Red-haired Ghost

May 31, 2012


Vallabh became my friend when I was in fifth grade, although I knew him a couple of years earlier.

Next to our school playground was a farm that belonged to government agriculture school. It always had sugarcane plantation and we never knew what went on behind the cane wall.

On a day when I was waiting at the playground for my friends to join me, I noticed the sugar cane crop harvested and the farm suddenly had a desolate look. I saw a boy with a loosely draped turban, loose collarless cotton shirt and baggy half pant. He must be very disturbed. He was pounding the earth relentlessly for no clear reason. I yelled at him and asked him what was wrong, invited him to come and play with my friends. He did not take notice. Next day, again, the scene was the same. Today, he had a stick and he was poking the fence tirelessly.

In a few days, his anger subsided and he smiled at me. Encouraged, I returned the gesture. He then invited me to come and visit the farm when I had time, but during daytime, so that he can show me around. We agreed for a fine morning and I met him at the main gate. Although the farm appeared smallish from outside, it sprawled and had a nice, straight, red mud road up to the skyline. There was a lush green plantation on either side of the road.  The trees, vegetables and the earth smelled good. He showed me all the farm and filled my pockets with baby brinjals and tomatoes, saying

“Take these home, it is my last day on this farm”.

“Why?”

“Our lease for the Government farm has expired and we will become farmless and homeless in a few days. I am Vallabh, by the way”

“Then? What will you do?”

“We will be moving to a hut and our own land. No problem there, except that it is barren”

“Why were you so disturbed last week?”

“I have to join the school now, because I shall not have any work at home or farm. This is not what I want. Schools must be boring compared to farm labor”.

“This must be true”

I told him where I lived. His family shifted to the new piece of land.  He kept visiting me; usually when they took their bullock cart to weekly market. He indeed joined the school, but admitted to first standard, since he had no formal education until now, although he had the entire math commerce in his head ready to explode. The teacher used to seat him along side another grown up boy, son of a grocery shop owner, who only knew how to write broken letters but not an iota of math. Vallabh got alienated from the other students except me very early, but carried on none the less.

He took me to his new farm. It was quite far away to walk. It was uncultivated until then and therefore large stones were strewn around, the color of the field muddy grey.

Vallabh and his clan dug a well and installed an ox driven water rig. Within no time, a couple of years at the most, his farm was green, courtesy good rains. Papaya and plantain trees started bearing fruits. The ginger, their speciality, in addition to cereals started yield. His farm then became my regular abode for outing on weekends. Vallabh ensured that I never returned empty-pocketed from his farm.  However, there was a strict custom that the visitor was not allowed to touch the trees or plants. I would be asked to stand by when Vallabh or his family members plucked the fruit or vegetables. You could ask for anything, in any measure, but were not allowed to use your hands. That was their job.

There was a problem. You had to cross a stream and a very large mango tree before you reached Vallabh’s  farm.  With weathering, the jet black rocks in the stream had been carved by perennial water in to crevices and puddles. As the saying went, this was the water nymph hang out. Not one, seven of them. Naturally, they did not wear any clothes. If you went by, or swam in their pool, they would curse you. As such, nobody dared to disturb them during day time. Who knows when they will feel like taking bath in the open?

The stream was also said to be a watering hole for tigers. Tigers being nocturnal, and they were in abundance those days, nobody ventured that side after sundown.

Vallabh agreed that there indeed was Tiger menace and he had heard their calls a few times, they used to circle his farm too to see if they could lay paws on the cattle.

The mango tree – just before we reached Vallabh’s farm – was breathtaking in size and shade. I used to sit under its shade every time I visited Vallabh’s farm, whether I needed rest or not. At the least it was a Pee-Stop.  Vallabh said once that this tree was their property, even though disputed. He would always see me off under the tree.

———————————-

I was just waiting for summer to arrive. The mango tree had a full blossom this year. While I could, I gathered the fallen baby green mangoes of this tree every now and then. But the ripe ones! Aha! Wait until summertime!

When the mangoes were nearly ready, each was a mouth-watering kilogram sized fruit. On an occasion,I plucked a few with Vallabh watching wearily, brought them home and publicized the news within my friend circle.

Most of them friends went to visit the mango tree the next day…..and came home panting. Some fell sick. Some were delirious.

All of them had seen a ghost with red hair and red clothing atop the mango tree.

I did not believe in this. How could a ghost suddenly appear? So, I went and surveyed the situation  braveheartedly, although from a distance, possibly a kilometer. And indeed, there was a red-haired and red-clothed ghost moving atop the tree. I ran home.

Days went by. The news had spread like jungle fire. Nobody dared to even look at that tree, leave aside going near to it.

————————

I went to weekly bazaar one day and met Vallabh there. He was tending to his bulls and the cart.

“Did you visit our stall?”

I said I have not.

“This is the first time I have brought our mangoes for sale”

He picked a ripened mango and gave it to me. “Just taste. The flavor is so cocoanut like!”

I tasted that ghost mango. It indeed tasted like cocoanut. I preserved half of it for taking home.

Then I noticed the person selling the mangoes in loud voice.

“Who is that?”

“That’s my father. Who else?  You have met him several times”

But something was different about his father. We bid good buys with Vallabh requesting me to come to farm for a day. I said I shall try.

Couple of days later, my grandma inquired about wherefrom I had bought that cocoanut mango.

“That was Vallabh’s”

“Go get some for the relatives that will come to visit us today”

“I am not going”

“Why?”

“I have to pass by ghost-tree. You remember that red-haired ghost stories?”

“Since when did you stop visiting Vallabh?”

“A few weeks. Since the ghost appeared.”

“Fine. If you are not, I have to go myself.”

Closed door! I took the money and shopping bag and started walking towards Vallabh’s Farm. It took an hour more than usual. I watched the mango tree from all possible angles. The ghost was on leave today. Scuttling the tree by half a kilometer, and treading the stream at the most dangerous place, I somehow reached Vallabh’s place.

After I collected the mangoes, I told him about the ghost stories.

“Oh, that. Those rumors about ghost I have spread.”

His father came out. Now I noticed that his hair was red. Watching my wide eyes, he said,

“I know the red hair and beard look awful. I won’t color them hence forth”

“ No father. You have to color them again next summer. Otherwise the red-haired ghost will disappear”

He laughed and said, yes, that was true. Then he took out a red shirt and red pant from under the nearby hay-stack and said that he will preserve those too for the next summer, just in case.

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2 Responses to “Red-haired Ghost”


  1. A blessing in disguise, quite literally! I wonder if being a deterrent was the original idea behind the red hair and clothes. Nice story though. Its amazing how these things influence our actions during childhood!

  2. PeACEMAKER Says:

    Thanks Nikhil. My WP password was hacked. So, could not respond earlier on. I do not think there was any thought process behind dyeing hair red with henna, but it sure worked.


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