This week, I had the honor of being the "guest ghost" on "The Name of this Website is Secret" - the author website of Pseudonymous Bosch, author of such fabulous books as The Name of this Book is Secret and most recently This Isn't What it Looks Like.
The story, "The Brahmin Ghost" is an adapted tale from the Bengali tradition of ghost stories - West Bengal being, of course, the Eastern region of India from where my family hails. If you read it, you'll see just how different Bengali ghosts are from Casper and your other traditional chain-clanking, boo-ing specters in the Western tradition.
Now one major difference between Bengali ghosts and demons and Western ones is their penchant for rhyming. Yes, they all tend to speak in rhyme, even when they are threatening to decapitate someone or suck the marrow from their bones. Although the ghosts in "The Brahmin Ghost" don't rhyme, I did begin the story with a poem about a ghost to give it that special Bengali supernatural flavor. Reprinted below is the poem and just the beginning of the story. To read it in full, go to the "guest ghost" post on the name of this website is secret!
The Brahmin Ghost
By Sayantani DasGupta
There is an old man in the coconut tree
He catches bad children will not let them free
Like long white radishes, two teeth hang
His back’s like a drum that no one dare bang
Floppy ears waggle in the north breeze
His eyes blaze like coals that make your blood freeze
A knotty old rope twists round his waist
He wanders through homes for children to taste
The boys who wail, he throws in a pail
He’ll box their ears with ghostly sneers
Be careful you children from far and from near
Be sure when you cry, the old man doesn’t hear!
A long time ago, in a land called Bharat – a place that is now known as India, lived a man of the priestly caste, who was very poor. Despite being learned and good, the Brahmin knew there was no possibility of him finding a good wife without a hefty bride price.
“You’ll have to ask all our friends and neighbors to lend you the money,” his mother told him. “Lord knows you’ve done them enough favors over the years.”
And even though he was ashamed, this is what the Brahmin did. In those days, it would be unthinkable not to have a wife to complete his home. Besides, his father was long dead and although they loved each other, he and his mother sometimes got on each other’s nerves. It would be nice to have someone else around to talk to.
So beloved was the good Brahmin by all who knew him, that within a few weeks he had two enormous pots filled with gold. The Brahmin had enough to marry, and to feed all his friends and neighbors in great style. There was feasting and merry-making for days, and everyone went home with a full heart and even fuller waistline.
The Brahmin now had a beautiful and loving wife to talk to in the long evenings. And the Brahmin’s mother had someone young and strong to do all the things she didn’t like to do around the house, like fetch wood for the stove and cook the family meal.
Whenever the daughter-in-law would leave the house to gather wood, the Brahmin’s mother would say, “Remember to tie your hair neat and tight, daughter. They say the trees at the edge of the village are filled with ghosts.”
Now this may sound bizarre to you and me, but in those days, everyone knew that hollowed out trees were the favorite hiding spot for ghosts. Bhoot, petni, shakchunni, there were as many different types of ghosts in Bharat as there were people. ...
(to read on, go here)