time reading the news. During elections, the political climate would be usually tense and it was good to stay abreast of the happenings around. After a while I took my camera out and decided to chase some butterflies. Thankfully I got some good shots. I could not wait to go back home and process the images, but right now I had to be content with looking at them on my camera display.
Meanwhile lunch was served. Ramlal had cooked himself for me today and I must say, he was good. Being a Bengali, I am a big fan of fish and he cooked it to perfection. My wife had called me once to check if everything was okay to which I gave a ten on ten review of Ramlal's cooking abilities and she just smiled audibly.
"Aww, you are always so happy with so little!"
"No dear, I am serious!"
After lunch, I decided to take a nap. Nothing eventful happened. When I woke up it was evening already. And then I remembered.
The inverter! Oh! It had totally escaped my mind throughout the day. I immediately called up Ramlal.
"Ramlal, do you know any good electricians here? The inverter is malfunctioning since last night."
"Sir I wish you had told me an hour back. There was a guy here, but he just left."
"Oh, there is none else?"
"No sir. All our electricians come from the nearby town. By evening they return back home."
"Okay. Can you at least arrange some candles and match sticks?"
"Yes sir. Give me 30 minutes."
I hung up. I had no one else to blame except me for completely forgetting about this. My wife obviously did not know as she slept well last night.
Meanwhile I noticed the leftovers from my lunch were still kept near the verandah. I decided to go out and dump it in the dumpster at the back of this bungalow.
My watch said it was 7 p.m. but it was enough dark already outside. I turned on my mobile phone torch and strolled out, walking carefully for any unwelcome meetings. The dumpster was around 2 minutes from the bungalow. Set amidst a host of dilapidated old Government quarters. Probably after independence, many employees used to stay here with families. Then they shifted elsewhere. Then none else came and the authorities decided to let these homes turn into shambles. I was thinking all of these when I felt I had someone following me closeby in the dark. I quickly turned around and focussed my mobile torch, but except a gust of cold air, there was nothing. Not a soul. By nature I try to be a scientific guy, but how do I ignore feelings! I had no shame in admitting, I was not feeling comfortable at all. I quickly dislodged my garbage in the dumpster and nearly ran back to the bungalow. When I reached, Ramlal was standing there.
"Sir, is everything okay?"
He had seen me running and probably also noticed the drops of perspiration that formed on my forehead.
"Yes, absolutely. I have a habit of jogging in the evening and well, I thought may be I could try it here too."
I tried to force a smile, but I guess my body language suggested otherwise.
"Okay sir. But I suggest not to go out alone during evening here. If you need anything please call me, sir."
"Umm why so?"
"Just that it's too dark and no one lives here... so..."
Somehow it seemed to me, he did not tell me what he had in mind. I decided not to force him. I took the candles and matchsticks and went back inside.
But the discomfort remained. Something was not right. I called up my wife who said she was reaching in 2 minutes. And she did reach as I just disconnected the call.
She had brought packed dinner for me.
"Hey, dear, I have had food already. In fact I had to travel all day visiting various constituencies. Whatever lunch I had, looks like did not get digested well. I decided to have a bit of curd on the way here and skip dinner. You have it."
"Are you sure you don't need a doctor?"
"Yeah yeah. No worries. Just pass on some digestive meds."
She quickly gulped them and fell asleep. Meanwhile I had my dinner and then I noticed something. Last night I had closed all windows, but one of the corner windows was open now. I could not recall if I opened the window in the morning. But I didn't give it much importance. I didn't trust my memory too much. I went to close it again and for some reason as I looked at the pitch black darkness outside, a chill ran down my spine. The dumpster was visible from this window as well as a section of the dilapidated quarters. I closed the window anyway and silently cursed myself for being so timid. I started heading back to the bedroom but on the way back, there was load shedding again. As luck would have it, I had forgotten to carry my torch with me and the candles were not nearby either. My wife was awakened of course and I heard her call out.
"Sunil, Sunil, where are you?"
"I am coming.."
I tried to hurry back as for the first time it seemed, there was at least one other person in that bungalow watching me. On the way I hit something with my toe and understood right away that I was injured with possible bleeding already. Anyway, I reached back and was able to light the candles. My wife, for the first time ever, said something that shook me.
"When did you leave the bed? I thought I was hugging someone all along till I heard the sound in the other room!"
"I was not here for like half an hour or so."
"Then who or what was I hugging?"
"What? You mean I was not here yet you hugged me!"
"Come on, Sunil. Not like that. I mean I was sleeping right? May be my idea of time is still blurred."
Meanwhile she noticed me checking out my toe.
"Oh! You are bleeding!"
"Yeah, don't worry. Just some furniture I guess! I could not see. It was dark."
Meanwhile the electricity was back and she took time to tend to my wound and get a nice bandage done.
"Thanks dear. By the way, this is the first time you are staying here with me or have you been here before?"
"Hmm.. to be honest, I stayed here one night once when I initially joined."
"So tell me honestly, apart from the reasons you have already mentioned to me, was there any other reason why you never stayed here?"
She was suddenly silent for a moment. And then slowly said, "Well Sunil, you know I am not a very courageous lady. I mean I really like to think I am but deep down, I am not. The one night I stayed here alone, I did not get an ounce of sleep."
"Yes... that's why I gave up this prestigious accommodation and stayed in staff residential complex."
