The rotis are there in the purple box. If you are hungry, just heat it and have them with some jam or vegetables that are there in the fridge. I am going to play tambola and to get some groceries. I will be back by 5 pm. Until then, the house is yours. But remember, do not go to house number 3B. Bye, kids.’
‘Bye, Mausi,’ we replied.
‘And, Lakshit, don’t forget to take care of your brother. I am trusting you since you are the elder one.’
I nodded my head.
My brother, Jagan, and I came from our home in Pune to spend time with our Mausi (aunt), in the city of Varanasi, for our vacations. We had a flight to catch at 9 pm that day as our vacations had come to an end. Jagan and I had watched television for quite a long time and then he got bored and started sketching. But after 20 minutes of sketching, he was idle again.
‘Lakshit, why is Mausi not allowing us to go to house number 3B?’
‘I am not sure Jagan. But the last time we were planning to go there, Mausi caught us. Even I want to see what’s there in that house.’
Mausi did not exactly tell us why not to go to house number 3B. But once she mentioned this a long back. Seems like the house is haunted and she scared us by saying that a ghost is there. But both Jagan and I did not buy that reason and we badly wanted to go inside.
‘So, why don’t we go there now? Mausi will come only by 5 pm. We have a lot of time.’
‘Umm, okay, but I am scared…’
‘Don’t worry. We can make it.’
My younger brother sounded more confident than me and this was very rare. From childhood, Jagan had been a coward and now…! We had a small bag with us which had a torchlight, my phone and a bottle of water.
‘Let us go!’
The house was very dark and did not have light. I first met my enemy- spiders. I was going to scream but Jagan closed my mouth and said ‘Don’t scream. Seema auntie is in her house.’ She was a good friend of Mausi and her neighbour.
There was a small table near the door where we found a chewed-on pencil.
‘Chee!’ said Jagan.
‘It’s horrible indeed,’ I added.
Next to the pencil, we found…
‘A red leather book. Bhaiya, can we open it? Please??’
While Jagan was busy opening the book, I stared at a photo of the Ganges river that flowed through Varanasi.
It was very strange because the river was empty without people but a person’s hand was faintly visible in the water. Since I was frightened, I turned around to get close to Jagan. And in the process of turning, I mistakenly stomped on a metal plate and there was a huge noise. The plate flew and fell with a bang. We were sure that the neighbouring house aunty would turn up. But luckily, she did not.
I went to catch Jagan’s hand but instead ended up holding a small pouch. Inside it was a letter. Though letters were meant to be personal, I was captivated and opened the pouch to read it. It was a pen pal letter dated back to March of 2000 where one of the friends wrote to his friend about his visit to Allahabad. I went and showed the letter to Jagan and he showed me the leather book he was looking at.
The book had lots of paper that were going to tear. One of the papers was already torn and it fell near my leg. The moment I took it, a photo stuck on the paper made me stare at it for a long time.
Then, my brain started to function. I realized that this photo was the other half of the photo I had seen at the beginning. I took the photo and placed it next to the photo in the frame and it matched. I flipped through the other pages and found out that they were diary entries and photos taken by someone named Deepti. Another photo taken by Deepti caught my eye. It was a photo of some ghat in Varanasi named Manikarnika Ghat and was dated back to the year 1920.
I recollected what I heard about this ghat. Mausi had told that cremations would take place in that ghat. Her writings and photos were engrossing that I kept on reading them.
Suddenly, a creaking sound was heard and I looked back to the front door. And slowly 2 big figures started to appear. Both me and Jagan were intimidated and we got close to each other and he started to scream. To our surprise, it was Mausi and her friend, Seema.
‘What are you both doing here? I warned you not to come here, right?’
We were quiet and did not answer her. Seema auntie saw the book in my hand and snatched it away from me.
‘How did you get my daughter’s book? asked the auntie.
‘It was in this house, near the table. And, you had told your daughter was Dhriti and this book belongs to Deepti,’ I questioned.
‘Oh, that is her pet name. We called her Deepti in the house.’
‘Kids, it is getting late and we need to start for the airport. Can we leave now?’
Jagan and I nodded.
Though we were excited to meet our parents, I still had a thought about Deepti’s journal I had seen. ‘Did Deepti also secretly visit house number 3B like us? How come the photo on the wall and the photo in Deepti’s journal match? And how had Deepti taken a photo 100 years back?’
While thinking of how I would get answers to my questions, the flight took off and the banner on the runway mentioned- ‘Goodbye, Varanasi! Until next time.’