The Ghost in the Royal Bengal Tiger

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I – Soul Mates

It was dusk. It was raining. The children and animals of the ancient temple, including the two sacred birds Pechu-owl and Kaga-crow, sat around the old priest Shivajiban, worrying him to tell them a story. Shivajiban gave a toothless smile and began.

“Once there were a king and queen who lived happily with their children and subjects. Finished. The end. Story finished.”

The listeners looked at each other in dismay but Chirr- squirrel jumped on the priest’s shoulder and gently nipped his ears in annoyance.

Pechu-owl took over matters.

“A story must have two sides like games – otherwise it is no story”.

The children now became loud.

“Yes, there must be the good and the bad. Please Dadu tell us a story”

Shivajiban realized that he would not be free to rest unless he told them a tale. He fingered his sacred thread, closed his eyes and meditated on the ancient tortoise, Kachua to help him with another legend of yore. Thus inspired, the old priest began.

“From childhood, Khabo and his wife Chakmaki were soul mates – both alone in the world. Without anyone to arrange a wedding, they had promised themselves to each other keeping the Sun, Moon, Wind, Rain and Stars as witnesses. The pair began to live life keeping as their ideals the old king and ageing queen in the crumbling palace by the trickling stream. Khabo loved to eat; he licked his chops whenever he saw the king come out into the garden eating and eating from plates piled with delicacies. And Chakmoki? Her passion was jewels. She stole trinkets from women in the market to keep house for herself and her husband but her focus was on the dazzling gems the queen wore.

One day Chakmoki tried her luck and stole a diamond necklace when the queen was not in her palace room. Thus soon they became rich and powerful with everybody kowtowing to them. But with time they wanted more and more – more food, more ornaments and of course – more power.

So they made a second attempt to steal – Chakmoki targeting again the queen’s room with Khabo guarding her rear. But their concentration was not focused – Khabo thought of the royal larder and Chakmoki of wanting to wear a particular shining ruby ring. But this time luck was against them. Trying to cross the swollen stream, a high tide in the monsoon month of Sravana caught them. They died together hand in hand. But as soon as they left their bodies the clasp broke – they who had never been separated even for a night since their days in the orphanage found themselves whisked away by the guards of ghost society to perch on branches of different trees”.

II – Ghost Society

The children huddled together as the rain fell in torrents accompanied by thunder and lightning. The old Brahmin continued.

“The ghosts were not allowed anywhere and everywhere. They had to live on trees – special trees meant for each type of ghost –  the rules of ghost society. These two had given up their bodies by the banks of a stream on one side of which was the crumbling palace flanked by a giant banyan tree guarding it  – the growing branches like multiplying protective soldiers. But the opposite west bank was ideal for ghosts. Chakmoki had to settle down on the sheora or sandpaper tree. Nothing from this tree came of any use – neither flowers, leaves nor even the wood. Khabo was given the bel or wood-apple tree. Beyond this was a cluster of bamboo trees – ideal for commoner-ghosts – of which there were many. It was only during the fortnight of the waning moon that the ghosts could wander within a restricted area where there were no prayer-houses. But on the no-moon night of Amavasya, the ghosts had greater freedom – they could even fly across the stream and wander through the ruins of the palace.

On the tallest palm tree lived the wise Brahmin-ghost – Brahma-dvaitta –  the guru of the ghostly denizens. The nights of the no-moon saw all the ghosts gather by the banks of the rivulet and present their complaints to him. This night the two new ones were made welcome.

Brahma-dvaitta: “Your name is Khabo? What have you to say?”

Khabo: “When alive I loved to eat – I ate and ate until I died. My last thoughts were on eating. It has followed me in my new incarnation as ghost but …”

Brahma-dvaitta: “But you cannot satisfy your hunger. You have no body!”

Khabo: “It is agonizing. I cannot bear the hunger pangs. Is there no help? It’s also – oh how I miss my wife!

The ghost-Guru did some thinking.

Brahmadvaitta: “ There is only one way out for you, Khabo. On a night of the no-moon – Amavasya, if you find someone wandering about, then you can enter his body and rule over him; through his body, you can satisfy your hunger to your fill so long as he hosts you. Hopefully, by the time this body gives up the ghost and dies, you would have learnt your lesson and got over your bad urges”

Then he turned to Chakmoki.

“I presume you too are harangued by your last thoughts – sparkling jewels torture you; as a ghost, you can do nothing about it. You will be happy as a yakshini – security guard of treasures left behind by someone. If that someone on the no-moon night calls out for a yakshini then you can appear before that person, assuring the caller of your services. You will be locked underground forever with the wealth until you are sick of the glitter and want to escape; then and then only you will become free. I see that both of you are frowning – not happy. You don’t want to be trapped again?’

“No,” they replied in unison. “Is there no way out if we …”

Brahmadwaitta sighed and continued – this time addressing the congregation.

