•Solid To Spirit•
Please Note: Admittedly, the Barrister Babu timeline is pretty messed up. The first time it was set in the 1920’s and then we noticed the date 1942, I guess. So I am going with 1942 as the starting point. The story is set post-independence, after nearly 26 years of 1942.
On 12 November 1968, Anirudh Roy Chowdhury realised that human beings could transform from flesh and blood into some sort of translucent mist in a matter of seconds. No, scratch that. It took half a second. He just discovered that.
Just half a second ago, when he felt himself turn from solid to spirit.
Had he not been dead, he would have felt utter horror and shock at this ridiculous predicament. Instead of a sudden jolt of shock, however, all he felt was the need of his Bondita beside him. That remained constant, dead or alive.
“Bondita…”, was all he could manage to splutter.
“Pati Babu…”, Bondita responded, steadily, as if trying out her voice after a long time.
His brows creased, he slowly veered his head to his right to peer at the ethereal figure of his wife. Her state of being was much the same as him.
She stood beside him along the sun-baked railing of a highway bridge, looking into where he thought his eyes ought to be. Her unsubstantial form permeated the light of the setting sun behind her. The hem of her saree would softly flutter in the mild breeze and part of it would seem transparent gas, and then it would gain a little more substance.
He watched, as Bondita’s previously wide eyed look morphed into a mere shockless, unsurprised look.
The pair of them inched closer to each other, nearly touching. The wind whistled and their eyes turned to stare down and scrutinize a steep ditch.
At the bottom of the ditch, were scattered piles of nasty junk, all leading to a huge battered mess. It was admittedly a tomb.
That tomb was once a motor car and it belonged to the wealthy Roy Chowdhury family. Hence, it used to be their car. Before their membership card of the mortal world expired, that is.
“Pati Babu… How long do you think we have been standing here?”, Bondita asked, something akin to trepidation in her voice.
“I think…”, Anirudh’s hand became complete vapour before materialising into translucent fingers. He pointed to the junk in the ditch, where a car tyre was still spinning. “… not much long”.
Time seemed abstract. Anirudh mentally counted to five, but he couldn’t even fathom if it was five seconds or five hours. Not wanting to conjecture about anything any further, he pointed to the mess that was once their car, and now, their grave which transformed them from flesh into… whatever they were now.
“Look there, Pati Babu… there’s the car mirror, our bag, and… are those shoes?”
“Your shoes”, Anirudh confirmed absent mindedly.
He noticed his hands were balled into fists. He opened them.
“I’m going to go and have a look at that wreck. You stay here”, Anirudh said, his eyes flickering between the messy clutter and Bondita.
“You won’t let me see our own dead bodies? That’s unfair!”
Something like a laugh of mirth sprang from his mouth and it felt light and frothy. He felt funny, and laughed again, because it somehow alleviated him. It felt normal and good. Feeling felt good.
And it was because of her. His Bondita.
He looked her way, and he could tell that his eyebrows were probably raised. “It’s… gruesome. You really want to see your own corpse, Bondita?”, he questioned warily.
“You won’t let me have a look at my own corpse? Come on, Pati Babu, it’s a rare chance in a lifetime! Seeing your own corpse. How wonderful!”, Bondita exclaimed in pseudo excitement. And then she looked at him with a similar raised eyebrow.
“Come”, Anirudh simply said, lightly smiling at his wife’s childish antics.
They moved. Anirudh thought they were walking. But there was no tensing in his muscles; no popping in his knees. Judging by Bondita’s momentary pause, and the look in her eyes, she was probably thinking along the same lines.
Bondita shrugged, indicating that it was weird and slow, but still good. And Anirudh agreed, for sure.
“Pati Babu… everything feels too different. Except you, of course, but… what else do you think has changed?”, Bondita asked, matching his pace.
“Hmm… I don’t really know. I mean, I’m still me. You’re still you”, Anirudh smiled.
“I guess we are. But who were we? What did we do? It all looks hazy”.
“Anything we forget, is probably not worth remembering”, Anirudh grinned, feeling fuzzy all over, the light feeling intensified by Bondita’s breathy giggle.
