By Hook Or Any Other Means

December 13, 2019

What is it about the horror genre that is so enticing? Is it the ghosts and ghouls, the haunted houses, the twisted turns in the recesses of our mind or the unknown that lies on dark and shadowy roads? Or perhaps the popularity of horror fiction is connected with our fascination of the macabre. In this story, the protagonist embarks on a journey for revenge that takes her down a twisted road with an aghori and is forced to deal with certain gruesome circumstances. Does her need for revenge overcome her sense of what is right and wrong? Read this story to find out.

One day, while surfing the Internet aimlessly, I came across a link that led to a website that promised to cure people of their sexual deficiencies, neutralise (and get rid of) negative feelings, deal with bad luck as well as tackle ungrateful children, wayward partners, all sorts of ailments, despondency, financial problems, the evil eye, and more. From easing backaches to killing off enemies, there was a remedy for every ‘ill’. Try the Indian method, it advertised, the tantras and the yantras to get around the bad phases and put your life back on track. Results within a week, or your money back, it guaranteed.

Desperate to get a job with an MNC, I clicked on it, paid the fee and registered myself. I would have preferred a government job, for there’s less work to do, no tension, unlimited below-the-table income and a post-retirement pension. But I didn’t have the cash to pay the bribe to get a government job, and foreigners do pay better than Indians in the private sector. I had tried to get a job with an MNC many times, but I only got called for an interview once where they told me my certificates were useless. I had paid good money to buy them, I argued. The computer-course certificate cost me nearly two thousand rupees and the stenographer-diploma another thousand.

I told the managers there I could learn on the job, but they wouldn’t listen. One of them, the only one who was not a gora, said these courses were humbug and had no value. He shook his head with a disgusted look on his face. Later, when I remembered that expression, a feeling of hate overwhelmed me. I wanted to bash in his face, drive over him, poke a spike through his chest, poison him….and then it struck me. I would use an aghori to both teach the man a lesson and get that MNC job for myself as well!

Aghoris are men of god, more powerful than your regular swamis. Through mastery of an ancient science, they can control men and animals. They have full control over their own bodies and minds. They can evoke and repel curses even in these modern times, even across computer networks. They say they have mantras and japs that even work on mobile phones. They control the world, it is said. They can manipulate the stars and, therefore, your fate. Nothing pleases them, nothing repulses them. It’s very difficult to become an aghori and there are but a handful of them in India who are really powerful.

‘Don’t get involved,’ my friends warned me, ‘They deal with corpses, wraiths and demons. They wallow in muck; they eat roasted rats. It’s a terrible life they lead.’

They swore I would perish before the week was over. They advised me to apply elsewhere for a job, to settle for something less, to be content with whatever I got… but I couldn’t get over that manager’s expression. I thought of that interview every waking hour. Every dream had that interviewing manager in it. At the same time, my desire to get an MNC job grew stronger.

So, I registered myself on the website that promised to help people with problems. The very next day, unexpectedly, I got an email inviting me to meet Kalaram Baba, the well-known aghori, at the Baokar crematorium, two hours after sunset.

The winter breeze bit through my sweater. I pulled my shawl around me as I approached the opening in the crumbling grey wall. There was no gate, just a couple of metal rods indicating an entrance. Tufts of dried grass brushed against me as I walked. I could see a naked man sitting next to a glowing pyre from where I stood, about ten metres from the tin shed where corpses were cremated. Was that Kalaram Baba? There was a corpse on the cement cremation platform, partially charred. The cold and damp wood around it threw out unhealthy flames and the acrid smoke stung my eyes. I coughed. He glanced my way, snorted my name, and when I nodded, indicated for me to approach. And so, I did.

I wondered, how did he manage to have access to a computer? Where was it? Did he even know how to use one? As if reading my mind, he said, ‘My chelas, my students, look after the administration. I do the real work.’

Bloodshot eyes in a blue-grey, unshaven face. Dust-covered, uncombed, unruly, curly hair. Crossed legs, bare bottom and chest despite the freezing cold, chapped lips, straight back, lean frame. I was taken aback; had I done the right thing by coming here? My skin was covered with goose bumps, and it wasn’t only because of the temperature.

‘What’s your problem?’ he asked directly.

‘No money, no qualifications, no luck,’ I told him, adding, ‘And I want to get even with someone.’

He smeared fistfuls of ash from the pyre all over himself and offered me some. ‘Put it on your face. It’ll warm you. More importantly, it will help you shed your inhibitions and get you in touch with your atma.’ I didn’t move.

He ignored me for a couple of minutes while pinching out shreds of cooked flesh from the corpse and eating them in small bites. ‘I haven’t eaten for two days. Yesterday’s funerals were of two very old men. I don’t touch the meat of those over sixty. And the day before, I was fasting.’

