I make it a point to visit my ancestral home which is around three hours from Goa at least once a year. The unpolluted surroundings, pure air, greenery and the pristine beaches ensure that I am fully recharged and rejuvenated at the end of my vacation. I would like to describe my ancestral home for the benefit of the readers. I am told that it was built sometime in the 1850's and housed generations of my ancestors for more than a century.
Generally people of that time lived in large joint families in India and palatial houses were built to accommodate them. My ancestral home is no different and has around ten bedrooms, a huge dining area capable of seating at least thirty people at one time. A huge courtyard and a garden in front of the house must have definitely made a lot of people envious. An area which needs a special mention is a large store house located outside and a little away from the main house.
My ancestors were zamindars (landlords) who owned huge areas of land that was leased out to the farmers every year for paddy plantation. They must have been a rich lot and prosperous too. The joint family system continued until the 1970's after which individual family members started branching out to the Indian metro's to seek their fortune. Currently only one of my uncles stays there with his wife.
Coming back to my story, I visited my ancestral home in November this year with my wife. It is an eleven hour drive from Pune and we were really tired by the time we reached there. My uncle and aunt warmly received us with hot tea and a couple of homemade delicacies which made the pain of the journey worthwhile.
The next couple of days were spent in just lazing around in the mornings, going for long walks in the evenings and visiting nearby acquaintances. It seemed like a refreshing change from our daily routine and we were generally happy with our visit.
India generally has fixed seasons namely Monsoon (June- Sept), winter (Oct - Feb), summer (March- May). But this year was different as we had an extended monsoon due to which many areas experienced intermittent rainfall well into November. 12th Nov 2010, I remember the date quite clearly. It was just two days before we were supposed to head back home. Most of the time, the weather was bright and sunny except for some stray showers at night. I woke up early that day hoping to catch up on my early morning jog, a routine which had been liberally relaxed over the last couple of days. However to my dismay I found that it had rained that night making the ground wet and muddy, practically impossible to jog. Cursing my luck I just stayed in the house and sulked. It was just after lunch at around 1 pm that I started feeling claustrophobic. I came out of the house to catch fresh air. It was then that I saw the store house a little away from the main house. I had never gone there before and decided to explore it a bit.
It seemed like a sturdy structure but unfortunately in ruins currently due to neglect. However it still had a roof and provided shelter to a few stray dogs who roamed about in that area. I went inside and was looking around when it suddenly started drizzling. I tried to come out and run towards the main house but it started pouring heavily within a short while and I was stranded there until the rains stopped. Luckily I found an old chair inside on which I perched happily and waited for the rains to stop.
I might have been there for around fifteen minutes or so when I suddenly became aware of something burning inside. Getting up from my seat, I carefully ventured inside hoping that it would be a false alarm. To my surprise, I saw three young boys probably twelve years old inside trying to light a "Beedi" (a cigarette, commonly smoked by locals in India). I thought they might have sneaked in when I dozed off perhaps. Since they were not known to me, I tried to shoo them away and shouted at them for smoking at such a young age. I was just standing a couple of feet away from them, yet they did not seem to notice me and continued lighting their beedi's. I was really annoyed at the lack of respect shown and moved towards them in order to give them a piece of my mind.
Suddenly I noticed that a haystack kept in one corner of the room had caught fire. Surely the boys weren't the culprits since it was quite a distance away from them. The boys had not noticed it and merrily continued with their activity. I rushed towards the burning haystack and tried to put out the fire. However my efforts had absolutely no effect and the fire grew in intensity. It was indeed eerie that I was in the room but no one was acknowledging my presence nor was I able to do anything to help the boys. It seemed like I was watching a movie being in the movie itself.
Before any of the boys could realize it, the whole room was engulfed in flames. The frightened boys tried to run towards the door and get outside. I was a nothing more than mute spectator observing the hideous scene without being able to do anything. It was also strange that even though this whole incident was happening right in front of my eyes, I wasn't affected at all.
Under normal circumstances, the boys should have easily got out of the room, but there seemed to be something which was preventing them from doing so. As they tried to get out, I saw a man standing outside the main door who was preventing them from escaping. There seemed to be something wrong with the man, he seemed to have unusually large arms, quite disproportionate from the rest of his body. The boys were helpless against the sheer strength of the brute. I heard the poor souls scream in agony as the fire singed then. I wasn't able to move even though I wanted to rush out of the room. Then I suddenly felt an arm over my shoulder. This seemed to have woken me from my trance. It was my wife who was worried because of my prolonged absence and had come to search for me. I was definitely relieved to see her but I also realized that everything in the room had gone silent. There was absolute silence everywhere. The boys, the fire, the screams & the strange man, all seemed to have vanished into thin air. I also felt very weak. Realizing that something was wrong, she immediately escorted me to the main house and gave me some water to drink after which I slowly started to feel better.
By dinner time I had sufficiently recovered to approach my aunt who has been living there for almost fifty years now. When I told her about my strange experience, she was astonished at the way I narrated the details to her. She just couldn't believe it especially when she knew for sure that I couldn't have known these details unless I had been around at that time. Then she told me the actual story which she had heard from my great grandmother.
My aunt's story:
In the early 1900's, there were 5 families of my ancestors living in that house. Around twenty five people stayed there at that time. The sons of three of the brothers were the ones I had seen that afternoon. It was a great year for the family, the harvest was bountiful and everyone was very happy. However one of their relatives who lived nearby had fallout with my family over money matters. He couldn't touch them directly since they were reputed people with contacts at the high places; hence he devised a devious scheme to get back at them.
In this part of India, black magic performed to rid yourself of your enemies is called "modi". In this, a spell is cast on the intended victims in order to cause bodily harm. A ritual animal sacrifice is also performed among other things. I will not be able to divulge anything else as this practice is too ghastly even to write about.
The three boys had a habit of sneaking into the store house sometimes in the afternoon after school to smoke bidi's. This was probably known to the person very well as he had planned the whole thing quite meticulously. The spell was cast accordingly to kill the innocent children which explains the mysterious fire and the presence of the man with unusually long hands outside the room, an evil spirit perhaps, who prevented the safe exit of the three boys.
The poor boys were burnt to death in the sudden fire that broke out in the store house. Efforts were made to douse the fire but the intensity of the blaze was so strong that it was all in vain. A couple of days later, three black dolls were located near the store room buried in the soil which lead to the suspicion that there was something more to it than just an accident.
Upon further investigation, it was found that the relative in question was seen frequently with a local tantrik. He along with the tantrik were caught and after days of interrogation finally confessed to the heinous crime. They were lynched by the angry villagers and their bodies burnt at a secret location to avoid any police investigation. All this seems ghastly, but at that time, lynching was commonly used as a punishment against people who practiced black magic. However the irreparable damage had been done and three innocent family members had been killed for no fault of theirs. My family had to pay a heavy price indeed.
The store room was rebuilt after a few years but no one dared to stay there at night because of the tragedy that had occurred.
The question before me is that, why me... Of all the people was transported back in time to witness the gory scenes which happened over a century ago. Or perhaps on second thoughts... This incident repeats itself periodically and I was unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. My Uncle performed a pooja (a cleansing ritual) at the store house the very next day to set the restless souls free.
I sincerely hope that their souls rest in peace and things are fine of now, but I'm definitely not going there again to find out.