While they walked, Bondita spoke with a faraway, dreamy look in her eyes, “I remember what it feels like, to dip roshogollas in chaashni, then squeezing and slowly savouring it… I remember the smell of rain and wet soil. The sight of trees turning green, red and orange through seasons…”
“I remember that too”, Anirudh chuckled.
Anirudh continued, “I remember barking dogs, purring cats, getting excited over the climax of a good novel, walking in to the wafting smell of your delicious kheer. I remember staying home and being with people. I remember…. our wedding; the vows we took…”
“I remember the feel of being held by you, like I’m the most precious thing on earth… I remember bending down to touch your feet, and you reciprocating…”, Bondita recited.
The mangled motor car was upside down, when they reached the sight. It was covered in mud, dirt and grime and was far too crumpled to even allow a look inside.
Inadvertently, Anirudh felt himself slip below the earth without digging. He noticed Bondita kneeling down and gazing at him in amazement and wonder. She surveyed the mess around the car while Anirudh felt himself go down, and spying buried rocks and burrowed worms, all without ever dirtying himself.
What new tricks was he going to discover, after this sudden turn of events?
His head wafted up into the rubble and he announced, “I can see us! Here’s our corpses”.
“And… Bondita… Your eyes are open”, he spoke softly, roughly above a whisper. “And, you’re looking right at me”.
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Bondita exhaled a nervous little laugh. “Looking at… which you? You or… you?”
Anirudh snorted. “The dead me”
“Both of you are…. dead”.
“The me that isn’t a ghost“. It felt odd and surreal, saying that word. The G- word. “Your hair is fanned all over you face, too”.
“That hair isn’t mine anymore”
Anirudh couldn’t help himself from reaching out and gently brushing her hair back from her face. When he touched her face, it was cold. It was a corpse after all. And he thought it ought to be cold, but with his new fingers, he wasn’t sure what cold felt like.
“You wear death so gracefully”, Anirudh said, louder than before, smiling to himself.
“W- what?”, Bondita spluttered, utterly flushed.
“Yeah. It’s true. Dead or alive, old or young… my Bondita has always been so beautiful”
“Pati Babu! You’re calling a corpse beautiful?”, she retorted incredulously.
“It’s not just any corpse. It’s yours. And everything about you is beautiful. Your spirit, being the most intense and ethereal”. He knew he was being cheesy and he had the sudden urge to go and check if Bondita had the same red flush to her cheeks that she usually got when he complimented her like that.
“You’re hauntingly beautiful. Drop dead gorgeous!”, he went on, making Bondita gasp.
He could hear Bondita’s stammering, flushed, disbelieving whispers from here, and it elicited a slight chuckle from him.
“I have a huge gash on my head though”, he remarked, observing his own corpse next. “Like a hole in my head”.
He could hear Bondita’s uncomfortable silence. They both stayed silent and tranquil for a while.
“Well, my dear Pati Babu… There’s always been that hole in your brain. That’s why you’re Buddhu Babu too!”
They both laughed at that and they both felt the electricity. And something that admittedly, might be love. They remembered love. They remembered, that love for them, meant each other.
Anirudh stared at their dead bodies as if flitting through a photo album, memories and snippets of his life’s precious moments flashing in blurs.
Out of the car and up from the ditch, he was now standing back beside Bondita, on the side of the highway road. She was looking up at the sky and humming the first few notes of ‘O Jonaki, ki sukhe…’. She often did it when they were alive and it always soothed his soul.
He looked where she was looking, and saw what she was seeing. It was almost evening and the sky was a faint pink, the cumulus clouds all in funny shapes: a bear holding a fork, a giant hat and a skeleton hand hatching from an egg were the most prominent he could notice.
“What do we do, now?”, Anirudh wondered out aloud.
“I think”, Bondita answered with a slight pause and he couldn’t tell whether seconds went by, or minutes. “We can do pretty much whatever we want”.
“How did we even end up like this, though?”, Anirudh tried and failed to recall the car crash. “I think it was a swift death. I only remember driving past the highway and then that huge lorry crashing into our car. See, that one. We can even see it from here”, he said, pointing to a faraway point near a large field where the lorry was parked.
He went on, “Anyway, I was driving, and then suddenly there was a crack, and then we were standing here, like… this“. He snapped his fingers, but neither could he hear a clap nor feel a vibration in his hand.
