Short Stories >> Murk te Manah >> Ladies Hostel
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
After she completed the hostel rounds for the night, the warden had now reached her room. However, until she hadn’t closed her door, the girls sitting on the parapet in the hostel compound suppressed their laughter using their handkerchiefs. Once the door was closed, they burst out in peals of laughter, like that of an erupting fountain.
One of them exclaimed, “These seniors call us ‘First year fools’ but today we have closed our doors so cleverly that we will make a fool out of their warden too.”
Another said, “Keep quiet now! Sona, tell me quickly what happened after that.” Taking a deep breath and rubbing her knees and arms, Sona said, “How interested you are in ghost stories! You have taken my breath away by rubbing my knees, pinching my arms and also pulling my plaits…”
One of them said, “Then why did you keep quiet after telling us about the fire. We kept asking ‘What happened? What happened then?’ and you were only standing and staring at the warden’s wall!”
Another said, “Tell us quickly! Even if the warden did see us sitting here, she would have probably thought of letting the girls be on the night after the end of their exams…”
Continuing the story Sona said, “Since there was a fire upstairs, one of the fellows from below happened to see it. After that, there was a lot of commotion. When the lady who stays upstairs realised that the fire was in her own kitchen, she immediately picked up the blankets and threw them on the fire. The fire was put off soon after. On investigation, it was found that somebody had put kerosene on the stove and lit it with a matchstick. Right before the fire began, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law had returned home. It felt as though a ghost was waiting for them to enter and create havoc. The poor mother-in-law thanked God for having the sense to immediately throw the blankets and extinguish the fire.”
Sona was attacked with questions - “Was there really some spirit that lit the fire?”, “No red or green rice were found…?”
Sona replied, “After the fire, strange incidents like these continued to occur daily for 10-12 days. Packets of green and red rice were found lying here and there. Later, the sound of vessels being thrown was heard...and then they found water splattered on the bed, or the ash of coal…Strange incidents started to occur. Before the fire incident, no packet of red or green rice was found in their house. However, post the incident, the egoistic mother-in-law started having blood pressure. The poor thing kept looking for priests on one hand and doctors on the other. Even then these new incidents would not stop. To top it all off, the kitchen fire. Everyone told her that her ancestors were angry and wished to kill her, otherwise why would there be a fire in the house? The woman was so frightened that she lost all her sleep. Before this, she was often heard nagging her daughter-in-law but now she was so afraid that she lost her appetite to complain. But once, during the solitude of the night, around eleven o’clock, her daughter-in-law’s loud cries were heard. Frightened, we all held each other tight and tried to sleep. We thought to ourselves that the spirit had now possessed the daughter-in-law. There were sounds of kicking and hitting but no one had the courage to go upstairs!”
The group of girls suddenly heard a loud cry and were terrified. Hearing the cry, Sona courageously said, “Gopi, if you are so terrified of hearing this true story, go and sleep in your room. Weak hearted people must not listen to such stories.”
One of the girls said, “First year fool, get up! Your heart might start having problems.” Another said, “Run away! You are spoiling our fun also.”
But Gopi refused to go. She clung to Sona and said, “All of you come to my room.”
After much discussion, all of them went upto Gopi’s room. A 100v bulb was turned on but despite that, Gopi was frightened, her eyes grew wide with terror and she kept looking here and there. Sona asked, “What is the matter? Why are you so frightened?’
Gopi said, “In the afternoon I had gone to the forest behind the hostel and sat on Sati’s idol to study. Suddenly a spirit threw a piece of cotton on me. I ran away immediately. Since then, my heart is beating too fast. And above all of that your frightening stories…” To tease her someone said, “Listen...the spirit from Sati’s idol who threw the cotton on her is coming here too.” And really some footsteps were heard coming nearer. Gopi’s heart skipped a beat. But Sona hit her on the head and said, “Come on, it must be the watchman on the rounds…”
When one of the girls gathered the courage to go out and check, Sona turned out to be right. There was relief in the party and everyone came back to Sona, pressing her to continue the ghost story. Sona kept avoiding them, telling them that if they heard the entire story, the fun would be lost. While they were still discussing this, Gopi screamed and turned pale. She was flinging her hands, while everyone kept asking “what happened?”, “what happened?” As they consoled her, she showed them the pallu of her saree on which there were round blood stains. The whole group was shocked. When the other girls checked their sarees, they found some blood marks on them too. Everyone rushed out of the room.
