The Village Postman – a short story

Narayanan was checking the air pressure in the cycle tires. He pressed down with all his strength on the handlebars. The tires fought him back. He was satisfied. “No need to pump in more air today,” he thought.

He checked his watch. It said five minutes to ten. It was time to start his mail delivery rounds. Every day of the week Narayanan would start his mail delivery round by ten. The route he took depended on where the letters were to be delivered. In the village, it was said that you could set your watch by looking at Narayana making his rounds. Narayanan was proud of his reputation. The salary of a postman was low. Sometimes he wished he had studied more, that would have helped get a better job.

Narayanan’s father Gopalan Pillai was a farmer. A farmer who lost his wife when he was in his early forties. She departed leaving him with two sons still in school. Narayanan and his younger brother Krishnan were good at sports but to excel at studies required more than a healthy body.

Year of droughts interspersed with years of floods ensured that Gopalan’s efforts were all wasted. He vowed that his sons would not end up as farmers. He was elated when both his son’s got government jobs. Narayanan the elder son became a postman and Krishnan joined the army as a sepoy. When Narayanan got married and had a son, Gopalan’s happiness knew no bounds. But as the saying goes all things good must come to an end. One day Gopalan slipped and fell on a wet floor. He slipped into a coma and eventually passed away in his sleep.

Narayanan was an active member of the communist party while still in school. He would have been happy with a simple funeral for his father but that was not to be. His relatives, most of who never helped Gopalan when he was alive, insisted on a traditional funeral. His wife, Kalyani a devout Hindu supported them.

“It is important that al the customs and traditions be followed. If not, the soul does not achieve salvation,” Kalyani said.

All the old-timers nodded their heads in agreement and Narayanan was voted out.

Now all that remained of his father was a photograph, which hung near the main door of his house. Every day as he started for work, Narayanan would look once at his father’s serious countenance and only then leave for the day.

“Please can you post this letter?” a voice brought Narayanan back to earth. This happened every day. People would stop him on the way and hand him letters which they had written but as yet not posted.

“Yes, why not,” said Narayanan and put the letters in a different part of his bag. He would now have to carry them back to the post office and then stamp them and then deliver them to their address.

The letter receivers were usually the same. Housewives with husbands in distant cities, Parents with children in hostels. These addresses repeated after a fixed number of days. Narayanan noted such small details. He also carried money orders. Money sent by post and eagerly awaited by their recipients.

Narayanan had almost finished his round for the day. He took out the last letter from his bag. He looked at the address and for a moment was lost. He had stamped it at the post office but not read the address then. It was an address of a place behind the temple. He had never been there before. As he rode his cycle up the temple road, he realized he would have to walk the rest of the way. The road behind the temple was full of bushes and shrubs. This was no place to ride a bicycle.

“Narayanan, finally you decided to visit the temple!” said Unni, the tailor whose shop was next to the temple. Narayanan had put his cycle next to Unni’s shop.

“No!” said Narayanan and smiled. Everyone knew he was a communist. They just liked to rib him once in a while.

“Is there a house behind the temple?” Narayanan said.

“There are two-three huts not sure who lives in them. Why do you ask?” said Unni.

“I have to deliver a letter,” said Narayanan.

“Rajamma? Anyone by that name here” said Narayanan. He saw only one house behind the temple.

There was no reply. He repeated his question, this time in a louder voice.

Narayanan heard a low cough from inside the hut. An old woman came out of the hut. She stood there holding on to the crumbling pillars supporting the hut.

“Who wants to know? I am Rajamma.”

“There is a letter for you,” Narayanan said handing over the letter to her.

“There is a mistake. I do not have any relatives. This should be for someone else.”

“No! That is not possible. See it clearly say.

Rajamma Amma

Behind Shree Krishna Temple,

East Street, Neyyarinkara Post Office. Trivandrum. 

“The address is correct, but as I said I do not have any friends or relatives who would send me letters.”

