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The Haunted Song

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Just a storyteller who wants to hide behind the stories told...

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Prologue

 

Car halted in the midst of terrible Mumbai traffic, Akash pulled down the window to check the ambiance outside. How good could it be between hopeless humid summer! Till far all he could see was an army of cars, standing motionless. A popular Bollywood music played in high volume in the car just parallel to his. Youngsters bunking college! Urgh. During his college days, all he could afford was public transport, that too with the money he earned from teaching Physics to two notorious eight graders.

Beta Akash, don’t forget you are less than half-a-generation away from them! You can take your time in transforming into Akash uncle.” His voice warned him.

No signs of anyone moving. He picked up the mobile and pressed an app. A sensational news caught his eye. He clicked on it. A popular Bollywood song had been banned in a village in Himachal because it was accused of inviting ghosts!

“Press this link to listen to the song, at your own risk.” He put his finger on it. A melodious male voice engulfed him. It was the same song that was playing in the other car. Amused, he looked at them again from the window and got back to the mobile.

 

Part 1

 

Diwakar Sood just stepped out of the car and immediately got mobbed.

“Sir, your song got banned at Bhiuli village in Mandi, Himachal. How do you feel about it? What would you have to say?” The correspondents were conspiring to shove their mikes inside the singer’s mouth.

The singer turned politician seemed well rehearsed with his response. “I am not shocked. Look at the history of foul-plays that the ruling party of Himachal Pradesh has launched time and again. You would see a clear trend of defaming talent that doesn’t agree with their ideology. Utter nonsense, is all that I have to say.” With a grim face Diwakar marched ahead, adjusting the Nehru jacket he had acquired along with his oath while joining the opposition!

While a group of insatiated journos ran behind him, the feisty anchor marched forward. “Diwakar Sood thinks that this is his opponent party’s plan to defame him in his constituency. Mithilesh Singh from Only News has already reached the MLA’s office at Mandi to investigate whether…”

 

Megha Banerjee stopped this verbose with the tip of her finger on the laptop. She looked out of the window. The only thing that made sense to her from this odd turn of events was, Diwakar Sood’s song was banned in a village because it attracts evil spirits! Like, seriously! Well, who was she to judge? But she was definitely the one to interpret. Such an interesting concept…a popular Bollywood song has the strength of pulling out the dead from the grave. Good fun. She took a sip of coffee from the cup with Evergreen Films written in orange over its white and started humming the song unmindfully.

 

She sat with her back at the door of her cabin. The glass door had “Megha Banerjee, Head – Content Syndication” hanging over it. A knock made her turn.

“Hi. Megha right? I had come to meet Akash and he suggested I should see you too.”

A woman in early 30’s stood at the door. Abrupt but pleasant.

Megha tried to smile. “Akash suggested this girl should meet me? Why didn’t he bring her along for a formal introduction? I didn’t see Akash since morning. When did he come to office?” A cloud of questions hovered over her, when she was interrupted.

“I am told that you are looking for horror stories to be made into films. So…”

This made sense. Akash could wait. Megha invited her to take a seat.

 

“See, first thing I need to know is, have you registered your content? Because otherwise…”

She couldn’t complete as the other voice cut through. “All formalities are complete. From my end and yours.”

Megha allowed her to take the lead. “So how do you wish to proceed?”

“By telling the story, maybe?” She shrugged.

Attitude or unintentionally rude? Megha couldn’t decide. She took a quick look at her watch and decided to give this no more than 15 minutes. Adjusting herself into the revolving chair, one leg lifted above the other, she looked straight into her eyes.

“You want to know about Vidya, right? I know that story. Shall we?” The woman asked.

“Who Vidya?” Megha frowned.

The laptop with the news of Diwakar Sood’s song was pointed at her. “I hail from Mandi, so I know quite a bit about this.”

Megha’s eyes grew big. “Is she God sent?” She wondered and muttered a silent thanks for Akash. Pulling her chair a little towards her, she jumped up on the seat folding her legs on the cushion, prepared for the download.

 

The lady smiled.

“It was October time in Mandi town. The local fair was on. Some people were playing the drums, little stalls sold local food and clothes and crafts, children were hanging around at every corner, tourists bargained and women gossiped in groups. A newly released Bollywood song, Saavli Ghadi, was playing in the loudspeaker. In that chaos no one noticed that Vidya teacher was running for life through the solitary hilly terrains – beaten and bruised, trying to reach the fair in uneven footsteps as blood oozed from her head and ran through her cheeks. She was being chased by a group with stones and sticks in their hands.

“Stop Vidya. Else you will be killed.” Whether the voice reached her, no one could assess. No human voice can compete with the drums of the fair and shrill of the loudspeaker. Vidya stumbled, but got up and sped off. Just before she could take the turn for the fair ground, she was pushed to the sides with great force. She fell down the chasm into the bottomless crevice, not to be found ever again.

 

 

Part 2

 

Bhiuli village, Mandi.

Few men had gathered and lighted fire in the open, enjoying the heat at night while talking, making fun of each other and drinking cheap alcohol.  The radio played Bollywood numbers as the RJ kept blabbering. A popular song, Saavli Ghadi was played only half and it stopped just when the men had started tapping their foot to the beat.

“Who is this idiot, brother? Why doesn’t he shut up and let the songs play?”

“He gets paid for talking, brother.” Another opined.

“Think of it. He has money for rich blankets but can’t sleep.” Another laughed.

Their voices drowned into the music of the night.

 

Few steps away, in a little hut made of wood and thaw, the door creaked. Little Manju opened her sleepy eyes. “Baba, is that you?” She asked.

No one spoke. It was all silence in her little hut. “Your chappattis are right next to the door. Please have it before sleeping.” She reminded.

Non-response from the drunk father was not anything new to her. But strange was the sound of her father trying to light a match stick at that hour.

“Baba, please don’t make that noise.”

The 9 year old girl was already too tired after the chores of the day, to get up and figure what’s happening. She slept back immediately, and jerked up on the bed at the sound of a matchstick striking again into a flame. She jumped down the bed. The bread kept near the door were burning now. Someone had even placed coal in the centre of the breads. Hard earned food now looked like thick black impressions of carbon.

The father came back late in the night, dropped himself on the floor and snored into sleep without a word. This was usual. He ate his dinner upon waking up, as breakfast, when his stomach would be burning in hunger.

Tomorrow wouldn’t be too difficult. All Manju would have to do is, firmly establish that the man had gobbled his dinner right before her, after he returned that night. He wouldn’t remember a thing from the night, and would hence believe her.

But even on a winter night Manju could feel the shivers down her spine. Who burnt the chappatis?

