Monday, 10 December 2012

These are some tales which have been narrated to me by absolutely believable people. Similar incidents may have been heard of or experienced by some people. They cannot be termed as horror- ghost stories. Certainly not. But there are paranormal factors which we are sometimes aware of but we brush aside. Some stories reveal telepathic communication. Besides being a total believer in God and Divine plans, I did not really believe that such paranormal aspect existed. However, I have personally experienced a few situations which made me turn to the realm of the esoteric and paranormal. One cannot logically find answers or origins of these.

Two of the stories are in first person as I felt that they were more effective in that form. Names and locales have been changed to avoid any embarrassment.


Having come into this world on Mahashivratri day, our neighbours had insisted that I be named Mahesh. Though my family followed Jainism, mother had no objection whatsoever. I grew up in a suburb of western of Bombay with a large Gujarati population and by the age of 22 had become a civil engineer. My father, who owned a cloth shop near the local railway station and also stocked school uniforms, thought that I would soon set up a business of civil contracts. Instead I got a job with a known family-owned construction company on a fairly good salary. My work involved both site supervision and dealing with suppliers. Soon the bosses-two brothers- had taken note my competence and given me a raise. I enjoyed the work. My only other attraction was to see films-both Hindi and English. For the latter I didn’t mind traveling by train on a Sunday to Regal or Eros in south Bombay.

My younger brother, Jatin was content with being a commerce graduate and joining my father in his textile business. Occasionally, my parents made trips to holy places like Ranakpur and Palitana. On a couple of occasions, I had accompanied them. During the time that I was required to oversee a construction site near Andheri, I spotted this slender girl, her waist-length hair plaited loosely, taking a bus to some place. She was not strikingly beautiful but there was something very pleasant about her that attracted me.

Smita came from a Gujarati Brahmin family. Her father had retired as a professor of Philosophy from the University. Her only sister, Preeti was married to a government employee and was posted somewhere in Gujarat. Smita had graduated and done her teachers’ training and got this coveted job at one of the prestigious schools in Vile Parle. Our friendship grew with going for  movies together or walking on the shore of Juhu chowpati. After a brief courtship, I proposed to her and she gave a conditional okay stating that it should be approved of by both sets of parents. Her parents heard me out asked me for my office and home addresses. My parents were a little hesitant. The girl did not belong to our community as such. But soon everything was ironed out and Smita became my wife. Two years later, our son Mehul was born. Smita continued with her job and I too was making good progress. Jatin too got married a few years later to Manisha, the daughter of a wealthy businessman from Borivali. With her, she brought lots of gold and diamonds and also a shop of accessories in Andheri. She went to the shop everyday for a few hours. But, there was no friction as such. As the family was growing, my father bought the adjoining one room-kitchen flat at a premium and it was a well thought move. The new flat was joined to the earlier one by making a door and Smita and I shifted to the new rooms. The family kitchen was one and both the daughters- in- law took turns to cook. Jatin was soon the father of a lovely girl-Poonam. His second child was a boy-Jitesh. Barring a few differences of opinion which take place under every roof, the machinery of our family life was going smoothly-all seemed so synchroninised that there was little room for betterment. Smita, on her part took Mehul every Saturday afternoon to her parents’ place and returned on Sunday after lunch. It was a good break for the parents as well as Smita. On Sunday evenings Manisha returned late as her shop drew a lot of customers and Smita was ready to do the household chores

 As was customary, both Jatin and myself contributed to the household expenses. I told that my job was in danger but still gave my full contribution. Smita’s salary, though not an enviable sum, was still there to fall back upon. Smita was a very composed person- she took it in her stride and advised me to look for something else. I was nearly 34 years of age. ‘Would anyone take me as a suitable candidate?’ I wondered. I had really put my heart and soul in this company and really felt the wrench.  Nevertheless, I began applying to advertisements and meeting some recruitment consultants. Nothing positive came of that. My salary had become a trickle by now and there was no promise of any compensation from the company. To add to this was the cement shortage which had slowed the construction industry. I had a first class train pass and I went to some agents recruiting for Gulf too. Several copies of my bio data must have been dispatched but there was no response. I attended some interviews too. At times, there was a glimmer of hope but it turned out to be just another mirage.  I really wondered what was wrong.

 Many avoided me when I met them at the railway station or at the local temple. The news of a person’s bad condition spreads faster than fire, I felt. The only constant thing was Smita’s schedule of her school. Mehul was almost eight years old and enjoying being in the prestigious school where his mother also worked. Smita took up tuitions after her school hours and returned only after six. That was not going down well with my mother. Manisha was supportive in her own way. She got hairpins or purses from her shop for Smita and pencil boxes for Mehul. Jatin had changed his attitude. He was already considering me to be a parasite-occasionally he asked me to be a little more serious about finding a new job. Even if it was not a manager’s-it could be of a lower rank. I told him I was ready even for a few rungs lower but the industry at that time was in the dumps and people were not really recruiting. The misfortune that befell me was unexpected and had really shaken me. My savings too were waning though I had become a little tight-fisted. I had begun to withdraw into myself and ate very little as if to keep my body and soul together.

One afternoon, as I was going through some papers, my father called me to his room. Only my mother was there. “Mahesh, I know you are going through some trying times. But don’t you think you ought to work a little harder to get another job? If you think, it is not possible to get a job why don’t you help Jatin in the shop?” His words hit me hard. What would I do in a cloth shop? He continued, “You see, with the price rise, it is becoming difficult to sustain your family. It is better you find your own house somewhere. I am ready to give you a lakh of rupees.” God! Was this the same caring father who was talking to me in this fashion? I gathered myself and said, “We have not stopped our contribution to the family kitty even if it means buying a few clothes less for us. And for the flat that you bought I have contributed twenty-thousand rupees. Are you forgetting that?” By now I had raised my voice but father was calm. “That is why I am giving you five times that amount to go and live somewhere else. I don’t want panvati here in this house,” he explained. I was stunned. Was my bad luck bringing them bad luck with compound interest? Unthinkable. But, my father did not say anything further. He could not look me in the eye as I staggered to my feet. He only muttered, “ See that by March-April you move to your new house. Smita will also be free during vacations and Mehul’s studies also won’t suffer.”

When I left his room, I felt I was staring into a vacuum. My head was numb and I only saw darkness before me. I went to my room. No tears came down. I wished I had stopped contributing to the family expenses the day my salary had stopped coming-at least my savings would have been substantial. More than anything, I wished I had not been so honest and had taken the ‘cuts’ that suppliers had offered me when I supervised construction site. I would have had a good back up. One lakh rupees indeed! What do we get in that amount today? Yes, I could go to Vasai- or Virar and find a decent accommodation but what about Mehul’s schooling and Smita’s job daily chores?  When Smita returned to the room, I told her the whole thing. She was shell-shocked. She was pale with fear. For the first time I had seen her shiver like a yellow leaf. One lakh rupees! I almost visualized myself standing with a plastic bucket waiting in the long line outside the toilet block in some chawl. Gosh! How could this happen to a peace-loving, honest and God-fearing person like me? Hundreds of such questions whirred around in my head.

