Prayag, the holy city of my childhood beckoned.After 8 years I was back to my roots with my wife Meera and six year old son Harsh.I breathed in the familiar air, praying that the next few years should be uneventful and relaxing.How would I have known then that I would be pulled into something that would shake my core and question my beliefs.
It was the year 1986 and we had settled into a small 1 bedroom flat near the crowded bustling city center.The first few days went by exploring the nearby essentials and getting admission for my son in a Convent school nearby.Relatives and neighbors came over frequently and helping with the meals and grocery.After the hustle bustle of Delhi, we found Prayag to be far more peaceful and relaxing.Little Harsh was able to make friends with some of the neighboring kids.
We met our friendly next door neighbors Mr and Mrs Mishra in the first week.Mrs Indu Mishra was a smiling big lady who got with her a sack full of basmati rice which even after continuous denials, we were forced to keep.Mr Dev Mishra was a good looking tall man ,but silent and brooding most of the times.
Years ago, Mrs Indu who came from a rich book business family had fallen in love with Dev, a village bumpkin with little education.Her stubborn will forced her parents to let her get married to Dev and give one of the book shops to him to run and earn their upkeep.Through 8 years of marriage, the relations with her parents had changed from strained to cordial and the couple seemed to be leading a normal life now.
They called us for dinner one night and most of the evening was spent listening to Mrs Mishra talk about the city and the neighbors.Mr Mishra was silent the whole time and hardly spoke a word.The dinner was delicious and we went back home with a warm and secure feeling of having good people around us.That night I joked to Meera how Mrs Mishra might have kept her husband in leash so much that he had become silent.Smiling, we switched off the lights and went to blissful sleep.
We all settled down to the city life with some weekend get togethers with relatives and friends.Our friendship with the next door Mishra’s became stronger with Meera and Mrs Indu exchanging recipes and anecdotes almost daily.Mrs Indu said she liked children and used to try to catch hold of little Harsh to play. Harsh was a boisterous child, but for some reason used to squirm in front of her.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, on the third cup of tea and third serving of pakoras, Meera asked the question dangling in her mind since we knew them.”Induji, you don’t have any children?” “Arre Meera , what do I say? It has been 8 years since we married and I have had 3 miscarriages since then.My father sent me to the best gynaecologists, but there seems to be no problem.Even Mishraji went for a checkup after I forced him to, but he is fine.So now , we have left it to fate.” “Oh so sorry to hear that Induji.You should go to Manasa Devi temple in Haridwar, a lot of my friends were expecting once they did darshan there.”
“Bah, its all waste, I don’t believe in God.” said Induji shrilly. Meera was shocked.Brought up in a conservative family, she thought all people were staunch believers and worshippers of God. Meera repeated the conversation to me that night, but I laughed it off saying maybe she has lost faith in God after so many years of waiting for childbirth. Meera was being judgmental like the other women.I expected a graduate women like that to be more understanding.
One day as Meera stepped out to throw the excess potato curry in the dustbin outside, Induji stopped her.”What are you doing, why are you throwing all that stuff out?Don’t waste food, give that to me.” Meera smiled and gave it assuming it was for the house maid.She turned back home, but a side glance shocked her. Induji had gulped the entire curry in one go.Disgusted , Meera ran back home mumbling. “Crazy lady..”
“Thwack..thwack” .The sounds sounded eerie in the darkness of the night.”Meera , Meera , get up.What is that sound?” Meera woke up to a complete silence except for the whirring of the ceiling fan.”Thwack ..thwack” “Bam“.A shrill laughter accompanied by loud sobs shattered the silence.We got up to check and the sounds were coming from next door.Sorry , very sorry , a man’s voice came through.Meera looked at me worried.”Looks like Mr Mishra came back home drunk again and messing with Induji. Such a horrible thing.I will go and give a piece of mind to the good for nothing fellow”.”Shush Meera.Its their personal matter.Don’t get involved.Go back to sleep.”
Meera got up the next day ready to be an agony aunt.She rang the bell and out came Induji fresh as a daisy smiling with not a hint of any violence upon her.”Good morning Meera.I am going to the Lal Phatak market today, do you want to come along?There will be fresh mangoes coming in today.” “Sure, I will come , but only if you are feeling well.”
“I am perfectly fine, what will happen to me” Induji laughed. Mishra came through the door flustered and walked out with his head down.He didn’t even smile at Meera.”Shameless fellow she deserved much better.”
The Lal Phatak (Red gate) market was a bustling place and it was super crowded because of the mango season.Meera and Indu enjoyed haggling with the vendors and ended up buying fresh vegetables and fruits at cheap prices.They stopped at a chaat place to eat golgappas and aloo tikki.Meera enjoyed the sunshine and the constant chatter of Induji.It was admirable how her companion did not show any sadness outwards after the events of last night.While walking to the rickshaw stand, Induji stopped near a Wine shop and bought a bottle of local liquor.Meera was shocked.Her husband must be really cruel, not only does he drink and hit her, he also forces her to buy liquor.Tears welled up in her eyes, but she didn’t have the courage to ask Induji again.