“It is from Bombay.”

“I do not have any relatives here in Neyyarinkara, why would anyone in Bombay send me a letter?”

It was a good question. Narayan now had a problem. As per the rules, his job was to deliver the letter at the correct postal address. He was at the correct postal address but the addressee was refusing to accept the letter. Then he found a way out.

“Read this letter. In the first few lines, you will know if this is for you or not.”

“I can hardly see you properly. How do you expect me to read? I do not have money to buy reading glasses.”

Narayanan sighed. This was another ‘service’ that came with his job. Narayanan opened the letter and began reading.

I, Mohamad Usman am a chief mechanic at Bombay Construction Company in Kurla. I am writing this letter on behalf of one of my workers who say he is your son. His name is Sreekumar and he says he ran away from home when he was twenty years old. This incident happened five years back…..

Narayanan stopped reading as he heard a crashing sound. The old woman had fainted. She was lucky that she fell on top of a bed and then slid on to the floor. If she had fallen directly on the floor, she would have broken all her bones.

Narayana ran and picked her up. He lay her down and went inside the house. He bought some water and sprinkled it on her face. When the woman came to her senses she started wailing. The wailing brought Unni and a few of the shopkeepers to the house.

By evening the news that Rajamma’s long-lost son was alive was the hot – topic of discussion in the village. People who never in their lives had seen or known Rajamma spoke about her as if she was a close relative.

The boy’s story was indeed remarkable. He had jumped on a train and reached Bombay. Therefor some time he had begged and survived on the scraps thrown out by hotels. Then Usman had found him and given him a job. Five years later the boy had saved up some money and was planning to send his mother some money every month.

“This is a miracle! Now do you believe in God?” said Kalyani

“Why should this make me believe in God?” said Narayanan.

“Is it not a miracle that Rajamma’s son should return now. The whole village had given him up for dead. Even the police had closed the investigation and now after five years news comes that he is alive.”

“Nonsense think of how much he had to struggle in these five years. He was surviving on scraps from dustbins. And what of Rajamma’s suffering all these years. He was the only support she had. With him declared dead, she was living the life of a recluse all these years. What was her fault that your God made her suffer like that?” Narayanan countered.

“It is a miracle that her son is alive. Your communist brain will not understand it but I know and the whole village agrees with me that it is a miracle.” That was the end of the discussion. They did not speak for two days after that.

A week after the letter the first money order for five hundred rupees arrived at the post office. Rajamma beamed with pride as she signed to receive the money.

“My son has sent this. I do not want his money. All I want is to see him once before I die, “she said to anyone who would listen.

Sreekumar’s coming to the village to meet his mother was the event of the year in Neyyarinkara. The entire village had gathered at the railway station. Very few trains stopped at the small railway station and those that halted stopped for a few seconds. Seeing the massive crowd gathered at his Railway Station the Neyyarinkara Railway Stationmaster halted the train for a full minute. Like some V.I.P the boy got down and was received by a tearful Rajamma. There was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Overcome with emotion the station master offered them a cup of tea in his cabin. Son and mother decided to go home instead.

The next day when Sreekumar took his mother to see a doctor they were again followed by a crowd. Rajamma was weak. All the years of grieving and extreme poverty had taken its toll and the woman was ailing. Most of his leave of two weeks Sreekumar spent on visiting doctors and hospitals. A tearful Rajamma was there at the railway station the day her son returned.

Rajamma’s condition took a turn for the worse after her son left. All the medicines her son had purchased remained on the shelves in her hut. After a few days, the people also forgot all about the mother and son and went on with their lives. Narayanan was the only occasional visits to her house. He went there to deliver a letter or hand her money sent by her son.

One day Narayanan was about to start his mail rounds for the day when the telegraph machine started rattling out a message. It was a telegram. Narayanan read the message and for a moment did not know what to do. He reread the message. It said.

