CHAPTER 3: AT VITHAL’S HOUSE
It’s a very old house, conceived in a typical Konkani architectural style. Constructed with huge unearthed and cut-out stone bricks, it has got slanting roof tops, covered with red ceramic roof tiles. At the entrance, there is a big portico with short wooden railings, generally used as an external lounge. The portico is so spacious that around 10-15 people can comfortably sleep there. They all unanimously decide the portico to be their drinking spot.
Parag and Amol meticulously prepare large pegs for everyone.
Parag: We should feel the magic in the second peg itself.
Amol (mischievously smiles): Watch out! Someone might even get dizzed off!
Pradeep and Prem are assembling the dishes with snacks. Pradeep is about to open the casserole which contains the mutton fry, when...
Prem: Keep the mutton fry for later …
Prem: We will have these wafers and all first… (Prem opens other snack packets and pouring them onto the plates) the tasty and spicy mutton will be a treat after a couple of pegs.
Pradeep (smiles): OK.
To make the ambience more enjoyable, Jagadeep and Pritam are setting up a campfire. Amol calls out to them.
Amol: Jagadeep, Pritam, come on, the first peg is ready, choose your companion: ice, soda or water or some coke or whatever.
Prem: Enough of lighting the campfire. I have arranged the snacks too.
Pradeep: Pouring some spirit will make it easier to light the campfire.
Pritam: Naah, don’t even think of wasting a drop of it, I will bring some petrol.
After lighting the campfire, Jagadeep and Pritam join others at the verandah. They sit in a circle with snacks and liquor in the middle and prepare their drinks as per their preferences. Pradeep and Amol go with normal water and no ice, Parag and Prem prefer theirs with a cola drink, Pritam with ice and soda and Jagadeep will have it on the rocks.
In chorus: cheers for the health, wealth and happiness of the Birthday Boy… Happiest Birthday Pradeep!
With the sip in his mouth, Pritam looks at Amol and Parag,
Pritam (gulps the sip and frowns): It’s pretty hard!
Amol (scoffs): Stop crying like a kid, and enjoy the peg.
Prem: Don’t pay heeds to the cry-baby. Tell us why Alankar uncle told us not to go near the river or the dam?
Jagadeep: Yeah, what’s the matter? I was thinking of strolling near the banks to enjoy a cigarette after about 3 or 4 rounds.
Amol (chuckles): do you guys even know why he stopped us?
Parag: Unless and until you share what the matter is, how the heck are we going to know?
Lost in thoughts, Amol stares at Parag.
The old man is steadily proceeding on the lonely highway in search of his lost preys.
Prem: Why are you staring at him? Tell us what’s wrong!
Amol (coming out of his reverie, ahem): For the last few days, there are some creepy things going on, around the village.
Pradeep (cautioning): Every day in the morning we find someone unconscious on the bank of the river.
Pritam (curious): How come?
Prem (teasing): Pritam, why are you even listening to these stories, it might be something about paranormal activities and you may end up wetting your pants.
Pritam gets a bit annoyed and gestures to Prem, to keep his mouth shut. And he turns towards Amol.
Pritam: You go on Amol, tell us what had happened with them.
Amol: I think I have invoked the lion in you with my peg-making proficiency.
Pritam stares at Amol with a grudge.
Amol (ahem): Ok… Ok, now listen carefully.
Amol very intensely starts to describe the occurrences by the river side:
Since the last 4 months this incident has been happening repeatedly, whenever someone took a stroll by the riverside at night:
A villager is walking by the river side, smoking a beedi (a colloquial cigarette) and singing a vernacular song. As he enjoys his walk in his own jovial mood, he glimpses a lady slowly limping towards him from the far distance.
She is followed by a mysterious trail of ghoulish aura.
Villager (to himself): Who the heck is she? I don’t think she is from our village!
As he gets closer, he observes that the lady in question is skinny and very elderly. She is donning a pair of pretentious ear-rings, along with an equally distasteful nose-ring and a large black bindi (a colored mark, popularly of a circular shape, that is worn between the eyebrows, especially by Indian women to show that they are married). Then, in addition to all these, there are myriad indigenous tattoos scribbled all over her limbs. And wrapped around in a worn-out sari, she depicts the epitome of an outlandish vernacular fashion sense. Stiffened up due to old age, she wields an underarm crutch to hold her balance while walking. She is very much lost in her own thoughts as she struggles and staggers to proceed ahead.
Villager (to himself): With such difficulty, at this dead night hour, where might she be heading to?
As the villager is contemplating with his thoughts, in a flash the elderly lady slips and falls down.
Elderly lady (in anguish): Aaahhhh… please help me, somebody please help me.
The villager sprints towards the elderly lady and helps her to stand up.
Villager: Are you alright? I hope you haven’t wounded yourself
Elderly lady (wiping her tears, giving a kind and sweet smile): No son, I am good. Thank you for your kindness.
The elderly lady grips her under arm crutch harder and tries to balance herself.
Villager: You are welcome ma’am, but, by the way where are you going this late? Should I…
Before he finishes, the elderly lady looks at the villager with intense rage. And with a great force, she lifts her crutch. The villager cowers back not knowing what to do. But even before he could grasp the situation, the elderly lady strikes a hard blow to her own legs.
Villager (confused and surprised): What are you doing Lady? Why are you torturing your own legs?
Elderly lady (woefully): If these damned legs hadn’t been inverted, I wouldn’t be slipping and falling like this.
The villager, with a gasp, swiftly glances over her legs and is startled to see that her legs are completely inverted! Convulsing and with horror-soaked eyes, he looks back at her ghoulish face and falls unconscious. She looks at him with a vicious smile