Since the release of Ek Thi Daayan, many of us have been looking for the short story on which it was based. We asked Konkona about it on twitter as it’s written by her father Mukul Sharma. She guided us to his blog where he had posted the short story. Those of you who missed it earlier, posting the story here after taking his permission.
And click here for a short interview of his on converting the short into a novella and then a screenplay.
Misha looked up from the card house she was building to see her nine-year-old brother Bobo peek around the playroom door.
“What?” she asked, immediately interested.
“Want to see a trick?”
“No you’ll tell Daddy.” The head disappeared.
Misha jumped up upsetting the cards and ran out to the corridor. It was afternoon. And even though father would be sleeping, she didn’t want to take any chances. He had become so funny after mother died last year. Her wise eyes swept both ends of the corridor as she tiptoed to the outside door of the apartment. Reaching up — she was beginning to make it to the handle these days — she upped the latch and, very carefully or it would squeak, opened the door and stepped out into the eighth floor landing.
It was deserted. Her eyes darted to the two old fashioned elevator wells and saw one registered at the door. Through the tiny window she could see the lights on inside it along with some vague movements. Someone inside was doing something. Again on her toes, she went forward and pulled the door out a couple of inches. It was Bobo! He was standing in front of the button panel doing the funniest things. Once he pushed three buttons in at a time with his right hand while simultaneously jabbing in another couple with his left. Then, pointing one finger of each hand at the two rows, he alternately pressed one button of each row. When he did that, the overhead light seemed to dim a little. Misha opened the door fully. Bobo spun around.
“Why did you come?” he whispered angrily.
“What are you doing? Is this the secret?”
“Yes it is,” he said, “but I’m not going to tell you.”
“No, no I promise. I really promise.”
“Okay come, I’ll show you.”
She went inside. He put his finger to his lips, cautioning her to keep quiet.
“I need a lot of concentration to set it,” he said solemnly. Whenever he spoke like that, Misha knew he was really serious about something. He was only two years older than her but far more intelligent and could do a lot of interesting things with his hands. Like the time he had taught her how to control her dreams by moving her fingers in a special way for instance, and she deliberately dreamt of mother ten nights in a row. Now, with his back to her, he was fiddling with the buttons again.
“There,” he said turning around, “I’ve set it now. Watch what happens when I press the ‘G’ button.”
As he did, the lights dimmed once again and, slowly, the elevator began to descend. There was nothing like a trick to it at all thought Misha. It was going down like it did every time she went down in it herself. The ‘7’ of the seventh floor, written between the floor walls, flashed by the window, followed by the ‘6’ of the sixth floor and the ‘5’ of the fifth.
“Where’s the trick Bobo?”
“Wait,” he said impatiently, his eyes on the window.
Misha looked into his face, trying to read his thoughts. She could do it sometimes. She could usually guess when father would wake up, for example. When she looked back at the window, the ‘2’ of the second floor was just going by. She hoped the janitor wouldn’t see her downstairs because then father would know she’d been out of the house in the afternoon. The ‘1’ went by as she was thinking of what excuse she would have to give. Then, without any fuss and at absolutely the same speed, the trick unfolded. The ‘G’ of the ground floor also flashed by and there was no basement below their building.
It took her a moment to comprehend what was happening but when she did there was a thrilling sense of re-orientation. She whirled on Bobo who was standing there looking very pleased with himself. “That was a good trick!” she said clapping her hands gleefully in excitement, “Where are we going now? How far down?”
“Oh, a little way,” he replied mysteriously.
“What’s down there?”
“A playground I think, I’m not sure. I’ve only been down once before. Look!” he said pointing at the window suddenly.
Misha saw a small weeping child’s face flash by the window. It was a round lonely face about the same age as herself or a little older. Then another face flashed by, then another — there were lots of them. They stopped as suddenly as they had begun.
“Who are those Bobo?”
“Orphans,” he said knowingly, playing with the buttons again. “Keep watching.”
Misha looked up back at the window but there was nothing there. Just blackness outside. Suddenly a face came into it and scared her. It was a middle-aged women with long stringy hair and a snarled, unwashed face and whose hands clawed at the window glass desperately as she passed. Then there was blackness once more. Then that same face went by again. The faces quickly multiplied and rolled which Misha didn’t like at all. She was very frightened.
“Stop it now Bobo, I’m scared.”
