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 and welcome to OBSCURUS. It is always a pleasure to tell you tales of the paranormal. In this episode, a grieving husband sees a vision of his late wife. Interested in knowing what happens? Sure you are. I promise your wait will soon be over. Before I start the story, I have an earnest request that you visit my website, biswajitbanerjee.com, for information on my books, films, voice-over projects, and other creative ventures. You will also find all the episodes of OBSCURUS on the blog, along with their transcripts.
I also have another website, obscurus.buzzsprout.com, which is totally dedicated to this podcast. Apart from the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts, you will also find the chapter markers for easy navigation on the dedicated website.
Okay, let's start the story now. Can one see, touch or even caress a spirit? Shekhar's late wife, Aparna, returns to live with him. Will he accept her? Let's find out.
SUBTLE BODY 00:02:28
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
Tears welled up in Shekhar's eyes and rolled down his cheeks. A few drops fell on the framed photograph in his hands. Shekhar quickly wiped the tears off the picture lest they should move to the corners of the frame and slide down to the other side. No additional copy of the photograph was available, and so he couldn't afford to let it get spoiled. It captured one of the most precious moments of his life. In the backdrop of gleaming snow and frozen summits, he stood with his wife atop one of the steepest peaks of Tailabi, a district in the north-western Himalayas. The honeymoon was just the beginning of the delightful two years he spent with Aparna. Unlike other relationships that turn rusty and monotonous over time, their romance stayed new ‘til the very end. The end, sadly, came too soon.
Memories are always bad. Those of happy times make one sad at the thought that they will never occur again. And the memories of difficult times make one relive all the troubles one might have braved under those circumstances. Then there are those ugly recollections that stick to your soul like permanent leeches. The images of the car accident that killed his wife fell in the third category. Time couldn’t heal the wounds of Shekhar's mind. On the contrary, the scars on his being grew deeper and more painful by the day.
What a woman Aparna was! Beauty, intelligence, creativity, and kindness – she literally personified the ensemble of these qualities. Only after meeting her did Shekhar understand how beautiful life could be. Without Aparna, he was no more than a corpse. To others, he might have been alive, but only Shekhar knew he died with his wife. The apparently living shell people identified as Shekhar was, in reality, bereft of all he used to be up until the moment of the accident.
Some more teardrops fell onto the photograph. Whilst wiping them off the glass, Shekhar remembered the last exchange he had with Aparna.
"Slow down, Shekhar," she insisted.
"Don't worry, darling, I am a skillful driver."
"Focus on the road, don't look at me."
"Sorry, I just can’t take my eyes off you. Who asked you to be so beautiful?"
"In two years, your craze for me still hasn't lessened."
"It will never lessen, honey; I will always be crazy about you."
"That sounds … you know …"
"Somewhat abnormal." She laughed. "A typical man, I read in a magazine the other day, craves for a variety of partners."
"So what do you want? That I be crazy about some other woman now?"
"I was just saying what I read in that magazine."
"Some pervert might have written it."
"Please look ahead, Shekhar." Aparna shrieked.
By the time he focused on the road, it was too late. The large oil tanker was in touching distance. It was moving on the wrong side of the road like a mad monster. Seconds before, there had been no hint of it on the road. Shekhar turned the steering with all the agility he could command. No use. What followed was like a bomb blast – a blinding flash with a soul-shattering sound. When some sense returned, he found himself stuck between the steering wheel and his seat. There was no one on the seat beside him. When he looked up, he found Aparna's body lying on a bed of glass splinters on the vehicle bonnet.
"So sorry, I am so sorry, honey," Shekhar whispered as he tenderly moved his fingers over the face of his wife's picture.
As if out of nowhere, a familiar voice flowed into his ears – Shekhar. There was an unworldly quality about the voice as though it emanated from a disembodied source floating in the air.
Chills ran through his spine and paralyzed him for a moment as he looked up. Dressed in a flowing, white, sleeveless gown, a lone figure stood at the threshold of the living room with a smile on her dry, white lips.
