The Himachal Roadways bus ran at a rollicking pace as its passengers fell to and fro, some of the less experienced ones almost spilling out of the cracked windows. The dangerous wiggling path seemed to hold the hill in a vice-like grip through layers and layers of coil, a serpent created by the British and battered by the Indians. Children grabbed at their mothers’ hair and belted out furious cries as the rickety vehicle screeched through sharp turns. Most of the people, however, nonchalantly swayed and fell, the ride being an everyday routine. The conductor heaped abuses and chatted amicably with the driver as the latter drank cup after cup of tea. Numerous cigarettes created a perpetual cloud of smoke around the dazed driver’s head. Soon, dusk arrived.
In the hills, sunset offers a beautiful view, dollops of light lick the borders of clouds and impart a pink and then orange glow to the sky. Red streaks then kiss the tall trees as the sun waves goodbye from behind snowy peaks. The passengers admired the glorious scene only to see the sun being swiftly swallowed by darkness. The faint outlines of treetops on one side and rugged hill faces on the other forced many of them to fall asleep out of boredom. For how long can someone fiddle with phones, luggage and window panes? Suddenly, the wretched vehicle wheezed to a stop.
‘Is the bus low on fuel? This is no bus stop!’ an irate passenger exclaimed. The halt gave birth to sudden commotion. Passengers leapt out of their seats and crowded around the driver only to falter in their tracks. Even the voluble conductor stared in shock. The bus’s headlights beamed at a voluptuous woman in a gorgeous ghagra. Sequins, beads and bits of glass eerily danced on her garment as her skirt swished in the cold wind. The night hid most of her features from view. But what left the travellers mesmerised was not her dress or her confident gait. It was her feet- hideous twisted feet, strangely present on the opposite side of her body. She seemed to be walking away from the bus with her feet at the back.
Fear crawled across the spines of those who saw her. ‘A witch’, someone whispered. “She is not from these parts-who wears a Ghagra here?”, a woman blabbered. Most started muttering all the prayers they had studiously memorised and touched their amulets and pictures of deities. All the nicotine ingested by the careless driver abandoned him as he trembled with fright. Then they heard a woman’s high-pitched tinkling laughter. Hollow yet powerful, it echoed as the wind brought it to their ears repeatedly. It was coming from the lady clad in the long skirt.
She flicked a lazy look their way and smiled. Her hair wasn’t in disarray, nor was it stringy or snakelike. It was jet black and glossy and curved around her face in waves of black nothingness. Anklets jingled on her terrible feet and bangles on her wrist as she lifted an arm to indicate something. The terrified people in the bus directed their gaze towards a fallen tree at a blind curve ahead. The beauteous woman with horrid feet was gone.
After what seemed like eternity, some of the passengers mustered enough courage to alight from the bus and shift the fallen tree out of their path. The ghost in the stunning Ghagra had saved their lives.
It is hard to believe in the supernatural sometimes. All it is forced to inspire in us is fear of the unknown. But sometimes, incidents like these lead us to an ocean of possibilities where creatures like ghosts and witches are just like us-friendly, trustworthy and more human than we usually are.