The Soul Catcher

Yamini is a soul catcher.
She has superpowers that help her intercept souls headed to heaven or the afterworld or for reincarnation and she spirits them away, on another course, to those in need.
Tim’s soul is ready to depart.
Yamini knows the ETD of his soul and shows up at the hospice with Andrew. She is helping Andrew bring his wife back to life.
A fascinating passage from Monica Bhide’s latest novel The Soul Catcher whose narrative meanders in part through the paranormal world.
Illustrations: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com.

The amber flame is tiny and potent. The candle burns slowly, radiating sweet scents of musk and frangipani. The wafting smells give life. But more importantly, and without remorse, they also take it away.

The flame burns steadily this evening. It knows someone is going to die tonight.

Yamini gracefully places the candle in a small golden candleholder. She sets it down on the coffee table alongside fresh white roses in a crystal vase, a well-worn book about the Vietnam War, and a jar filled with Christmas cookies. She has been here before and knows the room well. It’s filled with photos of his life. A few show him and his buddies on their ship, there are two photos with his sons, and one with his wife, Janet, taken on their wedding day sixty years ago, as she told Yamini.

***

Janet had said to her earlier that week, “It’s so nice for a young woman like you to volunteer here. Now tell me: What does your name mean? It is so unusual.”

Yamini smiled; it was a question she was often asked.

“My mother was living in India when I was born. It was a moonless night and dark outside, so they named me Yamini. It means ‘night’.” Yamini paused as she saw Janet’s reaction.

“What kind of a parent names their child after darkness?” Janet asked.

“She told me that it isn’t always the light that brings good things, sometimes the darkness can bring better things in life,” Yamini had responded with her ever-playful smile. It was the energy of that smile that had made Janet trust everything Yamini said.

In just a few minutes of conversation, Yamini heard what she needed. “We decided to bring Tim here because it’s time for us to let him go. He’s my high school sweetheart, you know? I know in my heart he’s ready to leave now. I just need to make him as comfortable as I can.” Janet gazed lovingly at her dying husband.

It confirmed what Yamini knew already. These souls came to her in dreams. She always knew who was ready to leave and she arrived to assist. It didn’t hurt to have the fact verified, not that it mattered anymore. A part of her always died with each soul. But as fate often reminded Yamini, this was her purpose in life.

When she was young, she felt powerful. So powerful she could hold her own against defiant cosmic energies, turbulent Goddess manifestations, and even the Universe itself. Then she fell into a doomed love affair. Everything changed after that.

Now, Yamini arrived when needed to merely fulfill her duties. The desire to shine and change the world had smoldered away in the seared embers of her broken heart.

***

Now the old man on the bed stirs and calls for his wife. “Janet, is that you? Janet?” The room is dim but for the orange glow of the golden candle.

Yamini moves slowly toward the old man. Her breathing evens out. She centers herself, feeling each breath reach her heart, which opens up and releases some of the pressure she feels to make sure everything is done according to the mandated rituals.

One misstep and the man would needlessly suffer.

“I can do this,” she mutters, and reminds herself she’s done this hundreds of times before. She has to hurry now. There is little time left. She places her handbag by the bedside.

The scents from the candle work their way into every crevice, finding their destination.

Yamini is grateful the bed is low. She sits beside Tim and holds his cold, wrinkled hand. He whispers his wife’s name as he struggles to catch his breath. Yamini can feel the love in his aura. Despite his illness, the aura is steady.

“Tim, thank you for calling me. I am Yamini. You appeared in my dream and asked for relief. I am here now, and I promise you will not be in pain anymore,” she says, placing a manicured hand on his forehead.

He grips her other hand tightly and opens his eyes. “You have come,” he mumbles. “Say goodbye to Janet? I will be hers again. But for now, it’s time to go.”

He barely finishes the sentences, coughing and huffing and puffing between words.

“She feels your love. You have given her remarkable memories. I see them manifested in her cells. They will keep her blissful until you are united again.”

She tries to smile at him, but the pain sears through her chest and legs, and Yamini flinches. The irony of it all. The pain she feels can only be relieved by another’s death.

When Yamini was five years old, Kalki, a spiritual healer in Shahajahanabad, told her, “When the visions come, you have to act on them. Otherwise you will die a slow, painful death. You will spread light through your darkness. You are the soul catcher.”

Kalki, with her bald head, large red markings across her forehead and crimson robes, intimidated little Yamini. The same healer had prophesised that Yamini’s sister, Damini, would be the healer of pain.

It seemed so unfair: One sister kills, the other heals. But such is fate — it doesn’t discuss or offer alternatives. Fate decides.

And now here she is, the soul catcher, a hundred years later. Yamini closes her eyes and begins to chant a soft verse of love and living forever, of dying and being reborn, of giving and gratitude. Her mother made her memorise the Sanskrit verses.

“The sounds of the words matter, the pacing matters, the pronunciation matters. It is like you have been handed fire. If you don’t handle it with care, it will burn you and everything around you.”

Young Yamini merely repeated the words without paying attention to the vibrations of the sounds. Then, a child whom she was reciting the chants over died. In a quick second, it was all over. That night, Yamini struggled with falling asleep. When she finally closed her eyes, Kalki in all her glory seemed to appear in a dream.

“I warned you about the powers given to you. You have failed. From this night on, for the next three thousand six hundred and fifty nights, you will not be able to close your eyes in peace. There will be only darkness. I take away your power to imagine.”

For ten years’ punishment, the soul catcher lost her ability to dream. The nights were unbearable as she’d sit and stare at the ceiling as no thoughts were allowed to enter or leave her mind.

After that mistake, Yamini never again took her duty lightly. She practiced the chants day and night, the rhythms of the verses, the vibrations of the syllables, the movements of her hands.

The dreams returned.

