The Shadow: Manik Bandyopadhyay

I almost went mad after the death of my first wife. I didn’t eat on time, didn’t leave my corner of the room, read books on ghosts and spirits all the time, and pondered in silence.

I loved my wife so much that even after conducting her last rites at the crematorium, I did not believe that she had indeed been converted to vapour and ashes, that she was nowhere in this world anymore. I was convinced that she would return, that I would see her again.

Just in case she proved hesitant about returning in the presence of other people, I sent the rest of my family home. I had no concern for earthly pleasures. I engaged a maid and a cook, accepting all their arrangements. I became so irritated and angry when they came to me for instructions that they avoided me out of fear. Gathering four or five large photographs of my wife in a room, along with her clothes, her cosmetics, her embroidered slippers, the notebook she used to keep accounts, and a thousand other mementos, I spent all my daylight hours in there. In the evenings I moved to the room in which my wife had died, changing the sheets of the bed on which she had breathed her last, and placing two pillows side by side. I passed the nights in wakefulness, by turn sitting, lying down, reading, and casting expectant glances around me.

Having spent a month or so in this way without even a momentary glimpse of my wife, I was beginning to grow despondent – when it struck me one evening that perhaps she was not visiting me because I kept the lights turned on. As soon as the thought occurred to me, I switched off the lights.

I had goosepimples of delight.

As soon as I turned out the lights, I saw my wife sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, in the form of a shadow. Her incorporeal body emitted an aura which lit up a rectangular area around her, like a photo frame. The same loosely piled up hair, the same peak at the forehead, the same sharp nose and shapely chin. Even the end of her sari, which had slipped off her head to encircle her neck, was clearly visible.

I stood stock still, gazing at her. A long time later she rose to her feet, raising her arms and yawning in the way I knew so well. Now the silhouette of her body was even clearer. She stood there for another minute or so before moving a yard or two sideways and melting into the faint darkness in the room. Only the glowing rectangular frame around her remained undistorted. My legs wavering, I walked up to the bed and slumped on it, falling asleep at once. My indisposed body and spirit could not endure the exhilaration of her miraculous appearance.

I began to see her every day after this. I would wait in the room before evening fell. As the darkness deepened, the dazzling rectangle would appear on the wall like a backdrop. On some days she would sit close to the wall as before, while on others she would move about restlessly. Now and then she would turn her back to me, arrange her hair in a bun on her head, and enact my favourite pose from the time she was alive. Sometimes she would even go through the motions of conversing with me, waving her hands, but soundlessly.

How could she produce a sound?

On my part, I did not attempt to talk to her or to go up to her and touch her. I was aware that it is impossible to talk to a shadow or to touch it. I would only gaze at her. That was enough to lighten the pain of being parted from her. Only, I would suffer greatly when she appeared indistinct and distorted. I could make out that she was trying to assume the shadowy form, but without success. Who could tell how much agony this caused her?

We had an unusual consummation one day. Although she could not break through the insurmountable barrier between material and spirit, I was able to do it with the help of my strong willpower. That day I had read up, in an English book on the afterlife, the methods by which a living being can acquire the form of a spirit. As soon as she appeared against the illuminated backdrop that night, I saw my shadow embrace her from the back. In an instant I forgot the infinite gulf with my departed wife. In my intimate embrace her limp, unmoving body grew as warm and pulsating with the emotions of living as before. I had no doubt whatsoever that it was her flesh and blood body which I had clasped to my breast. I felt the touch of her hair and of her skin, her warm breath falling on my cheek. I even felt the weight of her body.

Can a shadow have a weight?

I do not remember what happened after this. I had grown used to my wife’s shadowy presence, but being able to touch her in flesh-and-blood form made me lose consciousness.

The possibility of killing myself to join my wife had been on my mind since the day of her death. After this incident I was not inclined to remain on earth a single day longer. The next day I bought two portions of opium. I decided that, once my wife had appeared that evening, I would consume the opium and lie down in her presence. Before night could turn into morning, the difference between our respective existences on the planes of life and death would vanish.

That evening her shadow appeared even more clear and flawless. Whatever little apprehension I had had about suicide disappeared after seeing her. I shut the door, and, at once, not just my wife’s shadow but also the halo of light around her vanished. I had never seen the glowing backdrop vanish along with her. I could not understand. I opened the door again. The light and my wife’s shadow both took form once more on the wall. I looked out and discovered the maid sitting outside the door, waiting for someone. The light at the turn of the stairs was casting its beams directly into my room.

I’m told I went insane for a year or so after this. I am not at all mad now, and I have remarried.

