Ghost of Chemannu House

Posted: December 27, 2009 in Fictional stories


     Grandma carried the lamp in her frail hands to the courtyard. She placed it gently in front of the holy Basil plant. Bowing her hands and closing her eyes she whispered

Narayana! Narayana! Narayana!”

   She started to sing a religious hymn and soon the other members of the house joined in. The melodious hymns wafted gently out of the house into the surroundings. The twittering birds were flying back home as the approaching sunset filled the skies with various shades of red. A couple of parrots lingered on, atop the giant Tamarind tree and squeaked in tune. They seemed to be enjoying the songs and didn’t want to leave for the day. The evening seemed magical and a divine peace enveloped the house like a comfortable blanket.

 Grandma finished singing, bowed her hands and walked around distributing vermillion to the rest of the family. This was the daily routine and calmed everyone down before bedtime. It was also the favorite time when she enthralled her young audience with interesting stories. With bulging eyes and rapt attention the grand-kids sat around her captivated.
The occasional mosquito was slapped away in a hurry and parental calls were ignored. The youngest of the kids, five-year-old Manu refused to attend even nature’s call, for fear of loosing the thread of the story. He usually ended up wetting his pants at the conclusion of the story. Grandma’s story- telling abilities were legendary. Sometimes the parents joined in ignoring their chores. On other days, the neighbors walked into the courtyard and sat around in the porch listening to her stories.

Grandma drew a long horizontal line on her forehead with the vermillion and sat down on the floor leaning against the pillar. She usually enthralled her audiences with stories from the Ramayana or Mahabharata. Today she was in no mood for that. She looked around and asked

“Do you want to hear a different kind of story today?”

The kids clapped their hand in delight. Any story from grandma was welcomed by them. Grandma cleared her throat and started her story:

“Long time back the Chemannu house in the corner of Singari estate, on the banks of the river, had a large joint-family living in it. The head of the family, the matriarch, the daughters, sons and their spouses…then their children…six children…shared one roof. The Chemannu house was very famous then. They were the descendents of the Dewan of Travancore. They were very wealthy and also very generous. Every day, several people, mostly the laborers, stopped by and waited for the matriarch to step out and donate food, clothes or money to them. The matriarch was Parvathiamma. People revered her and sang her praises.”

  “Temple elephants stopped by and blessed the house after the nirapara* was filled at the doorstep. The Temple oracles offered vermilion to the inmates after invoking the Almighty’s blessings. Some evenings, Kathakali performances were held on a makeshift dais. The villagers were also invited on those nights. Those were the glory days. Parvathiamma gradually succumbed to illness and eventually died. The Chemmannu house lost their matriarch and it was as if the sheen of the house vanished.”

“The responsibility of managing the house and serving alms fell on Sunanda. She was the youngest daughter and very beautiful. People sometimes waited just to get a glimpse of her. She was not only lovely but very compassionate. She made no distinction between the castes and usually ignored the hierarchy that was so omnipresent during those days.” Grandma walked over to the spittoon. She resumed her story.

 “On one such day as she was handing out alms she met Vasu who worked in their coconut plantation. Vasu was mesmerized with Sunanda and Sunanda was captivated with Vasu’s simplicity and honesty. The admiration soon turned romantic and before they realized they were engulfed with love and passion for one another. Their secret rendezvous went unnoticed initially. Eventually the word spread near and far that the lady of Chemmannu house was dallying with Vasu of a lower caste.
Sunanda bore the brunt of snide remarks both from her family and outsiders. She was ex-communicated from the family and soon the whole village was talking about the affair. She was often barricaded in the attic, a price she had to pay for sullying the name of the clan. Vasu was chased out of the property and later from the village by the family henchmen. Nobody heard of him later.

On one fateful day the body of Sunanda was fished out of the well. She had killed herself unable to withstand the indignities unleashed on her and the inability to see Vasu had almost driven her insane. The family was ruined and fate took a strange twist. Bad luck descended on the house and destroyed the family. The villagers say they used to hear laughter from the ruins of Chemmannu house. Several of them had seen a yakshi in white robes with long tresses floating around the ruins on a full moon day. They say it was Sunanda’s restless spirits. Nobody even wanted to buy the property after that.”

Ammooma’s story had the desired effect. The petrified children huddled close to their parents and nobody stirred. Manu looked around the nalukettu in fear and promptly wet his pants. Savithri, ammooma’s daughter chided her for telling scary stories

Endina verude Pedipikkunada?”*
The neighbor reluctantly prepared to return home in the dark after lighting up dried coconut-fronds for a torch.

  Ammooma stood up and faced her audience. She said

“There’s a reason why I said this story. My uncle’s son was Vasu. He was a half-brother of sorts to me. So this is part of our family history and I want you all to know the truth, before you hear it from elsewhere.”

Grandma’s story shocked everybody in the family to silence. In those days it was customary in Kerala to have more than one wife and also a mistress tucked away somewhere. So Vasu was indirectly linked to the family and also to the Chemmannu house which was now in ruins.

Grandma slowly walked into the innards of the house, relieved of the burden that she carried around with her for several years.

 ‘Now I can die in peace’ she muttered and closed the door of the pooja room. The tinkling of the bell and the religious hymns from ammooma’s prayers filled the house once again.


Nalukettu* :    Open courtyard in the middle of the house

Chandanam *: Sandalwood paste

Nirapara *:  Metal barrel filled with rice and fresh flowers
of the Coconut tree. 

Endina verude Pedipikkunada?”*: Why are you scaring them?



  1. The story moves in a soft, wavy pattern. Catching! For a moment it could be easy for me to be one among the kids to sit like that hear it, for we all witnessed the same nightfalls. I wonder how could you hide all these pencraft in you, so far! Time proves. Afterall, a simple rhetoric makes it very attractive…like an O.Henry one!! Keep it up.

    V.V. Manus (or even P.Ps) are extinct now, as there are no Story- Ammoommas!

  2. Thanks for stopping by chet. Nice to hear from you. Have been writing for a while now elsewhere…Those days of amooma stories are almost gone with the scattering of joint families. Miss the rich Kerala scenes too…there’smore coming…drop in anytime..Thanks

  3. R-Sharma says:

    Hey Suj,
    Very nice story. Reminded me of a famous ghost song by L.Mangeshkar;) Amazing how fast they go from a tranquil household to ruins all by themselves (no ghost needed!)

    Also learned new words. Is that Malayalam?

  4. Thanks Ranjini for peeking in. Yes it is malayalam…and we used to hear a lot of those ghost stories while growing up ..used to make our vacation quite memorable..such stories abound too