“As much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December”, Shakespeare had cogently quoted in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.
Twin sisters could never have been so different. The elder one, by 7 minutes, Paruli, was short and dark. The younger twin Madhuli, was tall, stout and fair. Madhuli was warm and vibrant like May; Paruli, cold and frosty like December.
Her mother’s pet, Paruli, was always on the move, performing each task to perfection. If she was not dicing vegetables for breakfast, lunch or dinner, she was helping her mother dry laundry on the terrace. By the time she went to bed she had scrubbed, scoured and tidied the entire house.
Madhuli was inertia personified, refusing to budge an inch till it was absolutely necessary. A die hard romantic, she whiled away languorous hours reading Gulshan Nanda’s amorous paperbacks in Hindi, listening to the romantic melodies on the transistor or gossiping with friends. She was her father’s favourite. The two were the constant target of mother-Paruli duo for their sedentary and laid-back attitude.
Hyper in terms of activity, Paruli was terse, barren in humour and programmed as far as daily routine was concerned. If drawn into conversation, Paruli would find it a waste of time. With blinkers drawn, she would prefer to spend time inspecting an imaginary speck of dust on the furniture or remove cobwebs instead.
Madhuli was the universal favourite of neighbourhood kids for she was good natured, humourous and generous. She could spend hours discussing the storyline of a latest film, her favourite film stars and the dresses they wore. Whenever the chaat-wala gave his clarion call in the evening, his cart full of crisp, spicy and sizzling goodies, she would readily fish out her purse and treat kids in the neighbourhood with her limited pocket money.
The two sisters were as different as day from night but they were united when it came to movies and magic. Both loved movies, swooning over Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini. They would beg their mother to accompany them to the hall wherever their favourite stars movie was screened. Days later, they would be singing the songs, mouthing dialogues or imitating the heroine’s style of dressing up till the next movie was screened.
The other common passion the sisters were enamoured with, was slightly bizarre. On rare nights, when their parents had to attend a function or visit a relative, they indulged in holding a séance where they would contact a dead person and ask questions through a medium. The sisters were generally curious to know about mundane things i.e. a romantic rendezvous with a handsome man, their love life, marriage, etc.
Planchette was their favourite paranormal activity. For that, they used a small, heart-shaped board supported by a stylus, to produce mysterious written messages revealing subconscious thoughts, psychic phenomena, or clairvoyant messages.
To prepare for the séance, they darkened the room, with heavy curtains, covering the closed windows and doors. A medium-sized table was placed at the centre of the room, a small candle burning on it, adding to the eerie atmosphere.
The sisters sat silently, concentrating all their powers to get in touch with the spirits from the world beyond. Only when the stylus moved across the board, with the light pressure of their fingertips, they knew that a communication with the spirit had been fostered.
That evening, they decided to call their dead neighbour, Gupta ji, a genial old man, who had been active and fit till the end of his life. Gupta ji was a retired college principal, known for his integrity and sense of fair play. He was a sports enthusiast, an avid gardener and interested in building up character of young people in and around the neighbourhood.
As the twins were focusing their attention on the planchette, the stylus jerkily started moving over the list of alphabets and numbers, showing that the spirit had arrived on the scene. The room started reeking faintly of a familiar talcum powder fragrance that Guptaji used.
Being the elder one, it was Paruli’s turn first. She wanted to know from the spirit, by an affirmative or negative movement towards right or left side, whether she will have a love marriage or an arranged one. The stylus moved towards affirmative. Excitement shone in Paruli’s dull eyes. She knew her looks were ordinary but that prediction for the future looked enchanting.
Before she could be hungry for more information, it was Madhuli’s turn to ask the spirit. Madhuli spelt out her question to Guptaji , whether she would pass in her final exams or not.
As soon as she asked this query, the stylus started moving erratically. The curtains started billowing in the wind. The furniture started rattling .The message was loud and clear to the sisters .The spirit was agitated.
The twins knew they were in for trouble. Fear trickled into their heart like chilled water. Shivering inwardly, Madhuli felt a quiver of a body near her shoulder. The spirit of Guptaji might have been offended because Madhuli had wasted her time in needless pursuits. Now she was bothered about the result, without having worked hard during the exams. To give an answer to such a preposterous question may have been unbearable for Guptaji.
Guptaji did want to leave the séance but belonging to the old school, he wanted to teach Madhuli a lesson in his own subtle way.
The temperature in the room dropped suddenly. The twins felt their toes were getting colder. Madhuli, out of fear and cold, had the desire to urinate but she held on, each moment the pressure becoming painful.
Terror struck the two when the lone candle in the room was snuffed out. They heard a blood curdling scream from within the room. Paruli felt she was being pushed from her chair. She stumbled but gathered courage and ran out, mumbling to herself in the dark. She found the latch and tried to unlock but the door wouldn’t open.
Madhuli started praying mentally. She mumbled tearfully, requesting Guptaji to stop his antics. She would never solicit spirits. She would never engage in worthless pursuits. She heard and incoherent voice close to her ears, “This will not pass, I will come again.” fanning her hysteria. With a scream, she fainted.
Madhuli could see hazy images as she regained consciousness. Paruli was sprinkling water on her face. Her father looked worried. Madhuli’s head was propped on her mother’s lap. As she glanced over, the room was completely disheveled. The curtains had fallen, with their wooden frame loosened from the wall, the furniture knocked down and the indoor planters broken, with mud strewn all around.
Their mother remarked,” It looks as if a spirit had entered this room and ransacked it.”
Their father remarked, with a guffaw,” No, No! not one but two spirits. These twin rascals, of course!!”
The twins looked at each other, shuddering inwardly. Never again would they venture into the world unknown. Known world is safer and less scary.
Paruli wanted Madhuli to come back to normal. She had to discuss with Madhuli about the new tenant who had moved in last night. Who knows Guptaji might have been accurate in his prediction!
Madhuli wanted to clear the clutter on her study table and start preparing for the next term. It would be painful to repeat the class and be without her friends but she wouldn’t want a spirited Gupta ji to come back at her again.
And Guptaji! He was clearly excited with this new medium. His untimely death had unsettled many of his plans. He had not been able to chastise many young people and bring them to book. Planchette was going to be his medium to fulfil his mission. He would be around when ever some young one beckons him from this side of the earth. They had better ask him proper questions or else!!