Creepy little story

When it came to ‘hantu’ you could hear teacher’s quickening heart rate.

I shan’t pretend to know the kind of anguish Firan Kumar Jha and Anjali Devi are going through. Losing one’s 3-year old child is bad enough, but losing the child to black magic…Not to trivialise an obviously serious enough issue to warrant anti-superstition crusader, Narendra Dhabolkar’s murder, by vested interests, but this ‘manderwadham’ (as we Mallus call it) brings back memories. 

I’d spent my childhood in the quaint suburbs of Kuching town ( now a city, and in all probability, not as quaint any more), Malaysia, and during my school days, whenever class discussions veered to the supernatural, our already blanched looking teachers would take on an even paler pallor. Didn’t matter what their social standing or religion was. When it came to ‘hantu’ (ghosts), you could almost hear teacher’s  quickening heart rate, her pupils dilating, mouth drying out.

There’d be tales of ‘toyol’ the child demon, the shrieking spirit residing in banana trees (at least that’s what we were  told), ghosts of victims of the brief Japanese Occupation. Couple all that with films like ‘The Exorcist’, possibly coming on air that very night, and you can imagine what we students ended up chattering incessantly about the next morning. And those of the more easily excitable disposition would be even more jittery and jumpy than normal, including , well , moi. I’d have trouble being anywhere  near a window at night, especially one looking out to a banana tree. Looking into a mirror at night was absolute torture.

These symptoms would taper off, painfully slowly and 2 weeks later, mercifully, I’d be able to face that poor banana tree again, until, horror of horrors, Mrs Lim, or another teacher (for that’s how we addressed our teachers there, unlike ‘madam’ here),would haul out another ghost story from her vast repertoire. There we go again…There was (and hopefully, still is) a beautiful park, in the middle of town. It has the works:

 manicured lawns, exotic flowers and trees, pretty pagodas, and, the crowd puller---an abandoned tin mine which had since transformed into  a   as –pretty-as-you-please, lake, complete with water lilies, hyacinths, etc. But no one dares step into the lake. There’s a hungry, restless ghost in there, waiting to pull anyone, especially hapless children to its murky depths.

Of course, no one was willing to countenance the alternative explanation—that those water plants could entangle themselves around the swimmer’s legs, and if they weren’t strong enough, as in the case of children, wouldn’t be able to extricate themselves, and hence drown.

Anyway, seriously, I think those ghosts are just as petrified of us as we are of them. It's the possessed humans that I’m worried about. I’m really glad I’m nowhere near Kollegal. I wouldn’t want to have to look out the window every other day and see teenaged girls running naked down the street, hear strange chants from the town cemetery, or have friends and neighbours disappearing, never to return….except perhaps, in fragments, here and there. Perhaps it’s time for another Narendra Dhabolkar to appear on the horizon,but this time, with state protection firmly in place?! 

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