The tourist

(Won the Ruskin Bond Literary Award at Dehradun Literature Fest 2023)

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

“Have you noticed that man?” Viru gestures towards someone.

It is past dusk and the faint light of the bus stand is hardly sufficient to see anyone.

“No, why?” Ishfaq strains his eyes to see who Viru is referring to.

“I think I saw him last week too, he went towards the Jami Masjid, it was around midday, I had just closed the shop and was heading home for lunch,” Viru recalls.

“Out of town guy?” Ishfaq asks. Viru nods.

“Oh! One of those history buffs, wandering around the ruins – he’ll get his head severed by the spirits am sure – I am scared to go around even in broad daylight!”
Ishfaq blabbers without bothering to pay heed to Viru’s character.

Ever since the ruins of Champaner had been excavated and deemed heritage sites, Ishfaq had always had a busy day serving customers from all over the world. It meant more money but more work too.

“Don’t they have ruins where they live, why bother about old broken buildings anyway? Making my life hell!” Ishfaq yearns for the days when he happily sat daydreaming at his tea counter most of the time.

Viru’s gaze continues to follow the man – he is adorned with a backpack and a camera bag, wearing cargo pants and a loose shirt, half tucked in – definitely a tourist. The tourist walks away towards the Jami Masjid.

Viru is intrigued, the archaeological complex closes by 5 pm and there are no hotels on that side, “Ishfaq, let’s follow him?”

Ishfaq gives Viru his angriest look but that doesn’t seem to work, it never has; his expression changes to alleging, “Ammi told us to be home early today, remember?”

Viru’s brows furrowed, “Did she?” “Yes yes,” Ishfaq pulls away Viru before he can develop any second thoughts.

This works. It has always worked for the past 20-odd years, Viru and Ishfaq are ancestral neighbours.   

The tourist continues on the road towards the Jami Masjid but as he reaches the magnificent structure he takes the narrow mud lane beside its high fences, the other side of the lane is lined with tall trees. There is hardly any light but for the full moon to guide his steps. He comes to a bifurcation and takes the one on the right without any hesitation, sure of his destination.

The lane becomes narrower. The trees on either side form a canopy over the lane, which makes an excellent shade for a passer-by on a sunny day as temperatures soar. The ground is uneven with an over-ripened fruit from an overhead branch splashed down or an aerial root that decided to go across the lane, maybe for better nutrients.

Finally, he finds his way into a thicket – a rather bushy and thorny thicket which he tears through and emerges at a clearing. The sight is so surreal it paralyzes him momentarily – the ‘Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid’ sitting on a high plinth, its three domes shining in pristine moon rays. The raised platform is surrounded by a lawn and the fenced grounds are surrounded by a thicket of thorny bushes all around.

One fine day the tourist while touring the heritage sites had lost his way and in turn found this gem – no one visits it as it is a bit off the road and people get tired of visiting the numerous other monuments and generally chuck this, but he is intrigued.

He is about the climb over the fence when he notices the woman – it seems she is floating down from the heavens with the moonbeam. He quickly makes his descent over the fence onto the lawns and moves closer to the platform, lying low.

For a good length of time, he ducks down and tries to listen, there is activity on the platform, and people seem to be moving around, and talking in hush tones. Then the tourist tries to take a peek – unexpectedly an ambient blinding light obscures the structure, or did the domes just vanish?

It looks like a busy market area, with people dressed in various outfits, some seemingly from faraway lands too – haggling over goods, which seem as varied as the people themselves. He is unable to view the far side distinctly, but notices a fairly large man in ornate robes and an exquisitely dressed tall delicate woman – he is intrigued and walks around the platform to be near them to catch their conversation.

‘They are unerringly enamoured by the way they are looking at each other’ the tourist thinks, ‘but who are they?’

The woman speaks in an ethereal voice, “My lord, will you build a memorial here – here where we met amidst a sea of populace one summer evening a year back?”

The large man looks around as if judging the place – finally, he says in a booming voice, “Indeed! I will build the Lilah Gumbad ki Masjid here to thank Allah the merciful for bestowing your vestal love on me.”

The maiden blushes and lowers her glance.

Suddenly she looks up again but this time straight at the tourist – he stoops but she has already seen him. He waits with bated breath then raises his head slowly – there isn’t a soul in sight, no sound, all lights are out and the domes are back.

The tourist is scared but also enthralled, he pulls himself up the plinth and faces the small mosque with the three entrance doors under the archways topped with the domes. ‘Where did they all vanish?’ he thinks.

