The following account is the culmination of a chain of true events that occurred to me over a period of four days. Names of places and persons have been changed to conceal their identity.
I was sitting on a large rock in the fields on the outskirts of a village, Kanouli, at about midnight. It was an eerie monsoon night in 2010, filled with the sound of insects of various kinds. A gentle breeze was hissing by, carrying the scent of wildflowers. The moon was in the dark phase, and a new moon (Amavasya) was only a night away. Lights of vehicles moving on NH 44 could be seen flashing from a distance. A meteor shot in the sky, lighting up space around me for a split-second. Suddenly I felt a soft hand over my eyes from behind, and a coquettish voice uttered:
I stretched out my hands behind my back to grope the girl and pulled her to my lap. It was Ananya.
“Leave me somebody might come”, she said tapping on my arms.
I loosened my grip over her and she took a seat beside me on the rock.
“You are such a badmash.”
Love was in the air and we were having a tryst, hanging our legs over the rock. We sat there for over an hour. We were talking and laughing in soft mumbles, lest someone passing by should hear. I tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear, seizing the moment to run my fingers over her face. My hand felt its way down her cheek along the side of her neck to her shoulder and then to her arm and then the same way back to her face again. I caressed her eyes and the nose that my hands knew so well. The skin on her belly came up in goose flesh. I tried to play with her lips to induce them to kiss my fingers. Ananya slapped my wrist.
“Ouch! Why would you come if you don’t even let me touch you?” I said making a babyface.
“Don’t make that face. I know you very well. Here, let me hold your hand in mine”, Ananya said clasping my hand.
Just then, as in an impulsive stroke, I pushed Ananya back and before she could know, I was flat on top of her, limb to limb.
“Did you hear that?” Ananya resisted and rolled me over.
“I didn’t hear any howl. Are you just trying to escape me?”
“No, Anukalp! You know I won’t do that. Believe me there w……”
Just then we heard another loud howl, a couple of hundred metres away.
“Did you hear it now?”
“Yes, I did. But what is that, a fox?”
“No, it’s probably a dog, but we better leave. You don’t know about the things that happen in the village around a new moon.”
“What things happen?”
“I will tell you tomorrow. Meet me here in the afternoon, bring Sushant along. For now, we need to leave.”
Both of us then left in the dark of a moonless night and took separate trails back to the village, lest someone should notice us together.
I was visiting Sushant during summer vacations at school. Sushant is a close cousin who lives in Kanouli, and so does Ananya. Kanouli is a small village in the Himalayan foothills in Hiranagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India. This village had become infamous due to strange happenings in the recent past. While the villagers had tried to hush things up, uncanny things rarely remain a silent affair. My village is not too far from Kanouli and thus those events had caught my ear too but I had chosen not to believe in them. I treaded back to Sushant’s place and asked him about the happenings.
“We don’t know the complete ordeal yet but for the past two new moons, anklet bells (Ghungroo) have been heard ringing all around the village at midnight and we know it’s not a human because the sound keeps changing its point of origin. One moment, it’s from your left, other it’s from your right, and before you know it rings right by your ear. Sometimes, the sound even appears to come out of thin air, from the sky above you”, Sushant said.
“Don’t you feel afraid? It’s a new moon tomorrow.”
“Well, so far, it has not harmed humans. A few people have reported injuries, but only because they tripped due to fear. However rumours have started picking up, we don’t know what to believe and what not to. There is even some dog connection that the villagers are trying to explore. I guess we will know more after this new moon.”
“So, does this happen only in your village or in the villages nearby too?”
“Only in our village. There is this theory that the villagers have believed over generations. If there is some haunted spirit in the village, it tends not to cross the boundaries of the village. This event too has been restricted to our village. I don’t know if that would stay so in the near future. But why are you asking for so much information?”
“Nothing as such. When I was with Ananya, we heard a loud howl; I think it was a fox, while she thinks it was a dog. Anyhow, she got scared and asked that both of us leave.”
