Non-fiction

It's All in the Mind
- Jimmy Mathew

‘It is all bullshit, I tell you,’ Sasidharan had conviction in his voice. He was a tall, sleek youth with unusually long hair and an overly rational mind for an adolescent.

An adolescent. The word conjures up an image of the immature; of gawky awkwardness and of confident incompetence. But that was what we were. Most of us were seventeen year olds and starting our medical training.

Around the extensive woodland that was our college were  single-storied, asbestos-roofed buildings that passed for the various pre-clinical departments. A small lane led to the men’s hostel. Three of us, more boys than men, were walking along this road. Rajesh was the one who told us the story. There was a ghost in that lane. It was 7.00 in the evening, but there were no long shadows. It was too dark. Huge navel trees meeting overhead made it look as if we were passing through a colossal tunnel lined with leafy wallpapers. The half moon tried its best, but could only sneak in a few meagre beams . One fourth-year student had committed suicide here by hanging himself from one of the branches of a relatively small mango tree. Rajesh pointed it out to us. That was when Sasidharan uttered the emphatic ‘Bullshit!’ to express his opinion.

‘I am sorry for the profanity. It is pure nonsense, I should have said. We are medical students after all.’ Sasidharan was a decent chap.

‘You are a stuck-up asshole. A fucking pretentious jerk,’ said Rajesh.

‘I forgive you.’

 

‘Thank god for that.’ Rajesh sneered.

‘Thank me. God, unfortunately, doesn’t exist.’

Rajesh was livid. He always had an artwork of chandan on his forehead. He went to the temple before any exam and had a platoon of gods adorning the wall of his hostel room.

‘Bloody non-believer,’ Rajesh muttered. ‘Why do you say that?’

Sasidharan brought  a  patient expression to his face and replied,

‘A foul mouthed amoral drunkard like you is a believer in god. An upright, conscientious, steady teetotaller -- that is me -- is an atheist. Then why should god exist?’

I looked at Rajesh with amusement. He seemed stumped for the moment. But I could see his wickedly brain whirring under the opaque skull. For now, he remained silent.

‘There are no ghosts, ghouls or an afterlife,’ Sasidharan reiterated. ‘And no miracles.’

The three of us walked on silently for some time. Then we turned towards the hostel . Sasidharan’s room was on the ground floor. That was where we usually congregated for combined study and discussions. It was quite small. A human skull grinned from the sole table placed near the back window. Each of us had a set of human bones. We had to keep it for the purposes of our study. The macabre skull was accompanied by the femur -- the thigh bone -- on the table. A few wrist bones lay on the bed. Scaphoid, lunate, capitate, hamate, pisiform..... ‘Damn it, I cant even remember the names,’ I thought. We had to learn the arrangement, muscle attachments, ligaments, and identification signs of each bone.

‘You should keep these covered in the bag when we are not looking at them. They will channel the evil psychic energies of the universe into the room,’ Rajesh said. He looked dead serious.

 

 

 

‘What idiotic nonsense!’ Sasi exclaimed. I laughed. I couldn’t believe Rajesh meant what he said. Every one of us had a set of bones. They could be ordered from suppliers and usually arrived by courier from far-off places like Calcutta. 

‘You are saying that the ghosts of these people follow the bones around?’ I asked, more to irritate him than anything else.

‘No. But certain objects, like the remains of dead bodies, kindle the latent ghostly forces into action. Do you know that the body of Jayakrishnan, who committed suicide by hanging on that tree, was brought down and kept for some time just outside the back window of this very room? George from the senior batch told me that.’

I turned nervously towards the back window. It looked out into the back of the building at the narrow wasteland which lay at the end of the lane that led from the tree on which Jayakrishnan had hanged himself, eyes bulging and tongue protruding. Sasidharan’s room was in one corner of the hostel building, on the ground floor. I looked at the grinning skull on the table and felt a vague unease. Sasi just laughed with derision.

The next day we were walking in the same lane. The sun had set. Entering the gloomy road from the relatively well-lit library courtyard provided a contrast. Silvery patches on the road showed where the moon had managed to get through. The reflected dull light  transported one to the netherworld. I looked around anxiously, wrapped in thought.

I was somewhere in between Sasidharan and Rajesh regarding my views on spirituality. I was a strict doubter about organized religion. It claimed to have all the answers in black and white, while the world I could see was wreathed in shades of grey. An omnipotent God would have a much more complex mind than what theology imagined. And all creeds seemed to be putting words into His mouth while He looked on silently with exasperation or amusement. Or did he? Was He there at all? Could consciousness survive the physical destruction of the brain? What was consciousness anyway? I had read a lot of popular science on such matters. The hard problem of awareness and continuity of the self.

