Remesh R: The Ghost of Shantaram
Ever since I settled down in this little town thirty five years ago, I have always heard people spreading stories about this well at the border of the town and the ghosts that occupied it. The appalling stories about the ghost of Shantaram that would come out with his dog – which also happens to be a ghost – scare people to death. Shantaram, based on what I have heard, was a landlord who owned almost the entire town at one point of time. He was a secretive man who lived alone in his villa at the middle of the town for his entire life. Legend has it that he was a very serious man with bloodshot eyes that would glow at night and a physique that made everyone kneel before him in fear.
He was seven foot tall and towered over all the other residents of the town. When he walked, the ground shook; and when he sat, the chair creaked. There was no count of all the murders he had committed and the women he had raped. He even threw children into the river for not bowing their heads when he passed down the road. In short, he was the cruellest man to ever roam the streets of my town.
His dog was a cross between a lion and a German shepherd. How the lion came into the town to meet the German shepherd is still a mystery no one has bothered to solve. The dog was so loyal to his master that it tried to mimic all his acts of terror. It would scare away all the other petty domestic animals like cats, hens and cows. It even threw rabbits into the river for not bowing their heads as it passed along the road. You see, it wasn’t just another dog in the town. It was in fact THE dog OF the town. It even resembled him in appearance with its humongous body and facial hair.
They are both said to have lived and died two hundred years ago. When the master and the dog finally died, their ghosts occupied this well and continued their reign of terror. Don’t ask me why they occupied a well instead of say, a house or a car or something of that sort. I am merely stating the facts for you. I have, of course, always disbelieved in all these stupid stories, as I am a very brave and practical man. I had such an aversion to the said ghosts that I never went anywhere near the well – not even once; and especially at night.
Why do I say all this if I am not a believer? Well, because at the present moment, I am inside that well. I was forced to take a stroll in the evening because of my wife who almost ate my entire right ear with such rigmarole that I had to leave the house immediately. I never knew that words were so powerful. So, a special thanks to you sweetheart. Without you, I would never have fallen into this well.
This other person whom I have to thank on this special occasion is not exactly a person. It is a dog. Yes, I have a dog too – a black Labrador who came with me uninvited and led me to this well for reasons unknown to me. No sane dog would ever do such a thing to its master. But hurray! My dog has done it. In fact, the silly dog at this very moment will be sniffing out something, completely unaware and disinterested in my predicament.
The one thing that I can say with complete surety – after I get out of this well; that is, if I ever get out of this well – is that there are no ghosts down here. In fact I have been here for the past couple of hours; and other than some centipedes and insects and a few toads and some fish there are no living things down here. An argument can be made that a ghost is not a living thing and that a ghost is merely a ghost and nothing else. To this I would have to agree, but I will stick to my earlier statement that there are no ghosts in this well.
I can’t help wondering whether the life of a sixty year old man like me can change so drastically. I never liked surprises right from my childhood. Surprises drove the living soul out of me. I still remember my ninth birthday when my mother came home with a stranger and told me, “Look here son; this will be your new daddy.”
She surprised me. I didn’t know what to say. But fortunately he had come home with a bicycle which impressed me instantly and I had no difficulty to call him ‘daddy’ from then on. But this surprise is completely different from that surprise. This one really surprised me in every sense of the word. You go for a walk in the evening and behold! There you are – at the bottom of a well. It was such a surprise.
When I awoke today, the sun had risen up long before me and I had a feeling that this was going to be a brilliant and eventful day. Only half of my conviction came true. My wife, as usual, began the day with a load of complaints that suggested my lack of enthusiasm and discipline. When she saw that I was not responding to any of her comments and I was more interested in drinking that horrible coffee like drink that she had prepared for me, she went so far as to blame my lack of enthusiasm and discipline on my mother. By the end of the speech, she even tried to put the reason behind the rise in the price of vegetables on my fragile shoulders. That was more than I could handle and I decided to get out.
As things usually go on such days, the first person that I met on my way to the town was my neighbour – the gambler whom I have always tried to avoid by all means necessary. He is a person who had lost a good job by gambling with his boss. I have heard that the boss had told him, ‘You’re one lucky guy,’ as he handed over the official paper of dismissal.
“You have been avoiding me for the past one week. Come play a round with me,” he said, while shuffling the deck of cards that was with him all the time. All exits were blocked by that comment and I thought, ‘What the hell? What can go wrong in a game of cards?’ and I sat down to play a game of poker.
