“Kalpi ben, you sing so well. Tame chaar chaand lagai didha aa function ne (your singing has added charm to our function)”. Everyone was eulogising my neighbour, Kalpana ben.
Kalpi fui had put all her efforts to make my ‘God bharai’ ceremony a grand event.
The whole day, this quadragenarian was singing and dancing in the function. She seemed happier than anyone else. I felt happy for her as I had seen her unhappy a number of times.
Meanwhile, I overheard some ladies in the function mocking Kalpi fui, taking a jab on her infecuncy. One of them remarked “Kalpi, its more than 20 years to your marriage and no children of your own. How do you feel?”
Another woman added.” Poor thing, she tried a lot but some people have to face their previous birth’s karmas. Karma spares no one.”
Radha too didn’t want to spare the chance, “Look at her. Singing and dancing as if it’s her own baby shower.”
I was confounded by their statements. I had always thought that she had two children who were already married and well-settled. I clearly perceived that these ladies were trying to gaslight poor Kalpi fui with their vitriol comments.
What took me by surprise was that she didn’t bend out of shape even for a moment. Instead, she chose to broach. My mummy tried to stop her as she thought the memories of past would only shred her heart. But today, she was determined to vent out.
What she said left us all bemused. She literally shrieked out the name ‘VACHHINI.’ Her body shuddered as she spoke. Her eyes were moistened but she quickly wiped away her tears and veiled her pain. I went near her and hugged her tightly. She looked at me and smiled, “I am fine. Don’t be perturbed. You should be happy. It’s good for your child.”
As I moved away from her, I quickly typed a message. “Come back ASAP. I’ve found just the kind of character you need for your story. VACHHINI. Trust me, it’s a story that needs to be told.”
“Vachhini? What’s that? I am coming but it better be worth it.” Prisha, my bestie and a budding writer had been scratching her head for past many days, looking for an extra-ordinary story.
“Fui, who was Vachhini? “I asked her once Prisha was back.
“Vachhini…was a Dakini. You know who a Dakini is? She looked cadaverous, execrable. She was dressed in a bright red attire. Like a bride. Her hair was oleaginous and knotted, falling all over her face like strings of rotten straw. She wore Jasmine flowers in her long braid but still smelled putrescine. When she walked, the clanking of her anklets produced the most horrid music I’ve ever heard. As she came closer, the smell became unbearable. I shut my eyes and clamped my nose so hard that I couldn’t breathe. She touched my hair, my face. Her skin was as cold as the winter’s moon. When I opened my eyes, I saw the most hideous face ever. It had a zombie-white, colourless pall to it, the skin was pitted and pockmarked. Grotesque. She had no nose or ears but from the centre of the face sprang the most preposterous wart, the size of a Colocasia. Her eyebrows were scythe-shaped and the eye sockets were empty, bloody and messy. A large red bindi adorned her forehead, like a warning sign. My fear turned to horror when she spoke. Her voice was gravelly and was accompanied with heavy wheezing sound. Her eidolic laughter sent shivers down my spine. If I were to say it in one word, she was monstrous. Her face scorched with odium. She seemed to hate me but still didn’t want to kill me. Apparently, she was after something else. The witch!”
“Strange. It’s almost like a fiction. Straight out of a horror story.” Prisha jeered.
“Haven’t you heard the saying;Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.” Kapi Bui sighed and continued….’bhar re jobaniya betha….’ (a Gujarati wedding song). She hummed these lines as she reminisced her wedding day.
“Fui, I am sorry. How did she impact your life? Did she harm you?” Prisha asked.
“I am alive. She didn’t kill me.” Fui smirked. “The harm was deeper. My life was in doldrums.”
“Please tell us the whole story, Fui. “I nudged her.
“I was justtwenty-year-oldwhen my grand-father married me off to Natu ji. Natu ji was a rich landlord, and thus my family was assured that I would be living a life queen size. But they had overlooked the other side of coin. Natu ji was a 40 years old, a widower, who had two teenaged kids. I was clearly instructed on the very first day that I had to effectuate both the roles of wife and mother, ably.”
“Ahem…ahem” Kalpi fui cleared her throat and sipped some water. She then sat on the couch and asked us if she could continue. We patently nodded affirmative.
A strange cacophony of emotions stirred in her eyes as she continued with her story.
“Natu ji always respected me and loved me. I was always bestowed with the dignity of a worthy homemaker. The kids, Neeta and Pratik, though not my biological ones, have always respected me. Affection, prosperity and abundance have always showered their bliss on my family. But…” A pregnant pause followed. There was a pin-drop silence. We waited with bated breath to listen to what happened thereafter.
Suddenly Kalpi fui choked. My mother offered her a glass of water. She quickly gulped it.
“The whole family was rejoicing when they heard the news of my first pregnancy after a few months of marriage. I was pampered. The first three months were overwhelming. We had kept a havan on the completion of first trimester.
“That night we all were exhausted because of all the flurry of excitement. I went to bed glowing gayly. In the middle of night, I heard some unusual humming…some kind of lullaby. In my slumber, I could smelt that noxious stink. And then I saw that face…a face without features.I couldn’t see the eyes, nose, ears or mouth on the face but the big red bindi on that face caught attention of my drowsy eyes. No lips, yet she was grinning at me, no eyes yet she stared at my face. She was Vachhini” I fainted.
“Your kids love you. These are your only kids. They and no one else should partake your love and attention.” I heard these words in sleep. All this time her shrunken hands were caressing my belly.”
