The Laughing ghost on the Banyan Tree


The Laughing ghost on the Banyan Tree

Bandariya Tola is a small village comprising of several hamlets scattered under a distance of a kilometer or two. It lies outside the Kanha Tiger reserve, and as soon as the sun sets, people prefer to keep indoors.

This is a farming community, and work begins at dawn. Naturally, people are abed early.
Of course, when one lives so close to the jungle, they are bound to bump into wild animals every now and then. However, there was one small stretch of a track that everyone avoided after nightfall. People returning home from weddings or work, would rather travel by a circuitous, longer route to get home. Even by day, the children were cautioned against playing there.
A large shady Banyan tree was supposedly the haunt of a laughing ghost. It was a most evil eerie laughter we were told. The kind that would make your blood curl to hear it. 

We would often drive by that patch, and made it a point to stop quite often by this gigantic Banyan tree, specially when it was fruiting. No, it was not to challenge or tempt the ghost, but because this tree was home to countless birds. Once the tree was fruiting, one could spot scores of birds feasting away in the cool comfort of its shady canopy. There were Barbets, Green Pigeons, Hornbills, Bulbuls and other birds that came either for the fruits or the insects that the figs attracted.
Even though we would scour the branchers of the tree, not once did we detect any sign of the ghost.

One evening, Hardin was returning from a wedding nearby. After dinner, while the rest of his family wanted to groove to the music, the old man decided to walk the short distance home. He had a lathi and a torch so felt quite safe. Besides, help would be a shouting distance away. He stumbled on, and as he was passing the ghostly tree, he heard the unmistakable laughter.   Even though he was quite tipsy, having imbibed a fair amount of ‘mahua’ the local liquor, the laughter chilled his bones and brought a sweat to his brow. He insisted the next morning, that the ghost possessed him by entering through his ear and causing him to faint. He was then released as the dawn appeared and the ghost was compelled to retreat into darkness.

The reign of fear of this Laughing Ghost, came to a most anti-climactic end.  A naturalist out on a birding jaunt one evening, heard the laughter and spotted the culprit – a Mottled Wood Owl.  Its true, the call of this owl sounds remarkably like a person laughing – google the sound if you want.