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This is a story my maternal granddad told me years ago, and it was repeated to me quite a few times by mom as well, once, when as a little boy, I asked her if ghosts are real.

The story goes like this. A man was building a thatched roof for his house. Now, thatched roofs, chhappar in Hindi, are roofs made of dry grass, long strands of which are tied together on a criss cross skeleton of bamboo staffs tied together, held in place through strings. The stuff used is the long grass and bamboo readily available in villages and even the rope used is made by winding together these long blades of grass. (You hardly see chhappars these days).

So, while he was tying grass blades for his chhappar, a sly snake bit our man and slid away somewhere. The tough rustic village guy that our man was, he looked at the wound, winced and dismissed it as a thorn prick and went on building his roof. Finished, he jumped off, hoisted the roof on wooden pillars and lived happily. For a year.

Now, chhappars take all the harsh sun and rain but last some 3-4 years, so next year, it needed repairs. Our man climbed up and saw that one of the strings tying those grass blades together wasn’t a string but a dead snake. His eyebrows curled up as he paused for a second. And then, something hit his chest. He remembered. His jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, mouth dried up and heartbeats raced off. That goddamned thorn prick was not a thorn prick. This bloody snake had bit me! All the horrible images jumped in his mind and within minutes, he had a heart failure and died.

Mom’s answer to the ghost question was that ghosts are people seeing something totally normal and taking it to be dangerous, deadly supernatural, projecting their internal fears on it. Of course, it did not help me back then, especially as 7 year old about to go pissing at night in a toilet located outside the house with a mazaar just across the door under a huge neem tree. Or perhaps it did, but not for more than a couple trips.

Also, they never gave me a cut and dried interpretation, they left it to me. Will do the same now. To each, his own. Interpretation. Peace ho!

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