Capturing a Pernicious Ghost
March 29, 1944, 22 Hanuman Road, New Delhi, India
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
"How long are you going to stay there?"
"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
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
"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
"What were those?"
"It wanted me to start a school for girls. Much against my beliefs,
"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
"Why didn't it kill you instead of your son?"
"I think it wants me to suffer."