What is a ghost?

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Ghosts were an integral part of my childhood. They existed in every nook and corner of the dark house when electricity went out in summer. In the courtyard,they stared from between the leaves of the mango tree,silvered by the moonlight. They lurked in the bathroom before I switched on the light.

Our grandfather used to narrate countless stories of ghosts and his encounters with them and how he chased them away by his prayers. His purpose was to establish the fact that prayers can do away all evil. He wanted to instill in us a belief in God, a belief in the power of prayers. He wanted to engrave the freshly-moulded earthen pots, our brains, before they got dry and hard in the sun.

Those stories were real – coming out of the mouth of the most travelled, most learned, most experienced man in our lives. After all, he reiterated the fact again and again that he was our father’s father. He was the paragon of all the knowledge that existed on the earth. All of us siblings gathered around him and listened to those tales, eyes open wide, shivers going down our spines. So even though we had never seen ghosts with our eyes, their presence was palpable. They were real, not just myths.

Somewhere the ghosts still exist in some less frequented corner of my mind. And one day while putting my son to bed, I sternly told him – “Sleep fast, or the bhoot will come”. And in the return breath, came his question – “ Mommy, what is a bhoot?”.
Well, I thought, when a bad person dies, he becomes a bhoot. That was my understanding of the abstract.
But I was amazed at the stark complexity of this simple sentence.

First of all, who is a bad person? The one who does not finish the food in his plate, who pokes fingers in the nose, who doesn’t clean up his toys? How would I define a bad person for him? The malice of the world hasn’t touched him yet, how could I explain evil to this angel?
Assume that I succeeded in explaining bad, what does ‘dies’ mean. How does a person die and what is death ? I don’t have the guts to touch upon the most certain certainty of life, the cold, hair-raising , unforgiving, cruel word – DEATH!!
It is too Herculean a task.

In that split second, all this raced in my mind, as those two big round eyes waited for the answer to “what is bhoot ”. I simply said ,with a full-stop – “It is a monster.”. He seemed sated with the answer. Maybe he recalled some giant funnily scary looking character he must have seen in one of the childrens’ books. Luckily, no more questions popped up.The matter was closed.

So I slithered out of the bad-death puddle that day, unscathed. But I really can’t handle it. I know my grandfather would have handled the situation deftly.But I am timid. My child will learn about the bad world soon, but for now, his ignorance is a real bliss. Death makes it presence felt by itself, one way or the other. All knowledge will come to him with time. Now I don’t have the courage to deal with these things.

And ghosts? Modern day grandpas and grandmas don’t even tell ghost-tales anymore, so he will know the ghosts in horror movies, when time comes.
But my threat of the ghost coming, has to go out of the window forever .I have to be more innovative in my sleep-or-….. threats!!

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