 

Part 3

 

“Wasn’t there anyone she saw?” Megha asked curiously, assuming that she was hearing a true story.

“What do you expect her to see? A shadow? Or a woman in white shawl covering her head?” Sarcastic smiles followed.

“This is too predictable, you know, as far as I have heard. I need something that takes the audience by surprise or shock. Otherwise…”

Before she could complete, the lady pointed a finger behind her. “Then you better watch that. Because truth is stranger than fiction. Go ahead, click it.”

Prompted by an authoritarian voice, Megha turned mechanically towards the laptop to refresh the page.

Diwakar Sood had held a press conference in the rising wave of a community claiming that his song attracts evil spirits. “Bro, my song and my popularity doesn’t bring ghosts. But yes, there are some ghosts who are intimidated and they keep spreading rumours. They do it with great homework so the illiterate, dimwit villagers sitting in remote corners of the country can be fed with this shit. They gobble down superstitions since they don’t have enough to feel their tummy with. I ask the government, what has it done to ensure that they receive adequate food and education, why hasn’t livelihood improved in villages like Bhiuli?”

He paused to take a breath.

A reporter quickly butted in. “Sir, Bhiuli isn’t a backward village. Electricity and internet has reached there…!” The poor chap was ruthlessly cut short.

“There you go, the voice of the ruling party, giving me baseless statistics. What about education that brings sanity? What about engagement that doesn’t leave time for people to occupy themselves with brainless superstitions? What about meaningful relationships?”

Post this whatever Diwakar said, perhaps he himself didn’t have much control on. In his efforts to slam the government he ended up slamming the common people. Various groups sprouted up in favour and against his speech. Some websites and activists strongly condemned him for assuming that people from Bhiuli village were idiots. They immediately brought out the data and history of the achievers who had their origin in Mandi to prove Diwakar’s prejudice with small town inhabitants.

No one from the MLA office was initially willing to talk to the correspondents of Only News. The channel had gone ahead reporting that Diwakar’s allegations had put the ruling party in deep distress and they are holding closed door meetings to discuss a strategy to battle the situation. The accompanying photographer had even zeroed in to a closed door through his camera, circled in red, to prove the point.

Some other channel broke the news that Only News’s footage was that of a store room that remained closed most of the times.

 

So much, in less than two hours!

 

 

Part 4

Manju’s father had migrated from Nepal with his family long back. He laboured hard and long, in the dense forests, working as a security guard. He would look after the logs of Chirpine that had been cut the previous day by labourers. Since he worked till late in the evening, he would often come back home to retire with his friends for some amusement. They played cards or just discussed things. He would come back to the hut around twelve to sleep on one of the mattresses. Those days, sleep eluded Manju until the wee hours of the morning. She would often spend time tossing and turning on her old mattress, waiting for her father to join and then hear him snore hard.

It was one such night. Manju was awake in her bed, waiting for her father to return. There was only one other hut in the vicinity, a couple of metres away. She could easily hear the hoots and cheers of her father and his friends. Maybe one of them was winning the game or who knows what they were doing. Since the door remained shut but unbolted most of the time, Manju’s father always coughed before entering, to announce his arrival into the house. He didn’t forget the ritual even when he was drunk.

The evening was getting colder with each passing hour. Manju wished she had some coal to light up the stove and warm up the room. The blanket felt wet!  When she heard her father coughing outside the door, she wished in her heart that she could ask for joining him in the gathering outside before the bonfire. Her father didn’t enter though. Surprised, she went back to cuddle herself as tightly as she could and cover herself with the blanket. An hour later her father returned, badly bruised from an accident!

This evening he wasn’t drunk. In fact, he had gone to fetch the liquor as every member in their group did, turn by turn.

“Something pushed my cycle from the front as I was driving – something invisible,” he told everyone. “The resistance was so much that I lost his balance and fell on the ground, the cycle was on top of me and all the bottles lay broken beside.

His friends started making fun of him. “What thapa, how many sips had you taken from the bottles?” Quipped one.

“Drinking and driving is an offense, wait till the khaki smells this and comes here to collect their fine. After all they need money for their drinks too.”

They wiped him, helped him to clean up, wished him well, advised him to be careful next time, and left. Manju watched them all with a grim face. Finally, she turned towards her father. “When did it happen, baba?” She asked.

“An hour or so. When the bell rang in the temple.” Her father informed munching his chappatis and pickles.

Manju stared blankly. Yes, she had heard the bell of the temple just when she had heard the cough outside her door. But who was this? And why was this happening? Why them? The father-daughter was the most harmless duo who never even thought of anything ill for anyone, leave alone cause harm. Why were they the chosen ones then?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the father. “Four rowdy young boys have come as tourists. I saw them yesterday and today again, while cycling back. They roam around in a jeep, playing loud music. Careful when you go out tomorrow morning.” Her father warned.

“I will.” She promised.

Next morning was Wednesday, her happy day. Every Wednesday brought alive the Mandi haat where people from all the villages around would gather to buy things or sell something. She had her own thela too, of peeled nuts, home-made papad and tea. She saw the boys with the jeep. Young chaps. Not rowdy, pleasant rather. Nice, cheerful, colourful clothes, shining smiles, enthusiastic questions. All that she had with her was sold out in a jiffy. They asked two hundred questions. Whether she went to school, what all she knew, how her day was spent, and more. She could tell from their faces that the boys were well bred and well intended. A motherless child has her own sixth sense, so what if she was only 9!

They offered her money for talking to them. She refused. They bought her a sweater and a corn instead and moved on to talk to more people.

 

Part 5

With the money she made, Manju went on to buy some groceries and sat down to talk to her friends. Four girls would usually chat around this time, laughing and giggling at things that would be of no importance to anyone. But today was different. One of their friends, Geeta, was missing. Kolu, the 11 year old boss had news to share. In whispers.

“This song no, from this Hindi film, is haunted. Every time it plays, something strange happens.”

Manju was the first one to voice her curiosity. “What, what happens?”

“They come.” Her eyes went big.

Another one from their group, Preeti, pushed Kolu. “Tell us properly. Why are you taking rounds?”

Geeta and Kolu stayed closer to Mandi town. The bhootiya tales of the hills were nothing new for them, but this time there seemed to be a trend to it. Of something repeating, coming back again and again, not harming but causing stress. Pushing her thoughts aside, Manju could just ask, “How do you know?”

