THE SECRET OF CASTLE
“Can you keep a secret?” He asked me.
“Yes.” I nodded.
He grinned, “Come with me.”
“Where to?” I asked.
“Castle.” He said and walked ahead.
“No, I will not.” I shouted. He did not look behind. He knew I would follow him. And I did.
“Charles, give a second thought. Already two of them had landed in hospital. One of them still has nightmares now that seven months have gone by.” I tried to pursue him not to proceed.
He stopped and whispered, “Come, I will unravel the mystery.”
It was a ridiculous idea going to a castle haunted by spirits, inhabited by snakes, bats, centipedes, spiders, lizards and hounded by wild dogs, foxes and at times wolves. It was my misfortune that I could not leave my best friend alone to venture therein.
The cremation ground of village Jogian was one kilometre away towards eastern side from where started dense forest of pines where the Monk had built a hut. Further on the far east at fifty kilometre crows flight stood the majestic Dhauladhars, a sub-branch of Himalayas, crowned with shining snow throughout the year stood keeping eye over the vast country below.
The Monk had strange ways of prayers. He was barely clad around his hut except when he went in public and had hairs grown reaching his knees, the swathes of that spreading over his shoulders. He was covered with ashes conveying the death of mortal body wherein his soul lived. (Among Hindus the dead are burnt rendering them to ashes. So ashes on body means death.) He kept a human skull to drink wine with and would eat meat of dead corpses. He remained high on cannabis. The rituals of prayers were held at midnight when the spirits and demons are awakened from their resting places. The Monk was revered for his attainment of true knowledge of death and birth. The country folks around thronged to his hut on auspicious days for his blessings.
There was a castle in ruins, about two kilometres from the hut of Monk. It was on a small hillock surrounded by Jungles. The main surrounding walls of the robust castle that were more than six feet wide were built by erecting two strong walls six feet apart and then filling the central part with earth. Once it was ten feet high, the central upper crests of wall was laid down as pavement. On both sides of main wall, two walls six feet apart were further erected three feet higher. The surrounding wall acted as a remarkable defense shield in the days it was built to counter the attacks from dacoits, gangs and at times from other kingdoms.
At some point of time before the British took control over the area sometimes in 1890, it was in control of indigenous rulers. There are no records but it was coming down from generation to generation that it was strategic point for defense. So a Governor was always in charge of the place. But after independence in 1947 the Government did not take it over and the rulers had no funds for upkeep of the huge now worthless building. The castle lost importance and over decades the building started losing its plaster, then bricks from here and there. The region is prone to earthquakes and each earthquake widened the cracks afflicted in the robust walls by its predecessor. The rains of monsoon at times incessant, widened the fissures of the walls. Once impregnable castle now stood in shambles.
The Monk finding it a secluded place not visited by anyone, started visiting the castle for tantric rituals. The word spread that Monk by his meditation and practice of tantra in the haunted castle, was then the attained one. The religious country folks revered him as incarnation of some lesser god. The Monk asserted that he had attained salvation and knew of the Ultimate Truth of God. He gave vivid account of his prayers in castle when Lord Shiva came to him personally to bless him. He proclaimed to have seen Goddess Kali before him showering her blessings. He in unequivocal terms claimed to have met spirits and demons. He informed the village of having freed the spirits and demons from the clutches of Devil and performed yajanas for salvation of the wandering souls, who had not rested in peace. How could the pure souls with deep conviction in religion doubt the holy Monk who had renounced the world for attainment of Truth having no selfish interests.
The few rationalists of the village, who had almost no say in the common issues of village, called him trickster. They discarded all religious beliefs not supported by science. They had no love lost for Monk and they wanted to unravel the truth to prove that his claims of spirits and demons were false. But they had bad luck as the ratio of religious ones outnumbered them resulting in to challenge to claims of Monk.