Instead of going to recruitment agents, I began to visit estate brokers. The options were clear- at least a lakh of rupees more to get a decent apartment around Borivali –Dahisar. I was willing to shift but where would that other lakh come from. Those days bank loans were almost unheard of. Besides, some agencies asked for salary slips to extend loan. And which ‘good’ friend would give a loan to an unemployed guy like me? All doors seemed to close tightly.

One Saturday, after I dropped Smita to her parent’s place, I decided to walk towards Santa Cruz station. I crossed the aero plane garden and walked towards the Ghodbunder Road. I was counting the number of days left for me to be in this area. Suddenly, I spotted Girish Kapadia, a childhood friend who now lived at Versova. He hurried towards me and hugged me. “After such a long time- good to see you,” he said. Girish had not changed much- the same jolly person whose laugh was infectious. We started walking on the footpath and I briefly told him about my bad luck. He patted and said, “I’m sure you’ll find a way. I had come to see Madhu Potnis- you remember- our college cricketer?  He’s undergone a cancer surgery and is resting for a month or so. Since I come here almost every week, I look him up also” Girish was passionate not only of sports but also of sportsmen- he always took pride in showing his autograph book with signatures of West Indian or English cricketers. But why did he come to Santa Cruz every week?

We stopped at an old building. Girish told me that every Saturday between five and six pm, he came here to Bhupenbhai. An elderly gentleman who had worked as a lawyer in a famous solicitor’s firm for many years had a small group of people who read a religious book for an hour each Saturday and Girish was part of that group. Girish and religious book? Something did not match. It was 4.45 and Girish still had a few minutes to walk into the building. He elaborated, “Bhupenbhai lives alone. Both his daughters are settled in the US. His wife died a few years ago. Occasionally, his sister from Rajkot comes to his house and spends a week or so with her brother. Twice a week, he still goes to work to south Bombay. A day or two he spends for charitable organizations which help the poor with medicines. On Saturday, he, with this group of about 10-15 people, reads this book which contains the essence of the Gita. It is in Gujarati. No personal matters are discussed. I came here with my friend and  liked it so I come here every Saturday. The only time, it is not held is when Bhupenbhai goes abroad for a month or so or goes out of town. Even if no one lands up, he reads it!” Girish laughed loudly. He held out his right hand to me to say bye. “May I come in today?” I asked hesitatingly. I was so used to denials by now that Girish saying “Yes, yes, why not?” came as a splash of cold water on a sweaty face.

Bhupenbhai was in his seventies but had a glow on his face that only pure souls have. He folded his veined hands as Girish introduced me as his school friend. Bhupenbhai pointed to a notebook and asked me to write my name and phone number. Near the book were two silver bowls-one filled with sugar and the other with variali. In two corners of the room were steel water jugs with some tumblers. The living room was spacious- enough to hold about 40 people. There were three large sofas and a few single sofa chairs. A carpet covered the central area and another durri lay folded at one corner perhaps to seat more people. I sat next to Girish while the host sat on a chair. He closed his eyes and asked us to meditate silently for a minute. Soon thereafter, he opened the book. That day, there were about 12 people of various age groups. Each one was given a copy of the book. All began to read in audible tones. I held the book but was unfamiliar so I only put my finger under the lines as they were being read. At the end of the session, all recited Hanuman Chalisa. When the group members got up, it was just about six in the evening. A few while going out took a pinch of either sugar or variali folded their hands and went out. I told Girish that I had felt good after this session and would try and make it again next week. He waved out with a loud chokus and went away. I turned to go back to Smita’s father’s house and pick up the car.

I became a regular at Bhupenbhai’s Saturday sessions. I somehow liked the man’s demeanour-friendly and still not too close. By the end of about ten sessions, I had come to know the regular group members. Girish rarely missed unless he was away on work.  One Saturday, after our reading session, Bhupenbhai announced that as he was going to Kutch to visit the Ashapuradevi temple, the following Saturday, there would be no meeting.

It was November and the days were getting shorter. Smita took Mehul to Juhu Chowpati at five or even earlier. Since I did not have to go to Bhupenbhai, I too went with her. I sat on the sand and watched Mehul draw a house, a cat and a teddy bear with a dry twig he had found nearby. Smita too sat silently. She had sensed my anxiety.  A few women walked towards Smita-evidently they were the parents of her students. They smiled and got talking. Their children joined Mehul. I got up and told Smita that I’d buy some groundnuts and take a walk. She nodded.

I saw the singdana fellow a few meters away. A couple of people were waiting to be given their conical packets. I too waited after telling him to pack two rupees worth of groundnuts. A man in his forties came walking from the sea side and waited but did not ask for anything. He was grey at the temples and a few strands of grey were visible in the front locks. Well-built and clad in a white shirt and black trousers, the man moved forward. He smiled at me. I had never seen this person, I thought. Or, was he one of the suppliers who knew me while I worked on the building sites? I took my packet and he brought his hand to his heart and said, “You come to Bhupenbhai, don’t you?” I nodded. I tried hard to recall if this gentleman was there in the group. “I have not seen you at his place,” I retorted. “No. I don’t go now. I don’t stay there now but sometimes I come there to meet my old friends. That’s how I have seen you,” came his explanation.

He had already started walking with me. “Bhupenbhai –ekdum gentleman. I have the highest regard for that man. So well-read, so calm. He is a rare specimen,” he went on in a typical Gujarati accent. I slowed my pace and asked his name. “Ratan Shah but jokingly they call me Ratan Pillay. You see my mother was born and bred in Kerala. She spoke fluent Malyalam and she taught me the language. So, many times I spoke to my Keralite friends in Malyalam like a native and hence the name Pillay,” He laughed loudly. I introduced myself. I noticed that he was wearing brown canvas shoes just as the Scout masters do. I offered him some nuts but he declined. “I heard that Bhupenbhai has gone to Ashapura?” he queried. I replied in the affirmative. Ratan was silent for a moment then he spoke again, “Bhupenbhai was always fond of going to this place. Some years back, I had also joined him. In fact, he went on this pilgrimage every year. Each time his group increased. It was when my friends invited me to join that I had accompanied the group. Wonderful experience! Very powerful Goddess. Have you been there?”  I shook my head. I turned my head to see how far I had walked away from Smita. Not much. She was still busy with those parents and kids.

