Witch In The Tree

Summer was vacation time with my two brothers.

Technically, they are  my cousins as they are my mother’s sister’s sons. They are both older than me. I was their kid sister-cum- guinea pig- cum- punching bag. This seems to be the lot of kid sisters, specially that of the dumb variety.

I am an only child. All through the years as I grew up, kindly ladies and their equally kindly progeny would ask me pityingly if I did not hate not having brothers and sisters. Somehow I always found the question extremely daft. I mean, I had brothers didn’t I…? No matter how they teased me, these two brothers were my heroes.

To give weight to my guinea pig assessment, let me relate an incidence. I was all of four years old. We were spending that summer at Indore at our mutual maternal Grandma’s place. My younger cousin and I were sitting on the second floor stairs. He had a match box in his hand. I was fascinated with his daring at being able to sneak off with a match box.

The two of us sat there striking matches and watching them fizzle out. In a short while, he got bored. Very thoughtfully he declared, “The match tip is not hot once it has burned out.” Given the hero status, naturally I nodded my head dutifully. Once he had agreement on that, he put the next part of his plan in action.

“See”, he said. “I’ll touch the burned out match stick to your leg and you won’t feel ANYTHING.”

Again, obviously, I agreed.

Later, when I stopped screaming and he saw a beautiful blister pop up on my leg instantly, all he said was, “Oh? It is still hot..!?” He was very disappointed I think; more with me than the match. It was as if I had let him down in some manner. No doubt a result of my wickedness, his eyes silently declared to me accusingly.

The older one had a lot more finesse. One summer we were spending at the home of another aunt, at Renukoot. I was seven years old and he was twelve. The place was supplied generously with enormous chameleons. I am yet to see such a thick population elsewhere. One day, when my older hero saw me running away scared from the chameleons once again, he knew he needed to have a talk with me.

“Listen”, he said somberly, “I see you are scared of chameleons. Are you..?”

I nodded vigorously.

“Then I must warn you” he continued. “You must make sure of one thing. When you see a chameleon, you must make sure you keep your mouth shut. If the chameleon counts all your teeth, you will die INSTANTLY.”

It is only a few years back that I made the connection and realized I had my leg pulled royally. Yet even today, if I see a lizard or a mouse in the house, I cannot open my mouth to scream. What if they count my teeth?!!! Don’t tell me we are not irrational or that childhood conditioning loses its grip on us. EVER.

Then there is the summer when I was eleven years old. We were spending our vacation at their place at Bhiwani. It was here that I had my first (almost) encounter with the supernatural.

The colony they lived in was a huge compound. There was just one entrance gate to the compound where a guard sat. After seven pm, he needed to be told to let people in or out. My brothers had a cousin from their dad’s side visiting them that day. By the time dinner got over, it was late. The four of us walked the cousin to the gates to tell the guard to let him out.

When we turned to return home, my elder brother asked me to pay attention to a tree mid-way between the compound gates and home. It happened to be a peepal* tree. In a grave, mysterious tone he asked me, “Did you know, witches live in peepal trees..?

My hair stood on end and I felt the prickling goose-bumps on my arms and legs.

“What are you saying Bhaiya (older brother)…!!? Really…?”, I said looking horrified up at the branches.

“Yes of course”, he said in funeral tones. “You remember I told you that story about a witch?”

[Aside: Just three days ago, after lights out at night, this sixteen year old ‘big brother’ had told me a gruesome story about a witch attacking the children living in a hostel. A master story- teller (blood will tell, ahem!), his rendition was complete with creaking doors and the (muted) groans of the victims as they we devoured one by one by the evil witch whose feet and head pointed backward- though she walked forwards. Okay, so I wasn’t very logical when I was little! I doubt if you were either.]

“Yes Bhaiya, of course I remember. You told me witches have feet pointing backwards and they have long nails with which to tear people’s eyes out.”

“Yes, yes”, he said. “That’s the one. Where do you think they go and sleep when they have finished eating people…?”

“They sleep in Peepal Trees…?!!” Every nerve in me was thrilling with abject terror.

“Yes of course. Now be careful. When we pass under the tree, don’t make a noise or you’ll wake up the witch. And DEFINITELY don’t run. Or the witch will sweep down and catch you from behind.”

I need not tell you how terrified I became when he said that. I didn’t dare breathe even. The closer we approached the tree the slower I walked. I groped for bhaiya’s hand; I was so scared. He let me hold his hand. We reached just under the tree. In an instant, he let go of my hand and with a signal to the younger one, they both scooted off, leaving me rooted to the spot in horror.

