The phone rang. Rima wondered who could it be calling, so early in the morning. She took the call. It was Deepak, their driver. In a voice half sobbing and filled with fear, he said,
“Ma’am, I won’t be able to come today. Sushma is very unwell. I need to take her to the doctor.”
Sushma was his wife. Rima asked what had happened to her.
“She is having fits; very frequent ones, ma’am,” came the answer.
Rima, with wishes to take care, hung up the phone. She got a bit disturbed, for Deepak was with them for over a decade and she had grown quite fond of him and his family. In the evening Deepak turned up with a request for some financial help. He was in a hurry and looked visibly shaken up. Rima acceded to his request and let him go. After that Deepak was gone for almost four days. Absolutely untraceable! His and his wife’s phones were switched off and with every passing day Rima was getting a bit worried.
Then suddenly one morning, Deepak turned up. His disheveled state shocked Rima. On asking about Sushma, with fear in his eyes, Deepak muttered,
“Ma’am we are in deep trouble. Sushma is under a spell of not one, but two stubborn spirits. They refuse to leave her and are responsible for her terrible condition. No medication is working on her.”
Rima could not believe what she was hearing but the look of sheer terror in Deepak’s eyes stopped her from uttering a single word.
“You had taken her to the doctor Deepak, what did he have to say?”asked Rima softly.
“The doctor conducted certain tests and they were all normal. Then he said that some stress seemed to be the reason for her state. He gave her medicines which she started taking, but the fits kept on recurring. I agree Sushma was upset with my drinking habit, but I have left that habit and I have assured her that I will never touch alcohol again,” Deepak confessed sheepishly.
Things were making some sense to Rima now. She prodded,
“Since when have you stopped this habit?”
“From the day the doctor suggested that stress could be the cause of her present condition,” Deepak proudly proclaimed.
“She believed me Ma’am, and was assured and looked seemingly better but suddenly she had one of those fits again. Coincidentally, one of my aunts was there. She could identify the symptoms and then to our shock, she announced that Sushma was possessed by some spirit. We rushed her to our village where we have a very experienced person who has been dealing with spirits of all kinds, for years.” Rima was stunned as Deepak continued,
“As my aunt had said, the Fakir baba said the same thing and in fact said that there were two spirits and pretty stubborn ones at that, inside her and would need strong handling to get them out. He performed some rituals after which Sushma was calmly sleeping for few hours. The Baba said that the medication would work now,” Deepak sighed.
Rima gently suggested if she could take Sushma to a good neurologist.
“Ma’am, I think you are not understanding the problem. How can doctors ward away spirits? It is beyond them,” said a flustered Deepak.
Rima could do nothing to make Deepak see differently. He went away and was off work for about two weeks. Rima was feeling very helpless to be a hapless bystander. She knew that a problem that perhaps was a result of deep stress, could be arrested and dealt with at a nascent stage but subjecting Sushma to treatments that Rima did not understand, was difficult for her to accept. She thought of trying again and called Deepak home. On asking him about Sushma’s recovery, Deepak had so much of his own to narrate.
“Ma’am, at last the spirits have been identified. One of them is of an aged woman, who used to live next door and she died around five years back and the other one is one of my aunts, who never liked Sushma. Do you remember Sushma had a miscarriage some four years back? Can you believe it that these two only had pushed her when she fell and lost our child; it was a boy!They didn’t want Sushma to have a son. Don’t look at me like that Ma’am, they only are talking through Sushma now. I myself heard all this!”
Rima could find nothing to say. Deepak went away saying that they are taking her to a famous Dargah, where there is a person who has the power to relieve the possessed of any kind of spirits. Rima did try ,
“Deepak, why don’t you try taking her to a doctor along side all that you are doing? I will get the appointment and go with you?”
“Ma’am let her reach the stage where any medicine will work, then I will take her to the doctor you suggest.” Saying this he left.
Deepak joined work but had become very erratic. Some day he would take a day off saying that some puja had to be performed at home for Sushma, some day Sushma had to be taken to some other Dargah, some day as per some suggested ritual, she had to be left lying alone on the beach; all sorts of weird, illogical and superstitious practices were being followed and Sushma kept on swinging from getting better, to in a bad shape stage, till one day Deepak informed Rima that Sushma had to be hospitalized. Rima went to visit her. She was admitted in the psychiatric ward of a government hospital. Rima reached her bed. A skeleton of Sushma that she knew, lay there, with her face dug into the pillow. Rima called out to her softly,
“ Sushma, Sushma.”
She did not stir. Rima touched her gently and called out for her again.
She slowly turned towards Rima. Rima almost gave out a scream as she looked down at the white, blank, drawn face staring up at her. She tried hard but failed to read her eyes. Hopelessness? Pain? A lurking fear? A plea for help? Rima could not decipher her look. She just felt drowned and lost in the depth of the unread emotions of the possessed. She just turned, ran off and burst out crying.