He clutched the idol of the Goddess tightly to his chest.
Did he hear her anklets tinkling again? It was pitch dark, the wind howled eerily. With a loud clapping of thunder, it started pouring incessantly.
He took to his heels, running blindly for his life. He stumbled and fell flat on the wobbly path.
A sudden flash of lightning, and he saw her towering over him.
What happens next? Find out in this story by Vignettes Rioters..
The torrential rains lashed the uneven stony tracks, and claps of thunder echoed loud. He trembled as he struggled to navigate his path. It was pitch dark, the sudden flash of lightning painted eerie shadows of strange creatures, and the thick foliage engulfing him made his journey all the more arduous.
He clutched the idol of the Goddess tightly against his chest. The bronze statue, embellished with gems and precious stones, was the idol of a deity whom the tribals worshipped. This would fetch him a fortune in the city. He had befooled and befriended them, won their confidence and the simpletons had shared their secrets with him. Before they would know, he would be long gone.
The sudden downpour delayed his escape, his lantern was blown away and he could hardly see a thing. An owl hooted in the distance, he could hear jackals howl. How had the weather turned so rough?
“Chhan. Chhan.” The tinkling of anklets stopped him at his tracks. Had he been imagining things? He strained his ears to recheck, all he could hear was the wind and the heavy rustling of leaves.
He walked ahead when the anklets sounded again, “Chhan! Chhan!”
He took to his heels, the anklets raised their speed too. He tripped on the slush and fell flat, the idol was thrown far. The anklets halted close to him.
He gathered all his courage and squinted in the dark, he could behold the silhouette of a woman. A flash of lightning struck and he screamed. “Chudaiiiiil!”
The howling wind and the thunder hushed his voice, forever.
“No marks of an attack, no animal bites, he died of heart failure.” The Chief Inspector declared.
“Must be the Chudail, Sahab. Good riddance, this man was fleeing with a precious idol that belonged to the tribal community. The deity has been reinstated.” A constable remarked.
The inspector scoffed. The world had marched far ahead and we were stuck with such silly superstitions.
“Chudail? Really? Aren’t witches supposed to drink their victim’s blood?” He asked in jest.
“Sahab, it’s not just a chance. There’s a pattern. Four mysterious deaths occurred in the past few months, in the jungle, and all have been heart failures. The fifth was the Inspector before you. He somehow managed to reach the village, he revealed it was she who ambushed him. He left his job and the village for good, out of sheer fright. All this, soon after that witch was sent packing. Unfortunately, she set herself on fire. The thatched hut she took shelter in, burnt too, to ashes. Nothing remained.” The constable stated.
“So there was a witch hunt, a woman was burned to death, but there was no inquiry?” The inspector was stunned.
“You are new here Sahab, you have no idea.” The constable advised matter-of-factly. All of the inmates of the village were against her. The previous inspector too was strongly convinced she practised black magic. Initially, she had been turned away from her father’s house. Before we could make any arrests, she torched herself. They celebrated her demise. And Sahab..”
“What!” he was curious.
“There was something wrong with her, she wasn’t quite normal. She was way past marriageable age but refused to tie the knot, to look after her parents. She was the Zameendar’s daughter, you know. Her parents passed away all of a sudden one night. She inherited all property and refused to share it with her uncles. She stayed in that huge haveli all alone, some say there were men visiting at night.
The inspector didn’t respond, so the constable went on.
“They said she hypnotized men with her beauty. At first, she cleared the haveli of all her relatives. And then she lured children, to teach them lessons it seems. She was somewhat educated, she would advise womenfolk not to get their daughters married. I’m sure she was onto something, sorcery is what they suspect.”
He shook his head in dismay. This day and this age, a woman was labelled a witch, forced to kill herself and there was none to help.
And now, was she was seeking revenge and hunting for her prey?
The inspector stood perplexed, as the thief’s body was carried away.
