Science Fiction and Fantasy | An Indian Experience

Gauri's Story by Sudarshan Purohit |
Issue 20

Gauri’s Story By Sudarshan Purohit

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[Note 1: The following story is an extract from a larger work, tentatively entitled Agni Rakshasa, that Sudarshan is working on.]
[Note 2: The word dev, used in the following story to refer to ghosts and captive spirits, is a colloquialism used by black magicians in the Gujarat area. It has nothing to do with the ‘Dev’, ‘Deva’ or ‘Devi’, generally used in religious terminology.]

It had all happened an age ago. One of dozens of such cases, remembered only because Shah himself had been an affable person – who had become a good friend since the case.

I’d known him before it happened, of course. But only as an acquaintance. He was one of the people introduced to me by Praveen Patel, a close friend – one of the people I’d met at Praveen bhai’s parties. Shah stood out even then, though. He always dressed simply in a kurta-pyjama. There was an air of honesty and simplicity about his lean, tall frame, backed by a will to do only the right thing. He had this habit of running his hand through his greying hair while talking. Talk was that he was one of the best lawyers Indore had ever seen. One look at his piercing brown eyes, and you knew why. I knew that he’d settled in the city for quite a few years, and that he was fairly rich. That was the sum of my knowledge about him.

He knew me only as a prominent socialite, living comfortably off my husband Kundan’s businesses – which were so varied that he seemed to be involved in everything.

Late one night there was a knock on my door. Ramu kaka opened the door, and from my bedroom I heard Shah’s voice. Kundan was out of town then, so I went down to see what the matter was.

I had not seen him at the last two or three parties – someone had told me he was busy with his cases. Now the change in his face was shocking. Deep furrows had appeared in his forehead, and a haggard expression had taken the place of the confident one he’d always assumed. The ‘cases’, it turned out, was a convenient lie. He had been struggling with a crisis beyond his control or understanding. We sat in the living room, and Shah told me haltingly of what had really occupied his mind for the past month.

It was his daughter, Gauri. She was barely in her teens. Till recently, she had been a cheerful, intelligent, normal girl. One night last month, her sister Poornima, who slept in the same room, had been awakened by strange sounds. Gauri was talking in her sleep. Not just speaking but speaking in an alien language. Her sister had tried to awaken her, but Gauri seemed to be in a coma. She continued to speak, pausing at points as if listening to someone replying to her. After a few minutes of this, she jerked once, then fell back into a deep sleep.

The next morning, Gauri seemed to be tired out, as if she had been awake all night. She refused to answer any questions about the previous night.

The strange babbling happened again the next night. Alarmed by the recurrence, Poornima called her father to come and listen. Shah came immediately.

He was able to identify the speech. Gauri was speaking English with an American-Southern, cowboyish accent. From her speech, she seemed to be walking around the house, giving directions to servants to clean this or that. Shah tried to shake Gauri awake, too, but he could not.

For a few days more, this happened every night. Gauri spent the days in a tired stupor, but she steadfastly refused to talk about what was happening to her. Then one day she did.

Over the previous nights, Gauri had been ‘preparing’ for the invisible party, her preparations becoming more and more feverish every ‘day’. But the last night had been especially bad – she’d talked, mumbled, laughed almost the whole night through, appearing to speak to a variety of people. Shah had spent the night in dazed anxiety, alternatively trying to wake Gauri up and pacing around in the bedroom, listening to her.

While eating her breakfast the day after that night, Gauri remarked to her father, “Yesterday was really busy.” Shah asked her what she was talking about. “That big dance, you know. Everyone in town came to our place for it.”

Shah bhai just stared at her. She was talking about her dream! He tried to ask her more about it, but she relapsed into eating quietly.

“But now that it’s all over, I’ll have a good nights’ sleep.” And with that Gauri stood up, marched straight to her bedroom, and fell asleep on her bed.

That night affairs took a frightening turn. Poornima woke up in the night to see Gauri standing up, slipping her feet into her tennis shoes. She turned the light on – and saw that Gauri’s eyes were closed. Where she had been content to talk in her sleep, she was now walking as well. Poornima tried to stop her from walking – held her back, locked the door. Gauri pulled off the door handle as if it was made of paper. Poornima screamed for help. Her father, in the next room, came running. By then Gauri, eyes still closed, had walked out into the living room, and thence out of the house. She continued to walk with a steady pace for a few more minutes. Then without any warning, she collapsed onto the road and fell into a deep sleep. Shah managed to shake her half awake and led her, dozing, back to her bed.

The next morning, Gauri seemed more talkative – not that it resolved the issue. “The farmhouse was blessedly quiet yesterday. All the guests have gone home, finally. I was able to walk around, eat lunch in peace.”

