Bhootnath

by Sushant Supriye

  English translation of Sushant Supriye’s short-story भूतनाथ
                           ” Bhootnath — the friendly ghost “

Translated by author.

It must have been around nine- nine fifteen in the night. There were clouds in the sky. Light drizzle was taking place. Sometimes,  the half- moon would peep out of the clouds and would then hide behind it. The wind was neither too fast nor too slow. Once in a while, there was thunder and lightning in the sky. At such a time, a sad, lonely ghost was passing through an area. He was a ghost from the past era.Possibly, he was a contemporary of freedom – fighters like Gandhiji and Subhash Chandra Bose. All his other friends had found deliverance from this state but if there was God, he had forsaken the ghost. Living in the same area, the ghost had become so bored with his fate that he started off for somewhere even in such a bad weather.

             A person was crossing the road in front of the ghost but he collided with a speeding car. Maybe, somebody who was drunk was driving the car. The car hit the pedestrian and sped away. The injured person lay bleeding on the road. Some passers-by stopped there. However, no one came forward to help the injured man. The victim was moaning with pain but the people were busy talking —
“This is a case of accident.”
“This is a police-case.”
“Did you see how the car driver sped away after hitting this man!”
“What do these rich men think of themselves?”
“All the cars should be burnt down!”
“Oh, people are so cruel.”
“Someone should help this man otherwise he will die!”
                 The entire incident took place before the eyes of the ghost.When he was a human-being, the ghost was also very selfish like common men. However, ever since he died and became a ghost, his character had changed. He had become very helpful to others. It seemed as if he had started repenting about the bad things he had done during his lifetime and now, he wanted to atone for them.
                When no one came forward to help the injured man, the ghost took the lead. It would have been an insult to the ‘ghostness’ of the ghost if a human-being would have died without help before him. So the ghost had to act. He transformed himself into a human – being. He put the injured man on a rickshaw and took him to the government hospital.
                When the ghost came out of the hospital, it was midnight. He was very tired. It had been a long time since he had seen a badly injured person so closely. The sight of the bleeding man had moved him. As he was very tired, he decided to look for an area nearby where he could reside.
                 There was a residential colony at some distance. There was a park nearby. At one end of the park, there was a very old banyan tree. I should stay here for sometime — the ghost thought. Maybe, this area will suit me. So the sad and lonely ghost made the banyan tree his residence.
                Slowly, the ghost started liking that area. In the evening, children used to come to play in the park. One day, the ghost could not control himself. He also joined the children in their play by transforming himself into a human-being. Slowly, he became very friendly with the children of the area. He used to play kabaddi, gilli-danda, hockey, football and cricket with them.
                The children asked him — ” What is your name , uncle ?”
         ” Bhootnath . I am your Bhootnath uncle . ” He would reply .
                With the passage of time, Bhootnath became the beloved uncle of the children . He used to play with children and narrated the stories of India’s freedom-struggle to them.
               There was a hand-pump near the park. Women of the area used to come there along with their pots and pitchers to get drinking-water. Bhootnath would often help old and ill women fill drinking-water in their pitchers. Slowly, Bhootnath became popular as the ‘ brother ‘ of all women of the area.
              Old and aged people used to come and sit on the benches in the park in the evening . Bhootnath was alive to the ill-treatment meted out by people to their old relatives . Often, Bhootnath would go and sit beside these ignored old people. He used to listen to their grievances and shared their concerns. He narrated stories of Gandhiji and Subhash Chandra Bose to them and would rue the fact that the later generations did not understand the importance of India’s independence which was achieved due to the immense sacrifices of freedom-fighters. He was pained to see the present plight of the country.
            With the passage of time, he became the beloved son of the very old people of the area. When he used to touch the feet of very aged people, they blessed him with the remark — ” May you live long , son.” This would make him laugh. In the beginning , he told everyone that he was a ghost but people thought it to be a joke. Nobody believed him.
           Wherever Bhootnath was present, there was an all-pervading smell of marigold flowers. When people asked him about this smell, he would innocently reply — ” Actually, I am the ghost of a common man. Had I been the spirit of a king, minister or a rich man , I would have smelled of roses.”
