4

I spent the whole day with Brindavan; last night's fright seemed so ludicrous in the daylight that I avoided telling Brindavan about it.

I had decided to return back to Kolkata in the night train. I had tea in Brindavan's house, came home, picked up my suitcase, and started for the railway station on foot. By that time it had become quite dark. I made my way through a grove; it was a large grove that required five to six minutes of steady walking to cross it. I had reached midway when for no apparent reason I looked behind. Instantly, I felt as though a strong electric current had passed through my body; I was rooted to the spot in shock!

Who is it standing there?

In the half shadows that shrouded the grove, I saw a strange figure. Very tall. He wore a tall cylindrical shako which was held firmly on his head by a thin metal chain that went around his chin - the kind of military headdress worn by English soldiers which you get to see in pictures. The figure stood motionless staring at me fixedly; the distance between us was less than ten yards. I approached a little nearer in desperation; I must get to the bottom of this! The figure was immobile as a statue. I was only seven to eight yards from him now, and could clearly see the headdress and the metal strap.

My legs started trembling uncontrollably, my whole body went numb, and I felt lightheaded. If this state of affair had continued for even a half minute more I would have fainted and dropped. The figure held me in a spell; I could not turn away from it.

But at that instant some people entered the grove with torches in their hands. I felt myself recovering my courage when I heard the sound of voices. I shouted out to them, and they came running to my help. They were very surprised to see me in the grove. "What's there, Babu? What's happened?"

They lifted the torches to scrutinize my face. "Oh, it's you! What's happened to you? You look very scared. This grove is rather scary, and people feel frightened to pass through the grove after sunset."

When they lifted their torches high to look at me, I saw in its light that the figure was still standing as before. One of the men said, "What are you looking at, Babu? This beefy tree here?"

Another man said, "Its branches have been chopped and the leaves trimmed; it looks exactly like a human being in the dark."

Yes, it was a tree! The leaves on the top had been trimmed in such a manner that it looked like a soldier's headdress. Yesterday, I had advised uncle to get himself a new pair of spectacles; I felt ashamed of myself now when I thought of it. Uncle was an old man after all, and prone to make mistakes; but it was ridiculous that I should make such a mistake!

The men held their torches and escorted me to the railway station.

I returned the medal to Sudhir in school on the next day.

Sudhir said, "Grandfather wants to meet you. Please come with me to our house after school; grandfather said I must bring you to him."

"I was feeling very uneasy on your account masterbabu ever since I heard you had borrowed the medal from Sudhir," the boy's grandgather told me. "I didn't know your address; else I would have sent you a telegram. This medal was entrusted to my father's care by an English soldier; I hadn't been born then. The soldier had pledged it, but wasn't able to reclaim it. The soldier was an alcoholic. The medal is ill-fated; if it falls into the hands of anyone else outside my family, it has been known to cause some harm or the other. Years ago, my brother-in-law, turning a deaf ear to all our warnings and cautions, took the medal to show it to his relatives; that very day he fell down from the terrace and died. The medal was found in his pocket."

"Fell from the terrace, and the medal was in his pocket!" I repeated as though the words came out of my mouth on their own accord.

"Yes masterbabu, my own brother-in-law; it's true. That had happened 27 or 28 years ago. Thereafter, a few others had borrowed the medal but returned it immediately saying they had experienced a strange kind of fright during the night; they felt as though they were being stalked. The medal spells disaster for people outside my family; so, I wanted to send you a telegram."

I must mention that I returned to my village a month later. I entered the grove during the daytime and inspected the spot where I had experienced the fright; the robust upright tree had stood next to a mango tree then. However, I could not find any trace of the beefy tree. There was nothing to suggest that it had been cut down; had that been the case, there would have been a stump. There was no stump nor anything else to suggest that there ever existed a tree at that spot!

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
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  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
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  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
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  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu