Hint: Nothing good.
In your average masala movie that has anything to do with the supernatural, you'll always have some kids attempt to summon spirits. Sometimes it’s jokey and sometimes… not. It usually ends one of two ways: a) Nothing happens and everyone has a laugh, or b) A spirit actually shows up to ruin the party and deliciously terrible things happen.
Whether or not we believe in ghosts, it doesn’t seem to matter. Most of us seem to have some compulsion to keep pushing against the boundaries of the supernatural, knowing that the consequences might be disastrous. Are we looking outward to understand the world we live in on a deeper level, or are we testing ourselves to see how much we can withstand?
The night my friends and I decided to summon a ghost, we didn’t quite bloody well know what we were looking for. But hey, there was no way we could have known how things would turn out that awful night.
A few days earlier, we'd talked about bhoots and spirits. Damini had said she could call them. Of course, Sandeep had been excited and unbelieving. Eric had only looked up from his book and shaken his head. But I’m getting ahead of myself… you must know a few things about the four of us to really appreciate this tale. Damini and Eric are strong believers in God. Sandeep has zero spirituality, and I have about… fifty-fifty. Eric is the quiet one, always with his books, and Sandeep is the bubbly one. Damini is my roommate. Neither of us can fall asleep easily, so sometimes we stay up talking all night.
That night, we went to the terrace. It wasn’t too late, about 10.30pm. Eric said we shouldn’t do it, we really shouldn’t, we shouldn’t try to call spirits. But I was damn curious. “Dekhte hain. Let's see what happens,” I kept saying. We sat down in a circle and held hands. Eric held mine. Our eyes were closed.
“Soch lo, no fooling around and all,” Damini told us grimly one last time.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it,” Eric said.
Sandeep laughed. “What if a girl comes, what if a sexy girl comes!” he said.
“Sandeep, mat kar mazzak. Stop joking,” Damini said, but Sandeep was Sandeep. “What if the sexy girl likes me?” he continued.
I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t made so many wishes.
Damini started praying. I don’t know if it’s technically praying, but she was saying things that I didn’t really get. We couldn’t feel anything for a long time. We had fallen quiet, and then Eric suddenly let go of my hand. I was scared even as my brain told me not to be stupid.
“Stop, don’t do that!!” I said.
I knew Sandeep was also irritated. “Accha khasa we were doing it,” he said. But we had to stop now. The spell seemed broken, I could see it on Damini’s flushed face.
I went downstairs. The boys left.
Nothing had happened.
It was so strange. Damini and I fell asleep pronto that night. We never could sleep properly in our house, but that night we slipped into sleep without stirring.
When they got home, Eric told us later, Sandeep didn’t want to go to the terrace alone to bring down his washed clothes, so they went up together. When they came downstairs, Eric fell asleep. He never fell asleep early either, but that night he did. Sandeep shared a room with Ahmed, who is from Oman. Sandeep asked him to close the window; on other days, he would usually fight to keep it open. They closed it and went to sleep too.
Next thing I know, our bell rang at 2.30 am.
The sound didn’t wake Damini up as it usually would. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t want to go to the door, so I ran to her room and shook her awake.
“Sandeep,” Damini exclaimed as she woke up. We ran to the door.
The three of them were standing there, Sandeep, Eric and Ahmed. Sandeep had a blanket around him; he was white. Eric was quiet. Ahmed was shaking.
Ahmed said he’d woken up to Sandeep screaming. Sandeep had had his hands around his own neck, gripping tighter and tighter. He looked as though he was fighting someone on his chest, and he was beginning to scream, “LEAVE ME! LEAVE ME!”
Later, when he was in a position to talk, Sandeep said he’d seen and felt someone – man or woman, he couldn’t tell – on his chest who was screeching all kinds of things to him about his disbelief in spirits. He refused to tell us more details.
Ahmed had run to Sandeep to calm him down, but he kept screaming that someone was cutting him, choking him, cutting up his leg. When Eric also woke up and rushed over, it looked to him like Sandeep was being picked up and flung, picked up again and again and flung. Eric had opened his Bible and started to pray.
And that’s when he saw the blood on Sandeep’s leg.
“Shit, I was so scared, I didn’t know what was happening,” Ahmed said to me.
It was an outcome of our half-serious, half-jokey effort to summon spirits. It was something we’d felt we must do, something that everyone has to do at least once, no? Were we relieved that our faith meant we had been spared? That Sandeep, the only non-believer, had suffered so much?
Perhaps the biggest reason we were so terrified was that our buried fears – that there’s much more to the world than we know – had all been confirmed that night.
By Preeti Lal
Photo Credit: Jessie Pearl