“Bam.” “Thwack thwack“. The sounds started again in the dead of the night.A booming voice was screaming the dirtiest cuss words possible.Meera could not take it anymore and pushed me to go and check. “Knock-knock” Nothing happened, the screams continued. One another neighbor came out and asked me to go back inside.Refusing to listen, I rang the bell loudly. The screams stopped.The door opened and Mishra glanced out.
“What is happening.Is everything all right?”
“Yes.Its all fine.Mind your own business.” he said gruffly.The next door neighbor hurriedly closed his door and I rushed back home.”Meera , something weird is going on. Mishra looked completely sober.The other neighbor Mr Sharma asked me to go back inside. God knows what happening there and since when. ”
“I will check with Induji tomorrow, this has to stop.”
“Don’t you dare.We will end up being the bad people.Keep out of it.”
Our minds disturbed , we hugged each other and tried to catch up on our sleep.
The doorbell rang early next morning and Meera opened the door to see a smiling Induji holding a bowl. “I made kheer today.” “Induji , are you really fine? I am there in case you need to talk”. “Meera I am perfectly fine.Why do you keep asking that?” We could not prod further, maybe she did not want to rat out on her husband.
I stepped out of home early to attend to something urgent in my office.I saw Bahadur, our security guard hiding something behind his back and rushing to Mishra home.”Bahadur, where are you slinking off to and what’s that in your hand”. He grinned sheepishly and before he could respond, the door opened and Induji took the bottle and paid some cash to him.”Namaste Bhaisaheb. Rushing to office early?” I just nodded my head and bolted from there.It was getting weirder and weirder.As much as the Mishras looked nice from outside, there was something murky going on inside their home.I tried to put together the puzzle pieces, but nothing fit.
The next few days were quiet and we slept through the nights soundly.One nice pleasant evening post dinner, we were walking around the apartment complex when in came Mishra through the main gate.He was carrying a big box of kebabs and few bottles of liquor. ”Hello MishraJi.Some party at your home?” I got a weak smile in return. ” I thought your family did not eat non-veg food.” I asked hoping to get some information from him. “Neither did I ” he said curtly and walked off leaving us in a daze.
That fateful night,I stepped out to walk out my own since Meera and Harsh were out visiting her sister’s family in Aligarh. As I was breathing in the pleasant cool breeze thinking about the tough day in office, I saw a man sitting on the bench shoulders heaving.I stopped , unsure if I should approach when the man looked up and I found myself staring at the dead pan face of Mr Mishra. His eyes were bloodshot and empty.I steered clear of him when I heard footsteps behind.”Stop ..stop.Please help me “.I looked back and saw the him hands folded and pleading with tears in his eyes.”Please help me , I will go crazy.” I faltered not sure if he was telling the truth or just high. “Come with me to my home, do something , anything to stop it.”I walked back with him upstairs and to their home.
What I saw scared the hell out of me.The windows and doors of their home were rattling loudly.The place was stinking and dark.The bedroom was in a disarray and in the middle of the bed sat Indu, hair strewn all over and a maniacal gleam in her eyes.As soon as she saw him , she screamed in a man’s voice – “Oh have you come now.Where is the chicken and the liquor bottle?” Seeing Mishra’s scared face, Indu or whatever she was charged at him .”Thwack.. thwack” and she gave him two solid kicks on his shin making him fall down in pain.The air whooshed out of my lungs and I stood stunned and immobile.”Bam” a punch fell on his face and he started bleeding from his nose.Gathering all the energy , he dragged himself to the refrigerator and got out a big bowl of chicken kebabs and two liquor bottles. Indu grabbed the food from him and tore down the chicken in two big bites.She emptied the liquor bottles, went to the bed and slept.The snoring broke the heavy silence which hung in the air.I could smell the fear.I got the nerve to move and open my mouth, but all that came out was a croak. Mishra looked at me and his face betrayed all emotions in one go.He slumped down on the floor and started crying.”Please help me .It has been eight years and I am suffering through all this abuse.When she gets up tomorrow morning, she will not remember a thing and act as if all was fine.Please do something.Something about you assures me that you will sort this out.” The tall swarthy man holding my feet and begging for help moved me to tears. ” Get up and tell me the entire thing.When did this start and what all have you done about it till now?”