“To Rajamma STOP Son Sreekumar dead STOP Fire accident at factory STOP Call 022 2801234 STOP from Usman STOP”

Narayanan folded the message and kept it in his pocket. He delivered all the mails and came back to the post office. That day as normal he locked the post office at four-thirty and left home. He did not tell anyone about the telegram. It was a telegram and the rules required it to be delivered immediately. For the first time in his career, Narayanan broke the rules. That night Narayanan tossed and turned. He could not sleep. If was not that this was the first death telegram that he had received. He had delivered numerous such messages before. Something was different in this case. He was unable to muster the courage to deliver the telegram to Rajamma.

The next day he used the telephone in the post office and dialled the Bombay number given in the message.

“Can I speak to Usman? I am calling from Neyyarinkara, Sreekumar’s village.”

After being put on hold for some time he heard a man’s voice on the other side. The man identified himself as Usman. His story was short. There had been an explosion at the factory. A few workers had died and Sreekumar was one of them. Usman had got severely burnt but was now recovering. Sreekumar had a saving of a thousand rupees.

“I will send that money as a money order to his mother.

Narayanan did not say anything. There was nothing much to say. A week later the money arrived. Narayanan had not said a word to anyone about the telegram. That day he had forged Rajamma’s signature in his register. Now the money had also come in.

He went to Rajamma’s hut. When she came out to meet him, he gasped. She was hardly able to walk. He helped her sit and then told her that Sreekumar had sent her a money order for five hundred rupees. From the expression on her face, he realized that she was not even able to understand what he was saying. Narayanan went into the house and made a bowl of gruel for her to eat. She was having difficulty in swallowing it. As a little bit of the food went in she asked him to write a letter to her son.

It was a rambling account. Rajamma talked about the time when she had taught him to walk. Of how scared she was he would fall. She narrated about the time when he went to school. She gave the names of his friends and what games he played with them. The effort was too much for her.

Rajamma eventually fell asleep narrating the letter and Narayanan carried her inside the house and laid her on the bed. He covered the old woman with a sheet and went back into the world.

That night Rajamma passed away in her sleep. One of the shopkeepers who was passing, by the way, thought of checking on her and found her dead. The news spread and soon people gathered at her house. They asked Narayanan to send a telegram to her son to inform him about the accident.

“That would not be necessary,” he said, “I have the phone number of his Bombay factory. Let me make a call to them.”

He went into the phone booth and closed the door. Then he dialled the Bombay number, informed Usman about the death of Sreekumar’s mother and put the phone down. As he stepped out of the phone booth Narayanan said, “Sreekumar died yesterday. There was an explosion at their factory. They are sending us a telegram. Let me see if it has come.” He went in a returned with the old telegram. No one bothered to check the date. They were too shocked with the news of the son’s death.

With the money, he had received Narayanan conducted a funeral for Rajamma. The whole village attended. The rituals were done for both mother and son. Narayanan the hard-core communist was in the middle ensuring that all tradition and customs were followed to the letter. More than the villagers he thought he knew the mother and son. He was there not as the village postman, he was there as a family member.