"This is … impossible," Shekhar whispered.
"Banish all your worries, my dear; I am back."
"No, no, this can't be true, Aparna … you … this."
The framed photograph slipped from his hands and crashed to the floor. Aparna swiftly moved over the shards and within a second was in touching distance from Shekhar. The wooden sideboard behind him blocked Shekhar's retreat.
"Oh, Shekhar, you love me so much."
"But Ap … Aparna …"
"I knew you would be missing me, Shekhar, and that's why I have come back."
"No, this …” Amid panic and shock, he just about managed to whisper.
"Our love is so powerful that even death couldn't separate us. Look, we are together again."
"But this can't be," Shekhar uttered in disbelief as he tried moving back only to be blocked once more by the sideboard.
"What happened, Shekhar?"
"Look … I … I …"
Then it occurred to him that instead of stepping back, he should move to his side.
"Why are you moving away from me, Shekhar?"
"Please go away, Aparna. You shouldn't be here."
"What are you saying? Don't you love me anymore?"
"I love you, but this is not right."
"Now … now … we belong to different worlds."
"I am your wife, Shekhar."
"No, you must go; you don't belong here."
“Look at me. I am Aparna.”
Attempts to move further away from her failed as Shekhar’s feet turned numb. Except for the feeble movements of his face muscles, the rest of his body had practically frozen.
"Please don't come close … our bond … ended with the car crash."
"Our bond ended with the car crash! What are you saying? I thought our love …"
"True, I love you, Aparna; I shall always cherish our bond. But not like this …" Shekhar struggled to bring coherence into his speech.
"What do you mean 'not like this,' Shekhar?"
"Look, things … things were different … when we both belonged to … to the ma … material world. Now, things can't be … can't be the same."
"Because our worlds are different, go … go … away, Aparna."
"Shut up, I am not going anywhere."
Shekhar turned and tried walking away, only to be blocked by Aparna.
"Even you are not going anywhere."
"Go back to your world, Aparna, go back."
"Please listen to me, Shekhar. Just give me a little time; I am sure I can convince you that things can be just the way they used to be before the crash."
"No, they can't be. Go back to where you belong."
A sick sensation ran through Shekhar’s spine as Aparna placed her arms around him. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would feel the touch of a disembodied spirit. The sensation of her arms, however, was the same. It was as though Aparna stood before him in flesh and blood.
"What's going through your mind, honey?"
"Please, Aparna." Tears ran down his cheeks.
"Tell me, what are you thinking?"
"For a moment … everything felt the same."
"Everything could be the same, Shekhar. You just have to cooperate. Look, there's no reason to be afraid of me. I am Aparna, the same Aparna, your wife. How could you think I would harm you?"
A couple of minutes ticked by in total silence as Aparna still came closer.
"Don't say that again, Shekhar, please."
"Understand, please, this gives me a sick sensation. Take your arms off me."
"Strange that you find my touch uncomfortable."
"Oh please, Aparna, things have changed. Why can't you acknowledge that?"
"Nothing has changed. You just need to change your perspective of things."
"What do you want?"
"I need some time to explain. Will you give me that at least?"
Shekhar reasoned that, after all, it was Aparna. So what if she was disembodied? Her consciousness couldn't have changed in quality, could it have? And the same affection reflected off her eyes. Why was he afraid of her? Just because she was disembodied didn't mean she would be harmful. Indeed, it was foolish on his part to be scared of her. Strange that fear filled his mind at the sight of the girl whose absence pushed him to tears on countless occasions. No, he ought not to be so harsh on the one he loved so dearly simply because they belonged to separate realms of existence now. She deserved the chance to explain herself.
"Tell me, Shekhar, will you give me that time?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"Thank you so much. Can we go up to the terrace?"
"Trust me, you will not regret this decision. I promise no harm will come to you."
"Great, let's go."