“Because it happened to me and Geeta, quite a few times.” Kolu tried to convince. “The other day Balbir, the lottery ticket seller played that song in loudspeaker while pedalling his rickshaw. He fell into a drain and remained there till his daughter and wife came searching for him. It happened right before my eyes.” She paused to take a breath. “And then Phulmati, wife of the flower dealer down the road. Lucky woman with such a caring husband. Do you know he has even enrolled her to class 9 in Jagmata School? Will anybody else do? Never! But filthy woman would stand by the corner of her school gate, wearing her sari way below her naval and pass lewd signals to the passing tourists. Anyway, who cares for her. But she was hearing that song on her mobile, sitting at their shop when she got slapped hard by someone invisible. How many such instances do I say?”

Manju held the ground as strongly as she could with her fingers. Her father’s friends do play radio when they meet in the evenings. What was playing on the day the chappattis got burnt? She couldn’t remember. She heard Kolu talking again. “It happened with me too, so many times. I slept while studying and someone pulled my hair from behind so badly, I almost wept. And now Geeta. Hot water fell on her feet three mornings before. The same song is the caller tune of her father’s mobile. You know that right? Every time the mobile rings, something untoward happens. The pot breaks, her shawl gets torn, she falls while walking…anything!”

Geeta was the rebel in the group. And fortunate enough to have received some education. Last week she had raised many gossips by throwing her books down the cliff because she hated studying. Her parents were ready to hang her upside down, but she was the pampered one for her elder brother. Soni bhaiya was a tourist guide and every wish of Geeta was his command. When Geeta threw the books brought from his hard-earned money, all he could do was bring some halwa from the local sweet-seller to calm her down. He was supposedly the first one to have noticed that every time the song plays on her father’s phone, something goes wrong. He whispered his new found secret to a few trusted ears, who found no logic in keeping such a sensational discovery to themselves.

Mandi market was picking up heat. Few were discussing things in a hushed tone. Their audience dismissed the reason but made sure in the back of their minds that they would rather avoid the song. One shouldn’t try to meddle with supernatural forces.

Preeti was listening silently till now. She nodded too. “You know my parents want to my elder sister married, right? The boy’s family has seen her and liked her. They want the wedding to happen soon. So she will have to even miss her HSC finals. They were planning to sell off their scooter to get money for her wedding. Five mornings ago, we woke up to the vehicle broken into pieces. We got no sound of someone doing the misdeed. Why would they? My father is a reputed carpenter, loved by everyone. Only thing we remember from the night before is the same song playing loudly. Since we stay just before the main road, someone playing songs so loudly for the fun of it isn’t anything new for us. We have no idea how to deal with this now.” She said sadly.

“Anything else?” The words escaped her mouth even before Manju meant it.

 

Part 6

“Yes. There is.” Preeti looked worried. “With the scooter gone, we have to pull up the money by hook or by crook. My father has approached Rani kothi for money. Now everyone knows that the Rani ma lends money but takes much more in return. Looking at my father’s condition, she had a change of heart and granted mercy. But in return she wants me to work for them 14 hours a day.”

Preeti stopped and looked at her friends ogling at her. “On the first day when an attendant was coming along to drop me till this side of the forest, I clearly remember the song playing with the tea-seller on the corner of the road as he arranged to wrap up the day. I could hear some strange noises of drumbeats in the forest since a while.  It was the kind of drum beats that happen during the October fair. As I walked I almost heard someone calling Preeto from behind. I turned and immediately got pushed very hard; I landed face down on the mud track.”

“Then?” This time it was Kolu who couldn’t hold back. “What did you do? Ran away?”

“No.” Preeti tried to smile faintly. “I got up and cursed this invisible energy on top of my voice, got the attendant to carry my stuff since my ankle was paining, threw some stones in every direction cursing still, and came back to the house as if nothing ever happened.”

“My god! You are brave.” Kolu said as Manju looked on in awe. Their conversation had to halt for the day, as there was the tinkling of the cycle bell behind them. Manju’s father had already arrived to take her back. as Manju reluctantly walked towards him, she casually asked, “Baba, do you remember which song was playing in the jeep of the boys on the evening when you got pushed?”

 

“Of course I do. Who wouldn’t? The buggers were playing so loud. It was saavli ghadi. Nice song no? I hear the singer is also from Himachal.” The father was obviously in no position to judge that his daughter had turned extraordinarily quiet.

 

 

 

All news channels had suddenly got the lifeline to their TRP. As bizarre as it may sound, a song full of rhythm and beats being banned in a village two years after its release, that too with the allegation that it invites ghosts, was better drama than all the saas-bahu of Indian television put together.

Diwakar Sood promised that these waters would flow very deep and he would se the end to this. “Such a cheap gesture. Who would have known that they can stoop so low! But then, we should have guessed.” He ranted. The MLA stationed at Mandi claimed that he didn’t know who Diwakar Sood was. He only knew that there is something unnatural that is disturbing the local folks there and the government would soon find a solution to this. For the time being, if the ban brings peace to the minds of the villagers, so be it. Singers have many more songs and the rest of the country to reign!

 

Just when the correspondents had packed their bags to rush to Bhiuli, a youtube video put the country to a stand still. Four students pursuing post graduation from Media & Journalism College, Odhisha, wrote in their social media post that they had been touring Himachal and staying at Kullu for the past seven days. When the news of this haunted song thing broke out, they thought of investigating and wrote down the information on a piece of paper.

The pattern they discovered was interesting.

“Indeed, there are evidences for the localites to claim that saavli ghadi is haunted, at least in this area.” Said Rajeev, showing the map of Bhiuli and adjoining areas in the video.

“We spoke to many villagers. If you are thinking that the song attacks just about everyone, I’m afraid, you could be wrong.” Added Ashish. “The song can play anywhere, at any time. The affected are not necessarily those who play it, but definitely from among the selected few who hear it.”

“So we got together to speak to everyone who felt they have been a victim of the song. Every victim, coincidentally, has a young girl in the family – either as sister or daughter – who has never been sent to school or her education is being discontinued. These girls lead a difficult life, providing for the family and also contributing to the family income in whatever way possible.” Vivek continued.

Rajeev took over again. “We were also immensely amused to figure that it is not only the men who are getting beaten up or facing some kind of loss of property – nothing life threatening though. There are women victims too. We are told that these women had the permission and resources to receive education, but have taken the privilege too casually. Such women too got punished!”

“Can there be a stranger story!” Vivek exclaimed. “We spoke to the local panchayat to get to the root of this. See how it went.”

The clip showed a man in his 50’s. Mahavir Pradhan, he called himself. A host of people peeped from behind him, trying to push each other for some space just behind Mahavir. He smiled at his interviewers.

