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The Storm

July 15, 2007

It was about 1 a.m. on the 23rd of January and I lay in bed contemplating sleep. This was surprising since I was infamous for being a prolific sleeper and this was one of those rare occasions when it was refusing to come naturally. I was probably preoccupied with the unusual weather patterns that had been circulating throughout the northern region.Delhi’s weather had taken a most bizarre turn just the day before. It had been cold and intermittently drizzly for the most part, with the mercury taking a plunge in the day. There hadn’t been a single minute of sunshine and the murkiness had permeated within. I remembered that at some point of this gloomy day, three seemingly unrelated words: ‘England’, ‘bad weather’ and ‘anemic rock music’ felt intuitively connected. At 1:15 a.m., the skies fulminated for the first time; the phenomenon was accompanied by bright flashes, momentarily lighting up the room through a grilled window pane located above the door that led to the balcony. The thunder caused the rain to briefly intensify as was evident from the increased level of sound. Then a powerful rumble made the hollow balcony railing resonate producing low pitched vibrations.It was at this juncture that I sat up and decided to so something more constructive.

For a long time I had been thinking of recording a spate of the rather strange events that had unfolded over the past couple of years but somehow had never felt motivated enough to do so. Somehow the prevailing weather proved to be a potent catalyst. I decided that the time had arrived to pen my thoughts on the troubling events of the past and in doing so hopefully lay the matter to rest, once and for all.

I merely propose to present my fragmented recollections of the events that had occurred and the human elements behind them. The choice of deeming the recollections as truth or fiction ultimately can rest only with the reader.

Things started going wrong in our home about two years ago. My mother and sister were the other two family members living in the house at that time. It was well into the monsoons in Delhi when ‘holes’ first started appearing in various fabrics in the house. The word ‘hole’ does not aptly signify what we witnessed in the fabrics and does call for further elaboration. While in some clothes it did seem that some insect or animal had bitten through the fabric, the damage appeared far more sinister in other cases. For instance, the cloth covering the sofa set was frayed in a way that one could easily see the individual fibres of the cloth. What was even more peculiar was that the fabric would crumble to some kind of a powdery form just by gently rubbing it with ones fingertips. An occurrence such as this appearing totally out of the blue is bound to spook even the more rational beings among us, at least in the first instance. After the initial shock subsides, one tries to get a firm grip on reality and usually the best way to do so is to try to explain by one method or another the cause of that which has transpired. It is interesting to note how varied and creative the reasoning can be depending on the school of thought one belongs to. This is especially true in the Indian context where stuff like mysticism and spiritualism is deep seated. They happen to be an intrinsic part of our mythological legacy: one need only go through a little of the Mahabharata or other tales of gods, demons, spirits etc to get a flavour of this.

It was not as if what happened was an isolated incident. Every now and then, my mother or sister would discover a new hole in another kurta or bedspread. I would say that my mother’s nerves were the hardest hit primarily because she was quite devout and also a bit superstitious. The saving grace was that she wasn’t sanctimonious in the least.

At home opinions were divided on the issue. Despite being unable to pin down the exact cause of these holes, I maintained the scientific line. I continued to blame it on an unknown monsoonal insect or some pest that possibly was residing in our dhobi’s shack. To be quite honest though, I wasn’t entirely convinced by my own explanations. The troubling detail was that my clothes were virtually untouched in the first wave of ‘attacks’. But I kept my misgivings private for the sake of my own sanity as well as that of others. Meanwhile my mother had been making her own enquiries from friends and relatives. She even went to ‘holy’ men, good people who possessed tantrik vidya (knowledge of ancient Hindu sorcery). After a while she was convinced that there were supernatural forces behind the strange holes. My sister’s reaction to this whole episode was at least in the beginning that of mild bewilderment. She was always so busy working in her office that she hadn’t the time to get properly spooked. Also the both of us were skeptical of this tantrik bit. This helped us to remain relatively indifferent to the issue. I would try to keep my mother calm by telling her that damage to old clothes was merely a good excuse to buy new ones.

This whole episode came to an end after a period of about four months. The damage to fabric ceased abruptly. My mother claimed that it had been her efforts that had drawn the whole matter to a close. She had been given certain ‘holy’ incenses which she would burn in the house on a daily basis. She would also play an audio tape of the Mahamrityunjaya, a very powerful set of mantras which are believed to provide victory over death. It is often used in rituals to save a person in mortal danger. Needless to say, her supernatural solution did not fit in my scheme of reasoning but I have to admit that its timing was uncanny. It was almost as it someone had switched on the light in a dark room.

After months of no such incident, the memories of the holes started to fade away and calm was restored in our house. Darkness loses its grip on us when we turn on the light. But it is also true that the electricity can let one down especially in a place like Delhi and then darkness can without any prior notice once again reign supreme. Sure enough, the calm did not last long.