The stranger asked me where I worked and I told him that I was out of a job for more than a year now and was looking out for a small apartment up to Borivali. “Terrible thing to feel that one is useless and so helpless. I think everyone goes through troubled times. Some face more trouble than others.” He was now talking philosophy. Then he paused for a moment as if trying to remember something. “You stay in Parle, you said. You know there is this duo Pishu and Bipin- partners or something like that who are brokers. These days, they have got sole selling agency of a big builder in Borivali. At least, I was told like that. May be, they could help. They may have some old property to suit your budget also,” Ratan explained with both certainty and uncertainty at the same time. “Should I give your reference?” I asked eagerly. “They may not know me as I was a resident of this area long time back.  In fact, I don’t even know their phone number.” He tried to put his hand in his hip pocket but found nothing. “Anyway,” he continued, “Since you have tried so many brokers, this is one more.”  I took the directions from him once more. The shadows were now getting longer and when I turned, Smita was waving her hand. I told Ratan, “I think I have to go. It is getting dark. It was nice to meet you. I’ll go to this broker tomorrow itself.” Ratan stopped and took his hand towards his heart, bowed a little and started to walk again. I turned and hurried towards Smita. When I told her about the new reference I got about some broker, she was unhappy that I opened my mouth a bit too much to strangers. The usual complaints of wives, I guessed.

The next day, I got out early and proceeded towards the address that Ratan had given me. After a bit of searching and enquiries, I found a small board displayed outside a cottage like structure. I entered and found a middle-aged man reading something. I cleared my throat and he looked up. “Pishu-Bipin?” I asked. “Pishu” came the answer and he beckoned me to take the chair opposite him. I introduced myself as someone looking for a small apartment. He kept the paper down. He said, “Now we are agents of this builder who is building about five or  six buildings. If you book at this stage, it would be cheaper. The possession will be after 18 months.” I couldn’t wait that long as the D day seemed to approach fast. Was there any old flat which was going cheap? He shook his head. His partner, Bipin entered the room and lit an incense stick in front of a deity. He settled in a revolving chair near his partner. After a brief repetition of what I needed, Bipin asked me to leave my contact number. He too tried to convince me to book a flat. Till its completion I could rent a place which they would help me find. I told them that they could come to me with some offers and that I could consider the booking aspect a little later. Pishu asked for tea. All three of us sipped from small thick glasses. When I put down my glass, Pishu asked if I wanted Borivali only and I said, “No. As a matter of fact, I don’t mind moving into a barrack type of structure like the one you are occupying!” Pishu smiled and then nodded. I left as usual with a mixed feeling. I had to double up now.

The next day Pishu called me and asked me to meet him in Vile Parle on the eastern side. He gave me the landmark of a shop. I met him at the appointed hour. We stood at a tea stall and had tea. I thought we were waiting for the owner to come. After a few minutes, Pishu started to talk. “Maheshji, it is like this. Your budget is very low.  Even for rental, you would be spending more and not creating an asset,” he sounded dissuasive. Then why had he called me? Pishu spoke again, “There is one bungalow type structure here. There are four tenants. Two on the ground floor, two on the first. Two rooms on the first floor are vacant. The second floor has four rooms and the third one has just one room. Old tenanted property is up for sale for quite some time now. But the rumour is that it is haunted and that’s why the owners have gone to stay at Bandra. Away from the house. There is a garden and a garage. Whoever came to even inspect the property had some misfortune. Some builders have also contemplated on taking it to house tenants from other properties which they may be developing but they have backtracked. There is something in there though the tenants say that they have not seen any ghosts nor have they faced any problems. The harassment is only for the owners! But mind you it is a distress sale. The owners really want to get rid of the house as soon as possible. I know, what I am saying may not be believed by you but for a long time I have been pursuing this deal but nothing has worked. If you wish to see it, I have the keys to the place. I can show you just now. But I have warned you!”

I thought about it. What misfortune could be greater than what I was going through? I told Pishu that I would see the place. Both of us proceeded into some by-lanes. Vile Parle at that time was full of old-type of houses with lattice work and the roads were tree lined. We entered a narrow lane and there it stood. A totally neglected building in a state of disrepair. It would mean spending more money. My meager budget would only get the roof over our head with the liability of four tenants and impending costs of repairs which could easily cross a lakh of rupees! Was it worth it? Pishu entered the premises and took me around. The compound was uneven. The overgrown trees made the place look worse. When we entered the building, I was taken aback by big water drums and rubber pipes spread all over the passage. Clothes were drying outside. The staircase was made of wood as was found in most old houses in the city. We went to the second floor and Pishu opened the creaking door. The living room was big and stark. The windows too were barely holding on to the hinges. There was nothing attractive but the price. The owner was ready to sell it for a lakh and I would need a few thousands more to complete registration, etc. I did not find the place frightful as he had described it but then I asked Pishu to give me some time to think. I would want to show it to Smita too before I took the decision. My belief was that once I have a roof of my own, how I live inside was my personal business and not others’. But then I would have been left with no savings. For the first time, I had heard that in such a big city houses were occupied by ghosts. I rubbished it and told Pishu that I would bring my wife in the next two days or so. But as regards the price, see if he could bargain a little more. Pishu was surprised.

Two days later, I brought Smita straight from the school before the light faded. Nights must be scary here, I thought. Smita was game but she said that I should think once more. She was fed up of living in a house  where hardly any one talked to each other. It would be a real fatalistic move I thought. But then I had decided to go ahead and would ask for that lakh of rupees from my father in a week or so as he had promised. Pishu was taken aback but tried to be normal. He said he would contact the owner and get the papers for my verification. I knew the owner too would be in for a surprise. The process of getting the papers and documents began soon as Pishu did not want to lose time.

It was Saturday and I called Girish to ask if Bhupenbhai was back and he said yes. On that Saturday, I was near a grocery shop when I saw Bhupenbhai holding a small bag and walking towards his house. It was 4.30 pm. I caught up with him and offered to carry the bazaar bag. “It is not heavy,” he replied, “Just came out to buy agarbattis and a few things. I returned only yesterday.” We both walked towards his house and he  asked me to come in. He asked his sister who had come from Rajkot to make tea. For the first time Bhupenbhai was talking to me individually. I asked him about his trip and his face lit up. “I used to visit each year when I was younger. Now our group has very few people who are able bodied so now it is very rare that we undertake such long journeys. Those days a lot of other friends also would join and it was like a whole bus full of people going to Ashapura,” reminisced the old lawyer. The tea arrived in beautiful cups and in another plate, there were some nankatais. While sipping the masala tea, I suddenly thought of Ratan Pillay. “Incidentally, Bhupenbhai while you were away I met an acquaintance of yours who had accompanied you to Ashapura a few times. He said he lived in this area only,” I said.

