The Haunted House

Arshid Malik

arshid malikBack home, when we were kids, grown up cousins and all would narrate spine-chilling ghost stories to us. Some of these stories would turn out to be so brutally filled with horror that we would pee in our jammies at night. It was sort of customary for the grownups (ours was a joint family with a total of five kids and four grownups) to dip us into this thick sauce of made-up-horror stories as if we were dumplings. They would derive great pleasure out of our misery and fright when would start crying or freeze into small corners around the room – the scene of the narration – seemingly to hold a 180 degree view of what was approaching us and what not. These pleasure drives of the grownups would especially eventuate when there was no electricity at night. While the “storytellers” would twist and turn the narrations into more gruesome and horrendous we would turn as pale as peeled bananas. Some of us, who were wise enough to avoid such “torturing”, would simply desist from listening to such stories only to get to hear second-hand tidbits from the rest of the listeners in bed. The nights would turn very ugly and we would spin and toss around in our beds at the slightest whimper or scowl of a stray animal outside. We would be scared of the dark and would ask an adult to accompany us in case we needed to use the washroom even during the day.

I must say our elder cousins had quite a bit of a flair for telling ghost stories – a knack which I never “inherited”. For me as a child these horror and ghost stories were too troublesome than the others as I was a good listener and had the habit of visualizing the story being narrated inside my head and thus the imagery – frightening imagery – would stay with me for a few days to come.

One fine evening as it was getting dark our elder cousins assembled us in a room for a story-telling session. I knew exactly that it was “tea-time” for them. The eldest one started off on a high pitch, making eerie sounds, and started narrating the story of terrible monster who would grab kids out of dark nooks, wrap them in a sheet and carry them off to its horrendous abode and chop their heads off with a hatchet and then immerse the chopped heads into boiling oil and eat them straight out. It was a difficult “session” and almost every five minutes we would check out at the washroom (of course aided by an adult).

Later that night my aunt asked me and my cousin – we were of the same age – to go up to the third floor and put a hot water bottle in the bed of our eldest cousin who was studying medicine. He had a glass cupboard in which hung a life-size skeleton the very thought of which sent shivers running down our spines. Not able to resist the dictates of our aunt, who would eventually slap the both of us if we did resist, we took the bottle. Holding each other’s hand slowly ascended the stairwell leading up to our cousin’s room, while having made a pact that none of us would look in the direction of the cupboard containing the life-sized skeleton.

We entered the room slowly with the door creakingly shutting behind us. We managed to slip the hot water bottle into the bed and as we turned back the skeleton fell into our line of sight. We had had it. We ran for the door and hurried down the steps so fast that I tripped and we landed at the end of the stairwell with a giant thud. My head was stuck inside the Pheren (traditional Kashmiri cloak) I was wearing and I couldn’t get it out with the arms of my cousin somehow entangled around my neck like an albatross. It was quite an epic journey and the whole household was up in laughter for the coming half an hour. Since the limbs of young children are very supple we did not suffer any injuries even though my mother was glad that I was not carrying a Kangri otherwise it would have turned into a disaster.

scared-kidToday, when I am about to enter my forties, I am reminded of these ghost stories, comprehensively because the childhood memories of those stories have almost turned out into live moments in my life. I am inside a “haunted house” called Kashmir. In this “horror house” people disappear into the darkness. Heads are chopped off and the only difference is that we perhaps know that the ghosts lurk around in official attire. Literally speaking I am in difficult dread of skeletons – skeletons that have been dug up and skeletons that are yet to be discovered. The ghosts lurk around day and night. The degree of horror is specifically more heightened than that of the stories we heard as kids. There is blood all around and you do not need a crime scene investigator to figure that cold-blooded murders, thousands of them, have and are being committed. It seems like the “livable lovely life” that frolics around is a prop for a macabre plan to gnash every individual inhabiting the “haunted house”. I am afraid of going out in the dark as is every other person living here. I am afraid that some ghastly existent might snatch me, behead me and then savor the very sight of it, if not eat it after dipping it in boiling oil.

I have developed tremendous respect for all those elder cousins who used to narrate ghost stories to us for they turn out to be unintentional prophecies. We are living those ghost stories now inside the dark depths of this haunted house called Kashmir. And I am sure I will meet an accident similar to the one which I met with when I was a child, the part when I tripped and tumbled down. Only this time I might tumble down into the dingy, hideous and deep recess of the haunted house, never to be found again.

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