“Look son, I know that today’s generation doesn’t believe in a lot of things. They have their own right or reason to do so. I respect that. But forests have their own rules too, you know. And those are not to be challenged. They are deeply ingrained within our beliefs since generations.” He paused. “We all here have felt ghostly presence around us here, more than once…all of us. So what I hear today doesn’t shock me at all. I am not superstitious, but if you are happy to accept, let me certify that I am practical. Ghosts don’t come to trouble you; they make their presence felt when they are troubled. I don’t know what is troubling this spirit. We are simple people with humble backgrounds, and have remained so all our lives. If the immediate solution is to put a stop to one song, we can definitely extend this little support. The local radio channels have been initiated on that.”

An old man, introduced as the local headmaster, spoke out from beside. “The spirit has a deep connect with the song. What, we don’t know. But we must find out. We also know that the song is not her problem. Its something else. We are trying to get to the root of it.”

 

 

 

Part 7

 

“’Her!’ Is there any evidence that it’s a she?” Megha blurted out looking at the laptop.

“No evidence yet.” The voice behind responded. “But women ghosts are more in vogue. No? long flowing hairs, long nails, white flowing sari and all that.”

They both laughed out loud and concentrated on the laptop, as the boys were now talking to some local girls.

 

 

A little girl called Manju Thapa, barely 9, was the lead speaker. She narrated the recent events from her life and those of her peers with amazing precision. Her friends and other villagers crowded the place.

“Have you ever been to school?” Ashish asked.

“Yes, till I was in grade 1.” Manju said.

“What happened then? Why did you leave? You had access to free education, right?”

“My mother died. There was work at home.” The child spoke brightly.

“Your teachers didn’t object to you dropping out?” Ashish probed.

This time her father blurted from behind. “Only Vidya teacher did. She called me an irresponsible father, but I was helpless.”

“Who Vidya teacher?”

Manju’s “She was beautiful” drowned in the noise of other villager talking all together. Vivek prompted them to speak one at a time. A young man came forward.

“We all loved Vidya teacher. Very inspiring. She taught the children in school in the morning and held classes for adults in the evening. But she had run into some problems with the Tewari’s. We don’t know much but we have heard that she helped the daughter of the Tewari’s to elope with a low caste manhoos. He was a private tutor to the girl. The Tewari’s wanted to get her married but the girl had this hopeless demand to study more.”

“Nonsense…all this study more and stuff. Such disobedient girls are a threat to culture and society. The girl must be in some shady relationship with the boy. He helped her sneak out of the house with the help of Vidya teacher.” Blurted out another villager. “The Tewari’s didn’t take this lightly. They made her life difficult with threats and even ransacked her classes. So much so that she had to run away overnight, never to show her face again.”

 

 

“She fled and no one tried to search for her!” Rajeev asked, shocked.

“Tewari’s were powerful political goons, my son.” Another old man said. “We heard Vidya explaining to them, every educated individual has the right to take the decisions of her life! Now who would take such arguments lightly? A girl would drown the reputation of her family in muddy water and no one must object because she was educated? Has anyone heard of a weirder logic?”

“Good that she fled.” Spoke another man. “We had started losing respect for Vidya teacher. We still tried to protect her though. But for how long? No one can protect an obnoxious voice who wouldn’t accept her fault! What right did she have to meddle with the Tewari’s family issues?”

“And the Tewaris?” Ashish asked.

“They left the place a year ago. No one can live with the insult inflicted upon the family by their own daughter.” He was told.

 

Ashish turned towards the camera.

“I am not sure what I should make of this conversation. All I can do is, draw your attention to the lyrics of Saavli Ghadi. The song is about a beautiful, obedient girl who cooks, cleans, combs her hair, applies kumkum and feels like a flower. No wonder that the poetry of the song is a mesmerizing masterpiece, but this ghost certainly has a problem with women of such virtues. And the song, it seems, provokes irritates and infuriates the ghost and gives it the strength to bash up everyone who blocks education of women. We are Ashish, Vivek, Rajeev and from behind the camera, Gaurav.”

 

 

“Bloody hell! This sounds like the shittiest thing I have heard in my life. Is this a joke?” Megha shouted.

The woman shrugged and lifted her bag. “You got your story, right?”

Megha looked at her. “Hey, how do you know so much about them?”

The woman smiled as she got up. “I know because I have been a victim too, of another kind but as a part of the same story.”

“And what’s that?” She probed.

The woman laughed. “One story at a time, girl.”

“But I don’t understand this.” Megha still had more to clarify. “Why the hell are they after the song? Action should be taken, rather, to put these girls back to school!”

The woman nodded her head bitterly. “There’s a lot of difference between what should happen and what happens. Putting the girls back to school would need a lot of garbage removed from the system and from the attitudes of the locales. They have opted for the easy route. Stop the song and shoo the ghost!”

They both remained quiet for a good ten seconds. Megha turned as she heard her talking again. “And that’s why I think, you should make this film. Only you can push the cause and bring the ghost back, for all right reasons.”

“See, what you said wouldn’t help me.” Megha pouted. “Of course this is interesting. I will need a script to decide if we want to proceed. We must add some fiction to add masala. You

 

 

 

know what I mean?”

The woman nodded with a strange smile and proceeded towards the door.

“Hey. What’s your name?” Megha asked from behind.

This time she laughed out loud. “After two hours of sitting with me you realized you don’t know my name! Have left my card on the chair. Go check.” She walked out.

A piece of paper torn from some sheet lay there. Megha turned it. In beautiful cursive handwriting, it wrote, Vidya! No number, no email id, nothing. She turned sharply, but Vidya was gone.

Megha has worked on many horror projects for Indian and foreign productions. This jolt, the sudden discomfort, was the first in her life. She almost shrieked at the sound of the glass door opening behind.

 

 

 

Akash looked at her with a large frown. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah. Why?” She blabbered so softly that even she couldn’t hear well.

“What why! The entire office is gossiping that you had been talking to yourself in an empty room. The pantry boy said you had even asked for two cups of coffee to be delivered in your room. What’s happening?” Akash looked at her as if she was a lunatic.

“What crap!” Megha was getting her voice back. “You sent this Vidya to me right? She said she met you and….!”

Akash sighed. “Babes, I have just walked into office. Was stuck in traffic. If I would send someone, I will introduce right? Hey, are you ok? Sit down, sit. Have water.”

Megha’s face had gone all white. She fell on to the chair. With shaky hands she picked up the paper where Vidya had signed her name. It was blank. She turned the side. Nothing, just blank!

Frantically she turned towards the laptop. There were only three fringe news articles on Diwakar Sood’s song being banned in a Himachali village. Diwakar had laughed it off, raised his hands to a namaskar and refused to comment any further. The video uploaded by the four boys had wiped out of the internet. News channels were discussing price rise and women empowerment. Megha felt her head would split into two.

 

As she went mad with the keyboard, Akash called for the doctor. He stared at her for a while and dialed the number of her husband, feeling guilty that he had perhaps pressurized her a little too much in the last few weeks. The girl badly needed rest.

