Despite working very hard, Mohan and his family had never known any other life except the heart breaking one of many slum dwellers. In desperate attempts to earn enough to meet their needs, they had tried a range of activities from rag picking to sweeping office floors and collecting the trash from swanky houses. But nothing seemed to work, not because they didn’t earn enough but because that “enough” was never enough to meet the needs of Mohan’s father. Spurred on by a dream of hitting the jackpot, he was addicted to gambling and drinking. If family members didn’t hand over their earnings they were abused and beaten mercilessly. Mohan’s mother and Mohan himself had tried on various occasions to keep back some of the earned amount but Mohan’s father, despite being sozzled, had an uncanny knack of finding out and then his fury knew no bounds.
Then, about fifteen years ago, Mohan’s family became part of the 15,000 families who were forced to leave their homes in squatter communities and relocate 17 kilometres southeast of Delhi’s city centre to Madanpur Khadar J.J. resettlement colony set up by the Government. Though the facilities provided were better than before, separation from the areas where they earned and the high cost of daily commuting came as a big blow for Mohan and his family. After struggling a few months to eke out a living, a disillusioned Mohan gradually sank into his father’s ways, much to the dismay of his wife and teenaged daughter. Soon, it was a familiar sight to see both father and son sitting with others in an inebriated state under a plastic sheet as protection from the sun, playing cards for high stakes.
Like his father, Mohan often lost more than he won and this made him extremely ill-tempered and increasingly violent. It was the misfortune of a thin black cat that it came into Mohan’s life in this down and out phase of his life. Whether the black cat entered Mohan’s room looking for rats or mice to hunt or milk to drink, as Mohan alleged, became a joke amongst neighhbours. “Milk? Liquor, yes, but who’ll find milk in Mohan’s house?”, they laughed.
Like his father, Mohan often lost more than he won and this made him extremely ill-tempered and increasingly violent. It was the misfortune of a thin black cat that it came into Mohan’s life in this down-and-out phase of his life.
But certainly, whether rats or mice or milk, the cat did find something there because it made it a habit to slip in every evening at nightfall through the doorless door frame. The sound of something falling or the clatter of a utensil would alert Mohan or whoever else was in the house at that time and they’d chase away the cat, with Mohan swearing to kill it. He did just that one night and nailed the poor black cat’s dead body from the door frame till it began to stink and neighbours protested strongly. Mohan then callously threw the rotting body into an adjoining “ganda nullah” dirty water drain. Neighbours were unanimous in commenting that no good would come from killing the cat and a black one at that. Sure enough, within a week of the killing of the cat, at nightfall Mohan’s daughter suddenly went into a paroxysm of screaming interspersed with what sounded like cat-like “meows”.
Worse, she attacked Mohan and scratched his face with her nails. Mohan knocked her out with one blow that night. Curiously, later the daughter had no recollection whatsoever of what had happened. The mother decided it would be better to send her to stay with relatives in their native village in Mahobe for a while. The idea seemed to work, because there were no reports of “possession” from the village. But when she returned to her home in Khadar after a month in the village, the very first night witnessed a repeat of the cat ‘possession’ with a few differences.
This time, Mohan’s daughter scratched both his face and his arms and hands and ran out of the door when he tried to strike her. “It’s the black cat taking its revenge by possessing Mohan’s daughter”, neighbours said. But Mohan refused to believe it or even listen to suggestions on how to find a solution. “I’ll settle this myself”, he thundered but it proved to be a vain boast. The very next night his “possessed” daughter attacked him viciously, got injured herself but refused to let go of Mohan till she had gouged out an eye and left his face, ears and hands a bleeding mass of pulpy flesh. They could shift Mohan to a hospital only early the next morning by which time his condition had worsened.
He was discharged from the hospital after almost a month, with strict instructions to do exactly as the doctors had advised, which included returning for regular checkups. Perhaps bringing him back home was a fatal mistake. This time, his daughter, who was so tender and caring during the day went into a most violent fit of fury at nightfall and kept scratching his still not fully healed face even though her mother and others rained blow after blow on her. By the time she fell unconscious, there was not much left in Mohan. To see both the father and daughter lying senseless and bloodied shocked everyone. Mohan died before anyone could gather their wits leave alone act. Mohan’s daughter recovered in a few days and this gave rise to much talk and theories because strangely, after her father’s death and her own recovery, there were no further incidents of ‘possession’.
“It was all an act”, some neighbours said. “Fed up of a no good father who had become such a major drain on the family, she found this clever way of getting rid of him”. “Yes”, chimed in others, “she attacked him and only him. If she was possessed why didn’t she attack anyone else? ” To this, those who believed it was a genuine case of possession made a seemingly convincing reply: “It was Mohan who killed the black cat. Why would the black cat’s spirit, seeking revenge, want to attack or kill anyone else? Its simple. He killed the cat and the cat’s spirit killed him”. Was it coincidence or fact? Both Mohan and the black cat are dead and gone but the debate seems unlikely to die out.