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  • Tuesday, 29 October 2013

    The Ghost that Bolted

    I had recently fulfilled a long standing wish. I had a house of my own. The plot was far away from the city - that is how I could afford it. My wife of ten years, like me, came from a small village and was not perturbed by the distance and the fact that by seven in the evening the whole place was deserted. So, we went ahead building and performed the grihapravesa and moved in.

    Soon after the grihapravesa, my wife went to her parents' place for the Dasara holidays. Our daughter, who was six, would love the experience of living in a village and my wife could be of help to her mother for a week or two. I had no particular place to go to and I decided to stay.  I was writing a book and decided to write as much as possible.

    One night, I went to the toilet and tried to pull the door shut. I could not since the outer bolt on the door was jutting out and obstructing. I just pushed it back and bolted the door from inside. When the same thing happened the next time, I was curious. I distinctly remembered pulling the bolt back completely. Or so I thought.

    When this happened for the third time, I was a little concerned. The next time I used the toilet, I was careful to pull the bolt back and go in and nothing happened.

    Because of the book, I was often preoccupied with what to say and how to say it. The next time this phenomenon happened I was in such a preoccupied state. I absently pulled the outer bolt back and went in, bolted the door from inside. Suddenly the thought occurred - is this house haunted? I shivered.

    I was surprised with my thought and the shiver. I calmed down a bit with difficulty and wondered how this could happen. Unbidden, the thought occurred to me, "what if it gets bolted when I am inside?” Without thinking I unbolted the door from inside and when it opened, I was relieved. I relaxed and sighed.

    And the power failed.

    It was eerie. It was pitch-dark. There was hardly any sound. I just did not like the thought of being alone in this small room. I could not see a thing but felt that the walls were closing in.

    I froze and in a short while I felt better. Some part of me was still rational and trying to understand and explain what was happening – as if to someone else. It is late October. The sun has already started setting early and it is getting dark before seven. The air is getting dry. I love this time of the year - I love the mist that falls and the smell of dew on grass in the morning is delicious. But it also has the effect that the evenings appear longer. People are home earlier and you can't see a soul around the place. Even birds return to their nests earlier and their cries die down earlier. All this makes it very quiet - not even the croaking of the frogs from the monsoon season. The air is so still and feels thin and dry. The still air causes the air in low lying areas get colder. I remembered such places I had enjoyed before – the road next to AIISH and that next to Kukkarahalli kere in Mysore.  I had always looked forward to October and observed these and had noticed that there is a little tension inside you. Was there a primordial reason for this tension?

    Still, I loved this season.

    While these thoughts were running in my mind, my tension (was it fear?) diminished. I felt foolish. I was what people would brand a rationalist. No, I am more naturalistic and unspiritual and am an atheist. By naturalistic I mean I believed that there are rational explanations based on physical laws for phenomenon though sometimes you and I cannot think of one. There is no reason to invoke spirits and so on to explain anything that appears inexplicable at first. Still, here I was being worried about ghosts!

    I soon came out, lit a candle and as soon as the flame steadied, the power was back. I felt more foolish because light is always so reassuring. I suddenly remembered my high school Samskrita teacher, Somayajigalu, who had once remarked in class, "There are no ghosts in cities, because there are lights. Ghosts can be there where there is darkness". As a school boy, it had felt reassuring. Later I had realised how true it was - in a different way than he had intended. In the dark, your mind can play all kinds of tricks to scare you into seeing ghosts where there are none, literally.

    In any case this phenomenon with the continued off and on. One day it really bothered me and I started thinking of all the things I had observed consciously or unconsciously.

    It appeared to me that this happened whenever I was distracted and or in a hurry to use the toilet. Whenever I was conscious of this and was observant it did not. I mentally replayed how I go in and shut the door and so on. Then it struck me.

    It was just the good old inertia at work. See, this is not a bolt of the usual type. It is just a smooth rod sliding in two smooth holes and hardly experiences friction and hence moves easily. It moved when I swung the door, especially when in a hurry, and the bolt continued to move out when the door stopped moving and did not let me close the door fully.

    The house was exorcised. The ghost that bolted had bolted.