Welcome to OBSCURUS, your weekly dose of paranormal fiction. Every Wednesday OBSCURUS features new short stories and serialized novels written by novelist, screenwriter, and voice-over artist Biswajit Banerjee. The realm of the paranormal stretches far beyond the usual horror story. So, while you will get to listen to lots of ghost stories on this podcast, there will also be many tales of lesser-known paranormal themes. To get us started, here's your host Biswajit Banerjee.
HOST TALK 00:00:47
Hello, I am your host Biswajit Banerjee, and it feels great to be with you again. Today’s story is about one rationalist. Before we plunge into the tale, as always, I would like to request you to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com. And of course, do also visit obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast for all the OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers for easy navigation. We will talk about the story right after this message.
It’s time for the story now. An extreme skeptic attends a séance with his friend. A supposedly experienced and genuine medium conducts the séance. Does a disembodied spirit really make an appearance? Let’s find out.
SHE’S STILL THERE 00:01:57
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"She's still there," Ashmeet said, pushing down on the accelerator.
"Yes, I know what you think," I said.
"Skeptics like you will never believe."
"What matters is what you believe."
"But, I want to prove it to you, Srijan."
"So that you accept the truth."
"Love for your mother has robbed you of all rational sense; you are letting yourself being taken advantage of."
"Who's taking advantage of me?"
"The elderly lady, you mean?"
"Of course, she must be a fraud."
"You haven't met her; how can you form an opinion?"
"It's easy to build an opinion about someone claiming to be an occultist."
"The so-called rational sense of yours is preventing you from taking an unbiased view. I could sense my mother speak through the elderly lady. She is a seasoned medium, trust me."
"Dead people do not speak — neither on their own nor through anybody else."
"That medium speaks to me in Punjabi, the kind of Punjabi my mother used to speak."
"How can she do that? She is not a Punjabi; she is from Rajasthan."
"What a stupid thing to say; she knows Punjabi regardless of which place she belongs to."
"But she tells me things that only my mother knew," Ashmeet said as he maneuvered the vehicle into the parking space of a small market complex.
"All that she tells you must be there on social media platforms. These people are trained to fool their clients. What upsets me is to see an intelligent man like you falling prey to these charlatans."
"Today, you will see for yourself."
"No matter what she does — she might speak in every world language and be aware of every minute detail about your bond with your mother — I shall not be convinced. These impostors are good at their job."
Ashmeet parked the car and pulled the handbrake.
"Come, let's go."
"Are we going to that small house?" I pointed at a little dwelling adjacent to the market complex.
"Umm, hmm." Ashmeet nodded.
"Looks like an illegal property. How could the medium build a house in a commercial space?"
"O, please, Srijan, stop being a municipal inspector now."
An old man, probably the husband of the medium, came out to the small waiting area.
"Sir, now it's your turn," he addressed Ashmeet in his husky voice.
A client, roughly in her mid-thirties, also came out of the medium's room with her teenage son.
"Come along, Srijan."
A couple of clients watched us as we moved into the medium's room.
The old lady was sitting on a wooden cot placed against the wall in the tiny room. Thick curtains blocked most of the light from the windows. In one corner of the room, pictures of some deities had been arranged on wooden stools. A lamp with a flickering flame stood a little distance away from the stools. The woman smiled and gestured for us to sit in the chairs close to the wall across her.
"How are you doing?" She said in Hindustani, essentially a blend of Hindi and Urdu, or what you may call a distorted version of Hindi, as we pulled the chairs and sat.
"Now that I know my mother is doing fine in her new abode, I feel better," Ashmeet replied, smiling back at her."
"As far as I can see, she's quite satisfied in the astral world."
"This is my friend Srijan; I hope you don't mind his presence."
"Not at all; he is welcome here."
"To tell you the truth..."
"I can sense it, son. Your friend does not believe in what happens here."
"Indeed, he is a skeptic."