While she was narrating this, fui’s eyes were red. She was sweating and blabbering. We told her to relax and stop if she wasn’t comfortable but she gestured us to wait, sponging the sweat from her forehead and neck with the pallu of her saree
“The next morning was chaotic and terribly difficult. I got up with severe cramps on my abdomen, so much that I couldn’t move on my own. All our family members were unnerved. Though frazzled, I gathered all my grit to reach the washroom. Neeta held me tightly and helped me reach the washroom which was just outside our bedroom. I didn’t lock the door that day. Even in that darkness, I saw that ball of flesh going out of me. I felt dreadful pain. I lost my baby.”
All of us quavered.
Fui started sobbing like a kid and we didn’t know what to do. I quickly went to her and embraced her. She kissed my forehead and said ” Beta, I hope I am not spoiling the spirit of the function.”
Before I could say anything, my mother told her, she was glad that after so many years fui was finally venting out her pain.
“Kalpi ben tame aagal nu kaho…” all the ladies insisted fui to expunge the bad memories.
Meanwhile, my bhabhi got tea for everyone. Kalpi fui simpered as she sipped the piping hot tea just in a few seconds.
“Pachii (and then) …” fui restarted.
“It took a lot of time for me to convalesce. My kids Neeta and Pratik were the soothing balm to my bruised heart. With their love and care, I felt better. A year rolled and I was afresh and ready to announce my pregnancy news. My husband and kids were jubilant, but guarded.”
“I didn’t let the past experience poke into the bubble of my happiness. This time we all were more vigilant. Regular heath check-ups, a proper diet routine and most importantly, chanting Hanuman Chalisa at night. As suggested by my mother, every night, I kept a scissor under my pillow as they say keeping a scissor under pillow, desists all the pessimism and negative thoughts. I did everything as told.”
“Neeta and Pratik accompanied me everywhere I went, to assure my safety. I felt blessed to have them…. Of course, I still vouch for this. Mara vhala dikka banne (my sweetest kids)” Kalpi fui made this statement with a proud beam on her face.
She then resumed “It was Navratri, I had stepped into the second trimester of my pregnancy. We were grateful to Maa Ambe for keeping my pregnancy safe. The family’s happiness brimmed. After the evening pooja rituals, I felt fidgety, I insisted Natu ji to accompany me till the room as Neeta and Pratik were enjoying the Garba dance.”
“Natu ji told me to relax and have a good night sleep. He went back to be there with kids who were all indulged in the drums and music of Garba.”
“Soon I dozed off. Suddenly, there was that aberrant whiff again. It felt like it came hissing towards me. My bleary eyes could again see that faceless image, that brightly shining bindi looking fierce. I could see her smirking, but couldn’t find her lips. Within no time I felt seized, that heavy breath once again clasped my senses. In a hushed voice, she repeated “Your kids love you’, massaging my belly with her dirty hands.” I wailed. I knew what was coming.
“Early morning when Natu ji was back from Garba, he literally juddered me out of sleep. I got up rubbing my eyes, had a slight pain on my lower abdomen. Seeing the blood laden bedsheet and my red wet saree, I trembled terribly and screeched in agony.”
“I had lost my unborn child again.” I sobbed and sulked for months. Nothing gave me peace; none could soothe my turmoil.”
“As per the advice and suggestions given by elders of the family, we consulted the best doctors and visited many hakims. We even tied threads on dargah, did havans at our family deity’s temple, all this to ensure that we might not be cursed by anything suspicious around.”
“One after another, I had eight miscarriages till I decided not to get pregnant again and I never saw her again. Well for many years until…….” She smiled.
“Nita and Pratik grew up to be the children every mother wants. Nita wanted to be an Indian administrative officer and with her hard work she cracked the exam in the very first attempt. She got married and has a very loving family. Pratik went abroad and got married. He has a naughty son who chats with me all the time.”
“A few days ago, I saw her again. This time she smelt pulchritudinous, of the jasmine in her hair. Her bangles tinkled; her anklets chimed. She smiled, the reassuring smile that said, all will be well. I could see her features. The beautiful eyes were glistening with tears, threatening to spill over when she folded her hands and said sorry.” We all took a long deep breath.
She removed the red bindi and adorned it on my forehead. She blessed me and tied this black talisman on my left ankle. I could see and she sat next to me and whispered, ” Forgive me. I was selfish. I loved my children and didn’t want you to have your own children. You would have not loved my Nita and Pratik then. You would have become a step mother. But now that they are settled, I am not scared. I bless you will have a child soon. I got up thinking this was a dream. A pleasant one, after ages.”
“Vachhani was the Natuji’s first wife’s ghost. She was a mother worried for her children. What do I say? Do I call her selfish? For caring about her children and doing all she could to protect them from a stepmother. She became a vachhini to protect them. But I ask you people a question? What was my fault in all this? Which karmas was I paying for? Huh, Radha? I had no intentions of ill-treating the innocent kids. Not even after the birth of my own. I was subjected to a lot of pain, harassment. And why did I dance and sing today? For this girl,” she pointed towards me “and for myself.” She touched her belly, covering it lovingly with her palms and made a silent prayer.
Prisha and I had a moment of eye contact. Both of us were teary eyed. We all prayed Vachhini would let her child live. We prayed for a happy ending.
Fui – Paternal aunt in Gujarati language
Ben – Sister in Gujarati language
Dakini – The female forms regarded as a rendering for a witch in the Indian forklore. The term is derived from Sanskrit language
Hakim- A physician using traditional remedies
Story by Team- THE RACONTEURS
Writers – Dr. Sheena Gupta & Avni Katakkar
For – #Artales21