Bhutey

Mihir was asleep, finally. Usually, it took him less than five minutes to be snoring from the time his head had hit the pillow. But these days it was different... ever since Mihir's mother had died, it was almost impossible to put nine-month-old Mihir to sleep. He would cry, scream and flail his little limbs about, while everyone looked around helplessly. Poor old Baidehi: she struggled and wept a lot in her last days. "Please take care of him", she had muttered from her deathbed to everyone who stood around it. No-one in particular had nodded to accept the responsibility from the withered frame, though. After all, who wanted to take custody of the cursed child. People referred to him as "Bhutey" or the ghostly one.

Mihir's father had died the day he was born. The village lore held that his father had run all the way from his paddy field to the Sadar Hospital 10 km away upon hearing the news of his birth. Actually, he had limped: the snake that bit him in the field that day had made him limp. But at the end of his 10 km trek, he had one last look at his son and collapsed in the hospital itself. Mihir's father was the only one who looked after their crops -- they failed that year. And then, ever since their old dog passed away, people were convinced that there was an evil omen about Mihir.

In the village, rumour went that the first one look at Mihir in the morning would have a terrible day. Normally, it was Baidehi herself who slept by his side, and she would be the first one to look at his face in the morning. Nowadays, no-one wanted to have that misfortune. So they let him sleep alone in his cradle, and placed a mirror beside him. When she was alive, every morning Baidehi would dutifully pick the white juin flowers, form a small garland out of them, and put them on Lord Krishna's photo. At night, she would take it and give it to little Mihir to play with, and he would fall asleep with the garland beside him. Baidehi took very good care of her son. This kid was permanently hungry, but wouldn't eat much at any time. One could frequently see her trotting from Mihir's room to and fro the kitchen with a morsel of food in hand. She would rock his cradle or use the bamboo leaf fan to wave off mosquitoes and flies, or go to the window hidden beside the almirah in her room with the kid clutched to her bosom and show him the crows and cows and trees. And every time Mihir dug his hand into his nose or mouth, she would shoo it off and forbid him, "Tuk, tuk"! People had grown accustomed to Baidehi raising this child. Jhilik, the unmarried cousin who everyone was searching a groom for, would often play with him at dusk in their courtyard. She would often joke that it was her baby. When Baidehi died, however, Jhilik's parents had shunned her from even being anywhere near the child. And even as she wept silently in her room, people were convinced that the rumour was true: this was the cursed child indeed.

The trouble started when people began hearing scraping noises from the kitchen at dusk. Nobody was sure who did this, but often in the evenings or at dusk, people would hear someone scraping the metal pans in which the food was kept in the kitchen. And in mornings, it would seem as if someone had run four fingers through the food overnight randomly, and picked just a morsel or two. It was a joint family, and the usual suspects (i.e. the children) were rounded up, caned, threatened... but nothing turned up. And even though the room was properly searched and sealed at night to take care of cats, the noises would come randomly nonetheless. One morning someone discovered a grain or two of rice beside Mihir's lips in his bed: and they finally knew who was behind these noises. An explanation had been found: Mihir was stealing the rice. The uncomfortable question about how the child was managing to lay his hands on the food amidst all that security was something everyone chose to ignore -- must be one of those brats helping him... some more caning and one of them will crack for sure.

One day they did catch a brat. The afternoon siesta was very important for the family. And on some of these hot afternoons, they would find some bamboo-leaf fans missing. Or someone going about lightly in Mihir's room, as if spitting "Thuk" repeatedly. It annoyed them for a while, until they observed that most of the times, these fans turned up in Mihir's room, and it seemed someone would run out of the window as soon as anyone entered the room. They suspected that the brats were up to something in that room because there weren't any elders present, and catch one of them brats they did. The ten-year-old child had cried and cried under the spanking he received that he had just stolen two mangoes from the orchard and had gone in there to eat them in peace. But no-one believed him:

"You must be the one always giving us a slip through that window each afternoon... and whats with the fans, eh? Want to get some air while you enjoy the stolen mangoes every afternoon? We'll teach you a lesson so that you don't create that ruckus again in that room... let that baby sleep in peace, will you?"

All the elders reminded this boy that the next time he disturbed their sleep in the afternoon, he'd have had it. Still, the noises persisted after a while: albeit more softly. Nobody bothered now... must be some other kid in the house: at least this one was more discreet about it. And thankfully, because Mihir was fed only twice a day like the other kids in the house, he too had given up wailing day in and day out. He seemed to be full these days. "Nothing that a little discipline cannot do to a child", Jhilik's mother would say.

The biggest ruckus happened the day when Jhilik had gone to check on the baby in the morning and found him missing from the cradle. She had shouted out loud upon not finding him there. Everyone hunted around for the child, and they finally discovered him when he started wailing. He had been in his own room all this time, but somehow managed to go near the window in the corner of the room beside the almirah. Afterwards, when the elders interrogated her, Jhilik was in tears. Her mother was furious, "How many times have I asked you not to go near that child now? Do all you can after you're married... but don't even dare do this again before that, you understand?!"

Jhilik had nodded her head as she wept and confessed to having gone into the baby's room in the mornings to wake him up quite a few times.
- "Oh whats possibly wrong with this? He looks so heavenly in the morning! His pillow smells of fresh juin flowers, and he always smiles when he sees me in the morning!".

