The books. I always returned to the books. I can see the shelves even now, the large shelf at one end of the main hall on the ground floor, the one with two rows of bound National Geographic magazines and an assortment of books presented to my grandparents by authors or publishers, the little shelf in the bedroom just off the hall, with its assortment of Reader’s Digests, paperback thrillers, travel guides from the 60s and 70s and old Penguin orange-and-creams. The shelf with Tamil classics and Indian literature in translation next to my grandmother’s side of the bed in my grandparents’ bedroom on the first floor, the shelf of paperback thrillers in the bedroom that used to be my father’s and, finally, the rows of shelves in the large hall on the first floor, dominating the entire space, more books than many libraries and bookstores possess, books in hardback and paperback, with or without dust jackets, in every size and colour, books that dealt with subjects more uncanny and cosmic than any of the others.
It wasn’t until my grandparents died and my father ceased to have dealings with me that I realised I did care a little for the people in the house. It wasn’t until the house was razed to the ground and replaced with a soaring apartment block that I realized I had cared for the house itself. Still, in my long years of estrangement from my paternal family, it was the books that I thought about and missed the most. Sometimes, reading a reference to another book in one of the volumes that I had purchased in an attempt to build my own library, I would remember that my family library had included a copy of that very volume. Oh, if I only had access to that library of wonders once again, how many blissful hours I could spend each day, rapt on the trail of deliciously obscure, deliriously outré lore!
As it was, I had to make do with the few battered old volumes, the tattered paperbacks, the countless profaned, popularized versions of the ageless secrets that I could find, anything that contained some hint of the mysteries I was reaching for. Why had my father turned me away, why had he turned his back on me and on the books in that house? Even as a grown man in my thirties I would sometimes weep to think of this cruel rejection, to think of what I had lost.
Many a time, I remembered how my grandfather would sit at his long desk, piled high with books and papers, poring over some recondite tome. Sometimes, he would call me to sit beside him and look at a new acquisition. This was how I was first introduced to many rare and coveted volumes, both scholarly and hermetic. How their names echo in my memory now, mocking me with the knowledge of the riches I have lost! Even when I secure some hard-won treasure such as an uncorrupted volume by Eliphas Levi, a complete transcript of Ned Kelley’s channelings, or a facsimile of the Chhaya rituals, I know that it is nothing, nothing at all, compared to the library that should have been mine by birthright.
As I grew from guileless boyhood into first adolescence, the books in my grandfather’s upstairs library became more than just a grown-up treasure I was thrilled to be allowed to share in; they became an obsession. When I spent summer vacations in my grandparent’s house, I was given my father’s old bedroom. At night, I would toss and turn, lost in delicious nightmares in which I summoned strange beings and paid terrible tributes to them. I could hear the books calling me; soft, insinuating voices chorused in my ears, following wherever I went. Sometimes, I would heed the call and pull a certain scroll from a shelf, take a certain volume down from its resting place, and spend long moonlit hours poring over it.
Just once, I tore a page from an especially compelling volume, took it back with me after summer vacation, looking forward to learning more from it over the next few months. When I finally lay down in my own bed, waited for my parents to fall asleep and then spread it open, peering at it in the light from a lamp post outside my bedroom window, the suggestive sigils and anagrammatised phrases that had enchanted me were replaced with a banal zodiacal diagram and its quotidian exposition. That was the last summer I went to the old house; my grandfather died that winter and my father, already estranged from my mother, announced that he was selling the old house to a builder.
Many years later, I learned of site-specific, one of a kind grimoires and books of power, created to be read only a particular place, at a particular time. My grandfather had owned one of these, clearly. As I delved further and further into what shards of the true lore I could find, I realised that something very terrible had happened here. Only a very few families at any time possess these kinds of books and the knowledge of how to unlock their secrets. One of the reasons most rituals found in works like the Simon Necronomicon, or the Lesser Key, do not seem to work is that the manuscripts have been read in the wrong locations, under the wrong conditions. These, too, are site-specific tomes and when perused out of their intended context, they beguile and dupe the reader with junk data.
But my father had already sold the old house to a developer. It was all gone, the house, the library, my grandfather’s old seat at the end of the hall where I could have sat in moonlight and learned of the immemorial secrets entrusted to my bloodline.
