The Whirlwind: The Sorcerers

The Sorcerers

Today is the fifth episode of the story, The Sorcerers. The thought of seeing a ghost is chilling enough without having to analyse their nature. But then, not all spirits are out to harm the good guys. Some are out there to seek justice, and others to protect the main characters from the baddies. Last week, our friends heard that the mysterious old woman Rathnamma was none other than Babu’s grandmother. Should they be afraid of her? How can they protect Senthil? In this episode, the children hear about the tragic events that led to the Whirlwind and the death of Babu’s grandmother. Will they be able to find justice for her?

The Sorcerers

“Do you remember her?” asked Ramu.

“Yeah, I remember her a little. I can see myself in the garden, watering the plants with her. There were other children too.”

“Yes, Rathnamma was very fond of children. She died protecting the village’s children against the evil curse,” said Rajuthatha.

“Evil curse! See! I knew there was something mysterious about this place!” Senthil looked smug. “What is this evil curse, Raju thaathaa?”

“Yes, an evil curse it is! Have you already forgotten the whirlwind emitting orange and black fumes, the banyan tree with the rusted nails, and the roots which pull you?” Babu looked like he was ready to burst.

“Don’t talk about that horrible day. I thought my insides were going to come out through my mouth when the whirlwind held us high up in the air. It was gruesome!” Mani shivered.

“Well, I saw Babu’s grandmother,” Senthil said defiantly.

“What makes you think so?” Raju thatha looked unconvinced.

“Yes, I am sure it was her. She had a long black stick with a brass cat handle.” He turned to the teary-eyed boy. “Have you ever encountered your grandmother?”

“No. Everyone in the village brings me tales about my grandmother’s spirit, but I haven’t met her,” Babu shook his head.

“Can you tell us about the evil curse?” Mani pulled everyone back to what they’d been avoiding.

“For that, we must go back to the night of the fair when Rathnamma died,” sighed Raju thaathaa.

“After the death of her son and daughter-in-law, my friend found comfort in taking care of you, Babu. Wherever she went, you were with her. Every year, the villages around here host a fair or ‘thiruvizha.’ That is the day people come together to give thanks to the village deity. The celebrations go on until late in the night at the maidan. That year was no different. I think you were three…or four years old. My family came to the fair as it was only an hour’s bus ride for us. On one side, some children were dancing with their parents hovering proudly.

Delicious smells drifted away from the food stalls, inviting the crowds to taste the dishes. The loud music, and the chatter of people, it was a happy celebration. And just like that, everything changed. Dusty winds rose high in the air, leaving people scratching their eyes and coughing as they suffocated. The ground trembled under our feet. Panic-stricken, we scattered, looking for our loved ones. My first thought was that it was an earthquake. But it didn’t make sense. People clustered around the maidan’s outer edges, leaving an empty sandy field in the middle. No, not empty! A thin dark whirlwind coiled upwards, and two men stood beside it.

There were gasps and screams, and then nothing. We waited in silence, a sinking feeling in our stomachs.

The younger of the two stepped forward. “Where is that old hag, Rathnamma?” he didn’t have to shout, for the field was so quiet.

We looked at each other in confusion. But before we could speak, someone stepped forward. It was Rathnamma. She looked so ordinary, with her saree pallu tucked in front, an old necklace with some blue stones, and a few glass bangles. What did Rathnamma have to do with all this? Even then, I noticed that her face showed no fear.

“You…” she pointed at the other man as she walked towards them. “You…came to my house. You told me that my husband died….”

“The box! I came asking for the box!” The man snarled. “That old woman said it was a magic box when she gave it to him! There was no sight of it when I looked at it. He MUST have sent it to you! WHERE IS IT?

“B b but… you looked for the box when you came to my house! I don’t remember you telling me about any woman or magic! Why did you look in my husband’s bags? What do you know about my husband’s death? Who are you?” Question after question tumbled out of her.

She looked so alone that I went and stood by her.

The older man laughed.

“Ha! I know about your entire family! Husband, son, daughter-in-law, and that boy you raise too. In fact, I know about all the children in this village. Isn’t that why we are here?” He turned to his companion.