It was getting dark as the inspector drove back from town. The post-mortem had revealed nothing suspicious, that man too had died of a massive heart attack, as if he had been numbed forever by a sudden shock. But what was surprising was the fact that all the victims were notorious thugs of the village; petty thieves, molesters, eve-teasers, and drug peddlers. They had been out in the night and attacked during their nocturnal activities.
He was jolted back from his thoughts by the loud clap of thunder and relentless downpour. The rains turned the muddy and unlit lanes into a pool of slush and what followed was exactly as he feared. His vehicle gave way. And as luck would have it, there wasn’t a constable accompanying him, he was all alone.
He desperately looked for a ray of light. It was dark and his vehicle had broken down some distance away from the village. He was brave enough, but the sounds of the night and the darkness engulfing him made his heart pound faster than usual. Moreover, he could be in the tribal zone, he had heard rumors in the past, about some aggression.
“Chan! Chan!” He heard that clearly.
“Koi Hai? Is there someone there?” He called out.
There was some rustling among the bushes, and she appeared. Young, beautiful, decked up in a sari and jewelry.
“I was on my way to the village, but my jeep broke down. You see I’m completely soaked and can’t find my way through the night. Could I take refuge in your house till….” He requested struggling to protect himself from the downpour.
“I understand, come.” She led him into the jungle. Far away, he noticed a beam of light, which turned out to be a lantern.
“This is my poor abode, too small to accommodate you, but you are in need.” She offered him a rag and blushed, as he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Sir, sit down please, and stretch your legs. I can see your feet are bleeding.”
She examined his feet and tied a clean cloth over his wound.
“You need to consult the Vaidya in the morning because I think something has penetrated the skin. If you leave it there for too long, your wound might get septic Inspector Ji.”
“Wait.” He was astounded, he was not in uniform. “How did you know I’m with the police? I haven’t seen you around, what were you doing in the middle of the jungle, out so late?”
“To answer your first question, I just know you are the Inspector. And for the second query, well, I enjoy the dark and the isolation.” She wore an alluring smile.
“Are you one of the tribal folk?” His curiosity was further aroused.
She scoffed, “You can rest here Sahab, till dawn. I am allergic to daylight.”
He went numb, was she?
He realized he couldn’t move, he was perspiring profusely. So it was true.
She moved close and wiped his face with her sari. Her eyes were blazing.
“Don’t be afraid Sahab, I won’t harm you. Go to the haveli tomorrow, question them, in your style. Ask them how the Zameendar and his wife died in the dead of the night, and why their daughter committed suicide. You’ll know what happened to them all. Go, get them justice.”
She smiled as she gently put him to sleep. He passed into a deep dreamless slumber.
As the first rays of sun turned the sky crimson, he squinted his eyes to the gentle light. Where was he, he wondered. It was a Charpoy in the middle of the jungle, but where was the hut? What happened to the woman?
So, she indeed existed. A woman wronged, unceremoniously banished out of her own house, left with nothing to hope for, except death.
There were search warrants issued, he reopened the triple death case. There was ruthless questioning, the residents and the servants of the Haveli were interrogated. Till that time, they revealed they had cooked up a false accusation, poisoned the Zameendar, labelled their only daughter a witch, and expelled her from the mansion and the village. Of course, with the ex-police chief’s consent. Many a villager did believe in witchcraft and the fantasy that Chudails hunted men. All property that rightfully belonged to her was usurped. But they knew she was smart, even if the village disowned her, she could create trouble. So just so they left no evidence, they got rid of her, charred with the fire that swallowed the little hut on the outskirts where she took shelter.
All along the interrogation process, the Inspector’s mind remained restless. He somehow couldn’t accept that he had indeed encountered a Chudail. He prided himself to be modern and progressive, and she had seemed so real. His eyes would often look for that face in the dark, but she had disappeared. Perhaps she had finally attained Moksha, with her thirst for vengeance being quenched.
