I have an aunt. She is a spinster. When we were growing up, spending our winter holidays with her at my mom’s village was a bit scary. She would get angry at the drop of a hat, she would be laughing to herself at the backyard or she would be dancing in gay abandon. I had even seen her engaging in deep conversations with an invisible company. There was a mystery surrounding her.
Every morning, she would run to the wooden gate with a white envelope which contained a letter for a man, we were told, she fancied. She would wait for any passer-by to oblige her. “Please post this for me,” she would beg strangers as she handed out coins for the postage stamps. I wonder why we never secretly read her letters to demystify her a bit. But then, like I said, we were petrified of her.
My grandmother told us many stories about how she became ill. One theory was that few relatives were so jealous of her that they used black magic so that she never became successful in her studies or anything she pursued. Apparently, she was a stunner; she did well in school too and passed her 10th with distinction and had enrolled for college, which was a rare feat in those days when girls hardly went to school. Plus, she had also joined the Girl’s Guide as part of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). In a way, she was much in the public eye for all her achievements. And then, one fine day the normalcy in her life slipped from her hands. A promising life of college and a career snapped by some stroke of ill luck.
The other story was that our house in the village was surrounded by fairies. My uncles often told us how especially on moonlit nights the big bunyan tree next to the house were swarmed by pretty little things playing in the night. The scariest story that remains in my memory to date is this one narrated by my eldest uncle. Coming home in the wee hours one winter after watching a courtyard play (sumaang lila, perhaps the only source of entertainment for young people those days, there was no cinema or such like), he was sleeping on the verandah as nobody heard him knock when he felt small pebbles being thrown at him. Waking up with a startle, he saw these beautiful young girls and gave them a chase but they disappeared the moment they neared the tree. There was no electricity too those days and we had a lantern in each room and one outside. Was my uncle imagining things? But for all these stories and more, my mother’s house filled us with fear.
So it was one such night when my aunt was reading with a lantern by the window that she saw a beautiful fairy waving at her and calling her out to play. Apparently my aunt’s beauty was what attracted the fairies to her. When the family discovered she was not in the room, half of the village woke up to search for her. She was found by the river dancing. In village parlance, that is a typical case of being hounded by the fairies.
And so as the days passed, she started hallucinating, her mental balance was gone. She would cry, laugh on her own and yell at people without provocation. They performed many pujas and cleansing rituals to treat her. She was also taken to town and given many electric shocks by a modern doctor.
For years and years, my aunt lived in her own world. And then with age, she just became sober and alright. I have a perfectly normal conversation with her on the phone these days and she is always affectionate asking after my health and so on. But she is steeped in beliefs and superstition. She would interpret the sound of a crow as a bad or good tiding, she would not like it if someone has placed his/her shoes one above the other, and she is hyper about many, many things.
The fairy theory has lost its ground with time but many relatives still strongly belief that black magic is what made her go mad. It is surprising how many cases of mad people I have seen in the village when I was young. Practically every household had someone or the other suffering from mental instability. Yet another woman relative had to come back home to live with her parents after becoming mad. The story that did the round then was that the man’s second wife got the B magic working on her. This particular woman relative was one of the worst cases I have seen. With her dishevelled hair, she would just stare, was always quiet and sometimes she was even nude. Someone had to be by her side always.
One of the things that we were always warned as kids was not to eat anything from anyone’s house. In fact, our relatives would often tell us that because we were the sort of privileged kids who lived in towns, spoke English and had come on a holiday to the village, there would be many jealous souls. So if in fact we must eat something at someone’s house, we had to smell the food first before eating it. It is insane thinking about it all now! I survived black magic I guess and I am hoping no one comes up with a genetic theory.
With my nephew being ill, there is a group of relatives who have not ruled out black magic. I feel terrible admitting this but while I just do not belief in it, I can’t help fearing it as well. With tests after tests showing no concrete cause of his illness, they say it is a typical case of black magic. Under normal circumstances, I would have been laughing my guts out but I am actually googling on the subject and I am almost psyched glancing at the sea of information on black magic and occult religion. God save me from becoming a pervert.