He slowly approaches the mosque, but once at the entrance, he hesitates. A crisp voice shudders the prevailing silence, “Who goes?”

A chill runs down the tourist’s spine and he turns to face the voice – but there is none – no body!

The tourist tries to answer, his voice quivering as he talks to thin air, “I am a tourist.”

“A tourist at this hour? Even the locals don’t come this way after dusk.” The crisp voice sounds surprised.

The tourist earnestly says, “I am intrigued by this isolated mosque and keep coming back to find out why this chic structure came into being. It is hardly 600 m from the magnificent Jami Masjid – it is beautiful but not as ornate or grand as the other mosques, it seems like a private place and yet it is not part of a castle or haveli…”

There is momentary silence and then the surrounding is pierced with a booming laughter. The tourist can feel sound waves flowing through his veins, fear seems to be tightening its grip on him by the minute.

“I Mohammad Begada built this place to show my gratitude to Allah for giving me the love of my life and even though my mortal remains were buried in ‘Sarkhej Roza’ in Ahmedabad, my soul remains here with my beloved. It was meant for just us, a cosy little place of worship and also our clandestine rendezvous.” the booming voice proclaims.

The tourist is befuddled beyond words to react.

The formless booming voice continued, “We recreated a scene from the time when this place was a buzzing marketplace to celebrate the inception of this beautiful structure – in thought… we amuse ourselves thus from time to time… the locals are scared to be here after dark as we haunt our favourite jaunt.”

The realisation that he has discovered the truth – a passion that has driven him to this God-forsaken place time and again – makes him ecstatic; yet moments later he realizes the truth of his situation – he is amidst ancient souls that have lingered for centuries, ‘would they let him go? never!’ he shudders at the thought.

“No, we won’t – how can we tourist?” a honeyed voice says as if reading his thoughts, “First it was just the two of us, my lord and me; then over the years someone or the other would stray into our dominion either having got lost or trying to be adventurous like you, to find out!” a cruel laugh follows.

The tourist freezes, he knows the inevitable, it is a matter of time now, before long he will join the assemblage, and become part of the populace. He feels suffocated, suddenly there is no air to breathe, and he gasps for breath. There are loud noises all around, his head feels heavy, and he can hear his heart beating like a trumpet as if to add to the humdrum – he shuts his eyes, hugs himself and stands there shivering to his bones.

After what seems like an eternity, there is absolute silence, he opens his eyes ever so slowly unsure of what to expect – he sees a circle of people around him, all looking at him intently.

He then realizes they are talking to him, trying to wake him up from the trance he had gone into. One of them, a large man comes closer, “We are sorry to scare you so much, are you okay?”

“What?” the tourist suddenly finds his voice.

The woman standing beside the large man speaks in an apologetic tone, “We were rehearsing for our play for the performance next week you see… this is an isolated place, seemingly haunted so keeps away disturbance, but then we spotted you and wanted to have a little fun, we are so sorry.”

“But the woman, you – you floating down… the light, the dark, and the voices?” the tourist asks still shaken.

“Those were props…” the large man says genuinely repentant.

Slowly the tourist stops shivering, he adorns a faint smile, and a sigh of relief leaves his lips.

The large man comes forward with an extended hand, the tourist extends his too – but then the large man shrieks loudly as he takes a step back.

All the ten supposed ghosts turned out to be humans turn blue – the tourist’s hand cannot be held!

The 10 boys and girls start running, they jump over the fence, wrestle through the thicket and make a straight run to Bhajji’s outhouse within the citadel gates. They spend the rest of the night huddled together with the lights on.

The next morning Bhajji and his group members head to the police station for answers. The inspector is reminded of the ‘tourist’ Viru spoke about last night as they were playing carom at the club.

It took them a little over a day and a half to find out that there had been an accident last week, right in front of the Jami Masjid – a truck ran over a tourist around mid-day and fled, the ensemble of crushed body, bag pack and camera was found rotting in the ditch next to the highway.

Number four

by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

The slow yet incessant rain made me a bit irritated. People waiting at the bus stop were few and buses were fewer still. The autos all full zoomed past never stopping. I paced up and down the little shaded area to keep away from getting drenched. After a while an auto slowed at my stop and luckily someone got down. I swiftly boarded it.

“Till where are you going driver?” I asked. “Station,” his answer was short and curt. “stop, stop!” the voice came from my side, I had not noticed the lady till now, all being covered in overalls due to the chill. It gets really cold and the wind almost cuts through when it rains in Bangalore, especially at this hour of the night it feels like winter at a hill station.

