The Ravenous House


Manikanto Mukherjee is a postmaster of Nijumpur. He comes to his office by local train from Ratanpur. The distance from Ratanpur to Nijumpur is fifty kilometres. The Nijumpur station is on the route to Manikpur and Salimgangue. He gets the said train from his village railway station at about 7 am, for his working place. The train runs usually late. It runs twice in a day. The Down train runs in the morning and the Up one is in the evening. The right time of the up train at Nijimpur scheduled to 6.30pm – but usually late, due to crossing of goods trains. Manikanto is a monthly-ticket holder.
It was Saturday –December 16, 2004, chilly winter. Manikanto was in a hurry to leave his office. Every weekend used to be tedious for him. He had to arrange all files and documents for the next week. The very day he was very busy. His subordinates had left the office quite early. Therefore, he managed everything alone, and consequently, he was late. At last, he locked the main gate of the post office, handed over the keys to the guard, and took his way to the Nijumpur Railway Station. Dense fog veiled the rays of the setting sun –visibility reduced.  He could not avail of any transportation to the railway station. Every Saturday, availability of conveyance was quite remote after 2 pm, due to weekly market. Manikanto was well aware of that, but he could not manage to leave his office on time. He walked across the dusty pavement of paddy field for the railway station –clung to his underarm a few files and a portfolio bag.
He reached the station and went straight to the waiting room –every day he took rest in the retiring room.  A few passengers were waiting there for the train. He took his place thereat and engrossed reading newspaper. An announcement aired –“Manikpur-Salimgangue up local is running two hours late. Passengers’ cooperation is requested.” After the announcement, passengers went off, but Manikanto remained there. The Station Master, Nityananda Banerjee, had close acquaintance with Manikanto for six years or so. “Manikanto, come to my chamber and have your seat.” He dragged a chair for him. “Salimgangue Local is two hours late. Let me share my queer experience of virtual world . Will you like to have a cup of black tea? Biting cold, it’ll revive us,” said Nityananda. “Naresh, prepare two-cup strong black tea.” “Have some sugar?” Banerjee said. “No. Thanks.” Monikanto replied. Nityananda, narrating his encounter, said “When I was deputed as assistant stationmaster at Tinshukia, Assam, my senior, Ravi Kant Mishra, arranged my accommodation in an old-fashioned house. Actually, staff-quarter was not allotted to me because I was newly deputed. Mishraji trained me how to maintain the Log Book of Up and Down trains. (Naresh brought two cups of special ginger black tea). Enjoy special ginger black tea, with my story. The wooden architecture of the house seemed to me the time of British reign –colossal doors and windows, beautiful garden. The panoramic view was quite enchanting.” Ravi Kant Mishra was hailing from Baruni, Bihar. His family stayed in Bihar. He had an ambassador car.
He went to his office every day by car. I used to go to my office and return with him, as I had no means of transport. He was a man of amicable nature. “It was Saturday; we returned home from office in a jovial mood, as the next day was Sunday. Mishraji usually dropped me at my door. I requested him to have a cup of coffee, but he was in hurry because his friends were waiting for him. He had a group. They used to play Rummy every Saturday until late night. It was raining after a quick interval. Kanha, my servant, was waiting for me. It was 8’O clock. He took my bag and tiffin box. I  asked him if he had prepared my supper. He replied me in affirmative tone. I changed my dress. It is in habit of the local people that they take their supper quite early. Kanha was in hurry to return his home. He served my supper and took his way. I finished my supper.
Kanha had already prepared my bed. I thought that the next day was Sunday so I had to finish the remaining part of the novel of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya’s ‘Parinita’. I started reading the same. I was so engrossed in reading that I could not pay my attention to the clock. I was in my utter surprise when the clock struck one. I closed the book and went to bed. I switched off the light. Though I closed my eyes, yet I could not sleep because my brain was busy, as it was recollecting the whole day’s work. When I felt drowsy, my ear struck a faint sound of someone’s rubbing the surface of the door with nails. I awoke, I waited to listen it once again. The same sound repeated once again, but it was much louder. I controlled over my nerves and left my bed. I switched on the light. However, the door was closed. The event made me perplexed. I stood for a minute. I was itching to my head and thinking how the sound was produced. I approached to the window. I just opened it slightly and peeped outside. The outside was foggy. Rain stopped. I could hardly see the outside. I went back to my bed and got the torch, which I kept under my pillow. When I focused at the balcony, I was at my utter surprise no one was there; a black cat ran across the balcony.