"Though it is not my job to convince people of the genuineness of what I'm doing, yet I'll allow him to be a part of the session today."
"Thank you." Ashmeet smiled at me as though I had reasons to be impressed with the woman's reading about my visit.
"How may I help you today, son?"
"I wish to talk to my mother."
"Well, I will do as you say, son, but letting a disembodied spirit take possession of my body drains me of all vital energy."
"Indeed, I understand that but today..."
"Today, you want your friend to see your mother coming, isn't it?"
"Yes, but I also want to talk to my mother."
"Nature has provided me with this gift of being able to let disembodied spirits to take charge of my body and talk to their loved ones. Without a trace of doubt, this gift is meant to help people like you. So, I will try to act like a conduit again between you and your mother."
"Thank you so much."
"Will you please bring me the apparatus?" The woman said to the old man who had taken a chair near the wall to her right.
The man got up and walked to the corner diagonally opposite to where the deities had been arranged. He pulled out a bottle, perhaps containing holy water and a rosary with ugly black beads from under a folded blanket. She smiled again as the old man passed on the stuff to her.
"Son, you have already experienced what seances are like, but your friend is new to all this. So, I want him relaxed and unafraid of the rather unusual things that happen during a séance."
"I will be just fine; you needn't worry about me," I said without any attempt to hide my disdain for the things she was doing.
"Please don't be angry, son," she now spoke to me, "you are not happy and don't believe in my gift, but I would still request you to be patient and sit quietly during the séance."
"I am not going to disturb anyone, but I do think we are wasting our time."
"Please, Srijan, please be cool for my sake," Ashmeet said.
"Well, I am cool enough, and do not worry, I will sit through the supposed séance without a word."
The woman closed her eyes for about a minute and then looked at us.
"Channels are clear today," she said to her husband, "you can take the steps."
The old man nodded and again moved over to the folded blanket. After pulling out some thick dark clothes and a roll of black adhesive tape from under the blanket, he moved to the window to the woman's left. Then he put a cloth over the curtains and stuck its edges with the tape firmly to a rectangular wooden frame running all around the window. After that, he walked up to the other window and covered it in the same manner. The only light now available in the room was that of the lamp, but he puffed it out soon to make the room pitch-dark. As we heard the footsteps of the man walking back to his chair, the woman began her chants (chaants). They were loud whispers. Expressions such as "O respected disembodied consciousness," "my body is available to you," "please move in gently," and "my body is the conduit" filled the air.
For ten good minutes, she kept chanting her mantras. Then as her whispers died down, strange noises emerged. It was as if somebody was repeatedly forcing air out through a piston. These noises were soon replaced by what sounded like the low-pitched voice of a woman. In a while, the voice assumed clarity. The old woman was speaking again but with a more solemn voice. There was a touch of airiness about her speech as though she was speaking through a hollow pipe.
"Don't miss me so much. I am happy in the dimensionless world," the supposed free consciousness spoke through the old woman in chaste Punjabi.
"Mother, how can I not miss you? I can think of nothing but you. The vacuum is too difficult to bear," Ashmeet's voice cracked.
"Son, you must learn to put up with the impermanence of life. No one lives forever. Your world is characterized by mortality. Rest assured, I still exist, and I am happy. The truth is nobody ever dies. Didn't I tell you last time death is just a transition from one state of existence to another and nothing more than that?"
"Yes, mother, I understand that, yet I cannot take this vacuum anymore."
"You have to; one must brave through the loss of loved ones in the material world."
The conversation between Ashmeet and his supposed disembodied mother continued. Then something strange happened — all of a sudden, I felt a heaviness in the head. A huge load, it seemed, had been placed inside my head. Keeping the eyes open got difficult as the heaviness grew. I moved my hand to touch Ashmeet to tell him about my unexpected illness. With my consciousness waning, I wondered if it was a paralytic stroke. Just when I thought I would pass out, the sickness disappeared with the same abruptness with which it had emerged. Something was shining before me. It was a cloud of light, and I found it hard to stand its brightness. With a lot of strain, I peered into the cloud. An elderly lady was standing in the midst of the light!