I watched, shocked, as he pierced the skull with a sharp rod (‘otherwise it will burst and disturb the peace,’ he explained) and manipulated it with a sharp scythe (the kind used in a kitchen to break a coconut) to disengage it from the neck. In the moonlight and with the glow of the embers, I could barely make out what he kept scooping out from it. Devoid of hair and skin, sans the ‘face’, it looked like a clean white bowl. He picked it up with one of the long bones.

‘Keep this,’ he ordered, handing the bowl to me.

Mesmerised, I put my palms together and reverentially accepted it. It was warm and smooth and smelled a little like the dried fish that got mouldy in the monsoons. Unexpectedly, I vomited right into it. Even more unexpectedly, before I could regain my composure, he stretched out his right hand, thrust two fingers into my mouth and down my throat to make me retch again. He collected the second vomitus in his palm and licked it like a child would a favourite chocolate. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘Your insides are in me, your cells will become mine. Your problems will be my problems. I will feel your anguish, share your anger.’

The nausea died away and I felt better. A vision of the man I wanted tortured suddenly came into view, clearly, for a moment, then vanished. But the need for revenge and the wish to get that job? Those only got stronger.

The silence around us was only broken by the crackling of the pyre. The corpse’s flesh had burned off, as had the skeleton. It was nearly midnight. Some family member of the deceased would come in the morning to collect the ashes for the subsequent ceremonies.

A fresh bout of dry retching (I couldn’t stop myself) broke the silence of the night. Again, the vision of the man I wanted to harm swam before my eyes… but this time, I couldn’t see his face as clearly.

‘You are suffering,’ Kalaram Baba rasped almost inaudibly, ‘Because you left some karma incomplete in your previous life. In this present life, you are just a few steps away from achieving nirvana. I will guide you to it.’

‘What am I supposed to do?’ My voice was exceptionally loud, possibly to mask the terror within me.

‘I have the solution,’ he continued, ‘But first, we need to tackle your present problem.’

Trickster? I wondered. Conman? Was this man a fraud? Was he out to trick me out of money? How was he going to find me a job at an MNC? I wished I’d listened to my friends. No one knew I was here. I was carrying just a few hundred rupees. Would that be enough for his fees or to get me out of here?

‘I don’t want money,’ he blurted out. (This guy really could read my thoughts!) ‘I have no use for it. When I’m hungry, if there’s no corpse for some days, I get my nutrition from the turds of the stray dogs that live around here.’

I heaved again, but nothing came out.

He played around with the flowers, the incense sticks and other offerings that were kept by the pyre and chucked them into the embers one at a time. Their fragrance mildly masked my current thoughts, momentarily transporting me to the comfort of my home.

‘Purge your mind,’ he said, drawing my attention to him. ‘Like you are purging your stomach right now. You want something? A job? A wife? Work for it, work towards it. The love of a job, even of taking revenge, is to love the drudgery it involves.’

‘So,’ I interrupted. ‘How are you going to get me a job? How will you help me punish that man?’ Then I rambled on. ‘Why do you live like this? Why do you do these… these dirty things?’

‘It’s my way of reaching God and finding the truth. An old, established way, though not a common one. I was fourteen when my parents gave me away to my guru. They wanted some boon in return, I’m told. It has taken me decades of practice to reach the stage I am at. What seems impure and dirty to you is my penance. Nothing bothers me, nothing worries me… isn’t that what the priests tell you to achieve via meditation, prayers, retreats and rituals?’

Fascinating, I thought, but crazy.

‘How’s it going to help me, though?’ I asked. I wasn’t sure if he was listening to me. I wasn’t sure that he wasn’t listening either. I repeated the question again, in different words: ‘Will I get what I’m praying for?’ After a while, I tried once more, another tactic, ‘What should I do now? Tell me, help me.’

Between the conversations were long periods of silence, with the Baba sitting still with his eyes closed. I thought he’d fallen asleep when he blurted, ‘I have something for you.’ He undid the knot on the handle of a thin plastic bag that was near him and gave me a small, rubbery, doll-like object. It looked vaguely familiar and reminded me of one of those toy lizards I used to scare my friends with during my childhood. ‘I’ll tell you what to do with it. Hold on to it for now. It will bring you luck.’

There was no further conversation so I got up to leave.

‘No, you can’t leave yet,’ he said. ‘People come to me when they are desperate, usually when they are unable to deal with situations they have no control over, or people they dislike, and they want me to kill, help them kill or cast spells. Very few agree to participate in my methods. Are you going to be one of those?’

‘I will do anything you say,’ I blurted out, without thinking it through.

‘Think about what you want,’ he whispered. ‘See it in your mind’s eye: the job, the money, the comforts.’

I closed my eyes, and tried to ‘see’ my bank passbook, the desks and cabins in an office, a scooter.

‘Visualise the man you hate,’ he prodded.

I tried to, but found that though I could recall the incident, I’d lost his features. I could only remember his words and the hurt I’d felt.