But what is surprising is that I still believe in ghosts and spirits.

[Original Story: Chhaya]

Blood is Thicker: by Manik Bandyopadhyay

It was seven in the evening.

As soon as the tear-gas shells began to burst at the top of the road Dr Das hastily closed the doors of his dispensary.

His compounder Nabin gave him a hand.

We shouldn’t have opened the dispensary at all in the evening, Nabin said, his voice trembling with regret.

It was you who said there not to worry, nothing will happen – else I would never have opened it.

I never said nothing will happen, Nabin protested. All I said was, not to worry. We needn’t have closed now either – even if there’s trouble up the street, why should we be afraid? After a glance at Nabin’s strong, young face, Dr Das gulped. Never mind, what’s the point, we won’t get patients this evening.

I’m not suggesting we keep it open. It was a good idea to close the dispensary.

Nabin appeared quite pleased. He was happy at having got the rest of the evening off because of the explosions of teargas shells and bullets. Who knows what they’re made of, wondered Dr Das, or what runs in their blood!

Nabin enquired, may I leave then doctor?

No one knew what terrible things were taking place just up the street, and here this youngster was desperate to abandon the safe haven of the dispensary! As though something very entertaining was in store, something he would miss if he were to be late.

Would a medical examination reveal the strange constituents of their blood?

Can you let them know at my home, Nabin? They shouldn’t worry if I’m late, or even if I don’t return. Tell them I’m here, going over the accounts.

If I’m late, or even if I don’t return! Nabin was dumbfounded. Imagine a doctor –who must have taken knives and needles and saws to people on hundreds of occasions, seen blood being shed all the time, watched countless people die, maybe even killed a few because of incorrect treatment – in such terror. He wouldn’t leave till the trouble had died down, even spend the night here if needs be.

Dr Das lived in the same neighbourhood, in a house inside a lane. After Nabin had left, he opened the thick accounts register in his locked dispensary and wondered when things would quieten down. He would go home as soon as it became clear that the rioting had ended.

Of course, his house was so near that he could even try slipping out and sneaking home. But why take a risk?

Less than half an hour had passed. Engrossed in the profit and loss accounts of his dispensary, Dr Das started in surprise at the pounding on his locked door.

He was partially reassured by Nabin’s voice: open the door, Dr Das.

Still his hands and legs trembled. Had the riots spread this way? Had Nabin returned to the protection of the dispensary because things were worsening? The situation must be very grim for Nabin to have run away.

Six of them had brought in the bleeding body.

Between the boys and men, six of them – all from the neighbourhood.

They were slightly injured too. Blood was oozing from wounds on three or four of them.

Nabin’s shirt had been sparkling white when he had left, now the left shoulder and sleeve were dripping crimson. Was the blood his own, or had it come from the victim whom he had helped carry?

The person who best knew the fourteen-year-old carried into the dispensary by familiar faces was Dr Das himself.

They were accompanied by old man Shibshankar, who said, since you’re a doctor yourself I thought it best not to send your son to the hospital with the others. He’s been injured badly, who knows what might happen if the officers catch sight of him on the way to the hospital.

They had laid him out on the bench. After a single glance and a quick examination of the boy’s pulse, Dr Das said, very clever. You incite the boy and get him injured, then hold me responsible for his death.

You mustn’t lose your head now, my boy, said Shibshankar. Do you think your son got injured on anyone’s advice? You cannot lose control as a doctor. At least try to save your son, of course there’s nothing to do if he doesn’t survive.

Come this way, let me examine each of you one by one, said Dr Das. Can you take off your shirt without help, Nabin?

Nabin shook his head.

No, I can’t move my arm.

Attend to your own son first, my boy, pleaded a distraught Shibshankar. Is this a time for anger? Everyone’s become involved – why blame him alone! I saw it all from my upstairs balcony – never seen anything like this in my life, I can tell you.

Dr Das neither paid any attention to Shibshankar, nor gave his son even a single glance.

Gathering cotton wool, medicine and other equipment quickly, he started with first-aid for Ganesh, the youngest of them all.

Aren’t you even going to examine him, Shibshankar practically howled. He’ll die if you leave it till too late.

Die? He’s dead already. Everyone looked bewildered.

Dead already, said an overwhelmed Shibshankar. He was alive when we were bringing him here, how can he dead?

He died on the way. Didn’t you see me examine him?

After a long silence, Shibshankar asked, then why is the blood still oozing from his body?

Swiftly bandaging Ganesh’s wound with great concentration, Dr Das replied, blood oozes for some time even after death.