Virender was the richest landowner in a medium sized village in Uttar Pradesh. Virender and Parvati Devi’s (not their real names) ornate three storeyed house was an awesome sight for visitors and was popularly known as sangmarmar  ka kamaal (a marvel in marble). But despite their riches and the all too noticeable abundance surrounding them, Virender and Parvati Devi were a sad couple. After eleven years of married life, they still didn’t have a child. They considered adopting a child but decided against it, hoping against hope that some day they’d be blessed with a child of their own.

Virender in particular clung onto the enigmatic words of a wandering sadhu who had stopped in their village for the night years ago. “I see a child in your life but with happiness and sorrow interlinked”, he had prophesied. Virender and others interpreted the sorrow to mean the long delay and the happiness to mean the arrival of a child. Little did they realise the true import. The child arrived in the thirteenth year of their marriage and Virender and Parvati’s happiness was boundless. At a priest’s suggestion, in grateful acknowledgement of the divine, they named the child Pujesh (something worshipped) which soon got converted into Puju as a nickname.

 Puju was at the centre of attention when born and while growing up too he displayed a flair for attracting attention. He was at the centre of activities and upto mischief always. Often, his dare-devil antics drew gasps of admiration from other boys but left elders appalled. For instance, never in the village had anybody seen a boy of four racing wildly along the barely ten inches wide parapet of the village well and daring other boys to do the same.

 When asked what he would do if he fell into the well Puju would answer with supreme confidence that he wouldn’t fall into the well. Racing round the well’s parapet was just one amongst a series of mind boggling actions associated with Puju. People advised his parents repeatedly to keep Puju in check but in Virender and Parvati Devi’s eyes their son could do no wrong and at best they would rebuke him mildly.

 It was obvious a calamity was waiting to happen and it happened when Puju was five years old. Like a monkey, he was running along the second floor ledge of his marble home, lost his footing, landed head first on a grinding stone kept in the courtyard and died instantaneously.  In accordance with custom where children below a certain age are not cremated but buried or consigned with weights to the waters of a flowing river, Puju was buried in the area earmarked for such burials.

Virender couldn’t bear to think of life without Puju and in the dead of night dug up Puju from his grave, brought him home, cleaned him and laid him out on his bed between himself and Parvati Devi just as they used to sleep when Puju was alive. By afternoon the next day the news had spread in the village and horrified villagers took away Puju’s corpse forcibly and re-buried him.

 Given Virender’s irreparable loss they remonstrated with him only gently but succeeded in extracting a promise that he wouldn’t disturb Puju’s grave. He broke his promise that very night and Puju’s body was back in the house. This time, the villagers took away Puju’s body and buried it at an undisclosed spot. Virender, half demented by grief searched and searched for days and then disappeared from the village. People feared he had committed suicide and it was now the villagers turn to search and search but they couldn’t find him dead or alive. 

Virender returned to the village after about a month, a big smile on his face. The village was amazed and relieved. Where had he been? And why was he so happy?  He refused to reveal where he had been but he did admit that he had located a cremation ground frequented by an aghori (ascetics believed to possess supernatural powers). After much imploring the aghori had agreed to ensure that Puju’s spirit would remain with Virender during his entire lifetime.

 Villagers had their doubts on whether it was right to hold onto the spirit of someone no matter how loved. Yet realising their helplessness in the matter they shrugged their shoulders and got on with their lives. But not for long. As a kid, Puju had often kicked up a storm and he did so  after life too by making it a habit to possess boys aged between four to seven. Possessed and driven by Puju’s spirit, the targeted boy would indulge in reckless acts and end up injuring himself.

 It was at this point that I was brought into the picture by Pawan, a young villager who spends half the year in Delhi selling flowering and other plants. His four year old son had been possessed by Puju and was totally out of control. He’d broken his leg once, suffered a head injury when he fell off the roof another time, burnt himself, almost drowned in a canal to mention just a few incidents. As a quick solution I advised him to bring his family to Delhi or send the family to his in-laws village. This has for the time being freed his son from Puju’s spirit.

 But back at his village he told me people are greatly alarmed and at their wits end. They beseeched Virender to do something and when he did nothing berated him roundly.  No amount of praying or exorcising even by powerful bhagats (devotees with paranormal powers) has had any effect.

 Villagers are finding Virender’s indulgence and fostering of his son’s spirit infuriating and most dangerous.  There is no longer any sympathy for him. “He lost his son which was unfortunate but why should any of the other boys in our village now lose their lives just because he can’t let go of his son’s spirit or at least control it”, lament villagers bitterly.

Over the years I have interacted with just five aghoris but that has been enough to give me a glimpse of the enormous supernatural and other powers they possess. If they can locate the cremation ground and appeal to the aghori who ensured Puju’s spirit would remain with Virender it should provide the villagers with the release they’re seeking so desperately. The search is now on.

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