‘Take a bite of it.’ He looked carefully at me as I examined that doll-like thing. ‘Don’t think too much, just do as you’re told.’

Instinctively, I sniffed at it. It smelt faintly of…sweat? I sniffed at it again.

‘I have its cells, some of its tissue inside me,’ repeated the Baba in a comforting voice. When you take a bite of …it…, the anger that you feel against that person, will flow through you, into me. The cells have a method of transmitting feelings to its kin. From me, through the air, the anger will flow further, to injure the soul of the man you hate. You can suck it if you like, but it works better if you chew it. The man’s soul will be touched. Perhaps his body, too. That will happen without his knowing it, without you getting into trouble with the police.’

‘What will happen to him?’

‘That’s not for you to know now.’

I wished hard for the man to break his leg or choke on a bone. Or lose his job. Or that I would become his boss. I took a bite.

‘Ugh, it’s raw meat,’ I said.

‘Yes.’ His voice was low, his tone even. ‘It’s meat.’

‘What meat?’ I asked.

‘Human,’ he said, and I immediately gagged.

‘Behave,’ he ordered. ‘Chew it well, eat it slowly, otherwise it won’t work.’

‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘What is it? What part of the body is it?’

‘Don’t waste it,’ he said. ‘These are hard to get. This one, I’ve prayed over it, I’ve used a lot of energy to activate its powers. Eat it.’ He was showing signs of irritation. We were the only ones in that crematorium, sitting beside that burning pyre. The dropping temperature was making me shiver uncontrollably. Besides, I was just too terrified to even run away. Who knew, this man could be an athlete… or worse, he could know a way to trip me with some special powers. My joints refused to move.

Curiosity is a strange thing. I bit into the plastic-like doll again. ‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘A discarded foetus,’ he said. ‘I got it from the hospital around the corner. I got it from the bin before the municipality van came by. Unborn babies are a powerful spiritual medium, especially if they’re freshly dead. The job is yours and your man is in trouble, for sure.’

My head reeled. NO, I shouted, but no words came out of my lips. UNDO, DELETE, I yelled, but my larynx was still. My thoughts just wouldn’t form words. It was like being under a low dose of anaesthesia after a surgery – able to feel the pain, but unable to move, call out or do anything about it. Helpless, imprisoned, I choked, gasped, shook my head from side to side violently, as if trying to push my soul out, away from this … this horrible place, this terrible time.

‘Calm down,’ said he. ‘Take some deep breaths, you’ll feel okay. Focus on what you want, and it’ll happen. All the forces of the universe will be with you.’

Where had I heard those words before? In The Alchemist! How one recalls the vaguest of things in the most desperate situations.

I have no idea when dark turned to dawn. It was only when a message beeped on my mobile phone that I opened my eyes and discovered it was already 9 am. I read the message: ‘… joining date… bring your certificates with you…’

I’d got a job! In a different company, though. Enthused and excited, I looked around for the Baba but I couldn’t see him anywhere. The pyre was static, just a mound of ash and coal. I spied bits of dehydrated and baked bones scattered inside it. Was that message for real or was I dreaming? Had I really got a job? I checked my phone again. It showed three missed calls from the same number. I dialled it.

‘Hello,’ the voice was familiar, yet unknown. ‘One of your wishes has come true. The other one will take time. Focus on what you want, the solutions to your problems will come to you by and by.’

Baba? Kalaram Baba? That was his voice. I swivelled this way and that, desperately seeking his shrivelled and filthy form somewhere. But outside the cemetery, people were bustling towards the railway station, revving up their motorcycles, swinging briefcases, and getting ready for the day.

I tried to redial, but the number had been deleted somehow. It was not in the missed list nor in the dialled list.

I stretched, got up, and began my walk home.

I checked the same website. It now offered some more services: Ozone therapy for stress relief and Instant Power-Yoga methods for upping your energies. The fees were higher, too. Strangely enough, I read my name in the feedback section. ‘I am extremely grateful for your help,’ I read, not recalling when I’d typed it, or even having the time to do so. ‘Thank you for all you’ve done…’ etc, etc.

It was then that the headache came on, which led me to you, doctor.

Sheela Jaywant

Sheela Jaywant

Sheela Jaywant, Goa, is a fiction-writer whose stories have found their way into anthologies like ‘She Writes’, ‘Carnival’, ‘City of the Gods’, ‘Vanilla Desires’, ‘Indian Voices’, ‘Shell Windows’, ‘When They Spoke’, ‘Railonama’ and more. Her own collections are ‘Quilted’ and ‘Liftman and Other Stories’. She has been published in The Indian Quarterly, Papercuts, The Readers’ Digest amongst other magazines. Her weekly humour column (in Goa) has been published without a break for two decades. She has written non-fiction for most national publications, has won prizes on several international sites including ‘Desilit’. In Sept 2019, Pallium India awarded her Best in Print Media 2019.

Read her articles, here.