“Yeah, you did the right thing by leaving. It’s better to be safe. What were you doing in the fields at midnight anyway?” Sushant teased.
“I don’t think I need to tell that to another guy of my age, and that too a person who knows me way too well.”
“Okay, bro! As you say. Let’s sleep. I had a hard time staying awake for you.”
And we dozed off.
Next afternoon, I went to the fields again to meet Ananya. Alone! I didn’t bring Sushant along as I didn’t want him to interrupt my meet with Ananya. When I reached, Ananya was already there, standing under the shade of an old mango tree.
“Oh, you are here already!”
“Yes, and you are late.”
I held her hand, pulled her towards me, and hugged her tightly.
We had barely been talking for about five minutes when we heard footsteps approaching beyond the bushes. The crackling sound of dried twigs being crushed under feet alerted us. Ananya sprang up, kissed me on the cheek, and ran away, while I was left looking at her from behind. Man! She’s a marvel.
“Oh hello, son! What are you doing here at this hour?” asked the man appearing from the bushes.
“Namaste, uncle Ji. Just waiting for some ripe mangoes to fall.”
“Son, mangoes aren’t falling for another fifteen days. Whatever you are up to, go home. The afternoon isn’t a good time to be relaxing under a tree in this village”, he warned and left.
I was surprised by the strange statement of the man. If one doesn’t sit in the shade of the tree in the afternoon then when does he? Anyhow, I was not left with anything else to do. I did not have a mobile phone back in school, neither did Ananya. There were not any prospects of calling her back to the fields. I got up, dusted my clothes, and started to leave.
“Hi!” called another masculine voice from a distance.
I looked up to see. A man, in his fifties, with a grey beard, in typical farmer attire and a scarf tied over his head approached.
“You are Sushant’s cousin, aren’t you?” he said adjusting the scarf on his head.
“Yes I am, you know him?”
“Yes, his father used to be a friend. Now we rarely meet.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Nothing, I was just leaving.”
“Going to Sushant’s place?”
“Want to sprint?”
“What? Why would I do that in this hot and sticky afternoon?”
“Excuses! I will tell you what; today’s generation isn’t as physically fit as we used to. You know you can’t compete with me and thus you don’t want to run.”
Now, this was a challenge. I was no sprinter but not responding to a challenge was not in my nature.
“Okay! Let’s do it. But not all the way to the village. You see that big Eucalyptus tree over there? It must be over two hundred metres. Let’s see who reaches there first.”
“Okay!” The man agreed.
One…two…three…Go! We sprinted.
I was ahead of the man in no time. In the first hundred metres, I must have got ahead by about twenty-thirty metres. But then he started catching up. By about 150 metres, he was already beside me. I was running as fast as I could but this man seemed to be so much faster. But, he wasn’t getting ahead either, just running by me; a wicked smile on his face, a stillness in his gaze.
“Wait a minute! This man wasn’t as tall as me. How does he seem to be equivalent to my height? And why isn’t his body moving up and down as it does in running?” I said to myself.
I looked at his feet and reality dawned upon me. This man was not running; he was floating beside me. His wicked smile now seemed like laughter to me. I was scared out of my wits but I couldn’t let that man know. The Eucalyptus was inching closer. Just then, a plan struck me.
“Want to continue beyond this eucalyptus?” I asked.
“Yes, as you please.”
I was reminded of what Sushant had said last evening. Spirits can’t cross the boundary of the village and this man said he was a friend of Sushant’s father, so he belonged to this village. I just had to get across the field and I would be in the territory of the adjoining village, Paliyah. Hopefully, this floating man wouldn’t cross over.
I kept sprinting hard; I was running for my life. When I made the final leap to the other side, the man had almost come straight ahead of me, floating high in the air now. By the time I landed on the other side, the man had disappeared into thin air. I heaved a sigh of relief; my heart still pacing.
But I knew this wasn’t over. I had to go back to Sushant’s place and wouldn’t dare to go back into the field now. I understood what that first man had said about sitting in the shade in the afternoon.
