“Where is the toilet?” I asked the young security guard at around 3:30 am.
The toilet closes after 6 pm so you will have to use the open ground. Replied the Sardar.
October 1981. Khalsa College, Yamunanagar, Haryana.
I was all of 17 years then. A footballer, an athlete whose only focus in life was to somehow escape from the rigours of studies. Attending various sports events and participating to win was a passion.
I was selected to represent the Haryana Under-19 Football team and therefore, had to give up the comforts of home food to attend a 10 day rigorous camp at Yamunanagar. Camp? One must be crazy to call it a camp. The lodging-arrangements were made at the local Khalsa College which was comfortably situated at the end of a busy residential lane. On one side of the boundary, there was a huge expanse of no-man’s land followed by the flowing Yamuna River and on the left was the equally big Khalsa School. The huge iron-gate lead to the sprawling college campus. The playgrounds started where the two-storied building ended. All in all, it was secluded and very lonely after evening. Moreover, the college was closed on account of Dussehra holidays and the annual sports meet was immediately after the vacation.
Our stay was arranged in a room overlooking the ground. Three wrought iron cots were put together to accommodate the three of us, who did not have any relative or friend to stay with. The wash-rooms were in the main building of the college, which warranted a two minutes’ walk every time you need to use it. I had reached one day earlier due to a communication gap. Mind you, those were the years of post-cards, telegrams unlike today’s fast paced world.
I was perfectly all right till daylight was there. But as darkness settled in, I started hyper-ventilating. You see, I am very scared of ghosts. I was desperate to escape the situation. I went out to have dinner at 7pm. Entering the college, I met this young security guard at the gate and my first question to him was where did he sleep during the night. “Under the façade,” he replied. The facade is at the entrance where you can see the road on one side and the pathway to the playground on the other.
“Can I bring my cot and sleep near you?” I asked.
I did not wish to tell him the exact reason but I think he understood that I was scared. So he took pity on me and suggested that I bring my cot at 9:30 pm. He also warned that he has to make rounds of the campus and I may not find him during some part of the night, in case I wake up. He definitely had the knack of making someone comfortable!
At 9:30 pm, I took my cot, my bed and a quilt. Outside the temperature had dropped significantly and there was a hint of fog everywhere. He lit fire to keep us warm and after chit-chatting for 15 minutes I dropped off to sleep.
I woke up at 3:30 am to answer nature’s call. With no other option, I woke the Sardar and asked him the way to the toilet.
“Use the open ground as the toilet is closed,” he suggested very helpfully. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan had not started then. I was tempted to request him to accompany me to ward off any evil but my last vestige of prestige prohibited me from doing so. So, I started my long walk down the aisle to the playground which was around 250 metres from where we were sleeping. I went over the wall of the school playground and as I was about to get busy, I froze. I could not move, I lost all my words, I lost all capabilities except that of my eyes, which was filming a certain extraordinary bizarre incident.
The hint of fog by now had intensified and thru it, I could see and follow only one scene. A white cloth, like all ghosts wear. This piece of cloth was strangely running by itself few feet over the ground and there was nothing underneath or over it. It was making a slow round of the running track. I wanted to scream, I wanted to run and believe me, I was the state champion in 100 metres race. But I could do neither. I was immobile. I was shouting but I could not hear myself.
“Who is that?” I heard myself croaking. Ghosts have keen ears and the white cloth stopped immediately. I repeated the question louder, this time with a little more conviction. With horror, I watched the white cloth coming towards me and suddenly my voice found its true volume. “Bachao, bachao, Bhoot, bhoot…”
All of a sudden, I heard the voice of the young Sardar behind me. “Arey-woh toh mere Papa hain. Chutti ke baad senior citizen ka 50 meter race mein bhag lenge isliye practice kar rahen hai.” (He is my father. When holidays end, he wants to participate in the 50 metres race for senior citizens on the sports day. He is training himself for that.)
By then the Senior Sardarji had walked towards me and I could now see that he was dressed only in his ‘kacchha‘ or white underpants and nothing else.
I will not say that I was not relieved but I fervently prayed that I don’t have to experience such incidents again in my life, ever.
Storyteller : Sankha Mukherjee
As told to Coena Mukherjee