It was late in the night. I had been avoiding the late night journey in our village always. I was basically afraid of ghosts right from my childhood. No doubt I always felt thrilled to hear stories on them. But I was sure I had no guts to even imagine seeing them in the night! But this time I had missed the evening bus. There was no alternative for me than to reach our place by the late night bus.
As I got down the bus I found myself surrounded by total darkness. I had to walk a distance of four miles to reach my village. I had taken care to carry a torch with me. Without looking sideways I just started my foot-journey. Walking long distances was not a problem for me. I was well experienced in that. What worried me were the loneliness and the deadly silence of the late night. As I moved fast I could hear the sounds of wild animals once in a while. An occasional sound of the fox crying in the far away hills created a sort of mysteriousness in the dark world around me!
I crossed the river Seetha and moved on to the deep forests near a place called Bhuvanakote. I had to cross this stretch of deep forest before getting on to the road to our village. The journey through this stretch was sometimes unnerving even in the day light. The forest was very thick and deep at this point. The narrow footpath was covered by tall sky-reaching trees on both sides. One would always feel that some ghost was hiding behind each tree! It was only for people like my daring father to travel through this place at this dead of night. Not for a weak-hearted guy like me! But I had to pass through it this time.
Nothing untoward happened and I was soon on the road near our village. I could walk fast now. As I entered the arecanut gardens in the deep valley of our village, I felt a sense of relief. This was my familiar and comforting territory. The pleasure of walking inside our own arecanut garden was something most valuable and sentimental for all of us. We had been brought up seeing each individual tree daily here. As young boys we used to spend most of our time here. As we moved away from our home for our education and jobs, the attachment became stronger. It was something we always felt missing in our mechanical city life.
Before reaching my home I had to pass through the lengthy banks of a tank inside the gardens. As I was walking past the same suddenly I felt a sense of fear. This tank was called Kapprane-Kere.It was an age-old tank quite appropriately named (in Kannada Kappu means dark or black). It used to hold dark waters when in full. It was very difficult to explain why the waters looked dark here. But we were always sure that unlike the beautiful blue waters of all our other tanks, this tank had its water look deep dark, quite strangely. One could feel a sense of mystery and fear even in the day time while walking on its banks. Perhaps it had a dark story!
I was just moving fast without looking towards the tank. But still I could not avoid the feeling of the fears of the dark waters. Suddenly I heard the moaning of a lady coming from inside the deep waters! My body hairs became erect and the heart almost stopped beating. I tried to ignore and just walk past. But I could not. The moaning got louder and louder now! I was sure it was originating from deep inside the waters only. While my heart was advising me to ignore and just move fast, my eyes could not resist looking towards the waters. But one single view made me just froze!
I recalled all of a sudden the story my mother was telling me often. It was indeed not a story but a great tragedy in our family. My father’s mother had two sisters. Both of them were unfortunately widowed in their young age. The elder one was Gowramma and the younger was Nagakka. I had seen this Gowramma in my younger days. She was highly respected and lived with her nephew in Sampige Kolalu (our neighbouring house). She was a very benevolent lady and loved and helped our family always. My father was so afraid of her that he would not even breathe loudly in her presence!
The other widowed sister, Nagakka, had already died before my birth. My mother used to frequently refer to her name. It seems she was very close to her. She was also living at Sampige Kolalu with her elder sister. But she had died an unnatural death. One fine morning her body was found floating in the Kapprane-Kere. Even though we used to be very curious to know the reasons for her ending life like this, mother used to keep silent on this aspect. We were getting a feeling that she was inclined to hold this as a secret for reasons unknown. As such, Nagakka turned out to be a mysterious lady for us in our childhood. We could only imagine her personality to the best of our ability as there used to be no family photos in those days.
But not anymore imagination for me! I was sure what I saw in the middle of the tank on that fateful night was nothing but the figure of Nagakka herself. Oh! There she stood in the deep waters in a white saree weeping like a tragedy queen! My instincts told me to just run away and not to look towards the tank anymore. But I simply could not! The lady was asking me to stop and started moving towards me on the surface of the waters!
It seems my curiosity overtook my instinctive fears on that night! I just waited on the banks to allow Nagakka’s figure to reach me. I was sure what I was seeing was only her soul and not the physical body. Nevertheless, the figure came close to me and indicated to me that I should sit down to hear her!
The reader may be thinking at this stage that I have created this story only to demystify a personality of our family. I do not have any objections for that. I even feel they are fully justified in thinking so! But on that fateful night I was indeed fortunate to hear the unfortunate story of Nagakka, the maternal aunty of my father. I am giving below the story as told to me verbatim:
As already mentioned by me above, Nagakka was the youngest of the three daughters. She was also the most beautiful among the three. As was the practice prevalent in those days, she was married even before she reached the age of ten. She was to go to her in-law’s place only after she attained puberty and her nuptials were held. But her young husband passed away even before she understood the meaning of marriage. It was most unfortunate for the family as there was already another widow in the form of her elder sister.
Nagakka’s widowed elder sister Gowramma had taken her widowed status in its strides. She had immersed herself in the daily household chores of the family. Hence she never felt that she was denied her normal life as a woman. But for Nagakka the life appeared to be a curse. Being a young beautiful girl, she had all the desires of a girl of her age. As she grew up she started getting conscious of the non-availability of the finer things in her life. She could not stand the rigorous of a cursed widowed life in her tender age.