But he pledged, not anymore. He had heard of free-thinking women being witch-hunted and put to death in the dark ages, but to think it was happening in our own country. The world has been progressing immensely and here we were, still believing in hogwash like this. The woman had been a loving daughter and a responsible lady. She had tried to impart whatever little she knew to the children, and how had her village repaid her? By turning a blind eye to the torture she was put through and eventually abandoning her for good.
A massive awareness campaign was launched, to educate people that witch hunt in India is a punishable crime. It was made loud and clear that her offenders weren’t just the landlords, but the entire village folk.
He cast a final glance at the haveli, as the landlords were finally arrested and put behind bars.
Many a villager had turned up, remorseful of how they had blindly trusted these monsters and let their own kin down. The inspector addressed them, promising to establish a proper school and stressing the significance of education, especially for girls. He also emphasized the fact that practicing sorcery and black magic were serious wrongdoings and none of that would be tolerated anymore.
She watched it all from afar, and she was glad. Her hunger for revenge was satiated. Women being falsely accused of adultery, sorcery, and being humiliated, it was time all this stopped.
A tear rolled down her cheeks. As she turned to leave, her arm brushed against a sharp bark.
“Ouch!” She muttered under her breath, as a few drops of blood trickled.
Though unwilling, she couldn’t help but relive the suffering she had borne.
Her’s was a big, joint family, with her father being the eldest of three brothers. Kind and progressive, her father had toiled diligently to maintain the family reputation and the haveli. He had also set an example by educating her.
But of late, he could overhear hushed murmurs, her uncles and cousins who hadn’t worked a day in their lives were posing a threat, demanding their share of the property. He could sense something dubious was cooking, so he appointed her, his daughter, as his heir.
When her parents suddenly took ill one night and passed away under mysterious circumstances, she consulted her advocate and legally sent her relatives packing. She had lodged a case as well, of suspected murder. Little did she know that the chief inspector had been bribed too. She had been hopeful of her relatives being punished and meanwhile, she was gradually taking over the reins of her family business. But…
One night, just a month after her parents had passed on, her relatives forcefully brought her to the courtyard. Almost the whole village had assembled and they tied her to a tree and pelted her with stones. She had looked around and called out to the then Inspector for help, but he announced it was illegal to practice black magic, and she deserved to be punished. She was tonsured, her face blackened, and she was thrown out of the village boundaries. Left all alone, in pouring rains, with just the clothes on her back, an abandoned shed was where she spent a night. But then, she had been pretty sure they would come for her that night, she had fished out a window to escape.
All doors on earth had been closed on her face. Orphaned, abandoned, she saw nothing but darkness ahead of her. There was no point going to the police, she knew the chief would hand her over to them.
And then it dawned. She would live, and choose the only path they left open for her. Drawing a deep breath, she decided, she would be what they made her. Chudail.
The so-called hostile tribals understood her plight, they sheltered her. She hid with them in the day and hunted in the night. Swooped down on all those demons of the dark, who preyed on innocent women, when the world slept. Little girls from their tribal township were molested, and killed, with their bodies left for the animals to feast.
She would stay wide awake all through the night and show them what a dead woman could do. One look at her and the devils took to their heels. A little chase further, and a close look at her fangs and nails, they would collapse. Bah!
Being a Chudail had bestowed upon her the strength she never had, the fierceness she believed women lacked in general. She had been taught to be polite, docile, and benign. Hadn’t that landed her in the ordeal she was in?
But not anymore.
She had the sealed Haveli to herself, she could now disclose her reality. But no, they had made her this creature of the dark, an object of fear, and she wouldn’t disappoint them. When Rakshasas ruled the earth, She, the demoness would slay them.
- Chudail- Witch
- Zameendar- Landlord
- Haveli- Mansion
- Sahab- Sir
- Vaidya- Doctor
- Charpoy- Cot
The prompt- The doors were closed for him/her. Your MC saw nothing but darkness and disaster in front of him/her. Drawing a deep breath, your MC decides to pursue the only course open to him/her.