Car halted in the midst of terrible Mumbai traffic, Akash pulled down the window to check the ambiance outside. How good could it be between hopeless humid summer! Till far all he could see was an army of cars, standing motionless. A popular Bollywood music played in high volume in the car just parallel to his. Youngsters bunking college! Urgh. During his college days, all he could afford was public transport, that too with the money he earned from teaching Physics to two notorious eight graders.

Beta Akash, don’t forget you are less than half-a-generation away from them! You can take your time in transforming into Akash uncle.” His voice warned him.

No signs of anyone moving. He picked up the mobile and pressed an app. A sensational news caught his eye. He clicked on it. A popular Bollywood song had been banned in a village in Himachal because it was accused of inviting ghosts!

“Press this link to listen to the song, at your own risk.” He put his finger on it. A melodious male voice engulfed him. It was the same song that was playing in the other car. Amused, he looked at them again from the window and got back to the mobile.

Diwakar Sood just stepped out of the car and immediately got mobbed.

“Sir, your song got banned at Bhiuli village in Mandi, Himachal. How do you feel about it? What would you have to say?” The correspondents were conspiring to shove their mikes inside the singer’s mouth.

The singer turned politician seemed well rehearsed with his response. “I am not shocked. Look at the history of foul-plays that the ruling party of Himachal Pradesh has launched time and again. You would see a clear trend of defaming talent that doesn’t agree with their ideology. Utter nonsense, is all that I have to say.” With a grim face Diwakar marched ahead, adjusting the Nehru jacket he had acquired along with his oath while joining the opposition!

While a group of insatiated journos ran behind him, the feisty anchor marched forward. “Diwakar Sood thinks that this is his opponent party’s plan to defame him in his constituency. Mithilesh Singh from Only News has already reached the MLA’s office at Mandi to investigate whether…”

Megha Banerjee stopped this verbose with the tip of her finger on the laptop. She looked out of the window. The only thing that made sense to her from this odd turn of events was, Diwakar Sood’s song was banned in a village because it attracts evil spirits! Like, seriously! Well, who was she to judge? But she was definitely the one to interpret. Such an interesting concept…a popular Bollywood song has the strength of pulling out the dead from the grave. Good fun. She took a sip of coffee from the cup with Evergreen Films written in orange over its white and started humming the song unmindfully.

She sat with her back at the door of her cabin. The glass door had “Megha Banerjee, Head – Content Syndication” hanging over it. A knock made her turn.

“Hi. Megha right? I had come to meet Akash and he suggested I should see you too.”

A woman in early 30’s stood at the door. Abrupt but pleasant.

Megha tried to smile. “Akash suggested this girl should meet me? Why didn’t he bring her along for a formal introduction? I didn’t see Akash since morning. When did he come to office?” A cloud of questions hovered over her, when she was interrupted.

“I am told that you are looking for horror stories to be made into films. So…”

This made sense. Akash could wait. Megha invited her to take a seat.

“See, first thing I need to know is, have you registered your content? Because otherwise…”

She couldn’t complete as the other voice cut through. “All formalities are complete. From my end and yours.”

Megha allowed her to take the lead. “So how do you wish to proceed?”

“By telling the story, maybe?” She shrugged.

Attitude or unintentionally rude? Megha couldn’t decide. She took a quick look at her watch and decided to give this no more than 15 minutes. Adjusting herself into the revolving chair, one leg lifted above the other, she looked straight into her eyes.

“You want to know about Vidya, right? I know that story. Shall we?” The woman asked.

“Who Vidya?” Megha frowned.

The laptop with the news of Diwakar Sood’s song was pointed at her. “I hail from Mandi, so I know quite a bit about this.”

Megha’s eyes grew big. “Is she God sent?” She wondered and muttered a silent thanks for Akash. Pulling her chair a little towards her, she jumped up on the seat folding her legs on the cushion, prepared for the download.

The lady smiled.

“It was October time in Mandi town. The local fair was on. Some people were playing the drums, little stalls sold local food and clothes and crafts, children were hanging around at every corner, tourists bargained and women gossiped in groups. A newly released Bollywood song, Saavli Ghadi, was playing in the loudspeaker. In that chaos no one noticed that Vidya teacher was running for life through the solitary hilly terrains – beaten and bruised, trying to reach the fair in uneven footsteps as blood oozed from her head and ran through her cheeks. She was being chased by a group with stones and sticks in their hands.

“Stop Vidya. Else you will be killed.” Whether the voice reached her, no one could assess. No human voice can compete with the drums of the fair and shrill of the loudspeaker. Vidya stumbled, but got up and sped off. Just before she could take the turn for the fair ground, she was pushed to the sides with great force. She fell down the chasm into the bottomless crevice, not to be found ever again.

To Be Continued in Part 2…

Bhiuli village, Mandi.

Few men had gathered and lighted fire in the open, enjoying the heat at night while talking, making fun of each other and drinking cheap alcohol.  The radio played Bollywood numbers as the RJ kept blabbering. A popular song, Saavli Ghadi was played only half and it stopped just when the men had started tapping their foot to the beat.

“Who is this idiot, brother? Why doesn’t he shut up and let the songs play?”

“He gets paid for talking, brother.” Another opined.

“Think of it. He has money for rich blankets but can’t sleep.” Another laughed.

Their voices drowned into the music of the night.

Few steps away, in a little hut made of wood and thaw, the door creaked. Little Manju opened her sleepy eyes. “Baba, is that you?” She asked.

No one spoke. It was all silence in her little hut. “Your chappattis are right next to the door. Please have it before sleeping.” She reminded.

Non-response from the drunk father was not anything new to her. But strange was the sound of her father trying to light a match stick at that hour.

“Baba, please don’t make that noise.”

The 9 year old girl was already too tired after the chores of the day, to get up and figure what’s happening. She slept back immediately, and jerked up on the bed at the sound of a matchstick striking again into a flame. She jumped down the bed. The bread kept near the door were burning now. Someone had even placed coal in the centre of the breads. Hard earned food now looked like thick black impressions of carbon.

The father came back late in the night, dropped himself on the floor and snored into sleep without a word. This was usual. He ate his dinner upon waking up, as breakfast, when his stomach would be burning in hunger.

Tomorrow wouldn’t be too difficult. All Manju would have to do is, firmly establish that the man had gobbled his dinner right before her, after he returned that night. He wouldn’t remember a thing from the night, and would hence believe her.

But even on a winter night Manju could feel the shivers down her spine. Who burnt the chappatis?

To Be Continued in Part 3…

“Wasn’t there anyone she saw?” Megha asked curiously, assuming that she was hearing a true story.

