Rathish Karyatt was in a strange occupation – professional ghost chaser .To make matters worse he was not paid for his work.He started of on this rather novel pursuit after what could be loosely described as a ‘life after death’ experience.The 5 years that had passed after his freak parachute accident had dulled his memory ,but he could still remember the strange sensations ,the light at the end of the tunnel ,the eerie feeling of having a rather unpleasant aerial view of his own bloodied body, a bevy of sensory inputs of which he had read in books before and had dismissed as supernatural crap.The experience had changed him profoundly .Now he believed in spirits ( not the gulpable kind) ,in the afterlife and in the judgment day.From steady partygoer and philanderer ,he had metamorphosed into something of a saint philosopher with no time for worldly affairs.He was into spiritual pursuits …literally.His family and friends hardly got to see him.
So far ,so good ,but somehow he never managed to actually find a ghost.He had scoured all areas likely to be infested with unsatisfied spirits. Cemeteries ( of all religious hues,death after all seemed to be one great beacon for secularism ) ,suicide points ,prisons with histories of judicial executions ….you name it .So that was how ,one fine day he found himself staring down the unending depth of green grass and granite steeply sloping by the sides of the cliff at the suicide point at Lonavala. Lonavala ,for those not familiar with it, is a hill resort ,a few hours drive from Mumbai. The suicide point at Lonavala is known to have assisted quite a horde of disgruntled souls to the after life. Disillusioned lovers ,alone and in pairs, irrespective of sex ,caste and creed ,share brokers ,whose share of bad luck broke their will to live, students ,whose failure in their board exams ,drove them over board ,drug addicts and alcoholics who jumped down to reach a new high…….
The chilly night weather nipped at his bones ,he somehow felt that his long quest was finally going to bear fruits tonight. The pavement lining the edge of the cliff was empty ,except for the neatly arranged wooden benches and the irregularly strewn dried leaves. .The edge itself had been barricaded with barbed wire.It was worth thinking if a half a metre high wire fence would really dissuade a depressed human being from leaping into oblivion. The eeriness was accentuated by the dull glow of a half moon ,attempting to shine through a thick envelope of angry rain clouds.The fog was getting heavier.Rathish continued to walk along the winding pavement.Not a sound ,not one dejected ghoul in sight.As the clock in the central tower ,downtown, struck twelve ,the familiar frustration started taking root.
It was then he noticed the footsteps ..firm, regular. As if by magic a huge silhouette emerged out of the fog.
‘Bhaisaheb ,raat ke is waqt ,yahaan kya kar rahe ho?’.The voice had a rich baritone quality, Rathish could almost feel the echoes. As the giant came closer,he could make out his course facial features. Bushy eyebrows ,acne scarred face and a huge handle bar moustache that would have put Veerappan to shame.He was smiling ,more like guffawing actually,the moonlight reflecting off his huge bunny teeth.
‘Just strolling ,enjoying the chill….are you the chowkidar around here?’
‘Haan Saheb ,rotten job ,but have to keep the fire burning at home right?Where are you from?It’s very rare to see people at this time of the night.You’re not planning on jumping are you?’
Rathish smiled ‘No ,not for quite some time at least.I am from Navi Mumbai ,just came for a weekend getaway.So you still have a lot of suicides these days?’
The watchman ,contemplated for a brief moment.’No ,not much ,we had one last year ,a young lady from Jaipur.Apparently some kind of love affair that had a bad ending.In fact it was almost exactly a year ago.I still remember ….she jumped wearing her bridal brocade.When they retrieved her body ,it was difficult to tell the red of her blood from the red of her dress.Ghastly site.’
‘She was married ?’
‘Yes ,but not to the guy she loved.She and her husband had come here for their honeymoon’.He glanced briefly towards the barbed wire and then turned back to Rathish with a smile ‘A lot of sad stories have had their endings across that fence Saheb’.
There was a strange expression in his face.Was it grief ?or some kind of morbid amusement?
‘I’m going to my security post ,Saheb ,it’s beyond the curve ,about half a kilometer across.If you need something ,I’ll be there .You better be going now ,though.I’ve been year more than a decade ,but this place still gives me jitters sometimes’
‘Don’t worry ,I’ll be fine’Rathish replied
The watchman ,disappeared into the fog.Rathish moved on along the pavement.The temperature seemed to have dropped further.It was getting really late now.Rathish was about to turn back when he saw her.She was sitting on one of the wooden benches ,staring into nothingness ,it seemed.Rathish felt like a hunter approaching his prey.He felt no fear at all ,just a feeling of raw excitement..As he came closer ,he noticed her bright red dress with rich zari work.He sat down next to her.She still seemed lost ,oblivious to his existence.
‘Rather late for a girl to be here alone isn’t it ‘?
She jerked her face to me with a startled expression on her face.Her face was pale ,and wet.She had been crying .Her eyes were glazed ,Her long dark hair was swaying in the light wind.The moonlight produced a strange halo around her face.
‘Who…who are you?….leave me alone..please’Her voice was soft and frightened.She tried to move away from him.It seemed as though she wanted to run away ,but didn’t have the energy to do so.
‘Hey ,easy.I ‘m not going to hurt you.I…I was just taking a late night stroll…I’ll leave if you want to be alone’His sincere reassuring tone ,seemed to have its desired effect.There was a brief pregnant silence.
‘I am sorry.I really wanted to be alone for some time.You startled me ,I didn’t think I’d find anybody around here at this time’ She continued staring ahead into the mist .
‘You live nearby?’ Rathish queried cautiously.
Another brief period of silence ‘Yes ,just about half a kilometer from here ,near the security hut’
‘Like you have a home there ?’
She stared at him incredulously as though he had asked a most idiotic question.
‘The honeymoon cottages…we just came today’ she gestured with her hand towards the direction of the security hut.
‘Kind of overdressed for this time of the night aren’t you ?’
She was back to her vacant stare ‘ Today was my wedding day’
Rathish continued to interrogate her ‘Had a tiff with the hubby ,did we?’
She seemed to be getting impatient.’ You could say that …not his fault though. It’s me…I ….’The rest of the sentence melted away into the fog.
‘There was someone else?’
She seemed genuinely surprised ‘Some one else?? No…Why did you ask?’
He thought for a moment ‘You were not planning on ending your life were you?’
She smiled for the first time ‘That was the original idea…..I guess crying in solitude…in the middle of nowhere helps flush out depression to some extent’She wiped her face with the loose end of her Sari. ‘I guess ,I’d better get going….I have to sort out my life by myself ,nobody else is going to do it for me ‘
She stood up and started to walk away.She hardly took a few paces when she turned to address me ‘I’m sorry I reacted the way I did….I ‘m sure you understand’ she came back and extended her heavily henna laden hand to him.
Her hand went through his …as though his hand was made of thin air.Her dilated eyes reflected the fear she felt.She ran….her scream echoing around suicide point.Rathish couldn’t blame her though …..after all she had seen a ghost.