As Shekhar followed Aparna up the stairs, he noticed the floating quality of her movements. Her white gown slid over the steps as though her legs were in the air. Now, wait a minute. Did she have legs at all, or was it all a smoky mass under her waist? Her upper body, for sure, felt solid, and yet her climbing of the stairs didn't look like a physical mass moving.
"Hey, come on, Shekhar. What is making you so slow?"
"This is my normal speed. You seem to be moving too quickly."
"Oh, I see. Well then, I will slow down."
"Not a problem. You move in whatever way suits you. I will try to keep up."
*** Under a clear moonlit sky, Shekhar and Aparna stood with their backs against the large terrace's railing. With Aparna’s unshifting gaze on him, Shekhar felt rather uncomfortable.
"Tell me now."
"Allow me to look at you for a while, Shekhar. You remember when you made love to me on a full moon night on this terrace."
"Well, I do, but I guess you haven't brought me here to talk about that."
"What has made you so unromantic, honey?"
"Please, can we get to the point right away?"
"Okay, tell me."
"What? What do you want me to say? I believed it was you who had something to explain."
"Umm-hmm, indeed. Look, if you cooperate with me, things will be just as they were before the accident."
"You have said that before, but how?"
"You can only make sense of how if you understand the phenomena of life and death. Although it is not easy to explain these complex mystical processes, I will try. By now, I am sure you understand that consciousness does not end with what we understand as death. If this were so, we wouldn't be talking now. Do you have any doubts about that?"
"No, I would be a fool not to believe in the existence of disembodied consciousness now."
"Great! By disembodied consciousness you mean consciousness without a body, right?"
"To make things simple, let us call the consciousness without a body the spirit. Some people also call it the soul."
"All right, go ahead."
"The reality is, no soul can ever be without a body."
"How can that be?"
"Well, that's how the ethereal nature of things operates. I will explain – at the time of death, the soul escapes the material body. However, within moments of its separation from the physical body it acquires a new kind of body. In many philosophical treatises, written by scholars of Hinduism, this new body is called the Sukshma Sharira. It's a Sanskrit expression. Sukshma means subtle, and Sharira means body. So this expression translates to Subtle Body."
"From where does the soul get the new body?"
"The soul already has the raw materials for the new body. It is made of sublime matter quite different from the physical matter humans are acquainted with."
"What is sublime matter?"
"Sublime matter is the baggage of thoughts and desires the soul carries with it when it leaves the physical body at the time of death."
"Well, this is rather difficult to comprehend."
"Hardly matters. Just understand this - the soul acquires a new body after the death of the physical body."
"Yes, I understand that, and you also explained that this new body is made of sublime matter. What next?"
"Now, the sublime matter making up the new body is billions and billions of times subtler than the physical body. That's the reason it is called the subtle body."
"Okay, go on."
"A subtle body has another fascinating characteristic."
"And what is that?"
"Well, Shekhar, the subtle body looks the same as the physical body did at the time of death. I will illustrate this point. Imagine a child dies at the age of nine. The subtle body of the child's soul, will look just like the nine-year-old body it left behind. Likewise, the subtle body acquired by a soul escaping an old man will look just the way his body looked before death – wrinkled and possibly discolored in places."
"What will happen if the physical body the soul escapes has some injury mark on the knee, say?"
"Then the subtle body will also have that injury mark on the knee."
"And what if a soul escapes a disabled person – say somebody without an arm?"
"The answer is obvious, Shekhar – the soul will acquire a subtle body without an arm."
Shekhar glanced at Aparna. Indeed, she looked just the way she did before the collision with the oil tanker.
"What are you staring at, Shekhar?"
"I just see that you have illustrated your point well, go on."
"Now I will discuss something more complicated, but I am sure you will understand."
"Go ahead, I am all ears."
"The density of the sublime matter in a subtle body varies from soul to soul. While some souls may have very dense subtle bodies, others may have really thin or light ones. The subtle bodies which are very dense often become visible. People call these ghosts or spirits. Here, I must mention that for most subtle bodies, the density of sublime matter is very low, and that's why they cannot make a discernible appearance. They hover around living people, but nobody can sense their existence."
