Capturing a Pernicious Ghost

By Raghbir Dhillon & Doris Dhillon

March 29, 1944, 22 Hanuman Road, New Delhi, India

"Prem, I want you to capture a ghost for me," a tall man with flowing white beard and matching turban barged into my office, occupied a chair in front of me, peered into my eyes, and demanded.

I was annoyed but couldn't insult an old man from my community, so I said, "Sardar sahib, you're at the wrong place. I'm a detective and not a ghost hunter."

"I know that. God bless your father's soul; he used to be my friend and classmate," he said and then stretched out his hand. "My name is Sucha Singh."

I shook the proffered hand and said, "Nice meeting you."

"To please your father in heaven, you must take up my case and subdue the ghost."

"I don't believe in ghosts which exist only in the mind of an opium-eater, while he's riding high."

"I'm sure, with your education and training in America for fifteen years and your powerful gizmos, you can easily capture this ghost and find out for yourself that ghosts are there."

"Okay, I'll investigate it after I return from my vacation in Simla Hills."

"How long are you going to stay there?"

"Ten days."

"It won't work; I'll be dead by that time."

"You look healthy. How can you be sure of your death?"

"I'll be murdered by the ghost, who has given me three days to settle my worldly affairs."

I took a deep breath, released it through my pursed lips, and said, "All right, I'll cancel my vacation and take up your case."

He took out a bundle of hundred-rupee bills from his pocket and said, "I'm rich and will pay your fee plus a big bonus."

"Keep it with you. We'll talk about it after I've handled your ghost."

He pocketed the money.

"Well, did you try our exorcists?"

"Yes, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh exorcists failed to castigate it."

"Please describe the ghost."

"After her cremation, my step-mother became this ghost."

"Where is your father?"

"He passed away last year."

"How old was he at the time of his death?"


"When did your step-mother die, and what was her age?"

"She was cremated on the pyre of her husband, and she was sixteen."

I jumped from my seat and shouted, "Damn it, you performed sati and roasted her alive."

"She was a pious person and wanted to become a sati, and I didn't stop her. But instead of going to heaven to warm my father's bed, she turned into a ghost," he said and dabbed his eyes. "I should have dragged her out of the pyre."

"Look, sati is banned by law, and you can be sent to an iron cage for twenty years."

"Impossible! All the villagers will declare that she had a heart attack, and the village doctor has certified it," he said. "I'm sorry for what I did in the past; please help me."

"Now tell me why her ghost is after your blood."

"She blames me for her tortured death. I performed three Bhog ceremonies, readings of the Holy Book, and fed thousands of hungry people to appease her soul. I was happy it worked. But on the fifth anniversary of my father's cremation, the ghost appeared on the cremation grounds and continued doing that at irregular intervals."

"Did the ghost do any harm?"

"Yes. On the first visit, it killed my favorite stallion; five years later it murdered my son, and now it has set its sights on me."

"When did your mother leave the earth?"

"She's still alive."

"Then your father was a polygamist."

"Yes, it's our family tradition. He had three, but I'm content with two."

"How was your relationship with your stepmother?"

"Though she was younger than me, yet I touched her feet, and she patted my head. My mother was old and sick, and she arranged her friend's daughter for her husband. Taro and I played together as kids, and she used to giggle as I pulled her long braids."

"If she liked you, and you were a dutiful son, then why is she harming you and your family?"

"That's what I want you to discover. I've always carried out the ghost's orders."

"What were those?"

"It wanted me to start a school for girls. Much against my beliefs, I complied."

"What are your beliefs?"

"Women are created by God to cook and raise children, and education spoils the whole process."

"I think the ghost did a noble job."

"Noble, ha. It's a sin for a girl to go to school. Educated girls are destroying the fabric of our ancient civilization — getting divorces, selecting their husbands, and demanding equal rights."

"All right, what happened next?"

"The ghost commanded me to stop lashing my wife."

"Sardar sahib, I'm distressed to learn that you're a wife-beater."

"Prem, a wife is like a buffalo, and one has to use a stick to make it work. I tried my best to control my anger, but failed and whipped my wife. The omnipresent ghost saw it and cursed my horse which fell dead next day."

"It might have been bitten by a cobra."

"No, it was killed by the ghost's curse, since there was no blue blister to show the snake bite."

"Did the ghost visit you again?"

"Yes, it did appear before my son's marriage and ordered me not to accept any dowry. I didn't take any furniture and goods, but secretly accepted cash. The ubiquitous ghost learned about it and murdered my son."

"Why didn't it kill you instead of your son?"

"I think it wants me to suffer."