Stories about Daayans & Witches

Daayan of the Jungle

My first experience with the unholy was when I was seven. My grandfather had served the British before India was declared independent and had amassed quite a bit of wealth. Twenty years later, he had settled well with a huge estate on the foothills of the mountain range called Kollimalai which literally translates to Mountain of Death. He used to venture into the ranges on hunting trips every Saturday and come back with boars and wild buffaloes. That day he decided to go hunting for tigers and asked me if I wanted to accompany him and my father. “Ready to become a man?”, he asked.

Three tribal men accompanied us on foot, as we rode into the forest. I sat with my grandfather on a black stallion while my father rode his white horse. The ride was strenuous as there was no clear path, and we often had to ask the locals to walk the horses as we wade through difficult terrains. I felt sympathy for the tribal men, but my grandfather often scoffed at them, calling them slaves. We did not spot a tiger till late afternoon and decided to return before the sun set beyond the hills. As we turned our horses, we heard distinct rustles behind the bushes behind my father. What happened next can only be described as legend: My grandfather held me in one arm, pointed his double barrel rifle at the bush with his other and shot a charging bear right in the head twice. My father was white with shock as the bear fell to the ground, inches away from where his horse stood. Surprisingly, both the horses remained calm, like they were used to hearing gun shots at close quarters.

My grandfather roared with laughter and uttered a few words of contempt at the fallen beast. He hoisted me down from the horse and demanded that I touch and feel the dying bear. When I hesitated, he uttered insults and accused me of being a weakling. My father watched on without protest. I went close and touched the bear’s back. The bear did not move. I then knelt beside it, tears welling up in my eyes out of fear and touched it once again as my grandfather commanded. The bear lifted his head and tried to bite me; his face filled with hatred. I screamed and ran away into the forest even as I heard gun shots behind me. I ran into the deep woods, not caring about where I was going until I found a large tree with a nail half-sunk into its trunk. I stood by the tree and took deep breaths. I was not sure if the bear was dead. I had read in school that I had to play dead if the bear approached. I had calmed down enough to think of calling out to my father when I heard the giggle.

I turned around to see my mother standing behind the tree. I smiled and complained to her about my grandfather.

“He is a bad man, isn’t he? I will make sure he does not force you to come into the forest again,” she said.

I smiled again and moved towards her. She called me to wait.

“Can you see the small rock over there? Lift it and break the nail in the trunk. Mamma has a gift for you inside the nail,” she said.

I gaped in delight and took the rock. The nail was strong and refused to budge.

“It is already half removed. You do want to see the gift, don’t you?”

She continued to encourage me. I began to hit the nail harder and harder, trying to dent its side so that it would come out of the trunk. I was so engrossed that I did not see my father coming towards me in his horse. He stopped and looked at my mother, who seemed to be grinning now. My father shouted for the tribal men who came rushing in and ran to me. One of them lifted me away from the tree as another used the rock to hit the nail further into the trunk. The third had sat down in prayer. My grandfather came riding and spotted us. He went straight to the tree, not even bothering to look at my mother. He picked a hammer from his cloak and slammed it against the head of the man who was sat down in prayer. As blood gushed out, my mother came running towards him in all fours.

My grandfather mumbled a few chants as I watched my mother lick the blood. After he was finished with his chants, in one stroke, he slammed the hammer on the nail, and it went into the trunk effortlessly. My mother seemed unperturbed, continuing to lick the blood and nibble at the dead man’s body. My grandfather led us, and we started our journey back to the village. Once we reached, he handed over money and new clothes to the two tribal men and asked them to grieve the loss of their friend in a proper manner.

“The cost of your stupidity,” he said, looking at me.

My mother received us and fed me lunch. I was scared and ate silently, half expecting her to get down on all fours. She patted my head once I finished and said that I was a good boy. My mother lived on for another twenty years, but I never felt at ease around her, feeling startled whenever she giggled. My grandfather passed away four years after the hunting expedition. He was strangled to death, though we never came to know who did it. I asked my father about the woman in the forest after I grew up, but he vehemently denied having ever taken me into the forest. Even today, I do not know why my grandfather had to kill the man or who the woman in the forest was. I never went back to the forest though, for some part of me knew that the woman was there, waiting for me. All I can say with conviction is, if you ever see a nail stuck in a tree trunk, do not go near the tree.

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