I have always been fascinated by little towns, the tiny dots on the map of India. None of them can boast any major tourist attraction; rarely does a tourist visit them. But, I have always loved going to these small places. I invariably found some attraction in each town – an ancient temple with unique stone carvings or a little sweet shop that has been doling out local delicacies over 150 years etc etc. I enjoy absorbing the sounds, smells and sights of these small places – away from the mad rush of large cities. Every few months, I take few days off and travel to such unknown places to rejuvenate myself.
In October this year, I went to Madhupur, a small town in Uttarakhand. Since the town was off the railway route, I decided to drive down. As the car hit the highway, as always, my heart skipped with joy. I reached Madhupur after seven hours drive. It was a quaint little town at the foothills of Himalayas. A small creek flowed through the town, dividing it into two halves. Far away from hustle bustle of a city, it gave one feeling of peace and relaxation. I checked into Serenity Inn, a hotel in the outskirts of the town.
The room was utilitarian but comfortable. My room had a great view of paddy fields across the road and mountains at a distance. I sat for sometime in the small balcony, soaking in the beauty of the surroundings and sipping the extra sweet ginger tea served by the hotel.
Later I went out for a walk, roaming aimlessly in the town. As my appetite built up, I had dinner in a small restaurant. It had no frills but served excellent food. I ordered rice and spicy mutton curry that came highly recommended by the chef. It was tasty and I made the best of my meal.
By the time I returned to my room, it was 9:00 pm. As I turned on the light and walked into the room, a cold chill passed through my body. There was an air of high tension, as if I walked into a forbidden zone. Something seemed to repel me out. For a moment, I stepped out to see the room number, just to make sure I was in the right room. There was no doubt, it was my room!
The feeling of discomfort was very strong. Strange that I had not sensed it before! I tried ignoring my feeling as I had already spent few hours in the room. I thought that I was tired and my nerves were playing up.
As I looked around the room, I saw a beautiful dagger sitting on the shelf. How come I didn’t see it before? Strange! It was at least 12 inches long and was placed conspicuously. It had a wooden handle with inlaid silver motifs. As I took it in my hand, a shiver went through my spine. It was not in a sheath. As I rolled my finger gently over the sharp side, I suddenly saw a fleeting vision of the dagger being plunged into someone’s heart. It lasted for a fraction of a second, but it was enough for me to want to throw the wretched thing away. To my surprise, I had difficulty getting it out of my hand – looked as if the dagger was holding my hand, not the other way round. Again, the feeling lasted only for a fleeting second. I kept the dagger back in the shelf.
After a quick wash, I lay down on the bed and turned on the TV. I tuned into a comedy film. But, I was unable to enjoy the film. My eyes kept going back to the dagger, again and again. At last, to avoid the distraction, I removed it from the shelf and put it in the drawer of the writing desk, away from direct view.
I felt little better and watched TV for more time. As I glanced out of the window, I caught a glimpse of full moon in the sky. I stepped out into the balcony to catch some fresh air and look at the beautiful night sky. As I walked back into the room few minutes later, the first thing I noticed was the dagger sitting back on the shelf! I distinctly remembered keeping it in the drawer. How could it get back to the shelf? I once again put it back in the drawer.
Tired with my tryst with the dagger, I decided to call it day and switched off the light. I usually take time to sleep in a new place. However, I fell asleep quite fast. I woke up to the sound of a wolf howling somewhere at a distance. I wanted to check the time and looked for my cellphone, which I had kept under the pillow. To my surprise, I could not find it. I reached out to turn on the lamp on bedside table; there was neither a lamp nor a bedside table! Alarmed, I sat up and looked at the bed. It looked completely different – much larger, heavy with deep carvings in the headrest. The mattress, pillow, bed linen, nothing was same. In fact, I was in an altogether different room. There was a heavy teak chest of drawers in a corner, which was not there before. There was no sign of electric lights, a couple of oil lamps were burning in the corner. A chandelier with oil lamps hung from the center. Surprised, I stepped out of the bed and realized I was wearing different clothes. Instead of the pajamas and T-Shirt that I had worn before going to bed, I was wearing a white silk dhoti and a heavily embroidered red achkan. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror of a large dresser. It was not me! The person staring back at me in the mirror was a heavily mustached, had fair complexion, brown eyes and sharp features. He also had shoulder length hair and a turban on my head.
I wanted to scream, but I did not, I don’t know why. Instead of I wore my nagra slippers and went to the chest of drawers. I opened it and took out a dagger. My heart missed a beat. This was the only thing I could recognize, it was the same dagger with wooden handle inlaid with silver motifs. I hung it from my dhoti, below the achkan and stepped out of the room. I stepped into the passage of a large house. As I walked along, I realized I was walking in a palace. I was walking stealthily, with lot of care. It was quite late in the night; only a few guards were taking rounds. No one stopped me. Within few minutes, I reached a much larger section of the palace. I waited for few minutes in a dark corner looking at one large room. A guard was standing outside the room. When the guard stepped back, I sneaked into the room.
