Nineteen year old Avantika had to make a difficult choice that fateful evening. She had the option to accompany the family to their favourite restaurant or to stay back alone at home and explore the features of her new iPad – a gift from her father. Making the decision wasn’t easy as Avantika was an avid foodie but in the end the iPad won even though the family turned down her request to bring back packed food. Her father was indulgent but he was also a stickler for discipline and insisted that the children must learn that getting what you want often entails a sacrifice of some sort.

As she settled down to mastering the iPad Avantika knew that for once she’d made the right decision and sacrificing a visit to a favourite restaurant was worth it. But absorbed as she was in discovering all the many things the new iPad could do, Avantika looked up when the door to her room opened. It was not even an hour since the family had left, how could they be back so soon?

 She was puzzled and even more puzzled and a bit scared too when nobody entered through the open door even though she felt somebody had entered. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good decision to have stayed back alone. She picked up her phone to call her father and just then she heard someone whisper in her ear “Bhoot, bhoot” ( “ Ghost, ghost”). Avantika was aghast. Had trying to do too many things on the iPad confused her or done something to her imagination? Because the voice that had just uttered the words “Bhoot, bhoot” had been that of Sneha ‘bua’ ( father’s sister ) who had died less than a month ago.

Sneha ‘bua’ had been a controversial, much reviled and hated person in the family and when she died everybody in the family was openly pleased as they felt a major nuisance had ended. But had it? On getting Avantika’s frantic call the family cut short their dinner and rushed home. They heard her partially excited partially frightened account and calmed her down. It must have been her imagination, they assured her because they reasoned, a month had not yet passed since Sneha died, true, but it had been many, many days with not even a remote indication of any kind that Sneha’s ghost was haunting the house.

Avantika nodded, glad to be enveloped in the soothing safety of her family again but she wasn’t fully convinced. She kept recalling the “Bhoot, bhoot” whispered in her dead bua’s voice. When everyone had gone to sleep, she turned to her iPad again, logged on to the Net and the popular Wikipedia to check what exactly a ‘bhoot’ was and the implications.

       “A bhoot or bhut is a supernatural creature, usually the ghost of a deceased person, in the popular culture, literature and some ancient texts of the Indian subcontinent”,  she read in the introduction and e-mailed it to me later on.  “Interpretations of how bhoots come into existence vary by region and community, but they are usually considered to be perturbed and restless due to some factor that prevents them from moving on (to transmigration, non-being, nirvana, or heaven or hell, depending on tradition). This could be a violent death, unsettled matters in their lives, or simply the failure of their survivors to perform proper funerals…”.  Reading just this first paragraph was enough to disturb Avantika.

Much as they had hated her, there was no escaping from the fact that there had most certainly been more than one unsettled matter in her bua’s life. She had been an only sister, the youngest in the family and both her older brothers were exceptionally protective. They stood by her and pledged to look after her when her marriage went awry within the very first week and Sneha returned to her parents and brothers.

She had discovered on the bridal night itself that her husband was living with another woman whom he considered his soulmate but couldn’t marry because of legal hurdles. He had agreed to get married to anyone his family chose simply to bring the endless nagging from his parents to a close. But he made it clear to Sneha that though she was his legal wife she would never be his actual wife. It took a shocked Sneha a few days to absorb this and then she walked out – back to her family, determined never to get married and cheated again.

Her brothers honoured their promise of taking care of her. But once the parents passed away and the issue of rebuilding the single storeyed property into flats and property division came up, goaded on by their wives, the brothers began to perceive Sneha as an enemy. An insecure Sneha insisted she should be given her share of the property legally and in return she would give them in writing that after her death the portion she was occupying would go to her brothers and their families.

It was a fair proposition but the brothers felt she might change her mind and refused to agree to her proposal.  The big catch was that they could not sell the ancestral property or give it to a builder to rebuild without Sneha’s consent in writing. So they started harassing her, threatening her and making her already tragedy beset life absolutely miserable. Sneha suffered a heart attack while one of the wives was shouting at her and died later in hospital. One of the wives was reported to have said, “ Chalo, ab to uska bhoot ban gaya” ( Now she has become a ghost ).

The whispered “Bhoot, bhoot” Avantika had heard that night had a deep significance and was not a figment of her imagination. One by one, everyone in the family began hearing “Bhoot, bhoot” whispered in their ears at odd times and it has become maddening. Worse, when a sale or a rebuilding contract is being negotiated with someone, “Bhoot, bhoot” is whispered into the person’s ears followed by some other ghostly incident like a chair or table being shaken, a bottle moving or a door opening or shutting of its own accord. 

“Till Sneha’s bhoot is around the house will never sell and her brothers families will suffer just as they made her suffer”, opined a neighbour. The irony or justice here, call it what you will is that the brothers are too proud to bow down to a ghost. “Kya hum uske kewal bhoot bhoot kehne se dar jayen?” (Shall we get scared simply because of her saying bhoot, bhoot?”). The choice is theirs, neighbours point out. More than two years have passed. With a tireless Sneha keeping up her ‘Bhoot, bhoot” whispers there are no takers for the ‘bhoot bhoot’ house.  

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