I came home from work, late and tired. I had had dinner outside and had come back to an empty house. Everyone was away and I was alone. I turned the black and white TV on and Doordarshan had nothing interesting to offer. I decided to read something and go to bed. It started raining; a slow and steady monsoon rain. That made the whole place silent except for the sound of the rain. My house was where there were more plots for houses than houses in which people lived. There was some electrical fault and all the street lights were out. Whichever window I looked out of, all I could see was darkness.
I suddenly remembered a story a friend of mine had told me that very morning. It was the story of a Poltergeist. My friend’s voice has great variation in tone and volume. He has a good command over English and Kannada. He also has a sensitive face that has great range of facial expressions. One automatically listens to him with attention. All in all, a forceful and impressive talker.
What he had told me was something like this. There was this young girl. One evening, she brought a cup of tea to her father when he returned from work. The father was surprised that there was no sugar in it. So, the girl went back to the kitchen, picked up a bottle of sugar and a spoon. She brought them to the father and put in a teaspoonful of sugar into his tea and stirred it. She then went back and the father, who was reading the day’s paper, sipped the tea and to his horror, found that the sugar had turned into salt!
On another occasion, the family was sitting in the drawing room after dinner. The door of one of the rooms opened into the drawing room and the door was ajar. No one remembers clearly who saw it first but they all stared as a table in that room levitated slowly and then landed with a thud. When they gathered their wits and worked up enough courage and went into the room, there was no one there.
In the light of day, I had a natural explanation for these seemingly inexplicable phenomena because I had read about Poltergeists and heard other stories of them. Since I too knew the family in which this happened, I also knew the most probable cause of this phenomenon. I did not reveal my skepticism to my friend because the family concerned was close to him and my explanation had elements that would probably hurt him. I had predicted to myself when this phenomenon would stop too. As luck would have it, very soon, the situations changed in the family to something that I had predicted as the precondition for the Poltergeist to stop, and indeed, the phenomenon stopped.
Well, I digress. Coming back to my story, when I remembered what my friend had told me, a chill ran up my spine and the hair on the nape of my neck stood up. I was surprised by this reaction since, except when I was young boy, ghost stories never scared me. Now I found myself reluctant to look out of the window where only darkness loomed. I wanted to get into my bedroom and lie down to read and I hesitated. I really feared the idea of using the bathroom which had a small window close to the wash basin. This surprise about how I felt, somehow seemed to increase my fears. I knew that I was on a slippery slope and if I did not get a grip of myself I would have a terrible and perhaps terrifying night.
I got up with determination and started towards the kitchen to get myself a glass of water. Was I just thirsty or was my tongue parched because of the fear? On the way, I had to pass my prized possession of those days. A Philips “two-in-one” with detachable speaker units, capable of all of 35 Watts of power. Actually, that is not the correct power rating but it was 35 W PMPO as it was called - Peak Musical Power Output. As I passed it, I knew what I had to do. I came back after my drink of water. I took out a cassette tape of semmanguDi Srinivasa Iyer and rewound it and played it.
His sonorous, slightly nasal voice flooded the room as I turned up the volume as high as I could bear. I was thankful that there were no houses nearby, at least for a hundred meters. When he came to the anupallavi of the kriti*, “chaara chOraa…”, his singing reached such vigorous, masculine tempo that my fear and the fear of fear receded dramatically. By the time he finished and the applause reached its crescendo, I could take on any ghost that dared scare me! The rest of the kriti is also sung so masterfully and vigorously that it is thrilling. (Do people complain that classical music is slow and boring?)
I am sure Semmangudi would have never imagined that he would ever play this role of an exorcist for the ghosts in anyone’s brain!
Click HERE to listen to one version of that song to get an idea.
* “mAru balkA..”, rAga Sriranjani, AditALa, Composer: tyAgarAja