“I have stopped it silly. We’re going up now. You can’t make out because it’s so black outside.”
They stood in silence. Nothing passed in front of them anymore.
“Who was the other person who came so many times Bobo?”
“A stepmother I think.”
“If,” said Misha with a far away look in her eyes, “I had a cruel stepmother, I’d like to put her in there too. You’d have to help me though.”
“Of course I’d have to help you. I’d have to set it for you first, wouldn’t I? Then when she came and pressed the button for ground floor, she’d automatically be taken right down to where we went and when the elevator finally stopped, they’d open the door and take her out and keep her. She’d never have stepchildren again to be cruel to.”
“Don’t you wish we had a cruel stepmother Bobo?”
“God promise Daddy, I was in my room all afternoon just like you told me to.”
Mr Kapoor got off the rocking chair and advanced towards Misha till he was almost towering over her. Misha’s hands were ready to ward off a slap. Instead, he just bent his great body down till his face was inches away from hers and said in a soft, menacing voice:
“The janitor saw you downstairs. That’s how I know you’re lying.”
“But he couldn’t have,” blurted Misha, “I only . . .”
“That’s better. You only what?”
“Bobo was showing me something inside the elevator and . . .”
Mr Kapoor almost exploded in anger. “I don’t want to hear about your imaginary brother one more time, you understand?”
“I don’t know what pleasure you get in making all this up.”
But with that, to Misha’s great relief, he stalked away to his study. Misha went back to her broken card house.
Mrs Kapoor stood in front of the mirror in her petticoat and blouse and liked what she saw. Her dresses still showed her body off with magnificent ease. Her low-cut blouse for instance, not only cupped her large breasts firmly, but all too often tended to reveal their top halves each time her georgette saris slid carelessly off her ample front. She neither looked nor felt forty. Not even when Mrs Nandy, her rummy playing partner whose house she was on her way to right now, said all those snide things behind her back about her wrinkles. The girls at the afternoon’s session were going to be envious again.
She put on the sari, applied eye shadow, mascara, lip gloss and a bindi, in that order and went out into the landing. The elevator arrived moments later. She opened the door and went in.
She pressed the ‘G’ absentmindedly, opened her handbag and took out the bottle of Dior. So absorbed was she in spraying her cleavage that she hardly noticed that as the lift started descending, the overhead lights had dimmed a little. But then Mrs Kapoor’s mind was on other things. On her husband for one. He had told her to wait downstairs at 2.30 sharp where he’d pick her up from without having to go upstairs. She was hoping he would be on time. She hated waiting downstairs with all the servants, drivers and maids who worked in the building pretending they weren’t ogling her. On the other hand she hoped she herself was not late because he could be really irritable then. That made her panic. She glanced at the window to see which floor she had come to and saw the ‘2’ slide past and impatiently began counting the seconds of the ‘1’. Six seconds later it came into view and went. Exactly six seconds after that the ‘G’ too impassively slid past — like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Disbelief slammed Mrs Kapoor’s face into a cold statue of terror as everything from her gut to her mind caved in at the absurdity. Only a dumb vestige of curiosity still made her look zombielike into the window’s fascinating rectangle in silent slow-motion as it turned into a mirror in front of her and all she saw was her contorted face everywhere in it. She lunged on the button panel and jammed her fingers into the emergency bell push. An incredibly loud jangle exploded somewhere over her head and began falling off in intensity almost immediately as if the sound source were receding.
And Mrs Kapoor dug her frenzied hands into her hair above both ears and ruined her lovely, pulled back bun at the nape. Then, as her eyes locked with those of a little boy and girl in the mirror, she spun away to the rear wall and clawed at its smooth self-designed surface till she collapsed on the floor, eyes open unstaring, kicking, kicking and kicking at the red georgette sari strangling her from all over until the elevator stopped.
The janitor looked in astonishment at the spectacle at his feet in front of him. Others who had come running hearing the emergency bell found him gaping at a fantastically writhing red form in the elevator, which was now human, now an animal grunting savagely, howling insanities, talking of stepchildren, tearing her clothes, with saliva all over her chin.
Until a small crowd had gathered and Mr Kapoor, her tall, powerful husband, arrived to extricate his spitting raging wife in a mess of clothes and tears, screaming for all to hear, that her stepchildren had done this while her husband, facing her in total incredulity, kept mechanically repeating, as if that would bring her back to him, that they had no children, or stepchildren, at all.