They got caught in a bad traffic jam on the way to the Banashankari crematorium. Satish kept cursing as bikes and cars cut into their path. They finally reached the place but had to park a long way off.
“What stupid things Shivram is making you do! How can you believe in this black magic stuff?”
“I’m sorry I’m making you waste your precious time! You can go back if want. I’ll do the remaining myself.”
“Didn’t I agree to take you last week to Kukke Subramanya? We got the special puja done as he said. This is all blind superstition. What more will he tell you to do? Nothing is working. I’m getting stressed out. Why don’t you go to Dr. Praveen again?”
“Why should I? I’m perfectly fine. He cannot free from,” she paused, not wanting to say it, “from whatever is troubling me. Tablets will not drive away evil spirits.”
They sat in the car arguing, not looking at each other. She hated him at this moment. He had never supported her or tried to understand her. She quickly opened the door and got out.
This time the name was of Satish’s mother. She felt bad about it when the time came to tear it up. Maybe it would make the old woman fall sick. She took out another piece of paper and wrote out the name of the girl who had dared her on the fun ride.
They had two more crematoriums to go to. Both were tired and hungry. She wanted to stop, but something was forcing her to go on. They ate at a restaurant and drove to the other two places. The next day, she came home before sunset. She took a small bottle of honey and went out to their small patch of garden with a small spade. She looked around to see if anyone was looking. She dug up some mud and buried the pot of honey. She patted the place with the spade to level the ground and pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket. She read out the mantra, stumbling over the unfamiliar words.
The astral body thwarted all the rituals. Most days she felt fatigued when she woke up and wanted to simply lie in the bed. But she had to fix breakfast and send Shruti to school. The company lost a few projects due to delays in execution. No new orders were being closed. Many people were without a project. They hung around the cafeteria and applied for jobs. Review meetings were tense. Subhash would lose his temper on seeing the sales figures and project reports. The chairman started holding monthly meetings with senior managers, something which had never happened before. Subhash quit at the end of the year; many said he was asked to go. <!–nextpage->
The new CEO called her for a meeting.
“I know you’ve been in quality for many years and are doing a good job. But now that we don’t many projects to review, we have too many in quality. I am shifting you to HR for the time being.”
She wanted to say there were others in quality who knew nothing about quality but had hung on by sucking up the boss. They must have told on her, that she was close to Subhash. It was their chance to get even. Her depression became worse. She was constantly worrying about losing her job.
She could drag herself from one chore to the next during the day. She had to keep telling herself that it was going to be alright, and get through from one hour to the next. But she dreaded the nights; she lay sleepless, and bad thoughts and memories would push her down a hell hole.
Satish made an indistinct sound and turned. The air was electric with a strange presence. He was getting possessed by someone. She was suffocating. She slipped out of the room quickly and bolted the door. It was her curse, her fate. If she died, then all this misery would end. No one would have to have to suffer any more. She watched the bedroom door for a while and finally slept on the sofa. In the morning, Satish seemed normal, but she watched him for any signs.
The therapist told her he would perform some rituals to free her of the astral body. It would cost twelve thousand rupees. A yagna would be performed at the auspicious time of 10 pm.
“That man is cheating you, and you waste money on him!” he shouted. “You are a fool in believe in these things. You are supposed to be a software engineer, but behave like an illiterate villager.”
She had already paid close to a hundred thousand rupees over the years to Shivram. She did not want to go through it alone with Shivram, and besides she would be returning home at midnight. She got Satish to come with her. He could not sit in room where the ritual was conducted, but had to wait outside. Shivram chanted mantras and made offerings to the sacred fire of wood and ghee. She was given an amulet to tie around her wrist. They rode home in silence through the deserted roads. Lost dead souls and spirits lurked in unlit street corners. She rolled up the window.