My mind stopped working for a while. When some sense returned, I took a careful look at the figure before me. Before long, I knew I was dealing with a free consciousness from another dimension. No trace of fear crossed my mind as the spirit’s presence had an air of benignity about it.
The specter moved closer and talked to me. No, we didn't exchange any earthly words — the communion was telepathic in nature. The crux of what she said was this — she was the spirit of Mrs. Walia, Ashmeet's mother, and that the old lady claiming to be an expert medium was an imposter. She had a message to give but could not reach out to Ashmeet as his faculties were too gross to perceive an ethereal consciousness. Upon my asking if my faculties were sensitive to spirit phenomena, she answered in the negative. Mrs. Walia explained that my senses were subtler than those of her son but not sharp enough to be sighting spirits. She said it took her a special effort to make an appearance before me. When I asked her what her message was, Mrs. Walia advised me to expose the woman by asking her about Motiram's whereabouts. When I asked who Motiram was, she said I would soon have all the information, and then the bright mist disappeared.
Although I had had a first-hand interaction with a spirit, my rational sense held doubts about my experience. Despite their real feel, many spirit phenomena turn out to be tricks of one's mind. At least the scientific journals I subscribed to suggest so. As a physical chemistry professor at the University of Delhi, I placed a hundred times more trust in these journals than what hocus-pocus people would have me believe. Whether my experience was real would become clear only after the séance got over.
After a torturous wait of another half an hour, the drama reached its end. The old man removed the thick dark clothes and lit the lamp. Tears rolled down Ashmeet's cheeks.
"At least she is happy." Ashmeet held a handkerchief to his face.
"Is she?" I asked.
"Don't do this, Srijan; the last thing I need now is your sick over-bloated scientific temper."
The woman's sluggish movements as she recuperated from her supposed act of mediumship conveyed extreme fatigue.
"Are you happy now?" She asked Ashmeet after opening her eyes. Of course, she had switched back to Hindustani.
"O yes, I am feeling great."
"There are many levels in the spirit world. The lower ones resemble the material world but are made up of subtler elements. Your mother is making good progress; she will soon be attaining higher levels and go into a deep slumber."
"Will she then be sleeping till eternity?"
"Not quite, son, she will be sleeping till the next course of her journey starts — she might rise up to higher planes or descend to the material world with a new human body."
"Maybe, I cannot tell for sure. Reincarnation is just one possibility; your mother might even attain salvation depending upon her karma."
Then the old woman looked at me.
"So, son, what do you think?"
"What do you want my opinion on?" I said.
"Be courteous, Srijan." Ashmeet pressed my thigh.
"Relax, son, allow your friend to talk with freedom." The old lady smiled.
"All I can do is to say 'sorry' on his behalf."
"You needn't do that. I don't mind if somebody doubts my gift. What matters is the truth, son."
"O yes, the truth matters indeed," I said.
"Son, you appear to be unhappy."
"Of course, I am unhappy because you are cheating, my friend."
"No, son, I am not cheating anyone. Nature has endowed me with a gift that is way beyond the wisdom of skeptics to understand."
"Tell me, where is Motiram?"
A minute of stunned silence followed. The discomfort was writ large on the medium's face.
"What are you talking about?"
"Where is Motiram now?"
Disturbed, she bent forward and cupped her face with her hands. The old man stood up after another brief period of silence.
"Sirs, please leave," he said.
"What happened?" Ashmeet asked.
"Don't speak as though you don't know what happened."
"I really don't know, please tell me."
"Your friend shouldn't have mentioned our son. He would have been your age if he had lived."
"But he asked about some 'Motiram,' didn't he?"
"Yes, he did — Motiram was our only son; he committed suicide at a very young age."
"Oh, I am really sorry, but why?"