“Really? What is his name?” asked Bhupenbhai. I told him about Ratan Shah and how he was mockingly called ‘Pillay’. Bhupenbhai kept the cup on the table. “How old was this gentleman?” “In his forties or so,” I quickly answered. He was silent. It appeared that he was trying to recollect. “I met him at the beach-Juhu beach,” I added. He was still silent. At that moment, some members of the group entered and wished Bhupebhai who got up and sat in his usual chair. During the reading, I could notice from the corner of my eye that Bhupenbhai was not his usual self. His mind was obviously somewhere else. At the end of the session, he sat in the chair. Unusual, because he always stood up and folded hands and smiled. He must have been tired after a strenuous journey, some thought.

The next morning I was surprised to receive a call from Bhupenbhai. He asked me if I could come over at about 10 o’clock and I agreed. I presumed it was to continue our talk which we had left incomplete the previous evening. Once there, Bhupenbhai came straight to the point. He asked me to describe this Ratan Pillay again. I did so and also mentioned how I noticed his brown canvas shoes. Bhupenbhai who till now was reclining in his chair sat up. He was quiet for a few moments. Finally, he spoke. “Mahesh, this man you met at Juhu, I used to know. He had come with us to Ashapura on a couple of trips. I remember his brown shoes because he was involved with the Scouts. A very vivacious person, always light-hearted. He lived a few lanes away. You said he was in his forties. But, my dear man, had he been alive, he would have certainly been in his sixties!” I gulped in disbelief. Bhupenbhai elaborated, “He had a flourishing business. His partner was someone who at that time stayed in Vile Parle. But it so happened that Ratan was too simple and the partner had looted him. They went to court and Ratan won and received some compensation. He then decided to quit Mumbai and proceed to Kerala where his mother’s side had a lot of business. He sent his wife and three children ahead while he wound up from here. Then, once he was called by his friends to spend a weekend in Khandala. On his return, the brakes of his car failed and his car slid into the valley. They found his body and the car after a long search. He was alone in the car. While going to Khandala, he had two friends with him. They say, mind you, it was not established as proof, that his deprived business partner had arranged for the ‘brakes to fail’.  I have myself attended the funeral. So if you described this Ratan just the way I knew him, I feel he may be either a bogus man or there is something more to it.” Bhupenbhai was visibly shaken and at a loss for words.

Bhupenbhai’s narration had unnerved me. I gathered myself and told him about the reference he gave me about Pishu and the property-supposedly haunted in Vile Parle. Bhupenbhai asked me the owner’s name and I told him the details. He was even more shocked. “That is the property of Ratan’s partner! They say after Ratan’s unnatural death, the house was haunted. There were scary episodes. The partner had left the premises and after selling his other flats elsewhere in the city, he had bought an apartment in Bandra. He was not very successful in the new business he had started. He had been desperate about getting rid of this tenanted property. But those who tried to buy it also faced some problems. Well, I was uneasy when you talked about Ratan yesterday and hence I thought I should talk to you.” I told Bhupenbhai about my problem and that was the only property that I could afford at that time. “Have you paid any advance?” I shook my head. “Before you enter into any deal please bring the documents to me. I could do the verification of the title, etc. I won’t charge you for that. But, think again before you take the final step,” Bhupenbhai had offered help. That Sunday morning’s meeting with Bhpenbhai had sent me in a tizzy. It seemed to be a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Was my luck really running out and that buying this would be my death knell? With a heavy head and a confused mind I went home and straight into my room. Only two months were left for me to vacate this place. I called up Pishu to ask if he had got the documents and he said, yes. I went to his office and picked them up and after phoning Bhupenbhai went to Santa Cruz and dropped the papers at his place. He too was a little surprised at the urgency with which I had acted. It would be at least a week till he got back to me. On Saturday when I went for the reading, neither Bhupenbhai nor I spoke about the Sunday’s meeting.

A few days later Bhupenbhai asked me to come and collect the papers. When I went there, he gave me some tips about the deal and told me that I should involve Pishu to see that the deal was registered and the title was transferred to my name. In March, after the exams, we shifted to the new premises amidst skepticism and criticism. There were more brickbats than bouquets. I knew many would be afraid to continue any association with me-specially my own family. Let the divide be complete, I thought.

We shifted into the house and initially only cleaned up the place. There was a set of two rooms still vacant on the first floor and I asked Pishu to find me some paying guests. Since the place was near the airport, airline crew would be the best bet. It worked out. At least there was some income for myself. Once, when a municipal assessor came to visit me, he suggested that I could be  a sub-contractor to municipal contractors. He told me that for small jobs, one need not have a big establishment. He gave me the idea of converting the garage into an office. I took his advice and small contracts started coming in from major contractors who appointed me as a sub-contractor. Slowly, I carried out the repairs of the building and restored the water supply to the tenants. The ugly drums were removed. Smita was happy to do up Mehul’s room. The room on the terrace was made into a guest room.

I made it a point to invite both Bhupenbhai and Girish to my place. Both were happy. The former blessed me and presented me with some books. I continued to go to his house on Saturdays till he had passed away without any illness. I had felt a personal loss but I felt that both Girish and Bhupenbhai were God-sent messengers. I even went on a trip to Ashapuradevi.

This property which was worth lakhs those days and crores today was just sold for a song.  I did not face any ghostly situation. In fact, I prospered after coming here. Smita took early retirement from school and joined some hobby classes. Mehul too finished his engineering and a master’s from the US. Today, he is married and lives in Bangalore where he is holding a top post.

After almost three years of slow poisoning, I was myself in this so called accursed house. In my mind I often thought of Ratan Pillay and thanked him for his divination. He perhaps wanted to take a revenge on his nasty partner  and had haunted the house so that he faced more losses. But, why he chose me as a

Monday, 5 November 2012


My father, Joshi guruji as he was known, had chosen to be different. He had opted to be a teacher in a village school and not follow the family profession of being a purohit. His ideal was Sane Guruji. However, his training in the Vedas and Sanskrit as a language was impeccable and hence even when there was any puja at the school, he would conduct it with proficiency. I was the eldest child and my brother Makarand was about four years my junior. My mother was content at being a homemaker: she taught me many feminine skills like sewing, cooking, even making papads and pickles.  

Due to my father’s dedication to his work, he had earned a lot of goodwill among the residents of the village and also of nearby villagers. Officials from the zilla level would come for inspection and tell others how the school was perfectly run. From the primary level, my father had brought it to the seventh grade and he too had been elevated to the rank of a ‘headmaster’.