Her mother had rolled her eyes and said,
- "What will I do with her?!! Haven't I asked you not to look at Mihir's face in the mornings? Oh dear Lord... what will I do with this headstrong girl... don't, don't... for heaven's sake do not do this to us! Please, O Krishna... don't let that rich educated groom from Babughat slip away: I promise I'll give a special Puja in your name during the next Sankranti! Oh please please please... and you girl! I'll break your legs if you dare go into that room again!"

Jhilik nodded her head in silent agreement and slipped away into her room that day. They continued to put up with the little noises and scraping for a few more weeks.

It was the anniversary of Mihir's father's death. The men in the family had grudingly prepared for their journey to the river next morning for some rituals. Only Jhilik had remembered that it was Mihir's birthday too, but she didn't dare tell this to anyone else after her mother had threw a tantrum and cried and wept when she had reminded her of this. And the fact that someone was heard scraping the metal pans that evening again, this time particularly loudly, didn't really help matters. That night, it seemed one of these brats were up to something again in Mihir's room. It was almost dawn when the "Tuk tuk" noise from that room became particularly loud, and someone seemed to be pacing in that room not so lightly. The men who had to get up at dawn anyway decided enough was enough, and the elders of the family marched into Mihir's room fuming at 5:00 am in the morning. After they barged into that room, they were surprised to see that it was empty. The bed was warm, and a few juin flowers were strewn beside the pillow. But the baby was nowhere to be found. They discovered that the window beside the almirah in the corner of the room was open. And they never saw Mihir again.

Comments

  1. God..
    The first reaction was a little shocking, but on second thoughts, it is actually possible in our world that people allow a baby to be stolen (and be thankful for it) just because they think he;s cursed, or is visited by his mother's ghost.
    Nice one.

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  2. lovely story. and very sad too. :)

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  3. Very creepy uncomfortable end.... shudder!!!!

    Nice writing btw!

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  4. Needs more polish, but I feel sad for the little baby. silly as it sounds, I really hope it was his mother visiting him all this time, bringing him the comfort of the known fragrance and reminding him of that one person who cherished him as no one else.

    Sky

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  5. Phoenix, thank you :) Life is cruel.. I know.

    Galadriel, hm... it is not a fairytale, I know. Thanks anyway. :)

    Supremus, thank you. Yeah I had to work on that creepiness a lot.

    Sky, I know a little more polish could have made the story more eerie, so to say. But I'll let it be :) About who it was all this time... hehe... short stories need to end with open questions :)

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  6. Sad, sad baby. It has to be the mother who took him away with her...but to where? Give it a happy ending!

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  7. Lovely piece. More like the sad movies I used to cry thru. But its a good creative attempt.
    Give us more.

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  8. Sudipta, Wonderful story, I liked the climax. Your blog is interesting and I am latching on to the feed now.
    cheers

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  9. Indian home maker, welcome onboard! Unfortunately I can't give this a happy ending: the deed has already been done. Tell me, why does it seem better to you that the ghost of the mother took the baby rather than a live person (Jhilik, lets say?) abducted him?

    P.S. - Liked your blog, BTW.. have linked to the top post from Blogbharti

    Manpreet, :) Thank you.

    Priyank, oh welcome onboard! And thankoo thankoo! Let me keep tab of your RSS feed as well now. Cheers!

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  10. I don't want this story to end :(

    Plz plz write a part-2 for this just the way The_Return_of_Sherlock_Holmes was written :)

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  11. If I might add a little bit of (hopefully, constructive) criticism, it is written in a matter-of-fact, reported speech that distances the reader from the action and the emotion.

    Maybe you should focus the action closer and leave more details blurred and let the reader use his/her imagination.

    It was a creepy story, all right. I didn't particularly feel any emotion while reading it though.

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  12. Sudipta Jhilik loves the baby, but lives with her parents who won't let her care for Mihir!
    In ghost stories (like in Paheli, the Shahrukh Khan-Rani Mukherji movie)ghosts can enter a human body and I thought maybe something like this happened here:)Poor Baidehi saw her baby's misery and decided to take him away from this cowardly, superstitious family. Hence the flowers!...did you have that in mind?
    Beautifully written! Once started I had to know what happened next.

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  13. Manasa, I dunno... might write some day.

    Hari, yeah you're right.. the Harry Potter-ish miserable thing is missing.

    Indian home maker, something like that. A lot of people have come up with various explanations -- including Krishna, Jhilik, kidnappers and Baidehi. My original idea was the mother herself, but the others seem to suit the plot too! Thanks for the compliment, though :)

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  14. Interesting read... In order to clear the suspense, this story needs a part 2 :)
    We'll be waiting...

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  15. hey!!!

    such a sad sweet story...

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  17. i'm glad its morning and i don't have to go in bed after reading a rather, well a tad bit, creepy ending.

    you are indeed a good writer...you've inherited your mothers lovely skills:)

    nice story..more more...

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  19. hey thats a good attempt and I initially felt there was something not so cliche like all typical short story writers.. but i believe still a long way to go..
    I am not an expert or anything but having read fiction all my life feel that there is something amiss...
    looking forward for another try ..better than this...

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  20. Good one! Waiting for more such posts :)

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  21. Ships, naah, some things are best left unsaid. We'll see :)

    Pinku, :)

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  22. Allie, :) thanks.

    Rt, welcome onboard! I know what you mean... some element is missing: inexplicably so. Lets see ahead.

    Alpine path, :) thank you.

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  23. Tagged you! Maybe this will make you write less sad stories. :)
    Mail me, I am coming to TX. :D

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  24. Galadriel, although I'm replying late, it was nice to meet you!

    Whatever, yup, thanks! :)

    Mala, thank you.

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