Dr. Ramesh, a tutor, daily made rounds in the Anatomy Theater. He always dressed tiptop in a suit and a tie.
He polished his shoes daily, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that I could comb my hair glancing at his shoes. He went to the States for a year, I don’t know what for, but when he returned he had an extra qualification attached to his name – “womanizer.” He observed students through a small crack in the door from his room which was adjacent to the Theater and knew which student worked hard and who chatted. He teased students and made them uncomfortable.
Dr. Ramesh stopped at my table. I was dissecting the gluteal area. “Mr. Ramachandra, the God of Bhadrachalam, why are you pecking with the forceps at the fat, piecemeal like a crow? Use the scalpel and take off a chunk of fat tissue. Be bold, the cadaver won’t mind.” He patted my back. “Carry on.”
At the next table Miss. Padma was locating the ulnar nerve. That day, she had placed a red rose twig with a couple of leaves in her hair. “Miss. Padma, why are you carrying a rose plant on your head?” Dr. Ramesh said. Her friends at the table laughed. Padma burst in to tears and threw the rose into the nearby bucket.
At the other end of the hall, Abdulla had stopped dissecting and chatted. Dr. Ramesh approached him. “Mr. Abdulla, I saw you gossip. Let me join you. How many theaters are there in this town?”
Abdulla was silent.
“It’s okay. You can tell me. This is not an examination.”
“Sir, there is Navarang Theater, Chandini Talkies, Emperor Air-conditioned Theater. There are many more.”
“Abdulla, you forgot Anatomy Theater. Now, get to work, don’t gossip.”
That night, at the dorm in my room, Abdulla, Gopal and myself talked about Dr. Ramesh’s teasing habits and how to curb it. The conversation spilled over to Anatomy dissection, dead bodies and ghosts.
Gopal was vehement. “People who die before their time because of an accident, suicide or murder become ghosts. I’m sure they haunt our Anatomy Theater at nights.”
“Nonsense. I don’t believe in ghosts. There are no such things,” I said.
“Since you don’t believe in them, you shouldn’t be afraid of them. I dare you to sleep in the Anatomy hall with the cadavers for one night. If you don’t see them or change your opinion, I’ll take you for dinner. This is my challenge,” said Abdulla.
“Okay, it’s a deal,” I said.
The news that I planned to spend a night at the Anatomy Theater spread like wild fire. Quite a few classmates visited me. A few admired my valor and others advised me to come out of the challenge. Girls looked at me with interest and smiled, probably thinking that I was crazy.
Abdulla tipped the night-watchman to let us in the Anatomy Theater under the pretext for studying the cranial nerves. It was 8 PM. The watchman advised us to close the front door and leave when we were done.
I occupied a small area adjacent to Dr. Ramesh’s room and settled down for the night, on a table. Abdulla had brought a small pillow, a blanket and a glass of water for my comfort.
“If you get scared, just run out. Don’t give away the water to the ghosts and don’t talk to them. If you do so, they may entice you to join them, beware,” he advised unasked.
“Abdulla, get out of here.” He turned off the lights and left.
I couldn’t sleep. As the night advanced, somewhere in the distance a dog started to bark. Abdulla had told me that dogs could see the ghosts. A couple of rats scuttled across the hall and started to nibble at something.
Then I heard an indistinct noise. First it was faint, and then turned loud. I could discern the sounds of shoes and slippers. Do ghosts wear them? I should ask Abdulla about it later, I thought.
Soon a man and a woman entered Dr. Ramesh’s room. I could hear their whispers and gentle kissing.
“We can’t carry on like this anymore, Ramesh. You got to commit now. Already, my friends suspect our affair. If all others come to know about this, my future will be ruined. Think about it seriously.”
“I know. Please, Anika, you were patient all these days. I am trying to convince my parents about you. They’re orthodox Brahmins. When I told them you’re Christian, they hit the roof. My mother cried. Eventually, I’ll convince them.”
“When? When I’m sixty?”
“No, No. Soon.”
Just then, I felt a funny sensation inside my nostrils. I tried to suppress a sneeze by pinching my nose shut but a muffled sound like a misfired July fourth cracker came out.
“O, my god, someone is here. My life will be a mess now,” said Anika. “Goodbye, Ramesh. When you’re so much dependent on your parents and can’t decide for yourself, it’s time for me to quit.” Closing the door with a bang, I heard her leave.
If Dr. Ramesh came out to check, I will be in a big trouble. Gathering my pillow and blanket, I silently slipped out of the Anatomy Theater and went to my dorm.
The next day, Dr. Ramesh made rounds as usual, teasing and quizzing students. Gopal and I were dissecting the superficial palmar arch when Dr. Ramesh approached us. After helping to identify the blood vessels, he said, “Gopal and Ramachandra, listen. The watchman told me some nights he hears strange noises here. Do you believe in ghosts? I plan to install night vision cameras here. What do you think?”
“Good idea, Sir. I believe in ghosts. Please make sure you install one in your room too,” I said.
Dr. Ramesh silently looked at me and moved to another table.