           People considered it a joke and used to laugh heartily at this remark.
           Soon, Bhootnath became the beloved of the people of the entire area. Bhootnath would be present in the thick of night to take ailing people to hospital . He helped everyone in the area during the time of need. He played mediator and solved the quarrels of the people. He accompanied the children from their homes and saw them off to their school-buses in the mornings. He often cooked food for those families where the women in the house were ill. The people of the area considered him their own. Bhootnath celebrated all festivals with the people. Women tied ‘Rakhi ‘ on his wrist on ‘ Raksha-bandhan ‘ day. He was immersed in colours during Holi. He was busy lighting candles and bursting crackers during Diwali . He greeted and hugged everyone during Eid . Bhootnath was greatly loved by people and in turn, he loved them even more.
            Once , the area was afflicted by thefts and dacoities. One night, someone was brutally murdered there. The people of the area were stunned. When people approached the policemen, they said they were already hard-pressed.
          ” What can we do? It is a large area . There  is an acute shortage of police-personnel . We are also put on V.I.P. duty and election duty .” The policemen expressed their helplessness.
          So the people talked to Bhootnath about it. Within a few days, Bhootnath rounded up all the goons and thieves of the area and handed them over to the police. It was an easy thing for a ghost to do. Soon, the policemen also started giving credit to Bhootnath . They even claimed that Bhootnath was their own man. He was their informer.
         Thus , Bhootnath became very popular among people.
                 The people of the area were very disappointed and angry with the indifference of elected representatives of the area .
The roads were full of pot-holes and were not repaired for years together . Long power-cuts from morning to evening had become
the order of the day. The municipal council taps were always dry and not a drop of water would come. So the people of the area once again asked Bhootnath to help them .
         It was an easy task for Bhootnath . He clicked his fingers and new roads were laid in the area. Power-cuts became a thing of the past. The municipal taps were full of water throughout the day.
         The people of the area were elated. Bhootnath became immensely popular among them. As news spread about his achievements, print and electronic-media journalists started doing the rounds of the area to get Bhootnath’s interview. When media persons harassed him too much, Bhootnath would become invisible to them.
         Some people of the area came up with a unique idea. They proposed that Bhootnath ji should be named the candidate of the area and he should contest Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections from the area. The people considered him a true social-worker. Someone remarked in a tongue-in-cheek manner that nowadays , ghosts and spirits can understand the pain and agony of common man and empathize better with him than people who are alive. Slogans in praise of Bhootnath started doing the rounds of the area
— “Vote and support Bhootnath ….” The educated people of the area started a signature-campaign in support of this demand. People also formed a human-chain and held a candle-light vigil for this purpose.
         However, Bhootnath humbly refused to accept this proposal of the people when he came to know about it. No one knows the reason for his refusal. Some people did say that perhaps , good people no longer wanted to be a part of politics . Whatever were the reasons, with the refusal of Bhootnath , the state and the country lost a historic occasion when a ghost would have become a member of Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha .
        Some people felt agonized by the dismal loss of Indian team in the Cricket World Cup . They got printed posters and pasted them at various places in the area. The posters made a fervent demand that Bhootnath should be included as an all-rounder in the Indian Cricket team. Bhootnath had already proved his mettle while playing cricket with the boys in the park. Fours and sixes rained on the ground when he was at the crease. He used to bowl at a steady line and length and had taken ‘ hat-tricks’ several times. Bhootnath was also a brilliant player of hockey and football. Whenever he manned the goalpost as goalkeeper, it was impossible for the ball to enter the goalpost.
         Soon, people started demanding vociferously that Bhootnath
must be included in the national hockey and football teams too to improve the condition of these games. People also firmly believed that only Bhootnath could get them some gold-medals in Olympic Games for their country of over a hundred crore people. However, no one knows the reason why Bhootnath humbly appealed to his followers to give up these demands. Thus , the country once again missed the historic occasion when a ghost would have participated in the national team and we would have won gold-medals due to his efforts.
