The husband. The wife. Today is their 16th Wedding Anniversary. I admit that I have been been a cruel husband all my life, but for a reason.
Call me ruthless!
You are not going anywhere.
Manu chetta, I must go home.
When a woman is married off she must find her home with her husband.
But I must see my parents.
When a woman is married off she must find her parents in her husbands’.
How can you be so cruel! I was born to MY parents. I must go home.
Yes, I know I am a savage, a brute, an insensitive husband in that. I’ll put on any garb you throw at me provided you keep my wife and child out of the little secret I am going to tell you on this great day.
Tell me. How many would like to admit that you are afraid to sleep alone in your bedroom? Few. Now you get my point.
When my family is away I am fed up with sleeping with my eyes open, trembling like a reed at the drip, drip, drip of a bathroom faucet that refuses to get shut, startling every time the clock strikes, imagining a bloodshed brewing in the darkness when a polythene cover levitates, tosses, rolls, pitches, trips, flaps, and crackles about in the unlit room to the tune of a ceiling fan.
Sadly that is the truth. I am afraid of ghosts. Period.
THERE ARE NO GHOSTS IN THIS WORLD, MANU.
Yeah, I know that, I know that, know that. I’ll recite to you what they taught me: Ghosts are the extension of our repressed fears; ghosts take their form from our imagination; ghosts are the reflection of unenlightened minds…but… Sorry. Every logic deserts me when I am alone in my bedroom at nights.
Tell me. What can you do when you are wired to certain fears in life? I have spent nights alone in a hundred lodge rooms across the country as a travel writer. No fear. But when I sleep in that one bedroom at my home, primeval fears rear their head. Where is my wife?
One sad night when I was 35, I went to my grandma (who was 90 then) to ask why I am like this at that age.
What time is it? She asked.
Is this the time to ask it?
Sorry, good night ammamma.
Hey, where are you going? Stop! Sit here. Talk to me about your college. Talk anything till I sleep.
I realized I got this fear through blood.
THERE ARE NO GHOSTS IN THIS WORLD, MANU.
Here I lie in the darkness, alone, tossing in the bed, my body has turned into a giant pair of ears, all perked up to pick the faintest noise from the bedroom. Is that a baby crying in the neighbourhood or a cat moaning? My sweat pores are all open; my body hairs stand like mobile towers.
What if I open my eyes and in the faint street light straining through the window see a stranger lying near me with open eyes? One of us will die in the revelation.
My biggest fear is a casual hand tossed over me in sleep. For a moment I might think about my wife, respond by throwing both my hand and probably a leg over her. Tick, tick, tick…seconds accrue to minutes. Then in a flash, with my eyes still shut with half-sleep I would remember that my wife went to her home, 40 kms away, that morning.
THEN WHO IS THIS I AM EMBRACING NOW!!!
I read somewhere that cowards plan a lot in life.
I am not a coward, but I plan a lot bracing up for emergencies (a sudden power failure) when I sleep alone. I know that it takes exactly 4 plus 14 plus 3 to reach my saviour, my mother who is staying ground floor.
I’ll read aloud some instructions from my emergency manual:
Open the door, take 4 lightning leaps across the dining hall (that bloody no man’s land) preferably without touching the floor, race down 14 steps through the stairs to crash-land on the ground floor, gather yourself up if you’ve fallen, make 3 more leaps across another dining hall (another dim-lit sonofabitch no man’s land) before you crash your head on the door of your mother’s bedroom. Make a frantic rap at the door.
Now wait with a thumping heart in your mouth. Lup dup, lup, dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup…you feel all the horrific beasts you’ve sucked up from the movies rearing up behind you. Phew! She opens the door (The last time I did that was on the day before my 39th birthday).
But what if!
I swallow hard, when I imagine that possibility.
What if I meet somebody in the darkness on my dash down through the stairs to my mother’s room (With my wife and daughter gone, only we two remain in my home)! Then the one who raps at my mother’s bedroom wouldn’t be me, I am sure, but my dead body (my soul would’ve long departed). Even if it is my own mother who has come out to have some water, she would meet a dead body for her son coming down.
For at nights, mothers should behave like furniture. They should remain at the place I expect them to be. It is spooky to find furniture and mothers popping up from wrong places in darkness.
“Ok, on one condition, I will let you go home, Divya.”
“And what is that?”
“I will come with you.”
“Out of question! I want to spend sometime alone with my parents. You stay here, ok?”
Well, you go. I stay here, dear. Tonight also, I’ll stay awake.
I’ll lie awake watching my shirts which are hung on the hooks get puffed up with air as if they are suddenly ‘taken’. I’ll observe keenly to see whether the wall mirror in our room takes on a life of its own at late night reflecting strange things. With wide open eyes, I’ll once again spend a night outstaring the stranger on the other side of our bed until it gives up its eeriness in the morning light to become your sweet pillow, once again.
Four leaps across a no man’s land, 14 steps to the ground floor, a gathering up from a fall, 3 more steps through another desert of horror, violent rapping on a door, I know my dear, how to reach my saviour.
Lup dup, lup dup, lup, dup, lup dup, lup dup, lup dup, lupdup, luipdup, lupdup, lupduplupduplupduplupdup…..