Onefine day, Nilratan Samaddar called Romen Ganguly, his employee, to his cabin, “There is something I need to tell you urgently!” Pausing a while, he continued, “Well, Romen you know that I hail from the Rakhain village of Keranipara near Kuakata beach in Patuakhali district of Bangladesh. There is a century old temple in Keranipara of Goddess Maa Kali of our village. It is known as the Seema Mandir. The deity is made of a metal that consists of eight different metals. Every year, during the time of Kali puja, I visit my ancestral home, with my family. Unfortunately this year my son has broken his arm. I need to stay at home, to look after him. However, I need someone to go and give some money to the organisers of the Kali festival. I can always transfer the money online, but I would be grateful if you can go there yourself on my behalf!”
“But I have never travelled outside West Bengal, India. Let alone travel to Bangladesh. Moreover, I do not have a passport! How do you expect me to travel to Keranipara in Bangladesh?” Romen replied.
“I will arrange for your passport and other essential formalities. But will you go?”
“I can go! Is there any other option?” he said with a mischievous smile.
Nilratan smiled, “Well, I am relived now! I can arrange for you to go to Dhaka by flight and then you can go to the Rakhain village Keranipara. The road distance from Dhaka to Patuakhali is 319 km. You can take a bus from Sayedabad or Gabtoli bus terminus of Dhaka to reach Patuakhali. There are two routes by bus to arrive at Patuakhali district. One goes from Dhaka via Mawa via Barisal to Patuakhali and another one drives from Dhaka via Aricha via Barisal to Patuakhali. Kuakata is located in Patuakhali district of Bangladesh and only a few miles away to the south from Khepupara. The village of Rakhain, Keranipara is located 5 km due east of Kuakata beach!”
The next few days were hectic for both Romen and Nilratan. Nilratan saw to it that Romen’s passport was arranged and then he transferred the money to Romen’s bank account for the transportation, hotel arrangements and other miscellaneous expenses. Romen, excited as he was, had informed his family and friends about this. His friend Saikat even presented him with two packets of cigarettes, saying, “Well these may become handy in Bangladesh!”
It was two days before on 'Bhoot Chaturdashi', which normally occurs on the 14th day of Krishna Paksha (waning phase of moon) at the night before Kali Puja/Diwali festival, that Romen landed at Dhaka airport. He left for his hotel by taxi. He did some sight-seeing in Dhaka the next day. Then on ‘Bhoot Chaturdashi’ left for Patuakhali by a hired car which Nilratan had arranged.
Romen was asking the driver, Ali Asghar, about the life style of people in Bangladesh. He and Ali went on to exchange views about the two countries of Bangladesh and India.
“I am visiting Bangladesh for the first time. I will visit the Seema Mandir, at the Rakhain village Keranipara, near Kuakata at Patuakhali.”
“It is a nice place, the Rakhain population is very friendly there.” said Ali.
“You mean just like me?” commented Romen.
“Tomorrow is Kali puja, it is a very big festival in West Bengal. Well, today is ‘Bhoot Chaturdoshi’ you know! In West Bengal, on this night, Bengalis light fourteen earthen-lamps (choddo prodip) at their homes to appease the spirits of their past fourteen generations of ancestors. It is believed that today, the night before Kali Puja, the spirits of these ancestors descend upon earth, and these lamps help them find their loving homes. Another popular belief is that Chamunda (a fearsome aspect of Kali) along with 14 other ghostly forms ward off the evil spirits from the house as 14 earthen-lamps are lit at different entrances and dark corners of the house. Also, it is customary to consume a dish of 14 different types of spinach or cress (choddo shaak) during Bhoot Chaturdashi, so that evil spirits cannot possess the body. Do you believe in ghosts in Bangladesh?”
Ali replied, “We in this part of Bangladesh, believe in ghosts! There are lot of haunted places in Dhaka and here also!”
It was then that the engine of the car had developed a snag and coughed to a halt.
