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CALLERS AT NIGHT

CALLERS AT NIGHT

In 1950s when I was a child, the day routines of the people were synchronized with Sunset and Sun Rise. Our father would strictly adhere to it. After sunset was a curfew hour for us children but that wasn’t necessary because we couldn’t dare to go out to test our liberties at the risk of losing the life to nocturnal blood sucker who set out in search of an early prey soon as the dusk, because that is the best time for them to catch the young children who stray, ignoring the advice of their parents of not being away from home after sunset. But sun for the habitations tucked in the hills doesn’t set uniformly as it sets for the people who live in the plains. For the children staying in the hill towns the sun sets when it goes behind the hills. For the children who come back home from school at 4;30~5:00 P.M. the sun is almost setting when they reach home. And the children forget all about time and the warnings of their parents when at play and so they become easy preys to the fiends who like tender, raw human flesh. In those days back in the 1950s few people strayed out after dark. I do not know if restaurants offered food after sunset but in most homes, the dinner time was 7 O’clock. Fifty years later when I got a chance to work in China, I found that the whole nation still majoritarily lives by the day and night schedule inducted by mother nature. They are all out of  their beds by the sunrise and at work as early as 7:30 in the morning. Their breakfast time hour is 6:30-7:30 A.M., Lunch time is 11:30-12:30 P.M. and the dinner time is from as early as 5 O’clock in the evening. The whole nation without an exception follows this routine and if you miss this time, you might as well skip your meal. So, no matter where you are, you must have your meal at the national meal time.

It was nearly same for us, when we were kids and therefore it wasn’t very common to get a visitor after dark but it was a possibility nevertheless. We dreaded a knock or ringing of the door bell. It would come rarely though, but come it would. My elder sister and I used to spar over who should go to open the door. To make it fair, our mother would ask us to take turns, but this could be a starting point for a big fight. All claims and proofs of who went to open the door last time ( which could be as far back as a week, buried deep in the forgotten past) could be contested, falsified or fought against. Big argument would ensue. But, the callers at night are generally impatient, edgy and some time desperate too. They can’t wait when important matters are being sorted out. They can have their own reasons to demand opening of the door quickly, for it could be freezing cold and windy outside or the visitor could be accosted by someone with his/her head facing backwards or he could be a short tempered man like our father was. Sitting in the security of the lights inside the room, you can’t judge the frenzied state of the caller. Invariably the mother had to go herself. We used to feel sorry for leading things to such a shameful end, but what we could do if the matter remained unresolved?  Most often, which means almost always, my sulking elder sister, driven to tears had to go, because expecting me to go would be out of question as I was very good at argument even as a child. The elders must lead by an example would make me win over. You could see her protesting sulking and hear her cries receding as she sped through that long Veranda, that separated our living rooms from the entrance door.

If required, I would often slip deep under the quilt and pretend to be fast asleep, if it would be my turn or contest fiercely if it wasn’t, from the safety of my cavern. The fight would always be between me and my elder sister as the younger ones couldn’t reach the bolt nor were they expected to be bold or bolder should I say!!.

One day our father who in those days hadn’t taken up touring job yet had gone out with our younger brother who was around two- three years old then for some work. So I must have been eight and my elder sister nine and a half years old and the younger one five. Since it was quite cold outside, my father had wrapped himself in a blanket and had my brother on his arm. If you can visualize, at the door with little or no moon light behind him, to my sister who had gone to open the door, he must have looked like a ghost, with a blanket drawn over his head like a hood and the rest of it wrapped all around, like a dark flowing cloak. Our father was powerfully built, tall and robust.

The moment she opened the door, she saw the towering figure of a phantom, exactly as she might have imagined they look like. As if that was not enough to drive the life out of her, she had seen with her own eyes that he was holding a live child in his arms, who wasn’t protesting and not even crying. How could he? Perhaps, he was too stunned to do that.  At last, she had seen what she always dreaded- A ghost in all its spectral grandeur. A giant who had a captive child  in his hold for his dinner and was looking for more for his insatiable hunger. She ran inwards screaming, Mummy, Bhoot, Baba ( Baba in Punjabi can mean anything, an old man, an apparition or anyone scary, with long flowing beard, long hair, big nails and fangs). I heard her screams and I knew it had to happen one day but I was safe deep under the quilt where even Bhoot couldn’t find me.

My father followed her hastening his steps and yelling to assure her “Bete Main Haan” (Child, it’s me). She didn’t look back because she knew well that in these matters one can’t trust the eyes or the ears. He didn’t catch her or probably couldn’t or else I am sure she would have passed out or passed away. It’s really difficult to judge the scare or measure how terrified a child is. I remember I had once a very burly Pakistani Second Engineer with me on one ship we sailed together on I. He was generously proportioned in all parts of his body such that he could scare the lights out of any ghost even in the day time. He told me once that his sister’s two years old daughter was so scared of him that she would start screaming on seeing him. How scared was she they didn’t know he said, till one day when he reached to pick her up. Tearfully he told me as he held her in his arms, her body became limp and her heart stopped. “She died in my arms”, he said.

Note:- All pictures are from internet and used here for representation purposes only. I don’t have any rights over them.

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Navneet Bakshi

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Arun Mehra
Arun Mehra
8 months ago

Perfect bedtime story, for a terrifying, sleepless night! Heh… heh… heh…

Ushasurya
Ushasurya
1 year ago

Gosh !! That was really gripping ! Your sister must be laughing now, reading this !! But that was really scary!!

Vipin Kaushik
Vipin Kaushik
1 year ago

Spellbinding writing. Cheers!

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