A gathering of villagers was called. A young man from the rationalists targeting Monk said, “There is no such thing as spirits. The Monk plays tricks with the gullible peasants and enjoys wine, cannabis, meat and what not? We refrain from alleging indulgence over other desires, as we have not witnessed. In the dark nights beyond society, where no one dare goes since these Monks overtime with their false propaganda have created a fear in the minds of people that cremation grounds are abound by spirits. If we venture there, we will find no such things. If the haunting spirits do not harm them, then why they should inflict their atrocities on us. These Monks, my apologizes to those who have unshaken faith in them, are misanthropes that hardly contribute to society except inculcating superstitions and blind faith leading to miseries of masses. It worries me why you all believe in a man who knows few tricks of magic that he expounds before you dexterously in the name of Almighty Lord?”
However the religious devotees were not ready to believe the rationalist. For them whatever the young man with conviction in science, said was blasphemous. However he was pardoned being young man who had not tread the intriguing path of mysterious life where miracles were awaiting him, of that he would have no explanations, when only religion would come to his rescue.
Someone from group proposed, “If you do not believe in rising of spirits, wandering souls and demons at night then one day go to castle passing through cremation ground alone at midnight. As a proof of that bring a souvenir from the castle. But caution Monk so that he should not be there and your venture is rendered worthless.”
The rationalist raised the issue, “The fear is not of spirits and demons but of the wild animals roaming there who are nocturnal and ferocious during night. There are snakes. The inhabitants of wild have no mercy on man when protecting their territory. I do not have fears and I believe it shall not worry anybody if I take one for company?”
Someone from crowd said aloud, “Monk moves around alone and works on his meditation and rituals in the castle till third part of night, when the spirits haunt at their might seeking no company. He so many time returns at around three AM to his hut from castle through dark jungles and till date no wild life has ever harmed him. If you have to prove him on the wrong side then take the risk of going alone.”
The elders in the crowd noticed the young man sulking which aroused their sympathy and they relaxed the condition, “OK! You may take one of you.”
The two young men took the challenge and fixed a day. Monk was informed to be away from castle and hut on the said night. Monk was to give company to the villagers who loved his eloquently delivered religious sermons. He did not miss to warn the young men against taking the risk of venturing in the castle at middle of night. On the day the crowd gathered at the last courtyard of house of village where Monk sat on a raised platform. The two young men proceeded towards the castle passing through the cremation ground and hut of Monk with two torches in their hands and essential clothing. They took an ax and one sword.
The villagers settled for beautifully woven stories that Monk narrated from Mahabharata and other scriptures. The villagers remained occupied by his oratory when the crowd had to disperse at one in the midnight when Monk took leave to sleep.
The Monk got up in the morning and wished to leave for his hut. Some men from village accompanied him out of courtesy. The sun had risen and the two young men had not returned. Monk got anxious and asked the villagers to look for the young men as it was a bit late for them to return. Five stout men left for the castle along with Monk.
The Monk who knew every corner of the castle conducted the lead. Having entered in castle they found one of young rationalists lying unconscious and other hiding in a corner terrified as if in delusion. He was asked as to what had happened but was unable to speak.
The team from village consoled him. “Boy, be brave. We are here. Nothing can harm you. But for God sake speak. What is that which haunted you? How come you suffer so badly?”
But the poor soul could hardly make any gesture. When the team had little hopes of response they picked up the unconscious one and brought him to village. The other one terrified and in delirium came staggering with them and uttered not a word throughout. The unconscious one was given basic treatment which had positive effect after an hour or so. All this time the family members of guys were cursing them and ladies were weeping. The anxiousness was writ large on many faces of the villagers who had made all efforts to the rationalists to give up the risky adventure.
Questions poured in for him as to what had happened. He was only crying.
“What happened? Why did you lie unconscious? ”
The young man was pale and terrified, “I saw the spirits.”
He fumbled, “My shirt, it held from back. I tried to move but it remained struck. I cried but voice stuck in my throat. It was choked.”
A villager inquired, “Did you see who held your shirt from corner?”
“Yes. I saw it with my eyes. Rather our eyes. He also saw it. I was shocked.” The other rationalist who apparently had lost his voice from fear nodded.