The only exciting times in the village those days were the festival times. During the month of Shravan, there were many festivities followed by the Ganapati, Navaratri and Diwali. Since television was not there, these festivals were the main source of entertainment for us. All the delicacies were prepared at home. Barring a chaiwala who kept a small stock of biscuits, there was no restaurant. The need for one was never felt as eating out was nowhere in people’s dreams also. ‘Baba’ as we called our father was keen that I pass my matriculation at least. He had made arrangements with a school in the district to allow me to appear through it and he would tutor me at home after the seventh grade. Mother used to grumble saying that after all the trouble, I would still be judged by culinary skills and not academic achievement. Baba had a way of just keeping quiet over such statements and continue to do what he wanted. Matriculation meant the eleventh grade. Those years of studying at home were really memorable as father would return from school and straightaway ask me to sit before him to study. Then late in the night he would give me homework which he expected me to finish during the day. Early in the morning, he would make me recite poems. It was a regimen that had no break till I went though the board exam with flying colours. Baba was relieved. Makarand was also next in line.

Two years after my matriculation, Baba got me married to a young man called Madhav Sardeshpande from Indore. The family had some landed property and was well to do. They had income from rents of their shops and also had dealerships in some engineering goods like pumps, etc. At that time, Brahmin boys rarely went into business. I was from a modest middle-class family but soon adjusted to the city life as well as a large house and a retinue of servants. God gifted us with two lovely children: daughter Girija and son Ameya. I went to visit my parents every two years but Makarand came to Indore for bhaubeej every Diwali.  Life was good. Makarand who had graduated had found a job in Nashik and had taken our parents with him. The village property was sold and father was content with the meager pension that he received from the state government. A few marriage proposals had started coming in for Makarand and he had chosen a girl who worked in a local private firm. But he kept his annual date with me for bhaubeej. Each year, he bought a sari and a blouse piece for me and mother as usual sent bags of homemade pharal specially anarsa which I really relished. Makarand had become a father and he and his wife took care of the old parents in the best way possible.

It was Diwali time when we at Indore had prepared all the sweetmeats.  Makarand would come-he never informed .it was taken for granted that he would reach on bhaubeej day and stay overnight and then leave the next day. There was a nip in the air and the days were short. Madhav had surprised me by getting me a diamond pendant-something that I had never imagined I would own in my lifetime! On bhaubeej day, I had made besan laddoos as that was what Makarand really enjoyed eating. “Somehow tai, you have mastered the art of making besan laddoos. I don’t eat anywhere else except at your place because I want to remember the unique taste of pure ghee, raisins and almonds. Wah!” Makarand would tell me and I would pack at least a dozen for him to take back home. It was past six in the evening and there was no sign of Makarand-.neither a phone call nor a message from his office branch in Indore. I was keenly waiting when Madhav and his parents walked a few plots away to meet the doctor couple who had redone their bungalow. I sat in the front verandah waiting anxiously for my only brother.

I heard the gate open and I saw Makarand walking slowly. I got up and went towards the front door. As usual he touched my feet and said. “Tai, sorry I kept you waiting. The bus had a flat and then I took a ride in a tempo-rickshaw and somehow made it here. My whole body is aches and pains,” he spoke in a tired voice. “Never mind,” I comforted, “Would you like a cup of hot tea first?” He shook his head. “Actually, I was away from Nashik and as work delayed me I decided to come here directly. God! Am I tired! But your sari is at home. I’ll arrange to send it across. And in all this change of transport my little bag is lost so now I am without any spare clothes! Can you beat it?” he laughed aloud.

“Don’t you worry. It is more important that you made it today. I was getting worried. I will bring a fresh towel and a set of pyjama kurta from Madhav for you. Tomorrow, we can go to the market and buy a few clothes for you,” I assured him. I told him that I had kept the aarti  plate ready and that  I should finish the ritual soon. He asked for the towel - murmuring something about how dusty the roads were. Pushing his right hand in the pocket, he took out his handkerchief, dusted it and dropped it on the floor outside the bathroom door.  He then went into the washroom and opened the tap and closed the door. I got the aarti ready and also kept the clothes on the rack outside the bathroom.

I came into the drawing room and saw some people outside. There was a person on a cycle  and also noticed that my husband and his parents were pointing towards the house. Madhav walked briskly towards the house calling out to me. I rushed towards the door and opened. Then, he suddenly froze and seemed tongue tied. “What is it?,” I asked “Thank God Makarand has made it today. I had almost given up hopes,” I uttered.   Madhav’s jaw dropped but he gathered himself and faltered. “Where is he?” I pointed to the washroom door. He shook his head and showed me the telegram. My hands began to tremble – how is it possible? The message stated that Makarand had met with a bus accident which was fatal. The body would come to Nashik the next day after the post mortem formalities and that Madhav and I should start immediately.  In consternation I pointed to the bathroom, the kerchief on the floor and the clothes on the rack and tried to explain that he was actually here and that it must be a mistaken identity! Madhav’s parents too came near me. I felt my mother-in-law’s hand on my shoulder. Madhav walked towards the washroom and knocked. The sound of the tap running was still audible. Then he pushed the door open. The light was on and so was the tap but there was no Makarand inside.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


As the first rays of the sun began to pierce the light mist that had engulfed the city, Mandira turned her side and blinked at the window. She pulled out her watch from under the pillow. It was a little after 8 am. It was a second Saturday and her office was closed. Another half an hour of sleep would be fine, she thought. She got up to draw the curtain a bit when she spotted him across the street. She broke into cold sweat. Now, he has found her house! Until now he had stalked her only around the office area. She was apprehensive. What does he want? He is a serious stalker!

Barely six months after her wedding to Ajit, Mandira was widowed. Those six months were the best period of her life. Ajit, an IT professional had proposed to her after a short courtship. They realized that they had gotten along like two peas in a pod. He admired her wit and her soft mannerism. She was not a striking beauty as such but her presence drew a lot of admirers and Ajit was no exception. When they decided to tie the knot, he had got this small apartment in Gurgaon. “We’ll buy something bigger,” he had assured her, “Right now, I’ve just cleared the educational loan with which I had studied abroad,” he had tried to explain to her. But she was not complaining. All they wanted was togetherness. She had continued her work at a knowledge outsourcing agency and was happy with what she was earning.

The bolt came when they were returning from work one evening. She got off the two-wheeler to get some vegetables. A tempo whirred round the corner and lost its control knocking off Ajit who was waiting on the stationary bike. The end was instantaneous. Post mortem and other formalities later, Mandira had decided to get on with her life and resumed her work. Tears wouldn’t help. For a couple of weeks, she stayed at Ajit’s parent’s house in South Delhi and for another week at her parent’s house in Gurgaon. She couldn’t use them as her emotional crutches throughout her life, she argued. She moved to her apartment and joined a carpool of her office. Brushing aside the snide remarks of some of her relatives that she had been unlucky for Ajit or he should have consulted an astrologer before getting married, she went on her routine duties.

