This was a rainy night several years ago.
The rain was lashing against the wooden windows of our ancestral home. They creaked with the wind, the faint light of a kerosene lamp flashing wafted in through the crevices of the weathered walls. The sound of the crickets got louder by the minute and the rain got only worse.
The only source of light, an ancient oil lamp that threatened to fade into darkness. The house help was long gone and this was unfamiliar terrain to venture out, yet, I knew, bereft of light, this promised to be a frightening night ahead.
The only thing on my mind now was to find the oil to refill the lamp in this 75-year-old house. I knew this meant negotiating a rickety wooden stairway with barely any light to find my way into the old firewood kitchen store..
The stairway led into a long dark corridor that went past the old dining area with the carved table and chairs. Maybe a glass of water too from the copper jug that was kept by the staff before they left for the night. Some water would be welcome now.
The rain pummelled unabated, lashing against the house, and the windows creaked with amazing regularity; the civet cats darting across the attic only added to the sounds that engulfed the house.
It was time I carry the lamp, the only source of faint light I had and walk down the wooden staircase.
Just then, I heard faint footsteps that seemed to be moving ahead of me. I turned, only to find the now pitch dark bedroom behind me. It was the civet cats I said and moved closer to the stairway and walked down gingerly, lamp in one hand and holding the bannister with the other.
The faint footsteps got louder as I walked down.
I called out to the old caretaker but no one responded. Yes, he had gone to his outhouse for the night. I could feel a few drops of rain now. Old leaking roofs I imagined. I moved across the long corridor, the light from my lamp barely allowing me to see the old floor.
The two windows in the corridor now swung open with the fierce wind bringing in the rain and the moonlight. A strange shadow, presumably the banyan tree trunk, cast itself on the floor. I stopped at this mean looking shadow for a few seconds and heard those footsteps again.
Someone was moving the mahogany dining chair. The dragging sound was unmistakable. I shouted out at the top of my voice but the caretaker wasn’t there.
I walked towards the dining table, taking one step at a time, holding the fading lamp ahead of me and just then, I saw her at the table.
She was in a saree, had her hair open and faced the table. I stopped and called out to the only maid who worked during the day. But, it wasn’t her. She had left for the day too.
My faint tremble was camouflaged by this form just a few steps ahead of me. She was pouring water from the copper jug. For some reason, I couldn’t move closer. I tried but couldn’t move and just then she turned and looked back at me….
I stared frozen with fear, at this serene face with eyes that sparkled eerily..
And right in front of my eyes, she tip-toed her way into the darkness. The doors were locked from inside, yet she wasn’t there any longer..
The next morning I asked the caretaker who came in early as usual. He had a visibly worried expression and asked me to accompany him to the ancestral shrine.
His lips quivered when he said ‘ son, you are a lucky man..
#Authors Note : This is a true story.
Jd also consults in Consumer Neuroscience and Neuromarketing, both of which are integral to his brand interventions.