Two Ghost Stories
by Vimala Ramu
“Have you seen a ghost?” “Do you believe in ghosts?” Typical attention grabbing conversation starters, particularly in younger days. Though skepticism and rationalism crept in slowly as a person matured, the awe in which the ghost stories are held is phenomenal. We had firmly believed that the huge ficus tree in our school compound harbored a ghost and as such no one would venture there after sunset. But the tree was later axed down when the original owners took over the building and built modern flats for self occupation. Where did the ghost disappear to?
Ghosts or spirits in western culture are apparitions appearing in their original form and outfit. Their haunting sites are mostly restricted to the places they had inhabited while they were alive.
But our Indian ghosts are as diverse as the Indian population and our pantheon. We have bhoot, preth, pisach, doyen, Brahma rakshas etc. These acquire scary persona after their reaching ghosthood. They are said to haunt specific areas or they may possess humans till they are exorcised.
One of our school mates had told us with full conviction that a ‘pisachi’(female spirit) lived in her house. She told us that the pisachi ate up all the food stored in the kitchen at night. In the bathroom it would sit in front of the bathroom furnace burning its own legs as fuel. Every once in a while, it would burst into a shriek and clap its hands, shake its head, shouting ‘Deemachi, Deemachi’
It was only later that my scientific, mature mind analyzed the whole thing and arrived at a sad, plausible answer.
The ‘pisachi’ (my friend’s mother must have referred to her by no other name)
must have been a poor relation or even her own mother-in law who had been reduced to that pitiable state due to neglect and animosity on the part of the lady of the house. She must have been helping herself to leftover food at night. As for offering her legs as fuel, Indian bathrooms had huge cauldrons mounted on cement furnaces with wood as fuel to heat water for bath. The hot walls of the furnace offered an ideal heat therapy for old, arthritic legs. Old people would often prop their feet on the furnace wall and enjoy relief from pain. To my brainwashed friend it must have looked as if the pisachi was burning its own legs as fuel. As for ‘deemachi, deemachi’ ( a corruption of ‘divyamachi, divyamachi’, meaning ‘good, good’ in Tamil), the old lady must have been mulling over her old memories and enjoying them or perhaps that was her way of participating in the family conversation where she was not needed.
On the other hand,the ‘ghost’ story I heard from a Kashmiri Air force officer much later in life was hilarious. I believe in their younger days he with his friends would go to a town nearby to see movies and return late at night. One moonless night, when the visibility was practically nil, they were totally unnerved to see huge creatures shuffling awkwardly on two legs approaching them. Reciting the Gayatri mantra to ward off fear, they almost collapsed when the shapeless creatures actually came upon them. It was then that they realized that they were villagers carrying huge bundles of hay which covered their heads and faces presenting a scary, sinister picture to the youngsters! ******