She had a slim and lithe figure that even a successful model would have envied. And with beautifully chiselled features and glossy hair to match her graceful physical form, she was everybody’s envy. Alina (not her real name) was stylish too, always sporting the latest that was in fashion. And she had a mind of her own as well, always seeking the offbeat rather than being content with following the beaten track. So it was that when, after completing college in Pune, it came to a choice of career, she turned up her nose at suggestions from family and friends. Modelling? Nah, nah. Films? Forget it. An ad executive? Digital something? You must be kidding. Television? Pooh. It was a long list of suggestions and possibilities that were presented to her, but she rejected each one of them.
The fact was, despite her looks, the thought of glamour and fame didn’t really appeal to Alina. She wasn’t even keen to go to next door Mumbai, the city of dreams for countless people, in search of her fortune. She just wanted to be her own person, doing her own creative thing and after a brief period of surfing options, decided to leave Pune, her home town and go to Delhi, the capital, and see for herself what it had to offer. Alina’s parents were worried that she no fixed plan or even a real idea about what she wanted to do, but they welcomed her choice of Delhi as a base to search for what she wanted. That was because they had several close relatives in Delhi and felt reassured that she would be well looked after. Alina’s “bua” (father’s sister) and her family who had been living in Delhi for years promptly offered her a home — an offer that eventually led to a series of events that made headlines and haunted many people in the neighbourhood for months and months.
After staying with “bua” for a fortnight, Alina announced she wanted to experience life as a PG (paying guest). With help from Ketan (not his real name) her first cousin — her bua’s son — she was soon able to shift into a second floor room close to his office. Her parents were quite happy when informed as they knew Ketan and his wife would “keep a caring. loving eye on her” — words that later turned out to be decisive in a crucial way. It was through Ketan that she met a wooden furniture store owner and was fascinated with the exquisitely carved range of furniture on display. In a flash, she knew she wanted to try out furniture designing as a career. Alina began dreaming of creating unique pieces of furniture. She loved the way the wood came to life in the hands of skilled craftsman and it excited her to think that she would be the force guiding their hands. Sketch, sketch, sketch, then visits to antique furniture markets – that’s how her days now went.
Every time she sketched a new design, she would ask Ketan to come look at it and discuss it and since hisoffice was so close by, he took to dropping in almost every evening. They were innocent visits, but before they fully realised it or even remembered they were first cousins, Alina and Ketan were deeply in love with each other. Ketan too had the family good looks and whenever they strolled hand in hand in the backlane, people who didn’t know they were first cousins always commented on what a good looking, made-for-each-other couple they were. It was when Alina began talking about getting married that Ketan was jolted to his senses. They were first cousins and he was already married, a chastened Ketan pointed out and stopped visiting her.
Alina asked him to drop in for one last love meeting, and around nine o’ clock that night, neighbours and a doctor couple living on the ground floor of the house where Alina had PG accomodation heard a loud thud at the back. They went to investigate and Ketan too came running down the back stairs – to find Alina lying in a crumpled heap. They carried her to the front porch, to the oxygen cylinder in the doctor’s clinic in the basement. On the spot examination revealed Alina was dead. The doctors called the police and an ambulance and went into their house to change out of their night clothes, leaving Ketan with Alina’s lifeless body. “Death must have been instantaneous”, the doctor’s wife told me later. But before the police arrived and the death could be officially confirmed, the doctor couple got a shock because they found Ketan had dissappeared with Alina’s corpse. Before long, TV channels were flashing the news. It was a rickshaw puller near the New Delhi railway station who spotted a girl’s body in a parked car in which the driver was asleep at the wheel, alerted the police and Ketan came out with the whole story.
At that last love meeting, Alina had threatened Ketan that if he didn’t marry her, she would jump from the balcony and end her life right there. Exasperated, and not really thinking she would do it, Ketan replied. “Go jump” and before he knew it, she had done just that — and died. He made off with the body because he was in a state of shock and totally disoriented. But for people in the neighbourhood, Alina didn’t die. Her slim, lithe figure could be seen wearing a nightie and strolling eerily in the backlane night after night. Sometimes, she’d perch herself on the dhobi’s (washerman’s) cement platform and going closer, though her form was hazy her features were clearly visible. Initially, my dogs would howl and raise their hackles on seeing the figure but then they got used to her. Eventually, her parents were contacted by concerned neighbours and they must have had special prayers and recommended rituals performed for the release and peace of her soul because Alina’s ghost no longer frequents the backlane.