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That mystery in the passageway

When imagination runs riot, it is often tough to segregate fact from fiction. Could it get even worse when the tale is from two decades ago?

I’ve always had a wild sort of imagination. I’ve imagined a man hiding behind the curtains, kitchen knife in hand, waiting for me to part the fabric separating us. I’ve imagined sinister shadows lurking in dark corners, ready to lunge at me. So it didn’t come as a surprise when I narrated this story to my husband, who of course dismissed it as some silly childhood boogieman tale. Whether it was my imagination, or if it had really happened, I cannot tell with absolute certainty, for I was only 13. Nearly two decades later, I’m still not sure. Well, I’ll let you decide.

It was the summer of 1997, when my sister, eight years old, my mother, and I were on a train to Mandya in Karnataka. My mother, then working with Customs and Central Excise, had an inspection to make. Considering it was vacation time, and my father was away on official business, my mum had no choice but to let us tag along. Accompanying us was my mum’s colleague (let’s call him Gagan for reasons of privacy), a phlegmatic man with a beer belly.

We reached the government guesthouse from the station, just in time for the adults to grab breakfast and drop us kids to my mum’s room, before heading to work. Now it’s important that I describe the guest house before proceeding. Surrounded by vegetation that blended into a forest, the dilapidated guesthouse had three floors. The ground floor housed the kitchen, dining area and staff quarters. A narrow stairwell led to the first, second and third floors, with three guest rooms on either side. For us, the only guests on the premises at that point, the staff opened up two of the 18 rooms. Gagan’s room, right next to ours, was smaller, but just as dusty and depressing.

The adults gone, my sister and I, after having explored the place thoroughly, decided to head back to our room to play. Now, whoever said that ghosts and spirits only made their presence felt at night, had no idea what they were talking about. It was nearly afternoon. The sun was shining bright, promising a hot, sweltering afternoon ahead.

“Tinkle, tinkle”. The tinkling of anklets was unmistakable. Someone was outside, in the passage. I peeped through the window to see if one of the staff had come upstairs to check on us. Not a soul in sight. Even the noisy birds had stopped calling. I was confused, but decided to head back to whatever we were doing.

“Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.” This time I wasn’t mistaken. I peeped again. The passageway stared back at me mutely, almost shrugging nonchalantly. I felt the hair at the back of my neck stand, my breath coming in short, urgent gasps.

My sister, meanwhile, sensed that something was amiss and held my hand tightly. I looked at her and realised she was looking up to me for reassurance. That was when I decided that we were going make a dash to the kitchen downstairs. We flung the door open and rushed down the stairs as fast as our legs would take us.

The staff threw quizzical looks, but mostly ignored us and continued with their work. I felt foolish, and wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. Like all kids, we soon forgot about the bizarre episode and continued playing downstairs until my mother and Gagan returned.

We heard it again, however, that night. The same “tinkle, tinkle” of anklets. I thought I was dreaming it, but when I woke I saw my mother' face, pale and full of fear. Meanwhile, the “tinkle” of the anklets grew in urgency, as though someone had just rushed past our window.

“Gagan,” she called out. “Gagan, can you hear us?”

But of course, either Gagan was cowering under the sheets, or was fast asleep, oblivious to our plight. It sure was a long night!

The next morning, I saw my mother talking to Gagan in urgent whispers. “What is it?’ I questioned. My mum shooed us away, urging me to hurry up and pack.

It was only later, after a couple of months, did my mum tell me of the exchange between her and Gagan.

“I didn’t want to scare you kids, but that night, Gagan couldn’t come to us because she was sitting on his chest! The spirit who haunts the guesthouse. She didn’t want him to come to us. He felt a huge weight on his chest, he said. Like a person, pinning him down. They say, she jumped off the third floor.”

I can still feel the goosebumps from that spooky experience that evidently stemmed from a fertile imagination.

shama.red@gmail.com

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 10:01:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/That-mystery-in-the-passageway/article14496004.ece

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