The sky, the earth and the wind were full of rain that Saturday night, when I sat around the steel table with Sithu and Irene in the study hall. It was movie night, and most of them were in the mess watching TV. But we had other, better things to do. It was here that the story was born. The story of a ghost that slept many feet below the ground, right under Sithu’s bed.
The second week of school, and hostel was when our seniors tried to frighten us with the story of the graveyard beneath the hostel land, and some even tried to act like they indeed belonged to the dead. They would come and stand on the first floor, and simply stare at us. We were, poor things, on the ground floor; and we could feel their laser vision melting a hole in our backs.
My first day at hostel was a Sunday, a day right after my birthday, and a swarm of girls who barely knew each other flowed into the mess. There was a TV on the left end, and the serving counter on the right.That day, we sat randomly; unaware of our seniors’ specific intention behind it. They gave us dead looks, and asked me to pour water into the six steel glasses. “The one who sits at that end of the table is supposed to do it.” they replied to my blank expression. I was confused; maybe the graveyard was not below us, but above us.
A few weeks later, one night, the seniors decided to wear black. All of them. The courtyard, the square depression on the ground floor, had turned into some sort of a zombie land. (It was where the Head Matron would perimeter multiple times, a mere apparition in the black scarf she always wore.) But then I thought we Indians mourned in white, no? They were all bad omens who walked collectively into the mess. Like we Malayalees advice each other, Varendathu oru auto pidichu verum ( whatever fate has to come, will catch an auto and come) – our version of Murphy’s law. After dinner, news arrived that one of Shabnam’s roommate had lost her cousin brother. The seniors were in a dilemma, whether to continue wearing black, or not – and some did run off to their rooms to change.
The mess was perhaps the most exciting place. One day, while waiting in line – as was the routine – for food; Sithu, Irene and I washed our hands and waited for the line to move. And suddenly I imitated Shobana from Manichithrarhaazhu (out of hunger), “Unne konnu, unnode rakhthathe kudichu omakaram paniduve.” As the line moved into the mess, we noticed that the movie was playing in the mess.
During the first weekend, I remember watching the girls play Andakshari, in Room 117 – Sithu’s room; and this was before we became friends. Five minutes later HM (Head Matron) walks in, gives us an oh-ya-buhaha look, and we are not sure what we had done. She dragged all of us out to read a huge board. I stared at the familiar Malayalam letters almost forced into an unfamiliar line, like kindergarten kids. I waited for somebody to translate: you were not allowed to go into any room except yours. Or even the staircase.
Even the laundry walas there seemed to behave like the ghost in Grudge – the one who obsessed with wearing the ‘the perfect white’, who never liked that anybody else wore white, so she made stains on them, by killing them. Our white uniforms never reached us in one piece. Their specific targets were the full sleeves, which were often torn by the time they were back from the laundry. Thank God, my long sleeves were limited to my imagination, the ones I rolled up when I wanted to threaten somebody. And the colour dress, well, it never comes back.
The month of Ramzan, was my favourite month. They let off classes early, both at school and at the coaching centre. This gave us enough time to nap before we went to the centre, especially since we did not have the usual tea break that month. Instead of that, we would all rush to the mess to break their fast in the evening. This was the routine, when one day, there was a noise from behind the serving counter; from outside the gate that side. Before our curious minds could make any sense of it, our Head Matron – HM – screamed something that meant ‘mind your own business’; and left. All I could see was a black amoeba like thing flying away, almost as if a part of HM’s dark soul had escaped her body. Once back in the room, A said that it was one those engineering girls, with whom we shared both the campus and the hostel. That the girl was mad, and possessed. And that she regularly threw such tantrums; this time she had tried to run away in a purdah.
Now, the only thing absent in the hostel was a yakshi, but then we had that too. Girl and woman yakshis, 2 from each category. One of them was my own roommate, A. She suddenly developed a munjanmam vairagyam towards me, constantly fought with her family friend Annie in the next room, once almost throwing a suitcase at Annie; or maybe Annie had done that. Anyways, I was the one who broke up that fight.
A found a partner in S – the second yakshi and Annie’s roommate. They climbed up the stairs to the first floor at night and passed biscuits to seniors; and walked around as if they had just fed a caged lion in a zoo. And after this, at around two in the morning, they would turn on the lights and laugh – how can yakshis be yakshis without that loud condescending attahasam with puchcham filling.
I did not mind them, except at the expense of my sleep. One such night, they took A’s iron box, and went around sprinkling water at us. The other two were fast asleep, but I only pretended to be. I wanted to grab the bloody iron box and hit her with it. And fill it with her blood instead of water. But the mere scene in my mann ki aankhein pacified me, and I let her live.
The women yakshis were none other than the +1 and +2 wardens. The former suffered from multiple personality disorder – personalities she used to her will. For instance she would be very polite and domestic in front of the parents, but to their kids – us – she would be a badrakaali. The latter on the other hand, was often spotted rolling around in the veranda on the first floor, under the pretext of ‘midnight checks’. Irrespective of their category, I was a personal favourite for all four of them.
In the second year, I moved out of the hostel. But Sithu did tell me about a few of our hostel mates who got into trouble for ‘staring’ at our newly arrived juniors.