It was December of 2013 and we were camping on a craggy stone cliff facing the Arabian Sea, somewhere close to Kashid beach in Maharashtra. We were three families with five children, all of who wanted it to be the night full of scary stories and we were not going to disappoint them.
After a day at the beach and a wonderful evening watching the sun set, we settled around the bonfire. Stories flow easily when bonfire crackles and engulfs the surrounding in its warm glow. Memories leap forward, stories narrated by elders emerge from dark recesses of the mind and as you share, you create your own legacy for your children who, you hope, will narrate to their children and grand children.
In north India, specifically in Awadh and Delhi, there existed a tradition of story telling called ‘Kissa-goi’, or ‘Dastan-goi’ that held listeners in rapt attention. These were stories of legendary heroes or kings recited for soldiers weary of their travels, sometimes around camp fires, other times around ‘nukkads’ and sometimes even at palaces and ‘durbars’. They were stories of fearless princes, evil kings, scheming courtiers, demons, magicians and djinns and of course, beautiful princesses, ‘hoors’ and ‘parizads’. This form of storytelling became integral to the fabric of the society and growing up in Lucknow, an evening with family elders narrating ‘kissas’ of their ‘dada’ and ‘par-dada’ held a lot of enchantment for us. Miles away from Lucknow and Delhi, that evening on the cliff facing the Arabian sea on Konkan coast, we recreated a Kissa Goi evening !
The first narration was a story from the hills called ‘A Face in the Dark’, written by Ruskin Bond. The story opened a can of worms and ghost stories from Lonavala, Rai Bariely, Panchagani and even from as far as Andaman and Nicobar islands came tumbling out.
Here we share the same Ruskin Bond story. Do save it for your Halloween night or next bonfire and we promise it will trigger a stream of stories to make your evening memorable.
A Face in the Dark, by Ruskin Bond
“Mr. Oliver, an Anglo-Indian teacher, was returning to his school late one night on the outskirts of the hill station of Shimla. The school was conducted on English public school lines and the boys – most of them from well-to-do Indian families – wore blazers, caps and ties. ‘Life’ magazine, in a feature on India, had once called this school the Eton of the East.
Mr. Oliver had been teaching in this school for several years. He’s no longer there. The Shimla Bazaar, with its cinemas and restaurants, was about two miles from the school; and Mr. Oliver, a bachelor, usually strolled into the town in the evening returning after dark, when he would take short cut through a pine forest.
When there was a strong wind, the pine trees made sad, eerie sounds that kept most people to the main road. But Mr. Oliver was not a nervous or imaginative man. He carried a torch – and on the night I write of, its pale gleam, the batteries were running down – moved fitfully over the narrow forest path. When its flickering light fell on the figure of a boy, who was sitting alone on a rock, Mr. Oliver stopped.
Boys were not supposed to be out of school after seven P.M. and it was now well past nine.
What are you doing out here, boy, asked Mr. Oliver sharply, moving closer so that he could recognize the miscreant.
But even as he approached the boy, Mr. Oliver sensed that something was wrong. The boy appeared to be crying. His head hung down, he held his face in his hands, and his body shook convulsively. It was a strange, soundless weeping, and Mr. Oliver felt distinctly uneasy.
Well, what’s the matter, he asked, his anger giving way to concern. What are you crying for? The boy would not answer or look up. His body continued to be wracked with silent sobbing.
Oh, come on, boy. You shouldn’t be out here at this hour. Tell me the trouble. Look up.
The boy looked up. He took his hands from his face and looked up at his teacher. The light from Mr. Oliver’s torch fell on the boy’s face, if you could call it a face. He had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was just a round smooth head with a school cap on top of it.
And that’s where the story should end, as indeed it has for several people who have had similar experiences and dropped dead of inexplicable heart attacks. But for Mr. Oliver, it did not end there. The torch fell from his trembling hand. He turned and scrambled down the path, running blindly through the trees and calling for help. He was still running towards the school buildings when he saw a lantern swinging in the middle of the path. Mr. Oliver had never before been so pleased to see the night watchman. He stumbled up to the watchman, gasping for breath and speaking incoherently.
What is it, Sahib? Asked the watchman, has there been an accident? Why are you running?
I saw something, something horrible, a boy weeping in the forest and he had no face.
No face, Sahib?
No eyes, no nose, mouth, nothing.
Do you mean it was like this, Sahib? asked the watchman, and raised the lamp to his own face. The watchman had no eyes, no ears, no features at all, not even an eyebrow. The wind blew the lamp out and Mr. Oliver had his heart attack.”
Story text source: www.npr.org
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