“We ghosts too can be freed but gradually by working out our karma – all that we have piled up in our previous lives. I am no exception. I abused my power of knowledge by … well never mind me. At present we are each night gathering good karma by guarding the trees we are perched on group karma”.

“How?” Khabo and Chakmoki spoke in unison.

“By filling with fear the hearts of those who come to destroy the forests. Fear! Ghosts! They attack each other. Fear either kills them or they run away. Thus the forest, water-bodies and skies are spared when rumour spreads of haunted woods while we gain brownie points But this will take a long long time.”

Chakmoki came forward crying.

“Is there no quicker way out of this ghostly life? It’s unbearable without my beloved Khabo.”

“I have already told you – on the next no-moon night find your escape route – Khabo,  you enter another body and Chakmoki find the person who wants a yakshini to guard treasures for eternity. Fare thee well – the dawn breaks”.

III – NO-Moon! Amavasya!

Shivajiban took a sip of water from his brass lota. Night darkened but his audience would not let him rest.

“It was the night of no-moon – Amavasya. Let us go inside the walls of the tumbledown palace. Here lived the old king and queen. He did nothing for his subjects but took from them all they could give and ate and ate. The queen too never bothered and just gathered gold and jewels. But Time had at last caught up with them.

The old snake Vastunag was the security guard of the palace for generations; he now decided that the two inside the mahal were no longer the real representatives of the ganas – the people –  were not worthy of guarding. Silently Vastunag slithered out and vanished into the woods.

Amavasya! It was pitch dark. Khabo and Chakmoki jumped down from the trees and in one sweeping arch crossed the creek to reach the palace, all the while keeping a sharp eye open for a victim. They did not have to wait long.

But – there was another also in search of prey.

Seeing the snake exit, a lurking Royal Bengal Tiger decided it was time to enter the citadel. Too old to catch even a rat, the tiger licked his chops seeing the easy prey – the pot-bellied king. Khabo too had had his eyes on the king. He knew about the gluttonous monarch – the ideal body to get into and satisfy his own non-stop hunger.

But things went topsy-turvy. It all happened suddenly.

As soon as the king lurched into the courtyard with his food tray, Khabo-ghost made a dive, but before him, it was the tiger who jumped on the greedy monarch! In the chaos, Khabo missed the king but got into the tiger! At once he began to munch and crunch – eating the raja but from inside the Royal Bengal tiger. The tiger was now possessed by the ghost!

Chakmoki was not far behind. Hearing the commotion the queen came out of her room but she went back hastily. It was a shock seeing the king dangling from the jaws of a tiger. Although overcome with sorrow the queen’s thoughts however were only about her jewels. She cried out.

“Will not any Yaksha come to guard my wealth – for I am soon to die.”

Immediately Chakmoki took on the shadowy form of a ghostly woman – the Yakshini.

“I have come oh queen. Run! I will guard these jewels forever – even if you are gone.”

The queen had no time to answer. She ran for her life somehow managing to point out the underground hoard of treasures. The tiger closed in.

To Chakmoki-yakshini it was no problem to slide through a crack in the flooring to reach the dark damp dungeon stacked with sparkling jewels and ornaments. To her heart’s content, she settled down touching this or that before burrowing down in a pile of gold coins.

Meanwhile outside, Khabo now inside the tiger, in between his munches looked up at Brahmadwaita

“Guru! My hunger is satisfied. But when will I reunite again with my Chakmoki?”

“You are fortunate not to have entered the king – when the king would have ultimately died you would have again been loaded with his karma of royal hunger. But a tiger is ever satisfied with each meal – tigers eat to live – ever content after each full meal. So with the royal animal’s death – it cannot be far for he is very old – you will be free. You will not bring forward any more longings and wishes into your next life”

“And my Chakmoki?”

“Let us wait and see”.

Dawn was breaking. All the ghosts retreated to their dens among the branches.

IV – Green and the Sun

At first, Chakmaki was drunk and dazzled by living day in and day out with the sparkling jewels. She forgot everything – except for a gnawing pain for her lost husband Khabo. She lived in a daze but – but gradually the jewels began to feel cold. You see – through a small chink roots of a banyan tree’s roots were trying to push through – widening the hole. Sunlight began to creep in with the green and this sharpened the contrast between the cold jewels and the warmth of the creeping sunlight. As if in answer to her awakening, a rat-couple pushed through the hole with crumbs – nibbling, savouring and sharing. The jewels now felt like frozen ice as her longing for her beloved grew strong.

Then a miracle happened. The tiger died. Khabo became free. Just then two thieves rushed into the palace with shovels and hammers to break open the dungeon. Sunlight flooded in as Chakmoki with joined palms sailed out stepping on the stairs of light reaching out to the waiting Khabo. Hand in hand they wafted away to another land – maybe to be born again in this Earth of Sun, Moon Wind, Rain and Stars. Maybe!

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- Total nr. of readings: 417 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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