Village Stories: Brahma Dheuncha
Half a century ago my village was not as drab as it is today. There were more swamps and wastelands, more foxes and mongooses, more birds and butterflies... Lives were easy, dreams were achievable and priorities were self-determined. Even ghosts behaved friendly—they meant no evil even though they played pranks and frightened those gullible rustics.
Once there was a ghost on the prowl at the end of the village road. Like all its fellow beings, it gave its nighttime appearance. Its purpose was to frighten the passers-by and it used to be happy with just one act of ghostly adventure a night—nothing more, nothing less.
The night our brave ghost was caught so unceremoniously, it had chosen a difficult target. And that was its mistake.
Its target was one shopkeeper by the name of Bhikāri. A known ghost-repeller in the vicinity, he used to surprise people by tackling almost single-handedly all those ferocious Brahma Dheunchas, Satans and goblins that came his way. Of course, he was a Brahmin and he knew all such hymns by heart as were appropriate and effective. One such hymn had been the Gayatri mantra, which he as a Brahmin used to chant thrice a day. People believed that the anti-ghost prowess he possessed was nothing but the accumulated spiritual powers, achieved out of years of chanting of that holy mantra.
That night Bhikāri was returning from the market. It was the eleventh night past the full moon in the month of Shrāvan which was roughly around the second fortnight of August. The rain was not in full force, yet there was enough cloud in the sky to make the night pitch dark. Bhikāri had unsuccessfully waited for the moon to appear. This would have made the road visible and he would have easily biked the distance from the market to the village without the risk of falling off from his dynamo-less bicycle. Riding a bike under the situation was difficult, yet he counted on his experience, as usual.
As he reached at the beginning of the village road, he found something weird. A phantom was sitting just in the middle of the road, swathed in a straw mat. And that was hopping. The ethereal being was not talking, but nonetheless uttering some kind of sound, like a growl of a dog or a croak of a frog. Bhikāri had no doubt he was before a ghost. For him it was yet another chance to tackle an incorporeal.
‘How dare you intercept a Brahmin?’ Bhikāri challenged in a tone mixed with fear and boldness.
‘Hoom hum…hoom hum,’ was the response from the interceptor.
Then the spook hopped nearer Bhikāri. The shopkeeper-Brahmin became apprehensive. ‘Ghosts maintain distance from a Brahmin. Then what kind of preternatural being is this? It’s not afraid of the bagful of salt I have; nor is it daunted by the iron of my bicycle! These two objects alone should have been enough to scare a ghost away. Then what kind of entity is this?’
The owl hooted somewhere inside the bamboo bushes and the wind swished past him. The night was getting colder and colder every passing moment. Bhikāri felt uncomfortable and yearned for his cozy bed at home.
Dazed and frightened, he reluctantly considered a possibility: it could be a Brahma Dheuncha, a ghost that possesses the power of a brahmachāri dying in the middle of the Upanayan ceremony. If it were a ghost of that genus, it would not be containable by any amount of courage except by chanting of Gāyatri hymn with full purity and devotion. The ghost called Brahma Dheuncha would transform its victims into a handful of ashes if enraged. It would take away one’s speech for the entire life or would make him or her demented permanently. Besides, it was known to be very strict and unforgiving to the Brahmins who would struggle for words while chanting the Vedic hymns and the Gāyatri mantra, the mother of all hymns.
Bhikāri had never seen a ghost of that type; he had only heard about the abominable atrocities the ethereal being was in habit of perpetrating. He had seen in his life many witches walking on their feet extended from their nostrils, chirgunis taking care of their stillborn children, prets immuned to ordinary threats, and so forth. Now he faced a real Brahma Dheuncha. He remembered the Gāyatri hymn by heart, but he was not sure if he was actually a pure Brahmin. He used to eat fish and mutton and indulged in worldly vices like telling a lie or cheating the customers that used to come to his shop.
‘Would all these pollutants fail him? Would all his hymns turn ineffective?’ Bhikāri posed this question onto himself timidly.
The Brahma Deuncha grew impatient and closed in on his victim. Bhikāri closed his eyes and imagined that the spectral being was extending his leg towards him to trample him any moment. In no moment he started to chant his hymn.
om bhūr bhuvah svah
tát savitúr váreniyam
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó nah pracodáyāt
Howsoever sincerely he chanted the hymn, it had no impact on the Brahma Dheuncha. Now it began to hop more, whine more spookily than ever before, making frightening gesticulations while crouching on its haunches. Bhikāri started to recite another powerful hymn: this time it was Purusha Sukta. Still it failed to have any impact on the preternatural being.
The frightened Brahmin began to lose his sense. His throat began to dry and his limbs began to lose rhythm. Death was inevitable and it was so near! He had nothing that he could have done now. His strength had deserted him and he was on the verge of worst befuddlement in his life. The only instinct he was left with was his instinct to survive, to do something with a force born out of desperation.
Bhikāri closed his eyes once again. The darkness further concentrated in front of him. Then he opened his eyes to do something he could decide on the spur. There was a long stick lying nearby. He caught hold of it and charged towards his preternatural adversary.
‘Bang…bang,’ he thrashed the first few blows on the fellow swathed in straw mat. With every swish of the stick, the determined Brahmin felt recharged. And emboldened. He felt like a warrior fighting for the honour of the village.
‘Oh, spare me please. I’m not the one you’re thinking of. I’m not a Brahma Dheuncha,’ the fellow threw aside his mat.
Bhikāri saw him. Now his intense fear was transformed into a kind of subdued anger. The man facing him was none but his ever-friendly Māyādhar. Bhikāri knew his friend who was the past master at practical jokes—he could go to any extent. He could be reckless at times, but funny and imaginative nevertheless.
To cut the long story short, they agreed to keep it secret, for it suited both of them. But a story juicy as that could not have been lost to time, so soon and so easily. It continues to be one of the most interesting stories of my village, even to this day.
Brahmin=the uppermost echelon of the Indian caste system in days of yore. Brahmins used to worship, institute sacrifices, teach and sometimes legitimize the powers that ruled the land. Now Brahmins are one among the poorest lot in the society.
Brahmachāri=literally it means remaining celibate throughout. But in this context it refers to a boy who is in the midst of his sacred thread ceremony. Boys born to Brahmin couples undergo this ceremony to wear sacred thread and to thereafter become eligible for doing the worship rituals.
A. N. Nanda
Labels: short story