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Fiction

THAT NIGHT IT HAPPENED.

I am Dagadu, working as domestic help with Pendse family for the last 20-25 years. The three senior brothers had two sons and a daughter each. I have witnessed the next generation growing up, getting their degrees and settling in their professions. The eldest of them, Mohan aged 28 was a C.A. The younger three pursued I.T. Engineering. Prabhakar Kaka’s son Sandeep earned his doctorate recently in Space Technology and had got a posting in NASA in Houston, USA. The younger lot planned a party in the bungalow built by their grandfather some 100-120 years ago. The villa was in a village some 100 kilo meters away from their present residence in Mumbai. This house was never visited by the new generation. They thought that would be a perfect place to enjoy the send- off party for Sandeep.

That day Mohan called me and told to arrange the material for the party for 8-10 persons in their bungalow in the village. He also warned me that the place was not visited by anyone for 80-90 years. After the house got ready, his grandfather got extremely busy with his business in Mumbai and he never had any sojourn in his dream house before he breathed his last. The next generation also could not visit the place.

With all goodies arranged in the back seat of his car, Mohan along with me, drove fast and reached Khopoli much before sunset. Following the landmarks given by the seniors, we reached the top of the hill where the old decrepit bungalow stood gracefully amidst big tamarind and banyan trees.

Mohan parked the car near the bungalow. We unlocked the big wooden door that had been untouched for decades. The screeching sound of the door made me feel a bit eerie. However, we entered the house. Adjacent to the door was a big wooden cabinet made out of teak wood. On display, were some old designs prevalent some hundred years ago. Above the cabinet, hung an antler skull on the wall.

I started with cleaning the living room. Then we also made arrangements for a group of 8-10 persons who were to arrive at around 8 pm.

“Good, you came with me. We could make it liveable even if it is needed for just one night,” Mohan said.

As planned, around 8pm, Mohan’s brothers — Shashikant, Ramesh, Rohit, Akshay — and the rest arrived along with Sandeep. They brought with them sumptuous home-cooked food, ice-cream slabs and much more.

After a lot of commotion, they quickly settled down and started a game of cards, while slowly sipping drinks of their choice. They all squatted on the sheets spread on the ground. There was soft music too in the background. At around 11pm, I went inside the kitchen to make arrangements for dinner closing the main entrance door.

The youngsters were chatting and busy discussing topics of all kinds. The effect of the drinks had started setting in. The entire atmosphere had turned cheerful and carefree.

Around midnight, everyone heard a knock. Tok Tok Tok. It took everyone by surprise. “Who the hell had come to the bungalow at this odd hour?”

I rushed to answer the door. However, I could not see anyone in the dark outside. I peeped out and looked around but found none. I returned inside, closing the door behind me. “Nobody,” I declared, and continued making arrangements for the dinner.

About 10-15 minutes later, we again heard the knock — Tok Tok Tok. This time, Mohan did not wait for me and himself opened the door. This time too, there was no one. Mohan also checked outside but he could not find anyone. He came back after closing the door. “I wonder who is playing the mischief and for what?” Mohan said.

The rounds of drinks and the cards continued.

But 10-12 minutes later, we heard the knock again — Tok. Tok. Tok.

This time, three or four of the cousins together rushed outside to catch the mischief monger. But there was nobody. They even rushed into the area nearby, hoping to get hold of the culprit. However, there was no movement at all. Everything was still. There were only big shadows of the trees. Surprised and shocked, they wondered who could it be.

The cousins returned inside the house but this time they shut the door without bolting it. And instead of resuming their card games, they stood behind the door two on each side. They had decided to find out who it was.

The rest of the brothers continued with their merrymaking. The loud talking and commotion went on.

A few minutes later, we heard the knock again. All four cousins threw open the door instantly and rushed outside but they could not find anyone. They even flashed their torches on the trees nearby but there was no movement at all. They waited holding on their breath.

“Again, no one to be seen.”

“What could it be?”

I joined them. We flashed torches on nearby trees. Except slow movement of branches due to soft breeze, nothing could be observed.

I had a creepy idea. I remembered what Mohan had told me. Grandfather after building this house had died before he could come here and stay for some days.

“Could it be a ghost?” I doubtfully exclaimed.

The word ‘ghost’ terrified all of them. All the cousins, who till that moment had claimed to be brave, at once returned to the room. I also, scared, entered the room and quietly closed the door.

Although I was ready with the dinner, no one had the appetite to eat anything. They sat close to each other and Mohan started chanting Ram Raksha, mantras that were believed to protect one from the evil. I stood very close to them. The mysterious knock-knocks had knocked off the ‘heavenly state’ the cousins were in after the few rounds of alcohol. They were now rather horrified.

We all spent the next few hours anxiously and as soon as the dawn broke, the cousins gathered their belongings, locked up the bungalow We got into the cars, and started our journey back home.

Suddenly, Mohan remembered he had left his briefcase in the bungalow. We stopped. I and Mohan got down and walked towards the bungalow. We unlocked the door and entered the room. Mohan rushed to the corner of the room and picked up his briefcase.

Just then we heard the knock. Tok. Tok. Tok.

I was just close to the antler skull. I realized the sound came from that direction. I looked closely. And I saw…

I laughed out aloud. Mohan came close to me. I pointed out at the antler skull.

On the rear side of the antler skull, a house lizard had been struggling to gulp down a cockroach that had to be too big for its mouth. Stuck in the lizard’s mouth, the cockroach was still half alive. It tried to flutter its wings and escape as the lizard opened its mouth once again. And in its desperation to hold onto the cockroach in its mouth, the lizard hit its tail hard on the wooden panel — Tok. Tok. Tok.

December 26, 2023 10:17

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