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Realm of Spirits

Ghost of His Brother

Sundar! Many women trembled at the very mention of the name. He was broad shouldered and strong and his presence was quite intimidating. But that was not the only reason why a hush fell every time he walked to a different section of the bank. Part of the reason was, of course, the authority he enjoyed by virtue of being the bank manager. The other, more pertinent, reason was that he was a known womaniser, and one who didn’t wait for a woman’s consent. His lust had to be satisfied, and his prospective partner’s wishes were immaterial. He fancied women with big, firm bosoms – the age didn’t matter so much. Judging by the number of women who cursed him, he must have got his way pretty often. Sundar’s wife had long ago run out of patience and often explained contemptuously to visitors that he couldn’t be trusted even with his own daughter.

In time, Sundar’s sons got married, but their wives soon discovered that even they were considered fair game for Sundar who was now ‘retired’ from the bank and well into his sixties. Wisely, one by one, the sons moved out with their wives, much to the chagrin of Sundar. With almost everyone in the neighbourhood aware of his propensities, and unwilling  to satisfy  his strong urges, Sundar had to fall back on poor women whom he trapped with the lure of a good job and outright cash payments.

A day came, however, when nature took a hand and Sundar became impotent. Doctors, hospitals, hakims, vaids – Sundar tried them all but drew a blank. It then occured to him that perhaps he could check out with someone who knew astrology whether he could ever regain his virility, and that’s how I met him.

“The desire is still as strong as ever,” he confided, “but my body doesn’t respond even though I’ve tried both internal and external stimuli. Will I ever be able to perform again?” His chart showed that a particular planet was debilitated. But Sundar wasn’t prepared to write ‘finis’ to his lecherous career.

“I’ve heard you’ve done research on remedies. Surely there must  be something that I can do! I’ll keep checking out with you.”

He did keep in touch for a while, and then his visits stopped. He’s either found a remedy or he’s given up hope, I thought to myself and forgot about it.

1399851_burning_2Almost a year later, Sundar called again. He had indeed found a remedy, he told me. The remedy was enough to make anybody sit up. He had been told that he should go to a cremation ground, obtain a coal from the burnt ashes of a corpse, and write down certain figures and mantras on a piece of paper with that coal. It wasn’t easy to walk into a cremation ground and obtain coal, from pyres which were still smouldering. And he had almost given up when his elder brother died of a heart attack. Sundar used the opportunity to pick up a coal. The priest and other grieving relatives observed him doing so, and though they didn’t know the purpose, they protested. But Sundar wasn’t going to give up his only chance on obtaining that prized bit of coal which would bring back his manhood. “He was my brother,” he argued, and refused to put back the coal. But now he was in deep trouble, in danger of his life in fact, which is why he had turned to me for help.

“I brought the coal home,” he told me, “and put it reverently in a drawer. But that very night, my dead brother appeared before me, yanked me out on bed and almost thrashed me to death. He’s given me twenty four hours to dispose off that  coal from his ashes in the appropriate manner, otherwise he’s going to kill me. “What should I do?” The answer was obvious: do as his brother wished, and forget about his own need. I suggested that he could take the coal to the Yamuna river, and immerse it in the water in much the same way as you immerse the ashes from a dead body. But even though the twenty four hour deadline was closing in, Sundar decided to gamble till the very end.

Ten minutes before the deadline, his dead brother arrived and tore off his clothes. But Sundar still pleaded, “What use is that coal to you now? It can be your parting gift to me and I’ll be grateful all my life.”

The moment he said this, his wife saw him cringing from what were obviously blows. Left with no choice, Sundar pulled on a fresh pair of clothes, pulled out the coal from the drawer and immmersed it in the Yamuna. He hasn’t been bothered by his brother again, but he hasn’t given up his quest for a remedy either.

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Realm of Spirits

The Man who ate a Human Brain

Maldevta is a popular picnic spot near Dehra Dun. Thirst overtook us while trekking to Maldevta and we decided to ask for some water at a small thatched hut about a eight hundred scrubby hundred yards from the canal we were following. A dusky, well built man wearing a skimpy loin cloth emerged from the dark interior of the hut. Why, of course, we could have water, he answered. He didn’t have that much left, just a couple of glasses, as he’d just finished cooking, but we were most welcome to it. Was this his permanent residence, we asked him conversationally? Oh no, he had no fixed place of stay. There was a cremation ground just a stone’s thrown away, and he’d built this hut as he had been waiting for a lawaris body (homeless person’s body which is generally cremated by a philanthropic organization or trust). As luck would have it, after waiting for some three months, such a body had arrived just yesterday, and he’d been able, in exchange for a good luck charm, to obtain the head of the dead man. In fact, he’d almost run out of water as he had used most of it for cooking the dead man’s brain with some rice. He brought out a blackened pot and showed us the contents. He’d already had one portion of it, and would have to space out eating the cooked brain and rice over the next three days. Repelled, chilled, yet curious, we asked him who he was.

braineater1He was an aghori, he said, and Calcutta was his birthplace. After early initiation when he was just nine years old into Tantric Kali worship, he’d moved into other deeper sadhnas (disciplines), but always, it was with the forces of the dark. The rules and demands of the search for power in which he was now engaged ordained that he had to eat at least one human brain annually.