The Dream House – a short story

Chandran was happy. He was still in his thirties and had achieved what most people required a lifetime to do. He was the owner of a house. It had not been an easy buy. He took a loan plus the down payment had cleared his bank savings. Savitri his wife had pitched in with half her gold ornaments. He had registered the house in both their names as an acknowledgement of her efforts. It was not a new house. The previous owners had got a job in Dubai and were planning on settling down there. He was not returning to Neyyarinkara. The property was going cheap. Chandran was in the right place at the right time. He grabbed the opportunity
Chandran was from Ernakulam. That was about two hundred kilometres away. He worked at the Secretariat in Trivandrum as a section officer. There was no chance of a transfer. He was sure of working for another ten years in the same office. Ten years ago, when he had joined the office he was a bachelor. He stayed at a lodge near the Trivandrum Central Railway station. The room and the food were cheap. He saved a lot during that phase of his life. His marriage with Savitri required changes in his lifestyle. At first, he tried to get a house on rent near his office. The rent rates shocked him. Finally, he had to settle for a house twenty- kilometres away from the office. It was a village but there were regular bus services.
“What is the name of the place?” said Savitri.
“Neyyarinkara. It is more than a village and less than a city,” said Chandran.
“Twenty kilometres away?”
“Yes. It is the only thing that fits our budget.”
“I guess for now we do not have other options.”
“It does not make sense to take a house on rent. Plus, this could be an investment in the long term.”
“That is what my father always says. Real estate is the best form of investment.”
The reference to her father irritated Chandran. The old man never contributed financially but was more than generous with his wisdom. Savitri was her father’s daughter. With her it was always ‘father says this’, ‘father says that’. Chandran seldom spoke but when he did it was after considering all a lot of thinking. Savitri would partially listen and then pip in with what her father would have said or done in a similar situation. Those were the times when he felt he could punch her on the nose but he refrained from doing so. He liked his wife but her ‘my father knows best’ attitude drove him mad. He thought he would be able to cure her eventually. After all, they had only been married for a year.
The couple was not enthused when the bus dropped them in sleepy Neyyarinkara. There was no one to receive them. Not that they were expecting anyone. They caught an auto rickshaw and reached the house.
“You are moving in here,” said the auto driver.
“Yes,” said Chandran.
“It is isolated. Not that you need to worry about Neyyarinkara.”
“Why is that?”
“People here are very helpful. If you walk a hundred meters from here, you will reach the temple. The riverbank is on the opposite side. There is a school here. Have you got any children?”
“No not yet,” said Chandran. Savitri blushed and look away.
“Where is your luggage?” said the auto driver.
“This is all. We are newly married,” said Chandran.
The auto driver laughed and said, “Two suitcases? You now have all the time in the world to set up the house now.”
They had paid off the auto driver and entered the house. The house had a rectangular hall and a room on either side. The hall led to another room, part of which was the kitchen. Outside the house was a bathroom and a toilet. The house had a well in the compound.
Chandran placing the two suitcases on the floor of the hall.
Luckily the house was partially furnished. The previous owners had lived there for two years. They had left behind beds, sofas and curtains.
“Savi, you know, we are lucky. This house is furnishing and has a small ground around it. It cost us only one lakh rupees. If I go by market rates this house should sell for a minimum of five lakhs rupees. We are indeed lucky. This is my dream house”
“Father said he could have bargained a better deal.”
“Yes, I know. If he had bargained we might have got the house for free!”
“Why do you always have to criticize my father? He only means good for us.”
“I know. He thinks I am an idiot.”
“No! he does not. He always says that Chandran is a smart boy. He will do well in life.”
“I do not need anyone’s certificate to prove my worth.”
The argument was interrupted by a knocking at the door.
“You must be the new family which has moved in,” said a middle-aged woman standing outside the door.
“Yes. My name is Chandran and this is my wife Savitri.”
“We are your neighbours. My name is Lata. This is my husband Suvarnan works in a bank. I call him Suvi. He said you took a loan from his bank.”
“Yes, we needed a loan to buy this house,” said Chandran.
