He was one of those rare people who had no complaints about life. On the contrary he considered himself blessed because life had given him unexpected opportunities to do better. When people poked fun at him for his naïve views, Naveen Rawat would animatedly point out to them that he’d been a very ordinary watchman at a small stationery shop and now he was a watchman with the prestigious Archaeological Survey of India ( ASI ). So life had blessed him with a regular job, a regular income with tips from visitors to ASI monuments as a bonus, a working environment where he was constantly improving himself. What else could a person want? Riches? Nah. A top position or fame? Nah. All that entailed responsibilities that would complicate his life, Naveen believed.

If life and unseen powers decided to give him more, good. If not, still good was his philosophy and his beliefs didn’t change even when he lost his young wife to typhoid. Maybe that was the way it was meant to be he reasoned. He looked at the responsibility of caring for his barely one-year-old son Vidhur singlehanded as a blessing. Even transfer orders from his comfortable posting in Dehradun to Lakhamandal village in the polyandrous, polygamous, mountainous belt of Jaunsar Bawar in what is now part of Uttarakhand didn’t unsettle Naveen.

My son, he said will be able to grow up in a place which has been famous since mythological times. What can be a bigger blessing than that? Wikipedia states that Lakhamandal gets its name from the two words: lakha (Lakh) meaning “many” and mandals meaning “temples” or lingam. According to locals, the main temple and the adjoining area are believed to be where Duryodhana of Mahabharata fame conspired to burn alive the five Pandava brothers in the Lakshyagriha house constructed with shellac. Local folklore has it that the name Lakhamandal comes from this legendary house of lac or wax.

While the main attraction of this temple is the graphite Shiva Lingam which shines when wet and reflects its surroundings, the statues of its dwarpals (doormen), danav, symbolising evil and manav, symbolising goodness are also a big draw. “Some people believe these statues to be those of the Pandava brothers Bhima and Arjuna. They also resemble Jai and Vijay, the doormen of Lord Vishnu. When someone was dying or had just died, an appearance in front of these statues returned them briefly to life before finally expiring. The power of manav kept the person alive, while danav took the person’s soul to Lord Vishnu’s abode.”

Many other fascinating structures, caves, statues and artifacts dating according to historians and archaeologists from the 5th to the 15th century A.D. can be seen at Lakhamandal and its ASI museum has a rich collection of inscriptions, etc. No wonder Naveen was excited when he arrived with his son Vidhur in Lakhamandal as an ASI watchman. Before long, little Vidhur had won the hearts of the villagers and they pampered him to the point where he became the naughtiest child in the village.

The chalawa likes messing up things kept outdoors or knocking on doors that are not easily accessible from the outside.

He seemed to be a born leader and was at the forefront of dangerous activities such as daring other children to hop on one leg on a narrow ledge or climb up an unstable slate mountain side. It was the latter that killed him on a windy day. The wind combined with some reckless clawing by excited children at protruding slates probably set off the landslide that buried Vidhur and a few other children. By the time villagers pulled them out, Vidhur and another child were dead.

Naveen gazed silently for a long time at the lifeless Vidhur. He gazed even longer at the spot where they buried Vidhur in the sand by the fledgling river Yamuna which flows in the valley below the village. Then he wept and wept. When he had no more tears left, he addressed the heavens. “In your wisdom you have taken away Vidhur and I’m not complaining. But I have a request. Let his soul remain on earth during my lifetime and then we can journey on together to the other world and reunite with his mother”. The heavens responded but in a strange way.

Villagers were familiar with the ghosts, spirits and prets in and around their village as they had been around for generations. A fortnight or so after Vidhur died villagers noticed a new, highly active addition. They identified it as a chalawa and had no doubt that it was Vidhur. Pronounced Ch-Huh-Laava, chalawa means jo chal kare, i.e. one who tricks or leaps. Google chalawa and you’ll find it described as “a lesser known paranormal trickster…Often, it manifests in a very tall, hazy, smoky form. There have been very few reports of a chalawa causing real harm to people. However, it can be a frightening entity to behold on a high wall or a rooftop.

The chalawa likes messing up things kept outdoors or knocking on doors that are not easily accessible from the outside e.g a door on the 2nd or 3rd floor which opens onto a balcony or terrace. It can also leap in split seconds on to high structures like rooftops, walls, poles, balconies, trees, etc. It prefers open places close to nature e.g rural areas, the edge of forests and the periphery of small towns.”

It is known to wear a white cloth and can change its form at will from a man to a woman to a child, from a human to an animal but you can recognise a chalawa from its shifty eyes which won’t lock with yours as the eyeballs keep moving. Most frequently encountered or sighted around or after dusk on moonlit or moonless nights on highways or lonely roads, the chalawa relishes misleading people asking for directions. There are different tales about the chalawa, some of them being that it is a ghost originating from a dead in utero foetus or from a young dead child. Naveen too was convinced that the new chalawa was indeed Vidhur. And to this day, long after his retirement, he makes trips to Lakhamandal as often as his old age permits, to connect with Vidhur in his chalawa form.


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