It was undoubtedly a royal room. In a large bed in the center of the room, a man was fast sleep. Without any hesitation, I walked towards the bed. I took out the dagger and plunged it into his heart, not once or twice but thrice. The man did not make any sound, but as I drew out the dagger for the third time, I heard someone walking into the room, from the main door.
I panicked; I had not expected anyone to check into the room at this time. I looked around for an exit. There was an open window, I jumped out of it.
I fell almost 20 feet below, my ankle hurt. I knew I sprained it, but I kept running. I was worried that someone would find me. I kept running out of the different passages in the palace. And finally I was out in the open, but I kept running. I could hear voices behind me, and I kept running faster. I ran into the woods, I did not stop till I reached deep inside the forest. As I stood to catch my breath, I heard a wolf howl. Very soon I saw several pairs of glowing eyes in the darkness, slowly moving towards me. Before I could reach for my dagger, one wolf pounced on me. I felt a piercing pain in my arm and I screamed. I felt my consciousness slipping away. I continued to scream as the world around me began to dissolve.
Through my screams, I heard someone knocking on the door. Somehow, I managed to hobble to the door and opened it. I found two hotel staff standing outside the door with a concerned look. They had come running to check on me as they heard me scream.
It took me sometime to pull myself together and get back to reality. It was dawn and early sun rays had started streaming into the room. Thank god it was only a nightmare!
But, was it really a nightmare? I had slept for close to 8 hours; however I was not feeling fresh. My head felt heavy, my eyes burnt as though I had not slept a wink for hours. My body ached as if I had run for miles and miles. My ankle hurt and was little swollen.
I glanced at the shelf; thank god the dagger was not there. I opened the drawer of writing table, it was not there. Is anyone going to believe my story?
The hotel staff got me a refreshing glass of lime juice, followed by hot tea. They left me only after my assurance that I was feeling better. By then, I was indeed feeling much better.
I took a long shower and tried reading the newspaper. But I found no interest in world news. My mind was full of questions. Was I really dreaming? Where did the dagger appear from? And how did it disappear? It seemed too real to be a dream! What about my body ache and swollen ankle?
I decided to speak to the manager of hotel. But, he had joined the hotel only few months back and could not tell much. However, he promised to introduce me to Ranjit Singh, owner of Serenity Inn.
I had a quick breakfast and went to meet Ranjit Singh. He stayed in a big house a couple of kilometers away from the hotel. Fortunately for me, he was at home and was free to meet me.
I shared with him my experience. He listened without asking any questions. When I was done, he said with a faraway look in his eyes, “So, what they talk about that night is not folklore, it’s true! But, why this after hundreds of years? And why did it happen to you?” He took a deep breath and shared the story of Madhupur. It went back a couple of centuries.
Madhupur, though covered with dense forest in those days, used to be part of a tiny kingdom, Meghaja. Raja Ugrasen Singh, King of Meghaja was kind at heart and also a good administrator. With his efforts, he made his kingdom self-sufficient. His people were happy. However, the King was a worried man. Somasunder Singh, his son and the crown prince had fallen into bad company. He stole wealth from royal coffers and misused it. The King tried his best to mend his son’s ways, but to no avail. Things continued to take turn to worse.
Somasunder wanted to quickly become the King of Meghaja and get complete control over the kingdom. One night, when the he knew that his father would be alone; Somasunder walked into his father’s room and killed him. Ironically, he used the same dagger which his father had gifted him on his twelfth birthday, as a mark of attaining manhood. Somasunder was confident that no one would see him committing the horrible crime. He would get away with it and soon be crowned as the King of Meghaja. As luck would have it, the loyal guard outside his room felt uncomfortable, call it sixth sense, and walked into the royal chamber.
Somasunder panicked and jumped out of the window. And ran out of the palace into the woods close by. In the forest, he was attacked by a pack of wolves and ended up being their prey.
Initially, no one suspected the crown prince to be the killer. How can the son of such a good king kill his own father?
The guards had chased the killer, but no one dared to go into the forest at night as it was infested with wild animals. Early next morning, a cowherd walking through the forest saw torn pieces of Somasunder’s clothes smeared with blood. And the prince was missing from the palace. Thus, it became obvious to all that overcome by greed; Prince Somasunder had indeed killed his father, King Ugrasen Singh.
In no time, the Kingdom was attacked by enemies and plundered of all its wealth. The once peaceful and happy kingdom of Meghaja became a miserable place. The folklore goes that the people of the Meghaja Kingdom cursed Prince Somasunder, that his soul would never get peace.
With this, Ranjit Singh, owner of Serenity Inn ended his story. He had heard this story from his grandfather. His family had lived in Madhupur for four generations. What was Madhupur now, used to be a dense forest during the reign of King Ugrasen Singh. Legend goes that the Prince Somasunder fell prey to the wolves in the same forest.
Over years, especially on full moon nights, people in Madhupur have seen glimpses of a prince running with a beautiful dagger in hand. However, no one had ever gone through the experience like me.
I thanked Ranjit Singh and stepped out of his house. But, my mind was still clouded with questions. Why was I made to live through the incidents that happened two centuries ago? Was there any purpose? Was my room at the exact spot where Prince Somasunder breathed his last? I guess I will never get answers to my questions………