I never believed in ghosts, but three months from the date I was cremated at the Shivaji Park crematorium at Dadar, Mumbai, am still here. Contrary to popular belief was not an unsatisfied soul either. I had seen the crows gorge on the symbolic rice cakes within seconds. Had always found this ritual pretty silly in life and the crow was a singularly intelligent bird. No crow that I knew and knew plenty of them personally now, would ever refuse a ghee laden rice cake. The only time they didn’t touch them was when people used government sanctioned (Ration) rice and rancid ghee. This seemed to be a trick played by the priests quite often, Ramlakhan the grey feathered old one cawed to me. When they saw the family was fairly well heeled, a touch of the rancid ghee was added and for hours the crows wouldn’t touch it till no other food being in sight and being famished would peck at it. Then a lot of rituals would get added for soul purifying and its peaceful passage to the other world. It was a game like many others played by capricious humans for the lure of the lucre.
Why was I still here, then? Was it to spy on my family and friends on how much they missed me, now that physically I was no more? I put this thought away too as had lived a satisfying life and may have hurt people by my brash conduct sometimes but had left behind no real enemies. Even my earnings had been well organized and the solicitors had carried out my instructions to the letter. Here too had not perceived many unexpected reactions or unhappy faces. The family had been left well provided for and materially they would want for nothing was the care taken. I had been pretty meticulous about all matters related to money. This was despite the happily disorganized exterior and boisterous buffoonery that had been my earthly persona.
The boss of all spirits had asked me when I would be joining his team. Now this looked suspiciously like a recruiting process and I asked him what my options are? He said there are several options, you can join my team. We have lots of positions vacant for experienced and qualified souls. After the work is done there are exotic conferences where all departed spirits gather. Here we educate them in the new ways of the afterworld followed by parties and organized excursions which can be fun. The other is you can choose to be a free spirit and wander at will but here you may not really come in to contact with many qualified spirits from my team. So it’s rather a lonely option, you may have some animals and birds for company who are associated with our world like crows, ravens, vultures, cats, wolves and dogs amongst others and other free spirits. Does it affect my status as a spirit in my powers, I asked him? Well this is a good question, actually no. But the learnings in the latest developments have to be acquired by you on your own. Can one change ones status from a free spirit to a bonded spirit? This seemed to annoy him and rather testily he said that there are no bonded spirits but yes in the larger team the rules are different and my authority is absolute. But the laws are uniform for all and we are fair. What do you choose? I want to have the free spirit option. He looked disappointed and as a last ditch attempt showed me the luxurious quarters in the cloudy enclave and the latest models of sky mobiles to the fume filled earth below. No prizes for guessing which option was chosen by and how I came to be sitting here with Ramlakhan on top of the old TV tower at Worli.
We enjoyed each other’s company as he like me enjoyed a good laugh. His grey feathers went in several different directions when he guffawed. He used to fondly address me as PHS (permanently high spirit) and had often mentioned that should I decide to become matter again, come to me inside a bottle as a liquid. Our humor was rather spiritual hence there is a possibility it may escape the readers.
He reintroduced to me the city that I had lived & passed away, from a much different angle. The aerial outside perspective and it seemed like a completely different place from the one I knew. Ramlakhan was the chief of his tribe of black and grey crows and the 72 ravens in the city. Once in a while he would link up with his counterpart from the depleting tribe of vultures at Malabar Hill. Rustom, the chief of Vultures was a mangy middling aged bird with countless folds in his neck on a bald head, fierce red eyes, a nasty curved beak and a huge wing span. Feasting on the dead Parsees of Mumbai had made him rather peculiar in his ways. He was fastidious about food (he ate only Parsees) punctilious about time, had a mad sense of fun and was extremely far sighted on the fate of his tribe. He blamed their dwindling to the archaic customs of the Parsee Panchayat which until recently had not done much to add to the number of Parsees in the world. He hoped to increase his tribe too now that rules for remaining a Parsee had been slackened slightly. There was more food available.
Ramlakhan, Rustom and I- PHS would keep to heights when we flew together. Rustom envied my invisible status to the human eyes as they would throw stones at him. Once after a long flight from checking up on his branch office at Pune, for a breather, he landed up on a kitchen window sill at Malabar hill. The vegetarian maharaj who was cooking in the Marwari household frying something saw Rustom and almost became a spirit himself, he with the ladle clutched crumpled into a faint on the floor. The next time Rustom flew past that window he saw a different person doing the cooking; apparently the first one is still recovering from his fright at his native place. Despite his not exactly movie star looks, Rustom is a warm lovable bird but wisely decided that live human company was not for him.
I enjoyed our chats sitting at the Tower of Silence of Malabar Hill. He and Ramlakhan though both born in Bombay had travelled across several countries. In the last quarter, I had seen my city differently seen all the sights I missed while I had slept for 1/3rd of my life. This city truly never did sleep. Saw the Good, Bad & Ugly side of the metropolis at all times of the day or night. I had a distinct plan to accomplish all that would not have been possible in one lifetime. And with the speed of thought was sitting on top of Mt. Everest, Did not feel the cold but the sight was enough to please me. These were the places that Rustom and Ramlakhan could not accompany me to. But we had planned a trip around the world together and we would do it in the next season. I liked being a free spirit and enjoyed my new pals and was wondering what I should label our world tour. The Adventures of the Ghost & the Scavengers or had it been a C-grade Bollywood film would it have been “Kauvey, Giddhh aur Bhoot ki ajeeb dastaan”? Who knows maybe one of us is at this moment watching you read this and deciding the aptness of the title from your reaction. Until later…watch this space. ( to be continued )