The young man’s smile made me uneasy. “We’re going to take away the village’s kids for safekeeping. You give us the magic box, and we give you your brats. THEN we will be even. Right?”

No one smiled back.

“NO! DON’T YOU DARE GO NEAR OUR CHILDREN!” Rathnamma challenged the men, her thin body drawn up tall. Her words lit a fire in our hearts. Men and women closed in on the two men.

The older man shrugged his shoulders and took something out of his pocket. He sprinkled it on the whirlwind beside him. The twisting cloud of dust moved towards us. It grew wider and wider and wider. One by one, clothes, flowers, plants, and chairs vanished into the twister. Screams rang all around as it twirled, bending low here and there, pulling all those in its path. And up the people went, arms and legs flailing in the air.

Ratnamma hurried in front of the spiraling funnel of dust and held out her hand. “STOP! You’re fight is with me. Leave them alone!” She pleaded in despair.

The first sorcerer threw back his head and laughed. “Do you think you can stop us?” He moved menacingly.

Without a warning, Rathnamma flung herself into the whirlwind.

It was as if a switch had been turned off. The wind died down like a deflated balloon, and people crashed to the hard ground. A baffled silence settled on us as we searched for Rathnamma. Imagine our horror as the whirlwind rose again, rebellious, and uncontrollable. It moved menacingly but towards the sorcerers, this time!

The two men chanted mantras and flung things at it, but the wind grew wilder and disorderly.

“IT IS OUT OF OUR CONTROL! It will no longer do our bidding,” shreiked one.

“STOP IT! IT IS US WHO GAVE YOU A FORM,” shouted the second. Nothing changed. Whatever was inside wouldn’t be satisfied until the two men were swpt away.

The vortex gathered speed and left the maidan. We trailed behind at a safe distance, past the village and the crashing currents of the Kaveri. Strangely enough, it rambled and rested on the old banyan tree. Rathnamma’s body lay on the ground, between the roots. A few of us moved closer to get a better look.

Oh my brave, brave friend! Even after being dragged dreadfully, Rathnamma could think of nothing but protecting the village.

“Will you two leave the village alone now?” There was a strength in her voice that filled me with pride.

“Never! We want the magic…” but the man didn’t finish his sentence. Rathnamma smiled, and the two men vanished.

I ran to her, but something wouldn’t let me get closer.

“Raju, you win some, and you lose some.”

 “What did you win, and what did you lose?” asked a young man with me.

“I won against the sorcerers. I was able to protect the people of Suzhalnagaram, but I lost my body in the struggle. I can no longer be there with my grandson but will always protect and guide him. ” Can you take care of him for me?” she asked the others.

“Yes, We will,” the other villagers chorused.

“Are the sorcerers gone?” someone asked.

“Yes, they are gone. But beware, for the whirlwind is trapped in the tree. It still has its evil intent. Keep children away from the banyan tree, for I do not have the power to get rid of the whirlwind.” And with that, she was gone.

We don’t know what power Rathnamma was talking about. But she was right. The whirlwind resides in the banyan tree, grabbing anyone who walks too close to it. Someone tried to get rid of the evil twister by pounding the tree with iron nails, but nothing worked. You, children, seem to have awakened something in the whirlwind, for I have seen the roots raging like tentacles, reaching out for something…or someone. DO NOT TEMPT IT, DO YOU HEAR ME?” The boys would not meet his piercing eyes.

The four friends walked back in silence. For the first time in weeks, Senthil felt lighthearted. The old woman was not after him. She was out there protecting him and the others. He walked with a skip,  enjoying the bird calls when he felt the deep rumble under his feet

“Oh, No! Valli!” Ramu led the way, a spray of mud flying behind him. “Paatti is going to be so angry!”

“No da, Valli is a smart one. She’ll be fine.”

“Yes, but if something happens to her…” Mani stopped midsentence.

So Rathnamma protects the children of the village! Thank goodness. I kind of liked Babu and would have been sad if his grandmother’s ghost was scaring children. But what happened to Valli? Is she safe with the Hollow Man?

Other episodes in this series:

The Whirlwind

Up in the Air

The Hollow Man

The old Woman’s Ghost

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