Already, he had acquired the ability of divining the future. He could actually show us our future, in case we were interested. Why didn’t we come in ? Fascinated yet afraid that at this isolated spot we might end up becoming his annual meal, we left somewhat hastily, forgetting all our lessons in politeness.

Over the next few days, I couldn’t get the aghori out of my mind. When a brigadier and his wife came to seek a reading from the cards as they were in deep trouble with a court martial looming on the horizon, it gave me the opportunity to go back to the aghori, with the anxious brigadier and his wife in tow. After all, he had said he could show one the future. What better way of testing the claim ?

He was still there, at the peak of his powers, he informed us, as he’d recently consumed the human brain. This time, we entered his hut and our eyes soon became accustomed to the dimness. The aghori requested us to sit, and as we sat cross-legged on the earthern floor, placed a lota (container) of water before us. “Look into the water” he commanded. And in the water, we saw the brigadier, older, dressed in civilian clothes. After several sequences, we saw the brigadier with the Supreme Court clearly visible in the background, and he was wearing a dark blue suit and distributing sweets to a group of people who were with him.

Some months after this amazing incident, the brigadier wanted to take a friend to meet the aghori, but when we reached there we found the hut in a sad state : it was just a bundle of grass and straw and twigs strewn on the ground. Enquiries at the cremation ground revealed that the aghori had been driven away by irate residents of Raipur, a nearby suburb.

Seven years passed with only occasional meetings with the brigadier, who was no longer in active service and was fighting his case in the civil courts. One day I received a message from him. The Supreme Court was to give the verdict on his case. And when I went on the appointed day, apart from other settings, there, outside the imposing Supreme Court building, was the Brigadier, dressed in a dark blue suit, distributing sweets just as he had been seven years ago in the lota of water the cannibal aghori had placed before us.

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Realm of Spirits

Chandwati’s Spirit

She had always had a sharp tongue, which cost her a lot of goodwill. But she paid perhaps the biggest price for her whiplash of a tongue when she died. Estranged family members did an indifferent job of her last rites, skipping quite a few mandatory rituals. The result was that though Chandwati left her body, she wasn’t able to leave earth and travel to the astral plane to which the majority of souls are supposed to go.

Trapped, Chandwati requested Chetram, the uncle of Parasram, the purohit, to strike a deal with her family. Chetram was a mystic who had the power of communicating with spirits. In return for ensuring a place to stay in her old home, Chandwati offered to run errands for him. The family didn’t take kindly at all to the idea of having Chandwati in their midst in a disembodied state.

Chandwati
Chandwati

The alternative was to free her from earth, but that entailed heavy expenditure on ceremonies and pundits, and the family baulked at that prospect. So conditions were set on both sides. Chandwati’s main demand was that nobody would speak ill of her ; if they did, they would have to pay a price for it. The family’s chief demand was that she should not interfere in their lives. She was, by mutual agreement, given a small, disused room on the terrace.

The arrangement worked out well for the first couple of months. And then the first signs of trouble began to appear. Chandwati was unable to resist poking her nose into the family’s business affairs and would come out with loud comments. When they began to complain about her unwanted presence in their midst she retaliated by irritating them by spiriting away the food at meal times, hiding someone’s shoes when the person had to leave for an important business meeting and other acts which soon sent the family up the wall. Chandwati’s response was simple : “Speak good of me, and I’ll be good to you. And as for my comments, its my duty to speak up if you’re making a bad business decision.”

Before long, the acrimony and sparring reached a critical stage when Chandwati, outraged by a family member – Rajeshree’s description of her as a “churail (bad spirit) they were stuck with”, threatened to chopp off her hair. An equally outraged Rajeshree promptly went to Chetram to complain, and that night, in front of the eyes of shocked family members, a pair of scissors appeared in the air and snipped off Rajeshree’s plait of hair never to grow again. As a child, I was fascinated by Rajeshree Tai’s ear length hair.

After the hair chopping incident, there was peace and both Chandwati and her reluctant family adopted a policy of “Live and let live”. In fact, Chandwati developed a soft spot for Rajeshree’s daughter, Pushi, for whom, for one reason or another, the family was unable to get a suitable matrimonial match.

One day, a boy and his family came to “see” Pushi all the way from Bidar. They came with a distant cousin of the family, and were put up in the guest room. As had happened with other “boys” and their families, the family from Bidar found a number of “defects” in her pimply skin, too thin and so on. Heartbroken, Pushi poured out her heart to Chandwati, who decided to swing into action. When the Bidar family went to their room to collect their hold-all and suitcases, they found a strong lock on their door. By the time the lock was broken open, it was long past their train departure time. The elders conferred amongst themselves, and took the unexpected happening as a sign to reverse their decision and say “yes” to the match. And Pushi and the boy from Bidar exchanged the customary engagement gifts thanks to Chandwati’s handiwork.

Chandwati stayed on for some more years, till the time Chetram became too old to act as her “spirit control”. But instead of abandoning her, Chetram, at Chandwati’s own suggestion, took her to Gaya, where, after performing the necessary rituals, he left her in the company of other earth-bound spirits.