It was 1977 and I was studying Applied Chemistry in Science College, Kolkata. I was staying in a mess (paying guest arrangement in Kolkata), located in Central Kolkata and quite close to the College. I simultaneously applied for accommodation in Technology Hall, located in Ballygunge. My friend who initially got admission in Post Graduate course in Chemistry got an accommodation in PG Hostel, located in Rajabazar. Meanwhile, he shifted to the Applied Chemistry Department and lost the right to continue in PG Hostel. So, he also applied for an accommodation in Technology Hall and was wait-listed. He requested for extension to continue in PG Hall till he was provided with an accommodation in Technology Hall but got permission to continue thereat for a month only. That time passed off quickly and he had no choice but to vacate the hostel. At that juncture, I was allotted a seat in Technology Hall and without any hesitation, I relinquished the seat in his favour which allowed him to shift to Technology Hall immediately.
After almost a fortnight, I visited my friend on a Sunday. Incidentally, that happened to be the first time when I saw the Technology Hall. It is a huge four storied building with a large number of rooms, a huge dining hall and a matching kitchen. It can accommodate 300+ students. Food was no doubt of high quality and highly subsidized. As regards to specialization of food, Sunday dinners used to be different from other dinners and among Sunday dinners, the last one of each month used to be an extra special dinner which was termed as “Grand Feast”. So, you can very well guess. Yes, I used to be a permanent Sunday guest of my friend and why not? The quality of food in our mess could never be up to the mark because of its inhabitants with multiple characters. Resultantly, in order to satisfy my taste bud, it was a God sent opportunity for me. It was a different matter that my friend had to bear some extra burden of Rs.5/- for each Sunday and Rs.10/- for grand feast.
On one such grand feast night, while we were having dinner, my friend introduced me to three senior students of our stream. After some time, my friend told me to keep in mind the name of one particular person out of the three persons. His name was Mr. Chatterjee (I could not remember his first name). We finished our dinner and went to the room, (to be precise, the bed) allotted to my friend. Mr. Chatterjee was also with us. The other two roommates of my friend were yet to arrive. After settling down, I asked him about the person whom he wanted me to remember. He told me as under:
“Chatterjeeda has been staying in the Tech Hall for more than two years. This is his last year as he is not interested to continue further studies. He is a very intelligent, decent and smart person but has a huge weakness. He is extremely afraid of ghost. I have tried my best to make him understand that there is nothing like ghost. I have told him it is only an illusion and a weakness of mind. It seems that the fear of ghost is deeply rooted in his subconscious mind. He is, however, very fond of me and is assisting me in my studies by providing me books and notes. He always insists me to accompany him while going for and coming back from dinner. To make it a certainty, he used to take me with him while going to dining room. Incidentally, as you have seen we are staying on the same floor. What I have observed is that almost everyone uses to make fun of him because of his that particular weakness. I do not like it but if I try to help him openly I will be ‘odd man out’ in the hostel.”
Anyway, days were passing on as usual with their own rhythm and we remained very busy as our examinations were to start shortly. It was common for all of us to go back to our respective homes after the exams. It was also customary on the part of the hostel to organise a grand feast a day or two after the last examination even if it was not a Sunday. My friend and I were also getting ready to go to our respective homes after attending the grand feast. It needs no elaboration to mention that over the period, I became a permanent invitee for the grand feast. But that time God proposed differently for both of us. A day before the grand feast, my friend got a call from his father to reach home urgently to attend a social gathering. He had no option but to leave by the first available train. As I got the information, I also became homebound. On those days, telephone was a rare facility. So there was no communication between us once we were at our homes.
Almost after 20 days, I came back to Calcutta as the classes were to start from next day. Next day, I reached the college little early with a view to meeting our classmates and more particularly my friend. It was the time for exchanging pleasantries but I observed that my friend was totally upset. When I asked him about the reason for such a state of mind, he told me that Chatterjeeda was no more. I was completely at a loss, sad and clueless. He further told me that he would narrate what exactly had happened to Chatterjeeda after the classes.
What he told after the classes was not only horrifying but beyond any comprehension and reasoning also. As gathered by him, he narrated the incident as under:
“As you are aware, there was a grand feast on Friday. All the students were to leave the hostel next day. Hall was to remain closed for the next month or so. There was a lot of activity in the campus. The environment was fully charged. Along with others, Chatterjeeda was also getting ready without knowing that it will never happen. As I was not there, Chatterjeeda after having dinner was coming back to his room alone. As he was almost through the staircase, he made a huge cry ‘Banchaoooooo’ (Save me) and there was a massive bang on the floor. Others who were a little behind him rushed to the spot. He was apparently lifeless. A few students immediately took him to nearby hospital. The attending doctor post examination declared that he was brought dead.
Now the question is how he died? Who was responsible for his sad demise? It remained a mystery for ever as nobody owned it up. Moreover, the post mortem report says that he died due to cardiac arrest. No further details are available. Though it will never come to light, there is a strong gossip in the hostel that a few of his classmates played a crude joke with him. One of them dressed up like a ghost – as per our imagination / as depicted in ghost stories – body fully covered with white clothes and ghungroo tied up in the anklets. As Chatterjeeda was coming up, he took the imaginary figure as a ghost without any doubt. He collapsed immediately on the staircase out of fear and died instantly. I am sure that nobody expected such a pathetic end of his life in that manner. It seems that they wanted to play jokes with him but it proved to be a fatal one.”
Hearing this I was too sad to express my feelings. I knew it very well that Chatterjeeda would never come back but my mind started agitating with two questions – (i) Why did his friends play such a cruel joke?, and, (ii) Was it so serious to make him collapse? I tried to reason out the answer for the first one. It is not uncommon to play jokes with friends and if someone gets angry / afraid, it is also common to resort to all such tactics by other friends to make him more angry / afraid. But I failed to explain myself the reason for the mishap at the first place. After a few days, I could arrive at a plausible solution to this mysterious death.
I read in a book that our mind is divided into two parts – Conscious or Active mind and Subconscious or Passive mind. While conscious mind goes by the reason, logic, rationale, etc., subconscious mind accepts what is impressed / engraved upon it or what you consciously believe. It cannot reason out good or bad. So, this concept applies equally to all of us. Only difference is that the degree of impression varies from person to person. The fear of ghost is all there in our subconscious mind mainly because of stories we used to / were fond of listening from our elders. In the case of Chatterjeeda, it occurred to me that the impression was very much deep rooted and as a result, despite our repeated discussions on that particular subject “Whether Ghost exists”, we failed to uproot it from his subconscious mind.
I had no doubt that Chatterjeeda was also a victim of massive fear engraved upon his subconscious mind. As such, finally he had to succumb to his intense fear of ghost. We were, however, aghast with the incident as we had to lose a good friend, a good soul prematurely.