“Uh-huh. It wasn’t that quick. The lorry struck our car. The car window shattered. Your body crashed into mine. Then we veered off the highway track and toppled into the ditch. Then we twisted, tumbled and crunched. We rolled and I stopped breathing. Then we landed upside down and everything was eerily quiet. We were wrapped around each other. I tried to scream, but I choked. And then I was standing here beside you”.
Bondita recited it all in a matter-of-fact tone, as if reading out a cooking recipe.
“That sounds… scary” Anirudh said emptily.
She continued humming the song, looking out into the distance and Anirudh gazed at her familiar spirit. The other half of himself. Her glinting black eyes, shiny teeth, and the frail trace of a long scar on her cheek she once got during a mass opposition march against British Raj, more than twenty years ago. Her skin was smooth and pale. Amazing that it was all still there.
His eyes met hers, and he felt her intense gaze on him. “What?”, she asked, and he shook his head.
“Pati Babu… What do we do now? It’s boring sitting here like this”, she asked in that childlike, imploring voice of hers.
“Let’s go haunt that lorry”, he replied, jokingly, though he imagined it might be fun.
But her reaction was quite unexpected to say the least. He was close to being surprised and feeling a thrum of excitement. “Yes! Let’s do that!”, she squealed like he just suggested taking her for a cinema show.
“Really?”, he asked, wondrously.
“Yeah, why not? After all, see what it did to us! And the driver didn’t even stop. That was mean”.
“Well then… let’s go”, he whispered conspiratorially.
The driver hadn’t stopped. Either he panicked and drove away haphazardly, or he didn’t care that he crashed into a car, and made two people tumble, and roll, and die. How could someone end a life and not feel a sharp stab in their core?
They could see that the parked lorry, some two hundred feet away, was now starting to drive and move forward.
Anirudh and Bondita took their first steps across the highway, and all of a sudden they were standing in the path of the monstrous lorry. Two hundred feet travelled in the meagre blink of an eye. The pair looked at each other, eyes wide, mouths hanging open.
“It’s all magic”, Anirudh shook his head. It was ironic, since before the incident, when he was alive, he had never believed in something he couldn’t prove with each of his senses. Believing miracles and magic was far out of his league.
They stood still and locked eyes with the driver, both of them expecting him to squint and gawk at their sight and then clutch his chest in utter horror.
“He can’t see us”, Bondita remarked. The mischievous glint in her expression was in full force and Anirudh couldn’t help but be awed. She was in her late forties. Yet, the childishness in her spirit never went away. It was part of her soul, perhaps.
The lorry soon ran over the Barrister couple standing in the middle of the road and abruptly, they were inside the lorry, on its seat.
The driver was a bulky man with a balding head, clad in a half-sleeved innerwear and a dhoti. His left hand was managing the steering wheel and the right one, busy counting money and scribbling something on a scrap of paper.
He wasn’t sure where it originated but Anirudh felt a prickle of irritation at the nonchalant carelessness of the driver. He imagined a series of poster services designed with ‘Distracted Lorry Driver‘ printed in bold, that would depict one lorry gleefully running over people and cars, while it’s driver is glued to some other job that had better be carried out later, in leisure.
The urge to chastise the driver was overwhelming. Bondita shook her head and would have deeply sighed if she’d have had lungs. She settled on pretending to inhale and exhale and drum her fingers in the air.
Bondita jabbed the driver in the back, where there’d have been wings, if the man was some angel and not a murderer.
At the same time, Anirudh whisper-yelled in the driver’s ear, “You moronic murderer! Get out!”. It seemed such a ghostly thing to say.
The driver did a double take and jumped in shock, coming to a sudden halt, as if getting electro-shock spasms. He stumbled out of the lorry, howling obscenities, madly flinging his arms in the air. His fright was everything Anirudh and Bondita hoped it to be.
“That was so fun, Pati Babu!”, Bondita exclaimed, punctuated by her laugh.
“It seemed pointless. But yeah, can’t say it wasn’t fun”, Anirudh nodded sagely.
The lorry was now a lulled behemoth and another blink took the pair of spirits more than two hundred feet away from the spot. They were back at the spot of the car crash.
