Chicken-hearted Ghost

Ruskin Bond

During my adult life I have been doing my best to see a ghost, or even feel the presence of a ghostly being; but, apart from hearing about other peoples hair-raising experiences, I have never had any supernatural visitations.

So when Roop Singh told me that his wife (who had recently arrived from their village in the mountain fastnesses near Gangotri) was possessed by a ghost or evil spirit, I was delighted. Here, at last, was my chance to experience the real thing.

Our adventure took place in the middle of a stormy night last month. It was raining heavily, but I am a light sleeper, and at about one in the morning I was awakened by Roop Singh calling, Sir, sir! Please come!

I found his wife making strange, mewling sounds, as she moved restlessly around the room, shifting rapidly between door and window. Her hair was loose and there was a wild look in her staring eyes. She seemed totally unaware of my presence.

The spirit is calling her outside, said Roop Singh, and whacked her over the head with the flat of his hand. Thats the only thing that brings her to senses, he explained.

The girl, now awake, sank down on the cot, sobbing hysterically. Shes all right now said Roop Singh, But the spirit will return later, and then shell be up and about again.

Lets wait and see what happens, I said.

Soon she began to whimper again. The whimper became muttering. And then she was talking to someone, and it was quite clear that she wasnt talking to either Roop Singh or me.

As Roop Singh raised his heavy hand once more, I said, Wait! Hold it! And dashing upstairs in the rain, I found a little bottle of smelling salt, last opened some ten years ago.

I held the bottle close to the girls quivering nostrils, her head jerked back, and she was instantly awake.

Here, you keep it, I said, presenting the bottle to Roop Singh. Whenever the ghost visits her, be sure to use it!

Hes done this ever since, and claims my cure is infallible. But he doesnt accept my theory that his wife is simply a sleepwalker, and a sleep talker. We call it a ghost, he says.

And he may be right. But if ghosts are susceptible to smelling salts, then once again I am disillusioned. I lost my respect for vampires many years ago, when I learnt that they fled from smell of garlic. And now I find that ghosts are equally chicken-hearted. There is no integrity left in the spirit world. Humans are far more frightening.

(Extract from the Book Landour Days by Ruskin Bond and published by Penguin Random House, India)