The Haunted House (Fiction)

I’ve been down that pathway a number of times in recent years. It’s on the outskirts of Bassein, a small town hugging the northern tip of Mumbai. As my steps sound on its mud-strewn surface, I catch sight of Shanti Kutir, a place I once called home. It lies desolate now, almost in ruins, but there’s something about it which pulls me back towards it, tugging at some abstruse corners of my soul.

I lived there for seventeen years of my life with my father and my younger brother, Soham. My mother, a beautiful woman, I’m told, died there after childbirth. My father, they say, went mad with grief at the loss of his beloved. Unable to cope with the loneliness, he spent most of his evenings drinking at home. I can’t say I had an unhappy childhood though. I spent my days talking with Soham in the backyard. I remember laughing a lot. Yet, sometimes, when the laughter stopped, I thought I could hear an echo in its wake, like a choked sob.

And I know that Soham could feel it too, I could see it in his eyes. Of course, he couldn’t tell me about it. You see, Soham was mute. As my mother bled precariously in childbirth, it seems Soham’s brain was deprived of blood and he was crippled as a result. Unable to talk or walk, my twelve-year-old brother was unable to attend school and needed the care that an infant requires. I’ve often wondered in later years if Soham would have told me about what haunted him if his mind hadn’t betrayed him….

Of course, none of this was palpable once the sunlight streamed in through the wood-paned windows at Shanti Kutir. My father told me that we light candles to eliminate the darkness. What he didn’t realise is that where there is light, there are shadows. And unlike the darkness which you can flee, the shadows follow you…

Going to school and later college made me feel guilty as I’d leave Soham in that wretched house. So I’d come home and tell him about everything that happened in school. I wonder if he understood what I said. But I’m glad I did. If I hadn’t, I’d never have noticed the blood.

It wasn’t a lot, you know, just a speck or two. On the seat of his wheelchair, trailing off. As if someone had carelessly tried to wash it off. I didn’t get it. I asked Soham about it…he only grunted in reply.He never answered my questions.

I’d probably have forgotten about it if it hadn’t been for that Sunday when the bai took leave. The bai’s leave meant that I had to wash all the clothes. And there they were again, those crimson drops, this time staining the seat of Soham’s trousers. This time, there was no doubt. And in that moment I felt a surge, whether it was fear or rage or resolve, I don’t know…but I knew I would go to any end to protect my little brother from the horror that seemed to be upon him.

And I tried. I dismissed the bai, hid in dark corners when I was supposed to be in college,  questioned Soham…in vain. I tried discussing it with my father who dismissed me, muttering about my imagination. And so, answers eluded me.

It’s been a long while since these events. A year after they happened, my father went missing. Our tiny galli was flooded by the media- ‘Man disappears leaving behind two orphans’ cried the newspapers. Soham and me lived on social support till I could take up a small job.

Today, I live with my wife and Soham. I no longer live at Shanti Kutir. I may sell it some day. Or maybe I never will. But I’ll never live there again. That house, the shadows in it’s candle-lit hallways haunt me. As does the colour red. But I keep going down the path leading to it. Something pulls me back.

I sometimes think of my father.There was no sign of him after he disappeared that Monday. He had come home early from work that day, unknown to anyone. I was supposed to be in college, but had run home early to check on Soham as had become my habit. It was from behind the door that I saw what I did.

They say there was no trace of my father after that day. There wouldn’t be. You see, it was deep in the backyard soil that I buried him.

(This story popped into my mind when I clicked on the WordPress Inspire me feature. I was shown the picture of a haunted house and asked to tell its story.For me what haunts a house isn’t ghosts or ghouls, but the monsters of our minds and memories. Loud bangs and flashes startle us, but they don’t live on in our minds like shadows. I’m not sure if the explanation is necessary but hence the title.)

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Going off Facebook

Sometime last June, I deactivated my Facebook account, a big deal for a person like me, who logs in about twice to thrice every single day. The reasons were many-fold and I won’t get into them here. In the six months that I wasn’t on ‘the social network’, I thought (and secretly hoped) I’d be missed. So you can imagine how hurt my ego was when I realised that my ‘friends’ were unaware about my absence…till I updated that I was back.

Anyway, for those who haven’t tried it, here’s what happens in the days..and months(if you get there!) after you deactivate your account:

  • You relapse.                                                                                                                           You can claim that you’re not addicted or that you’re an occasional visitor. Or you can be the worst kind, who claims you hate the gossip quotient even though you secretly stalk everyone’s accounts. Whichever group you belong to, deactivating your account isn’t the simple click it seems like. Try doing it, not for a day or a week, but maybe a month or more. For the self-development types, its a good will-power strengthener. Anyway, I relapsed. Not once or twice, but probably 10-15 times. Till FB changed their policy and asked me to make up my mind. And out I was.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • Your phone rings.                                                                                                                    I don’t know what deactivating an account on a social network is a symptom of, but in the weeks after i shut down my account, people called, most with just one question-was I okay? Those who ‘poked’ and ‘inboxed’ me called to say hi. The insecure types( yes, a lot of medical students are that) messaged saying ‘OMG!! Ur studyin sooooo hard’. The creepy kinds (you know, the people who keep visiting your account, never posting anything or ‘liking’ anything, but just keeping a tab on your activities) never bothered with any of these… but I’m willing to bet that they kept typing out my name at regular intervals to see if they could spy on me again.
  • You learn that ignorance is bliss.                                                                                                 What I love the most about FB is the way it keeps me connected to people- old friends, distant relatives I want to get to know better, colleagues who have moved abroad…Ironically,not being in touch, not knowing who went to which restaurant and with whom, how someone thought Kareena Kapoor looked when she became a Khan, who got engaged, how many steps the baby took…not being informed of peoples’ daily lives and escapades is what felt the best when I wasn’t on FB.
  • Everyone discusses FB with you.                                                                                                The less you want to talk about it,the more people want to discuss it with you. Why did you shut down your account, can you actually stay off it, should I shut down my account too,are you ever going to come back ? An oddball with whom I didn’t want to discuss why I’m on or off FB asked me if I was being harassed by anyone and affirmed that he would ‘protect’ me if needed ! Another friend told me ‘Facebook can never affect me. I just look and laugh’ (one of those times when you want say-that’s what mirrors are for). And so, whether I was on it on not,Mr. Zuckerberg’s brain child made sure I was never short of interesting conversation.
  • You miss updating things.                                                                                                                            If you’re the creative types( I like to think of myself as one of those) when it comes to status updates or you like sharing a quote that inspired you or a joke which made your day, you miss updating your status. Ever so often, you read something or think of something which would probably sound great in 140 characters…and you have nowhere to update it. That’s when you think of twitter.
  • You learn who your ‘sympathetic’ friends are.                                                                             There’s always one of these. Someone who shares his or her username and password so that even you can get updated about the ever changing(or should I say ever deteriorating?) exam system. Invariably,this is a person who has a very different(and very boring) friend list. Perfect maintenance therapy (you know, the therapy they give you so that you don’t get addicted again).
  • You come back.                                                                                                                     This one is a bit of an anti-climax. But unless Facebook really affected you in a near lethal manner of some sort, I think this is the eventual end point for most people. Whatever be the reason you left, 8 times out of 10, you will come back. I did. For the friends I had and wanted to be connected to, for the friends I have and the ones I will make, for my daily dose of voyeurism(not the ‘peeping tom’ kind), to share my thoughts, my pictures…a slice of my life with the people who make up my world…or maybe just to see how long I could stand it this time.