“I should have brought Sushant along”, I said to myself. “Even Ananya had advised doing so.”
I waited till evening in the scorching heat, not daring to go under shade again and then sprinted back to Sushant’s place.
“Where were you the whole day? You didn’t even tell me where you were going. Everybody is worried. And why are you panting?” Sushant asked when I reached.
I took a moment to recollect myself and then explained the ordeal to him.
“Why would you sit in the shade alone in the afternoon? You could have asked me to come along. These things occur to you only when you are alone. It’s a usual phenomenon in our village. We call them “Chhal” (deceit). They are just images of dead men, who gain power during the afternoon and appear only to a person who is alone. They don’t usually hurt you physically. But you may hurt yourself out of fear. How did you escape?”
“Like you said yesterday, I crossed over into the territory of Paliyah, and it worked. It was a good thing I had been to that place with you before and knew where to go. I had to wait for the sun to go down to feel safe enough to come back.”
“Okay! Now relax. Are you still scared?”
“Of course, I am! This thing will take time to sink in.”
“Well, prepare yourself. Today is a new moon night.”
“Oh shit man! This is definitely the doomsday for me.”
By dusk, a dust storm had picked up and electricity was out. Electricity is a luxury in villages anyhow. We had dinner in the light of a kerosene lamp and spread out sheets in the courtyard to sleep as it was very hot inside. I was dreading to sleep in the open on a new moon night, given the events that had been occurring in the village but on Sushant’s earnest appeal, I agreed. Having had a long day, I caught some sleep.
At around midnight, I was woken up by Sushant whispering into my ear.
“Look, the anklet bells have started ringing.”
Well! Well! They really were. At one moment, you could hear the bells ringing far deep in the village, and the other moment they were right outside the gate. For some time they could be heard ringing in the sky, sometimes where the Great Bear constellation is, and sometimes in the direction of the Orion. Everybody in the village must have been up. There was, however, another weird phenomenon that Sushant asked me to observe. There was a street dog named Balli who lived in the village. The anklet bells rang only when Balli barked.
“Maybe it’s the other way round”, I said. “Maybe the dog is barking to the sound of the anklet bells.”
“Perhaps so. But why aren’t the other dogs barking then?”
Sushant’s argument was quite conclusive and I was convinced of the dog connection. The anklet bells kept ringing for about an hour and then they stopped. Scared but relieved, we went to sleep again.
The next morning, villagers had convened a meeting to find a solution for the anklet bells phenomenon.
“This dog doesn’t even belong here. He came only a couple of months ago. And since then, this event has been recurring”, said a man in the meeting.
“I agree with you. This anklet bells phenomenon has something to do with Balli”, said another.
“Even the appearances of Chhal have increased in the past few months. This dog entails some negative energy and we must get rid of him.”
“But last month too, we took it to a faraway place and dropped him there. But has he not come back?”
“Well, I think then the only option that we have left is to cull him”, said the headman.
Conclusion? Balli was to be culled in the afternoon.
Four volunteers from the village were tasked with the culling. In the afternoon, they went after Balli, but upon seeing them, the dog started running. The men chased him. After a while, they realised that Balli was running in the direction of the village cremation ground. They continued chasing nonetheless and caught hold of him near the cremation ground. He was culled, put to a quick death. The men then buried him near the cremation ground and came back; relieved that the anklet bells menace would finally be over now.
On coming back, they sat outside a shop in the village to have some soda to cool off.
“Are you not supposed to be culling a dog today?” the shopkeeper asked.
“Yes, we finished the job.”
“How is that possible? Balli was right here outside my shop moments ago.”
“What? You must be kidding us.”
“Look! There he is.”
And Balli appeared before them like a usual day, wagging his tail playfully.
Rumour has it; the dog they killed was probably a Chhal. Sushant informs me, the anklet bells have stopped ringing ever since.
*Read my other stories here.
Sourav Kumar Sharma