(Last Updated on : 01/01/2009)
The story, The Ghost That Got Away, has come down to the Indian folklore tradition from Kangra, a district of Himachal Pradesh
. The people living in this hilly region lead a simple life. In rural Kangra, as in other parts of India, a young man feels shy and awkward when going to his in-laws' place for the first time. The story is woven around just such a situation. It has a universal appeal because it could happen anywhere.
In a village in Kangra
there lived a young man named Dhania. He owned a small grocery shop and made a comfortable living for himself. But he was basically a simpleton. Even the smallest day-to-day problems made him nervous. And when he was nervous, he ran to his friend Kulfi Ram for guidance. Kulfi Ram was a fortune-teller. Every day he sat under a mango tree, waiting for people to come along and ask him to read their palms.
One day when Kulfi Ram was sitting under a tree Dhania came running. He looked more nervous than ever. At the sight of him Kulfi Ram laughed and asked whether some calamity has fallen on him. But Dhania was really worried because he had to go to his father-in-law's place. At this Kulfi Ram
laughed again and said he should be happy with it because his in-laws will pamper him. They will run around him to look after all his needs.
Dhania lost his patience. He said that he did not want to go because he was scared. His wife would not be accompanying him. So he was all alone and he did not know what to tell them. On hearing this Kulfi Ram pumped Dhania's hand good and hard. He reassured his friend that he will teach him what to say and what not to say. At this Dhania suggested that Kulfi Ram can accompany him. Kulfi Ram liked the idea very much and the very next day the two men set out. On the way Kulfi Ram told Dhania that the latter must remember two things. First he should not behave like a chatterbox and second should not eat too much.
In a few hours they arrived at their destination. The whole family turned out to welcome them. Dhania's mother-in-law greeted them with folded hands. Dhania was slowly turning red in the face but Kulfi Ram had told him not to talk too much. So he returned his in-laws' greeting with folded hands but said not a word. Kulfi Ram spoke instead and said that Dhania was tired after a long journey and he requires a good night's sleep. Soon they were led to the kitchen for dinner. They were asked to sit on a thick straw mat spread on the floor. Dhania's eyes almost popped out of his head to see the food, particularly the crisp and scrumptious 'pooris.' He ate two at one go when suddenly he remembered Kulfi Ram's words. He simply had to follow his friend's advice. So, after the second 'poori', he refused everything else that was offered. It broke his heart but he kept saying no. Meanwhile Kulfi Ram was eating away steadily, enjoying every morsel
After the meal was over, the two friends found themselves in a room with two beds. The mattresses were so comfortable that the moment they lay down, they fell asleep.
But in the middle of the night Dhania woke up. His stomach was making the queerest sounds, rumbling and gurgling. It could mean only one thing: he was hungry. Dhania lay still for some time, hoping he would fall asleep, but he soon realized it was hopeless. With each passing moment he got hungrier and hungrier. At length he could stand it no more. He shook his friend by the arm and woke him up too.
Although irritated Kulfi Ram as he rolled out of bed. He opened the door and peeped out. Their room overlooked a courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard was a room which was probably the store, because they had seen the lady of the house go in and come out with a tin of ghee. The store was sure to have something to eat. But it also had a lock on the door. Kulfi Ram thought for a while and said that at that hour of the moment they will not get any food until they wake up Dhania's mother. But out of shyness Dhania refused to do so. In that case Kulfi Ram suggested that sneak into the store and look around. If they are lucky enough they would definitely find something to eat.
Dhania entered the storehouse through t a skylight. He tied a rope around his waist, climbed up on Kulfi Ram's shoulders and scrambled in through the skylight. His friend was to standing outside. Once he has eaten his fill Kulfi Ram would haul him up.
A few minutes later Dhania was inside the store. At first he couldn't see a thing. But slowly, as his eyes got used to the dark, he could make out some shapes-boxes, tins, bottles and buckets. There were sacks of rice and wheat but nothing, alas, that lie could eat. And then Dhania caught sight of an earthen pitcher hanging from the roof. His heart leapt up. He knew it contained some thing to be eaten.
Dhania stood up on a box and stretched out one arm as far as it would go. But he barely managed to touch the bottom of the pitcher. He picked up a stick standing in a corner and gave the pitcher a smart tap. There was a cracking sound and a thin stream of something began to flow out of the pitcher. Dhania eagerly opened-his mouth to catch the stream, took a big gulp and realized it was honey.
For a few minutes Dhania stood under the pitcher and drank his fill of honey. But suddenly, without warning, a large chunk of the pitcher broke away and the thin stream became a torrent. Before Dhania had time to get out of the way, .he was covered with honey. It was all over his hair. It got into his eyes and ears and ran down his nose into his kurta. He tried to get away but there was honey under his feet and he was stuck to the floor. He yelled for his friend. Kulfi
Ram assured him that he would pull him out.
But this was easier said than done. Kulfi Ram was a thin, scrawny fellow and Dhania was no lightweight. Besides, the honey under Dhania's feet held him fast. Kulfi Ram pulled for all he was worth. But he barely managed to lift Dhania a couple of feet off the ground before he ran out of breath. And back went Dhania with a thud.
The noise woke up Dhania's father-in-law and he came running. At the very sight of him Kulfi Ram's heart sank. But he was a quick-witted man. He told them a story to save the situation. He said that for the last five years a ghost has been after him. He wanted to go on a pilgrimage with him. But being a logical man Kulfi Ram had refused. Then he said that the ghost has followed him to their house and that he needs to be alone to throw it out. Otherwise the ghost may very well take takes a liking to one of them and never leave.
Dhania's mother-in-law quickly handed over the key and the two of them hurried back to their room. Kulfi Ram opened the store and told Dhania to come out. Dripping with honey, all sticky and was annoyed, Dhania came out and charged into another room thinking it was his. It was not his, the room was full of cotton wool all fluffed up to make quilts for the family. The honey acted like gum. Dhania was soon covered with cotton and really began to look like a ghost. From a chink in their door his in-laws were watching. When they saw Dhania covered with cotton, they clutched at each other for sheer fright, ducked their heads and stayed there.
The coast was clear. Kulfi Ram took Dhania to the well behind the house. Dhania had a bath and buried his sticky clothes in a field nearby. Next morning when he got up from bed he looked completely innocent and clean. Once again he ate little for the morning meal. But on the way back, at the far end of the village, he and Kulfi Ram had a good feed of milk and 'jalebis.' And the two friends went back home, laughing all the way.