‘Sujith, how are you coping up man?’ Ravi’s beaming face filled up one of the four squares on his mobile screen. The other three squares had the faces of his colleagues and friends – Chris, Avi, and Maya.
‘I’m stuck, guys!’ Sujith lamented, lying on his bed. ‘It’s been ten days since the lockdown was announced and I’m losing my mind.’
The global Covid-19 pandemic had led to a nationwide lockdown. Sujith, who was from Delhi was staying in a rented house. His roommate, Avi had skipped town a day before the lockdown was announced and was now comfortably settled with his family in Hubli. Ravi, Chris, and Maya were from Bangalore and they lived with their families.
‘Sucks, bro!’ Avi tutted, popping a Lays chip into his mouth. ‘You should’ve listened to me and split before shit went south.’
‘What are you doing to while away your time?’ Maya asked. ‘Netflix? Prime?’
‘Done with those, re! I’m bored of watching TV. Been reading books on KU.’
‘You and books? Ha!’ Chris chortled, ‘Now, that’s a match made in hell.’
‘Yeah, yeah! Laugh,’ Sujith rolled his eyes. ‘I read this book called Route 13: Highway to Hell. Scary as shit, man!’
‘Yeah! Full of creepy stories. You guys should check it out.’
‘Sure!’ Ravi said, ‘I love horror. Just ping me the link, na?’
‘I’m shit scared of horror,’ Maya said. ‘Can’t stomach it.’
Everyone laughed. Sujith said, ‘Yeah, I used to think like that too. But turns out, I love horror.’
‘Sujith, you love horror?’ Ravi smiled and said, ‘Do you know that there’s a ghost story connected to the very house you stay in?’
‘What!!!’ Sujith and Avi shouted in unison.
‘Don’t tell me you guys didn’t know! Thought your landlord might’ve told you…’
‘No!’ Avi said, ‘The old rascal never mentioned a thing.’
‘What’s the story, Ravi?’
‘Well,’ Ravi cleared his throat and said, ‘This incident happened some thirty years ago. It was widely reported in the media as well.’
‘I’ve never heard of anything like that,’ said Chris and Maya in a chorus.
‘When I tell the name of the story, you’d know. But now, shush!’ Ravi said and began the story, ‘It was 1992/3 types. A young couple lived in the very house you guys stay. The man was working in Railways, I think and the wife worked at the Post Office. The Bangalore of those days was much different from the monstrosity it has become now. Trees used to grow on both sides of the road, forming a canopy that would make even middays feel like pleasant evenings. Traffic and pollution was less, children used to play on the streets…’
‘Yeah…yeah… story of every bloody city before IT companies came in. Get on with it.’
‘Sorry, got carried away. The city used to go to sleep by 8:30 – 9:00 PM those days. The street lamps weren’t powerful – mostly mercury vapour, and hence it used to be terrifying to venture out into the streets after dark. So, the story goes like this. The wife traveled to her mother’s place for delivery of their child and the guy was living alone. One night, there was a knock on the door and the guy hesitated to open the door. He asked who it was. The voice from outside was his wife’s. She said that she had decided to return early as she missed him. The guy opened the door and that’s where they found him – dead on the doorsteps, with a look of utter horror on his face.’
‘And his wife?’ Maya asked in a squeaky voice.
‘Was in her hometown the whole time.’ Ravi said with a flourish and paused for effect.
‘So who was outside calling the guy’s name?’
‘A koogu maari…a ghost that calls one’s name.’
‘Don’t bullshit me, dude!’
‘Nope! Zero bullshit, my friend. After this incident, similar events started happening sporadically. It was always a woman’s voice calling the name of a guy who lived inside a house. The whole city was freaked out and figured out a way to cheat the koogu maari. They started writing…’
‘Naale Baa!‘ Chris and Maya said. ‘I remember, now! People used to write Naale Baa in front of their houses every evening.’
‘What does it mean?’
‘Come tomorrow! It was said that the ghost read the words and got tricked into leaving.’
Sujith started laughing, ‘So, your awesomely awesome story was nothing more than the story of Stree?’
‘Dude, the director of that movie has stated that he was inspired by the Naale Baa story.’
‘Nice. Chalo, guys!’ Sujith yawned. ‘It’s getting late. I’ll have my dinner and hit the sack. Thanks for helping me while away the time.’
‘What’s for dinner, bro?’
Sujith rolled his eyes, ‘Don’t ask! Maggi again. I’m missing my mom’s food, man. Anyways, goodnight guys.’
‘Night, night! Don’t forget to write Naale Baa outside the house.’
Sujith laughed and ended the call. He went to the kitchen and prepared himself a plate of Maggi. As he was about to sit down to eat, the doorbell rang.
‘Sujeee…open the door! I’m here.’
Only one person in the whole world called him Sujeee. It was his mother. Sujith was overjoyed and ran to the door. As his hand removed the latch and started opening the door, he remembered that the flights and train services had still not resumed.
Note:– Naale Baa written in Kannada (the language spoken in Karnataka, India)
The Hindi movie ‘Stree’ was inspired by the legend of Naale Baa
Koogu Maari – the ghost that calls.
Ps: Sorry for the cheap plug of my book in the story 😀
Are you a writer? Here’s a great opportunity to get published. The Hive is inviting submissions for their next anthology. To know more details, click here.
My books are available on Amazon: Please click the links to buy them and support a fellow writer. Thank You.
1. Tales With A Twist – A collection of my short stories.
2. Route 13 : Highway to Hell– An anthology of horror short stories.