For years, I simply nursed this knowledge within, the way someone fearful of doctors and perhaps just a little fond of pain will nurse a festering sore, draining the more obnoxious effluvia, but unwilling to treat the sickened tissue in any truly effective way. By day I worked at my pointless series of jobs as a content writer or online editor, and in my free time I scoured second-hand bookstores and online auctions looking for books that contained echoes of the true lore, the fragile thread of real hermetic secrets concealed within the promiscuous quilt of occult literature. I caught glimpses of what I had lost. A reference in an otherwise dull volume on South Indian goddess cults mentioned an offshoot of the Chhaya cultus which had moved to the south, where an Iyer family in Madras was initiated into its secrets. Another reference, this time in an obscure work by a theosophist associated with Annie Besant, alluded to a ‘book of shadow’ held in trust by a ‘Brahminical clan of the South’. A stray line in an essay by Paul Brunton suggested that, during a visit to Madras, he may once have been shown a book that could only be read in moonlight.
Finally, in a passage found by Colin Wilson in a manuscript from Q’n-Yan and quoted in the final volume of his Occult trilogy, ‘Back To The Occult’, I read these words: ‘In the summer months, when the moon is high, in the Priest’s Abode, you will find the Key to bring back the Ones Who Wait. But only one of the Blood may read the pages and see what is truly therein. And the Blood is the Spirit’. The manuscript was dated to 1920, surprisingly modern, but also just a few years after my grandfather’s house – or rather, his father’s, at the time, had been built.
I had recently concluded a major project and was due for a holiday, so I decided to visit Madras, or Chennai as it was now called, after a gap of more than a decade. The city seemed much the same as it always had – maybe a few new high-rises, but not really that many, compared to Bangalore. It was May, and a fierce, humid summer exerted its tyrannical power over the city. I checked into a hotel just down the road from where my ancestral house had stood. In the noonday heat, I went for long, restless strolls in the nearby park, where my grandfather had taken a vigorous daily walk until the day he died. I spent long hours observing the apartment complex that stood on my lost land. I calculated which flat stood in the place where my grandfather’s old desk had been and then found out about its inhabitants. A young couple and their child. Perfect. I lurked around the children’s playground across the road from the apartments, in the guise of a seller of groundnuts. Finally, on a sultry evening, when all the other children had gone home and the child from what I had come to think of as ‘my’ apartment had stayed behind to finish a solitary game of hopscotch, I seized my moment. I grabbed the child, locked him into a compartment built into my cart and headed to an alley near the park, where I gagged and bound him, put him in a large kit bag and then took him back to my hotel room.
I had decided to wait for about 24 hours before contacting the child’s parents. As the hours wore by, I realized that sharing my room with a frightened, wailing child was not conducive to peace of mind. Finally, I seized the child by his shoulders and stared into his eyes. He became quiet and stared back at me. A smile crossed his lips.
A man slinks through the night, wearing a long, bulky coat, a bundle in his arms. He sneaks into an apartment building, past a slumbering guard, through the foyer, up the stairs. He walks to a particular door, rings the bell. A distraught man answers. ‘I have your child, let me in,’ the stealthy man says, pushing his way in. Inside, a woman waits, her face streaked with tears. He throws something at the feet of the unhappy couple. It is the limp, lifeless body of their child. As they stare at the body in shock, he locks the door and then, moving with the weightless speed of the wind, breaks the necks of the father and then the mother.
He pulls a chair up to a window. He switches off the lights and cocks his head to one side, taking in the angle of the moonlight. He takes a large, heavy hammer out of his coat and smashes the wall to one side of the window until he has extended the window by about a foot in that direction. The hot, still air of the summer night has become even more oppressive than usual; the sea breeze fails and no sound is carried to the other apartments.
He sits down at the chair, drags an incidental table between him and the window. He takes an old, yellowed sheet of paper out of an inside pocket, spreads it out on the table. He looks at it intently, and his pupils dilate until his eyes are completely black. On the paper, a swirl of black, snake-like lines appears and starts to move, probing. It moves faster and faster, until the paper vanishes and only the lines are left. He picks them up and brings them up to his head, where they fit around his temples like a wreath. The dark lines fade into his flesh. He stands up and walks over to the lifeless child. A blue glow emanates from his fingers as he makes ritual gestures over the body. He proceeds to the bodies of the two adults and repeats the procedure. By the time he is done with the mother, the child has woken up. Its eyes, too, are black pools. It walks up to the man and bows deeply. The parents, or rather, whatever it is that now animates their bodies, follow suit. The black-eyed trio kneels before
The man in the long coat stands framed in moonlight, the small, transfigured family kneeling before him. He lets the tip of his tongue slide out of his mouth; it is an elongated, prehensile tongue. It flicks through the air and he tastes deep of the flavours of massed humanity.