I de-boarded for the lady to get down. Now there were just the two of us, another gentleman and me. “Hello – if you don’t mind, may I ask you which way you are going to go from the station?” he asked. “Ya sure why not – am going to go down the station road on the left.” I answered mildly, “And what about you?” I asked.

“I too have to go the same way, shall we walk down together?” his voice was enthusiastic. “Sure.” I said. “Ah! That’s a relief you know, at this hour and with this rain the roads are quite empty and it feels a little eerie.” The gentleman said. “Nah there’s nothing to be scared of on this road, and anyway there isn’t much with me to tempt a burglar.” I said casually.

We got down at the ‘station’ from the auto and started walking down the station road, there are many by-lanes branching out of the main road. We passed a couple of them, deserted dark alleys –  suddenly a flash of light blinded my eyes and I shut them tight. Next moment I opened them and saw that the gentleman I was walking with standing in front of me with a knife. “You—what are you doing?” I stammered almost stunned by his unexpected stance. “This is my livelihood sir. Please hand me whatever you have, ring, watch, wallet everything – then we can continue our walk, my house is a small way from here.” The gentleman said as casually as the doctor says routine checkup, I don’t think he qualifies for being called as a gentleman anymore though.

I handed my watch, ring, chain and wallet over to him and we started walking again. “What if I go to the police tomorrow morning and get you arrested, it can’t be difficult for the police to fish you out from this locality.” I told him as soon as the thought stuck me. The gentleman – I mean the thug, the snatcher curled his lips into a peaceful smile and said, “I am a polymorphic, so it is difficult to catch me. I was a theatre artist and am adept in changing appearances; tomorrow the police might find an elderly lady at the house that you identify as mine. Also I don’t stay at a place long enough for people to get to know me – hardly for a month – no family – no strings attached. I generally rob once a week – works well for me – in this locality, you are number four.”

We walked in silence for a while, all quiet and peaceful – dark and wet – windows shut tight, hallowed lights pouring out making the apartments look like a scene In a sketch book. “Well that’s it my friend this is where I get into the alley down to my home,” said the robber. He crossed the road and I followed – ‘better in an alley than the main road’ I thought.

The robber turned to face me, the shining knife still in hand. He had a surprised look on his face, “Are you really trying to identify my house so as to bring in the police tomorrow?”

This time my lips curled to smile and I started casually, “I have also been here for about a month, did you hear about that accident at the entrance of station road? I was on my bike when a truck hit me and fled. People came rushing; one guy swiftly took out my wallet and mobile then fled. I tried calling out but no one could hear me. The police came and looked for identification and found none. My face was beyond recognition. Someone suggested finding the identity from the bike’s number plate. It was that of Hyderabad. My body was moved to a morgue; an ambulance came and took it away next morning. I floated after it for a while but could not go after a certain point. My body must not have been cremated or buried for then my soul would have disintegrated. Here am stuck forever it seems – so I kept on floating around for a couple of days aimlessly and then one fine afternoon I saw a man intently looking at me and then gestured me to go to him, there – he was standing by that big banyan tree. I used to be invisible and inaudible to human eyes and ears – so it was very surprising indeed. Any how I went to him. He asked me and I told him my story. He then taught me how to suck up a soul at a regular interval and attain a solid structure that can be used and a voice that can be heard. The man who taught me is also the same; there are many of us amongst you guys. We are not humans but neither are we air. We have a solid outer shell complete with skin but there is nothing inside. So we don’t need to eat but we can wear a watch, keep a wallet which is currently in your possession.” By then the robber had started taking a step or two back and also started making an inexplicable sound like ‘gno-gno’, I took a step towards him and said, “So no I won’t bring the police tomorrow morning am just going to take your soul – you too are number four!”

Once at dusk

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Nirvi hadn’t seen a better a sunset in her 26 years of existence. The sun was low on the horizon splashing yellow all over the landscape. A peacock perched on a nearby rock fitted perfectly with the backdrop of the sand outstretched in every direction that the eye could see. Nirvi cupped her hands to catch the fireball in the sky and stepped forward onto the glistening tar to adjust the frame.

“Whaaat? What happened Subhash?” Ruhan screamed having being jolted from his daydreams. “I.. I don’t know sir! There was nothing on the road!” a bewildered Subhash answered as he prepared to get down from the car. Ruhan followed suit.