Now she begins to chant slowly, savoring each word, ensuring the sound comes from deep within the center of her heart. Slowly, the words flow. Her head sways as the soft hair cascading down Yamini’s back appears to move like waves caressing the seashore.

The verses reach a crescendo as her mind, soul, and spirit all align. The final verse transforms into karmic energy.

She stops chanting.

From the center of the old man’s forehead a cool sensation moves up Yamini’s hand and into her heart.

It is time.

She opens her eyes — and Tim closes his forever.

“Thank you for your help,” she whispers, and kisses his forehead.

The flame dies. The scent is gone. The only smell that lingers is the lemon cleaning liquid used to mop the floors earlier that morning. Everything is the same, yet everything is different.

Yamini picks up the candle and its holder and places them in a sleek leather pouch.

“Please, come in, we cannot delay,” Yamini calls out, and a young man, Andrew, opens the door and rushes in with a wheelchair. The glow from the light in the corridor spills onto the wooden floor.

Andrew grimaces when he sees the silhouette of the man on the bed. It’s too dark to see anything clearly.

“Is… is that him?”

“Now, now, we need to go, we don’t have time,” Yamini says, and bends over as the pain worsens.

“Are you okay, Yamini?” Andrew touches her shoulder as he struggles to get Yamini’s petite frame into the wheelchair. She looks frail, almost waif-like, yet he can’t lift her. He pulls with all his might. He can barely move her. He takes a deep breath and tries again. On the third attempt, he finally gets Yamini off the bed and into the wheelchair.

Yamini can barely open her eyes. She nods gently.

Andrew mutters to himself as he wipes away the droplets of sweat from his forehead, “I need to move. It’s okay. This is all going to be okay.”

She had warned Andrew that they would have only a few minutes before the hospice staff was alerted about the death. She knew their routine. They would be in at nine to check on Mr Wilson.

He peeks out the door. The staff is busy watching TV and bantering about Christmas reindeer and how Rudolph is actually a female reindeer since a male reindeer would lose his way.

The hospital where Andrew’s young wife is dying is about twenty minutes away. He scans the corridor to make sure no one is looking and then pushes the wheelchair as fast as he can. He’s at the end of the hallway when he hears the commotion behind him. He stops and turns around.

“Poor Mr Wilson. And on Christmas Eve,” says a woman dressed in a loud holiday sweater.

She doesn’t seem surprised; after all, this is a place where people come to die.

“I think we should wait to call Janet. She just left to be with her grandson twenty minutes ago,” says a different female voice. A short discussion decides the action. “I’ll go and call her, and you call Fred at the funeral home.”

Andrew doesn’t want to hear more. He rushes towards the exit. He’s heard enough. The man is dead.

“Lord, please forgive me, please forgive me.” His muttering gets louder the faster he pushes.

The security guard at the exit catches Andrew by surprise. “Sir? Sir, are you okay? She seems like she’s sick. You need help?”

Andrew is startled. He stops, unsure what to do next. Yamini, slumped in the chair, is withering in pain, drooling saliva from the sides of her mouth.

This is no ordinary hospice — this is where the rich come to die. The reception area has shiny floors, a chandelier dripping with crystals, green sofas with white silk cushions, and red poinsettias all around. And they have a full-time guard. With a gun.

The security guard bends down to examine Yamini’s face closely. “I know I’ve seen her here before, same thing each time; she comes in looking fine, and then some dude is always wheeling her out. What’s up with that?”

Andrew stares at the guard standing between him and the exit. There is no other way out. On the left is a mammoth, well decorated Christmas tree with wrapped boxes under it, and on the right is the guard’s table.

“Sir, I am asking you again, do you need help? Is she okay?”

‘Yes, she’s fine. She… she’s ill, so she sleeps sometimes,” Andrew lies as he begins to sweat more profusely.

“Are you sure? Man, she looked fine when ya’ll came in. She wasn’t in no chair then. Just like before.”

The guard is now staring at Yamini slumped in the chair. Her striking pink blouse is tight, revealing a perfectly shaped bosom; her jeans are tucked into high-heeled boots.

“Nothing’s wrong, I don’t know what you’re talking about. We have never been here before.”

“Listen, man, whatever is going on, you need to tell me before I call the front office.”

The guard instinctively moves a hand towards his pistol. Andrew squirms in his jeans and sweater. “I’m telling you. It’s nothing. I mean… she’s my sister and we just visited my uncle. He is ill and she gets very upset when she sees him. She will be fine. That’s it, man. We just came to see him for Christmas.”

The guard eyes them skeptically. “I know I’ve seen her before. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen her here before. Sir, I think you better wait here, I’m going to call my supervisor.”

Yamini stirs and moves her hand a touch. Suddenly, the guard’s attention is diverted. There’s a loud noise from the back of the building.

“Sweet Jesus, that sounds like a gunshot! Wait here, I’ll be right back.” The guard rushes inside.

“Now run,” whispers Yamini. “Run, Andrew, run. We don’t have much time. I can’t carry this soul too much longer.

Andrew breaks into a run, pushing as fast as he can, the weight of the chair getting heavier and heavier.

The night is dark, with no moon and it seems like no stars.

He struggles to get Yamini in the car, pulling her by the arms and then lifting as he would a small child.

Andrew moves the wheelchair to the side of the parking lot.

They hear the security guard calling, “You! I told you to wait. Hold on there.” But Andrew and Yamini are already in the car.

Yamini urges Andrew to hit the accelerator, and the car takes off into the night.

Andrew keeps asking, “Yamini, are you alright? God, what have we done…”

“We will save your wife. Now hurry. I don’t have much time. I cannot hold on for too long,” she says, and closes her eyes.

Excerpted from The Soul Catcher by Monica Bhide with the kind permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India.

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