Now, I had heard that this person always had a tendency to win all the games that he played and the way in which he cut the deck of cards with one arm made me suspicious of his good intentions instantly. Hand after hand, he just kept on winning. I stopped listening to his tales while he dealt the cards and finally found out that he was bottom dealing. I tried to raise my point in a subtle way.
“How can you say that? How can you really SAY THAT?”
And he dealt the flop. I bet, he called and in came the turn card – the ace of clubs. I bet and he called again. I had top pair with a decent kicker. To both our astonishment, the river was another ace of clubs, which was impossible as there can only be one ace of clubs in a deck of cards. That made me furious. I said he could keep all the money he had made using his foul methods and rushed out of there. I had a feeling that he would have a strong sense of remorse and would call me from behind and give me all the money back with words of the sort, ‘Hey, I am sorry. Please don’t tell that to anyone.’ But that didn’t happen and I kept on walking.
I decided to do a bit of shopping so that when I went back to the house, I could show the vegetables, in my defence to my wife.
“Give me a kilo of cabbage,” I said to the shop owner. He instantly weighed and packed it.
“Anything else?” he asked. He was a man who possessed only a single abominable quality. He always expected something more from his customers.
“Half a kilo of beetroot too.” I said not to disappoint him.
“And then? These beans have just arrived and it’s a bargain.”
“All right, pack a quarter of a kilo then.”
“How about some bitter gourds? They are fresh from my own backyard.”
I decided to stop entertaining him right there and said, “No, I don’t eat bitter gourds. The taste is awful.”
And then with four more unnecessary items the rascal made me buy, I went headlong to my house. I would have called it a home, but I am married and I have a wife.
She frowned instantly and told me I was an idiot. In my defence, I said intelligence was highly relative and that it might be due to her lack of intelligence that she was finding me an idiot, which made her furious. When she took the kitchen knife, I took no chance and hurried out once again saying, ‘Oh! I forgot to take that packet of rice. Let me get it back.’ Now, it should be noted that she had no intention to kill me, as she began to chop down the beetroot with the knife. But I am a believer of that old saying, ‘Prevention is better than death,’ or something of that sort.
I sang a ‘Tra la la’ as I took a stroll and Rocky came with me. I don’t know why I decided to take that route for the first time in my life to finally end up down here in this well.
But I can hear Rocky barking right now. The tide has shifted in my direction undoubtedly. As they say, ‘Nothing lasts forever.’ My saviour has come to my rescue. Ah! What a lovely bark!
A few loud barks and a short leap later, Rocky fell right next to me and splashed the dirty water all over my face as if he wanted to say, ‘Here, take that master.’ But I have to thank god for putting some water in this well. That is what kept the master and his dog alive as it broke our fall. Rocky swam around me for some time, while I thought about what to do with him. But I have to give it to him – he had better ideas than his master. He swam towards me and latched on to my head and shoulders. A few moments ago, I was down in this well alone. Now, I was stuck inside a well with a dog on my head – so much for the renowned intelligence of Labrador retrievers.
I decided to pray – since there was nothing left to do.
‘Dear Shantaram, if you are here somewhere, please help me.’
After spending so much time inside this wretched well, I had come to the conclusion that there was a better chance of finding Shantaram than God inside this well. If someone could hear me, it would only be Shantaram.
Hours passed by in an agonizingly slow manner. The sun had almost gone down. I thought about my life and some of the events in it in a random order. Then I heard something. I stopped breathing so as to listen more carefully. Is that my saviour? Who would be brave enough to walk through this place at this time? But then there was no sound. It was made clear to me that I had to spend the night down here. This was a fate that I wouldn’t dare to wish even for my worst enemies. Rocky began to howl. He had always been a coward, but I hadn’t thought that he would fall to such low standards.
I have always been brave throughout my entire life, but this was not a time that tested your bravery, but rather your perseverance.
Fortunately, I heard a sound again. And this time I heard voices too – of school boys. They were telling each other stories of the sort students usually tell each other with a moral at the end. I decided to scream out.
“HELP. HELP.” Rocky barked at the top of his voice too. I have never heard him bark with so much passion in my entire life.
“It’s Shantaram and his dog. RUN.”
Then it dawned on me, as I heard them run away in fear.
‘Am I the ghost of Shantaram?’