“What do you expect her to see? A shadow? Or a woman in white shawl covering her head?” Sarcastic smiles followed.

“This is too predictable, you know, as far as I have heard. I need something that takes the audience by surprise or shock. Otherwise…”

Before she could complete, the lady pointed a finger behind her. “Then you better watch that. Because truth is stranger than fiction. Go ahead, click it.”

Prompted by an authoritarian voice, Megha turned mechanically towards the laptop to refresh the page.

Diwakar Sood had held a press conference in the rising wave of a community claiming that his song attracts evil spirits. “Bro, my song and my popularity doesn’t bring ghosts. But yes, there are some ghosts who are intimidated and they keep spreading rumours. They do it with great homework so the illiterate, dimwit villagers sitting in remote corners of the country can be fed with this shit. They gobble down superstitions since they don’t have enough to feel their tummy with. I ask the government, what has it done to ensure that they receive adequate food and education, why hasn’t livelihood improved in villages like Bhiuli?”

He paused to take a breath.

A reporter quickly butted in. “Sir, Bhiuli isn’t a backward village. Electricity and internet has reached there…!” The poor chap was ruthlessly cut short.

“There you go, the voice of the ruling party, giving me baseless statistics. What about education that brings sanity? What about engagement that doesn’t leave time for people to occupy themselves with brainless superstitions? What about meaningful relationships?”

Post this whatever Diwakar said, perhaps he himself didn’t have much control on. In his efforts to slam the government he ended up slamming the common people. Various groups sprouted up in favour and against his speech. Some websites and activists strongly condemned him for assuming that people from Bhiuli village were idiots. They immediately brought out the data and history of the achievers who had their origin in Mandi to prove Diwakar’s prejudice with small town inhabitants.

No one from the MLA office was initially willing to talk to the correspondents of Only News. The channel had gone ahead reporting that Diwakar’s allegations had put the ruling party in deep distress and they are holding closed door meetings to discuss a strategy to battle the situation. The accompanying photographer had even zeroed in to a closed door through his camera, circled in red, to prove the point.

Some other channel broke the news that Only News’s footage was that of a store room that remained closed most of the times.

So much, in less than two hours!

To Be Continued in Part 4…

Manju’s father had migrated from Nepal with his family long back. He laboured hard and long, in the dense forests, working as a security guard. He would look after the logs of Chirpine that had been cut the previous day by labourers. Since he worked till late in the evening, he would often come back home to retire with his friends for some amusement. They played cards or just discussed things. He would come back to the hut around twelve to sleep on one of the mattresses. Those days, sleep eluded Manju until the wee hours of the morning. She would often spend time tossing and turning on her old mattress, waiting for her father to join and then hear him snore hard.

It was one such night. Manju was awake in her bed, waiting for her father to return. There was only one other hut in the vicinity, a couple of metres away. She could easily hear the hoots and cheers of her father and his friends. Maybe one of them was winning the game or who knows what they were doing. Since the door remained shut but unbolted most of the time, Manju’s father always coughed before entering, to announce his arrival into the house. He didn’t forget the ritual even when he was drunk.

The evening was getting colder with each passing hour. Manju wished she had some coal to light up the stove and warm up the room. The blanket felt wet!  When she heard her father coughing outside the door, she wished in her heart that she could ask for joining him in the gathering outside before the bonfire. Her father didn’t enter though. Surprised, she went back to cuddle herself as tightly as she could and cover herself with the blanket. An hour later her father returned, badly bruised from an accident!

This evening he wasn’t drunk. In fact, he had gone to fetch the liquor as every member in their group did, turn by turn.

“Something pushed my cycle from the front as I was driving – something invisible,” he told everyone. “The resistance was so much that I lost his balance and fell on the ground, the cycle was on top of me and all the bottles lay broken beside.

His friends started making fun of him. “What thapa, how many sips had you taken from the bottles?” Quipped one.

“Drinking and driving is an offense, wait till the khaki smells this and comes here to collect their fine. After all they need money for their drinks too.”

They wiped him, helped him to clean up, wished him well, advised him to be careful next time, and left. Manju watched them all with a grim face. Finally, she turned towards her father. “When did it happen, baba?” She asked.

“An hour or so. When the bell rang in the temple.” Her father informed munching his chappatis and pickles.

Manju stared blankly. Yes, she had heard the bell of the temple just when she had heard the cough outside her door. But who was this? And why was this happening? Why them? The father-daughter was the most harmless duo who never even thought of anything ill for anyone, leave alone cause harm. Why were they the chosen ones then?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the father. “Four rowdy young boys have come as tourists. I saw them yesterday and today again, while cycling back. They roam around in a jeep, playing loud music. Careful when you go out tomorrow morning.” Her father warned.

“I will.” She promised.

Next morning was Wednesday, her happy day. Every Wednesday brought alive the Mandi haat where people from all the villages around would gather to buy things or sell something. She had her own thela too, of peeled nuts, home-made papad and tea. She saw the boys with the jeep. Young chaps. Not rowdy, pleasant rather. Nice, cheerful, colourful clothes, shining smiles, enthusiastic questions. All that she had with her was sold out in a jiffy. They asked two hundred questions. Whether she went to school, what all she knew, how her day was spent, and more. She could tell from their faces that the boys were well bred and well intended. A motherless child has her own sixth sense, so what if she was only 9!

They offered her money for talking to them. She refused. They bought her a sweater and a corn instead and moved on to talk to more people.

To Be Continued in Part 5…

With the money she made, Manju went on to buy some groceries and sat down to talk to her friends. Four girls would usually chat around this time, laughing and giggling at things that would be of no importance to anyone. But today was different. One of their friends, Geeta, was missing. Kolu, the 11 year old boss had news to share. In whispers.

“This song no, from this Hindi film, is haunted. Every time it plays, something strange happens.”

Manju was the first one to voice her curiosity. “What, what happens?”

“They come.” Her eyes went big.

Another one from their group, Preeti, pushed Kolu. “Tell us properly. Why are you taking rounds?”

Geeta and Kolu stayed closer to Mandi town. The bhootiya tales of the hills were nothing new for them, but this time there seemed to be a trend to it. Of something repeating, coming back again and again, not harming but causing stress. Pushing her thoughts aside, Manju could just ask, “How do you know?”

