What is a Ghost?
On the banks of the Kalindi, there was a village called Punjika, and in that village lived a Brahman named Prajna. He was less than mediocre in several respects, yet, by a stroke of luck, the loveliest maiden for several miles around was betrothed to him. Sulochana was her name. She belonged to the same village, and her parents agreed to the marriage because they knew Prajna quite well and wanted the girl to be near them.
A day was fixed for the marriage. On the eve of the wedding, Sulochana was decorated in the fashion of a bride. But she never liked this marriage. No one would listen to her. So she decided to commit suicide. In the dark before dawn on the wedding day, Sulochana took a water pot and rushed to the river Kalindi. She put the pot on the bank and made to jump into the water when suddenly someone held her from behind and stopped her.
The person who stopped Sulochana from suicide was a wealthy young man called Vitha-Varma of Kumbha-konam in the South. He had gone south on business and settled there. He came north to find a suitable girl for a wife. He had seen several girls in several villages but was not satisfied with any. He was on his way to other places when in the distance, he saw Sulochana. On seeing her, he got down from the horse and approached her on foot. Sulochana kept looking backwards as she neared the river, making Vitha-Varma suspect her intentions.
“What are you up to?” he asked her. “You look like a bride too! Who are you?”
She told him her story with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I didn’t want to marry that man; I wished to die instead. And you’ve spoiled everything!” she added.
“A pretty kettle of fish!” he remarked in surprise. “Will you come away with me? I’ve been searching for a nice girl like you. I’ll marry you if you don’t mind living in the south, away from your people!”
“The moment I wanted to kill myself, I’ve done with my people; since you’ve stopped me from death, take my responsibility upon yourself,” Sulochana said to him.
Vitha-Varma took her upon his horse and turned homewards to Kumbha-Konam.
In the morning, people began to come to the river. They saw an empty pot on the bank and raised the alarm. Soon the pool was identified, and Sulochana, the bride-to-be, was found missing. It was assumed that Sulochana died of drowning. As for reasons, there were as many as there were people.
Even the most worthless of men can find somebody to marry him. A few days after the supposed death of Sulochana, Prajna was married to a girl called Radha. She came to live with him, and she found herself in the family way over time. She had an unusually severe attack of morning sickness, and some thoughtless ladies in the village said to her, “Silly child, why did you go to the river while you are big with child? Everybody knows that the ghost of Sulochana is haunting those parts. Didn’t it occur to you that she would be madly jealous of you for having married the man who should have been hers?”
This idle chatter drove poor Radha into a frenzy. Prajna was very much worried not only about the safety of his wife but also about the child she was carrying. He consulted dozens of people who could see ghosts, talk to ghosts and were experts in spirit- eradication. Without a single exception, all of them said that Sulochana had possessed Radha. They undertook to drive away the vicious spectre by chanting mantras, tying talismans around Radha’s neck, and various other juggleries. Four different man-tricks caught the ghost and buried her deep down in the earth!
In any case, Radha regained her health and gave birth to a daughter in due course. But most unexpectedly, the babe died only a few hours after birth, and it was pretty clear that the ghost was far from destroyed.
“This ghost will not yield to cheap tricks,” some villagers told Prajna. “The best cure for this is going on a religious pilgrimage.”
“Rameshwar!” said some others. “That’s where you should go. Sometime back, one of our villagers was possessed by a ghost, and one trip to Rameshwar rid him of it for good!”
So Prajna started with his wife on a pilgrimage to Rameshwar. They travelled for several weeks and, at long last, reached the city of Kumbha-Konam. There they lodged in a choultry, but during the night, some thieves made away with all their belongings except the clothes they slept in.
The unhappy pilgrims did not know what to do. They were pretty helpless. Some people who learnt about their plight told Prana, “You needn’t worry. In this city, there is a merchant, a highly charitable man. If you see him and tell him about your misfortune, he will certainly help you.”
Prajna got the address of this charitable merchant and went to see him, along with his wife. While Prajna was talking to the rich man, Radha entered the rich man’s wife. She told her how the ghost of Sulochana possessed her, how they failed in all their attempts to overpower the spirit, how they were advised to make a pilgrimage to Rameshwar, and finally, how they were robbed of everything at the choultry.
The merchant’s wife heard out Radha and began to remove her ornaments. Then she changed into a much simpler dress and said the gentleman talking to her husband should be brought to her.
Prajna came, but he did not look at the merchant’s wife. “Look here, sir!” she said. “Don’t you recognise me?” Prajna looked at her, and his jaw fell. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed at last. “You’re Sulochana!” For it was she.
Then Sulochana turned to Radha and said with a smile, “You see, you’ve been trying all the while to get rid of my ghost! Isn’t it silly? Stop filling your head with such nonsense. Go back home and be happy.”
Sulochana told them her story. Prajna and his wife were entertained for a couple of days and, with the help of Sulochana, returned home.