Lata clasped Savitri’s hand and said, “I am happy that you came in here. Now I will not be bored. I came to invite both of you for dinner at our place.”
That evening it was ten by the time Chandran and Savitri walked back to their house. It was a moonlit night. The road on either side was empty and Chandran and Savitri held hands as they walked back home.
“If this was a movie, I would have been singing a song right now,” said Chandran.
“Talking of movies is there a movie theatre here?” said Savitri.
“Yes, I saw one near the Bus stand. It even plays fairly new movies.”
“That is good. At least we will not be bored here.”
“Bored? Why should we be bored?”
“Do you think I should ask my parents to come and stay with us?”
Chandran let go of her hand.
“Why do you have to spoil a night as romantic as this by bringing in your parents?”
“They could help us settle down here.”
“I can call my parents over. They can also give us equally worthless advice on how to settle down.”
That comment put the whole issue in the right perspective. Savitri was not comfortable with Chandran’s parents.
“For now, let us not call anyone,” said Savitri.
“Good idea. Have you ever thought about having a baby?”
“I know what you are thinking,” said Savitri and ran inside.
Savitri and Lata became good friends and soon enough were making trips to the market together. They went shopping at the local market. The options were limited but the prices were cheap.
“Have you two gone to the movie theatre here?” said Savitri.
The two friends were on their way back from the market.
“Yes, we go there every week. The theatre in the village is quite good. Cushion seats and ceiling fans all over. Why do you ask?”
“Chandran and I have not seen a movie in months. Before our marriage, I never missed a single movie at home. My father is a huge fan of Sarath Babu the superstar.”
“Sarath Babu is my favourite as well. Suvi my husband is jealous of him and avoids taking me to his movies!”
Both laughed at this.
“Chandran is not interested in movies. The last movie we saw a week after our marriage. Then we were in my home town.”
“There is a new movie coming up this Friday. Get Chandran to come. All four of us can go as a group.”
The two families had a great time at the theatre. Soon this became a regular part of their lives. Every fortnight they would plan on going out for a movie. At times they even got on a bus and travelled to Trivandrum to watch the latest releases in the theatres there.
Then Suvi was posted from the village. He was a bank officer and had a transferable job. It was a tearful farewell that Lata and Savitri had. Savitri was now alone. Chandran tried his best to comfort her. There was not much he could do about the hours of the day when he would be in the office, while she would be all alone at home. Then one day Savitri told him that he was going to be a father. Chandran was extremely happy and scared at the same time. He had no idea how to take care of his pregnant wife. With no other options left he had to call her parents over. He could have called his parents but Savitri vetoed the idea. She said she wanted her mother with her and that was it.
Savitri’s father Chellapan was a retired school teacher. Chandran’s relationship with his father in law was never good. They treated each other with utmost courtesy. Chandran preferred to put in extra hours in the office while his in-laws were at home. He would leave by seven in the morning and return by nine at night. That way there was minimum scope for interaction between him and his in-laws.
One evening Chandran was returning from office. At a distance, he saw someone standing at the gate. As he neared he saw that it was his father in law Chellapan.
“Is Savitri ok? What happened?” said Chandran. He was worried.
“Savitri? She is ok. Guess what happened today?” said Chellapan.
Chandran stood there with a confused look on his face. He could see that Chellapan was excited.
“Let me tell you what happened. Today a movie producer came to our house.”
Chandran still did not understand what was happening.
“They are planning to shoot a movie in our house. Guess who the hero will be?” said Chellapan and without waiting for Chandran to guess, he blurted out, “Sharath Babu!”
Chandran rarely watched movies before his marriage. He liked reading books. His movie watching had increased exponentially after marriage. There were many points about his in-laws that he could not understand. He never understood how a man in his seventies could behave like a teenager whenever this film star’s name came up. The man was a hard-core fan of Sharath Babu. He never missed his movies. He even dragged his wife and children to these movies. It was through him that Savitri had acquired a fascination for movies.
“So, what do you say?” said Chellapan.
Chandran had not responded at the gate but had walked in. It was half an hour since he had come in. Chandran was at the dinner table and Chellapan could not hold it any longer.
