The Ghost On The Parliament Street

The Ghost on the Parliament Street. Photo: Kovuuri G. Reddy

The sentry of the Central Reserve Police Force, bored and tired, excused himself from his taciturn colleague. He had stood for three continuous hours. He walked towards the temporary toilet erected for the sentries-on-duty, and peed while he spoke to his other half and informed about ‘uneasiness in the body’, and felt relieved. Instead of returning to the duty spot, he wished to feel the activity in the middle of the night on the most important street in India’s national capital. He walked a few steps towards the roundabout and looked at the coming and going vehicles. The effect of coronavirus pandemic appeared less severe unlike a week ago.

There appeared something unusual behind him. He turned his head, and discovered an object on the bench. He assumed it was a beggar, or a homeless man. “Hey, gaandu, get up,” he said confidently in Hindi. “This is not the place to sleep.”

There was no response from the object, which was sheathed in a soiled blanket but motionless on the bench without the back rest. The bench was made of three cement planks and placed there for the benefit of the passers-by by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation! The sentry was posted as one of the security guards to guard the Dak Bhavan, a building of the Department of Posts, Government of India.

Dak Bhavan is also the home to India’s National Philatelic Museum.

Failing to get a response from the object, the sentry said, “I will stick the lathi in your arse.” But there was no response from the object on the bench. “Arre maderchod, get up, I’m going to kick you,” the sentry abused in a raised voice. In the object on the bench there was neither a movement nor any sound.

“Are you alive or dead?” asked the sentry in a mocking tone. “Can you hear me?” Failing to get an answer, he went on: “Do you want to go to the police station or to the prison?” “Our dog is on the way, it will shred you into pieces.” “Which language do you speak?”

The silence from the object aroused a doubt in the sentry, whether the object on the bench was human or non-human. He decided to nudge the object with his booted leg but he resisted the urge to touch the man with a booted foot, construing it as disrespectful. But a doubt sprang on his mind: what if, if it was an explosive? He bent his body and brought his head closer to the object. He was sure it was a beggar or a homeless man. He spat few more words of abuse including using gaandu, once again, and informed about the coronavirus pandemic. “Covid is everywhere. No one, no one should be outside,” he alerted. “Do you understand, gaandu –”

Gaandu is not an uncommon Hindi swear word. It literally means arse and ass, and functions as a noun and as an adjective. It also means many offensive things depending upon the situation, and depending upon the way it is voiced.

Plagued to death, what to do now, the sentry decided to move the object with his booted foot. At the same time, he heard a howling sound from above. The sentry looked up. The jamun tree. And he heard from one side: “What you said is there in your mouth and in your arse.”

In my mouth and in my arse, the sentry thought, can it be coronavirus? He had told his colleague that he started to have the symptoms that are relatable to the Covid-19. Now he shuddered at the thought of having the coronavirus in his body. He diverted his attention to the bench but the object, which he assumed as a beggar, or as a homeless man, had disappeared.

The sentry asked himself, did he roll down? But he could not dare to look under the bench. Instead, he rushed to his colleague. He told his taciturn colleague, “It appears I saw a ghost.”

The taciturn sentry said, “It is my turn to go to the toilet now.”

The bored and fatigued sentry, now slightly scared, was surprised why his taciturn colleague did not show any interest in what he had said. He repeated, “I’m saying the truth. I saw a ghost.”

Many on the Parliament Street have seen the apparition but they passed by without any concern, the other sentry explained. It continues to give darshan to fortunate people on the Parliament Street. He is here because the land in and around the Parliament Street belongs to him, the British India forcibly took it from him, and independent India did not compensate him, verbally and financially. But he went on hunger strike till he left his body but not his soul. It is here. Everybody knows it.

Standing alone, on duty, the sentry coughed. He touched his throat with his right hand to feel whether he had higher temperature. And he remembered the voice, “What you said is there in your mouth and in your –”

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Kovuuri G. Reddy

Kovuuri G. Reddy

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Independent journalist; short, short story writer; living in Sweden. Worked as a broadcast journalist and teaching journalsim and media in England and India.