As usual, I was working on my laptop. The overcast clouds looked dark. It was surely going to rain. A heavy downpour was in store. The pittar pattar drops, the fascinating muddy puddles, the water splashing and the running water all around were a visual treat. Rains are a blessing when you don’t have to commute. I am an IT consultant who works from the comforts of her home. So, I have the luxury to enjoy the sudden, unexpected downpour on a weekday. I got up from my chair and stood near the window and looked at the sudden transformation of day to night. I wonder how nature has this magical wand to announce onset of night when the human clock says it is only 3 pm. Soon the dark clouds burst and the downpour began. It intensified. The rain drops felt like piercing needles hitting the window panes. They felt like rhythmic music along with the intermittent thunders. Rain has an intoxicating impact on me. A power nap is all that I crave for in this weather. I know, work deadlines are there to be met. I decided to burn the midnight oil and finish my assigned task. Now, it was time to relish this rain induced sleep on my favourite couch.
I woke up with the sudden thought “Will she? Won’t she? Of course, she won’t. In fact, she can’t.” It is humanly impossible to brave this kind of weather and come. This meant more work for me in the evening. I kept the hope alive. Maybe she will come late. Shanta is my domestic help. She comes around 5 pm every day to clean utensils, chop vegetables and make rotis. After moving to this society, couple of months ago, I hired her to help me with the domestic chores. I continued to work on my laptop with the faint hope that she will make it. The music of rain indicated that the intensity had reduced. I looked out of the window. Indeed, it was not a heavy downpour any more. We reside on the first floor of a two-storied house. The road in front was clearly visible. I stood near the window with anticipation. Shanta can come if she is carrying an umbrella with her. She has been a sincere help. Whenever she needs leaves, she informs well in advance. My flurry of thoughts was disturbed by a phone call from my husband. He called to inform he would be late tonight. He had a late evening conference call. Also, the water logging would cause traffic snarls everywhere.
As I disconnected the call, I saw a lady approaching our road. She looked somewhat like Shanta. I opened the balcony door, peeped out to take a closer look at her. Completely drenched, she had pulled up her saree till her knees, her long tresses were flying in the windy weather. It seemed she was taking brisk steps towards our house. Till today, I had seen Shanta have a poise demeanour. A Bengali lady, she wore saree neatly with the trademark ‘Sankha Pala’ on her hands, a hint of sindoor and a big bindi. Her hair was always neatly tied in a bun. I became curious and stepped out in the balcony. I could not believe what I saw. Indeed, she was Shanta but with lot of sindoor smeared all over her forehead, open waist length hair, completely soaked in water, swaying her head and uttering some words loudly. My heart missed a beat. I looked around at the other balconies. There was no one as it was still raining. I immediately locked our balcony door and nervously sat on our couch. Memories of the conversation I had with the other maid flashed in front of my eyes.
It was just two days we had shifted to this new house and I had already hired Shanta for my household work.
“Oh Didi, why did you keep Shanta?”, the other maid, Minati told me.
“Why not? She is well mannered and good in her work”, I answered.
“Don’t you know she is possessed by a ‘Devi’ on some days and acts weird. Once when she was possessed, she hit me vigorously with a broom. I had to run to save myself from the assault. Don’t hire her. Keep me instead. I am free in the timeslots you desire”, Minati tried to convince me.
In the so-called phenomenon of being ‘possessed by Devi’, an individual exhibits symptoms of spirit possession and the spirit is considered to be of a Hindu Goddess. Being a science student, my analytical brain dismissed this spiritual possession story. I reflected on how fierce competition is gripping every profession. Minati probably wanted to grab the job and fabricated this tale to tilt the scales in her favour. I also believe in transparency in every aspect of my life. So next day, I had asked Shanta about it. She laughed and said,
“Oh God, you heard it too. That was a prank I did on Minati. Most of our neighbours were party to it. I pretended to be possessed by some divine force and tried to scare her. Didi, I also had two bottles of beer to make my enactment natural. Ha ha ha.”
Even I had shared that moment of laughter with her. Everyone needs moments of fun and laughter in their routine life. I had concluded.
Now, after what I saw the conclusion seemed incorrect. Hurriedly, I opened and locked the front door again. I heard some words in guttural voice. I glanced through the folds of my balcony curtain. It was Shanta twisting her body, rolling her eyes and uttering strange sounds sitting on the railing of my balcony. How she reached the first-floor balcony is beyond my comprehension. I started trembling and picked up the phone. Whom to dial? Husband is busy in a conference call. My parents live in a different city and can’t stress them now. Our ground floor aunty is an old lady. I did not know what to tell her. Should I dial 100? Don’t know what to tell the police. Maybe, hearing this bizarre account they might send an asylum ambulance to pick me rather than a police jeep. Moreover, I was scared the sound of my speech would reach Shanta’s ears and might trigger some strange reaction from her. I went to the home mandir in the bedroom and grabbed the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’. I always draw strength from it. Although I am not very religious, this small booklet of devotional hymns is my support system. I know the hymns by heart but holding onto the booklet feels like holding onto some supreme force of hope and positivity.
While reciting the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’, I heard the same guttural voice and sound of bangles. Peeping out of the bedroom door, I saw Shanta flew in from the kitchen balcony. Yes, she flew in! When I saw this, my heart stopped beating for a while. I do not know how death feels. But, I am sure, I must have died for few seconds and relived again. It was absolutely shocking. I was sweating profusely. My kitchen had a balcony too and the door was slightly ajar. How Shanta reached that balcony is again beyond my imagination. I locked myself in the bedroom and kept on reciting the hymns silently. My phone was also in the living room. I felt lonely and very scared. My hands and feet were trembling. The husky, growling sounds continued along with the sound of my steel utensils being cleaned. I heard the sound of the jingling bangles in sync with the rolling pin as she was making rotis. I sat near my bedroom door listening to every sound attentively. I could even hear the beats of my petrified heart. Then, a faint sound of her anklets as she moved in the kitchen is all I heard for a while. It was followed by complete silence. Still grabbing the Hanuman Chalisa in my hands, I mustered courage and peeped outside the bedroom door. She was nowhere to be seen. With the speed of lightening, I ran to the kitchen and locked the kitchen balcony door. I checked every nook and corner of my two bedroom accommodation. I was confirmed of her absence. The supreme ordeal was over, at least for the time being. I sat on my couch and closed my eyes. I slept or fainted, I have no clue.
The doorbell rang. I woke up sweating profusely. I looked through the peephole of the door. Shanta was standing. Hair tied in a bun, neat, just a dash of sindoor on her forehead. She appeared poised as always. I picked up my phone. There was no incoming call from my husband. Oh God, all this was a dream. A nightmare rather! Guess the reason can be found in Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory. Probably all this was a figment of my ‘unconscious mind’. I had heard the ‘Devi’ tale from the other maid and it remained in my unconscious mind, and triggered this kind of dream. Thank God it was a dream! I felt relieved.
As I opened the door, Shanta walked in her usual self and said “Sorry didi, late ho gayi.” To discharge her duties, she hurriedly went to the kitchen and soon announced “Aapne sab kaam kar liya!” What? Aghast, I rushed to the kitchen. The sink was empty. All utensils cleaned and kept in the rack. I opened the fridge and found a bowl of accurately measured cut vegetables. I opened the casserole and found six, perfectly circular, hot rotis. Who made all this? I froze!