As a passing thought Anirudh wondered what would become of them, now that they were mere haunting spirits. He wondered if anything or anyone would come to take them. But where? To heaven? Was there even a heaven?
But he wasn’t worried. Haunting rash, foolhardy drivers who went on unintentional murder sprees with his beloved soul beside him wasn’t a bad idea to spend eternity. Well, nothing with Bondita was a bad idea.
They were together. In everything. Anirudh reached for Bondita’s hand, and she for his, and a spark of light ignited between them for the instant as they clasped hands and held onto each other.
Their souls were locked in an intense gaze and it was only disrupted by the honking of a motor car. They whipped around to look at the car coming from a distance.
Only at that moment, did Anirudh and Bondita notice that it was already night. The world was suddenly shaded in moonlight blue. The front window of the car was lit with the reflection of the shiny, starry galaxies and roadside lamp posts.
Time was acting weird.
The cobalt coloured car drove smoothly and swiftly. But it slowed down as it passed the ditch where they died. The living beings seated in the car were all aglow in the soft lights.
The people in the car, and Anirudh & Bondita were separated by life and death. It was a thin line, but the difference was deep and vast. Yet, their eyes met.
The eyes of the living humans were wide like saucers, bulging from their skull, on the verge of escape. Their jaws were hinged down to the breaking point. The pair sitting in the car looked like babies opening their mouths and being spoonfed with a mouthful of horror and shock.
The motor car tumbled and nearly spilled into the ditch that had already served as a graveyard.
“NO! Slow down, you stupid people!”
“Be Careful!”, Bondita and Anirudh yelled in sync, reaching out their hands.
This made them shriek and snap into sense. The one driving the car, jerked the wheel back along the center of the path. The car drove along, passing Bondita and Anirudh. Their heads oscillated back and forth, rubbernecking for another look.
Bondita could have sworn she heard one of the car passengers ask in utter horror, “Didn’t they look like Barrister Babu Anirudh and Bondita?”.
“Did we save their lives?”, Bondita asked, still looking at the car tumbling down the winding road.
“I think, yes. It’s a relief, though. Just think, if they had died, they’d probably join us as fellow ghosts. Did you want some more company?”.
“What? No! It’s so good to be with you. Just us. Company is a nightmare right now”, Bondita replied, her typical toothy grin adorning her face.
With a punch of acceleration, the car disappeared into the dark horizon.
“Pati Babu… Just imagine the future. People are going to tell stories about us. We’ll be called: ‘The Kraantikari Lovers of Tulsipur Highway‘. We are going to make a fabulous horror story!”, Bondita declared cheerily, as if it was the most exciting trending news.
Their future legacy was making his Bondita giddy and his own giddiness wasn’t far behind.
“True. We’re a ghost story now”, he agreed. “We’ve gone legend”.
“Let’s go, have some more fun. Somewhere else! Until… something happens to us. Is something even going to happen? Are we going to stay here, trapped in a limbo for eternity? Or…”, she broke off, ending her ramblings in silence.
She finally shook her head after a momentary pause. “Whatever it be, let’s not worry about the future. Let’s go and make more stories at a million other places. Together”.
“Forever, Bondita”, Anirudh smiled, looking deep into her soul. He lovingly squeezed her hand and felt warmth course through him, even though they were fleshless, bloodless spirits and memories. “I’m so happy you didn’t survive. At least you get to smile. Otherwise…”.
“Pati Babu… Why do you always have to say such sweet things that make me feel warm and fuzzy”. Her eyes looked moist, and her voice sounded as if her throat was closing up with emotions she couldn’t feel.
“I’m the luckiest dead man in the whole wide world. And the luckiest soul too. Because you are the substance of my soul“, Anirudh said, inhaling and exhaling the surrounding air, even though it didn’t feel like he was breathing.
Bondita held both his hands in her own, and pulled him to the middle of the road, where a truck was fast approaching. “Let’s leave this graveyard behind us”, she announced.
The truck ran over them and they got scooped up in it, becoming invisible passengers. In felicitous silence and in blissful togetherness, they rode, till they stopped at a lakeside surrounded by deep, dark woods. Bondita’s head was on Anirudh’s shoulder, and their hands were tightly clasped together.
Author’s Notes: Don’t know how it turned out. Please comment and help me form an opinion about this piece 😀