Here’s an enigmatic and eerie ghost story, by Madhumita, exclusively for Different Truths.
There were days and there were nights, one rolling into the other, fading, mingling and engulfing each other. Indifferent days didn’t seem to affect the house much. They passed by in an unobserved routine play of light and shadow, seen only by the trees in the century-old unkempt garden and the drying pond heavily silted up with withered decaying leaves and fast-spreading water hyacinth that made the water body look like a field thick with vegetation fitted with little mirrors positioned strategically to reflect the sun at different times of the day. The dilapidated mansion didn’t care about the day or the sun. It stood in the midst of a wild growth of greens half-hidden by the aggressive woody limbs, itself sprouting dwarf trees all over its brick and mortar body. The house responded only to the winds. The rickety wooden window shutters with blinds that were falling apart, loosened from the rusty hinges, would swing in a gusty wind, singing a haunting distorted repetitive tune.
But the nights were alive. They spoke to the house. They played dark games, secret ones that only they knew, embraced and loved the house in its dark corners, lurking shadows, and whispering silence. The moonlight lolled and rolled when it visited the lonely house, in glee, on the rough cobbled surface of the terrace and peeped playfully through the skylights with broken panes to gaze at the chandelier hanging in the sprawling spacious music room below. The chandelier danced in the breeze that crept in, hand in hand with the moon, a soft dance, the pendulous crystal pieces tinkling like anklets on the fair moon’s dainty feet.
The chequered marble floor in what was white and black one day, now an un-uniform grey, would feel cold if one stood barefoot there. One pair of feet did tread on the floor, into the room every night, but never felt the cold. They came in search of a warmth never felt, a melody never found, but longed for, with a burning yearning desire. But of that, later. At right angles to each other, against two walls, where a dusty chaise longue and a low bed, a kind of divan, expansive enough to accommodate at least ten people lying down. But ten people had never lain there ever. Only one did, once upon a time, half-lying, propped up by two velvet bolsters with five odd companions seated on velvet stools, and three attendants standing behind, enclosed in a magical world as a pair of hungry eager yearning eyes watched, from the terrace, through the skylight, alone, with the moon for company. That was long ago. But the sighs in those longing envious eyes didn’t disappear into the roaming terrace air of yesteryears. They still hovered around the
house, in the music room, lying low during the day, raging at night, becoming thick and solid like the tangible darkness all around that one could collide with, if not careful.
Two hands leaped up from behind all of a sudden, held her in an iron grasp and two rough palms slapped on her face, shutting her eyes and sealing her mouth and nose, gagging her. She was pulled away, dragged into a room, she couldn’t tell which one and pushed and hauled down unending stairs. She slipped and tripped until she felt water at her feet. The steps descended into the water and with each step the water level increased and she was immersed deeper and deeper into a mass of cold water as she was continued to be pushed forward and dragged downward. This was the secret room she realised with horror, the room she had never seen but heard of, a dark room that offenders were taken into and once the heavy iron door was shut behind them, they were never to be seen or heard of, ever again. Cold fear ran down her throat like thick black liquid darkness and she lost consciousness just when she was neck deep in water. She sank to the bottom swaying and swinging, in a slow motion as the seven colours of the rainbow closed in
around her. Then she awoke, in another world, far away, at another time frame, where the past and a future merged and formed a melting floating present that kept her buoyed up holding on to her life of dreams.
The house stayed awake waiting for her, every night. She came, without fail, for her nocturnal tryst with the house, a house she loathed and had fled with the love of her life, leaving her servile security and her two-year long indifferent unconsummated marriage behind. The musical instruments played when she came, invisible expert hands creating a divine harmonious melody, the strings of the esraj and the tanpura jingled, only too happy to obey her wish as the table played in a perfect rhythm. The envious eyes of long ago glowed with joy and her voice sang out in such harmony with the stringed instruments that the chandelier danced in ecstasy. She sat there, eyes closed, singing, one raga after another, caressing with her voice when she sang the alap in a slow tempo, invoking not just the raga but her love, playing with all the seven notes in her soul, and then her heart racing, her entire being throbbing with passion reaching a crescendo when she sang the drut gat, the fast section, the percussion joining in, the tabla playing the
fervour of her unfulfilled passion. She sang her heart out, all that she had learnt long ago, in the secrecy of her room, from one who began as her teacher and soon became synonymous to her with music, her love. When he sang, her body became the tanpura, the seven notes resonated through her and she melted within, swooned with pleasure.
She was forbidden to enter the music room, let alone sing, reprimanded by a stern husband twenty years older than her and a stranger to her heart and body. She hated the music room. And the more she hated, the more she loved it. So she sat on the terrace on the nights there would be a mehfil, gazing at the room below through the skylight, taking in all she could, like the terrace that absorbed the overflowing moonlight. She admired him, the singer, who seemed to be a god when he sang and devised a way to meet him and convince him of her plans.
The sighs float around in the house, hit the walls and multiply. Sighs rising from a shattered dream, a journey aborted midway.
She had no qualms about leaving her husband and her home. She had never considered the middle-aged stranger as her husband. She hardly saw him. She felt relieved when he went on his trips to the city twice a month and stayed away for a few days. Her heart sang, her spirits danced and she dwelled in the midst of love. She loved. Till he came to know. Met the lovers at the gateway as they prepared to leave. Flee! Run away from the prison. Run away from the desert to the valley of flowers, love, and music. The master, the proprietor, the stern ruler gave commands and the orders were executed. She became his prisoner forever. Drawn to his house, his music room. Returning every night, to drown her sighs in music.
Photos from the Internet.
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Professor Dr. Madhumita Ghosh is also a poet and editor. Her poems have been widely published in print, e-books, journals and magazines all over the world. She has authored four poetry books titled For All You Lovely People, Pebbles On The Shore, Flowing with the River and My Poetry My Voice, and also William Blake; A Prophet for Mankind, a critical study on the British poet. Madhumita has presently a novel and a book of short stories are in the pipeline.