“There was, a girl,
so tall, so dark, so thin,
Her name, her name
Her name, they say was ginnnnngeerr…” ,echoed their voice as they leisurely strolled their way back home from market. The pleasant weather and the gentle cool breeze had refreshed their minds.
The road sloped up and took a sharp turn to the left.
“her name, her name, her name, they say was Ginger” they sang loudly as they walked past the curve.
Perched on the top of this slightly elevated ground was a queer looking house. The strange looking building had an eerie feel to it.
“What an odd looking house!”,commented Anish breaking the rhythm of the song.
“Bimla mentioned it’s haunted!” ,he told Suhana, who chose to ignore his little brothers fictitious stories.
“Suhana! I am talking to you!”, he appealed, stopping and stamping his foot firmly on the ground, desperate to get attention from his elder sister.
“It’s just an old, abandoned building Anish”, she explained to him, “It’s just desolate! That’s about it! No ghosts! ”
“Don’t believe Bimla’s stories” ,said Suhana who knew Bimla’s story telling skills.
Bimla, the housemaid, loved reciting dramatic stories to Anish. She narrated her stories in all hush-hush, ‘do not tell anyone’ tones with fully animated hand and facial gestures. All this resulted in making the fallacious, cooked up stories sound real.
“Look at it Suhana, it’s a ruin! No one dares to go in!” ,appealed the boy.
“That’s because no one has any business of going in” ,said Suhana, as she started walking again.
Anish started walking along, unable to seek any attention.
The house, Bimla had mentioned, belonged to a wealthy, Bengali family. They had been cursed because they refused to entertain a certain ‘swamiji’ who appeared on their doorstep one fine day. The swami had asked for food and shelter for the night. The family refused taking him in, taking him as an imposter. The swami’s anger killed everyone in the house and the swami is sometimes seen there even today.
“Whosoever tried taking shelter in that house was hurt badly or never came back” ,Bimla had told Anish opening her big frog like eyes smudged black with kohl. “It’s the haunted, forbidden house, Anish baba!”, she had said.
Bimla’s story was a typical case of Chinese whispers. A story that had visited many ears and passed on many a lips. It had left an impression on Anish though and he thought about it sometimes. Maybe, he believed it too.
A couple of days went by and Anish forgot about the ‘Forbidden house’.
One gusty evening, when Anish was returning from his evening games along with Ajay, his playmate, they happened to cross the Forbidden house once again. Anish narrated Bimla’s story to Ajay, who unlike Suhana, proved to be a keen listener.
“You mean the swami’s ghost? He is still there?” ,asked Ajay inquisitively.
“That’s what Bimla told me!”,replied Anish.
The two boys exchanged glances. They wished to unfold the mystery but were too scared.
“Does the swami eat young boys too?” further implored Ajay.
“Bimla did not mention that” ,answered Anish.
“Then we can go and find out what’s in there!”, said Ajay , a little thrilled at the thought of an impending adventure.
“Oh no! If ma finds out, I won’t be allowed evening games anymore!” ,said Anish, a little disappointed with his own detrimental answer.
Oh! Come on! She will not come to know. We will be back in no time! “,said Ajay, this time pulling Anish by his arm.
Anish did not resist and they walked towards the house.
An unkempt cobbled pathway led to the strange house. The iron gate was rusted, weak , battered and locked. The two boys wiggled from in between the vertical bars into the compound.
“Hurry up!” ,called out Ajay.
The boys ran past the wild lilies and wedilias onto the strange looking porch.
“Oh let’s go back!” ,appealed Anish who wanted to flee from the morbid looking place.
“It’s getting dark and cloudy! Let’s go back”, he begged Ajay, who by this time climbed up the window and disappeared into the darkness.
The winds grew fierce and violent. Thunder struck and suddenly violent rain lashed out.
” Ajay! come back!”, he shouted from outside the window.
“Ajay! Ajay!”, he kept calling, determined not to go inside the house.
There was no response from inside and Anish started to panic now.
“Ajay!” ,he cried out, as he heard a loud thud from inside.