I swear I was sure the witch is going to take it out on me for having disturbed her slumbers. The thought of running away never occurred to me. I stood there like a statue expecting the witch to make a meal of me any moment. I only wished I had eaten a few more pooris that evening at dinner. Too late, of course.

When they reached home, my aunt caught hold of them and demanded to know where I was. They had expected me to be close behind them but I had failed them again. They were then told to go and fetch me. I think they were both mightily peeved with me for having spoiled their fun.

I need not tell you how they got scolded for having told me such terrible stories and for scaring me out of the little wits I possessed. Even now, when the whole family gets together for weddings, these stories- and many many more- get told with fresh relish- and unforgivable exaggerations- each time.

These stories are the strands of gossamer that form the bond between us.


* Peepal: Sacred Fig. The tree that gives out oxygen even at night. You guessed it; it is for the witches to breathe. 🙁

Picture from Google Images
Picture from Google Images

26 thoughts on “Witch In The Tree”

  1. Hi Dags, What a lovely story! Enjoyed it thoroughly! I am not surprised you are an only child just like me, we have such a bonding don’t we and I too must share my cousins both teased and protected me like big brothers and sisters, which they do even today!!! Much love.

    1. What a pleasure to see you here Julia! You are an only child too?! No wonder we get along so well 🙂 Do share your stories about your cousins too. I’d love to read them. 😀
      Love and hugs. <3

  2. You reminded me of my childhood. I had 8 brothers (cousins) and one biological one studying in the same school as me. I was doll/toy/punching bag/prey for a long time.

    1. I can’t imagine having four time as much brothers and that too all the year round! It’s enough to turn my hair hydrogen yellow! No wonder you are a tough woman, impossible to faze. 😀

  3. Ha ha ha ha ha I can so imagine. I was the prankster myself, as a child. But oh, those days of yore. I’d give anything to have uncomplicated back!

    1. Oh the uncomplicated! Who wouldn’t want their childhood back? I was never the prankster, somehow it never occurred to me. That’s why I never understood them either. Bit of a strait laced bore I must’ve been. I no longer blame my cousins for playing practical jokes on me. A fathead like me must have demanded it of them as self- respecting boys. 😀

  4. This was a really good post, Dags! Reminded me of growing up with 3 brothers (1 own and 3 cousins). As the only girl, I never had a moment’s rest. But God do I adore them all:)

  5. What a delightful narration! I sat and read this as if glued to the ground in front of that peepul tree you described!
    Older siblings are loving devils. I should know for I am one, too!

    1. ‘Loving’ devils? Really? A rather ambitious adjective there, isn’t it? 😀

      Thrilled you liked this Rickie. I am yet to get to your book. You ought to scold me. Sheer laziness.

  6. Dagny, that was something, really. I remember telling a female cousin that if she dug a hole in the ground and buried a chowanni, she’d have a money tree the next day. She did. Girls are so gullible. Wish they’d stay that way. 😀

    1. Girls are so gullible… and boys are so clever. Neither stay that way. Girls get wised up because boys think that the (supposedly) clever things they did at 16 would be considered clever even when they do them at 50. We get bored with the repetitiveness you know. SO dull! The thing loses it’s novelty after the umpteenth round. *yawns*

  7. A lot of my cousins live in the hills and they have hundreds of ghost stories when they come to meet. I don’t like the way I get jumpy and scared during their entire stay.

    1. I was reading an article about horror movies today and the author wrote that he liked feeling scared and jumpy. I thought to myself- They walk amongst us; and sometimes go to the movies!

    1. I do have fond memories indeed. So delighted to find you on my blog. Achyut’s share took me to yours a few hours ago. 🙂

  8. Now if you will only explain what that quote about ‘fairness and cooperation and kindness’ had to do with any of the incidents you narrated, I will die happy 🙂

    1. It doesn’t take much to make you contended does it? 🙂

      The incidents I narrated had nothing to do with fairness, cooperation or kindness. With the lack of those virtues, these incidents taught me how important they were.

      Will you die happy now? Please say yes because I am eager to pat my back and feel smug. 😀

  9. I had a couple of cousin brothers too. And they really can be mean in scaring the hell out of you. But it is a part of the great sibling bond we share. I have two siblings of my own who were much more considerate. I was a sensitive kid and got frightened easily. And my elder sister recognized that from early on. So she would quickly say, “Don’t believe them. They are just tales!” She was very perceptive and protective. I appreciate that now. What would be life without them, seriously!

    1. Bless your caring elder sister. So much nurturing!

      How deeply siblings impact our lives, one way of the other. You were lucky you had someone to watch out for you. 🙂

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