My reverie was broken by my awareness that we were rapidly approaching the tree from which, according to Rajesh, the body of Jayakrishnan once hung limply, the neck twisted at an impossible angle.

It was a large navel tree, but had many low-lying branches. The stretch was especially dark and thick with bushes. I was walking with my head lowered when Rajesh let out a scream.

There are many kinds of screams. This one was not very loud as far as screams go, but there was a wealth of feeling behind that yell. It was as if he was dying. Dead scared. It rang out in the shadowy stillness with terrifying intensity. He pointed at the tree. My eyes followed his finger. I could see it. The Body.

It dangled from a low branch. In the dim light, a solitary break in the canopy allowed a single beam of moonlight inside that showed the hanging apparition. I had a glimpse of limply hanging limbs and a twisted neck. Did I see the eyes staring vacantly or did I imagine it? I don’t know. We didn’t stay for a closer look, believe me. All I remember is a jolt of electricity running up from the base of my spine and exploding in my skull. Sasidharan and I were at the entrance of the hostel in two seconds. I don’t even remember running, but we sure must have. Rajesh was nowhere to be seen. Sasidharan’s  eyes were like sliced kiwi fruits, bulging comically.

The hostel porch was deserted. The next day was a holiday. The unruly crowds were out in the town and the studious ones hard at work in the bowels of the building. Sasidharan ran into his room. I followed him. It was pitch dark. Sasi was fumbling for the light switch when suddenly the skull on the table came to life.

I mean, it came on. Got lit, you know, in a ghostly blue light. In the impenetrable darkness of the room, it was shockingly visible; the empty sockets gave us a piercing stare. The lipless teeth grinned horribly. Sasidharan screamed as both of us shot out of the

 

room like exploding shrapnel.

A few of the students came out to investigate. Sasi pointed to the room with his mouth open. Enquiries filled the air.

‘Sasi saw a rat in the room,’ I explained. My heart was doing uncomfortable gymnastics inside.. Then my face became passive. I was a good actor.

They laughed as they switched on the light and explored the room. I lifted the skull and turned it around surreptitiously. It had nothing suspicious about it.

Sasi stayed in my room that night. We did not talk much. When I woke up in the morning, he was gone.

The incident might have changed my world-view if I hadn’t become so restless with curiosity that I decided to investigate. As soon as the morning brightened, I went back to the lane were we had seen the hanging image of Jayakrishnan. It did not take much courage. The light of the day made it very non-threatening. In the bushes  lay two pillows, a shirt and a pair of trousers.

‘I know you hung that scarecrow from the branch yesterday. But how did you manage the lighted skull?’ I  casually asked Rajesh the next day.. Caught unawares he confessed, laughing.

He had put a bulb inside the hollow skull through the spinal hole. The wire went out of the room through the window and he had a battery ready there. As soon as we ran into the room, he circled to the back of the building. He could see us entering the room and switched the contraption on. As we got out, he simply reached through the bars, removed the bulb, and put the skull back. What a neat scheme. I felt a grudging admiration.

 

 

Sasidharan took leave and went home for a week. He came back with an amulet around his neck and charms  around his wrist. He had been to see one of his uncles who was a famous astrologer and an authority on spiritual matters. He had the air of a man whose life had been transformed by such charms. Rajesh was aghast. He was now afraid that Sasi might learn of his prank and made me swear to silence.

Sasidharan was a man destined for greatness. He was a brilliant student and was active in religious discourse. The nearby temple authorities were delighted to get at least one medical student to be a part of its vedantha study group. I was told that his talks were inspired with rare insights. He went on to become a student editor and we listened to him as he made a speech at the inauguration of the students’ union.

‘We study the human body and Physiology through science. But that is not the only way to knowledge. One can have a sudden insight to the ultimate truth. It is all in the mind. One should have self-realization for this.’

Rajesh was sitting by my side in the audience.

‘My God, I have manufactured a monster!’ he exclaimed.

‘A self-styled monster.’ I grinned at him.

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Jimmy Mathew is a doctor writer. His books include- The Stethoscope and the scalpel, Blood, Sweat and Cheers! And Health and Happiness without Bullshit. ‘Chiriyilude Chikitsa, is his book, which is in Malayalam. He blogs and writes at healthylifehappylife.in.