Once, when she was at a mall shopping with her friend she spotted this man in his thirties perhaps, fair and of medium built staring at her. Did he know Ajit or me? A passing thought but she could not place him. She spotted him several times near her office block. Once he was in the parking lot from where she took the transport home. She had ignored his presence a few times but now she got apprehensive. Should she tell someone in the office? The security guy or someone like that? Should she tell the police?. Her mind was dead as she could not find answers. Should she confront him and ask what he wanted?

But his presence near her house was unnerving. He could ring the bell and force his way in, she shuddered. She drew the curtain and sat staring at the wall which had only one photo frame-that of Ajit and herself on their wedding day.

The stalker continued to appear at the most unexpected places, in the office canteen, at the temple which she visited every Saturday. But he only gave her a smile. Never came near her. She had stopped going to the gym as fear continued to grip her. She tried spending weekends at her mother’s place but it was of no avail. She noticed him sitting on the garden bench not far from the place.

Mandira thought that since it was a Saturday today, she would go early to the temple. She got ready and crossed the road and walked right past him without turning her head. She heard steps behind her but they were not close. “Let him catch up and he’d learn the lesson of his life today!” Mandira had made up her mind to break this stalker today.

As she walked a few steps, she heard a voice which resembled that of Ajit’s. “Mandira, please don’t turn. Keep walking. Please listen carefully to what I am saying. I am not your enemy, please. I mean no harm.” Mandira could hear her heart pounding. She slowed down a bit while he talked.

“Your husband Ajit was killed on purpose. It was no accident. He was working on a secret defense project of a friendly country. Some miscreants were out to get that programme. Ajit and I were colleagues at his previous workplace. Please continue walking and please understand that Ajit has narrated this to me after his death. How I don’t know.  As I talk, he talks.” Mandira breathed deeply and stepped slowly towards the road to the temple. If he tries to be nasty, there would be enough people to tackle him near the temple, she thought..

“These guys will target your house shortly and harm you now as they have not found the CDs containing the progrramme.” He spoke softly. “Ajit had been warned and threatened many times. He had kept this as a closely guarded secret. The discs are in the frame of your wedding picture on your bedroom wall. Tomorrow, take the photo to your parents’ place as early as possible and pretend to be sick and don’t come to work for three or four days. Stay put. I’ll tell you where to take those discs afterwards,” he was quiet. She heard him turn and walk away. She turned slightly to be sure. He wasn’t there! Was this some trap? May be he wants that programme!

When she went home, she took the frame and found the back cover had two layers. She undid one and then the next. In between were spread three discs marked A,B,C!. Ajit had scribbled some name which was not legible. Her hands quivered as she took the discs and placed them in a plastic bag. Everything that the stranger said was right!

She packed a few clothes in a haversack and called her brother asking him to pick her up at night as she was unwell. The brother knew that Mandira was going through a bad patch and agreed. He came to her apartment picking up her bags while she held the frame tied loosely with a few twines. “What’s this?,” he enquired. “Oh. While cleaning it fell down and the packing came off. I’ll take it at the shop on our way if possible,” Mandira tried to explain. He shrugged and they both drove off.

Mandira pretended to be ill and stayed in bed most of the time. She called her office on Monday and said that she needed three or four days off as she was having fever. She heard her manager grunt and hang the phone.

Mandira’s mom came to her with the cordless telephone saying that her neighbour was on the line. “Mandira,” a shrill voice shouted, “Your flat has been broken into while you were away,” she screamed. “We have called the building secretary and he has called the police. Come please even if you are sick,” the neighbour was yelling. Mandira told her parents about the incident.

“Thank God. You were not there. These days dacoits will murder even for five rupees!,” self-consoling notes. Mandira got up. She was uneasy and felt that there was some truth in what the stranger was saying. After registering the complaint, Mandira returned feeling more helpless and more threatened. “They will hound me, if they want. Ajit should have been more careful. Why didn’t he tell me this when he had shared so many things with me?,” Mandira felt worse. She thought about the offer she had got from Singapore. Should she quit this and just put all this nightmare behind?

The following week, she resumed her work. Her colleagues sympathized with her more now. Wasn’t her luck really bad these days,? They asked her. She nodded. There was no loss of cash or gold but the house was totally a mess. She had a tough time picking up hairpins and napkins and the jumbled togs from the floor. Mother was of help but Mandira knew the seriousness of the matter. The stalker was not seen for a couple of months. The discs were in her bag which she had left at her parents’ place.

The parents had broached the topic of remarriage-she was young, qualified and without any commitments of kids. She could resettle her life, was the advice of many. She asked for more time. But they knew that silently they should look for a match for her now.

Mandira spent more time with her parents now. They thought she needed some support as she was shaken up with the recent incident. A few weeks passed and she saw the stranger again. He didn’t stare at her. As she got on to the escalator, he was a few steps behind. This time too she was apprehensive. ”Now at least you believe what I say. I hope you do. You have an offer to go abroad. Take it up. Sometime go scuba diving or go on a cruise and drop those CDs as if they fell accidentally in the sea. And by the way, think of remarriage positively,” he got off the escalator and walked towards the food court. She too followed him and sat at the same table taking her coffee with her. Her look was enough to make him speak almost inaudibly.

“Mandira, since my childhood, I have this strange power. I don’t know what to call it. Many spirits- benign-mind you- talk to me and ask me to convey to their loved ones to do something that has been left incomplete. Ajit was a dear colleague. I didn’t attend your wedding as I was abroad. After his death, I had a similar experience and he felt, I should warn you. Hope you understand,” he mumbled. She too mumbled a weak thanks and got up without looking behind. She knew she would be heading to new shores shortly.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


Twin Tales

A few miles away from Meerut, the family of Narain Singh lived in their ancestral house which had a vast open area around it. Over the years, most members had gone away seeking greener pastures. Narain Singh had for some time worked in a public sector company in Lucknow and later in Agra. He took voluntary retirement as he felt that his village home would be deserted if no one took care of it and the fear that the open land could be usurped by some land sharks was what motivated him to come here. He had his daughter Purna married while he was in active service and his son Arjun was studying in Lucknow. Narain Singh had made good use of the land available to him by growing vegetables and flowers. Summers were lean because of the extreme heat but the family did not have any financial problems. Occasionally, his brothers came from New Delhi and as time went by, they took their dues and transferred the property in Narain’s name. He could not have been happier. From an absolute urban, office going man, he was now a farmer!

