Visiting Hyderabad, a southern India city was always fun for Juggernaut. As far as he can remember, with his mother and other siblings he visited his uncle living in Hyderabad every summer until he completed high school. Long before 1950, Hyderabad was perhaps the only city in the state that has underground drainage sewer system. The Nizam, the former Muslim ruler of Hyderabad was a visionary; he hired experts from other parts of the country to improve the city infra structure and medical facilities. Thus, the city became a cosmopolitan long before India got independence. After he was abdicated, he still lived in the city. Every time the Nizam was driven in his official vehicle through the city, the traffic cops cleared the street of pedestrians and rickshaws to make the way for Nizam’s car to drive freely. On few such occasions, Juggernaut had glanced at the Nizam from a close proximity. The Nizam was a very small and slender man, sat in the back seat as if he slumped. It was well known that the Nizam has had several hundred concubines in addition to several official wives.
Travelling from his own town on southeast coast, Juggernaut found Hyderabad, a marvelous place with botanical gardens with a zoo and a huge lake in the center of the city. The buildings that housed hospitals, colleges and courts were majestic. His uncle’s house located in one of the better residential areas in town has indoor plumbing with toilets that can be flushed after use. On occasions, Juggernaut flushed the toilet just for fun so many times to the anger of his uncle. During his annual summer vacations, Juggernaut learned from his unruly cousins how to ride a bike, how to play cricket and tasted beer for the first time in his teens.
Most homes have several fruit trees, particularly the one that Juggernaut liked was Kalojamun, a dark purple to black skinned fruit with sweet and sour juicy flesh. The juice was like a purple dye that can stain clothing easily and hard to erase it even after several washings. Later he learned from history lesson that Hindu God King Rama subsisted on the fruit in the forest for 14 years during his exile from Ayodhya Because of this, many Hindus regard Jamun fruit as a 'fruit of the gods,' especially in Gujarat, India where it is known locally as jamboon. Tree lined streets dominated most of the residential areas in the city.
For the first time Juggernaut heard a real ghost story was from his uncle. His uncle used to drag young juggernaut to sit to listen to his ghost story.
His uncle starts the story “Long time ago when I was in high school living in the temple town Tirupathi, exactly at midnight an old woman ghost used to walk pass our home, always uttering the same sentence “I am from Kumbakonam.”
“Where is Kumbakonam?"asked Juggernaut.
“It is a town somewhere in south.”
“Was she alone?”
“Always alone and walking slowly,” his uncle tiptoes on the floor to show how she walked.
“How you know she was a ghost?
“Well, I once watched her feet carefully and her feet were turned backwards.”
“You mean her toes pointed backward and the heel forward?”
“Yes, it was strange, only ghosts are known to walk with feet backwards.”
“Were you not scared to see a ghost walking on the street?”
“Yes or no, I was in my home looking out, so I know I was safe but again I was looking at an old woman ghost walking slowly saying the same thing “I am from Kumbakonam, again and again,” now his uncle showed some emotions of fear in his face.
“Why the ghost came to Tirupathi from Kumbakonam?
“Well, thousands of devotees come from all over the country to Tirupathi to worship Lord Venketeswara, may be the woman came here and died to become a ghost,” reasoned his uncle.
“The ghost can go back to Kumbakonam, can’t she?
“Sure but for some reason she chose to live here.”
“But why the ghost comes out after midnight only?
“For ghosts, night is daylight and the daylight is night.”
“So, the ghost is taking a stroll during mid afternoon, then,” Juggernaut concluded.
“Your story sounds fake to me,” young Juggernaut laughed.
Juggernaut couldn’t dismiss his uncle easily after all he was not a light weight. He was a reputable physician and Professor of Medicine in a prestigious medical school in town. The physicians in town call him “Physician’s Physician” since most physicians come to see him when they get sick. He repeated the ghost story every summer to his nephews and nieces including Juggernaut with same enthusiasm. And every time the story was repeated, it became more and more detailed. For example, he described her hair or the clothes the ghost was wearing or some other detail. And yet Juggernaut asked same questions about the ghost year after year and his uncle answered with same interest.
Some years later, Juggernaut asked his frail grandmother whether there was any truth in the ghost story his son was telling for so long. The aging grandmother said “Well, my son was telling this story for so long I believed myself.”
On a short visit to his uncle’s home after living abroad for several years, Juggernaut asked his uncle about the ghost from Kumbakonam. His uncle’s eyes were lighted up and again started telling the story slowly walking like the ghost uttering “I am from Kumbakonam.” This time his uncle was frail and in poor health and that was the last time Juggernaut met his uncle. A man known for his wits.