Please Call Again Later

“Your call is waiting…the person you are trying to reach is speaking to someone else…”

I have heard this recorded voice so ¬†many times over the years that it’s almost as if I have formed a strange kinship with the woman saying it. I saw her today, in a little cafe. No, I didn’t recognize her by how she looks. But by her inimitable voice as she ordered a coffee. And I think, a sandwich.

So many times I have found the line busy, her voice my only companion. So many times, as I heard her repeat the same lines over and over, I have thought of her. Wondered how she looked. What she liked eating. Who all were there in her family. So many times, being unable to reach my friends over the phone, I have poured out my heart to her. And only her. She seemed so distant. So nonjudgmental. So mechanically comforting.

And there she sat in front of me. Having a cup of coffee. Probably waiting for someone.

It was an early wintry morning in Calcutta. A slight drizzle, a bit of fog.

What I really wanted was to sit down with her over a cup of coffee. But she was on her phone, trying to call someone. Over and over. Not getting through.

What fun! She must have been hearing her own voice, over and over. Telling¬†herself to wait. Like we all often say. Just that we don’t get to hear it in our own voice.

There was a slight drizzle outside, a bit of fog.

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The House on 23 Moore Avenue

horror house

We stay in a large compound housing a lot of trees, and quite a few houses, in 23 Moore Avenue, the southern part of Calcutta. It’s like a quasi-joint family where most part of the large family lives together, but in separate houses. And in most cases, people can’t stand one another. The houses were built a long, long time ago. Some time in the 1920’s, I think. And like most old places, there are many stories woven around it, passed on through generations. Urban legend type. The exciting part? They are mostly ghost stories.

Growing up, I used to sit in awe, as my grandfather, and later, my mother and uncle, narrated story after story about 23 Moore Avenue. Apparently, the entire compound was built on top of a graveyard. And we all know that spirits do not like their rest to be interrupted. I mean, who wouldn’t? I would get murderous if someone tried waking me up when I am asleep. So, as the story goes, when the construction work for the houses began, there were very bizarre instances that occurred. Some eerie, like trees falling down, without any rhyme or reason, without any strong gust of wind or anything. Some downright scary. Like construction workers dropping dead while the main large bungalow got built. Yep. It was jinxed. but people moved in anyhow. There were tragedies which followed. My grand dad’s sister passed away, at the age of 2. Followed by the death of his infant brother. What followed was a mental breakdown for his mother, who never quite recovered. She still wrote brilliantly though, and sang with a clear, strong voice.

Perhaps, due to this series of unfortunate incidents, the entire place gained a reputation for being haunted. The neem tree at the entrance of the large green gate, was considered especially notorious for housing a rather mischievous spirit. One who liked dropping things on passersby and cars. On moonlit nights, when my mother and uncle sat chatting on the terrace, they often saw someone on the opposite terrace. Someone a little too translucent to lay claims on being real. Someone who flickered a bit too much to be considered human. Someone who had a propensity to disappear with remarkable speed.

My grand parents had several pets. Around 5 German Shepherds, and 10 cats. One of the dogs, Tiger, went into a frenzy one day and attacked the entire family, except for my granddad. It resulted in my mother and uncle being hospitalized, wounds being stitched, etc. The vet wanted Tiger euthanized. That thought was unbearable to my granddad, and to my mother. He was family. Somehow, after that incident, he became mellow. But there used to be a frightening look of alarm in his eyes.

August 1975, my aunt’s boyfriend passed away in a terrible motorcycle accident on a highway, along with the pillion, his best friend. They got hit by a speeding truck. He was 23 years old, and my father’s elder brother. He was a beautiful person, as far as I have heard. One who wrote poetry and played the accordion and mandolin. He had long wavy hair, a sharp nose and very high cheekbones. He used a very distinct perfume, a bottle of which he always kept in my grandfather’s house, because he visited so frequently. The day he passed away, he was returning to Asansol from Calcutta, after visiting my aunt and the family.

Tiger was very close to him. He had a very calming effect on the dog. And for many months after his death, Tiger behaved very strangely. Barking affectionately, jumping up and greeting someone very familiar, someone he knew very well and loved. And often, that unmistakable perfume could be smelled, permeating through the entire house, as Tiger went into a joyful barking frenzy.

Strange things happen I suppose. And I believe in the strange, because I believe there are things that go way beyond our cynicism and calculated logic.

My house looks nothing like this, but at times (just at times), I cannot help but feel a slight chill run through me if I stand alone on the terrace. I feel a strange bond of empathy with a house that has seen witness to so much. And for so many years. I made this sketch as a sort of depiction of my house, though it looks nothing like it. But the moon? It sure can be sinister.