Salitha’s family had been living next door to Bopanna’s right from their grandparents’ times. Bopanna and Salitha went to the same school and were of the same age. Bopanna climbed across the compound wall by the backyard to play with Salitha all the time. They would spend hours together playing hide-and-seek, snake- and- ladder and Lagori games. Salitha was very fond of Bopanna and always believed whatever he told her.

One day, Bopanna decided to play some pranks on Salitha. That Saturday afternoon, the two of them roamed about the street, collecting the dry tamarinds that had fallen down from an age old tamarind tree. This was an usual activity that they indulged in during their free time. Whoever collected more was declared the winner and the other had to agree to the game rules for the day.

As they were busy collecting the tamarinds, Bopanna told Salitha that he had heard of a horrifying story about a young lady who had died hanging from the tree. He also told her that there was her ghost loitering by the tree since then. Salita’s jaws dropped. Who ever did or heard of such horrific things? She started shaking out of fright and dropped whatever she had gathered and ran far away from the tree.

Bopanna followed her casually pretending to be very brave and daring. He told Salitha not to worry as he would take her to the Hanuman Temple near by. Once at the temple, Bopanna couldn’t resist playing some more pranks on the little girl. A small jar of red vermilion was kept near one of the pillars. Bopanna told Salitha that anyone who applied this on the forehead would be protected from the attacks of the ghosts in the village. Salitha believed his words and promptly applied the red paste on her forehead.

On their way home, Bopanna could not control his laughter on seeing the little girl’s terrified face and the amount of red paste on her forehead. As Salitha turned back several times to look at the huge tamarind tree, Bopanna almost rolled on the street and burst out laughing. He then revealed to her that whatever he said the entire afternoon was purely his imagination gone wild! Salitha’s face became red with rage and she almost chased him to the end of the street with a stick in her hand.

Bopanna ran for his life, mindlessly laughing away, unable to prevent the un-beckoned tears pouring from his eyes! The joy of tricking the poor girl! Suddenly, they came to a grinding halt. They found a shopkeeper at the tea stall and his customer in deep conversation about the tamarind tree and how a young lady had ended her life on it. The conversation continued as one more villager joined them to inform them that anyone who applied the red paste from the Hanuman temple would be protected from the ghosts loitering in the village!!!!

Bopanna and Salitha could not believe their eyes and ears as they stood overhearing the entire conversation in utter shock. It seemed like their feet had grown roots on the spot, their mouths refused to shut, tears blurred their vision. They barely managed to drag their feet home!


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