Graveyard School

Picking up the kids from school bus is normally my wife’s duty. As she was busy today, I went to pick up Pari. There were many over anxious moms, so I stood a little away from the designated drop off point. Pari got down and looked for her mom. She did not notice me. When the last kid left, she was about to breakdown. I appeared just in time to save her day. Our building is hardly 200 meter away from the bus stop yet an adult is required to accompany the so called smarter-than-previous-generation kids. I understand that the circumstances are different but still, one can’t help compare the life of a yesteryear school boy with a current generation kid.

Back in class III, I used to go to a morning school. The pre-primary school would start at 7 AM and by 10.30 AM I was at home. Everyday my father would wake me up at 6 AM. I, in turn, would wake up Dijenda - our domestic help. While he prepared some rudimentary breakfast, I would freshen up and get ready all alone for the school by 6.45. And then the most dreaded journey of my life would start. The school was almost 2 KM away but there was a shortcut that would slash the distance by half - Only it was thru a Kabarstan – a cemetery. So every morning I would walk thru a graveyard, frightened to death. My friends would make it worse by narrating ghastly stories in hushed tones about school kids found dead or missing mysteriously while crossing that cemetery. It was a mental torture. Every night I would promise myself to wake up early so that I can take the nominal route, but end up going thru that frightening Kabarstan. During the winter season, early morning visibility would be extremely poor and at every turn I would mentally prepare for a ghost to appear and eat me alive.

On one such foggy winter morning, as I was going thru the graveyard, heard a faint smile followed by scampering footsteps behind me. I got scared to death, lost my senses and ran like hell till I reached the school. I huffed and puffed into the classroom with a pale face. My friends were very excited to hear my story.
“I know about that ‘bhoot’. He was a small kid who wanted to go to school but his father could not afford. So every day he would cry in the morning for school. One day his father got really angry and beaten him black & blue. The boy suffered from severe fever after that and on the third day, he died. He was buried in that Kabarstan and they say that he roams around as a ghost. Whenever his ‘Atma’ sees a school going kid, it would enter his body. I think you are now possessed by that ghost” That was my friend Soumitra.
“What? No I am fine”
“You are fine NOW but as you sleep it would take over and when you wake up in the morning, nothing would be same again! First, it would…….meaning you would…. kill your father and then kill every school going kid! The ‘bhoot’ hates all fathers and envies school going kids” Pallab chimed in.
“I heard that the last boy he possessed committed suicide. He just could not cope up with all the killings” Mustaque nailed the coffin.
“What should I do?” Now really really scared.
“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. If you don’t sleep for a night, the ghost would go away”
“But what if I fall asleep accidently?”
“Then you should write a letter”
“A letter?”
“Yes…mentioning who so ever finds that letter must kill you immediately as you are not ‘you’ anymore”
“There must be some way around” I was hoping against hope.
“I have heard that if you chant ‘Gayatri’ mantra 108 times wearing only a wet ‘Gamocha’, Ghosts would go away”
“But Gayatri mantra is a secret chant meant only for people with a sacred thread . Where do I get it?”
“You will have to pay some money to a Pandit and he will teach you”
“Money……how much?”
“Don’t know…may be ten”
“Ten bucks! Are you crazy?” Back in the 80s, legend had it that you could buy cart load of vegetables in ten rupees. Never really checked it but arranging ten buck was a tall order for me.
“All these Gayatri mantra santra won’t work” Mustaque said in a raised voice. That silenced everyone
“Remember it’s a Kabarstan. So obviously the ghost is a muslim. You need to learn some muslim mantras”
“Muslim mantras? There are no such things”
“Oh there are!”
Discussion on similar lines went on throughout the morning. Every possible antidote was discussed. Most of them were either too risky or expensive. Someone suggested going back to the Kabarstan to dig up the grave of that ill fated boy and re-bury the body tossing it upside down. Another one suggested that I should sleep in a temple for the night. After a lot of deliberations, it was decided that I would go to the town Masjid and learn the mantra written on the main entrance. Then I would go to a Shiva temple and collect a ‘Bel Paat’. I would also take a cold shower after reaching home so that I could recite the mantra and keep the ‘Bel Paat’ with me whole day. In the night I can pretend to sleep – but not fall asleep!
So the longest day of my life started. Dijenda suspected something was amiss. Despite the age difference, we were good friends. So he confronted and I spilled the bean. He listened to everything very carefully and then wished me luck. By dinner time my eyelids started taking gravity lessons very seriously adding woe to the ordeal. By the bed time, I was leaving on a prayer.
Next morning I woke up with a jolt as my father pulled away the blanket from my body. That was his pet technique to wake me up in the winter. I hated my father for that but, that day I thought it was the ghost who was making me to abhor my father. I got so scared that I started crying. I told everything to my parents including the fact that I was now possessed by a ghost and they should probably kill me. My mom laughed it off and hugged me saying there was no such thing as ghost. But my father thought I was inventing innovative excuses to bunk school. He took ‘adequate’ measures to wipe off all traces of doubts from my mind that I was possessed. In fact the rage in his eyes made me think if the ghost actually took shelter in his body! So my journey thru the Kabarstan continued to the amusement of my friends.
I told this story to my daughter thinking that it would dent her pride and she would start coming home without adult help. Instead she said, “Papa you should have used the school bus - no walking thru the Kabarstan, no bhoot……Buddhu Papa”

Yeah….really buddhu papa….then and now!

More By  :  Sanjoy Barua

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