I was a chronic coward, not now but at least in my childhood. Once, I went to my mom’s village (Mandawar, Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh). As I was a small kid just 7 or maybe 8 years of age. I had a fear of the dark. Also, back then (about 20 years ago), electricity was rare, and unstable in villages. It was my cousin’s marraige. And in village there is a custom of inviting people personally accompanied by village barber. We visted almost every house and invited almost whole village. It was quite dark now.
As usual, the dark got on to my nerves.There were some houses left on the outskirt of village and I was too afraid to go there. But my cousin persuaded me somehow(my cousin Monu is 2 years older than I am) and there was the barber’s son ( He was 13 or 14 years of age at that time). So we went together to invite the remaining houses. There was a cross (chowraha, as in Hindi) with a Peepal tree and a well besides it.
We invited the people and were returning. I was too exhausted to keep pace with my cousin (I came from Delhi, where people aren’t used to so much of physical labor in a single day). So I was lagging behind. When we crossed the cross, my cousin turned back to ask me to pace up. However, the moment he looked at me, he stood still! Then the Barber’s son also turned and stood still for a moment and then he gathered his courage and shouted “CHUDAIL“. He dropped his stick (a traditional stick he needs to carry when giving a formal invitation) and started running away. My brother yelled at me – “Bhaag Chinu” (Run Chinu – Chinu being my pet name).
They ran! I haven’t had the slightest idea as to why they ran because I was tired I was not not able to concentrate and understand what they said. I just assembled all my strength and ran because I was a coward and I never wanted to be left behind in the dark alone! I reached my Nani’s (my mother’s mom’s) house, all wheezed out and panting.
Later that night, I asked my cousin as to why he ran. They told me there was a Chudail behind me – white clothes, long nails, long teeth and an evil grin spread across her face. I was shocked. I just dragged myself home, went to my mom and got into her lap. I was running a high fever. My cousin explained everything to my Mom. I specifically remember her saying – “Agar wo tujhe kha jati to?” (Had that witch eaten you, what would have happened of me).
Over the next couple of days, this story penetrated through our village, and finally, one of the village elders were able to identify that supposed chudail (witch). A couple of years back, a woman had jumped into the very same well, hoping to get rid of the atrocities of her in-laws.
It’s been decades after this incident – however, I haven’t been able to forget a minute of it.
A Personal Encounter by Keshav Sharma (New Delhi). Keshav can be reached out at email@example.com