This was originally written several years ago, but it is nowhere on any of my current blogs, so I am reposting it after a long time.
About two kilometers north of the ashram is Mayapur village, in fact Miapore, a poor settlement of Muslims that destiny placed in the middle of the largest development of Hindu shrines in Bengal in the 20th century. This village had long furnished the manpower for the construction of Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir, and though this relationship went through many ups and downs over the years, the Muslims generally prospered as a result of the plentiful jobs the temple provided.
The countermaster of Mayapur village was a trusted and well-liked elderly Muslim with a white beard named Adalat Shekh, who also acted as a night guard. Besides being adept with the lathi, or fighting staff, Adalat Shekh had another talent that I had not known about before then, but apparently the temple managers did. Tapomoy Das, a dark and passionate young brahmachari who was in charge of the ashram's day-to-day management, decided to make use of that talent to solve the intractable petty-theft problem.
Adalat Shekh was an ojha. Ojhas are village magicians who use their skills for things like tracking lost objects or animals, curing snakebite, or answering other pressing questions for troubled villagers. Adalat Shekh apparently had mastery over a familiar spirit that helped him to accomplish these tasks. His fame was quite widespread, and many was the lost or stolen cow or buffalo he had found and brought back to its rightful owner.
At the time of my story, the north boundary guesthouse, a 200 meter long building three stories high, was under construction. A single story building followed the western boundary of the property; it was probably about 350 meters long, broken up by two gates, the magnificent main one to the north and a smaller one for deliveries near the southern end. This southwestern corner of the property was the site of the kitchen and dining pavillion, a functional hangar-like building with metal gates and asbestos roof.
From 7.30 to 8.30 each morning, the students of the gurukula were assigned various tasks around the ashram—generally cleaning, sweeping the roads, washing the temple floors or hallways, and so on. On this particular day, however, Tapomoy had taken a pair of boys to the square of pavement surrounded by the kitchen, the dining pavilion and the north wall, from which the road to the main gate began. Adalat was waiting there, as were a few curious members of the ashram staff, mostly other boys.
Adalat had a clay pot partially filled with Ganges water, the indispensible material for all Hindu ritual, which somehow had found its way into the Muslim community. The clay pot had been duly daubed with vermillion and oil, swastikas and other symbols painted on it, including a stick figure that represented the spirit whose presence was being summoned. Adalat place two segments of split bamboo, about three meters long, on either side of the pot and then began muttering spells and blowing into the pot. Finally, he stood up and instructed the two boys Tapomoy had selected for the task to take hold of the two flexible pieces of bamboo, so that each of them was standing at their extremities, holding one piece in either hand.
After consulting with Tapomoy, Adalat then began to speak to the pot in a commanding voice: “Go and find the brass gong!” He used the diminutive form of the imperative, as is fitting in Bengali for a master to use when speaking to a menial servant. But nothing happened. The two boys looked at each other and laughed. Everyone else looked puzzled and Adalat looked annoyed. He turned to Tapomoy and complained that the boys were incapable of carrying out the function they had been given. Tapomoy shrugged and himself replaced one of them and signaled to me to take the other end of the bamboo sticks, which I did.
Adalat then repeated the mantras and the blowing into the pot, and then again commanded his familiar spirit to find the brass gong. As soon as he had finished giving the order, Tapomoy and I felt a sudden surge in the bamboo sticks, as if someone had taken hold of them in the middle and was tugging on them, pulling us very definitely to the west. Tapomoy and I looked at each other with wide-open eyes, astonished grins on both our faces. The sticks pulled us along with confidence, taking us to the limits of the kitchen where they made a very crisp movement to the right, leading us again to the limits of the building and turning right again, leading us to the construction foreman’s hut, which stood behind the dining pavillion. Without any hesitation, they led us directly to the foreman’s doorway and leaned against it, practically knocking on the padlocked door as if trying to get in. The foreman was not at home.
Tapomoy and Adalat consulted with each other. Tapomoy said, “The gong may be inside, but the foreman isn’t. So let’s have the spirit take us to the foreman.” Adalat gave the order and the sticks did an about face; where they had been bent toward the foreman’s door, they immediately turned upward and then spun in the opposite direction, and began pulling us that way.
There was a chain link fence about eight feet high in this corner of the property, but it was only partially complete. There was a footpath leading from the head mistry’s residence as far as the last fencepost; it then turned around and led on the other side of the fence through a rice field to the main road, which continued east towards the ferry pier where one would cross the river to get to Nabadwip town. The sticks led us along this path, very emphatically turning the 180 degrees at the last fencepost and leading us at almost a running pace toward the river. Evidently the foreman had gone into town.
Adalat immediately called to his spirit to halt. It was here I learned the rather amusing piece of information that he could not carry out his paranormal activities in public areas because he did not have a license! Apparently such activities could only be conducted on private property. On consulting with Tapomoy, they decided that the brass gong could not be retrieved at that particular moment, and the spirit was asked to lead us to one of the other missing items, a clock; this time, in fact, Tapomoy decided to ask for the thief before the lost good.
In a movement that was becoming familiar, the two sticks swooshed in the opposite direction and led us back the way we had come, past the kitchen and back onto the road that followed the north wall. Our strange little group had by now grown to a fairly large size, with many curious children and devotees struggling to keep up with the sticks which were stretched out in an arc in front of Tapomoy and myself, pulling us steadily to a destination that only Adalat's familiar spirit knew.
Rushing along, it led us past the main gate and further along the north wall, to a series of rooms where many of the Bengali inmates were quartered. At this time, most of the temple devotees had finished their early morning duties or temple activities and were returning to their quarters to clean up or change before going to the dining pavillion for breakfast.
The sticks led us directly to a woman, whose name I have regrettably forgotten, but whose reputation for sticky fingers was well known. With amazing dexterity, the two sticks cornered the woman in front of her room, and while she stared at Tapomoy and myself with wide-eyed and open-mouthed astonishment, straddled her head and nestled on either side of her neck, pinning her against the wall. Evidently, the spirit had spoken: this was the culprit who had taken the clock.
Time was running out for the spirit’s work, but Tapomoy decided we had enough to try to find one more item, a watch, if I remember correctly. Again, the sticks did their about face and led us into the crossroads in front of the main gate, where the road south led to the main temple, while the road east led to the kitchen. A small throng of about fifteen men and women was in the road coming from the temple and the sticks led us right into their midst. They all scattered, forming a rough circle as everyone stood around to observe what was going on. The sticks immediately turned toward a smaller cluster of three or four individuals, which again broke up. The sticks made the adjustment, chose its target and again made the arrest by tightly pressing against either side of their prisoner's neck.
With that, Adalat Shekh and his spirit’s work was done. Tapomoy and I needed to say little to each other. It was obvious that neither of us had manipulated the sticks. The movements had been too sudden and sharp, the tugging so sure and confident that it could only have been coming from outside either of us. There was not the remotest possibility that either of us had been manipulating the bamboo; every single movement had been a total surprise to both of us.
I don’t believe that any of the stolen items were ever recovered, but somehow neither Tapomoy nor I ever doubted for a moment that the thieves were those Adalat Shekh’s familiar spirit had fingered.