Romen asked, “Where are we?”
“We have just crossed the Musillipara village of Kuakata” pat came the reply.
It was six in the evening and Ali hurriedly tried fixing the car. Romen got down from the car and tried to relax himself by stretching his arms and legs. Romen found that he had exhausted his packet of cigarettes. So, he asked Ali, if he could walk down the road to find some.
“If you go straight down the road, walk around five to six minutes, you will find a shop!”
Romen was walking down the road, there were trees on both sides and after going around two or three minutes, he found he had one packet of cigarettes left in his shirt pocket. He quickly lit one of the ciagrettes and walked on. He felt his mood lighten up a bit on smoking the cigarette.
Now, he sighted marshes on one side of the road.
Strangely, Romen found that there was a strange light, looking like a flying, glowing orb of fire in the marshes! There was no one around, so he left the road and walked towards the marshes. It appeared and then it disappeared. He was drawn towards it. He was at the edge of the water, when suddenly a voice startled him from behind. He turned around to find a pot-bellied Brahmin, who was bare chested wearing a dhoti and a sacred thread (poitay/yajnopavita or janeu).
Romen asked, “Did you see that?”
The Brahmin smiled and replied, “You mean the strange hovering marsh-lights?”
“Some say they are the Aleya or ‘will-o the wisp’ or the ghost-lights representing the ghosts of fisherman who died fishing”
Romen laughed at this and said, “If they are the Aleya or ‘will-o the wisp’ then I must be a ‘Brahmodaittyo’ (ghost of the Brahmin)”.
The Brahmin smiled and replied, “What do you know about Brahmodaittyos, young man?
Romen smiled and said, “Well, they are very kind and helpful to human beings like you and me and benevolent as well!”
“Where are you from? You don’t appear from this place?”
“Well, since you asked, I am from Kolkata, West Bengal, India”
“Where are you heading?”
Romen mischievously smiled and replied, “Where the Aleya would lead a Brahmodaittyo?”
“You have a good sense of humour! Speaking of ghosts, here's a story! The Rakhaine people of Musullipara village at Kuakata believe that there are ghosts. It was in the late 1980s that a father and son duo from Musullipara village at Kuakata went into the deep forest of Gangamati by the Bay of Bengal to collect fuel wood. Just like other local fishermen do! At some point of time both felt thirsty. As is the common practice, they both started to dig the sandy surface with their hands in search of water! As they removed the sand over a small area, they sensed that they hit something precious. They found a wooden structure embossed with golden decorative sheets. The duo, with their wood cutting machete, dismantled the golden bits and then started to dig further for more. The more they dug, more of the metals emerged from what looked like a very large wooden boat buried under the sand filled with gold. They were exhausted by the end of the day. As the sun was about to set, both of them decided to call it a day and left the place promising to return early the next morning. But the father and son never again saw the light of day. During the night both died under mysterious circumstances, prompting widespread gossip among people of the Kuakata. Soon people learnt about the buried boat in the forest laden with gold. The unexplained deaths of the father and son duo, who had collected "gold" from this mysterious boat, triggered another rumour suggesting that the boat was cursed and haunted. Till today many people in Kuakata believe that anyone trying to explore the gold-laden boat would face the same fate of the father and son.”
“Good story! But they didn’t explain the mysterious lights over the marshes!”
“Well some say the father-son duo entice men into the swamps in search of the gold-laden boat, which is why the simmering lights of the last rays of the sun actually reflect the gold-laden boat. Then, the father-son duo kill off the unsuspecting fellow!”
“But then who are you?” asked Romen.
“Well, should I say the benevolent Brahmodaittyo who is trying to lead you from harms way, from the innocuous ghosts of the father-son duo!”
Romen started laughing aloud, this time.
Romen joked, “Then I should call you Mr Brahmodaittyo!”
The Brahmin smiled and replied, “Well, as you wish!”
“By the way, how far is the beach from here?”
