Right from his childhood, Ganesh was afraid of ghosts. It was probably due to the numerous bedtime ghost stories his grandfather used to tell him, as he grew up. Now, 15 years old, a teenager, Ganesh still couldn't leave behind his fears. So much so that, his friends constantly tease him for being a "sissy", whenever they get bored of their usual chores - which is usually stealing mangoes from the village fields or chasing the stray dogs to the edge of the forest.
One day, his mother asks Ganesh to go to the forest to collect wood for their stove. It was supper time and the family had run out of stock. Ganesh’s father had just returned from a day’s worth of back breaking work, and his sister was too young to be sent alone. Ganesh was terrified at the thoughts of going to the forest all by himself.
After much contemplation, to save his pride and to save himself from his mother’s glaring looks – he decides to take up the task and ventures into the forest, preparing himself mentally for the worst. It takes him about 20 minutes of brisk walking to get him to the edge of the forest. With one final look back towards the direction of his home, he walks into the bushes.
He’d have to walk further into the forest to reach the dry patch, where the dried up trees shed leaves. Cursing his fate, he walks on and soon reaches the spot. Keeping an eye out for anything which moves, he hurriedly picks up a couple of dried-up twigs and branches. After tying them up with a small rope that he brought along, he heaves the bundle onto the top of his head.
Just as he is ready to head back home, he hears – an unmistakable howl. His heart misses couple of beats & he starts sweating profusely. Just as he thought he was imagining things, he hears it again – another howl, though much closer. And then, to his fear, at a distance he sees the silhouette of a human being – a female to be precise, walking along a path further deep into the forest. She was holding a kerosene fueled lamp in one hand & a sickle in the other. A large black animal with lumps of fur, was moving along her side. From this distance he couldn’t tell if it was a dog, a wolf or something even more sinister. To make things worse, the lady was wearing a white saree, which was loosely wound around her, giving her a slightly bloated shape.
With a big thud he drops the bundle onto the ground, and without turning back sprints towards his beloved village. He had never run so hard, but the fear pushes his limits, and within a couple of minutes, out of breath, reaches his village. At home, Ganesh gets reprimanded by father while his mother looks at him disapprovingly.
The family survives the evening by borrowing firewood from the neighbor, and Ganesh goes to bed after meal. He couldn’t sleep that night & many nights after that. As time flies by, the incident gets pushed to the edge of his mind. A couple of years pass by, and Ganesh now all of 21 years, enlists himself in the army and off he goes to the nation’s borders to safeguard from the enemies. A few years later, he returns to the village on his annual vacation – a month worth of leaves with family seemed like a treat to him.
As he ambles along the beaten down path to his village, with the heavy baggage slung over his shoulders, he notices a lone hut in the middle of the field. Tired & sweating from the effort, he decides to stop over at the hut for a quick glass of water. As he walks over to the hut, an old lady comes limping out of the hut & politely inquires him of his visit. On learning the purpose of visit, she asks him to sit on a broken chair & brings a chilled glass of buttermilk.
Ganesh opens up to her and tells her about his family, the stint with the Armed forces & how he’s back to his village for a vacation. She then tells him her story – as to how she’s widowed very early into her marriage and her struggle to bring up her lone child, which too passes away after a bout of jaundice. Her story brings tears in his eyes. She then goes on to tell him, how this small patch of land & hut is what was left. Her cattle – a group of 3 cows had died of a strange disease a couple of years back, with boils on their hooves & tongue. Her lone company – a big black colored dog “Ramu” had also passed away 2 years before, of old age. Apparently, the dog used to help her with retrieving the cattle from the forest when they had wandered too far away, in search of better forage.
That’s when Ganesh realized that the lady was wearing a white saree, a very old & dirty one, but white, nonetheless. Things came rushing to him, as he put everything together and realized a few things about the incident which happened a couple of years back. It was already getting dark, as he smiled to himself, thanked the lady for her kindness & continues on his way to the village, all the while being amused at the latest revelation.
Just as Ganesh turns around the corner of the village road, the old lady from the hut notices a figure clad in white with a kerosene lamp in her left hand with a big black animal standing by her side. She quietly turns away & retreats to her hut, closing the door behind her, as the mystical lady in white and her big shaggy animal continue to stand by the edge of the forest.
A few things - are always better, unknown!!