Shanti and The Ghost
by Kiran Jhamb
Once upon a time, a poor man named Hari Singh, lived in Rampur. Hari Singh’s life was full of woes. After his poverty, his biggest problem was his querulous wife called Shanti (means peace). Shanti was the exact opposite of her name. The whole day long she quarreled. In the morning she quarreled with her husband, then in the afternoon and evening she quarreled with her neighbors, with the grocer, with the greengrocer, with the women at the well. Thank God, Hari Sing and Shanti did not have any children.
Shanti’s favorite theme for picking up a quarrel with her husband was her lack of silk saris and gold ornament. Hari Sing earned enough to eat. Luxuries he surely could not provide in his limited income. After all poor Hari Singh was a farmhand. He did not own any land. He worked hard, under the hot sun in the fields, throughout the day. In the evening when he came home tired he had to listen to the constant bitching of his wife. In the beginning he tried to reason with her. But soon he realized it was a waste of time and energy. So he got into the habit of not answering her back. This was like pouring oil over fire.
In the courtyard of Hari Sing’s home was a big Peepal tree. The tree was very old, and there lived a ghost who was a silent witness of this conjugal bliss. On seeing Shanti in full stride - shouting and throwing things at Hari Sing - the ghost always thanked his lucky stars that he was a ghost and not a man. Had he been a man, he would have got married, and his wife too might have been another Shanti. Anyway, all this was pure conjecture, but the important thing was that the ghost developed a sneaking sympathy for Hari Singh.
One particular evening Shanti was in a very foul mood because the grocer had got better of her in their slanging match. So when Hari Singh came home she let out such a volley of abuse at him that she surpassed all her past records. And still Hari Singh did not reply. This was like a red rag to the bull. Shanti picked up a broom which was lying in the courtyard and started beating Hari Singh. He could have hit back, but he was too much of a gentle man. In disgust he walked out of his house. Shanti finding her prey had fled, started venting her anger on the tree. Again and again she hit the trunk of the Peepal tree with the broom. The ghost got frightened. He thought now it was his turn. So he, too, ran out of the tree and the house.
The dejected Hari Singh was sitting by the riverside and staring at water. The ghost went near him and called him by his name. Hari Singh looked around, but could not see anyone. The ghost again called him, “Hari Singh, I am a ghost, you cannot see me.” Hari Singh got frightened, but the ghost assured him, “Listen Hari singh, I am your friend. I live on the Peepal tree in your court yard and daily see your quarrelsome wife fighting with you. Why don’t you buy her some silk saris and gold ornaments?”
“I work hard but still I don’t earn enough to buy all those things,” said Hari Singh sadly.
“Well, Let us think of some way for you to earn money. Yes, I have an idea. What I will do is I will enter into the body of the daughter of the Zamindar Anoop Rai Singh. Today only I'll go to his house. After a month, you come to his house claiming to be an ojha (witch doctor)and go through the drama of making me leave the girl’s body. I will leave her. The Zamindar would be pleased with you and reward you. With that reward money you can buy saris and ornaments for your quarrelsome wife. All right?’
“All right,” said Hari Singh in a bemused voice.
“Then see you in a month’s time,” and the ghost hurried to the Zamindar’s house.
Next day, while working in the fields, Hari Singh heard that the Zamindar’s daughter was acting strange. Last night she had drunk three pitchers full of water and had still wanted more. The Zamindar had sent for the most famous vaid (doctor) of the city to come and attend to his daughter. Everybody talked about this only throughout the month. Many vaids were called, but all of them failed in curing the girl.
At the appointed day, that is after one month, Hari Singh went to the Zamindar’s house and claimed that he could cure the girl. Poor Zamindar had lost all hopes of his daughter’s ever getting cured. At first he thought that
how an ordinary farmhand could be successful where all the vaids and the ojhas had failed. But on second thoughts he decided to allow Hari Singh to treat his daughter. Hari Singh went near the girl and touched her head. He told the ghost in low voice, “I have come. Let us go.” The ghost immediately left the girl. The girl became normal. The Zamindar’s happiness knew no bounds. He gave Hari Singh a hefty eenaam (reward) - a piece of land, some cash, clothes and jewellery.
Hari Singh came home with his reward. The reward made Shanti happy - so happy that for a whole week she did not quarrel. Hari Singh blessed the ghost many times every day. The ghost was very happy for Shanti and Hari Singh. No doubt he was a gentleman ghost and abhorred the scenes which Shanti was capable of creating.
Habits make us their slaves. After a week Shanti again became quarrelsome. The ghost was surprised to see her again getting into her old quarrelsome habits. The shrew had returned. The ghost, too, had acquired a new habit - that of living in the human body. He had come to enjoy the experience and wanted to repeat it. Any way the sight of shrieking and quarrelling Shanti disgusted him. So he quietly left the Peepal tree. This time he chose the king’s daughter. He entered into the girl’s body and started performing his pranks.
The king called all the famous vaids and ojhas. Nobody could cure the girl. However some of them told the king that how the same thing had happened to the daughter of the Zamindar of Rampur, and how Hari Singh, a farmhand, of the same village had cured her. The king sent for Hari Singh . Poor Hari Singh came and though he tried to tell the king that he had no special powers, the king ordered him to treat his daughter. Hari Singh continued to refuse, the king threatened him, "Hari Singh, either you cure my daughter, or I will have you killed .”
Hari Singh felt helpless. He approached the girl, afraid all the time, lest it be some other ghost. But when he neared the princess and said , "Hello, friend ghost, are you there?", he was relieved to hear the familiar voice.
"Yes, I am here. Why have you come? This time I did not make any promise to you. Go. Go away. I am having a whale of a time in this body. I am enjoying myself. I am not going to leave this body,” said the ghost.
Hari Singh again and again requested the ghost to leave the princess' body, but it was of no use. The ghost was just not ready to listen. Hari Singh knew were he to fail in driving away the ghost, the king would not spare his life. In desperation he decided to appeal to ghost's better nature and ask him if he wanted to make Shanti a widow. With this intention he whispered to the ghost, “Think of Shanti, do you want Shanti to .....” become a widow he was about to say but the ghost did not let him complete the sentence. Interrupting Hari Singh, he urgently asked , “Do you mean Shanti is going to come here?” Hari Singh picked up the disgust and terror in the ghost's voice and fibbed, "Yes, she will come here and beat you with her broom.”
“Baap re baap (what the hell)! I must flee from here,” said the ghost. Finding his trick effective, Hari Singh further added, “She told me to tell you that if you ever enter into another body, she will come and beat you.”
"Oh! No! No! I am going just now. Look once I did a good turn to you. Now it is your turn. You must stop Shanti from coming to me. I will go to some other country. I don’t want Shanti breathing down my neck,” with these words the frightened ghost fled. The princess became normal. The king amply rewarded Hari Singh.
Hari Singh came home. The bigger reward made Shanti quiet for a longer period. But again she reverted to being the old Shanti. Hari Singh with the royal money bought some land and deliberately spent most of his time in the fields only. Nature came to his rescue in an unexpected way. One day when Shanti hit him with her broom, he fell down and hurt his head. This time he threatened Shanti, “I will call my friend ghost and tell him to enter into your body.” Shanti got frightened and decided to hit him no more.
As a result of the head injury, Hari Singh became deaf. So he no longer had to listen to Shanti’s rumblings. Now Hari Singh lives as happily as is possible for him. ****