The Haunted Rice Fields
Rangapur was a small village, and the people who lived there had always been content, although none of them could boast of being rich. The trouble was that the land surrounding the Village on three sides was relatively barren and utterly useless for growing crops. But on the northern side, good fertile land had always yielded fine crops of paddy, sugar cane and pulses.
But in recent years, this rich fertile land was no longer being cultivated, and the villagers eyed it with terror, for there was no doubt that it was haunted. Why it was only last year that one of the villagers had been found dead in one of the paddy fields, and another who crossed that land during the night was discovered in a ditch, quite demented, gibbering about ghosts.
A young fellow named Subodh had left the village years ago to study law at Benares. He returned to the Village a learned man, well-versed in the ways of the world ways his return; he was dismayed to find the Village looking dilapidated and its people sitting around in the depths of sadness.
He sought out the elders of the Village and asked them why everyone looked poor and half-starved and why the fields were not cultivated.
“My friend,” said one old man, with a gloomy shake of his head. “We are no longer living but slowly dying. Our lands no longer belong to us. Ghosts and ghouls possess them.”
Subodh could not believe his ears. “Nonsense,” he replied. “You are being foolish, for there are no such things as ghosts and ghouls.”
All the elders tried to speak at once of the strange lights that had been seen at night; the howling and screaming of the ghosts made people hide under their beds and children whimper with fear.
Subodh did not know what to think, but it was obvious that the villagers were terrified, so he decided to try and find out the truth, for it certainly was not a ghost.
That night Subodh walked through the deserted Village, and it was plain that though it was not late, everyone remained behind locked doors after darkness fell. As Subodh approached the old paddy fields, there was a large banyan tree alongside the path, and Subodh was amazed to see something white swaying among the branches. As he went closer to see what it was, the air was filled with the screeching of inhuman laughter and ghastly howling that even made Subodh shiver.
Returning home, Subodh spent hours thinking about what he had seen and heard. Then he thought of a plan to outwit these ghosts.
The next day Subodh told the villagers he was going to a neighbouring village on business, and everyone begged him not to travel at night as it was far too dangerous.
Late in the afternoon, Subodh set off, and when the Village was well out of sight, he left the road and made his way across the fields; he came to the banyan tree that appeared to be the home of ghosts the night before.
Looking around, Subodh saw quite several footprints and the ashes of several fires. It was certainly not a meeting place for ghosts, thought Subodh, as he climbed the tree and found himself a reasonably comfortable perch where he would be well hidden from anyone below.
After endless hours of waiting, Subodh was sure he could hear voices below and looking down through the branches, he could see figures with a dimmed light moving around.
One of the figures tied a white cloth to a long bamboo pole and began waving it to and fro, whilst the others set up an unearthly screeching and howling, enough to wake the dead.
After a while, other figures joined the ones below, and then several of them moved a large boulder near the foot of the tree with a good deal of effort. When the boulder was moved, there was a pit underneath, into which the figures emptied sacks and bags they had with them.
Later, after a good deal of whispering, the boulder was pushed back into its original position, and the figures melted into the night.
After waiting to be sure that all the ghosts’ had gone, Subodh climbed down from his cramped perch and made his way back to the Village, happy that he could solve the villagers’ problems.
The following day everyone was surprised to see Subodh still in the Village.
“We thought you had gone away on business,” said one.
“The only business I went on was to spend most of the night in the fields to meet your ghosts,” replied Subodh with a smile.
“But did you see any ghosts?” everyone seemed to ask the same question.
“Yes, I saw the ghosts,” said Subodh. “And now I will take you to where they live.”
At first, the villagers would not budge, but after a bit of persuasion, they armed themselves with sticks and any handy implement and followed Subodh to the banyan tree at a distance.
“This is where your ghosts live,” said Subodh, beckoning the men to gather around. “Look at all these ghostly footprints. And now, the strongest of you, set to and move that boulder.”
After considerable pushing and puffing, the boulder was moved, and in the pit below, everyone gasped at the hoard of gold and silver ornaments, jewellery and other valuables.
“Now you can see,” explained Subodh, “your ghosts were a band of robbers who frightened you away from the land so they could have a safe hiding place for their loot. Now we will go and explain everything to the King.”
Subodh and the elders of the Village went to the King and told him the story of the ghosts. The King sent his guards to collect the robbers’ treasure and announced that each man of the Village was to be rewarded with fine gold to feed and clothe his family until their land was again cultivated and harvested.
The robbers were soon caught and hanged as a lesson to other ‘ghosts.’ And the Village regained its former prosperity, although, to this day, the villagers still refer to the fields as the haunted rice fields.