The next twist in this tale took place last year on raksha bandhan. At this point my sister was no longer a resident of the house. She had gone abroad to work on an assignment. On raksha bandhan, my mother’s brother and his wife expressed their desire to come and visit us. They said that it would be a good excuse to meet and also that my mother could perform the ceremony of tying a thread to her brother’s wrist. This festival is widely celebrated in India and it is a common practice for men to go and visit their sisters on this occasion. The reason that it is strange in our context is that ties are particularly frosty with my uncle and aunt. Nevertheless we reciprocated their gesture in good faith and the meeting passed of quite cordially. The only reason I introduce the reader to such a highly trivial and mindless domesticity is because all this is germane to the sinister issues at play. The day after raksha bandhan unquestionably proved the evil intentions of my uncle and aunt or at least one of them. My mother recollected how curious my aunt had been about the newly installed kitchen cabinets. My aunt had been snooping around the kitchen even after my mother had gone into the living room to join my uncle. Mother was suspicious and uneasy about it. That day she made a detailed inspection of the cabinets with the maid’s help. Now comes the eerie part. One particular shelf in the cabinet is stocked with different kinds of alcohol. My mother unearthed a perforated lemon from behind one of the bottles. It had quite clearly been put there by my aunt and in a way so as to avoid detection. To me, all that this incident proved was the malicious intent of the family members in question. It did not prove in any way whether their actions then or in the past had been effectual. In other words there was no proof of them being behind the holes. I have to admit though that I was spooked by the sheer eeriness of that incident. I can only speculate on the symbolism of the perforated lemon and surmise that it could portend evil in some form. This presumption would probably explain the reason behind placing it in the vicinity of alcohol. Alcohol could in a way be considered as something impure and due to this feature may in some twisted fashion somehow facilitate the invocation of evil.

It was and still is a matter of consternation why any one would resort to something so bizarre in the first place. The lemon incident appeared to be a desperate measure to harm us in a most peculiar manner conceivable. However their motive behind wanting to harm us was all too easy to conceive. There is a large family inheritance at stake and my mother and uncle are to be the only two legal beneficiaries of it. Also my uncle hasn’t held a job in more than a decade and does not really have any other means of subsistence and neither does he really care for one now. His disposition is exactly like that of a man eating tiger: once it gets used to easy killing there is no looking back at the days of toiling for food. However it also has to be said that my uncle is nothing more than a puppet in this show. My aunt is the person pulling the strings from behind the scenes. He is the actor and she, the director. Her skill as a strategist is as formidable as it is praiseworthy.

People generally say that money is the root of all evil. This statement is rather euphemistic since evil lurks in the recesses of the human mind and hence it is we who are the root. Evil just eventually finds a vent.

About three months after the lemon incident, the holes emerged once more. The difference this time was that some of my clothes got damaged too. Mother was by then engulfed by fear and a bit of paranoia had also started to set in. I myself became increasingly doubtful of the scientific line and felt a general sense of uneasiness. The damage was still sporadic and all we could do was to wait until the next such occurrence with a sense of nervous anticipation.

But this time it was not just a question of holes. Another eerie event was about to unfold and would prove according to me to be the eeriest of the lot.

My mother had started to sometimes complain of an odour in her bedroom. When I asked her to explain the odour, she said that it smelt of country liquor. Since I had been unable to smell anything unusual first, I dismissed the claim as a figment of her imagination. Paranoia can help conjure up anything, I thought. Then one fine day the moment of truth arrived. My mother called me into her room and asked me if I could smell anything. Albeit on previous occasions it had been a false alarm as far as I was concerned, this occasion was different. I definitely smelt something and answered her in the affirmative. She then asked me, ‘Well, what does it smell like’. I could already see the triumphal smile forming on her face. The answer was obvious to me as well and I just couldn’t control the sheepish grin when I blurted out, ‘Country liquor’. Something inside me shattered with the same sound as a stainless steel plate crashing to the marbled floor of my kitchen with that nerve rattling clamour. However I still felt that it was not a good time to tell my mother how I felt. I told her that is was simply the smell of some fermenting fruit that she had kept in the room and then subsequently had forgotten about. I also insinuated at the possibility of the smell wafting from outside. I knew in my mind though that all those scenarios were almost impossible given the nature of the smell. The troubling facts that negated them were firstly, that the smell always emanated only from my mother’s room and secondly, that the smell was of a transient nature. It would come and go as it pleased. Lastly we were unable to find any fermenting object even after a thorough inspection of the room. We were also were unable to pinpoint the exact source of the smell. It would seem to be coming from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I consciously refrained from thinking about all that it could mean especially in connection with the incident in which the lemon was placed next to the alcohol.

These are all the pertinent details and quite frankly I am at a loss of words to dissect them any further. There has been a temporary lull in this kind of activity. I am sure though that it will not last long. This is only the lull before the next big storm.



From → short stories

  1. Very nice this blog =)

  2. Brinda permalink

    Read the “storm story” truly spooky… the rational mind keeps brushing it off..but somewhere something is surely ammiss..completely inexplicable!

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