The operation has started 15 minutes ago. The OT was at the end of the L-pattern hallway. Aditya was walking back and forth in the hallway, sometimes looking at his watch and sometimes at the door of the OT. Sujata was sitting in a chair in the corner of the hallway with her hands folded in prayer. From this place, the other side of the L-pattern hallway was visible where there was a small temple of Lord Ganesha. Anybody passing through them could feel the agony of Aditya and Sujata, and why not when their 14-year-old daughter is going through a heart transplant.
As Aditya stopped and placed his right hand over her shoulder, Sujata broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. “Don’t worry Su, she will survive. I have full faith in God. He wants Raina to recover that’s why Mr. Bakshi was sent to us as a benefactor” comforted Aditya.
Five months back.
Today, Aditya and his family shifted to Area 153. Owing to their daughter’s treatment, they had to sell their ancestral property and shift to a small house. They were well aware of the rumour concerning the haunted house in the neighbourhood for which some people had left the area. Neither they believed in those rumours, nor did they have the mental state to ponder on such things. It was really painful that their only daughter was born with CHD (congenital heart defect) and needed a heart transplant.
As Aditya and Sujata were unpacking the boxes, somebody called them from outside. Sujata went to see what it was. She saw an elderly man standing curiously outside the gate. As she approached him, he babbled, “Hello, I am Mr Lahiri, you can call me Lahiri uncle. Anyways, just tell me when everybody is leaving the place for good, what on earth made you people buy this house that too so close to Mr Bakshi’s bungalow, the eerie house, I mean?” Before Sujata could say something, he again started, “You have a daughter also, why do you want to put her in risk.” He was again about to open his mouth to say some more, when Aditya came out and said, “Please uncle, we don’t believe in such things and we have much work to do. Kindly excuse us,” as he held Sujata’s right arm above the elbow to pull her in. “Why did you misbehave with that man, he was just trying to alert us.” Just then Raina entered the room driving her wheelchair, “Mamma that man went away telling that strange sounds come from the house at night. “ Sujata held her hand and consoled, “Don’t worry dear, nothing will happen. It’s only a rumour.”
It was 8.30 in the evening, Sujata called out for dinner. As they sat on the table, Sujata wearily said, “I could only make some sandwiches today. All the kitchen stuff is still so scattered…” Aditya and Raina both assured her, “its okay dear, we can understand.” While Sujata continued, “Adi, once you finish off your dinner, please give Raina her medicines.”
“Oh! no Mamma, how long I have to take those medicines? I don’t like them,” sniffled Raina.
“Its okay dear, a few more months, then you will be all okay”, consoled Sujata.
That night Sujata slept in Raina’s room. She was too tired and went fast into a deep sleep. But Raina lay there wide awake. Mr Lahiri’s words were still ringing in her ears. She woke up and pulled her wheelchair very cautiously, and went near the window. There were very few street lights in this area and that too glowing faintly. But the full moon shone brightly over the deserted bungalow. Raina was observing each and everything she could see under the moonlight. There was nothing uncanny about the house except some dense bushes around the house, which she thought was due to the fact that it was deserted a few years back.
The beautiful moonlit night and the soft wind made her feel relaxed, especially from the pain of her day to day life, the pain of bearing a body with undeveloped limbs, the pain she sees in the eyes of her mom and dad and their fight against the Almighty’s will. For once, she felt happy that they have shifted to this house. As she turned her wheelchair towards the bed, faint sounds of music hit her hear. She could not believe it first, but as she looked through the window again, she could hear somebody playing a tune on the piano and the sound was coming from that bungalow only. She tried to see if somebody was there in that house. But all the doors and windows were closed. By then, the moon was also enveloped by clouds and the shrubs surrounding the house added to the darkness that nothing was visible.
Slowly, the pitch increased accompanied by the sound of bells, as if someone was dancing with the tune of the piano. “Yes, it was the brass bells that are worn in classical dance,” thought she. She could feel a shiver run down her spine. “If nobody lived in that house, then who is playing the piano?” She recalled that Mr Lahiri’s words in the morning. “He was referring to this only” she contemplated. Petrified she closed the window and went to sleep.