“Not far, come I will show you around, things that you will remember throughout your life!” said the Brahmin.
Romen followed the Brahmin as they briskly walked away from the dyke of the marshland. They went through a bamboo grove. Suddenly, a man came up and asked, “Thakurmoshai (priest), where are you off to?” referring to the Brahmin.
The Brahmin replied, “Don’t pester me, will you, Mesho (uncle)!”
The manner in which the Brahmin said, 'Mesho', Romen had heard 'Besho'.
Then the man again interjected, “Who is this?”
The Brahmin replied, “A friend of ours who thinks Brahmodaittyos are benevolent!”
The man laughed and replied, “He has a nice sense of humour! Go in peace!”
Romen didn’t speak up but later when they had crossed the bamboo garden, Romen joked, “Alright, Mr Brahmodaittyo, was the gentleman we just saw, your Mesho (uncle) or 'Besho'?”
Besho Bhoot (ghosts of the bamboo grove) were common in these parts of Bangladesh, as Romen had heard.
The Brahmin smiled and replied, “You can call him what you want!”
By then they had come to a clearing. There was a big field, sparsely dotted with banyan and Shiyora trees.
“I live there,” said the Brahmin and pointed towards a direction where a certain banyan tree stood. As the last remnants of the fading sunlight were disappearing, Romen could make some lights beyond the banyan tree. So, he joked as usual, “You are call yourself Brahmodaittyo and pointing to lights beyond the banyan tree. That’s not fair. You should live atop the banyan tree!”
Now the Brahmin laughed out aloud.
“Be our guest tonight! Gentleman from Kolkata!”
“I have come far, I don’t think I can go any further. I had come for some cigarettes, but I found I had a packet of them left in this shirt pocket. I think I have to return to the main road because, Ali my driver is waiting for me!”
“I will give you a smoke of the hookah! We have the finest tobacco here!” insisted the Brahmin.
So, Romen relented although most unwillingly.
By then the shadows of the trees were getting lengthier and evolving into shadows that seemed to dance to the faint tune of some mesmerising music, that was floating in from beyond the field. He found only bats hovering in the horizon. Romen could feel a strange attraction that was pulling him towards the music. It reminded him of the lullabies he had heard from his grandmother when he was a kid!
“Come with me, please!” said the Brahmin.
Then they crossed over the field and passed through a mango orchard. They came along a pond with ghats.
There Romen found an alluringly beautiful woman taking bath. She was waist deep in water.
She turned and looked at Romen, “Who is our guest tonight, Thakurmoshai?”
Romen replied, “I am Romen, from Kolkata!”
She twitched her eye brow and gave such a disarming look at Romen, his senses got numb. Romen felt the woman was winking at him. He was thinking, “What a lecherous woman she is!” The woman had long curls of thick wet hair that reached down her waist and her white peach skin was glowing in the night. The white saree was wet and drops of water were oozing out of her white petticoat. Her perfect smile was unnerving Romen. She splashed some water and took a dip in the greenish-coloured water.
Then she said to Romen, “Won’t you like to take a dip with me?”
The Brahmin interjected, “Go away, Buri! Leave him alone, will you!”
At this sudden remark, Romen came out of his trance and followed the Brahmin.
“Who was she?” enquired Romen.
“She is Buri. She was jilted by her lovers and abused by an older husband, who passed away. Her unsatisfied desires attract young men like you. Beware of such women, Romen! She is a wicked witch! She is waiting for her lovers to come back! She is, I guess a living dead who is in search of that eternal love!”
By then the faint sound of the music was getting louder. Soon, they were standing in front of the big old zamindar haveli. The Corinthian pillars adorned the mansion. The entire courtyard was decorated with jasmine flowers. The smell was so intoxicating! There were lamps that lit the lobby of the haveli. The flames of the lamps were flickering and dancing to the tune of the music, so were the shadows! It was indeed a strange sight! There they were greeted by an old rickety man, who the Brahmin introduced as, 'Kana' and began scolding him, “You, bugger sleeping your head off not to entertain our guest from Kolkata. Are the arrangement of the festivities made for the day?”