I went to my bed again and switched off the light. However, the night lamp was kept on. After an hour, I got a faint sound of weeping. In the meantime, the clock struck two. I guessed some beggar was sobbing due to chilly gust, as it was rainy night. I just threw out my queer thought from my mind and tried to sleep. “Manikanto”, I broke into a cold sweat when I heard the same sound coming out just at the vicinity of the window side of my bed. My whole body was as stiff as corpse. I got off the bed cautiously; removed the quilt, but did not dare to give up the cot.  I was sweating. I tried to see through mosquito net whether anybody was present in the room. I uttered in chocked voice who there was. Hearing my voice, the weeping stopped. I sat firmly on the bed and observed the incident. I felt thirsty, but could not move my hands to get the glass of water, which was just kept on the study table beside my cot. The sound repeated. It seemed to me a weeping of woman. Once again, I got the torch under my pillow. I could not hold it properly. I was utterly terrified. Somehow, I controlled over my nerves and cautiously focused the torch at the window.  I was perplexed when I saw a hazy image of woman near the window–seeking for water and absolute appeasement.
It was hardly visible due to insufficient light of the night lamp. I felt suffocating in utter nervousness. My whole body was chilled. No one was there in the room to cling firmly. I was confused what I could do then. I firmly caught my sacred thread and started chanting Gayatri Mantra loudly. Slowly, the shadow started disappearing. However, the very words, seeking for water and absolute appeasement in nasal voice, were echoing.  I got down from the bed. However, I was continuously chanting the encomium of Goddess Gayatri. I approached to the window –peeped outside, focused the torch, but the hazy image still visible in the garden. I went to the door, opened it slowly and cautiously. I took an iron rod, which was kept behind the door. I came to know from my grandparents that iron saves us from evil power, so I took it and approached slowly and steadily to that shadow. As I was gradually approaching, the shadowy image of a woman was  leading me to the backyard of the house. I did not understand what the intention was behind such queer act. I felt as if the shadow pulled me near the boundary wall, where I saw a pile of earth. It seemed to me a grave. When I focused the torch on the shadow, I was taken aback a woman! The shadow converted into a prominent figure face was covered under the veil, wearing black saree having blood stained on it. I firmly gripped the sacred thread and the iron rod as well with my right hand, and the torch with the left. I was continuously chanting the hymns of the Goddess Gayatri in my mind. The said encomium of Gayatri boosted up my courage to confront with the spirit.  I could not utter even a single word, as my throat dried up. Somehow, I asked the spirit of the woman in Bengali language what she wanted. The spirit did not understand. Then, I asked in Assamise language, “I can speak Assamise fluently still at this age because I spent my childhood in Assam for a couple of years, when my father was deputed thereat as the manager of a tea garden.” “What can I do for you.” The spirit wanted to dig out the corpse from the grave and to perform celestial rites for its heavenly appeasement. Hearing such instruction, I went into oblivion. Next day, Kanha came as usual at 6 am. People were out of doors transportation stated plying. The streets were full of din and bustle. My servant Kanha was astonished to find the doors ajar. He rushed into the bedroom and approached near my bed to know why I had kept the doors ajar.
The pillow and the quilt were kept in such a way; he thought I was in deep sleep. He pushed the quilt gently to get me awoke, but I was not thereat. Initially he thought; I was in the washroom. He uttered aloud by my name, “Saheb”, “Saheb”. He slapped the door of the washroom, but he could not get any response. He ran to the courtyard and had in search of me. His all efforts were in futile. He went to my neighbourhood and enquired of me, but failed. Then he returned, but did not lose his heart. All of a sudden, his mind suspected if I might be at the backyard.  When he saw me on the earth in the state of unconsciousness, he burst into tears. He loved and respected me as his own elder brother. I was grumbling and was seeking a glass of water. Kanha was utterly confused. He stood for a while and controlled himself. Then, he went straight to the kitchen for a glass of water. At first, he sprinkled water on my face. When I opened my eyes, he helped me to sit on my buttock, but my whole body was in fatigue. He supported me with his arms and helped me to drink water. After having a glass of water, I regained a little bit strength. He pulled me to stand up position and slowly took me to my room.
He assisted me to sit in the easy chair and switched on the fan at full speed. He brought a cup of black tea and a few biscuits. The black tea and biscuits supplied me strength to utter words. While I was taking tea and biscuits, Kanha asked me what had happened with him. I started narrating the whole incident one after another. He was utterly surprised. I asked him what I saw last night, was the true one. He replied “Yes, Saheeb”. I insisted him to narrate the whole. He requested me to leave the house immediately. I crossed him why I should do so. He further added it was a ravenous house. No one could spend a night. He also told that two families had already fallen victims. The former lost one of its two children.  However, I was adamant to know the truth. He just bifurcated and changed the topic. He assured me, he would tell everything, but after breakfast. He went to kitchen for the preparation of the same. Meanwhile, I took regular medicine of blood pressure, as I had already taken a few biscuits and a cup of tea. I thought why the spirit wanted to dig the corpse out of the  grave, and to perform celestial rites. Had it not been liberated by performing heavenly ritual?… I was perplexed.