“After our wedding, we decided to postpone our honeymoon for a year till I had saved enough to go to Mumbai.It was a place Indu had wanted to visit since she was young.We were so much in love and so happy with each other.But the moment we returned back from Mumbai, things started taking a downturn.My sweet good natured wife started behaving differently.She was 1 month pregnant at that time and I dismissed the weird behavior to be related to her condition.But then in the second month she miscarried. Indu was upset for days and her behavior started changing a lot more.She would suddenly get cravings for meat even though she has never eaten before.She would get violent at me and hit me in the nights.There were days when she was her old self and days that she acted like someone else totally. I took her to doctors and psychiatrists, but they all said it could be because of stress and anxiety.The funny part was Indu could never remember the events after they happened.I stopped telling her for the fear that she may become more sick.After that she suffered 2 more miscarriages and each time she was not even upset it happened.Slowly I felt her moving away from God and becoming indifferent to pain.I stopped checking with doctors since most of them laughed at my face when I told that my wife beats me up regularly.I can’t even share anything with my in-laws since they don’t yet trust me completely.I called a tantrik once, who said she might be possessed by some evil spirit.He tried doing some ritual, but that changed her even more.She started becoming more violent and used to devour 2-3 chickens and 2-3 bottles of liquor whenever she got the fit.For some years, I let life pass by , just for the moments when she is my dear old Indu. But since couple of days, she has become so violent that she rattles the windows and kicks me till I give her liquor or food.I am losing control of my life, I wish someone can help me make her better.I can’t see my dear wife like this.Please help me.”
My mind was reeling with his story.I had heard of evil spirit possession, but always laughed it off as fiction.Never before had I encountered something like this before.My palms were sweating and I just mustered enough courage to assure him to go to sleep and I will try to figure out something tomorrow morning.He must really love his wife , if he can still go and sleep next to her after the events tonight.I shuddered and took leave of the Mishra home.I could not sleep the entire night and I kept muttering some chants to keep me calm.I prayed to God to show some path to help poor Mishra.
The next couple of days, all seemed to be quiet at the Mishra home.I even met Indu in the morning who greeted me with her usual smile.I dared not look into her eyes for the fear that I might break into a sweat or scream.I checked with people in office about demonic possession, and one of them suggested a Maulvi who was a sure shot solution to such problems.
I took the maulvi to Mishra and we convinced Indu to sit for the ritual by saying that he was there to ward off evil eye.He draped a white sheet, black prayer mat, and some beads over her.Then he started reciting some verses from a prayer book in a soft voice.At first, Indu lay there with a serene look on her face, absorbing the prayer, but then, about five minutes into the test, her eyes started twitching and flickering.The spooky twitching carried on for about 15 minutes, at times becoming more intense , and at others subsiding slightly.After a while incoherent sounds issues from the side of her mouth.She writhed and groaned and thrashed about her hands wildly.Her back arched , heels pinned to the floor , and then without transition it was as if a man lay there – the movements , the posture somehow took an indefinably masculine cast. Eyes opened, and she stood up and started yelling in English in a man’s throat.She started to run around the room screaming “Give me food or I will consume you.”.It was surreal to see her speaking in a language which she had no idea of.This was the first time I actually believed that she was possessed by a spirit.Shivers ran down my spine.Maulvi and Mishra looked at me asking me to interpret English.
The maulvi increased the intensity of his chanting. Indu writhed more and ran to grab the maulvi.I tried to hold down Indu with Mishra, but it was as if we were trying to pin down an elephant. Indu scratched my arms and the blood made me faint.I gathered my courage and shouted “ Who are you? Why are you here in Indu’s body?”
The glazed eyes stared at me and answered “I am Deshpande and I have imprisoned her since 8 years, I have eaten all her children , but now there are none, give me some meat else I will consume all of you.” I hurriedly translated to maulvi who then signaled me and Mishra to keep our hold tight so that he could tie an amulet and throw some holy dust on her. The writhing increased and we were hurled across the room like missiles. Indu charged at the maulvi and clawed his face.The amulet was crushed by her and she held his arms as if to chew him off.The maulvi somehow managed to squeeze and run out the door screaming that he had never seen a such a powerful spirit.Sensing more violence , Dev ran and threw a bowl of chicken at the demon.Indu chomped it off hungrily and suddenly her body slumped , she fell on the floor bed and slept. I took my leave and ran to the safety of my home.Never before I had prayed to God as much as that eventful week.
The doorbell rang on Sunday morning.I found a old brahmin in white dhoti and saffron scarf standing at the door.”Mishra stays here?” “No , he’s is the opposite door.”
The priest banged their door and it was opened by Mishra. “For how long will you take the load of this pretatma(demon).He has eaten away your children.”
Mishra was stunned.”Who are you?” .
“I had come for Sangam dip and while passing through this place, I could sense a strong pretatma in this place.Where is she?”
Mishra threw a surprised glance at me and called Indu out.