“About what?”
“About letting them shoot the movie here. In this house,” said Chellapan.
“No!” said Chandran and continued eating.
“Why?” said Chellapan. He could not imagine anyone saying no to an opportunity to see Sharath Babu at close range.
“What do you mean why?”
“Why do you not want them to shoot the movie here?”
Savitri was six months pregnant and showed it clearly. She came in slowly with some water for Chandran. Chandran pointed at her growing stomach and said, “That is why. Where would we stay if they are shooting here?”
“We were planning on taking Savitri to our house next month. That way there will be no problem for Savitri.”
“What about the inconvenience I would be facing? Where will I stay with a hundred-people roaming around the house.”
“They are ready to pay you twenty thousand for a week’s shooting,” said Chellapan.
He said that in a low voice but it still affected Chandran. He swallowed without chewing and had to cough to clear his throat.
“Twenty thousand per week!”
“Yes, and the shooting will go on for a minimum period of a month.”
Chandran calculated rapidly in his mind. That would mean that he could clear his bank loan in a month. If Savitri was not going to be there, he could stay for a month at his old lodge.
“Plus, if there were any damages to the house during the shooting the studio will pay the complete repair cost. They are ready to give this in writing.”
For the first time in his married life, Chandran agreed with his father in law. This was a sound financial proposal. He could be near his office. Savitri would be with her parents during the crucial stages of her pregnancy. As if all that was not enough he stood to make a lakh on this deal. He agreed immediately.
A week later the deal was signed. It was a legal document so Chandran was not worried. He agreed to hand over his house to the movie studio for the duration of the shooting. The rates were as Chellapan had mentioned – ten thousand rupees per week for a minimum of four weeks. The deal became sweeter after that. Any additional week would be charged at fifteen thousand per week. There was a clause of payment for damages caused to the structure. Chandran read the document four times. He ensured the numbers and the number of zeros were correct and then signed it. Savitri left along with her mother the same day. Chandran went with them. Chellapan stayed back in the house. He said it was to keep a watch over the house. He was not fooling anyone for they knew he wanted to watch his favourite star in action.
The movie shoot got extended. The team stayed for two months. After a week they asked Chellapan to leave as he had become a nuisance on the set. Chandran stayed in his old lodge for the duration of the shoot. The charges at his lodge had increased but the standards remained the same. After two months Chandran got the news that the movie studio was done with the shooting. He could now return to his house. The first thing he did was he went to his bank and checked his account. The balance was substantial. Savitri was not due for a month so Chandran was alone in the house. The first day itself he wrote a letter and informed the bank that he would be making a prepayment of the loan. The number he had seen on his bank account was more than enough for him to write off his loan and still have a decent balance. He was happy. For once Chellapan had come with a good suggestion. Now he waited for Savitri and his child to come home.
Two months passed. Chandran lived alone in the house. He perfected his cooking skills. He knew Savitri would need some time to get back in the kitchen. He found a girl who could help with the cooking and washing. For the first three months, it would be important to have someone full time in the house. Chandran had the money and could afford a full-time maid. Savitri had a boy. It was a momentous occasion for both the families. The boy was the first grandchild for both the grandparents. After two weeks Savitri returned to her house. Her parents came with her.
The boy was named Arjun. On his sixteenth day of birth, Chandran’s father whispered the name in the baby’s ear and formalized the naming. Chandran and Savitri had named him Arjun after the hero from the Mahabharata. Chellapan had his reasons for being happy with the naming.
“In the movie ‘Inspector’ Sharath Babu was named Arjun!”
Chandran had a strong desire to change the boy’s name there and then but with a supreme effort controlled himself.
Chellapan and his wife returned to their house after six months. It was the longest six months of Chandran’s life. Had it not been for the baby he would have preferred to return to the single room in the lodge. Arjun, his son was a bright spot in his day. Every day he would look forward to the time he got to spend with the child. After Chellapan and his wife left, Chandran set about making the house safe for Arjun. He had started crawling and that increased his range of activities. The girl whom he had hired was now working full time in the house. Savitri had returned to the kitchen and Chandran’s life was slowly getting back to normal.