“What did you have for lunch?” Poornima asked.

“Chicken Casserole, Kidney Beans, and a fine Burgundy.”

This was even more troubling. Not only was the entire family vegetarian, Shah bhai knew that Gauri could not have heard the names of those dishes anywhere.

It turned out that breakfast was the only time of day when conversation was possible with Gauri. Her family continued to ask her about her “day”, hoping to get more details of this strange life. Often she would refuse to answer, or fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, but they persisted whenever she seemed in a good mood at breakfast.

Slowly, over the next days, a picture emerged. Gauri claimed to be the middle-aged wife of a rancher in Texas. They were fairly wealthy, entertaining guests throughout the year. They ate well, and seemed content with their lives. Sometimes they visited other friends, spent weekends there. Her husband’s father had been a stockbroker in New York, but his son had wanted adventure, so he’d decided to come to the west. He’d met his future wife on the stagecoach. Now they had three children, two boys and a girl.

Gauri was twelve years old, her innocent face belying the veracity of these absurd statements as she calmly talked of this alien life to her father and sister.

Through these days, Gauri went to sleep immediately after breakfast. Then, she would sit up sometime late at night and try to wander off. Her father had come up with a solution, though it broke his heart. He bought some sturdy lengths of iron chains with manacles, and when Gauri fell asleep at night, he tied her feet and arms. She struggled horribly when she wanted to sleepwalk in the night, but atleast she was safe in the house.

In the meantime, Shah called up a psychologist friend of his, in strict confidence, and they tried to analyse what Gauri was experiencing. Shah’s business began to suffer as he desperately tried to find some explanation for what was going on.

The psychologist was unable to find any explanation. Everything he tried seemed to return normal results, but Gauri still continued to behave oddly in the evening.

Then one evening, a friend happened to visit Shah Bhai at home – Praveen Patel. Unable to bear the pressure of keeping his daughters behaviour a secret, Shah poured out his troubles to him. Patel listened with growing alarm. At the end, he requested Shah’s permission to try a small experiment on Gauri. It was granted. They called her to the living room, and Patel asked her to give him her left hand. Gauri did so with a noticeable reluctance. Suddenly, he grabbed hold of her little finger’s pad between his forefinger and thumb, and squeezed. She screamed out in pain and stood up. “What are you doing? Mr. Shah, say something to him!” No one responded. She hurried out of the room. Shah was more shaken by her calling him “Mr. Shah” than anything else.

Praveen said, “This proves it. Saheb, this will sound odd, but please listen to what I have to say.

“I assure you, I did not press her finger hard enough to cause pain to any normal person. The reaction we saw was not her own, but someone else’s. In my opinion, Gauri is possessed by some sort of spirit or ghost. Any amount of normal medical treatment is not going to help her. You need to contact a tantrik, a practitioner of Black Magic.”

Shah seemed to consider for a moment. “I don’t have any option, Praveen bhai. I’ve already tried everything. Tell me, do you know of any genuine tantrik whom I can talk to?”

“I do. Two of them, as a matter of fact. It was them who told me about this test to determine possession. And, probably, you know them too. But please keep the knowledge to yourself, and do not discuss whatever happens in public.”

Praveen Bhai’s mother-in-law had hated his father, Harish, intensely. While she was basically a villager transplanted into the city by chance, his father was City Businessman personified. Her only aim in life was money – Harish’s money if possible. It was mostly good fortune that had saved him from her designs thus far. But when he died, she saw it as a golden chance.

The easiest way to create a dev – a captive spirit used by tantriks – is to grab him before he’s quite got his bearings, that is, immediately after a person has died. Usually all except the most obstinate or spiritually advanced people get pulled into the Great Cycle – to be reborn again – very quickly after death. The obstinate ones hang around the places of their obsession, perpetually going over whatever was in their minds at the time of their death, and are what are usually called Ghosts. The spiritually advanced have some measure of control over where they will be born next, and sometimes linger for centuries before their chosen occasion arises – as a favourite grandson’s son, say, or in a house where their guru has chosen to be reborn. Sometimes the desire for revenge drives them to be born as their enemy’s child.

All spirits, however, are trapped in a kind of limbo for the first eleven days after their death. There is a kind of ceremony that is performed on the eleventh day – the gyarahvaa – that helps free them to go on. But in the meantime, if someone acquires a piece of their clothing – the clothing they wore when they died, or immediately after, it is very easy to perform a vashikaran on them and turn them into prisoners, trapped for all eternity and passed on from tantrik to tantrik until one of them takes pity and releases them into the Ganga.

