It was nearing 16:40 pm and the sun's rays were shifting towards the west. I was on platform nine staring at people running to catch the much-desired window seats of the Thane slow and the Asangaon Fast. My attention was diverted due to blaring horns of a diesel engine that was shunting in the rakes of the Mumbai--Pune Deccan Queen Express from the yard. Regular commuters, travelling back to Pune, were waiting below the indicators marking the coaches.
My ticket read: "Coach D3, Seat: 99" and I occupied my seat. The clamour for seats in this train was always high. Thankfully, I had occupied my seat well in time. In an attempt to drown out the noise, I pretended to sleep which was often rendered futile due to the noise. Announcements were made about the train being ready to depart from platform number nine of Mumbai CST and I noticed the time on my watch 17:10 p.m. sharp.
As the train slowed down at Thane, I decided to take a short walk in the compartment. Surprisingly, the train today was sparsely with just a few people in every compartment which was unusual considering that the Deccan Queen was the most popular train between Mumbai and Pune. A lady from the same compartment dressed in a red saree had come over to my seat. "Excuse me, if you do not mind, can you please help me with my luggage? I intend to put them on the overhead racks." Smilingly, I replied, "sure" with a happy to help face. "I am travelling alone. My name is Diana and my husband should be waiting for me at Pune station, if you don't mind, you could sit here and chat. It would help me kill my boredom as well." I was hesitant but I didn't mind and sat there.
Soon, we were talking about films, books, TV serials and psychology. It was getting dark and I had forgotten that the train was sparsely populated. By my estimates, the train was nearing Karjat and I was sweating profusely. "Is everything alright?" She smiled and asked. "Yes, nothing serious," I replied. "I am a huge fan of paranormal activities and horror stories," she said. I smiled weakly and said, "yes, I am also a fan of horror stories." My answer led her to smile wickedly. In a rhythmic voice she asked, "what about ghosts and ghouls?" "Yes, I do believe in them." She laughed wickedly and diverted my attention to the man sitting opposite us and pointing at him, she said, "Him". I looked at him and was stunned.
My heart almost stopped beating. It was a man who was bleeding and had a gun shot on his forehead. "She killed me". I was stunned and terror held me with a vice-like grip even as I was wild with fear. Those death-like eyes, devoid of all emotions stared back at me as I was strickened into silence. His face was frozen in a glassy state of horror. Fresh blood was oozing out from his forehead. I looked for the lady in the red saree who was gone. Spotting her at the door, I patted her gently and she turned back. A ghastly whiteness spread over her face as she just stood there still as a statue, like a monument frozen for eternity. The fear I experienced threatened to assume an identity of its own because it wasn't just in her, it was all around her.
I ran to the neighbouring compartment to ask whether if passengers had heard a gun shot. Some passengers ignored me while some took pity on me and thought I was mad and some knew the story and were sitting nonchalantly. I was screaming in a shrill voice that tore through the noise produced by the train to the point where it began, the sound was filled with terror and fear towards the woman wearing the red saree. It was high and loud sending every experience of the chat with her through my head. Saddened at not being able to get help, I returned back to my seat. My eyes went up to the seat number and I realized it was no longer 99 but 66. There was no dead body of a man and there was no woman... no blood, no knife and no visible signs of a gunshot. Only my bags and my camera and a book. The guard had come over to the inspect the coach.
The guard looked at me and I looked back at him. "I just saw them here! I saw the young woman wearing a red saree..." Breathing heavily, I explained, "She shot a man with a gun... he told me that she killed him." The guard asked, "Gun shot, is it?" "Yes," I replied quickly. "Ah! Gunshot!" The guard heaved a sigh of relief.
"Was her name Diana?" he asked.
"Yes, it was!" I replied back. "How do you know that? Do you... do you know her?" The guard said slowly, "no". He paused for a minute to regain his composure and then looked at me and said, "Diana Shekhar," he said, "She had dark eyes. She was from Dibrugarh and lived in Solapur. The man whom she shot was her husband. He had committed incest, I think." Stunned, "Was? Had?" I stared back at the guard. "But she... Diana.. She's alive! I just saw her here in D3."
"Oh no," said the guard. "Diana died about thirty years back on a full moon night. After she killed her husband with the gun, she jumped off the train into the river, and died instantly. It was the river outside Pune station, I think." I looked out of the window, into the night.
My face was white again. "Thirty years ago?" I whispered in shock. "Were she and her husband.. I just saw them!" "Yes, that's right," the guard remarked. "You saw them, but they are not alive. They're ghosts. They often travel in the Deccan Queen on full moon nights in September. I know a commuter who saw them last year. I can't stop them from boarding the train."
The train came to a halt at Pune station. "Diana's story is a famous one. She had inherited a tea garden estate in Assam. She lived in the Defence Colony in Pune. Her husband was an alcoholic and a womanizer. He gambled away to glory and killed his wife. She could not bear the thought and she was extremely angry. She stopped giving him money, and after that... well, you know the story now." "Yes," I said. "Sad, unhappy Diana."
I stayed in Pune for an entire week and it was a quiet week. I took the bus to Mumbai from Swargate. The bus was slow and there was a lot of chaos in the bus, but I was happy. I didn't want to be run over the Deccan Queen Express across to Pune again.