Photo by Darina Belonogova:

I come from a very small village down south of Tamilnadu. I was an 80s kid. In our village, even men were reluctant to go out after dark. They ventured out only in groups when the situation compelled them to go out. Single men were always warned of a certain supernatural power. They always spoke in hushed voices about “Neeli”. I was both puzzled and thrilled by the fact that men too are scared of a female. That gave me a kind of satisfaction. Later, the story of “Neeli” unfolded before my eyes as I attained a certain age. This story happened about 200 years or so back in a village near our place. The highlight is that every village in Tamilnadu says the same thing. They claim that the story happened near their village.

It was a time when there was no electricity or any modern mode of transportation. Traders and occasional travelers visited the places by walk or used bullock carts. One such trader frequented the village called Pazaiyanur, for the procurement of agricultural goods. His name was Darshanam. He used to stay there till the harvests were over. He had a good rapport with the villagers.

In the same village, a girl by the name of Neeli lived. She was a very beautiful, nice girl from a reputed family. They were known for their honor. Neeli was a free-spirited girl and wandered all around the village. She became friends with Darshanam. Soon Darshanam and Neeli became lovers. They crossed the limits because of their love for each other. As a result of their conjugal relationship, Neeli became pregnant. She compelled Darshanam to marry her before this news comes out. She begged to state that her entire family’s honor was at stake. But Darshanam refused to marry her and informed her that he was already married and had a son too! Neeli was enraged beyond words. She attacked Darshanam. But he ran away from Pazaiyanur. Neeli waited patiently in the hope that Darshanam would return one day. But that never happened. Shedding tears and dreading the outcome Neeli became restless. Even after 3 months, Darshanam did not come back. But the baby in her womb started growing. The bulging tummy gave away the secret. Neeli’s family was infuriated by her immoral behavior. Her mother immolated herself for giving birth to such a lustful girl. Her family disowned her. No one was prepared to give shelter to that unfortunate victim. She wandered in the jungles with her womb full but empty stomach. Some said that they were able to hear her cry for help and food. No one took pity on her. One fine day she fell into a river, and she was never seen again.

But this was not all! Neeli’s story continued! Neeli’s fate reached Darshanam’s ears too! So he stopped purchasing from Pazaiyanur. Instead, he started coming to another village nearby. One day, he was walking along the jungle road in the dusk. He felt some sort of discomfort. His hair stood on end. His initial worry was about the money he carried. Because in the olden days, there were many thieves on the traveler’s path. Finally, he realized that someone or something was following him. The Sun was setting. The road took a turn. At the bend, he saw a reflection. With horror, he realized that he was followed by dead Neeli. He ran for his life to the nearest village and sought refuge. But Neeli presented herself as a pregnant woman and claimed to the villagers that Darshanam was her husband. She said that since the day she became pregnant he behaved differently. Villagers believed her. Darshanam pleaded with the villagers not to believe the lady. He shouted that this was not a lady but a ghost in disguise. Neeli cried bitterly which melted the hearts of the villagers. Neeli wanted to spend that night with Darshanam. The villagers asked Darshanam to accept his wife and spend the night with her. He was flabbergasted. He told them that if he spent the night with her, he will be dead by morning. The villagers pledged their honor to protect him. If anything happened to him, they said they will honor kill themselves.

There was no other way! Poor Darshanam had to spend the night with Neeli. Neeli put all the villagers in a sleeping spell. As the villagers all went to sleep, he showed her true colors. She howled and hissed at Darshanam. He was shivering. Finally, Neeli dug her foot-length nail into his stomach and took out the intestine. Darshanam shouted for help. Neeli tortured him and killed him slowly.

Morning dawned. The villagers went to the inn where Darshanam was staying with his family. The scene that unfolded before their eyes were both shocking and scary. Darshanam’s head was kicked at a corner of the room. His intestine was found on the floor. His fingers and toes were lying here and there. The villagers were taken aback by the betrayal of a ghost. They all felt ashamed not to have believed Darshanam’s words. It was a promise on their honor to protect him. Their promise had to be honored. So, the entire village excluding women made a big fire and all men sacrificed themselves. But Neeli’s hatred for menfolk was not over. Even today she wanders in the jungle for vengeance.

Well! When I first heard this story, I felt a tinge of pity for Neeli. I wondered at those village men for their honor. Was that sacrifice necessary? Who was going to ask them? But still, they all died for their honor. Why was the womenfolk of that village spared? Didn’t they oppose their men’s sacrifice? Or whether they offered penance and were ignored? All these questions remained unanswered.

Things have changed a lot since Neeli’s time. But the woe of women folk has not changed that much. Some Inhumans do not spare the girl kids even. I invoke you! Oh! Neeli! Come and take your revenge.

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