One day Chandran was on his way back from office when he saw a movie poster. It was a new movie. There was the photo of a house on the poster. Chandran thought the house looked familiar. He had walked a few steps when he realized that it was a photo of his house. The movie was the same one which was shot in his house. He hurried home to tell Savitri.
“Let’s go to see that movie. It has been more than a year since I saw a movie. The last time was when Lata and her husband were here.”
“What about Aju?” said Chandran. They called the boy Aju at home.
“He will come with us. do not worry about him. He will be fast asleep by the time the movie starts so would not be a problem in the theatre.”
Chandran did not want to refuse Savitri’s wish. Besides he wanted to see how his house looked in the movie. The Movie theatre was packed. The villagers of Neyyarinkara flocked to see the movie shot in their village.
As they returned home that night the couple was silent. It was not because they did not want to wake up Arjun. The boy had slept through the movie as predicted by Savitri. He preferred waking up at night and also keeping his parents awake. His parents were quiet because of what they had seen in the movie. The story was different from the usual Sharath Babu ‘thrillers’ where he played the handsome cop who wooed the beautiful heroine with songs and dance. This was a horror movie. The story was about a family involving a husband, his wife and their child. They live in a small house in a desolate area. The house was haunted. The ghost mercilessly kills first the baby, then the wife and finally the hero! The audience loved it. They were clapping and whistling when the movie ended. Critics had claimed it as an award-winning performance by the hero. Everyone was applauding except for the family which now made its way home.
It was ten in the night as they walked down the street. Savitri had walked down this road a thousand times before. Earlier she had not noticed the long shadows that the tall coconut trees cast on the road in the moonlight. In the stillness of the night, she could hear the sound of their slippers on the tarred road. She heard the jingle of anklets and for a moment froze. Then she realized it was the sound of the anklets on her feet. Never before had she heard the sound of her anklets so clearly.
“Walk a little faster,” said Savitri. Chandran was holding Arjun and a few steps behind her. It was not Arjun that was slowing Chandran. He was deep in thought. The movie had disturbed him.
“Close the gates and lock it,” said Savitri as she rushed in.
“Lock? We do not have a lock,” said Chandran.
“We will have to buy one then.”
Normally Chandran would have argued the point but instead, he thought she had a point.
“I will get one first thing tomorrow. Here take Ajju. Let me take a bath.”
“I will never understand this habit of yours of taking a bath whenever you come back home. It is ten in the night. You might catch a cold if you take a bath at this time.”
“I have this habit since I was a child. Too late to change the habit.”
The bathroom was outside the house. As Chandran walked up to it he noticed the massive banyan tree behind. He had never noticed it before. It had huge roots which hung from its branches. In the movie, the banyan tree was where the body of the heroine was strung by the evil spirit. The blood from the body had dripped on to the bathroom below. Chandran wondered how the movie escaped with those gory murder scenes. As he turned on the tap he noticed a stain on the floor.
“Is that blood?” said Chandran. He touched the spot with his feet and poured some water over it. He looked again and now there was nothing there!
“I must have imagined all that,” he said to himself and turned on the shower.
Inside the house, Savitri hugged Arjun close to her. The ceiling in the house was made of huge logs of teak. The logs had a deep coat of varnish which made them look dark brown in the light from the electric bulb. Coconut wood planks were arranged across the teak logs. The tiles in the roof were arranged on the planks in neat rows. The house was hardly three years old but the effect of these planks and tiles made it look a hundred years old. Savitri stood in the middle of the room with Arjun in her arms. She looked all around the room. She felt as if she was seeing the room for the first time. In the movie, in the last scene, the hero’s body was found hanging in this room. Savitri looked at the ceiling. For a brief moment, she could see the body dangling, swinging gently in the breeze blowing in through the open window. At the moment there was a power failure.
