Madhumita, a non-believer, did not believe in gods or ghosts, nor did she subscribe to religion. She met her friend from another city and as they were catching up on their lives, she tells the writer a stranger story. It was about an eerie dream. A voice speaking to her friend. She also saw the beautiful cottage from where this voice was coming. Can dreams be rooted in reality, a place that she had not seen? What happened next? Read a haunting account, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Houses have ghosts too. I realised this three months back.
I am a non-believer. I do not believe in gods or ghosts. I do not believe in, or subscribe to religion. And I am not a total non-believer. I believe in destiny, though character shapes or is responsible for destiny, I like to believe, a Shakespeare scholar as I am. I also believe in a super power, a cosmic power that is controlling the universe, ours and galaxies beyond our reckoning and imagination. But I clearly do not believe in ghosts.
Life, once ends, ends is what I believe. The heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing; the organs stop functioning and the body lies still and inert, to decay if not cremated or buried soon. That’s it. The person, the individual, who had a brain to help them think and feel, who had laughed and cried, made love or war, simply ceases to exist. A mass of cells, the tissues become dead, devoid of any possibility of regeneration. Yes, even the brain. So how could the individual resurface after death, with memories of love and hate to haunt living people? Absurd, I always knew. And that’s what I strongly believed. Till three months ago. I believe in ghosts now. After listening to my friend’s story.
It was a hot summer afternoon, that day, three months ago. An atmosphere least appropriate to listen to a supernatural story. No rains, or overcast sky, cracking up with flashes of lightning, accompanied with ominous thunderclaps. No darkness either, with mysterious shadows lurking in the corners. The sun raged in a blinding sky. I sat with my friend on my bed, with the curtains drawn, leaving the dazzling brightness outside. My friend looked ashen and perspired despite the cool interiors, the air conditioner whirring away softly. My friend was in Mumbai on an official trip and visited me on the last day of her stay. After lunch, which I had prepared specially for her, we sat down in our bedroom, catching up on our lives spent in the last two years that we had been apart. She in Kolkata, me in Mumbai. Best friends as we were, we missed each other. She narrated a story I least expected to hear. I reproduce the story here, in her voice.
“I am a heavy sleeper, as you know. My nights are one whole and I have great difficulty waking up even beyond my seven-hour sleep. And I dream rarely. But for full two months, I kept having this recurring dream, which not only altered my sleep pattern but was very disturbing, to say the least. It was almost the same dream every night. A voice would sigh and speak on, in a mournful tone. I could see no one but heard it clearly, in my dream.
I am alone and lonely. I have been alone now, for long. I have none to live with me, none who will even stay for a while with me. No one comes ever to visit me. Will you come?
The voice pleaded and I woke up in a sweat, every time. The room would be the same, not too dark, slices of the streetlight shining through the parted curtains. I do not draw the curtains at night. I feel uncomfortable in total darkness. It is not that I am scared but sleep deludes me when it is very dark in the room. I find the light and shade effect created by the thin strips of light that come in through the windows, soothing.
It was the same voice speaking in my dreams since then. The voice would sigh deeply and say: I am old, no longer beautiful, my body parts gradually giving way to age and disrepair. I have been waiting for a human touch, for a footfall now for eighty years. Come, please come. But who are you? And how will I reach you? I was speaking in my dream. And one night, I not only heard the voice but saw where the voice was coming from. I saw a house, a cottage that clearly was a beautiful one in the past but now shabby and dilapidated with neglect. There was an arch over a wicker gate that once had creepers growing on, now shrouded with wild plants, growing haphazardly, covering the arch all over. The cobblestone pathway leading to the front door was no longer visible. I somehow knew there was such a path though I could not see none of it. Thick vegetation grew all around in the open space that was once clearly a garden. The tall trees had spread their bushy arms trying to reach the sky, almost blotting away the sun. The scene was so clear that I felt as if I was there at the house, visiting.
It is so ugly, isn’t it? Being with myself and all alone, all these long years, I have stopped taking interest in the surroundings. They call it the House of Death. Do you know why? There have been deaths in this house. Two suicides and a murder. Their souls sigh through the day, through the night. They drown my sighs. I crouch in fear, in hopelessness, impatient. I loathe to wait any longer. Will you come and save me?
Who are you? Where are you? How can I save you? The dream seemed more than real to me. Houses have distinct characters, reflections of their inmates. Have you thought of that before? Look around you, visit your friends and relatives. They all might have similar furniture and décor too, perhaps. But in each you will find a distinct stamp of the nature and style of the dwellers. Houses have souls too. Mine is tormented. Yes, I am a house. A little cottage, on the fringes of the city. There is a hapless soul trapped in here, along with me. The remains of a most unfortunate young woman, buried beneath the floor. Come, release her soul. Release me. I wish to be destroyed so that I may be built anew all over again. I do not wish to remain the House of Death forever.”
“Then? What happened?” I asked, when I found my breath back. I was listening with rapt attention, half-amused initially, disbelieving her and questioning her intelligence and wisdom, but was soon drawn into the world of dreams and spirits that so haunted my friend. And an inexplicable fear grasped me from within.
“So what happened then? Tell me! Did you find the house?” I was impatient, every hair on my body standing erect. She continued: “There was no hassle. Thanks to a relative who held a post of eminence in the police department. I narrated to him my dreams and also the name of the place the voice had mentioned, where the house was located. He did not believe what I said, for obvious reasons, but took it up to look into the matter on my insistence. He visited the place with four policemen. They did find the skeletal remains there, buried in the floor, confirmed by forensic reports, to be of a female, about twenty five years old, who had died of strangulation forty years ago. The house was indeed called the House of Death, the locals informed. The landlord had died long back and a series of opportunist occupiers found it difficult to live in the house. It was haunted, all had said and had left the house to be as it was.”
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