Sona, however, courageously continued to sit in the room. All of them returned to the room slowly. Sona still hadn’t solved the secret of the blood stains. Finally, Gopi pulled out a bag from under the bed, took out a colored saree and started changing in front of everyone. Sona stood up and started dusting Gopi’s bed but her hands stopped suddenly. All the friends started looking at the bed. Gopi grew hysterical looking at the bed and began shouting very loudly saying, “Now I am very sure that some spirit is after me! Otherwise why would there be these blood stains on my bed?” All of them rushed out into the compound again.
In the stillness of the night and its pitch darkness, hearing a loud cry and looking at the light turned on in one room, all the girls of the hostel woke up. The senior students of B.A. and M.A. shouted from above itself, “These First year fools won’t let us sleep in peace.” One of the senior students’ sister, Kanta, was also one among the First year students below. She shouted from above, “What has happened Kanta?” Kanta replied in a choked voice, “You remain there. I am coming up.”
Once Kanta reached upstairs, the girls on the floors above stopped their laughter and taunts. Some even came downstairs to inspect the blood stains on Gopi’s bed. None of them could understand any of it. One of the M.A seniors called Yashoda said, “Though I do not believe in ghosts and spirits, I cannot comment on any of it now.” After they left Gopi mockingly imitated her and said, “I don’t believe in ghosts and spirits…Big thing! She has come to show off in front of ‘First year fools’. Let her dare stay in this room for one night!”
Sona said mockingly, “Come on, I am sleeping with you in this room. How much will you pay me?” Gopi quickly replied, “Keep quiet baba, I am coming and sleeping in your room. But just don’t tell me the fire story and that of the red and green rice packets.” Sona said, “You are crazy. If you hear the end of this story all your fears will disappear.”
As they were locking the room they heard loud shouts from the next room. Gopi was clinging to Sona and said, “For God’s sake, don’t leave me alone even for a moment.”
Four girls from the next room came out with their pillows saying that they will sleep in the hall. Sona asked, “but why?’ “Why? Arey, the same spirit that was Gopi’s room has also come in Poornima’s room and has left blood stains on her bed.” “Ohhoho” quickly slipped out of Gopi’s mouth and her chin was shivering so much that despite such a serious atmosphere everybody burst out laughing.
The seniors were still witnessing this drama from above. Sona called out to Kanta and said, “If there is some place in your sister’s room, I will send Gopi there because I fear that her heart may fail.”
“Baba…” fumbling Gopi caught hold of Sona saying, “I will sleep with all of you in the hall.”
Sona said, “But we will be talking about ghosts and spirits all night, then what?”
Another girl said, “Yes! Promise us that you will not stop us.”
Gopi fumbling said, “O..o..okay...you may.”
All the girls sat close to each other in the hall, leaving all the lights on and once again, they started listening to Sona’s story. Gopi said, “Come closer still!” Everyone came even closer. Somebody kept an arm on Gopi and somebody kept a leg on her. Suddenly one of them said, “Keeping an arm or leg on Gopi is transferring her fear onto us.” Another said, “Oh yes. I just put my arm around her and just see how fast my heart is beating.” In the laughter that followed, Gopi stopped being frightened and couldn’t control her laughter.
Sona began, “The story that I was telling you about the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law - I had heard the shouts of the daughter-in-law and sounds of hitting and pushing. No one had the courage to go upstairs. At last, a professor gathered some courage and went upstairs. All of us neighbours stood downstairs, waiting and holding our breath. We heard the professor knocking on their door. As the door opened, there was a loud noise. We could hear all of it downstairs. As the mother-in-law opened the door, she said, “Can you see professor Sahib, this daughter-in-law of mine has thrown these packets of red and green rice everywhere…” After that, standing downstairs, we could hear that someone was being beaten.
