Book Excerpt: ‘Whispering Shadows’ by Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Book Title: Whispering Shadows: Stories
Author: Deepta Roy Chakraverti
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 978-9356998308
Date Published: Jun. 25, 2024
Price: INR 254

Whispering Shadows by Deepta Roy Chakraverti Book Cover

Book Excerpt

1

Planchette

It was dark and the streets had fallen silent. All was quiet within the house, which stood at a corner plot of Calcutta’s Jodhpur Park. The family had turned in for the night. But in one room, something stirred in the darkness.

A small table in front of an open window held a broad wooden board. It was the colour of ochre and sand blended together with a raw harshness that defied the soft tone of the wood. Black letters, painted stark and thick, stood out in bold contrast. The alphabets formed an arc, and below it, were numbers. Small YES and NO boxes bordered the two corners. A triangular wooden piece on tiny wooden spokes rested on the board. It had a large round glass piece fitted into the centre. The planchette was set up, waiting for fingers to touch it and open the channel.

A young man was seated at the table, hunched over the board. Two plain white candles burned on two sides. His hands shook as he placed the tip of his fingers on the triangular planchette and sweat beaded his brow. His lips moved, speaking softly, calling, ‘Manik, are you here?’
There was silence.

The flames burned on both sides, like yellow eyes of a feral animal watching him from the darkness. The night-time silence grew and the blackness outside seemed to take on more substance, drifting in through the window grill, like the soft drapes of a mourner’s veil. The minutes passed slowly. The long hand of a small bedside clock moved steadily across its luminous white face. Outside, the metallic ring of a bicycle bell sounded, its solitary chime echoing through the void of deepening night. Within the room, all was still. A muted creak came from the wooden door, as if invisible hands were pressing against it, waiting to enter. Fatigue pressed in upon the young man.

His shoulders drooped and his eyes were starting to feel heavy. His arms were slack as his wrist rested heavily on the edge of the board, keeping his fingers in contact with the planchette pointer. The coppery light from the street lamp outside created sharp shadows of the grill, and threw them, like small animal bones across the planchette board. A slight shift in the air made the candles’ flames quiver and for a moment, the dark bones were animated with life, moving jerkily across the wooden board.

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Something had changed in the darkness. There was electricity in the air. The youth drew a long breath, saying, ‘Are you there?
Please, speak to me. Manik?’
The curtains at the window moved slightly. A soft breeze passed through the branches of a mango tree outside, crackling through the branches and the leaves. And then, a tremble ran through the man’s fingers. It emanated from the planchette pointer that they rested on.

The line of tremor seemed to run through that pointer, dragging it upwards, towards the alphabets. The youth gasped ‘Is someone there?’

The pointer darted to the corner of the board, straight to one of the lettered boxes.

‘YES’

Adrenalin coursed through him, bringing all his senses to an instant alertness. Wide eyed, he looked at the board and at the glass eye of the planchette pointer, which still shivered slightly under his fingers.

‘Are you real?’ he blurted out.

His forearm felt pulled by an invisible force as the wooden piece highlighted the black letters with jagged movements. ‘YOU WANTED ME TO COME,’ the movement spelled out.

He froze.

‘Manik, is it really you?’

The planchette stood still.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, starting to cry softly. ‘Can you forgive me? I should have been more careful. I never dreamt …’

Everything was still. Too still. An icy cold mist stood around the young man and he didn’t notice how his breath was now starting to get slightly misted. Goosebumps flecked his forearms and the perspiration on his forehead dried cold.

‘Are you there?’ he asked, peering closer at the board.

The planchette was quiet for a moment and then started to drag his fingers forward in quick determined movements:

‘I AM WITH YOU.’

A sharp cry rent the darkness as the candles blew out in one fell swoop and a grey smoky haze engulfed the youth.

~~~~

Santanu was a bright young man in his late twenties, studying in Calcutta’s prestigious Presidency College. His subject was physics, and his professors had espied in him a questing mind combined with an intellectual daring that saw him tread new paths of thought in his chosen field. They foresaw for him high honours and were practically certain that he would get a full scholarship at one of the world’s best known ivy league colleges.

Santanu’s elderly parents were very proud of their son. He was their only child, and they had always known that he would make it big in the world. Santanu’s father was the retired VC of a well-known university in the city and his mother had been a teacher of English at a prestigious girl’s college of Calcutta University, but had taken early retirement some years ago. They were a family of academics and it seemed only natural to his parents that Santanu should excel in intellectual pursuits.

Excerpted with permission from Whispering Shadows: Stories, written by Deepta Roy Chakraverti, and HarperCollins India.

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