“We saw the spirits. They were floating in the air. They could move without taking steps. They had illusion figures.” The young men were terrified.
A rationalist shouted, “It was your delusion as you had already build up a fear in your mind. Your terror of unknown hovered over your mind sending you in hallucination. No one appeared before you, but it were the images you had formed in your fickle minds.”
The young man who had barely gained his conscious few minutes back did not take it lightly and burst out, “Then you chose the day and go up there, as we did.”
The crowd looked at the new rationalist expecting him to accept the challenge. As clever men do he chose not to. ‘Who knows spirits exist or not? What if scientists are wrong? What will happen if he encounters spirits? Who knows the spirits might not spare him and kill him?’
The Monk was blessed as he claimed and his stand was vindicated. The rationalists were badly defeated. The fame of Monk traveled to far of places like a fire and villagers from far of places came to the hut of the Monk to pay obeisance and perform rituals they believed would lead to salvation. Symbolic sacrifices were performed sparing helpless and hapless animals as the Monk despised cruelty to any form of life.
“You know the secret of spirits?” Charles asked me.
“Yes.” I said with conviction, “The spirits were real. I have interviewed both of the guys who were there on that night.”
He smirked, “There are no spirits. But if you disclose the secret I share with you, we both shall have trouble bigger than the two guys there. And if we keep it we have nice dividends waiting for.”
“I promise not to do so. I have always stood by my words, Charles. You can trust me.” I had lost control over my curiosity to discover the truth.
“On that night I along with my five friends was returning to our village after watching the theater of Ram Lila which closed at eleven thirty in night. The place you know is two kilometres from castle on the northern side. To reach our village adjoining the village of Monk, we had to travel twenty kilometres if on road. Through the forests it was straight and was about six kilometres. There was no conveyance at middle of the night, so we started on foot. It was dark all around.”
He carried on, “About a kilometre away from castle we felt that the path was not visible. So we took out two cups hanging on pine trees for its wax which is used for manufacturing turpentine oil and to enlighten the route we ignited those. We were walking down the path and were mimicking the roles of demons in the play. As I guess the other two guys from that village had just reached the castle and they could not grasp the situation. They got terrified and hid themselves. We had heard rumors about the castle and we stopped talking once near castle being ourselves also terrified lest we invite spirits to us. We were walking with light steps. Among ourselves we were praying in whispers to God, the Final Solace.”
“One of us warned, ‘If a spirit calls you don’t look back. If you turn around the spirit will break your neck twisting it around.’ We were all silent now. Some of us were excessively scared of spirits. Suddenly a snake crossed the path of the two of us leading the group who screamed aloud. The others did not understand what happened. All they did was to scream, run for life down towards our village. And in the process a torch was thrown which fell in the gorge on eastern side. We heard terrified voices from the castle who called out as to who was there. We fearing the spirits have awakened in the castle ran all the more faster. Our screaming and running startled the otherwise sleeping forest. From somewhere a fox started howling; bats flew from their resting places and some wild animals made movements which we could hardly notice. The guys in castle noticed our different shadows forming spectacular images on the cliffs opposite and on trees, from the light of torches in our hands and one lying in gorge. The intriguing lights appearing and then disappearing were beyond their comprehension. Once we were past castle we ran down as fast as possible without looking back till we reached village. As I came to know later on the two guys in the castle were scared from the voices, lights and images forcing them to hide. Sadly one of them got unconscious. And we both different parties unaware of what had happened confirmed the existence of non-existent vindicating the stand of unscientific belief. The Monk is now famous beyond hundred miles and the castle is haunted.”
“And how did you find out this?”
“Aha! I went to village Jogian and heard about incident there. I recollected the night and loved the mystery. Why force it upon the religious folks who do not want to believe it? Religion is more powerful that science, when it comes to believing.” He was setting his hairs.
“Hye! what do you say of puff for high?” He took out cigarette.
I had long not had good one and wanted. I inquired, “From where?”
He smiled, “The Monk. We have a secret. He will like it to remain so.”
He blinked and we ran towards the hut of the Monk.