In the light of the lamp...

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Time for another jungle tale after a long time. A real spooky one at that! I am surprised that I haven’t written about this yet. This had revealed quite a different world to me then!

Like all my jungle tales, it took place in the early 80s when I was a kid living it out in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. Electricity was categorically erratic in the jungle then, to the point of being almost non-existent, and we would see oil lamps burning more brightly than the electric bulbs overhead.

Our kitchen was separate from the main bungalow, which stood on wooden stilts, and was located at ground level. Come evening, Ma and her domestic help Ranjan would disappear into the dark awning of the kitchen below. They would chop, stir and work their magic while I sat expectantly on the verandah of our bungalow, facing the kitchen. I would see shadowy figures move about in the flickering light of the oil lamp. Somehow, ghostly imaginations eluded me at that time and I was more concerned about the food that was to come up the wooden staircase, from the recesses of the kitchen.

One late evening, Ma and Ranjan were preparing dinner by the light of oil lamps, as usual. Both had their backs to each other, with two separate lamps helping them in their individual chore. Ma was single-mindedly peeling some potatoes in the small ring of yellow light thrown by the lamp. The world outside the ring of light was pitch black to her – she could not see what lay beyond. 

Suddenly, out of the darkness, came a thin, long face into the light. Close to Ma. The creature put forward a long limb with crooked fingers towards her.

Mai ji, kuch khaane ko milega?” (Madam, could I have something to eat?)

The voice that came forth was oddly bass and seemed…different.

Ma had never seen a eunuch (Hijra or a transgender person) before in her life. She had only heard about them. 

Ma didn’t know what she was looking at, her mind filling fast with all the nightmares she had imagined in her childhood. She lost her voice totally and not a sound would come out of her mouth, however hard she tried.

Yet, she must have made some croaking noise, for Ranjan turned around to look at her and what he saw made him drop the plate he was holding with a clatter. The person facing Ma was a 6 feet tall figure clad in saree, with a thin frame and high forehead. For his part, Ranjan had never seen a eunuch either. Or someone so tall in a saree.

But, he was a brave lad, although he had lost his head momentarily. He let out a scream, as loud as his lungs would allow him, and charged at the tall person. This alarmed the eunuch and without a word, she scrambled out of the kitchen and with a few swift strides, disappeared into the darkness.

It was then that I had caught a glance of the eunuch. I don’t know how I had missed seeing her go inside the kitchen, but I distinctly remember her running out of it. I saw her cover four steps in one long stride and long after the hullabaloo over this incident had died down, that image was what remained with me. 

The eunuch was never seen again in Manas.


I wrote this post and called up Ma to confirm my memory. 

“Are you writing about the other one, too?”

I told her I was not aware of the incident she was talking about.

“Maybe you were too young then,” Ma deliberated.

This is what she had to say about that ‘other incident’…

One night, our household was fast asleep when suddenly Ma heard a strange noise coming from the verandah. It was around 2.30 am. Now, strange noises were not uncommon in a jungle settlement, but there was a peculiar ring to it. 

It seemed as if that noise was almost....human. Now, that would be strange in a jungle in the dead of the night.

Ma nudged Deta and he woke up with some consternation. He had been slightly wary about Ma since the day she had shrieked on seeing a tree frog in the bathroom. 

But she was right on this occasion. It did seem as if there was someone talking on the verandah. 

Deta walked up to the door opening up to the verandah, ignoring Ma’s fervent gesture to carry a weapon with him. He creaked open the door and found himself looking at a man sitting bunched up on one of the chairs on the porch and mumbling avidly to himself in a language that Deta could not understand. He could not see the man properly as he had his back towards him. 

Deta shouted out a loud “Who are you?” and the man turned around as if in a daze, revealing ‘himself’ to be a eunuch, dressed in a saree and with a weird hairstyle. 

As Deta was about to raise his voice again, the eunuch suddenly sprang up from the chair and clambered down the staircase, disappearing into the night. That was the last time the eunuch was seen in Manas.

Nobody knew where these two fellows had come from or where they had gone. Their occurrence in Manas remains a mystery. 

P.S. There have been other cases when Deta stumbled across strange men in jungle cores. Most of them were mentally unstable beings who had lost their way and entered the jungle.

(Note: This was written for the Indispire topic ‘Do you have a ghost experience?’ with Indiblogger.)


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