"Right, I understand it all."
"Now comes the most important point, Shekhar. Some subtle bodies are made up of such dense sublime matter that they look like physical matter. Sometimes the density of the sublime matter is so high in a subtle body that it can also be touched in the same way a solid body can be touched."
"I am not finished yet, Shekhar. Understand this – regardless of how dense a subtle body is, not every human may be able to see or touch it. In fact, very few humans are responsive to ethereal phenomena. Even of these few people, there are still fewer individuals who can see and touch a subtle body with a high density of sublime matter."
"But why are you telling me all this, Aparna?"
"Because this explains how we can be together again and live as though nothing happened."
"Sorry, I don't understand."
Aparna smiled. "You really have gotten unromantic, it seems. My absence has surely not done you any good, Shekhar."
"Shekhar, we make a unique pair – while one of us has a subtle body of considerable density, the other has remarkable powers of perception to see and touch that subtle body. Death hasn't been able to separate us, Shekhar. We are together again, all set to live like before!
"Incredible, indeed! A physical body and a subtle body living together."
"Only love has made this possible, Shekhar."
"But won't others know about it, Aparna? What about the neighbors?"
"Come on, Shekhar, I am sure nobody in the neighborhood is receptive to ethereal phenomena. Rest assured, none can see ghosts. Still, we will be careful not to give any hints of what's happening in this mansion."
The thought of his wife being back with him excited him to no end. However, at the same time, the idea of living with a subtle body was not too comforting.
"Have you understood what I have said?" Aparna asked.
"Yes, I believe so."
"Then you have no reason to be afraid of me. What do you say?"
"I agree." Shekhar smiled.
Aparna stepped forward and again placed her arms around him. The same wave of disquiet and chill ran through his spine as he raised a hand and touched Aparna's cheeks and neck.
"Oh, I can't tell you how badly I am in need of these touches!" Aparna moved closer still.
"You are with me again … incredible."
"Kiss me, Shekhar."
The music of those words was just as before. Death hadn't changed her one bit; Shekhar looked on, still trying to believe in what was happening.
"What are you thinking about, Shekhar? Go on, kiss me."
Still unsure about whether or not he was in reality, Shekhar got closer and put his arms around Aparna. He pressed his lips against hers, and soon they melted into each other.
With the full moon right above their heads, the couple lay closely huddled together.
"Are you happy?" Aparna said.
"Yes, are you?"
With a broad smile, she kissed him again. "Of course, honey. Even death has failed to separate us."
Now the thought that he was with a subtle body was no longer unpleasant. On the contrary, Aparna's presence was so reassuring, so soothing. It was indeed incredible that he just made love to a subtle body. The sweetness of the moment brought a smile to his lips.
"What’s making you smile, honey?" Aparna placed her head on his chest.
"You know what … it's unbelievable that I just made love to a subtle body."
Aparna moved away from him with an anxious expression on her face.
The sudden change in her mood baffled Shekhar.
"What's wrong, dear? Do you feel bad about something I said? Come back to me, Aparna."
"Just hold it, Shekhar. What did you say?"
"It was a casual remark, I didn't have any idea that you would feel bad."
"Just repeat what you said."
"Well … I said it's unbelievable that I just made love to a subtle body.”
Tears flowed from her eyes, and she placed a hand on her forehead in what looked like utter helplessness.
"I am sorry, dear," Shekhar said, "I didn't mean to hurt you. Perhaps you didn't like me calling you a subtle body. Believe me, I had no intention of belittling your existence. You are just the way you used to be."
After a brief period of silence, Aparna moved his head and said, "Shekhar, you didn't make love to a subtle body."
"Oh dear, I didn't know you were yet to come to terms with the truth."
"What are you trying to say?"
"Honey, don't you know – I survived the car accident. It was you who died."
A thunderbolt struck Shekhar. With a gaze of shock at his trembling fingers, he said, "Subtle body … this is my subtle body! So, I … I … am … dead." OUTRO 00:35:01 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!