It was a perfect road, newly tarred and gloriously shining to Ruhan’s satisfaction – he was the engineer liable for the creation of this lone silver track cutting across the desert connecting numerous random settlements along the way to the nearest city of Jaisalmer. The only alternative transport till now had been legs – one’s own or the camel’s.

Both the men surveyed the road and the surroundings thoroughly and tried to figure out what hit them so hard. No bumps, no rocks, no animals not even a dead bird lying around. They were about to get back into the car when Ruhan noticed the sky.

“Never have I seen such a beautiful sunset!” Ruhan blurted out unable to keep his amazement. Subhash felt a sigh of relief, hopefully sir will not be very cross with him given this changed mood. Though a good natured young chap – Ruhan was notorious for his short temper.

“Subhash I’ll just be here for a while.” Ruhan walked across the road towards the peacock that was perched on the nearby rock. “Careful Sir, they bite!” Subhash cautioned him.

Just as Ruhan reached the rock the peacock gave a shriek that sent Ruhan tumbling down to the other side – as he regained his bearings Ruhan noticed the magnanimity of the scene that lay beyond his eyes.

“This is too good to be real!” Ruhan murmured. “Absolutely mesmerising – isn’t it?” Ruhan turned to see a young girl glowing in the orange light. She looked like a sculpture clad in a Rajasthani traditional attire of long skirt and blouse, her long scarf was lying beside her.

‘Mesmerising indeed!’ thought Ruhan, ‘the vast undisturbed landscape, the magical light and a divine beauty – all to myself!’ He reached out to the long scarf and pulled it to himself. It had an intoxicating fragrance, he took it in his hands, made it into a ball and brought it to his lips.

Time had stopped; two strangers drinking the nectar of passion from the other’s eyes – eyes that glistened in the last rays of the surreal evening – slowly the dark descended on them rendering vision impossible on a moonless night.

Ruhan felt a chill through his linen shirt. Nights are cold in the desert. A breeze shivered his bones. He was suddenly aware of the long scarf in his hands – the girl – she had a lot of exposed skin. He tried to reach out to her – she had been sitting hardly two arm’s length away – though eyes couldn’t see he could feel her presence.

“hmmm…” Ruhan started to speak, realising that he didn’t know her name. As if by telepathy she knew what he wanted, “Nirvi” she said promptly.

Ruhan extended his arm, “Nirvi – take this, it is cold…” but before he could hand it over a loud horn shrieked as if through Ruhan’s body making him aware of his car and Subhash.

Ruhan got up, “Come Nirvi – I’ll drop you home.” There was no answer. His outstretched hand felt the rock but none else. He could not feel her presence any more. Ruhan called louder, “Nirvi?” coming out to the other side of the rock. He could now see the car with its headlights on and Subhash as a silhouette against the lights.

Ruhan walked anxiously towards the car, “Did you see a girl passby?”

Subhash gave a perplexed look, “Let us go sir. It is a long way to the city and there are no lights on the way.”

“Yes but what about Nirvi! We can’t leave her here!” Ruhan tried looking around. His mobile had died down long back in the afternoon while he was leaving from office and Subhash’s mobile didn’t have a torch, so all they had were the headlights of the car. There was no way of getting away from the road to search for Nirvi. Ruhan felt disconcerted. There was no way he was going to leave her here but how could he find her in the dark, why was she evading him.

Subhash was anxious to get away from this GOD forsaken place, but his boss was absolutely disorientated – speaking of a girl who seemed but a figment of his imagination. Subhash pleaded with Ruhan to sit in the car but faced only denial.

About an hour passed and then suddenly there was a full on blow of wind that knocked Ruhan down on the road, he lost consciousness being extremely fatigued with anxiety. Subhash checked his pulse and found him breathing – he somehow picked up the conscious less body into the car and drove off.


26 years ago one fateful evening Nirvi came to meet her beau at the rock quite a distance from her village – it was meant to be a romantic affair but turned out to be cruel – she was raped and then murdered; The beau hastily dug out the sand and dumped her into it.

But that beautiful dusk pacified Nirvi – her tormented soul found peace as the stranger, a young man almost rolled into her lap – in his soulful eyes she found love – happy and contended she gave a last look at the rock that had been her haunted home for so many years, put all her energies into forming a gushing wind to knock Ruhan unconscious so that he could live and vanished forever.

Ruhan never found Nirvi – but his search for her found her needs – she was one of the villagers – he became instrumental in setting up solar street lights, digging up wells, establishing caravan serai, education centers and medical facilities – it made him happy.