I never believed in ghosts or an afterlife or even God, for that matter. I had always been someone who relied entirely on scientific data as proof for all my convictions. However, as you all can guess something happened to shake the very core of my existence. So here is my story, it’s up to you whether you believe me or not. Please bear with me as it may be a while till I arrive at the supernatural part of the story. I want to flesh out my story in as much detail as possible so that you can experience what I experienced. So here goes…
It was the year 2013, and I had just finished my mining course from a somewhat renowned college in Jharkhand. I wanted to take a year off to travel, but of course, my family’s middle-class values clashed sharply with this notion. My father had a friend who was a part of a coal mining venture, and they were urgently looking for a site manager. After a lot of heated arguments, I finally complied with my father’s wishes.
I was to be an assistant manager at a coal mine in Bankura, a remote town in West Bengal. My job consisted of overseeing the open mining process, which was almost scheduled every day, except on Sundays and rainy days. It was a complicated process and required my full attention. Although my father’s friend had offered me his home as accommodation, I chose to stay at a guest house as I didn’t want to impose unnecessarily.
The guest house provided three meals a day, nothing special but standard meals. The rooms were more or less clean, and the sheets were changed every day. I used to be utterly exhausted after a day at the mines. Therefore I would have my dinner followed by my bath and head to bed by 11 pm. The next morning I would wake up at 7 am to go for a walk, have my breakfast after which I would head to the mines. During the lunch break, I would go to the guest house to have my lunch and then head back for work. This had become my daily routine. There was not much to do in and around the town, so my Sundays were usually spent reading or watching something on Netflix.
There were not many people of my age around, I tried to maintain a civil relationship with all the workers, and they, in turn, treated me politely. They were diligent men who worked hard to earn their living and make sure their families didn’t go hungry.
My father’s friend, Deepak Uncle, one of the chief partners in the coal mine venture often insisted I visit his home for lunch or dinner, and I kept reassuring him by saying I would drop by someday. His house was located in Ukhra, a sleepy town just beside Bankura.
After I made several excuses for not visiting Deepak Uncle’s house for lunch, Deepak Uncle finally called up my father, who called me up on a Friday night to declare:
“Beta*, he gave you a job! How can you behave like this with him?”
“No ifs and buts! This Sunday you will visit his house for lunch.”
I heard my mother’s shrill voice on the phone as well.
“Tell him to carry a box of *mithai. From some good shop!”
I heaved a sigh and put my phone down; I was no match for my parents. I didn’t have anything personal against Deepak Uncle. It’s just that Sunday is the only day I got to myself, and I didn’t like compromising on my me-time.
On Sunday, Deepak Uncle sent his navy blue Toyota along with his designated driver, Shambhuji to pick me up at around 12 pm. Shambhuji was in his mid-fifties, he had a protruding belly and a jolly laugh. He kept on pointing out various lakes, villages and temples that he thought were tourist worthy. Just as we were about to enter Ukhra, I noticed a dilapidated building that caught my attention.
“Woh kya hai, Shambhuji?’ (What is that, Shambhuji?)
“Arre saab woh Aparna theatre hai. Kehte hai bhoot rehta hai waha.” (Sir, that’s our Aparna Theatre. It’s supposed to be haunted.)
Even though I was very radical in my approach towards life, the subject of supernatural forces intrigued me. I was about to ask Shambhuji for more information on the topic when he got a call.
He kept on talking to one of his relatives as he drove past the local marketplace in Ukhra. Shops sold clothes, shoes, fruits, vegetables and various other commodities while cows lazed in the middle of the road, the small town was amock with school girls adorning red ribbons and men on cycles and motorbikes. The booming voice of a man promoting a medicine that could kill lizards, cockroaches and rats could be heard on a microphone.
We approached an enormous white mansion that seemed out of place in this small town. The house had an imposing gate with the words Roy House carved intricately into it. As the car honked, the gates parted to let the car in. Deepak Roy was an influential man in this part of town; this much was obvious. Elevators, marble floors, minimalist but elegant decor, the house reflected his status.
I was lead to the living room first. Plush sofas, a huge LCD screen, a large bookcase filled with numerous books, paintings curated from all around the world, beautiful sculptures, indoor plants, the room was a confluence of culture and luxury.
Deepak Uncle was very dignified in terms of his taste and style. Even in the casual attire of a Polo T-shirt and cotton pants, he seemed immaculately groomed and carried himself well. He was well-spoken and welcomed me warmly. His son was pursuing a degree in Finance in London while his daughter had settled in Norway with her husband. He introduced me to his wife, whom I addressed as Anjali Aunty. The middle-aged couple often got a little lonely living by themselves, which is why they craved company and welcomed guests with an open heart.