“Because it happened to me and Geeta, quite a few times.” Kolu tried to convince. “The other day Balbir, the lottery ticket seller played that song in loudspeaker while pedalling his rickshaw. He fell into a drain and remained there till his daughter and wife came searching for him. It happened right before my eyes.” She paused to take a breath. “And then Phulmati, wife of the flower dealer down the road. Lucky woman with such a caring husband. Do you know he has even enrolled her to class 9 in Jagmata School? Will anybody else do? Never! But filthy woman would stand by the corner of her school gate, wearing her sari way below her naval and pass lewd signals to the passing tourists. Anyway, who cares for her. But she was hearing that song on her mobile, sitting at their shop when she got slapped hard by someone invisible. How many such instances do I say?”

Manju held the ground as strongly as she could with her fingers. Her father’s friends do play radio when they meet in the evenings. What was playing on the day the chappattis got burnt? She couldn’t remember. She heard Kolu talking again. “It happened with me too, so many times. I slept while studying and someone pulled my hair from behind so badly, I almost wept. And now Geeta. Hot water fell on her feet three mornings before. The same song is the caller tune of her father’s mobile. You know that right? Every time the mobile rings, something untoward happens. The pot breaks, her shawl gets torn, she falls while walking…anything!”

Geeta was the rebel in the group. And fortunate enough to have received some education. Last week she had raised many gossips by throwing her books down the cliff because she hated studying. Her parents were ready to hang her upside down, but she was the pampered one for her elder brother. Soni bhaiya was a tourist guide and every wish of Geeta was his command. When Geeta threw the books brought from his hard-earned money, all he could do was bring some halwa from the local sweet-seller to calm her down. He was supposedly the first one to have noticed that every time the song plays on her father’s phone, something goes wrong. He whispered his new found secret to a few trusted ears, who found no logic in keeping such a sensational discovery to themselves.

Mandi market was picking up heat. Few were discussing things in a hushed tone. Their audience dismissed the reason but made sure in the back of their minds that they would rather avoid the song. One shouldn’t try to meddle with supernatural forces.

Preeti was listening silently till now. She nodded too. “You know my parents want to my elder sister married, right? The boy’s family has seen her and liked her. They want the wedding to happen soon. So she will have to even miss her HSC finals. They were planning to sell off their scooter to get money for her wedding. Five mornings ago, we woke up to the vehicle broken into pieces. We got no sound of someone doing the misdeed. Why would they? My father is a reputed carpenter, loved by everyone. Only thing we remember from the night before is the same song playing loudly. Since we stay just before the main road, someone playing songs so loudly for the fun of it isn’t anything new for us. We have no idea how to deal with this now.” She said sadly.

“Anything else?” The words escaped her mouth even before Manju meant it.

To Be Continued in Part 6…

“Yes. There is.” Preeti looked worried. “With the scooter gone, we have to pull up the money by hook or by crook. My father has approached Rani kothi for money. Now everyone knows that the Rani ma lends money but takes much more in return. Looking at my father’s condition, she had a change of heart and granted mercy. But in return she wants me to work for them 14 hours a day.”

Preeti stopped and looked at her friends ogling at her. “On the first day when an attendant was coming along to drop me till this side of the forest, I clearly remember the song playing with the tea-seller on the corner of the road as he arranged to wrap up the day. I could hear some strange noises of drumbeats in the forest since a while.  It was the kind of drum beats that happen during the October fair. As I walked I almost heard someone calling Preeto from behind. I turned and immediately got pushed very hard; I landed face down on the mud track.”

“Then?” This time it was Kolu who couldn’t hold back. “What did you do? Ran away?”

“No.” Preeti tried to smile faintly. “I got up and cursed this invisible energy on top of my voice, got the attendant to carry my stuff since my ankle was paining, threw some stones in every direction cursing still, and came back to the house as if nothing ever happened.”

“My god! You are brave.” Kolu said as Manju looked on in awe. Their conversation had to halt for the day, as there was the tinkling of the cycle bell behind them. Manju’s father had already arrived to take her back. as Manju reluctantly walked towards him, she casually asked, “Baba, do you remember which song was playing in the jeep of the boys on the evening when you got pushed?”

“Of course I do. Who wouldn’t? The buggers were playing so loud. It was saavli ghadi. Nice song no? I hear the singer is also from Himachal.” The father was obviously in no position to judge that his daughter had turned extraordinarily quiet.

All news channels had suddenly got the lifeline to their TRP. As bizarre as it may sound, a song full of rhythm and beats being banned in a village two years after its release, that too with the allegation that it invites ghosts, was better drama than all the saas-bahu of Indian television put together.

Diwakar Sood promised that these waters would flow very deep and he would se the end to this. “Such a cheap gesture. Who would have known that they can stoop so low! But then, we should have guessed.” He ranted. The MLA stationed at Mandi claimed that he didn’t know who Diwakar Sood was. He only knew that there is something unnatural that is disturbing the local folks there and the government would soon find a solution to this. For the time being, if the ban brings peace to the minds of the villagers, so be it. Singers have many more songs and the rest of the country to reign!

Just when the correspondents had packed their bags to rush to Bhiuli, a youtube video put the country to a stand still. Four students pursuing post graduation from Media & Journalism College, Odhisha, wrote in their social media post that they had been touring Himachal and staying at Kullu for the past seven days. When the news of this haunted song thing broke out, they thought of investigating and wrote down the information on a piece of paper.

The pattern they discovered was interesting.

“Indeed, there are evidences for the localites to claim that saavli ghadi is haunted, at least in this area.” Said Rajeev, showing the map of Bhiuli and adjoining areas in the video.

“We spoke to many villagers. If you are thinking that the song attacks just about everyone, I’m afraid, you could be wrong.” Added Ashish. “The song can play anywhere, at any time. The affected are not necessarily those who play it, but definitely from among the selected few who hear it.”

“So we got together to speak to everyone who felt they have been a victim of the song. Every victim, coincidentally, has a young girl in the family – either as sister or daughter – who has never been sent to school or her education is being discontinued. These girls lead a difficult life, providing for the family and also contributing to the family income in whatever way possible.” Vivek continued.

Rajeev took over again. “We were also immensely amused to figure that it is not only the men who are getting beaten up or facing some kind of loss of property – nothing life threatening though. There are women victims too. We are told that these women had the permission and resources to receive education, but have taken the privilege too casually. Such women too got punished!”

“Can there be a stranger story!” Vivek exclaimed. “We spoke to the local panchayat to get to the root of this. See how it went.”

The clip showed a man in his 50’s. Mahavir Pradhan, he called himself. A host of people peeped from behind him, trying to push each other for some space just behind Mahavir. He smiled at his interviewers.