Next morning, Raina woke up late that too after repeatedly being called by Sujata. “Rai dear, Papa has been waiting for you at the breakfast table.” Aditya has taken a few days of leave to help Sujata in organizing their new house. Raina got up but she looked a bit tired and fatigued. Sujata noticed but she knew this was usual for CHD patients. Somehow she controlled her emotions and helped her to get to the wheelchair. At the breakfast table, Raina anxiously started “Mamma, that man was right” while taking the first bite. “Which man dear”? asked Sujata, though she could presume what she was referring to.
“I have heard some peculiar sounds last night from that bungalow, Mamma. First the sound of piano and then somebody dancing with the tune wearing bells. I have tried to see if there was someone in that house, but nothing could be seen…”
Before she could finish Sujata reacted angrily, “but why did you look through the window, I told you yesterday that don’t think about those things. Are you crazy?”
All this while Aditya was quiet but as he observed Sujata losing her patience, he intervened, “its okay, don’t scold her Su.” And then he continued, “You know Rai, sometimes it happens, what we contemplate in our mind for long seems to be real. But those are all in our thoughts and not in reality.”
Raina nodded in agreement. But Sujata and Aditya both knew she was not convinced and something was wrong in that bungalow. That night Raina decided not to think about those incidents. She knew her parents were already stressed because of her illness, so she did not want to bother them anymore. But the more she was trying to forget those things, the more it came to her mind. It was an hour past midnight; she again heard the same tune of piano and then the bells. She pulled the blanket over her face and tried to sleep.
A week later
One morning, while Raina was sketching in her room, Sujata called, ”Rai, I will be going to refill your medicines from the nearby shop. Be a good girl and take care of yourself, and don’t go out. As she left, Raina thought this is the right opportunity, but the time is very short. She managed to put on a trouser over the shorts she was wearing. Though she was wheelchair bound, she was self-sufficient more than her age demands.
As Sujata was entering the gate, Mr Lahiri called her. “Hello, how are you, Mrs Paul?” Sujata hesitatingly replied, “Yeah, good, thank you.” “We are moving out from this area coming Sunday”, continued Mr Lahiri. Sujata ignored him and was about to open the door with her keys, as he said, “by the way, I saw your daughter pushing her wheelchair to the path leading to the backside of that bungalow. God knows, why she….”
Before he could finish Sujata dropped the things she was holding and ran towards the gate.
The bungalow stood just 30 meters away from their gate. As she reached near the entrance, the big iron gate was shrouded with overgrown shrubs. She could not see Raina there. As she turned towards the backside entry of the house, she saw Raina coming back rolling her wheelchair. Before she could say anything, Sujata shouted, “what on earth made you go that way?” and then hugged her tightly with teary eyes.
“Relax Mamma, I am all okay. Nothing happened to me. I will tell you everything, just see this first,” told Raina as she opened her fist. It was a small bell that seemed to have broken from the Ghungroo. Sujata was surprised to see the bell, “from where did you get this one?”
As they settled in their house, Raina started, “Mamma, since you and Pappa were too much worried and asked me to stay away from all those things, I didn’t tell you. But every night I kept a watch on the house until one night I saw a man going towards the backside of the house. Since it was dark, I could not see him properly. I could suppose that after he entered the house, the music started. I have made a note of all the things I watched from my window. Again, soon after the music stopped, I saw the man leaving. It was around 2 a.m. when he left.” I have watched the man every time going towards the house when the sound of music came from the house. And see today, I got this bell that proved something is wrong with the house which has nothing to do with ghosts. Mamma, please, tonight we need to find out, what’s that.”
Sujata coldly said, “I know everything, I have also heard the music. But dear, we have got nothing to do with it. We are not going to stay in this house for long. This is a matter of 2 or 3 years only, once you are operated and everything becomes ok, we will shift to some other place.”
“But Mamma, try to give it a thought once, the people are leaving this area because of that house. We should find out what is going on in that house and who that man is, and in that way, we can help them.”
Sujata was not convinced as she said, “your Papa will never agree to this.”
“Don’t tell him Mamma,” requested Raina.
That night, Sujata and Raina furtively waited for the man to turn up. Aditya was not aware of anything. It was 12.30, Sujata was feeling sleepy after a whole day of exhaustion, but Raina was wide awake when she noticed a man turning towards the back entrance of the bungalow. Soon, Raina and Sujata tiptoed out of the house. Sujata slowly pushed the wheelchair watchful enough so that the wheels do not to make any sound on the cemented road. When they reached the back way, they heard the tune of the piano. Sujata left Raina there while she progressed towards the door. As she stretched her hand to push the door, somebody held her arm from behind. Sujata was about to make a noise, when Aditya closed her mouth with his left hand. She felt a sigh of relief, it was Aditya. He whispered, “I presumed everything what you two were planning. Now let me go first.”