And we continued chatting rest of the night. Meanwhile I also got to know that next day she would have a really long day as her responsibilities included overseeing that all EVM machines and properly sealed and they are dispatched with adequate security. I also got to know that this could take the entire night, which meant, the next night I would need to stay completely alone!
Like every morning so far, this one was as beautiful. Nature was so giving in this part of the world that I forgot whatever had happened last night in a jiffy. She left early and arranged for my meals throughout the day till dinner. Ramlal had been asked to get the inverter fixed. So he went to look for an electrician. I spent the day mostly reading and yes, a bit of writing too. I mean with so much of natural inspiration around, it was just asking to be appreciated. At other times I put my camera to good use, clicking some beautiful photographs.
I also listened to some music I had preloaded in my mobile phone. Meanwhile an electrician arrived and started working on the inverter.
Suddenly he casually asked,
"Sir how long you and madam have been staying here?"
"Since day before yesterday... why?"
"Was just curious..."
From his body language it seemed he was hiding something.
"What is it Montu? You can be frank with me."
"No sir.. actually the local people here feel..." and suddenly he became silent. I looked up and understood that Ramlal who was standing nearby, had signalled Montu to shut up.
"Ramlal, what is it?"
"Nothing sir, most of the locals here are uneducated and full of superstitions. Please don't worry about them."
Turning to Montu, he said, "How long it will take? Speak less and work more, understood?"
"Yes, yes...", Montu quipped and resumed his work.
I understood one thing. There is no way I was going to stay here after tonight and I would convince my wife as well to move. I couldn't care less about a bungalow or a one bedroom studio. I needed my peace of mind and a good sleep. I kept the thought to myself and decided to tell my wife only after she came back tonight, or rather tomorrow morning. Ah... I didn't feel comfortable. With her it was still okay. But alone! I had no difficulty admitting that I was not the bravest guy around.
Montu was meanwhile done and I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that at least there would be no darkness to deal with, tonight. I double checked the inverter connections myself and tested the backup and failover.
The rest of the day was uneventful, no different from the days before. I had my food from time to time. After dinner I thought I would take a nap. I called my wife once, I could hear officials speaking loudly and understood she was busy. She told me to get some sleep and that she would return early morning.
I decided to try a nap and hit the sack. All the lights were turned on. All windows were bolted tightly and with the inverter in working condition, I felt my bravery return.
It was probably 15 minutes that I slept, it seemed like there were four guys in my room. I was not sure if I was dreaming or not. They were talking with each other in agitated way.
Suddenly they attempted to hold the four corners of my bed trying to move me away along with my bed.
I was alarmed and asked, "Who are you and why are you here?"
"What do you mean? We stay here since a long time. Who are you?"
"Look here friends. I am here just for tonight. I am going to leave tomorrow. Just one night please? Let me sleep."
They looked at each other as if not convinced.
"Okay what are your names?"
"Kamirul, Jamal, Raquib, Mudassar."
"Okay, so friends, please please let me be today. You guys take rest somewhere else."
I suddenly opened my eyes. There was light everywhere. There was load shedding of course but the inverter was backing up nicely.
I looked at the watch. 1:15 a.m. Still a lot of time for dawn to set in. I tried to close my eyes shut, but while those four guys did not disturb me any more, I could not get an iota of sleep. It always seemed like I was being watched by someone.
Finally I sat up and started reading a book. Slowly time passed, very slowly and then early morning, I heard the car honk outside. She had arrived. Thank God!
"Did you get any sleep?", she asked as she prepared to refresh herself.
"No. Can we move from here to your usual place of stay?"
"Sure! Give me some time. I need to take a shower. I shall call up Ramlal and make arrangements."
She did exactly that. Around 9 a.m. we left the bungalow with all our belongings. On the way I casually asked her driver Sohel. Sohel was her driver for a long time, a hugely trusted guy.
"This bungalow where we stayed for 3 days, what do the locals say about it?"
"Oh, why sir, did you hear anything?"
"I shall tell you, but first you say."
"You ignore them sir. They say it's haunted blah blah. They would make any place haunted."
"hmm.. did anyone ever live closeby by the names of Kamirul, Jamal, Raquib, Mudassar?"
Now my wife looked at me, inquisitive!
"Those are very common names sir. I have got friends with those names."
"Hmm.. anyone who died who had such names?"
"Very much possible but in this part of the world poor people cannot always afford proper burial so it may be difficult to track. But why those names only?"
I did not tell him about my dream. Rather I placed it in a different way as if I read about them in some historical texts related to Nischintapur.
The next few days were eventful for my wife but eventless for me. I ate, slept, read and clicked as much as I wanted. I did not miss the bungalow at all.
Once the election was over we headed back to Kolkata to get some much needed vacation for my wife, while I join my office.
I had almost forgotten about this incident, till about 5 years later, when a certain news headline grabbed my attention. Meanwhile my wife had bagged promotion and got transferred to a different town. I would visit her over weekends or she would come down to Kolkata whenever possible.
The news headline read like below.
"Senior judicial magistrate Mr Eknath Gokhale found dead in mysterious circumstances in the Govt. bungalow of Nischintapur. He had travelled there just 3 days back. Before him the bungalow had stayed unoccupied for nearly 5 years. The police are investigating the case and are tight-lipped about any investigative development."
I was spellbound for a few minutes. When I recovered, I just hoped that the criminals were human in this case...