Title: Taranath Tantrik: And Other Tales from the Supernatural
Translator: Devalina Mookerjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Since I was deep in meditation, it took a few seconds for the smell of musk to register on my consciousness.
It was with a smile that my mind turned towards the smell. What a wonderful fragrance, I thought, nature is truly magnificent in her bounty! Immediately after this my senses sharpened because it felt as if someone was standing behind me, on the other side of the trunk of the tree. It is true that I could not see the person, but that made me no less sure of her presence. Sometimes instinct serves better than eyes. My entire being was suddenly, completely awake and alert. The air went still. Then, I felt as if my body was on fire, burning embers scorching my insides and exploding outward. The excruciating pain was growing. Was I about to faint again? Just at that moment, the pain disappeared, and there was a woman standing in front of me. I was absolutely certain that she had not been anywhere near that spot even a heartbeat ago. The suddenness echoed exactly that night when I occupied the tantrik’s seat. But this time I knew that she had come for me. This time, I would not slide into unconsciousness. I looked at her. She seemed to be frowning in disapproval—’
‘Are you sure you saw this woman yourself, with your own eyes?’ The question slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it. Taranath heard my disbelief, and his tone became agitated and defensive—‘Did I see her with my own eyes? Of course I saw her with my own eyes!
There she was, large as life, standing in front of me! Look, you can believe me or not, that’s up to you. But you can’t say that I’m lying to you, because I’m not.’
‘What did she look like?’ I asked, hoping to appease him somewhat.
‘If I said she was beautiful, that would be less than a proper description. She was exactly as the incantation to call her says, a loveliness beyond words, beyond compare, beyond this world. I realised that the incantations of power I had been pronouncing for months were not simply words made up to call this being, they were descriptions of her power and beauty.’
‘Did you talk to her?’ I was hanging on to his words.
‘Talk to her?’ he scoffed. ‘I was just barely hanging onto consciousness, and you want to know if I talked to her! This was not a normal woman, you understand?
Not from any point of view was she ordinary. Her power radiated from her like the sun. And those eyes!
The incantation to call her mentions her eyes, I had thought those were just words to propitiate the goddess and compel her to respond to the call. My god, you should have seen those eyes—worlds could be conquered and burn in the fiery steel of those exquisite eyes.’
I became impatient. ‘Never mind the long descriptions! What happened? What did you talk with her about?’
He became circumspect. ‘What we talked about is private, between her and me. Such things are not for others to know.’
‘What happened is that Madhusundari Devi started to visit me every night. In that desolate place by the river, I had called her as a lover. But you must have guessed that already. After all, who could possibly be dull enough to listen to overcautious warnings from an old tantrik?
It was a mild winter. The waters of the Barakar river were gentle, and low in the bed. The lilies in the shallow water near the banks had become dry and yellow, revealing rock-minerals in the sand that sparkled in the light of the moon. The forests on both sides of the river were shedding leaves into the breeze. The skies were clear and blue in the day, and the moon shone in a cloudless sky at night. From that time on, for three months, she visited me every night. I felt completely alive in those three months, never before, or since, have I felt like that. It’s painful to talk about feeling like that now.
You cannot imagine the pain of it, the grief of loss over a self capable of that kind of joy. I reached a pinnacle of happiness and stayed there for three whole months. She was a goddess indeed. No ordinary human woman would be able to grant such experiences of love, such deep, perfect friendship. Being with her was heavenly, not of this earth. I can’t explain it to you. What words would I use? And you would disbelieve me anyway. You’d call me a liar, or say I’m mad. Perhaps you’re thinking those things right now, as I gabble on.
It’s not just you, even my wife does not believe me. She says the tantrik had used his black magic skills to shut my brains down.
That kind of happiness is intoxicating, like being drunk on very strong wine. But being drunk on strong wine also creates an ennui of its own. I would be listless all day, nothing in this real world held my interest. The daylight hours would go in longing for the evening.
When would dusk darken to twilight under the trees, in the forest by the river? When would she appear, my beautiful actress, perfect heroine to my new-found role as hero? The nights would pass like a dream, time slipping through my fingers like dry sand, each night deeply intoxicated and glittering with joy. My consciousness would expand outwards, grow unfettered, till the sky, the planets, the gods and goddesses were all part of my being, each night, under the stars by the river.
Then, something happened.
A young woman who lived in the nearby village used to come to the river to get water. Since she came every day, I saw her quite regularly.
Excerpted from Taranath Tantrik: And Other Tales from the Supernatural by Bibhutibhushan, translated by Devalina Mookerjee. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ghosts are everywhere. Most are ghosts of ideas, feelings, memories. These are our personal ghosts, and they follow us alone. But there are other ghosts, in which we share a common fear. Thickening shadows pooling at the corner of the room, unexplained breathing in the dark, the child who steps out of an old photo—the shiver of supernatural frisson, a thin crooked finger of ice tracing its way down your spine. This fear, and thrill, is rightfully the domain of the kind of ghost you will meet in this book.
In Taranath Tantrik, Devalina Mookerjee translates nine stories of the uncanny and occult by legendary Bengali storyteller, Bibhutibhushan. Seven are short stories of séance, curses, return for revenge, and the desire for things that have no place in human lives. Two are about tantra, of necromancy, spiritual power, goddesses, and ghosts.
The borders of reality are porous in this world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894–1950) is regarded as one of the greatest Bengali writers. His best known works are the autobiographical novel, Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), which was made into a film by Satyajit Ray, Chander Pahar, and Aranyak.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Devalina Mookerjee is a translator and publisher. She is also a researcher in health and education. Her interest in ghosts is based on two decades of social science research. She learned to play bass over the lockdown, mostly jazz, blues and folk, and finds that the sound of the bass goes beautifully with stories of ghosts. She lives in New Delhi with her partner and five dogs.
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