The evening of the funeral, Patel noticed that a handkerchief – the handkerchief which his father had in his pocket when he died – was missing. There had been a strangely triumphant look on his mother-in-law’s face that day, and he immediately suspected something was amiss. He was not, at the time, aware of what the theft signified. But I happened to be there. I’d known Harish bhai as a good man, and knew also of the feud. The situation was serious enough to break cover. I took Praveen into confidence.

The only way to prevent Harish bhai from being trapped in limbo was to give him enough strength to break the vashikaran to be thrown at him. This strength had to be provided by his own kin. I persuaded Praveen bhai to perform a japa that night. He was still having trouble believing all that I told him, but was sufficiently rattled by the prospect to go along. He believed me fully the next night, though, when his father appeared to him in his sleep and thanked him. He told me later that the vision had been too real, and his father had said certain very odd things about his relatives and about his money. But as I found out over the months, his dead father’s advice that night had saved Praveen Patel from bankruptcy.

So it was, that Praveen bhai was one of the few people who knew of my abilities.

And that was how Shah bhai landed up at my door that night. He was still in a bit of shock from finding that Kundan and I were tantriks as well. And now that Kundan was not available, I would have to do this myself. I picked up the equipment I would need, and we headed off for Shah’s home.

Gauri and Poornima were in their room. Gauri was being reluctantly persuaded to get her feet tied again. When we went in, Poornima brightened, but Gauri – or whatever was in her – recognised me as a potential threat, and seemed to shrink into herself. I sat down at her bed, to talk to her.

Gauri was a tall, lithe girl. Her face had the same air of honesty and clear-headedness as her father, but she had received beautiful dark brown eyes from her mother. She would be a beautiful lady one day. But for now, her hostile expression took me in uneasily.

“Gauri, look at these bruises on your ankles. Do you enjoy getting your feet tied up?” I said.

The thing had stopped all pretense of being Gauri, and looked at me malevolently. “It doesn’t matter to me. This is just a matter of a few days.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m tired of being able to dream only for a few hours at night. I want to dream all the time. Gauri’s going to stop eating from today. Soon she’ll slip into sleep, and someone here will admit her into a hospital. Then she’ll do nothing but dream my life.” And Gauri’s face grinned, an alien, older smirk that did not belong to there at all, and set our teeth on edge.

I gave her a cold smile in exchange. “We will see about that. If Gauri’s dreams give you your existence, then killing her will leave you homeless again. Or, if I put her in control, she’ll enslave you for ever.”

Her face showed conflicting emotions. “There’s no way you can touch me without harming her as well.”

“We’ll see about that.” I placed my palms over my eyes and said a mantra to myself. This was the mantra for the sight. My eyes began to burn a little; I could not keep up the sight for long, but it would be enough for today. When I opened my eyes, I could see the spirit. It was transparent, with a outline following Gauri’s contours, but a little larger. Its hands were turned inwards – one holding Gauri’s heart, one maintaining a grip over her brain. That was how it controlled Gauri. Its face, which I could only vaguely make out, was Caucasian, that of a middle-aged woman. It was looking directly at me. I raised my hand, tapped the Golden ring on my index finger with my thumb, and snapped my fingers twice. “Dev! Listen to me!” I murmured in a quiet voice.

Mama Dev resided in the ring. He was the spirit I always kept with me – the one I’d found trustworthy and willing to serve me. He’d been watching the goings-on, and came out at my command.

With my other hand, I took out a small red string. The string had been sanctified by a ritual earlier to give it potency. To my eyes, and Dev’s, it had the aura of a thick metal chain. “Dev! You will take hold of this errant spirit! Use this chain!”

Dev took form in front of me. He appeared to be a frail old man with wispy white hair. However, he took hold of one end of the chain and carried it with little effort. He walked towards the girl.

To the others, it looked like I was just sitting there, mumbling to myself. Unseen by them, a battle was just beginning.

The spirit showed no signs of fear. It rose and resisted the Dev, all the while keeping one hand on Gauri’s heart. Yet even as it tried to push the Dev away, he managed to wrap the chain around its free hand. It screamed then – using Gauri’s throat. From the corner of my eye, I saw Poornima get up and rush out of the room. A struggle ensued between the Dev and the spirit, the latter trying to free its hand from the chain. For those few moments, its attention was not on me. I quickly took out a small packet of kumkum from my bag, before it could notice, and took its contents in my hand, folding it into a fist. Touching my closed fist to my lips, I mumbled the vashikaran mantra – the one that was most effective on spirit forms.

“Dev!” I called. He was waiting for my signal and moved smartly back – just as I threw the kumkum at Gauri.

