It was sometime in the Nineties that we – I and photographer Shoukat of Milap Studio – set out to do a feature on the Great Indian Bustard, an endangered species of ground bird that was on a revival mode in the plains of Rollapadu in Kurnool district.
We were passing Nandikotkur town close to the bird haven, when the sight of a girl in tattered clothes and unkempt hair arrested my attention. She was walking on the main road, bound hand and legs by chains. I presumed she might be mentally disturbed or a suspect taken under escort. I asked the driver to stop and ran back to check, but by then she had melted into the crowd. Forgetting all about it, I moved on.
A few hours later, we were on our way back having finished our job at the bustard sanctuary. We were driving past a forest-fringed village, scene of huge commotion. Men, women and kids, some holding sticks, were running after something. In the twilight, we could not see what was happening. We stopped to check. The curious crowd seemed to catch up with a woman heading for the woods. Lo and behold! Yes. It was the same girl in fetters! How come she had surfaced in this place, at least 30 km away in such a short time?
The locals tried to speak to the girl. She looked lost and listless. Obviously, she did not understand Telugu. I tried to put her at ease. She seemed to understand Hindi. Putting bits and pieces together, I gathered that she had fled her home in Madhya Pradesh or Odisha to escape from forcible marriage. She did not explain why she was in chains. She did not seem interested in further conversation and was soon dissolved by the enveloping darkness.
Who was she? A woman or an apparition? Showkat appeared convinced she was some kind of ‘bhooth’. He was too scared to pick up the camera.
‘Ghost’ which loved pranks
Another true but weird tale from the Fifties:
It was sometime during 1951-52. My cousin Valluru Saraswati, her husband and their 18-months old baby girl lived in No. 21, CIB quarters in Narayanguda, close to the present flyover.
My cousin rushed from the kitchen to the bedroom on hearing a thud. Her baby was safely on bed, but close to her the aluminium trunk containing her expensive pattu parikini ( silken skirt) etc. was in flames. The clothes were completely burnt. Before the mother could figure out the cause, she was in for another shock a day or two later. The bedroom and veranda were littered with ‘potty’ and other dirty stinking stuff.
This was followed by a male voice emanating from the mango tree across the wall. The formless voice spoke to her and her husband in Telugu as well as Urdu. The voice was most of the time playful in nature or given to pranks, but rarely rude or threatening.
Word spread like wildfire and people from different parts of the twin cities thronged the place to watch the tamasha. The friendly voice engaged people in lively banter. Soon it became national news as journalists descended from Delhi and other places. I can’t vouch safely, being a kid of 8 years then, but it was said MK Vellodi, ICS, appointed by the Centre as the Chief Minister of Hyderabad after its accession to the Indian Union, was also regaled by the Benevolent Bhooth.
One Ismail from Boralghat village in Bidar district had finally exorcised the friendly spirit and restored normalcy. The drama lasted about a week or two.
Dasu Kesava Rao is a seasoned journalist who has worked, among several newspapers, with The Hindu and served as its Bureau Chief in Hyderabad.