Lunch was a gastronomic delight, an authentic Bengali meal consisting of delicacies like Shukto(A Bengali dish made of different vegetables), Prawn Malai Curry, Tender Lamb Curry, Aloo Posto ( A preparation of potatoes and poppy seeds.), and Hilsa Fish in Mustard Sauce. The dessert was a popular dish called ‘Mishti Doi’ (Sweet Yoghurt). It was a welcome change from the basic meals offered at the guesthouse. After a general inquiry about how I liked my new job, the subject veered to the history of the Roy family.
Deepak Uncle’s grandfather Ashutosh Roy, the founder of Roy Coal Private Limited, was the son of a farmer. He studied hard to become a Maths teacher in the village school and later went on to build his own business in the coal mines as a visionary. He got married at the age of 25 to a very young girl called Aparna who was found mysteriously dead in the only movie theatre in town at that time which was called Star Theatre. She was found hanging from a ceiling fan, and the case was ruled as a suicide. Her husband said she had a mental illness for quite some time. Since then Star Theatre came to be known as Aparna Theatre.
Ashutosh Roy married another woman, Nandini in two months after his first wife’s death. Nandini gave birth to three children, including Deepak Roy’s father and the rest, as they say, is history. What remained of the family in this day and time was spread out in different parts of the world. The company became Deepak Roy’s sole responsibility as his two other sisters opted for alternate careers. The business had expanded extensively, and Mr.Roy was waiting for his son Sourav to jump in after he completed his studies in London.
The topic then changed to the friendship between my father and Deepak Uncle. Deepak Uncle reflected on his ‘good old’ college days and all the pranks that he and my father had played on the unsuspecting teachers. After this stimulating conversation, I decided I should take my leave. Anjali Aunty packed some Prawn Malai Curry for me and told me to visit whenever possible.
Shambhuji was to drive me back to the guesthouse. On the way, we passed Aparna Theatre again. I might have been mistaken, but the theatre seemed to be beckoning me as if it had been waiting for me for a long time. I shook myself out of the stupor and dismissed this silly notion.
“Shambhuji, does this theatre still run?”
“*Haan ji, it runs. Throughout the week, some popular movie runs. Every Sunday at 9 pm, they show some old horror movie. Some people say that it’s haunted, some have claimed they have seen the ghost of Aparna hanging from the ceiling. Probably just made up stories.”
The stories may have been fictional, but I couldn’t get the theatre out of my head. It was surprising because I am usually very sceptical about all these supernatural occurrences.
Somehow I could not concentrate on the book I was trying to read throughout the evening after Shambhuji dropped me back. At 8:30 pm I put my book down and decided to walk to Aparna Theatre for the 9 pm show. My feet magically knew the way, I didn’t have to ask for directions. I reached the theatre at about 8:50 pm. I stood in a queue for the tickets, there were not too many people.
I asked the man at the ticket counter.
“What movie is running today?”
“*Aandhera. How many tickets?”
The ticket seller gave me a peculiar look and then handed over my ticket at a meagre sum of Rs 50.
The theatre was shoddy, run-down and a little seedy. The last few rows were occupied by couples who probably used the theatre as a romantic hotspot. I selected a seat towards the front and settled down.
The movie was not scary, just an old Hindi flick with bad VFX and an incoherent plotline. After about one hour, the lights went out, and the screen went blank. There were some sounds of shuffling feet and urgent whispers, followed by complete silence. The screen came back to life. I became aware of my sole presence in the theatre. Everybody else seemed to have disappeared.
A video clip started playing on the big screen. I saw a young Ashutosh Roy sitting with a young Nandini in this theatre itself. I could recognise them from the portraits I had seen at Roy House. They were seated towards the back and were entwined in an intimate embrace. There was some black and white film playing in the background.
Suddenly a lady in a white saree came into the picture. She was hysterical, and an angry sob escaped her throat. I had a premonition that this was Aparna and it was apparent she had just discovered this affair. She tried to run out of the theatre, and Ashutosh Roy ran after her. He grabbed her hand and tried to prevent her from running away. She struggled, but he had a firm hold on her.
“Let me go!” Aparna screamed.
“If you tell anyone what you saw I will kill you!”
“I am not going to keep quiet. Not just about this…but about the other things you have done
as well. Everyone here thinks you are a big man. Wait till they see your true colours!”
“HOW DARE YOU! YOU KNOW HOW HARD I HAVE WORKED TO BUILD MY REPUTATION! I WILL FINISH YOU!”
What followed seemed like something out of a suspense thriller, I could feel beads of perspiration lining my forehead. Ashutosh Roy, the great visionary, the respected entrepreneur, strangled his wife with his bare hands while she flailed her arms wildly and kicked her legs. A scream erupted, I realised it was coming from Nandini.