There was one concession for young widows in those days. They were allowed to wear white sarees and retain their hair. For Nagakka that was a great relief. At least she could be seen like a young woman! But as she grew up further her natural desires also grew. She used to get attracted by the boys of her age and desperately wanted company.
But an event in her family came as a rude shock to her at this stage. The youngest daughter of her eldest sister was also of her age. Her name was Lakshmi and she had also been widowed at her young age. It was discovered suddenly that she had got pregnant. As all the efforts to abort the issue prematurely in confidence failed, Lakshmi delivered a male child one fine morning.
In the normal course of a birth in a family, there would be a festival atmosphere in the house. But unfortunately it was not so in this case. It was as good (bad) as mourning in the family. As was the practice in the community in those days it was decided to conduct the Ghtashraddha (last rites) of Lakshmi. It was religiously performed without any mercy and the young widow was treated as an outcaste in the family thereafter.
For Nagakka this incident came as a rude shock. Suddenly she felt that all her desires had dried up. She had witnessed the cruelty with which the family had pushed out Lakshmi as an outcaste. She could see for herself how none of the members of the family showed any sentiments to one of their dear ones who had slipped away from the trodden path! The society and her own family had absolutely no mercy, let alone having any sympathy for the unfortunate soul!
Suddenly Nagakka lost interest in her life. Her earlier natural yearning for the male company simply vanished. On the other hand she developed a total hatred for the men in general. She had herself witnessed how a weak Lakshmi had been punished by the society. The man, who was responsible for her situation, had been allowed to go scot free. She became aloof and except for some close friends she avoided all others.
It was at this stage that she caught the attention of a notorious person in the village. His name was Sheena. He had an eye on the young Nagakka. Nagakka was initially unaware of his overtures. But soon they became very obvious. Initially she just ignored him. But slowly she could make out that his intentions were not good and he was persisting in his attempts.
All of a sudden Nagakka fell sick. It took a long time for her to come out of her sickness. But once she was back to her normal health, she noticed one change in her body. Her stomach had developed bulging! She ignored it in the beginning. She only found it as a minor embarrassment. But suddenly she realised that the society may attribute a different reason for her bulged stomach! It was a very dangerous situation for the young widow. She herself had witnessed the fate of young Lakshmi quite a short time back!
After some time she overheard people whispering her state of affairs. She was simply shocked. That she was as pure as River Ganga was known only to her. But the society in general would thrive on gossip at least for some time till they realized that they were absolutely wrong. In the mean time the shadow of Sheena was closely following her. It was waiting to catch its prey!
That fateful night all the members of the family had gone to the village temple to attend the Deepavali Pooja. Nagakka was alone in the house. She had stopped attending such events. Suddenly she heard somebody knocking at the doors. From the window she could look out to see who was at the door. She had no doubts. It was the notorious Sheena himself. The hunter had sighted his prey alone and was nearing his target!
Nagakka opened the back doors of the house and was on the run. Her aim was to reach the house of her nephew which was not far. She was there at that house within no time. But soon she realized that the house had been locked and everybody had left for the
. She had nowhere to go now! temple Pooja
Right at that time she heard the foot sounds of the hunter. He had followed her and was on the verge of catching her. She jumped in to the arecanut garden in front of the house and ran fast. Her energies were sapping and she could no longer keep her pace.
She was on the banks of the Kapprane-Kere now. She looked back and found the hunter closing on her fast. She had no time to think now. She simply jumped in to the water. She knew no swimming and came back on the surface of the water two times. She could see the hunter standing on the banks. The third time she did not come back. That was the end of her earthly voyage!
The family could not find Nagakka at home when they came back from the Pooja. They searched everywhere. But she could not be found. In the morning somebody found her body floating in the tank. The village people concluded that Nagakka committed suicide to avoid discovery of her pregnancy. They also thought that she could not face the Ghtashraddha like Lakshmi! If only a postmortem examination were to be held the truth would have come out! That Nagakka was as pure as virgin
Ganga never came to light!
Nagakka ended her story here. She told me that she had just one request for me. She wanted me to tell my mother that she had not erred in her life and she continued to be a virgin. My mother was her closest friend and it had been hurting Nagakka all these days that she had also mistaken her. Her soul would rest in peace once her friend came to know that she was innocent and pure! So saying, Nagakka’s figure moved away from me and disappeared in the middle of the tank.
I reached my home within a short time. My mother was waiting for me anxiously. As she was serving me the late dinner, I told her about Nagakka’s story. She heard the same with full attention. I could make out that she was feeling a sense of great relief. But she did not express it openly to me. Her mind appeared to have gone back to her younger days when Nagakka was her closest friend.
In the morning the first thing I did was to give a visit to the Kapprane- Kere. As I approached the tank I could not simply believe my eyes. The water in the tank was looking totally blue! There was no trace of darkness as it used to be all these years! I looked towards the sky. Did I see the soul of Nagakka blessing me from there? I think I did! I had announced to the world that she was as pure as
A V Krishnamurthy
2nd August 2008