Pallavi was 8 when she first heard it.
She was sneaking to the kitchen in the afternoon, when her mother was watching TV and she was supposed to be sleeping. She hadn't attended school that day, giving the over used excuse of a stomach ache. As Pallavi tiptoed back from the kitchen with the chocolate bar that she had been given by her Uncle, she stopped, hearing a strange sound from the TV room. She peeked in - her mother was sitting on the rocking chair in front of the TV. The TV was showing a Cook Off Challenge, which her mother loved to watch. Everything seemed normal, till Pallavi saw her mother's face.
Her head was thrown back and her eyes scrunched shut, as though she was going through a lot of pain. Her neck veins were popping out and her mouth was open as though she was screaming, but no noise came out. Pallavi felt a shiver run down her spine. Then her mother started muttering something.
"Rajiv, close the door. Rajiv, i can't see you! Rajiv, come to me!" She was whispering. She didn't sound like herself at all - her voice was raspy, as though she was an older woman.
Pallavi was very scared and called out to her mother. "Ma? Ma, what's wrong?"
Her eyes flew open and she saw Pallavi and frowned.
"Pallavi? What happened?"
"You... You were..." She couldn't put it in words
"Go back to sleep, sweetie."
"Papa, I need help with my homework," Pallavi told her father as he was having his evening cup of tea. Her mother had gone for a walk and she had shaken off the day's events as a figment of her imagination.
"Sure. What help?" Her father asked
"I need to make a family tree," Pallavi said and pulled out her chart paper.
After writing the names of her parents and the aunts and uncles whose names she knew, Pallavi passed the sheet to her father to fill up her great, great grandparents' names.
"Here," her father said once he wrote the names down. When Pallavi saw her great, great grandfather's name, she gasped.
"Papa, how did he die?" She asked, pointing at his name.
He sighed, "He and his wife, your great, great Naani, both died under a rubble in an earthquake. Their bodies were never found,"
Pallavi remembered her mother's fit and wondered if that could her great, great grandmother's voice. Pallavi loved to listen to stories about fairies and angels. But ghosts?
"Where did they live?" Pallavi asked her father
"Well, this entire property has been passed down since generations. They used to live here itself. Of course, it was an older house. Your Naana - Naani made this house that we're living in," he answered
Pallavi realised that the ghosts of her great, great, grandparents were still wandering the house, looking for redemption. And what she saw in the afternoon was perhaps her great, great grandmother's spirit trying to get her way out.
"Ma? How are you feeling?" 40 year old Pallavi asked her mother who was very ill. Her mother's wizened hand reached out fot her daughter's.
"Be a good mother," she told Pallavi and her grasp loosened.
Pallavi had been prepared for this. Her mother had a tumor in her brain that had made her very weak. All the chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, all amounted to nothing. It just left a very weak woman behind, who would forget things, urinate in her own pants and would wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
She hadn't had fits like that afternoon from when Pallavi was 8 for a very long time. Pallavi accepted that maybe her ancestors' spirits had finally found peace.
"Ma! Ma! There's something wrong with Naani!" 10 year old Chavi called her mother, Pallavi's daughter, Ananya.
"What do you mean there's something wrong?" Ananya asked, not looking away from her laptop. She knew her daughter was up to some mischief again.
"She's saying something and her eyes are closed and she looks like she is hurting," Chavi said, all in one breath
"Go and do your homework, Chavi," Ananya said crossly
Chavi huffed and ran away. Ananya went to get herself another cup of tea, but stopped in her tracks, having heard a strange sound. It was a guttural sort of noise, as though an animal was wounded. And it came from her mother's room.
"Ma?" She called out as she entered Pallavi's room. She gasped as she saw her mother. Her head was thrown back and her eyes scrunched shut, as though she was going through a lot of pain. Her neck veins were popping out and her mouth was open as though she was screaming, but no noise came out.
Then she started yelling something in a raspy voice, quite unlike hers.
"Pallavi! Pallavi! My head hurts so much! Please help me, please!"
"Ma!" Ananya yelled and shook her Mother. Her eyes flew open and she looked confused.
"Ananya? What is it?" She asked in her normal voice
"You were..." Ananya was unable to phrase anything.
"I think we should get lunch ready," Pallavi said and went to the kitchen, leaving a baffled Ananya behind.
You see, there was a new spirit in the house.