Sujata handed over the torch as he slowly pushed open the door. It was not locked from the inside. The sound of the piano increased as they entered the hallway. The hallway led to a big hall and there was a staircase on the right side leading upstairs. But the sound was coming from a room on the left side. “Probably, this was the study room”, they assumed. Nobody could be seen. As they slowly progressed towards that room on the left side, they did not notice that the music has stopped. As Aditya slowly pushed the door open, a person was standing right in front of him with a gun pointed at him. “Who are you”, shouted the man. As the torch light fell on him, they could see a bearded face with fiery eyes looking at them. Raina was still lagging behind them tried to push her chair to see what’s going on. The man again howled, “What are you people doing in my house?”
Sensing some risk, Sujata pulled Raina towards her as Aditya muttered slowly, “I am Aditya Paul. If you put the gun aside, then we can talk.” His unshaven face and distressed appearance made Aditya relax a bit as he continued, “we have recently shifted to this area 153, but the rumours about your house have disturbed us so much and at last when we saw you entering the house we could not resist but tried to discover what was it.”
The man turned towards the centre of the room and kept his gun aside. As he cleared the doorway, the room became visible in the candlelight placed at the centre of the room.
As they were surveying the room, Raina vocalized, “Mamma, see the piano and the brass bells above it.
The man conveyed, “those are my daughter’s brass bells and that is my wife’s piano,” as he sat on a recliner beside the centre table. He indicated Aditya and Sujata to take the chairs and sit in front of him. The disheveled appearance of the man was quite apparent in the candle light.
Before Aditya could say anything, he started again, “I am Nityanand Bakshi, a retired intelligence officer. We bought this house on my daughter, Sneha’s fifth birthday. My wife Aparna decorated this house tastefully and converted it to a home. She was passionate about music and dance, and equally passionate about her work, better to say her social work. She worked for an NGO. Sneha grew up learning classical dance along with studies. The weekends were a great family time, when Aparna used to play the piano and my daughter used to dance.
“But destiny had some other plans,” he let out a long sigh of despair. “I was on a mission outside India and during this period we were not permitted to contact home. Aparna had to go to east Africa for some NGO work while Sneha was doing her internship. Aparna took Sneha with her as I was out of the country, and that led to the misfortune. There was some unrest in that area as it often happens in those countries which led to a pin prick attack and unfortunately, the victim was Sneha. She was infected with AIDS” his voice choked.
As Aditya rose from his chair to console him, he raised his voice, “And you know these people of my neighbourhood did not believe my wife and daughter when they came back. They spread some false allegations against them. My wife and daughter lost their job, strove hard to get the things essential for everyday life. Their ignorance and superstition made Aparna and Sneha leave this house and this area. They were totally devastated, nowhere to go, nobody to help. The irony was I was serving for that country whose people dragged my wife and daughter out of their house because of some silly superstitions. But before I could reach them, they left me….” he dissolved into tears.
“Sneha passed away within a year due to the fatal disease and Aparna could not accept parting with her daughter and she passed away” he continued. “But I won’t spare these people, I will make them leave this area too”, exasperated Mr. Bakshi.
“I can feel your suffering and desperation, Sir,” said Aditya as he held his right hand in between his hands and comforted him. “But I would say Sir, you have served your enter life for the nation, so don’t malign your inner being just for a group of people. Your wife was a social worker and served the people. So don’t dishonor her soul.”
Raina was too much shaken by the revelation. She rolled her chair towards him and tried to ease him. “This is my daughter Raina,” said Aditya as he narrated the whole story behind their shifting to this locality.”
A week later, they received a letter and a cheque delivered to their address that read “I could not save my daughter, but I want you to save yours.”
The operation got over successfully and Raina was shifted to ICU where Aditya and Sujata waited patiently for Raina to come back to senses. As she opened her eyes slowly, she stretched her hand and tried to reach Sujata. Sujata held her hand and kissed her forehead. Slowly, she asked Aditya, “Papa, I have never seen my Grandpa, he left us before I was born. Could you please bring my Grandpa back this time.