Arjun completed his graduation in commerce and chose to return to his father. He was “ just not interested in a 9 to 5 job” and would rather do something to increase the trade which his father had started in a humble way. Narain Singh was a little surprised as many of Arjun’s generation were migrating to urban areas but he welcomed him. Arjun used his skills to develop a regular trade link for their products and even brought more land and built silos. He rented them to big farmers. Soon, seeing his progress, Arjun began to receive many marriage proposals and Narain Singh and his wife Ishwari zeroed on  Prema. The girl had studied up to high school and her father was a grain merchant in the neighbouring village. Besides, he had hired a godown on Arjun’s land. When the two families sat together for the negotiations, Arjun had refused dowry-much to the surprise of all as those days graduate boys sported a heavy dowry tag. Arjun’s only condition was that she would have to stay with his parents and look after the house and help him. The wedding was a grand affair as the office bearers of the panchayat and zilla parishads attended the three day long event. Paras was born to Prema within a year and both the families were brimming with joy.

Three years later Prema gave birth to twin girls-Reema and Seema. They were a difficult lot to handle and both Ishwari and Prema were exhausted looking after the rather unexpected load of two infants. Reema was always active and appeared like a happy-go-lucky type.  Seema was just the opposite and cried at the drop of a hat and her weeping sessions seemed endless. Ishwari wondered where all those tears were stored in that little head. Both hated to be bathed and demanded attention at the same time. It was becoming difficult to handle the twosome. The twins were about four months old when Ishwari began to suffer from joint pains. There were frequent visits to Meerut to get treatment for her galloping arthritis. Prema had to manage the twins and the elder son Paras. But the latter was not a difficult child and soon he had started attending anganwadi. For a couple of hours at least, Prema could look after the twins uninterrupted.

Once, while the twins were asleep after a massage and a bath, Prema brought clothes for the girls. Ishwari was sitting on her bed with her legs stretched. Prema began to remove the frock from Reema’s body. Ishwari shouted. “What are you doing? Changing the clothes while the children are sleeping? Combing their hair and putting kajal? Have you gone mad? Prema was dumbstruck. What crime had she committed that her mother-in-law should lose her calm? Ishwari was still fuming when she said, “Haven’t your parents told you not to change clothes when children are asleep?” Prema preferred to be quiet. “Listen, it is said that when kids are asleep their souls go wandering. If they find the appearance of their body altered beyond
recognition, they wander away somewhere and soon the kids would only be mortal remains!” Prema hesitatingly mumbled, “Ma. They are so fidgety, they don’t allow me to change while they are awake. You know their tantrums and cries.” Ishwari had calmed down by then and told her to keep this mind in future. Prema was upset that whole day and kept to herself whenever she could.

Both Reema and Seema were school going. Though they looked alike, their traits were markedly different. Reema was outgoing, played with her friends, participated in most school activities and bagged trophies in debates. Seema was an introvert, did not have many friends and kept to herself most of the time. When she returned home, she would be near the mother or the grandmother and willingly sat down to help in the household chores. Reema was good in academics too while Seema was ‘average’ as her father described her. Comparisons were always there. When Reema did not come home in time, they would praise Seema’s sense of time and duty. When Seema just about scraped through in her exam, they would ask her to be a little more dedicated to studies like Reema.

By the time the girls were in high school, their grandparents had left for their heavenly abodes. Ishwari had died first as her ailment had worsened. Narain Singh was fit till the end and one afternoon had just passed away in his sleep. Arjun was now the sole owner of the property.

Reema and Seema passed their matriculation and Seema had refused to study further. Arjun took Reema to Meerut and admitted her in a girls’ hostel. Prema did not want Reema to be away. “They will take advantage of her openness,” expressed Prema. Arjun argued that today, boys also demanded graduate girls and that this was the only way he could educate her. Prema and Arjun visited Reema at least once a month  showering her with home-made goodies, clothes, etc. Reema was initially homesick but had adjusted herself well to the city life. She had hordes of friends in tow. Seema was 18 and had agreed to get married instead of sitting at home idle. She was married to Raman, a well-to-do businessman. Reema took a whole month off to be with her sister and parents. Seema left for her marital home at Mathura. Arjun had ensured that she goes into a wealthy home.

Seema was content with wearing zari saris and sporting a large bindi on her fair forehead. Her fondness for traditional attire and jewellery was evident. Each day, she would choose her sari with matching trinkets and glass bangles and fill her hair parting with sindoor. From toes to her head, she was always bejeweled. A year after Seema’s marriage, she began to keep indifferent health. From TB to cancer, the doctors had not left out any investigation. Seema had two miscarriages which put her health even more at risk. The doctors in Agra had advised expert opinion from Delhi or Mumbai. Seema’s husband had agreed and got all the investigations done but there was no obvious condition that could be diagnosed. Sometimes, she was perfectly alright and went to the club with her husband or went shopping with a few friends that he had made in Mathura. No one could predict when Seema would fall sick and stay in bed in utter agony. Occasionally, Arjun and Prema would come to meet her. Arjun took permission from Seema’s husband and his parents to take her home for a few weeks and they agreed. While Seema was with her parents, she was fine most of the time and once she just could not get up from her bed. A couple of days later she was okay again. The whole episode was baffling. Arjun left her at Mathura assuring her husband that he would bear the medical expenses if he wished. Raman declined the offer.

Reema was in the final year of  college. She had topped the class each year. She was to participate in a play for the inter-collegiate competition and was in her hostel room with her friends. Togs of clothes lay strewn all over the room, shoes, sandals, books and bags too lay on the floor.  She had rehearsed her part well and needed a little sleep before she went to the auditorium that evening. She was a l little disturbed as her father had told her on phone the previous day that Seema was unwell again. But, by now, Seema’s falling ill frequently was not a matter of concern. It had almost become a routine to hear that Seema was unwell and after a day or two, she was fine. All the same, Reema stretched herself on the narrow cot and soon fell asleep. An hour later, her friends decided to play a practical joke and put a big bindi on her forehead. They took a dupatta and draped it on her left shoulder. Reema moved a little but was very tired and continued to be in sleep. She was lying on her back and her friend put a necklace lightly round her neck. She had put an alarm to wake up at 5 pm. When she wakes up, she is going to scream at her new image, thought her friends and waited for the fun. The alarm rang but Reema did not move. Her friends shook her and realized that the body was cold and lifeless. One of them ran to the hostel warden quivering with fear.

In Mathura, a doctor was monitoring Seema’s pulse while Raman and his mother waited in the room staring at  a still body. It was five in the evening and Seema was lying still for almost an hour. The expression on the doctor’s face too could be interpreted as if the case was helpless. The attendant had wiped Seema’s face clean and removed the bangles in case an intravenous was needed. The doctor took her wrist in his hand to feel the pulse and his expression changed. The toes moved and the hands too moved slightly. The doctor got up as if in surprise. Slowly, the eyes opened and she sat down and looked around in surprise. “How come I am here, jeejaji? My play is to start at seven in Meerut and how is it that I am here?”