Meanwhile, Kanha brought me breakfast. I asked him to narrate the incident honestly. He started: In April, 1996, a family used to live two streets back. The couple was newly married. The husband and wife were Assamies. The man was born and brought up in Assam, but the woman was hailing from Rajasthan. They had arranged marriage. The couple were quite happy. The man used to smoke, but was not a chain-smoker. His wife was beautiful. Amit Barua, the man, worked in a private concern. Mostly he was in office tour. Anindita Barua, the woman, was housewife. Two years after their marriage, Anindita conceived. The couple had good understanding. When Anindita was pregnant, her husband stopped going on tour. He requested his boss to arrange him to stay in the same town, where he could do his marketing job in and around Tinsukia, as he could give more time to his wife. Anindita’s parents once visited to them. The in-laws of Amit spent two months and returned to Rajasthan.
Amit were three brothers. He was the youngest one. His parents were settled in Guwahati. Amit’s parents visited to their son few and far between. Soon after the departure of Anindita’s parents, a crack started forming in their family. Gradually, happiness started fading away. Sumit Kumar, one of the friends of Amit, used to visit regularly, even in absence of Amit. I asked Kanha how he could come to know all about their family life. It was a famous and heart rendering incident.  I asked him to continue. Kanha said: Sumit Kumar’s queer posture did not fascinate to Anindita. She often told her husband to show him the doors forever and humbly requested him to cut friendship off with Sumit, but Amit convinced his wife to puff out such odd ideas about Sumit. “He is my best friend. He helped me in my rainy days.” It was a matter of astonishment, as long as Amit’s in-laws stayed a month with them. Sumit stopped visiting there.
On the very day of April 19, 1998, Anindita and Amit indulged in a squabble. The woman persistently pressurized her husband to leave Sumit, but the husband refused. Even, she told him that the intention of his friend was abnormal. He touched her more than once. Amit was furious and no one was there to pour oil on troubled water. Their wrangle took a violent shape. Amit took a knife and tried to attack on Anindita. In the meantime, Sumit came as usual. When he witnessed them in violent posture, he was taken aback. He screamed. Amit was nervous. I asked Kanha what the neighbours had been doing; would they not rush their house when they heard their screaming. Neighbours did not pay their ears, as their squabble was a regular event –Kanha added.  Sumit tried to snatch the knife. He strained every nerve to unhand the weapon. During the act of snatching, the knife pierced the chest of Anindita. She died on the spot. They were in utter confuse. They did not want to air the incident. They dragged the body into the storeroom, and waited for the sunset. To get rid of police interrogation, they soiled the body at the backyard of the house. Sumit left the spot and Amit was alone there.
On the very night, Amit locked the house and handed over the keys to his next-door neighbour. He befooled the neighbour that Anindita and he were going to Rajasthan for a month or more. After the delivery of the baby, he would bring back his wife and baby to Tinsukia, but his neighbour crossed Amit –there was no train that night and the neighbour enquired of where his wife was. Amit replied his wife was waiting for him at the gate with luggage. The neighbour did not ask any more question and received the bunch of keys, as it was 11 O’clock.  Amit left the town. I interrupted Kanha asking where Sumit had gone. Kanha did not know about. After a week, a few dogs were seen digging that pile of earth. Those beasts were performing the said act regularly and howling from morning to night.  The residents of the street noticed it. They had suspicion why the dogs did such queer act of digging regularly thereat. Then, the residents had a meeting with the President of the Welfare Committee of the colony. They put their request to the Councillor to probe the matter. The Councillor informed the Police. Already those dogs had dug the area two feet or more. The police dug the rest and, astonishingly, recovered the decomposed body of Anindita.
I asked Kanha what police did with the body. He replied that the body was taken for post mortem, and then he had no idea, but Amit was arrested from the place where the Taj Mahal  was situated. I told him that the Taj Mahal is in Agra. Kanha nodded affirmatively. And, Sumit was caught from a nearby village of Assam. He told me that the case was under trial. It was still in obscurity who had committed the murder –Amit or his friend, Sumit.  I asked him curiously that I had already spent there more than two weeks, but I had never confronted with the spirit. He told me the murder was taken place in Amavasya. Therefore, every Amavasya the same incidence took place. “Yesterday was the night of Amavasya” –Kanha added. I crossed him why he had not informed me. He told me that I could have scared.
On Monday, when I met with Mishraji in the office, I narrated the whole. He was amazed. The owner did not tell Mishraji about the case behind the house. Mishraji told me when he asked the owner of the said house for rent, Gurung, who lived in Siligudi, did not furnish him any details of the past – else he talked highly of its all amenities. Mishraji was quite upset and felt guilty. Therefore, he arranged me for another rented house within a week. Until the arrangement of new accommodation, Kanha stayed with me in that ravenous house round the clock so that I might not be frightened. “You know Manikanto, I am still in perplexity what the police did with the corpse. Why the spirit of Anindita instructed me to dig the grave –why did she wander about? Everything is…. your train is coming. Get ready. Good Night.”
*Author is Faculty member of Shakuntaya Vidyalaya.


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