Bihari Baba, then asked my uncle to note down a list of things to prepare or buy. It had a range of requirements including a broom, a pair of slippers, coconut fibres, rope, incense sticks and a live rooster. He also commanded my uncle to get someone to cook 3 kgs of rice and 1 kg of daal, and set aside 3 buckets of fresh water from the well. Then he took out numerous stuff from his sack and among a lot of strange looking things, there was also a human skull, 4 different sizes of human bones, and a live snake in a glass jar. 

Most people stepped back as they caught a glimpse of the items he laid down on the ground. Baba then asked my dad to make a second circle about five feet outside the first circle and my dad complied. Everyone noticed that my father’s circle was pretty poor, in comparison to the circle that Baba had drawn. Then Bihari Baba lit a fire and started chanting some mantras and pouring some ghee into the fire like we do, for most of our puja rituals. This continued for over an hour as people started to become restless, and some of them left their spots and loitered around aimlessly. They desperately wanted to see some action and yet, nothing was happening, but the build up had been so strange and exciting, that none of them wanted to leave the premises and risk losing the chance to witness, what they were sure, would be a once in a lifetime spectacle. 

Meanwhile, the rice and daal were ready and Baba pointed to one corner within the circle, where he wanted them to be kept ready. He explained something to my dad in his ear and my dad nodded in acceptance. None of us really had any clue about this, and my dad never told us about it either.

Almost an hour and half since Bihari Baba had chosen his spot, we looked to be all set for the show! He looked up at the huge crowd which had gathered by now, possibly surpassing fifty, and calmly explained that only three people were allowed to stay within the inner circle and they would be my dad, my uncle and my grandma. My grandma was initially pretty reluctant to be a part of this inner circle, and it took some convincing from her two sons, but eventually she agreed to it. She had been the most composed person for most of these last few days, and since the time Bihari Baba had made his entry, my grandma was even more relaxed and she was convinced that this entire horror story, that had kept everyone anxious and scared, is about to end soon.

Baba then made an announcement which was met with a roar of disapproval from the gathered crowd. He declared in Hindi, that anyone who wished to stay and witness, would be allowed to stand or sit between the inner and outer circles that had been drawn on the ground. But the uncompromisable condition was, that no one was allowed to move or change positions once the ritual starts, till the point when it was considered to have been completed. He also clarified that it was not possible to predict beforehand, how long this ritual might last and it could take hours and was likely to undergo severe ups and downs. He ended with a warning, that if anyone moved or left midway, there might be danger and he could not be held responsible for any harm that might occur to them, or to anyone else. Baba ended his speech by saying;

– “So if you are not sure, this is the time when you should leave. There is no going back once we start!”   

This made many in the crowd somewhat jittery and some, thinking about their own families and children, decided against taking this risk and exchanging glances of disappointment, started walking away from the ‘yagna’ site. We were left with less than forty people and Baba eventually seemed to approve this final count, and instructed my father to shut the main gate and latch it from the inside. 

With everything ready, the Tantric seated himself facing the fire and with his back to the rear door. He smiled at my uncle and said;

– “Open the door now, let her come”!

My Uncle was clearly caught between hope and despair. He felt his spirits rising in anticipation of getting his wife back as the sweet lady who he loved dearly. But at the same time, he was wary of the fact that Baba might not understand the gravity of the situation, since he had not yet witnessed the aggressive personality of his wife, and could end up worsening the situation. He looked up at my dad with helpless eyes and Baba, feeling his hesitation, assured him with a certain level of calmness;

– “Chinta na kar puttar, sab thik ho jayega, jaa jaa ke darwaja khol de!” [Don’t worry son, everything will be alright. Go, open the door!]

My uncle slowly walked away from us towards the house where my aunt has been latched for last so many days now. Baba raised his voice so everyone in the audience could hear clearly;

– “No further movement from now!”

I tugged at my mother’s sari and tried to hide my trembling hands from everyone else. My uncle reached the door and turned back to look again at us, wondering if he was about to do the right thing. There was eerie silence among the spectators, as no one really knew if it was the right thing to do and had resigned themselves to fate. My father nodded his consent again and my uncle, with his trembling hands, gradually opened the latch and stepped back in haste. The door was unlatched but still not open and for a few seconds, it stayed that way as most of us almost forgot to breathe. Then Baba threw some ghee and some powder into the fire, as we turned to see the flames rise up high and begin to dance. Then we heard the loud voice of Bihari Baba; 

– “Ab aa mere saamne!” [Now come in front of me]

Amidst the stunned silence of the crowd, the door squeaked open and out walked my aunt, as obedient as a 10 year school girl called by her headmaster. She even tried to arrange her sari on her way as she walked calmly towards us. But even from a distance we could smell the terrible stench and  some people started  to show signs of disgust, but looking at the steely face of Bihari Baba, no one as much as moved a muscle. 

My aunt walked in through the opening in the circles, through that discontinuity left in the circle facing the main gate end, and the moment she stepped inside the circle, Baba signalled something to my father, who swiftly moved with a piece of metal and drew a line on the ground, which bridged the gap in the circle and essentially made it a continuous, closed circle. 

My aunt turned back and saw this, and letting out a low growl, she pounced at my father and caught him with all her strength. Her movement was too fast for my father’s reflex and before he could respond defensively, her hands were firmly on his  throat. Almost everyone among the crowd panicked and wanted to do something but were also mindful of the conditions laid down by Baba and stayed put, looking at each other with a sense of powerlessness.

Bihari baba looked calm and his eyes were closed as he kept throwing more ghee into the fire ahead of him and repeated some mantras, with increasingly louder voice. My dad was almost choking under the tight grip of my aunt, and everyone around were alarmed and since they couldn’t move from their positions, they chose to do the only thing they felt was allowed; to SCREAM!

Bihari Baba’s voice rose to an all time high, as he repeated something which sounded like ‘Aadista’ which could mean something like a ‘command’, and threw more powder in the fire, as the flames  suddenly jumped up a few feet.

And just then, my aunt collapsed to the ground abruptly and my father, with the sudden release of the force, lost his own balance, stumbled and landed on the ground with a loud thud! 

Coming up next: CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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