Ram Avatar was praised by everybody both at work and at home. Many described him as a ‘model human being’ and often held him up as an example. He was indeed a treasure trove of qualities. Ram Avatar (not his real name ) was in fact a perfectionist who possessed an extraordinary ability to grasp a situation quickly and work at great speed to produce impressive results. He was a jolly fellow, chatting almost incessantly and no matter what the work assigned to him, he enjoyed every bit of it.
He belonged to a backward caste and though he was in a Government job, his position in the hierarchy was at the very bottom primarily because he didn’t possess any formal educational qualifications. But he had never allowed this to stand in the way of efficiency which was one of the reasons behind the universal admiration for him. And it was also the reason why when he retired officially he was not actually allowed to retire.
He was retained as ‘contract labour’ and in Government books was listed as a watchman for a Government compound used as a godown for sundry items ( ranging from drilling machines to water tankers to cables and bamboo poles ) . This suited Ram Avatar because it gave him an honourable reason to stay away from his two sons. Strangely, they were everything that Ram Avatar was not and yet he loved them dearly.
Ram Avatar’s wife had died from pnuemonia when the boys were just six and three years old and refusing to remarry, he had brought them up singlehanded. But the absence of a mother combined with the absence of a father who had to be away at work proved to be detrimental in the upbringing of the children. It was said the boys fell into bad company at early age and hooked to alchohol and drugs, both became notorious as ‘good for nothings’.
But Ram Avatar though deeply saddened continued to support their families and never lost his cool even when their behaviour crossed limits. In his own mind, he had rationalised things and attributed everything, good or bad, to ‘karma from the last birth’. This enabled him to remain stoical despite being terribly shaken even when his elder son died at thirty three due to liver and kidney problems. It was when doctors warned at that very time that the younger son too would meet the same fate unless he stopped drinking and smoking hash that Ram Avatar began thinking along new lines.
“If the two beings who mean the most to me leave this world what will be left for me?” He began trying everything that people suggested to get his son off drink and drugs. Some lines of treatment would work for a while but in the end nothing would work and there came a point when Ram Avatar gave up. “Because he knows of the efforts I’m making, he’s unhappy drinking. But he’s also unhappy if not drinking. Let Parmeshwar (God) decide what’s to be done.”
The decision came sooner than expected and the younger son followed his brother to the other world. It was a blow that broke Ram Avatar’s spirit and ironically he too took to drinking and drugs. The Ram Avatar who was held up as example of all that was good and desirable was now held up as an example of the cruel jokes that fate can play. But talk to Ram Avatar in his sober moments and a different picture emerges, a picture that gives one goose bumps.
“ I lost both my sons. I set alight their funeral pyres with my own hands. But after taking to drink I’ve been re-united with them. Don’t ask me how its happened but its happened. Come nightfall and we’re one happy family, sharing a bottle between us. Now when my time to leave earth comes, and its not that far off, we’ll all three travel together to the other world.” Is Ram Avatar fantasising or hallucinating? After all, its so easy to imagine what one desires, especially if one is on drugs. Or is it really a case of a living father and two disembodied sons enjoying their tipple and a smoke as darkness falls every night?
For regulars in the area there are no questions and no doubts. They’ve seen, experienced and heard the threesome quaffing their drink and puffing on the same ‘drug loaded’ cigarette. If you happen to go to the compound where Ram Avatar is watchman and ask for him, you’ll be told in a matter of fact way by the ‘theli wallahs’ (cart vendors) on the pavement outside, “Buddhaa abhi nahi milega. Woh apne beton ke saath nasha kar raha hai. Kal din mein aana.” ( The old man’s not available right now. He’s in a drinking session with his sons. Come during the daytime tomorrow.)
But we wanted to be present when the ‘nasha’ session was on. When we explained what we wanted and why, a close associate of Ram Avatar ensured our entry to the compound just as twilight deepened into night. The flourescent street lighting showed us a rotund Ram Avatar sitting on the ground against the wall of a locked room. Before him was an opened transparent glass bottle of ‘desi’ (country) liquor.
He took a swig from it and held it out as if to some invisible presence and then replaced it before himself. We noticed that the amount of liquor that had dissappeared from the bottle was much more than was possible to be downed in one swig. Another bottle was opened and ‘shared’ with the ghosts in the same manner. And then a cigarette was lit. Ram Avatar after taking the first puff held it out in the same way he had held out the liquor bottle. Two circles of smoke could distinctly be seen in addition to Ram Avatar’s exhalation.
We have made several repeat visits and the main features were almost always the same. Some nights we heard coughing and it certainly wasn’t Ram Avatar coughing. A friend who heard about this opined that since we had been right there and had also inhaled the hash smoke we too had probably hallucinated, just like Ram Avatar. But then, at the time the swigs from the bottle were taken, there had been no intoxicating smoke. We saw, heard and felt what we saw, heard and felt and we’re convinced that a living person ( father ) and two ghosts ( his sons) were having a tipple. But still, we’ll resume our observation once Ram Avatar’s associate who ensures our entry to the compound returns from his village after Holi.