The end of May was nearing. As it was the peak of summer, the heat and humidity was unbearable in the coastal belt. Although it was very pleasant in our coffee estate at Sunkasale. Since our daughter had her summer vacation, we spent our time at the estate. One morning, my cousin and his family from Mangalore came to visit us. He invited us to his daughter’s roce and wedding. He had also planned to celebrate his mother’s 75th birthday on the auspicious day of roce.
As my old aunt had personally come to invite us, there was no question of not attending. My Goan wife was very happy to go to Mangalore as she hadn’t seen a proper Manglorean roce since roce in Goa is a bit different from ours.
So we decided that on the day of the roce and birthday celebration we would drive down in the afternoon, attend both functions and come back the same night as I am very allergic to Mangalorean mosquitos and the dreadful diseases they offer like malaria, chikungunya, dengue etc. and since there was a gap of 2 days for the wedding, there was no point in loitering in Mangalore for 2 days in the heat.
We wanted to start soon after lunch to Mangalore on our Scorpio. Since morning the sky was overcast and by noon it started to thunder with lightening and heavy rains. It is not unusual to have summer showers at the peak of summer over here in the Ghats.
At first I had planned to take one of our drivers with me as it would be returning back late in the night. But I had to desist from the idea at the last moment as one of our drivers was on leave while the other one had sprained his ankle that morning and was unfit to drive the long distance. So I decided to go without a driver.
As we started, the rains became rather heavy and after 3 kilometers from our estate as we were passing Thannirhalla, where a stream flows causing a beautiful waterfall which springs from a great height in 3 stages and never dries up even in the peak of summer, the water fall was already flooded with water and looked even more gorgeous. After falling from a height, the water passes under a culvert. During heavy rains the water even flows over the culvert, which is called ‘Mulugu Sethuve’, and flows over the road. As this is a part of the path that I take during my early morning walk, I know the territory very well and I spend some time every morning watching the beauty of this water.
The roce and my auntie’s birthday was celebrated grandly. As my wife and daughter were enjoying the formal ceremonies with ‘vovio’, etc., I was enjoying in the company of my cousins and their families, most of whom had come from abroad and some of them who I was meeting after many years.
When the bar was opened before dinner, it was a grand affair as the bar was well stocked with deluxe Scotch brought and contributed by all the foreign guests. My cousin’s close friend, who is the manager at a star hotel in the Gulf, had brought with him a couple of his barmen and they were mixing authentic cocktails to offer. Many of the women guests who were not habitual drinkers were also giving the exotic cocktails a try. When I was just enjoying my second round of scotch, my wife came around and reminded me that I have to drive the whole way back as we didn’t have our driver. I replied trying to pacify her saying that by the time the function got over and we started driving back, I would be sober. After the dinner, the dance began. Since we had a long drive back in the night, I was planning to leave soon after dinner. But my daughter, who had made friends with some youngsters from the Gulf, insisted that we stay back for some time as she was asked by some boys for dance and one of them had even requested her partnership for the wedding march and dance after that on the wedding day. I was getting impatient and restless but couldn’t stop her and finally when we left, it was nearing midnight and the dance had to stop since the rains started to pour.
We had to pass through the Kudremukh national park on our way to the estate and there were plenty of wild animals to see on our way. My wife had started dozing soon after we left Mangalore and was fast asleep and snoring by now, and our daughter was lying flat on the rear seat as she had come well equipped with a pillow and blanket with her from home.
As we reached at the end of the national park at Samse, I was very exhausted and was cursing myself for the second round of scotch I had, which was showing its effect even after 5 hours of consumption now.
Luckily at Samse, a wayside tea shop was open at this late hour and I could have a strong cup of tea from the Jomtal tea gardens there. When I reached, Kalasa I was very tired as it was foggy and raining, thus making it tedious to drive onwards. But since there was no way to stop there, I decided to continue the last 27 kilometers and have another cup of tea if possible on the way at Hirebile to keep myself awake for the last 10 kilometers. Unfortunately, there was no tea shop open at Hirebile at this early morning hour of 2 am, so I had to continue without one.
Three kilometers after Hirebile, my neighbor Dinesh Gowda (name changed) estate began. Dinesh and I are of same age; we attended the government primary school at Hirebile and used to share the same vehicle to drive to school and back home. After the 5th standard, our ways parted because he was sent to Mysore for further education while I was sent to Mangalore.
As I was entering his territory, I could barely keep my eyes open and began cursing in my mind at that gulf boy who had forced my daughter to stay back for the dance, since we would have passed this area 2 hours earlier otherwise and would be in our warm beds, enjoying our sleep. Then, I must have fallen into a second’s sleep but after engaging the high beam of my Scorpio, I suddenly noticed a female figure, wearing a white sari and shining pearl jewelry around her neck and waist, waving her hand as if making a gesture to stop.
An icy chill went down my spine and instead of stopping, I lowered the gear and pushed the throttle so hard that the vehicle squeaked to gain speed. At this, my wife woke up and asked whether everything was alright and why I was driving so rash all of a sudden. I asked her if she noticed the woman in white dress and pearls waiving at me to stop.
Hearing this, she laughed aloud and asked me which deluxe Scotch was making the second rounds at the roce and whether it is known to cause such hallucinations! As I continued to drive, after about a kilometer, through the fog and rain, I again noticed this figure waiving and making a gesture to stop. I again lowered the gear and pushed the throttle hard and was nearly trembling and shivering. Then I must have gone into a dizzy spell again and all of a sudden, my wife who was half awake and searching for the plastic bag containing bones, which she had brought from the dinner for our dog, screamed loudly “S…T….O….PP”.