Anish ran out in the rain. He thought he would get some help but the street outside was bore a dark and deserted look. He ran shouting for help but there was not a soul on that street.
Anish ran back home. On his way he met Suhana, who was out looking for him.
“Where were you Anish? “,asked Suhana. ” Mother is worried! ”
“Suhana, Ajay is trapped in the haunted house!”, blurted out Anish, trying to fight his tears.
“We must help him!” ,he pleaded.
“Why did you go there Anish? I told you not to!”, scolded Suhana.
“I am sorry! “,pleaded Anish ,”But we need to help Ajay. The swami’s ghost will kill him.”
“There is no ghost Anish”, said Suhana as both of them walked towards the forbidden house.
The storm grew violent and the tempestuous wind lashed angrily. The children quickly walked past the cobbled pathway holding the umbrella tight. Anish was glad that Suhana had accompanied him. He felt a little confident with her being around.
On reaching the porch Anish showed Suhana the window that Ajay had climbed.
“This is the window!”, said Anish, pointing at the half open window.
“Let’s go inside”, he told Suhana.
“Not through the window, it might be dangerous. Let’s check if this door is open? “, said Suhana, feeling the door with her hands.
“It’s locked from inside, we had checked”, replied Anish.
“It’s not locked! Just jammed”, said Suhana as she pushed the wooden door open.
The door creaked open and it was pitch dark inside. Suhana pressed the torch button on her wrist watch and a faint beam of light illuminated only the very immediate surroundings.
Slowly they walked past the door of the forbidden house. The silence inside was deafening, broken only by interludes of the howling wind lashing on the windows.
Anish and Suhana, held each other tight and slowly walked past the gloomy unlit lobby.
“I heard something Suhana! “, shrieked Anish, gripping his sister’s hand even tighter.
“Where ?”,asked Suhana, a little scared herself.
“There, towards our right !”, said Anish, almost in tears.
There was something there definitely. A very dim, misty yellow light emerged from one of the rooms.
“Someone is there!”, whispered Suhana to Anish.
Slowly the children walked towards the spooky frightening room.
“Ajay are you there?”, said they both together.
Their voices wouldn’t come out of the parched throats .
“Ajay”, they attempted again as they drew nearer to the mysterious room.
“I am scared Suhana!”,said Anish with big tears rolling down his cheek, “Ajay has disappeared.”
“No he has not!”, came a warm voice from the room.
As the children hurriedly entered the room they were shocked to see what lay inside.
Ajay lay prostrate on the floor below, his forehead was painted green and a small clay lamp meekly flickered some yellow light on his expressionless face. Suddenly a shadow cast forward.
“You children shouldn’t be out so late!”, said a man stepping forward, all dressed in ochre robes.
“Swami’s ghost!”,squeaked Anish, petrified.
“You killed Ajay!”, said Suhana, mustering up some courage.
“Oh no! He is just unconscious”, said the swami, in his voice, deep and warm.
“What have you done to my friend? “,asked Anish, “Why is his forehead painted green. ”
“Oh that is a herbal balm, your friend tripped on the staircase and banged his head on the wooden chest below. I have just applied balm”, said the swami calmly, “He will be conscious soon, don’t worry.”
There was silence for a while. Anish and Suhana still held each other’s hand.
“Are you the ghost swami?”,asked Anish hesitantly.
“Do you think so?”, asked the swami bringing his hand close to the children and letting them feel his flesh.
“If you are not a ghost what do you do in this ruin?”,asked Suhana, feeling his frigid hand.
“This deserted house is not visited by a soul, I can meditate here in peace”, replied the swami, withdrawing his hand and moving backwards.
“Anish, Suhana where are we?”, asked Ajay waking up .
“Ajay you are fine! Thank God! You got hurt badly!”, said Anish happily.
“Let’s go home!”, said Anish hastily, forgetting all about interrogating the swami further.
The swami showed the children the way out and they thanked him politely for his courtesy.
The sky outside was very dark and so was the ‘forbidden house’ but for the swami’s eyes that glinted green, as he saw the children wiggle out of the iron gate.