Indu came to the door, but she stopped a few feet away. walking back.The priest glared at her, she glanced down , not meeting the eyes.It was a strange encounter. He then pulled Mishra aside and whispered – “The only way is Mehndipur Balaji temple”, Saying that he walked away and didn’t even look back.Mishra was stunned.We had never heard of the Mehndipur temple.
I felt such a relief when I saw Meera and Harsh back from their vacation.The last week had been a turmoil and the negativity had created a depression of sorts in my mind.I recounted the events of the week to Meera and she was taken aback.At first she didn’t believe me, but when I told about Balaji temple priest, she started nodding her head vigorously.”Yes, that is a temple famous for demonic possession.One of our neighbors had taken their daughter for evil eye ritual.”
Mishra, Meera and I planned to go over the next weekend to Dausa where the temple was situated.Harsh was sent to my relatives place to stay.
The Mehandipur Balai temple was situated in Dausa district Rajasthan.We hired a car to take us down to the temple premises.As we neared the Mehandipur dham, the desolate landscape with dust swirling and dry withering trees did nothing to improve our mood.Indu who was talking all the while , suddenly grew quiet and started fidgeting around.
The temple itself, rising between two hills, looked unlike any temple we had visited.Crows swirled above the roof as if waiting for death.The air inside the temple reverberated with murmuring voices and muffled thuds.We were given black ladies as prasad to throw in the fire.The scenes inside were heart rendering and I felt bile rise up my throat.Meera grabbed my hands tightly, she was shivering with fear.
We saw a woman sitting cross-legged on the floor, her head and shoulders shaking hard, her face nearly hidden behind a tangle of black hair. A priest squatted close around her, stroking her and speaking urgently to the pretatma—“Get out! Leave her!”The pretatma was screeching back in filthiest language possible.As we started walking further in , Indu refused to budge.Her body started twitching and she tried to run back outside.It took all three of us to force her to keep walking.
We climbed some stone steps and entered a big room where a loud chanting session was in progress, led by a priest who stood in a sea of nodding turbans and hooded women’s heads. A man approached us and we recognized him as the priest who had come visiting to Prayag.He quickly shuffled all four of us and took us to meet the head priest.
The head priest was a wizened old man and looked to be at least 100 years old.He took a look at Indu and signaled to four priests standing behind who took her with them.”The pretatma is residing in her since eight years and has taken full possession of her body.He died in a brutal accident and has not received any liberation from this world.He must have possessed her when she was traveling in the same road where the incident occurred. “
“It is very difficult to tackle such a pretatma , but I have exorcised many such pretatmas and got them moksha.It can be a very violent ritual, so you may choose to sit outside.”
None of us agreed to leave Indu alone ,so we all entered a chamber with the head priest. There were children, men and women tied to rocks and pillars with metal chains. Some of them were being beaten by priests. It looked as if many of them have not eaten for days. I felt as if some intangible force was holding my head and leaning over my shoulders and back. Meera’s face was white with fear.There was pain and negativity all around.
Indu was shackled up in chains and seemed to be in a trance.The head priest started humming softly and as Indu twitched and squirmed in her place, his chants grew louder and louder.The transformation happened again, the features , the look, the eyes all took a masculine form.Indu started screaming choicest abuses and on a signal four men came and pinned her down.Their faces were devoid of any reaction after year of practise and being witness to the ugly unknown day in and day out.
The chanting suddenly stopped and only the sounds of devotional songs reverberated in the air. We heard a heart rendering cry of a man nearby as boiling water was being thrown at him to get the evil spirit outside.
“ Leave her! Leave her body now!” The shout of the head priest reluctantly brought me back to the scene in front of me.Indu nodded her head vigorously and shook the chains she was entangled in.”No, I will never leave her and go ”.The relentless volley continued for some time.Each time the pretatma tried to break the shackles, the priests tied her up with new ones. Mishra was in a state of shock, tears formed in his eyes, but his face was impassive.
The priest then started sprinkling some holy water on Indu and she winced as if she was burnt on the place where the droplets fell.After an hour, Indu’s body started sagging and suddenly she slumped forward with a loud wail.After what seemed like an eternity, she opened her eyes and looked lost.The priest looked at Mishra and nodded his head and said – “Baba took care of the evil”.
“Now go and do not look back at the temple, do not eat any food or drink any water in this place.Just go back to your home , take a bath and forget the last eight years. Bolo Shree Hanuman Chandra Ki Jai!”
The chains around Indu were opened and she looked at Mishra and asked “ Where are we?” Mishra smiled and gently led her outside the chamber.Outside, the sea of people were chanting “Siya Ke Ram ”. We all joined in , with Indu shouting the loudest “Siya Ke Ram”. Mishra looked ten years younger that day.
5 years later
Mrs Mishra gave birth to three children after the cleansing ritual and they led a happy life for many years.