“Why are you hitting her?” The professor’s voice was heard.
“Why shouldn’t I hit her? If her husband was here I would have sent her back to her maternal home. This girl has taken the whole neighborhood for a ride. She has now colored these threads. Who knows what other games she might have played to frighten the neighborhood?”
“But how did the fire start?” the professor asked the mother-in-law.
“Ask this wretched woman. She is saying that as we both entered the house the other day, she was thirsty and went to drink water in the kitchen. Her foot hit the can of kerosene which then fell on the stove. This idiot then proceeded to light the stove with a matchstick and left for the toilet. In the meantime, people downstairs noticed the fire and shouted. I had the presence of mind and put blankets on the fire.”
Listening to this the girls burst out and filled the hall with their laughter.
Sona said, “When the professor came down he said that in this case it was not the daughter-in-law’s fault at all.”
The girls shouted and said, “Was the professor mad or something?’
Sona said, “No, my lovelies. He was a famous professor of Psychology. He said that all of it was the fault of the mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law had lost both her parents. Her husband stayed abroad. The mother-in-law was so controlling that she didn't even allow her to have any friends. The girl was all alone because of which she was suffering from a psychological affliction. When we heard the professor’s point of view, all of us agreed. Generally, the girl was meek as a cow. When all of us asked the mother-in-law why she wouldn’t send her daughter-in-law downstairs, she replied saying that the girl was better off inside the house. She felt that the girl might become spoilt after meeting others.”
The girls shouted in unison, “Oh God!”
The mood now changed from fear to pity. But then Gopi interjected, “And what about these blood stains…?” The atmosphere was tense again.
One of them said, “Kanta must have made those stains with red ink.”
Gopi replied, “But Kanta went upstairs to her sister. After that you shouted from the next room…”
She was right.
At a distance from the compound, a sound, like that of anklets appeared to come towards the hall. Now a mild laughter was heard as well. This time, Gopi covered her face with her saree and put her arms around Sona and lay down there. However, her entire body trembled hard - like that of a lizard and all the girls suppressed their laughter with their handkerchiefs because the sound of the anklets and laughter had reached the door of the hall.
Suddenly, the door opened. As the door opened, the girls felt a great wave of relief like that of cool water splashing on a hot vessel. The girls put each other’s arms on their chests and took a huge sigh of relief. Seeing Yashoda and Mohana, they said, “Okay, you clever girls. You can laugh,wear these anklets and frighten us all you want but keep a lookout because our day shall also come.”
Yashoda laughed and said, “But we won’t be there when it’s your turn. There will be other First year fools in your hostel. Before that, tell me did you find out what those blood stains were?”
Gopi removed the sari pallu from her face and became alert.
Mohana, looking at Gopi asked, “Where was this cat sleeping?”
Yashoda said, “Not cat. Call her a rat. Oh you rat; those blood stains are from mosquitoes.”
Everyone looked at Yashoda wide-eyed. Yashoda said, “After meeting you I returned to my room but I couldn’t sleep. I tried to read a book. Suddenly a mosquito bit me. I hit it, it died. But it was a fat mosquito and there was a blood stain on my arm. I hit another mosquito and its’ blood stained my pillow. It was the same kind of stain that I had seen on Gopi’s bed. After that, I killed many mosquitoes one after the other. The entire bedsheet was stained. Just look. I brought it along for you to see and believe. Surely there is a decaying body of a dead animal outside the hostel that has attracted such big mosquitoes.”
Gopi took a deep breath and asked, “Are you telling me the truth, Yashoda Didi?” She took her hand and placed it on her chest and said, “Can you hear my heart beating rapidly?”
Yashoda pinched Gopi’s round cheeks and said lovingly, “Oh yes!”
Gopi excitedly asked, “And what about that cotton on Sati’s platform?’
Yashoda pinched both her cheeks and shaking them said, “You fool, there is a cotton tree on Sati’s platform. This is the season for cotton buds to bloom. Tomorrow, you will see the entire ground filled with cotton fibres.”
When Gopi stood up fumbling, “Oh,,aa..I..I”, nobody could control their laughter.
- Translated by Arun Babani