Kana replied, “Sorry, an afternoon nap that extended a bit longer!” Then he smiled with his remaining two teeth jutting out of a mouth that smelled of tari (local alcoholic drink) and paan (betel leaf)!”
Romen was thirsty. So he asked, “Can I get to drink some water?”
“Will some drinks do?” asked Kana.
“It’s better if you could give me some water!”
Promptly, Kana caught hold of Romen’s hand and took him to one of the rooms. There was a big earthen pot and he took some water in a brass glass and handed it to Romen. Romen, who was thirsty, gulped in the liquid only to realise that the water was stale and it was horrid to drink. He quickly spat it out. Kana stuck his tongue out of his mouth, replied, “Sorry Sir, the water is not fresh. I think it is better for you if I give you a couple of our drinks.”
Romen, a little annoyed by now, asked, “Where is Thakurmoshai?”
Kana said, “Well, please come with me, babu!”
He took Romen to the inner courtyard of the house. Romen found Thakurmoshai sitting with were four other gentlemen. Two of them were dressed like the zamindars of yester years. Romen, taken aback by this, didn’t say anything. He was. however, cajoled by the Brahmin, who said, “Let me introduce you, Romen, to our Zamindar Mukunda Narayan Thakur and his son Pabitra Narayan Thakur.”
Both of them were dressed in immaculate white kurta pyjamas and they had golden bracelets around their hands and jasmine garlands in their hand. They were smoking on two water hookahs. The smell of tobacco and incense were invading the air. They were lying inclined on the satin covered bed with bolsters. They folded their hands in Namaskar to their guest and then Romen was offered a flatbed covered with soft white linen cloth to sit on, and a petrolish to lie down and listen to the music.
Romen now noticed that they were two more footmen standing behind the zamindars other than the musicians. They were attired in kurta-dhoti and a turban tied on their head. The footmen were strong and had huge moustaches. Each had a strong stick in their hand, too. Of the other two gentleman, both were musicians. One of them was playing the esraj and the other was playing the tabla. Suddenly the older gentleman who was playing the esraj, started playing the raag Jhinjyoti. The sound of the esraj and the tabla reverberated and it echoed around the entire haveli.
Romen was served a glass of drinks by Kana. Romen, thirsty as he was, drank it all. And, Thakurmoshai too didn’t forget to pass one of the hookahs for Romen to smoke. The fresh tobacco instilled some energy in Romen.
“Usher in Churni will you!” ordered Pabitra Narayan Thakur.
And the dance began as a woman of plus size erotically gyrated to the music played by the two musicians. The dance seemed to go on forever, as Romen lost the sense of time. When the dance finished, Pabitra asked Romen, “Want some more of this?”
Romen, amused by this hospitality, had replied in the affirmative.
“Call in Chini then!”
Again the mesmerising music started and in came another young, ravishing maiden who started dancing elegantly and enticingly to satisfy Romen’s eyes! By then, Romen had drunk too much. When she finished, she sat beside Romen and started caressing Romen’s feet with her nimble cold hands. Other dancers had taken over. Her touch was arousing Romen. Soon, it started to drive him wild. But still he didn’t say anything. But as the proximity between the two started diminishing, Thakurmoshai interjected and said to Chini, “Leave him alone will you! He is as innocent as a flower! Even Buri couldn’t seduce him!”
To this comment, Chini started laughing hysterically and then she replied, “So did I!” The effect of the drinks had started, Romen found that his senses where again becoming numb. The music, drinks, the smell of tobacco and his tiredness all were adding up. He tried to stay awake, but slowly he started to succumb to sleep. At that moment, his mobile phone started ringing. He realised hazily that he needed to go back to his car where Asghar was waiting. He wanted to jump up, but his senses and his body had given way to the drinks and the tiredness. And, he fell asleep without picking up his phone.
