My father was an honest man. He was a goldsmith, but an unsuccessful one. Despite possessing the skills to make intricate ornaments, he lacked creativity and was hence not looked favourably by patrons. Our family lived in abject poverty as father’s business dried up and we were forced to sell all our meagre possessions to buy food grains.
‘Unni, you better become a blacksmith.’ Father’s friend Madhavan suggested one day. ‘The farmers are always in need of tools and implements and you have the necessary skills to work iron.’
To my father, it was an insult thrown at his face. He refused flat out and scolded Madhavan maman with very harsh words. I was stunned; it was the first time a swear word had escaped my father’s lips. That was the day when my father changed for good.
He started drinking alcohol and hanging out with a strange guy who was rumoured to dabble with the dark arts. One day, father woke up just before the middle of the night and grabbed the solitary lantern we possessed and went outside. I woke up and peered through the thatched walls of our hut. Father and his new friend were walking towards the south. I was surprised, only the burial ground was in that direction.
Father returned in the early hours of the morning. There was some bad smell coming from his body, even though he took a bath before coming inside. Another thing I noticed before I fell asleep was that a boy was sitting near the well. He was dark-skinned and was wearing a dirty white mundu. He looked no older than I was, but his eyes…his eyes scared me a bit. There were red veins all over the white and they looked to possess more wisdom than any other twelve-year-olds I have met. When I woke up the next day, he was nowhere to be seen. I asked father about him and he shrugged it off. Might’ve been some kid from the nearby slum, he said. I never saw the kid after that.
But something changed for good from that day. Father borrowed a small piece of jewellery from his elder sister and melted it down to make the most beautiful looking brooch for her daughter. Word spread and soon everyone in the city started queuing up in front of our hut. It was as if the Gods of crafts had blessed father; one beautiful ornament after the other started flowing out of his little workshop. Soon, news reached the King and he ordered father to be present at his court with the ornaments he had created. The samples were enough to convince the Queen.
We became rich, and moved over to the Capital. We lived in a palatial house, had the finest silk to wear and ate the most sumptuous meals. But something had changed within father too. He stopped smiling, he drank a lot, worked exclusively in the nights, and behaved aloof with everyone. Another thing he made very clear was that his workshop was completely off-limits. I tried to sneak in once, but father caught me snooping and sent me away with a thrashing. Sometimes, late into the nights, I heard voices coming from the workshop. One was father’s, but the other voice was rough. Very rough. The man to whom the voice belonged kept asking father for more work, more alcohol, and more food – especially meat. I figured that he was father’s helper and a very strong worker.
Something else started happening. Things kept getting misplaced. Sometimes, the food prepared in the kitchen contained manure. Someone was playing pranks, but the frequency of such pranks was not high and we chose to ignore it. Life went on. I didn’t follow my father into his profession but instead ran a jewellery store in the market. I was married to the daughter of a wealthy merchant and we had four kids. Mother passed away few years ago and father became even more a recluse. The year I turned fifty, father called me to his room. He had been ailing for the past few months and we were fearing the worst.
He was lying on his bed, frail and haggardly in appearance. His breath was laboured and his eyes were clouded over. I knelt beside him and held his hand.
‘Vasu!’ He said, ‘You have to take care of the jewel making as well.’
‘But accha, what do I know about goldsmithy?’
‘Don’t worry!’ He said and coughed. Phlegm mixed with betel juice came out in spurts through the corner of his mouth. ‘He will take care of everything. Just make sure you feed him well and keep him busy.’
‘Workshop….workshop…night…’ Father closed his eyes never to open them again. A few days after the cremation, I walked towards father’s workshop carrying the pots of arrack and ten freshly slaughtered chickens. Father had left me instructions in writing. I opened the door and entered inside. The first thing that struck me was the filthiness of the place. It stank… a lot. The next thing I saw was the mounds of raw gold bars and completed jewellery that were strewn across the floor. There was a rustling sound that came from a dark corner.
‘Have you brought food?’ It was the man with the rough voice. I shivered involuntarily.
‘Yyyyyes…’ I stammered.
‘Yesss…’ I placed the chicken and pot of arrack on the floor.
‘Good! Now get lost. I have to eat. The ornaments your father had asked will be ready in the morning.’
I nodded and turned to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him rushing towards the chicken. It was him – the dark-skinned boy I had seen all those years ago. Only, he was no boy. I knew then.
I left the workshop as the kutti chathan started drinking the Barack.
Note: According to Hindu mythology, the God Vishnumaya was created by the union of Lord Shiva with a common woman. Vishnumaya aka Chathan was created for the sole purpose of destroying a demon called Jalandhara. During the battle, Vishnumaya’s blood spilled 400 times, forming kutti chathans. In Kerala, India, there are several temples dedicated for Vishnumaya and the 390 kutti chathans that survived the battles.
Kutti chathans appear like young boys, though they speak with a harsh, grown-up man’s voice. Folklore states that these kutty chathans could be tamed by practitioners of magic. (both white and dark) These tamed kutty chathans would be then forced to do their owner’s bidding.
The kutty chathans are said to be pranksters. They also have a huge appetite for alcohol and meat.
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1. Tales With A Twist – A collection of my short stories.
2. Route 13 : Highway to Hell– An anthology of horror short stories.