The steamer he had boarded at Howrah was cruising down the River Ganges. When he reached the bathing ghat close to where Sachin lived, he alighted and slowly made his way up the steps of the ghat. There was a frantic scramble as the bathers upped and scooted as though they had seen a ghost.
As Sachin kept walking towards his house, he found the lane deserted. An eerie silence prevailed all around, making it feel like a haunted lane. He looked a sight in his haggard attire, sunken cheeks and unshaven beard that flowed down to his chin. Then he spied neighbours peeping through their windows. Conch shells kept blaring from here and there as if to chase away an unwanted visitor.
When Sachin knocked on the door of his house, neither his wife nor his children came out to greet him. He called out their names but no one answered. He knew they were all inside.
“For goodness sake, why is no one opening the door? Something strange has happened here since I left on my pilgrimage. Why this eerie silence? Even the stray dogs are not visible on the streets.”
He waited outside his door for almost an hour. Frustrated, he walked back to the ghats and sat down on the steps, wondering what he should do next. After a while, he dozed off out of sheer tiredness and hunger. He was shaken out of his doze by a small hand pressed against his shoulder.
“Uncle, are you a ghost?”
“You died on the way to the Amarnath pilgrimage?”
“Who told you?”
“Everybody knows. We even had the 13th day ceremony to release your spirit from the earth.”
Now it dawned on Sachin why even his close family refused to open the door to him. How was he to make them believe that he was alive and kicking?
He persuaded the boy to go to his house and tell his wife and children that he was not a ghost. He decided he would not budge from where he was seated, until they came to get him.
He was soon surrounded by a small crowd which included his family, as they were eager to hear how he had come back to life. He related all about his trek to Amarnath and how many pilgrims had died due to snowstorms and landslides.
“I was lucky to have barely survived. I left the Relief Camp which was at a height of 14,500 feet. I received no help from the J & K police or the Army. They didn’t even give me a blanket to protect myself against the cold. It was a treacherous journey and a continuous battle against the icy weather. My trek finally took me to Pahalgam, from where I boarded a steamer many days later, after I had recovered my strength. And now you people think I’m a ghost?”
One man from the crowd stepped forward.
“But the ill-fated pilgrims were all declared dead by the police and several search parties. For your information we have even performed your last rites and all the ceremonies that go with it. See how your wife is clothed in widow’s weeds.”
Sachin’s wife looked shell-shocked. She kept staring at him and shrinking back as if he was some strange apparition.
“Come, let us go home,” Sachin said, reaching for her hands, “I’m a ghost in flesh and blood.”
“Not yet,” said one in the crowd who was the local priest, “We will have to conduct another puja for your rebirth. Until then you will still remain a ghost.”