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Different feelings

Anjana Khande stood at the window of her daughter Siddhi's room overlooking the road and the building garden. She noticed a lanky man deposit a paper in the bush near the grill and walk off. Minutes later, Siddhi was seen picking the paper. It was 4p.m. Siddhi came to her room and got dressed muttered something to the effect that she would be back for dinner. The same thing was noticed the next day by the matriarch of the Khande family. The Khandes had now established themselves as industrialists with due recognition.
It was time to ask Siddhi some straight questions. As it was the case, Siddhi's two brothers and the stiff upper-lipped father did not like Siddhi's style of existence.Her appearance was like a hippie and mannerism of a social rebel and that certainly did not become a family of status.
Two days later, Anjana asked Siddhi a point blank question: "What is this all about? Picking up notes from the compound, walking off and returning late?" The 23 year old fine arts graduate and an interior design professional had half anticipated the question.
"Well, I wish to marry my classmate Deepak Vyas. He's a struggling commercial artist but a nice guy. Now that you know what I want, please break the news to the male supremos of the house." Not a hint of politeness, not even a bit of hesitation, thought Anjana.
The news was broken with care. The three males, as expected did not approve of such banal relationships. The father had stormed into the living room fuming, "Have I built this empire to face such indignation? What have I not done to fulfill all her wishes?"
Siddhi did not express anger or remorse. She sat there as if there was no option left before them but to get her married to this 'artist'.
It was a quiet affair. Deepak's house was just a two room apartment in Josgeshwari.The Khandes knew that Siddhi's tryst with this middle-class home would be short-lived. Very little gold was parted with.Not much was discussed in social circles except that both Siddhi and Deepak wanted a very quiet wedding.
Occasionally, Siddhi rang up to talk to her mother. There was virtual silence from the father and the brothers. A few months after her marriage, Siddhi landed up to announce that she was pregnant. Anjana was obviously not pleased at the breaking news. Soon, the clumsily clad girl sank in the low cane chair and confessed that Deepak was away to Ahmedabad and the baby was not his. Anjana paled. "How are you going to tell him?" mumbled the shocked mother."Just want to abort it. But please give some cash. I don't have enough for the operation," came Siddhi's reply.  Anjana found herself hitting her forehead. She went to the safe and took out some notes and put them before her. "Enough now. For God's sake, we are a decent and respectable family. We have really earned our respect, mind you. That's the last I can put in your begging bowl." The reply was loaded with hurt, anger, pity and hatred. Will this girl ever see some sanity, she wondered.
A year or so later both Deepak and Siddhi went to the family court for a divorce by mutual consent. Half a year later, Siddhi was back in the Khande household totally alone and isolated.She had started working on some sites and simultaneously looking for some opening abroad. She finally got an offer from Sweden to take apprenticeship in design of modern furniture. It was a huge package of money.
Siddhi put the proposal before her brothers. They just heard her out. The father called her to the office where her two brothers were sitting like dummies. The senior Khande spoke with a kind of finality. "You have been let loose a bit because you're the youngest and our only daughter. But you have failed us on every count. We had expected you to go to USA for MBA but you chose to pursue fine arts. You got married against our wishes and got divorced putting us in shame. You have continued your flirting flings with many. It's time now that we snap ties. I am giving you five lakhs of rupees and will pay your Sweden fees directly. That's all. Full and final settlement. I don't want you to be known as my daughter in future. Hope all this is crystal clear." The subsequent formalities were handled by her brothers with minimal communication. The mother was feeling the wrench but this was the only way out.
In the cold Scandinavian country, Siddhi had found a bed and breakfast arrangement with an old lady whose son was a naturalized American. She lived alone and rented out a small room with a cooking range and an access to the bathroom. Siddhi was now used to being alone, isolated, alienated, in a strange land with no support of family or friend.
Two years passed and only business-like letters came from her younger brother who seemed to have softened his stand. One letter notified her of her mother's death due to cardiac arrest. A few tears rolled down her cheeks but she knew how helpless she was. She could not go back to Mumbai even to be with her family. They had 'snapped ties.' She shared the news of mother's death with her land lady Gunni. Every Saturday, Siddhi brought groceries for the old lady and also accompanied her to the market occasionally.
A letter of appointment came from a London-based company and Siddhi shifted base bidding a tearful farewell to the matronly landlady. She had not stepped on the soil of her motherland for nearly five years and she was homesick. But where was the home?
Siddhi decided to give it a try. She applied to some joint ventures being set up in Pune and landed up a job there as a coordination manager overseeing their design unit. At least luck favoured her in this phase of her life. She called her younger brother Sujay just once to tell him that she was in Pune for good.  He was cautious in his reaction. "OK" was the only answer she heard.
From her rented apartment in Kothrud, she travelled on her two-wheeler to the industrial belt, frequently suffering from coughs. She was still in the category of an uneventful, hand-to-mouth existence. Occasionally, she went out with her colleagues for a frugal lunch. She steered clear of the bunch called 'relatives'. She was now accustomed to the anonymity she had chosen.
Siddhi was now in her mid-thirties.She could not take any more risks with her life now but had to be content with what she was earning. A meager bank balance would not take care of her old age or illness. When alone, she had every reason to be depressed but she could not afford to sit back and even think 'positive' like her colleagues advised her. Reality was the truth and positive thoughts were just thoughts and not a reality.
It was early December and the weather was getting cooler in Pune. Siddhi had wanted to take a week off and travel to some place away from the city. She was through her first cup of morning tea when she heard the doorbell ring impatiently. Could be the sweeper. Had forgotten to keep the bin out. She hurried with the bin in hand and opened the door. Three men stood there staring at her. She was taken aback. One of them asked, "Siddhi Khande? I am inspector Salve from Kothrud police station." She was white. What had she done that there should be policeman at the door. The second man introduced himself:"Advocate Saraf." She walked a few steps into the house and let them in.
Saraf spoke with the confidence of a lawyer. "You had lived in Sweden, madam and stayed with a certain madam called Gunni Jonsson? Right?" Siddhi nodded still scared.
 "I left Sweden almost a decade ago and have not been touch with her. I had sent her X'mas cards for two years after I left her home," Siddhi tried to defend herself. Saraf shook his head and waved his hand in the air.
"No, no. It has nothing to do with when you left Sweden, etc. We had a tough time finding your whereabouts as the Swedish lady had your address of your passport. When we went there, we were told that you stayed somewhere in Kothrud. The inspector was very helpful. Coming to the point, madam, I have come here to tell you that a Swedish law firm has got in touch with us. Please come to Bombay as soon as possible to complete some formalities. Bring your identification papers with you. Here's my card. That Jonsson madam passed away in June. She has bequeathed half her assets to her son in America and the other half to you!"