At this, I jammed the brakes completely and the Scorpio came to a standstill in a distance of about 10 meters. It was very dark all around and the Scorpio engine had gone off. Irritated, I asked my wife, “Now what happened? Why did you yell at me at stop?”
She said, “Didn’t you notice that woman in a white dress and pearls asking us to stop?” I replied, “Now you too saw this woman and believe that she had gestured twice before to stop.” Though I was very nervous and trembling, I got down from the Scorpio flashing my powerful Geepas torch in one hand and a Thai police instrument, used to stun a person at close range, but didn’t find anyone in the direction my wife was pointing at.
When I was about to enter the jeep and start to drive, I noticed that we were just a couple of meters from the place where Thannirhalla was overflowing on the road and because of the floodwaters, the culvert had been completely washed away. If we had continued, we would have surely fallen into the gorge which was very deep and filled with floodwaters. Since there was no way to cross the broken road at the culvert, I decided to turn around and drive back the same road we came as the road began collapsing even further towards us.
Then I decided to drive to Dinesh’s bungalow, which was a couple of kilometers inside from the main road and luckily, he opened the door for us even though it was close to 4 am. When I explained to him of the broken Thannirhalla bridge and interruption of the road, he kindly offered us his guest house to spend the rest of the night.
I was all cold and shivering and when I tried to explain what happened, he made a gesture to go and sleep in his guest house and that we would talk about what happened later in the morning. My wife who was looking at the photographs on his wall pointed out at a photo and said, “This was her!!! This lady in the photo was wearing a white sari and pearl jewelry with her hair open!!!”
I made a sign to my wife to keep quiet as the photo she was pointing at was that of Dinesh’s first wife, Menaka, who had died a couple of years after their marriage under mysterious circumstances. The story was that their marriage was not going well and Menaka had taken to drinking heavily. One evening, after a fight with her husband, Menaka had decided to drive their jeep to go to her parents residing at Balehonnur. As she drove from their estate road at high speed towards the main road which was close to Thannirhalla, the jeep had skidded off and fell into the gorge. Menaka had died on the spot. Many rumors had made rounds then, including the one that though she had a couple of drinks, she was not drunk enough to make an accident like that as she was a good driver and the brakes of the jeep were tampered with. Barely a year after this, Dinesh had married his present wife Mamatha, a Coorgie who was his friend from college days in Mysore.
I couldn’t fall asleep but my wife and daughter fell asleep as soon as they touched the warm beds and started snoring immediately. I was wondering whether it was Menaka’s Ghost who saved us from a ghastly accident where I was sure all three of us would have lost our lives! And stories of good ghosts were not unheard of in our area.
For example, police inspector Hireguthys who was stationed at that time in bustling Kudremukh Township and had gone to Chikkamagaluru district headquarters for a meeting with his higher officers. While he was at the meeting, his jeep driver was drinking in a local bar. When they started on their way back to Kudremukh, just a small distance away from Sunkasale at a sharp bend, the jeep had skidded off the road and Inspector Hireguthy was thrown out of the vehicle, banging his head at the wall of the roadside culvert. He had succumbed to his head injury before the villagers could take him to the hospital. He had left behind a young wife and two children. People say that very often when a drunken or rash driver approaches the spot of his death, he appears in full police uniform and waives at them to slow down. And thus, he had saved many people from meeting with accidents at that dangerous spot!
The next morning I explained what had happened in the night to Dinesh at the breakfast table. He laughed loud after listening to my story and said that after breakfast, we will go for a walk to the spot to check it out.
When I showed him the spot where the lady ghost in white with pearls had appeared, he started to laugh loudly again. He touched a bush in the hedge and asked me whether I knew what plant it was? I said no, as I wasn’t familiar with this plant. Dinesh said he had brought this plant with his deceased wife Menaka from the Botanical Garden in Ooty, where he and Menaka had gone for their honeymoon. He said, “It was Menaka, a botanist, who picked it up as she knew the plant very well. The local aborigine Thodas call it “Belly Kanagilay” in Tamil as it glows like silver in the night. I cultivated it here and have planted it at every kilometer mark in my hedge so when the workers cut the hedge to trim it, I know how much they have cut without measuring the distance with a tape. So you had passed the previous two bushes where you thought a lady gestured you to stop before coming to the third where the road was washed away by floods at Thannirhalla!”
“And for some reason, the spiders love to weave their web around this bush as it attracts a lot of insects in the night due to its glow. What you saw as pearls around the lady ghost in white must have been the water pearls collected on the spiders web! The plant must have swayed in the breeze in such a way that you must have thought it was a lady in white gesturing you to stop. Anyway since this ‘Ghost at Thannirahalla’ saved you from driving and falling into the gorge, let us call it a friendly savior instead of calling her a ghost,” he said. I requested Dinesh for a few cuttings of the Belly Kanagilay to take home and plant at the hedge in my estate too as a respect and remembrance of Menaka and thought that it might also save some night drivers at risk !!!
About the Author
Dr Ben Rebello
He received his basic education and medical qualification from K.M.C. Mangalore, and his Post Graduation From England & Germany in Anesthesiology, Intensive Care Medicine & Pain Management. He has also received special training in Aviation Medicine. He has worked for several years as the Head Of the Department in Germany,a Consultant in American Hospital Dubai & Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi. He is currently pursuing his international medical work as a Consultant in Spain & a Flying Medical Doctor in Germany.