Meanwhile, Asghar the driver had finished fixing the car and tried calling up Romen. Romen’s phone was out of reach for some time and then when it rang, no one was picking it up. It was quite late at night by then so Asghar thought it better to inform Nilratan about this. He called up Nilratan and told what had transpired. By then Nilratan was worried sick. Nilratan also called up Romen, his phone went on ringing but no one picked it up. Nilratan called up Mr Abdul Rahman and asked if he could help. Mr Rahman, an old friend of Nilratan, asked Nilratan to wait till the morning when he himself would go in search for Romen.
It was not until nine in the morning that Romen woke up. He felt dizzy. He found himself on the courtyard of a dilapidated haveli. He tried to recall the night before, but his senses were numb. He then realised that his phone was ringing incessantly. He reached for his phone and when he answered it, he found an unknown voice inquiring about his whereabouts.
He asked, “Who is this speaking?”
“I am Abdul Rahman, friend of Nilratan! But where are you?”
“I don’t know!” replied Romen.
He looked around and replied, “It looks like I was sleeping on the the courtyard of some dilapidated mansion or haveli I guess!”
“You had all of us worried sick? But why were you not picking up the phone?”
“I was sleeping”
“What is the address of the place?”
“I have no idea!” replied Romen.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you hurt?”
“Where are you then?”
Slowly Romen was regaining his senses and he realised that something queer and unexplainable had taken place with him yesterday. Then he remembered meeting the Brahmin. And his memory was back in a jiffy. However, the question that baffled him were, where was Thakurmoshai? Where was Kana? Where were the musicians? What about the Zamindar and his son? Where were the footmen and the dancers?
Again Abdul asked, Romen “What do you see around yourself?”
Romen replied, “Ruins and a slithering black snake!”
“Yes, a small one at other end of the courtyard!”
Then Romen said, “I don’t understand, there was a thakurmoshai who brought me here. There were some other people as well. But where is everyone? Where were the hookahs? Where was the bed with soft linen cloth, the wine glasses, everything seems to be missing!”
Romen continued agitatedly, “Well, yesterday there were flowers, the courtyard was clean, but now I find filth and dead leaves all around. The wooden windows are all broken, discoloured and hanging from the sill. The stench of dead leaves is terrible. Creepers have invaded and the place is damp and cold! It appears no one has come to this place for years! There are cobwebs all around. But why am I here?”
“Do you do drugs?”
Romen replied a little annoyed, “What sort of question is this? Do you think I am crazy? I only smoke cigarettes and a have a drink or two! But I never do drugs!”
“I guess it was an obvious question, since you don’t know where you are?”
“Well, I think I am a bit disoriented due to the drinks offered to me last night! But that’s all. I am a telling you the truth!”
“Don’t you see anyone around?”
“Can you come out of the building that you are in?”
“It is not a building, it is all in ruins!”
“Can you come out? But whatever you do don’t disconnect the call!”
Romen got up and walked out of the haveli only to be blinded by the strong sunlight. He cursed.
“Nothing! It is the sun, it had temporarily blinded me I guess! I already am out, now!”
“What do you see around?”
“The ruins of a haveli that I left and the pond with ghats, where the lady named Buri with long hair was bathing?”
“Is she still there?”
“Can you see anyone around?”
“Can you retrace your path back?”
“Yes, I think I can!”
“Don’t panic, just stay calm!”
“I am over the phone, just walk back will you!”
Romen started telling Adbul what had happened.
Abdul Rahman’s worst nightmares were coming true. He realised that Romen might have been hypnotised by a ghost and taken to some unknown location. Romen, instead of reaching his destination, went to the haunted grounds. After that Romen must have lost his senses. The only hope was that the mobile connection was still working, hence the place was not far off from the human habitable locality.
Romen slowly made his way through the mango orchard and then the field of the banyan and shiyora trees. Then he crossed the bamboo grove alone and reached the dyke of the marshes. Slowly, he made his way back to the road.
