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The Ghost Of The Past… Returned!

The Ghost Of The Past… Returned!

Tha man ran towards the main road

Nandan is stunned that new school headmaster knows his pet name. In the final part of ‘The Teacher With a Past’ read on and discover just how much the headmaster knows about Nandan’s past and how it has come back to haunt him

By Dr. Saumya Shankar Choudhury

PART – 3 (Concluding)

Nandan decided to take a walk to refresh his mind. He usually did not smoke and the ‘paanwalla’ was a bit surprised when masterji asked for a cigarette and lit it too but was secretly gladdened by the thought that a potential new permanent customer had just been identified. There was load shedding which had more or less remained the only constant feature in the development of the valley in the past couple of decades. The dark stretch of road along the highway brought back fond memories of the prank he had played in outsmarting the terrorist in the guise of a home tutor who never failed to cane or slap Nandan every alternate evening during the lessons.

An urchin had met with an accident one afternoon while trying to cross the road near his house. The poor boy was run over by a lorry and died on the way to the hospital. Ever since, locals had spread rumors of the ghost of the boy being seen and heard weeping and asking for food from pedestrians on certain dark evenings.

One evening, as Nandan was smarting from his more than usual share of beatings at the hands of the dreadful tutor, an idea occurred to him which could put an end to the endless torture. The tutor had finished his lessons and was sipping his tea and noisily biting into the savories which Nandan’s mother had placed in front of him.

As the tutor was busy chatting with Nandan’s father, Nandan stole past the verandah in the dark and waited by the road for the tutor to come on his bicycle. He took off his clothes, applied mustard oil all over his body and carefully pulled out the soot from a hanky that he had brought from the kitchen at home. He then rubbed the soot all over his face, down his arms and all his body, squinting as his eyes started to water from the sharp smell of mustard.

But he squatted by the roadside in anticipation of the prank he was about to pull off. After a few minutes, the tutor came walking his bicycle down the road and stopped by a tree to relieve himself, whistling aloud to the tune of crickets and other insects.

A naked, black as coal and glistening Nandan did not waste any time and came up to the man who by then was fiddling with the string of his pajamas. He placed an oily palm on the tutor’s arm and started wailing in a dialect which was common among the poor people in the area. Caught unawares, the tutor shrieked and barely managing to hold his pajamas together, ran in the direction of the nearest shop, the dimming lights of which could be seen in the distance. Nandan had by then disappeared behind the bushes and this added to the conviction of the man having really met the then famous ghost. Needless to say, the tutor did not turn up any more for the lessons after politely apologizing to Nandan’s father in a letter mentioning that he had taken up a new assignment in a different part of the town.

A strange wave of pleasure came over Nandan as he walked back to his house. His wife was pregnant with their second child and had gone to stay in her mother’s place. He took his dinner and slept soundly, woken by the chirpings of the squirrels and sparrows next morning. At school, he finished the first period in high spirits and went to the teacher’s common room and sat by his corner.

Not many teachers were there at that time of the day. He ordered a cup of tea and glanced over the answer scripts of the terminal examination. He sipped his tea in peace, finally coming to terms that he need not fear the headmaster over any secret as he did not possess any. He looked at his watch and decided to speak with the headmaster regarding an official matter. Nandan went down the corridor and knocked at the door marked ‘HEADMASTER’. A peon ushered him inside as the man was seated behind the huge desk littered with unopened envelopes.

‘Come in Babu’, the headmaster said. Nandan was stunned. This was his nickname. How did the headmaster know it? He forgot the official matter as all his fears started to come back to him. ‘Sit! Sit! Don’t just stand there,’ the headmaster said with a smile which looked more like a smirk to Nandan. ‘You are, after all a senior teacher.’ Nandan sat down rigidly in one of the vacant chairs as the headmaster ordered the peon to bring two cups of tea.

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Nandan’s mouth was dry and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. The headmaster continued, ‘You must be wondering what secret I was talking about. Well, Babu, I was your home tutor in case you don’t remember,’ Nandan could not believe his ears. He did a double take and tried hard to recollect his tutor  – who he remembered as a slim, fit man who loved his daily walks and exercises. This fat, balding caricature of a man was certainly not him. ‘Couldn’t be’, Nandan thought in a panic.

‘Surprising isn’t it? Well, do you remember the dead urchin and the ghost story doing the rounds of your locality those days? I was unfortunate enough to have met that fellow one evening. I ran when he touched me. He was all naked and could have had me killed but I ran. I fell in a ditch and hurt my ankle. My Achilles tendon snapped and could not be repaired properly. So, I was left with a permanent limp. But, thank God that I survived that night.’

The peon had by now placed two steaming cups of tea on the table. But Nandan just could not bring himself to pick one up. The headmaster asked after his parents and carried on about a range of topics but it was as if Nandan was on auto mode. He stayed fixed to his chair, replying in monosyllables as his thoughts ran around in crazy circles. Did he know? Did the headmaster know it was him?

The headmaster continued without missing a beat, ‘Yes. You were talented but also very naughty those days. Your application for the post of Vice Principal will be forwarded. Only on one condition though…’ the headmaster narrowed his eyes, ‘Don’t spread a word about the ghost episode.’

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