For a moment, Praveen bhai and Shah bhai could see what I’d been seeing all along – the outline of the spirit surrounding Gauri. The kumkum had stuck to it, thinly forming a shape in the air around the semi-comatose girl. The spirit’s struggles abruptly ceased; it lost all its strength. Dev now stepped forward, and wrapped the chain tightly around both hands of the spirit. Gauri now showed signs of movement – the spectral hands on her head and heart were now gone, the spell was broken. Dev pulled the chain hard now. The ghost stood up reluctantly, and stumbled to where I sat. I reined in the chain so that its hands were immobile. It stood there, head bowed.

“I can leave you free, if you know where to go. Where did you come from? Who are you?”

“I…don’t know how I got here.” It said.

“What is your name?”

“Agnes Mason.”

“And your address?”

“Mason Farm, 5 Hoover Street, Arlington , Texas”

It sounded like an American address. I called out to Shah Bhai. “Could you check out this address right now? I want to know about one Agnes Mason, who lives at Mason Farm, Hoover Street, Arlington , Texas.”

Shah nodded and hurried away. From the next room I could hear him making a phone call.

“You know what you are, don’t you?” I asked the ghost. “You’re a spirit, a ghost. You don’t belong here.”

It looked confused. “How is that? I don’t know what this place is. All I know is when Gauri dreams, I become normal again.”

Shah was back. “I found the telephone number for that house. Agnes Mason used to live there until recently.”

The ghost said angrily, “I still do.” I asked it to wait.

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“About two months back, she decided to take a trip to India. She called home at regular intervals. The last phone call she made was from here, Indore. Then, no calls. Her husband got worried and called the police here. It turns out she was robbed by some thugs, and they killed her after taking all her money and papers. The police had had no clue of her name and address and had buried the body. They identified her after her husband described her.”

The ghost was listening with a rapt expression. “I can remember some of it now…I saw the Taj Mahal…Jaipur…Rajwada…then I was walking back from dinner with that British captain, late at night…”Suddenly its expression changed, became panicky. “They stabbed me! Oh my God, they…they…!” Its hands flew to its stomach.
I comforted it. “Relax. It’s all over now. You have nothing to be afraid of. No one can harm you.”

“But…the life I led – Gauri’s dreams – what was that?”

“They were just dreams, Agnes. None of it was real. Your imagination created it all.”

It sat down then, totally defeated. Shah and his friend saw the red string, which had been hovering in the air with one end barely touching my hand, angle downwards.
“What do I do now? Where can I go? Shouldn’t I be in heaven or hell?” it said.

“Agnes, whatever you see yourself as, is only your own mind. You’re still here because you can’t let go of yourself. Just let go…that’s all.”

“Is it that simple?”

“Yes and no. You will have to see yourself, recognize yourself for your true self, and just go with the flow. I can guarantee you, you will come to no harm. In a moment, you will just forget all of this, you will be wiped clean of all your pain. You will begin again, begin everything again.”

It looked at me with hopeful eyes. “Begin again…?”

“Look into my eyes, Agnes. Just let go…forget everything.”

It was fading away now, losing the form it had held together by sheer force of will. In another moment it disappeared entirely.

Somewhere in the world, a baby in a womb was kicking for the first time, struggling to understand its form. In a few minutes of gaining consciousness, it would forget everything that had happened before and go into a drowsy, dreaming state, its mind a blank, ready for a new life.

I let out a breath. It had been close – the spirit had been merely confused, not malicious. And whatever rules prevented some spirits from crossing over into a new birth, had not stopped her from doing so. If that had happened, I would have had no option but to control it completely, until I could get to the Ganga , force it to take a dip, and free it from this birth.

Shah rushed to Gauri where she lay huddled up on the bed. She seemed to be unconscious. He looked up at me inquiringly.

“She’s just asleep. She’ll feel as tired as if she hasn’t slept in many days. Just let her recuperate; don’t put any strain on her for a while.”

He nodded wordlessly. Tears had formed in his eyes and were running down his face. He had seen a lot tonight.

I stood up to go. “I’ll come around again sometime to meet Gauri. Remember, she has no recollection of any of this, so it is best to not alarm her needlessly. You could just tell her she’s been sick for a few days.

“And Shah bhai, please do not let on about what happened here to anyone. I do not want word of my… other abilities to come out. Please – this is the only favour I want from you.”

He nodded again. “Never. No one will ever know what happened tonight. And I will never speak of your role in it.” He paused.

“But if at any time, if you want any help from me – any kind of help at all – you have only to ask. Who knows what might have happened to Gauri if you hadn’t come.”

I smiled. “I’ll remember that. And I will come if I require help. Thank you.”

“Thank you.”

True to his word, Shah bhai helped me when I came to him, twenty-five years later.

Cover pic by sbmeaper1.

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A software professional, Sudarshan was born and brought up in India and currently works in the city he grew up in - Poona, India.