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Chandwati’s Spirit

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 length hair.

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.