          Recently, Bhootnath had become very concerned about certain things. Actually, some people in the area enquired about his caste. Some others also asked him his religion. Bhootnath was taken aback. He had died about 50-60 years ago. He had completely forgotten about his caste and religion in this long interval. Also, ghosts do not believe in castes. Neither are they divided on the basis of religion. So Bhootnath never felt the need for a leash called caste or religion. Bhootnath wracked his brain to remember something about his caste or religion but to no avail. Actually, Bhootnath was the spirit of Humanity. Sadly, no humanity was left among most of the human-beings these days.
       Bhootnath was pained to find divisions among the people of the area on caste and communal lines. He became a source of tension in the area. The upper-caste people of the area claimed that a worthy man like Bhootnath must be an upper-caste person. On the other hand, the Dalits of the area claimed him to be one among them. This contention led to tension between upper-caste people and Dalits . Even Bhootnath’s appeal to both the sides failed  to ease the tension. Both the sides stuck to their stands.
          As the administration was trying to grapple with this  situation , another more vicious problem reared its head. A radical political party communalised the issue by claiming that Bhootnath was a devout Hindu as he celebrated all Hindu festivals with the people of the area.The party claimed that he will campaign for their political party in the coming elections.  However, another radical political party belonging to another religion strongly opposed this contention. It pointed out that Bhootnath celebrated all festivals like Eid with religious zeal and fervour. He also kept fast during the holy month of Ramzan . Hence he was a devout Muslim . So he will campaign only for their political party in the coming elections.
        Before Bhootnath could understand the gravity of situation, things went out of control. Soon, communal riots broke out in the area at the behest of radical elements. Several innocent Muslims and Hindus were butchered in these riots. The administration clamped  an indefinite curfew in the affected area and para-military soldiers started patrolling the area.
        Bhootnath was stunned. He was hungry for the love of people and in return , he too showered his love on them. He had never thought that he would become the cause of blood-shed . He was deeply disturbed. He took  a firm decision that it would be good for the people of the area if he left the area and went somewhere else.
          That night, a deeply agonised  Bhootnath left that area . Sad and lonely, Bhootnath again started off for no one knew where. It was mid-night. The moon and stars were standing aghast in the sky. Before leaving that area, Bhootnath turned and gave it one long last look. He had received much love and affection in that area. But, this was also the area where he had got disillusioned with human-beings. If ghosts could cry, Bhootnath must have cried that night.
          A young lady  of the area had started liking Bhootnath. She loved talking to him. After Bhootnath’s departure , the lady became sad and depressed. No one ever saw her laugh again.
          After a few days, tension eased in the area. Slowly, the situation became normal. Some Hindus of the area said that Bhootnath was an incarnation of Lord Shiva. They built a temple of Bhootnath , installed his idol in it and started worshipping him. Some Muslims of the area claimed that Bhootnath was a gifted Muslim Fakir ( saint ) . They built a mazaar ( mausoleum ) of Bhootnath where people started offering ‘ chaadar ‘ ( sheet of
cloth ) and asked for their wishes to be granted.
        Most of the people of the area claim that  they have seen a sad and lonely Bhootnath roaming around sometimes near the hospital, sometimes near the Banyan tree at one end of the park. During cloudy nights, when light drizzle is taking place, when the half-moon sometimes peeps out of the clouds and then hides behind it , when thunder and lightning rock the sky at regular intervals and when the blowing wind is neither too fast, nor too slow, Bhootnath is often visible loitering around these places.  When people of the area try to go near him, he vanishes. Most of the people now believe that indeed, Bhootnath was a ghost. He was their own loving ghost who they lost forever due to their mistakes.
          After having met Bhootnath , the outlook of the people regarding ghosts has changed . Earlier, no one had ever thought that ghosts could also be helpful, benevolent, loving and considerate.

Sushant Supriye’s (सुशांत सुप्रिय ) story originally published in ” Aajkal ” magazine of Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting , in August , 2007 .

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