All the while, Abdul was speaking to him and encouraging him to reach back from where he had started. Then he found a shop where he asked for a cigarette and also bought a packet of thistle. The thistle was so tasty, that Romen ate two packets of it. He was dead tired, and recovering from being a bit disoriented, when Abdul found him waiting at the shop.
Then he took him to Keranipara. He was now in safe hands. Then he took him to his house and asked him to describe whatever he remembered. Romen narrated everything that had transpired.
Mr Gafur Rahman, Abdul’s father whom Romen related his story, said, “You are very lucky!”
Romen asked, “Why?”
Mr Gafur said, “You were possibly lured by an Aleya. Well, in the marshes of Bangladesh, this phenomenon is common. Then possibly you were hypnotised and taken by a Kanabhulo! Kanabhulo is a ghost that hypnotises a person, and takes him to some unknown haunted grounds. Possibly something very similar happened with you. There you met with a bunch of ghosts, including the benevolent Brahmodaittyo. After all it was Bhoot Chaturdoshi last night, remember! Chunni was possibly the short form of Shakchunni that is derived from the Sanskrit word Shankhachurni. It is the ghost of a married woman who wears the traditional bangles.”
Mr Gafur ruminated for some time and then said, ”Buri was possibly the ghost of sheekol buri. These are the ghosts of young women, who committed suicide by drowning due to an unhappy marriage. These type of ghosts may have also formed due to the death of women who may have been violently drowned against their own will after being impregnated with unwanted children by unscrupulous men. They would return to the earth and must then live out their designated time on earth before they are set free. Just like many of the fairies, these ghosts sometimes do take human lovers. Sheekol Buris’ main purpose is to prowl and lure young men and take them into the depths of waterways where they would entangle the feet of their mortal lover with their long hair and submerge them. The hair of these ghosts is very long and always wet, and their eyes are without any iris. Unfortunately, these unions would end tragically for the men who are enticed by them. As it is the usual practice, they extract a promise from their mortal lovers and if such a promise is ever broken, the ghost would reveal herself to be the supernatural creature, often taking the life of the human in the process, and then they become free. The general habitat of these ghosts are the water bodies!”
Mr Gafur paused a while and then continued, “Chini was possibly the female version of Pischach often called Pishachini, who are usually hideous but may sometimes appear in the devious disguise of a young, beautiful maiden to lure young men. The ghosts would drain the blood and virility of their mortal lovers. She dwells in places associated with death and filth that you found yourself in! There are a lot of these haunted places in Bangladesh. You should have been more careful!”
When he had finished, Abdul said, “I had heard of the infamous haunted house of Mukunda Narayan Thakur, that lies beside the road near Mussillipara village. Folklore has it that Mukunda Narayan was a tyrannical zamindar, who lived in this place three hundred years ago! Some say he was cursed by a Brahmin, whose daughter was raped by the zamindar’s son. Then the surrounding area was ravaged by a strange disease, and the entire Zamindar’s family was wiped out. Later the Brahmin had also commited suicide. I have heard, that the Zamindar was very fond of music. Some people say they have heard music coming from behind the bamboo grove, where the haunted haveli lies. But that’s what I thought as petty folklore. I never believed it myself. I have never heard anyone who was lured by these so called ghosts. The experience you say is terrific, something that you will hate to remember, yet love to tell others! I don’t know how to explain this in rational terms. But I think, you should enjoy the Kali puja here! Seek Kali Maa’s blessing and go back home! Or forget this episode entirely! This is the only advice that I can give!”
Fortunately, Romen had come out untouched by this. After spending an eventful journey, at Bangladesh, Romen returned home just like a lovesick puppy! After reaching home, the next day he went to his friend Saikat’s house where he and friends used to chat and asked, “Which of you assholes stuffed my cigarettes supplied by Saikat with weed! Had a tough time hiding this fact from the people in Bangladesh!”
Rajat slowly smiled and put his hand up!