It was the sound of Savitri’s shrieking in horror that made Chandran rush out of the bathroom. He had just finished his bath and was wiping himself dry. He wrapped the towel around him and ran out. For a few seconds, he could not see in the dark. He could hear Savitri screaming. He could hear Arjun crying as well.
“I am coming… I am coming,” said Chandran as he stumbled towards the door. His feet struck the stone steps in the dark and he winced in pain. He stumbled in the house. In the dark, he could dimly make out the shape of a woman standing. The sound of screams was coming from her. In the movie, there was a similar scene where the hero mistook the evil ghost for his wife in a dark room. For a moment Chandran hesitated. Then he heard Arjun wailing and he forgot all about fear and dashed in. At that moment the electricity supply was restored.
“Where were you? You left us alone,” said Savitri tears pouring down her cheeks. Arjun was crying. Chandran reached out to take him in his arms. Then realized his towel was slipping and tied it firmly. He took Arjun in his arms. The child was reassured to see familiar faces around him and stopped crying. He reached out for Chandran’s face and said, “da, da.”
For a few minutes, there was silence in the room.
Then both husband and wife said, “He spoke his first words!”
Arjun’s first spoken words were the top news item for the next week. Savitri‘s parent came over and a day after they left Chandran’s parents came over to celebrate the achievement. After they left, the house was back to its normal occupancy of three. The servant girl would come in the morning. She would stay during the day and leave at five in the evening.
Chandran returned from office by six.
“Can you come in a bit early? The girl leaves by five. I asked her to stay a little late but she says she has to catch a bus which leaves by five-fifteen.”
“You know that is not possible. The buses are jam-packed between five and seven.”
“Can you at least try to come early? It is a bit difficult to be alone in this house after dark.”
A week later Arjun had a fever. The child was shivering and coughing. Chandran took a day off from office to take care of his child. They took Arjun to the nearest doctor in Neyyarinkara, Dr Shivaraman.
“You do not have to worry. He has chest congestion. Have him inhale some steam. Do you take him out after dark? Be careful while you do it. It is a bit chilly after dark. Have the child wear some warm clothes. A woollen cap if possible.”
“I do not trust this doctor. Let’s take Arjun to the city and have a proper Doctor examine him.”
“Do you know he retired as a professor at the Medical College in Trivandrum?”
“That is why I want to go to a doctor who is still practising. Not someone who is retired.”
Chandran did not argue and they went to Trivandrum. Thereafter waiting for three hours in the reception of a paediatrician they got a similar diagnosis.
“Did you notice that the Pediatrician and Dr Shivaraman had the same story to tell? Only he charged us a hundred rupees more.”
“You are counting money when your son is suffering?” said Savitri.
“I was just mentioning that. You know I would not compromise on Ajju’s health.”
Chandran was silent. After a few minutes, he turned towards Savitri and said,
“Do you remember in the movie the child had a fever? The fever subsided when the snake came into the house.”
“Do you have to remind me of the movie?”
“I just remembered that scene.”
That evening Chandran was on his way to the bathroom when he saw something glow in the dark. At first, he thought it was a log. He shone his torch in that direction. It was a long, dark-coloured snake.
“I will not stay in this house with my child,” said Savitri, “buy me a train ticket I will leave for my parent’s house first thing in the morning tomorrow.”
Chandran did not try to hold her back. The circumstances were such. He called Chellapan and sent Savitri and Arjun along with him. He had his office to attend. After a few days alone in the house, Chandran decided to stay at the lodge. He locked up his house and return to his haunts. Days passed. Whenever the subject of returning to the house came up Savitri would reject all suggestions.
“What are you doing?” said a man passing by the house as he saw Chandran nailing a board at the gate.
“This house is for sale. I am putting up a sign.”
“This is the haunted house from that movie, right?” the man said. “the house where three people were brutally murdered.”
Chandran did not reply.
“Good luck with your attempts. I would like to meet the person who has the guts to buy a haunted house.”
The man laughed and went on his way. Chandran checked all the windows and locked all the doors. Then he nailed the ‘For Sale’ at the gate and walked away.
It is said that Chandran or Savitri never returned to that house. The house remains locked with a fading ‘For Sale’ sign dangling on the front door. To this day no one dares enter the haunted house.