"Because he was stupid. Motiram thought his mother to be a fake; he was a skeptic like your friend. In his suicide note, he wrote he couldn't bear the sight of his mother cheating people by feigning as a medium. He must have realized later how foolish he had been. It must have been deep regret and shame that prevented him from contacting us from wherever he is now."
"There is no need to divulge such details to them, you foolish old man." She said, looking up and sitting straight again.
"Your turn is over." The old man gestured for us to leave.
"The payment ...". Ashmeet appeared unsure of how to respond.
"We don't take money from people who rub salt on our wounds, get out." The old woman responded.
"Will you tell me or not?" Ashmeet said as he took a sharp turn.
"Hey, easy, drive slow, please."
"Srijan, you are testing my patience."
"That old man still thinks his wife is a true medium, what a moron!"
"I am not interested in your opinion on that old man, for goodness sake."
"Let me drive the car; we aren't safe with you at the wheels. You seem to have decided to practice for Grand Prix Formula 1."
"So, you won't tell me, right?"
"What? How did I get to know about Motiram?"
"No, when are you building a bar atop Mt. Everest?"
"Okay, Mrs. Walia asked me to mention 'Motiram' to the old couple after the séance (sei·ons) to expose the old woman."
"You heard me, Ashmeet. I did what your mother asked me to do."
"Sick, so you will make these sick jokes now."
"Strange that you can place your trust in an impostor but not in what your colleague says."
A flurry of thoughts seemed to cross Ashmeet's mind as he pulled over.
"Did she ... did she ... she ... you are..."
"Yes, I am speaking the truth."
Then I narrated everything that had happened during the séance.
"So, relax, Ashmeet, she's still there! Your mother's still there."
Contrary to my expectations, Ashmeet appeared extremely unhappy.
"Aren't you happy about the fact that your mother still exists," I said.
"O shut up. I know she still exists." He responded.
"But then you should be happy about it."
"My mother's still alive, Srijan. And we are both skeptics like you. You must have gotten across the internet society called 'Absolute Rationalists.' That's our society – my mother and I run it together."
"What are you saying?"
"What I am saying is the truth. My mother isn't dead; my reason to visit the old lady was to investigate the methods used by the so-called mediums like her to fool people."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because I wanted to see if the old woman's genuine-looking séance could impress a rational man like you. It is easy to deal with the uneducated and the gullible, but could she deal with a rock-solid rationalist like you – that's what I wished to check. Actually, I am collecting data for my next book. Sorry, taking you to the old woman was also a part of my experiment, and that's the reason I kept you in the dark."
A rather lengthy period of silence followed before I broke the ice. "I don’t like the idea of being a part of somebody’s experiment but that’s not what is bothering me now. At the moment, question marks seem to have appeared on my rational thoughts. What was that vision of the bright light with the angelic figure in the middle of it? Trust me, I really saw all that. And Motiram? How could the information about Motiram be spot on if that light was an illusion or some trick of the mind?"
In a flash, Ashmeet took out his mobile phone and showed me a picture of a woman, probably in her sixties.
"Did you see her? That's my mother."
I instantly recognized the woman. "Yes, it was her in the middle of the bright light," I nodded.
"O my goodness, does that mean …"
He dialed his mother's number.
"Put the phone on speaker," I said.
A Punjabi conversation followed but I fully understood it.
"Yes, Ashmeet," Mrs. Walia said on the phone, "how did the séance go?"
"Mom, are you okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"Answer me, are you all right?"
"I am just fine, but why are you asking?"
"Mom, please be very careful. I love you so much."
"Are you okay, Ashmeet? What kind of things are you saying?"
"I am hanging up, Mom; I will explain later."
After he put the phone in his jacket, we exchanged a glance. There were too many questions and too few answers. But there was also an air of relief – after all, we could say for sure – She's still there!
Thanks for listening to OBSCURUS. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and visit biswajitbanerjee.com for more information about Biswajit's books, movies, documentaries, and other creative pursuits. We shall see you next Wednesday with another episode of OBSCURUS. Till then, take care!