She had always had a sharp tongue, which cost her a lot of goodwill.
But she paid perhaps the biggest price for her whiplash of a tongue
when she died. Estranged family members did an indifferent job of
her last rites, skipping quite a few mandatory rituals. The result
was that though Chandwati left her body, she wasn't able to leave
earth and travel to the astral plane to which the majority of souls
are supposed to go.
Trapped, Chandwati requested Chetram, the uncle of Parasram, the purohit,
to strike a deal with her family. Chetram was a mystic who had the
power of communicating with spirits. In return for ensuring a place
to stay in her old home, Chandwati offered to run errands for him.
The family didn't take kindly at all to the idea of having Chandwati
in their midst in a disembodied state.
The alternative was to free her from earth, but that
entailed heavy expenditure on ceremonies and pundits, and
the family baulked at that prospect. So conditions were set on both
sides. Chandwati's main demand was that nobody would speak ill of
her ; if they did, they would have to pay a price for it. The family's
chief demand was that she should not interfere in their lives. She
was, by mutual agreement, given a small, disused room on the terrace.
The arrangement worked out well for the first couple
of months. And then the first signs of trouble began to appear.
Chandwati was unable to resist poking her nose into the family's
business affairs and would come out with loud comments. When they
began to complain about her unwanted presence in their midst she
retaliated by irritating them by spiriting away the food at meal
times, hiding someone's shoes when the person had to leave for an
important business meeting and other acts which soon sent the family
up the wall. Chandwati's response was simple : "Speak good
of me, and I'll be good to you. And as for my comments, its my duty
to speak up if you're making a bad business decision."
Before long, the acrimony and sparring reached a critical
stage when Chandwati, outraged by a family member -Rajeshree's description
of her as a "churail (bad spirit) they were stuck with",
threatened to chopp off her hair. An equally outraged Rajeshree
promptly went to Chetram to complain, and that night, in front of
the eyes of shocked family members, a pair of scissors appeared
in the air and snipped off Rajeshree's plait of hair never to grow
again. As a child, I was fascinated by Rajeshree Tai's ear
After the hair chopping incident, there was peace
and both Chandwati and her reluctant family adopted a policy of
"Live and let live". In fact, Chandwati developed a soft
spot for Rajeshree's daughter, Pushi, for whom, for one reason or
another, the family was unable to get a suitable matrimonial match.
One day, a boy and his family came to "see"
Pushi all the way from Bidar. They came with a distant cousin of
the family, and were put up in the guest room. As had happened with
other "boys" and their families, the family from Bidar
found a number of "defects" in her pimply skin, too thin
and so on. Heartbroken, Pushi poured out her heart to Chandwati,
who decided to swing into action. When the Bidar family went to
their room to collect their hold-all and suitcases, they found a
strong lock on their door. By the time the lock was broken open,
it was long past their train departure time. The elders conferred
amongst themselves, and took the unexpected happening as a sign
to reverse their decision and say "yes" to the match.
And Pushi and the boy from Bidar exchanged the customary engagement
gifts thanks to Chandwati's handiwork.
Chandwati stayed on for some more years, till the
time Chetram became too old to act as her "spirit control".
But instead of abandoning her, Chetram, at Chandwati's own suggestion,
took her to Gaya, where, after performing the necessary rituals,
he left her in the company of other earth-bound spirits.