“Stop it! What are you doing?” Nandini screamed.
While pressing his fingers even harder across Aparna’s throat violently as she struggled to breathe, Ashutosh shrieked:
“This is my town! My town…do you understand! And no one does anything here without my permission! Nandini, there is a thick rope at the back of the hall. Go and fetch it now!”
Nandini stood rooted to the spot and stared blankly at Aparna who was almost in a lifeless state.
“What the hell are you staring at? Go and get the damn rope!”
Nandini forced herself to move her feet somehow and appeared with the rope. Ashutosh had managed to take Aparna’s life, her lifeless body lay on the ground. Ashutosh snatched the rope from Nandini’s hand and attached it to the ceiling fan to make a loop. Then Ashutosh strung Aparna’s dead body from the rope with Nandini’s added efforts who was trying to stop herself from trembling.
“If you even think of telling anyone about this, you will meet the same fate as Aparna.” Ashutosh threatened Nandini. The screen went black again.
I sat fixed in my spot, my body numb with the horror of what I just discovered. My heart skipped a beat and I yelled as I saw Aparna’s dead body dangling from the ceiling fan. I was sure it was her because she was wearing the same white saree I had seen in the video. Her body seemed to have paled and there was froth emerging from the corner of her mouth. Her hair was wild and tangled. Her eyes were closed. To say she was a horrifying sight would have been an understatement.
All of a sudden her eyes opened. I almost cried as there were two gaping holes where her eyes were supposed to be. It seemed like someone had clawed them out. I squeezed my eyes shut. This was just a bad dream. I would wake up soon. This would all be over.
“It’s not a dream, you fool. Look me in the face.” – a raspy voice laced in vengeance said. I opened my eyes and looked her in the face and then averted my gaze.
“Don’t turn away from me. I am not the beast, the beast was the man who killed me. And they worship him. They say he is the saviour of Ukhra. Saviour – My foot!”
‘But.. what do you want from me?’ I cried out.
“Do you know what a hefty sum of money he demanded as dowry from my parents? Do you know that he beat me whenever he was in the mood. He did other unspeakable things too. The great Ashutosh Roy.”
“Ummm…look ma’am..I am just a visitor. I don’t have anything to do with this town…”
” But you went to that house today. Didn’t you? Does that big picture of him still hang there?”
” Yes but…”
“Burn it down!”
“Burn what?..what do you mean?”
“The house, you moron! His descendants live there.”
“But they..they are innocent..how can I?”
“I WAS INNOCENT TOO. DO YOU SEE THESE HOLES IN MY EYES? HE DID IT.”
Aparna continued “He used to put chilli powder in my eyes when I refused to sleep with him. And he clawed my eyes away from my dead body after killing me! All because I threatened to destroy his God-like reputation.”
I was at a loss for words. A tiny part of me sympathized with the ghost or whatever supernatural force it was but the larger part of me was numb with fear. I turned my back on Aparna and tried to flee. I had made it almost to the door when the doors slammed shut with a resounding bang.
“You think I am going to let you get away. Do you know how long I have waited for you? Do you know what it is like to be trapped in one place for years because your soul can’t depart in peace.”
“But what will you get from burning down those innocent people? I can’t do that. That’s arson.”
Aparna smirked, “Who said you had a choice?”
Before I could do anything, she hurled into me with full force.
I woke up screaming. Just a nightmare…it was just a nightmare, I tried to convince myself. My hands had some black substance on them, there were black marks on my clothes as well. I wasn’t wearing my pyjamas, I was wearing my clothes from last night. I leapt out of bed. It was 9 am, I was already late for work. I hurriedly tried to wash off yesterday’s experience with a cold bath. After getting ready and wolfing down a piece of toast, I hurried to the site. To my surprise, no one was on the site, I could only see one of the labourers, Karim working.
“Where is everybody?” I asked Karim.
“Something is wrong at Aparna Theatre. Everyone has gone to see what has happened!” he replied in Hindi.
My heart sunk in terror, and for a minute I had difficulty breathing. I calmed myself and tried to be rational. It was just a coincidence and nothing more. I started walking towards the theatre once again. By the time I reached, my shirt was drenched in sweat courtesy of the summer sun that was unrelenting in this dusty old town.
There was indeed a crowd near the theatre. They were looking at the theatre wall and murmuring amongst themselves. I weaved in and out of the crowds to make it to the front. In big bold letters in black ink, it was written “ASHUTOSH ROY WAS A MURDERER. HE KILLED APARNA.” I thought of the black substance that I found on my pyjamas this morning. As I was reflecting on this, I heard a low chuckle. I turned around to see a flash of white but it disappeared in a second and I felt slightly relieved that at least partial justice had been served without burning anything down.
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