Don’t read this when you’re alone at home!
Illustrations: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
The Spirits Talk To Me tracks Sarbajeet Mohanty and his team as they probe harrowing supernatural happenings across the country, offering a rare peek into the distinctive investigative methods used by the team to detect mysterious forces that exist in parallel realms.
‘What do you know about the history of the house?’
‘Not much,’ Saraswati replied. ‘In fact, we aren’t the first occupants of this house. Before we moved in, the Dutta family used to live here.’
‘They moved out?’
The woman nodded. ‘They confided later that they had been through similar experiences here.
‘Of course, they hadn’t shared this information before handing the property over. The stories emerged later.
‘It seems they would also hear footsteps on the upper floor, along with wails and laughter and even someone whistling.
‘They experienced more, like someone knocking on the door in the middle of the night.
‘Once, something like a pebble was thrown at their window. The glass window pane was smashed, but they could not find the pebble or whatever had been thrown.’
Even as I listened to the woman, I realised that this was going to be a unique case. Everything pointed to some malevolent entity which wasn’t shy about manifesting itself.
Saraswati continued, ‘One evening, when the Duttas were eating at a table that used to stand in this very hall, something terrifying happened.
‘What was it?’
‘They felt as if someone was sitting with them at the table. They heard the sounds of chewing, chomping and munching.
‘They all stopped eating, but the sounds continued.
‘Then there was a low growling, not unlike a bear’s, and all of a sudden, one of the plates was snatched away and flung against the wall where it smashed into pieces.
‘That same week, the Duttas vacated the house and we got it.’
There was that same contemplative silence again and I broke it with another question: ‘Have you or the children ever seen anything more substantial in this house? Something that points to the malevolence?’
‘There is something else, but I don’t know whether I should believe it,’ Saraswati said, after some thought. ‘The way things are going, my grandchildren might well be inventing a tall tale just to play along, you know?’
‘Tell me about it all the same,’ I urged.
‘Okay, now I have not witnessed this for myself, but my younger grandchildren claim they have seen a woman.’
‘What kind of a woman?’
‘She is dressed in red, a saree. She comes down that path outside, towards the house, and enters the house. Then she disappears.’
‘Do they claim to see her often?’
‘My granddaughter has seen the woman on more than one occasion. She does the same thing every time -- comes into the house from outside, uses those steps and goes to the terrace.’
‘No one knows,’ Saraswati replied. ‘We don’t go upstairs, as you know.’
‘I see. Can I talk to your grandchildren?’
At that, she refused. ‘I would request you not to. They are terrified of everything, as it is, and asking them questions about it will only make it worse. They don’t even want to come out of their rooms tonight.’
‘I can quite understand your point of view,’ I said.
Children should not be exposed to these things any more than we can help. We’ll use our own means to investigate.
‘In fact, we should be beginning our investigation now.
‘May we go to the upper floor?’
She nodded. ‘The upper floor is all yours. Neither my grandchildren nor I will be disturbing you. Take as much time as you want, but please rid us of this menace.’
I nodded reassuringly and proceeded to the staircase.
As I climbed the stairs for the upper quarters, I was suddenly beset by a much stronger negative vibe than I had experienced earlier.
I felt it all around me now, as if something were trying to engulf and smother me or, at the very least, drive me away from the place.
As my steps began to falter, Savio came to my aid and held me by the arm. The feeling of being smothered subsided when I reached the upper floor.
The fog around my head began to clear and I could see the layout of the place.
I noticed a corridor on one side, flanked by a railing, that provided access to rooms on the other side. I gathered there could be three or four such rooms.
Behind us, the stairs continued on their way up, evidently leading to the terrace we had been told about.
I decided to explore the rooms first.
By then, darkness had begun to descend.
A part of me had been waiting for dusk to set in, as that is the best time to communicate with entities from another realm.
In the feeble residual light, I took some pictures of the rooms and sent them to Pooja (the psychic in the team of paranormal investigators), hoping she would sense what we could not, as had happened on many previous occasions.
I was especially keen on knowing if she could tell us about the woman in red.
While waiting for Pooja to respond, I began to guide the crew to do a recce of the premises.
I noticed that the wooden floor made a creaking sound with every step.
When we were still, there was a musty silence all around.
The light was fading fast, but from what I could still see, it was plain that the family hadn’t been using this floor at all. It was bare, with the paint peeling off and the wood rotting.
Wherever my gaze travelled, there were signs of neglect.
I had the strong feeling that there was something here that defied our normal human senses. And then the chicken-and-egg question arose in my mind: was this place abandoned because spirits inhabited it or did spirits inhabit this place because it had been abandoned?
I was scouring my surroundings, when my eyes were drawn to an object on the floor.
I shone my flashlight on it and was unnerved for a moment.
It was a stuffed doll, lying prone on the floor in a way that looked odd to me.
The rag doll had red hair and was dressed in red and blue. It looked new and there was no dust on it.
As it lay there, its large eyes with exaggerated red-thread eyelashes stared back at me.
I sent Srijit downstairs to enquire about the doll. Saraswati and the children denied any knowledge of it; in fact, they were sure there was no such doll when she had moved in.
Then Pooja called.
Did you see anything in the pictures?’ I asked.
‘Sarbajeet,’ she said in a grave voice, which is typical of her when she sees things psychically, ‘where exactly are you guys?’
‘It’s a government house in Bhubaneswar.’
‘Practically. A family lives downstairs, but the upper floor is completely bare.’
‘All right…,’ she said.
I knew that pause. It meant she was going to make some startling pronouncement.
‘All right, listen,’ she said. ‘The thing is, these pictures have something perplexing in them. I enlarged them and studied them. Immediately, there was this choking feeling. As if the air I was breathing had suddenly become dense. Can’t explain it.’
‘I know the feeling.’ I told her, recalling the similar sensation that had assailed me at the entrance of the house and then while climbing the stairs.
‘Usually, when we experience such feelings, we proceed with great caution,’ Pooja said. ‘But as you are still there, I had to explore further. And I saw something.
‘What was that?’
‘I saw a woman dressed in red.’
I felt a chill run through me. ‘And?’
‘She was being strangled,’ said Pooja. ‘I could not see by whom, but she was in pain. I saw the woman die. I saw her body on the floor.
‘And then I saw a large tree. I suspect the woman was strangled by someone and then buried under that tree.
‘When I saw the tree, everything went still. I am sure the tree is the epicentre of it all.’
Having received that information, I ended the call. I knew Pooja needed to rest aft er that psychic experience.
I hadn’t noticed any tree when we entered the house through its rickety gate, but I hadn’t been to the back of the house yet. So I came out of the house, circled the yard and went all the way to the back.
What I saw there made me hold my breath.
There was a huge tree right there, probably centuries old, its branches and vines grown so thick that some of them actually penetrated the house’s brickwork.
A more fanciful way of observing the same scene would have had the onlooker describing the tree as clasping the house in a tight embrace, as if loath to let go, and that description, I felt, was probably not far removed from reality.
I sent a picture of the tree to Pooja.
All she wrote back was a ‘Yes.’
Excerpted from The Spirits Talk To Me: True Accounts Of Paranormal Investigations by Sarbajeet Mohanty and Neil D'Silva, with the kind permission of the publishers, Hachette India.