During my school days, I stayed with my maternal grandmother for two years at a small town near Bengaluru.
Granny lived in a big bungalow. She had rented out the western half of the bungalow to her nephew, Nagaraj, who stayed with his wife and her granny. This granny came from a place called Tekal, and so we used to call her Tekal Granny.
After school, we used to play all evening and return home quite hungry. Granny would make some delicious snacks for us. After that I would do my homework and study. After dinner, I would join all the women of the house, who sat in the front corridor of the house to relax.
During one such night session, Tekal Granny narrated one of the most horrifying experiences of her life. Just as she started with the story, the lights went out. We lit candles and listened to the story. The story carried us away into a different world. Even the feeble chirping of the night bird, and the ‘chip chip’ of the house lizard, rang loud in my ears.
Tekal Granny talked about her younger days, when houses had no electricity. One day, Tekal Granny’s family decided to visit the Tirupathi temple. They left on an auspicious day after a grand pooja and a heavy lunch.
“We had to cover 200 kilometers on foot. We stopped sometimes in the middle of a jungle to cook food and rest. These jungles were full of wild animals, dacoits, and, of course, ghosts. To keep ghosts away, we would shout out God’s name in a loud voice so that even a ghost hard of hearing would run away in fright hearing God’s name!” said Tekal Granny.
On the tenth day, Tekal Granny and her family passed through a steep, hilly section very carefully. As dusk fell, the tired group took a break. It was beautiful spot with no one around. A small rivulet flowed nearby.
“One by one, all took a bath in the chilly water. Later, the male members started performing the evening pooja. The women took over the cooking work. I loved cooking even back then and I was the leader of the group. We collected dry wood from the jungle, lit the fire and started cooking,” said Tekal Granny.
“I felt uneasy the moment we stopped at this new, unknown place,” she said, “I felt something stalking me. I felt somebody continuously looking at me. While cooking, I felt as if somebody had passed by me. I dismissed all thoughts as imagination and completed most of the cooking. I wanted to give dal a tadka, but to my disappointment, I found we had run out of red chillies.”
We all nodded our heads in sympathy for we could not imagine a daltadka without red chillies to give it that extra bite.
Tekal Granny continued, “I was sure I had carried enough red chillies. So, I started searching for them.” While she searched for red chillies in the bag, she again felt an unseen hand touching hers. She trembled with fear, but still wanted to get the red chillies. She thought some shop in a nearby village would be open at this time of the night, and so she set out. She asked two of her brothers to accompany her. After walking a short distance, her face brightened, as she saw an old building that looked like a mata (a religious place in South India where devotees worship god and are served food).
“I was confident that I would find red chillies in the mata,” said Tekal Granny.
Asking her brothers to wait outside, she entered the building with large open doors and passed through a long corridor with no roof and broken walls to her right and left. She wanted to run away from this eerie looking building.
“The feeling of being followed by a shadow had deepened. I could feel menacing, piercing eyes looking at me. But having come this far, I did not want to turn back without the red chillies. So, I walked on, looking for the kitchen store room. At last, I saw a dark room to my left. I heard sounds of vessels coming out of the room, confirming that the room was a kitchen. With no time to lose, I gathered courage and entered the dark kitchen.”
Tekal Granny helped herself to a glass of water. For us, the suspense was unbearable. We expected the worst, and Tekal Granny confirmed as much, as she resumed her narration.
“I shiver even now as I remember what greeted me in that dark kitchen. Someone or something as tall as the high roof had its back to me. Gathering a bit of a courage I called, “Sir I’ve come for some chillies — red chillies.” Inching forward I saw a huge heap of rice and red chillies in front of the form. I froze as the figure turned to face me with an eerie smile and spoke in a thundering voice. “I knew you would come looking for chillies. My plan worked — I stole the chillies from your bag.” As the huge form took a step towards me, I shrieked. I found myself floating in the air as I started shouting ‘Govinda, Govinda’. A hand with long nail was out to get me. I screamed loudly and fell unconscious.”
By this time, we all broke into sweat. “Nothing happened to you, granny?” I asked anxiously. “Am I not sitting in front of you like a huge round rock?” laughed granny. “When I regained consciousness, I found my mother anxiously shaking me. ‘Did you have a nightmare?’ she asked me.”
I was now curious, “What was that, granny — was it a nightmare?”
“I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I was happy I was alive. But I had only one regret,” she paused. “We had to be content with tadka without red chillies.” We all burst out laughing.
It was time for us to retire to bed. Everyone was convinced that Tekal Granny had made up the story. But I felt that there was some truth to the story. Who knows?
Next morning, when I got up, I found something curious at my bedside — two long red chillies!