“Look son, I know that today’s generation doesn’t believe in a lot of things. They have their own right or reason to do so. I respect that. But forests have their own rules too, you know. And those are not to be challenged. They are deeply ingrained within our beliefs since generations.” He paused. “We all here have felt ghostly presence around us here, more than once…all of us. So what I hear today doesn’t shock me at all. I am not superstitious, but if you are happy to accept, let me certify that I am practical. Ghosts don’t come to trouble you; they make their presence felt when they are troubled. I don’t know what is troubling this spirit. We are simple people with humble backgrounds, and have remained so all our lives. If the immediate solution is to put a stop to one song, we can definitely extend this little support. The local radio channels have been initiated on that.”

An old man, introduced as the local headmaster, spoke out from beside. “The spirit has a deep connect with the song. What, we don’t know. But we must find out. We also know that the song is not her problem. Its something else. We are trying to get to the root of it.”

To Be Continued in Part 7…

“’Her!’ Is there any evidence that it’s a she?” Megha blurted out looking at the laptop.

“No evidence yet.” The voice behind responded. “But women ghosts are more in vogue. No? long flowing hairs, long nails, white flowing sari and all that.”

They both laughed out loud and concentrated on the laptop, as the boys were now talking to some local girls.

A little girl called Manju Thapa, barely 9, was the lead speaker. She narrated the recent events from her life and those of her peers with amazing precision. Her friends and other villagers crowded the place.

“Have you ever been to school?” Ashish asked.

“Yes, till I was in grade 1.” Manju said.

“What happened then? Why did you leave? You had access to free education, right?”

“My mother died. There was work at home.” The child spoke brightly.

“Your teachers didn’t object to you dropping out?” Ashish probed.

This time her father blurted from behind. “Only Vidya teacher did. She called me an irresponsible father, but I was helpless.”

“Who Vidya teacher?”

Manju’s “She was beautiful” drowned in the noise of other villager talking all together. Vivek prompted them to speak one at a time. A young man came forward.

“We all loved Vidya teacher. Very inspiring. She taught the children in school in the morning and held classes for adults in the evening. But she had run into some problems with the Tewari’s. We don’t know much but we have heard that she helped the daughter of the Tewari’s to elope with a low caste manhoos. He was a private tutor to the girl. The Tewari’s wanted to get her married but the girl had this hopeless demand to study more.”

“Nonsense…all this study more and stuff. Such disobedient girls are a threat to culture and society. The girl must be in some shady relationship with the boy. He helped her sneak out of the house with the help of Vidya teacher.” Blurted out another villager. “The Tewari’s didn’t take this lightly. They made her life difficult with threats and even ransacked her classes. So much so that she had to run away overnight, never to show her face again.”

“She fled and no one tried to search for her!” Rajeev asked, shocked.

“Tewari’s were powerful political goons, my son.” Another old man said. “We heard Vidya explaining to them, every educated individual has the right to take the decisions of her life! Now who would take such arguments lightly? A girl would drown the reputation of her family in muddy water and no one must object because she was educated? Has anyone heard of a weirder logic?”

“Good that she fled.” Spoke another man. “We had started losing respect for Vidya teacher. We still tried to protect her though. But for how long? No one can protect an obnoxious voice who wouldn’t accept her fault! What right did she have to meddle with the Tewari’s family issues?”

“And the Tewaris?” Ashish asked.

“They left the place a year ago. No one can live with the insult inflicted upon the family by their own daughter.” He was told.

Ashish turned towards the camera.

“I am not sure what I should make of this conversation. All I can do is, draw your attention to the lyrics of Saavli Ghadi. The song is about a beautiful, obedient girl who cooks, cleans, combs her hair, applies kumkum and feels like a flower. No wonder that the poetry of the song is a mesmerizing masterpiece, but this ghost certainly has a problem with women of such virtues. And the song, it seems, provokes irritates and infuriates the ghost and gives it the strength to bash up everyone who blocks education of women. We are Ashish, Vivek, Rajeev and from behind the camera, Gaurav.”

“Bloody hell! This sounds like the shittiest thing I have heard in my life. Is this a joke?” Megha shouted.

The woman shrugged and lifted her bag. “You got your story, right?”

Megha looked at her. “Hey, how do you know so much about them?”

The woman smiled as she got up. “I know because I have been a victim too, of another kind but as a part of the same story.”

“And what’s that?” She probed.

The woman laughed. “One story at a time, girl.”

“But I don’t understand this.” Megha still had more to clarify. “Why the hell are they after the song? Action should be taken, rather, to put these girls back to school!”

The woman nodded her head bitterly. “There’s a lot of difference between what should happen and what happens. Putting the girls back to school would need a lot of garbage removed from the system and from the attitudes of the locales. They have opted for the easy route. Stop the song and shoo the ghost!”

They both remained quiet for a good ten seconds. Megha turned as she heard her talking again. “And that’s why I think, you should make this film. Only you can push the cause and bring the ghost back, for all right reasons.”

“See, what you said wouldn’t help me.” Megha pouted. “Of course this is interesting. I will need a script to decide if we want to proceed. We must add some fiction to add masala. You

know what I mean?”

The woman nodded with a strange smile and proceeded towards the door.

“Hey. What’s your name?” Megha asked from behind.

This time she laughed out loud. “After two hours of sitting with me you realized you don’t know my name! Have left my card on the chair. Go check.” She walked out.

A piece of paper torn from some sheet lay there. Megha turned it. In beautiful cursive handwriting, it wrote, Vidya! No number, no email id, nothing. She turned sharply, but Vidya was gone.

Megha has worked on many horror projects for Indian and foreign productions. This jolt, the sudden discomfort, was the first in her life. She almost shrieked at the sound of the glass door opening behind.

Akash looked at her with a large frown. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah. Why?” She blabbered so softly that even she couldn’t hear well.

“What why! The entire office is gossiping that you had been talking to yourself in an empty room. The pantry boy said you had even asked for two cups of coffee to be delivered in your room. What’s happening?” Akash looked at her as if she was a lunatic.

“What crap!” Megha was getting her voice back. “You sent this Vidya to me right? She said she met you and….!”

Akash sighed. “Babes, I have just walked into office. Was stuck in traffic. If I would send someone, I will introduce right? Hey, are you ok? Sit down, sit. Have water.”

Megha’s face had gone all white. She fell on to the chair. With shaky hands she picked up the paper where Vidya had signed her name. It was blank. She turned the side. Nothing, just blank!

Frantically she turned towards the laptop. There were only three fringe news articles on Diwakar Sood’s song being banned in a Himachali village. Diwakar had laughed it off, raised his hands to a namaskar and refused to comment any further. The video uploaded by the four boys had wiped out of the internet. News channels were discussing price rise and women empowerment. Megha felt her head would split into two.

As she went mad with the keyboard, Akash called for the doctor. He stared at her for a while and dialed the number of her husband, feeling guilty that he had perhaps pressurized her a little too much in the last few weeks. The girl badly needed rest.

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