An Exquisite Ghost Story
"Men and ghosts fear each other, for their tribes inhabit different sides of the river of death"-
I am having a lot of fun reading and posting on ghost and paranormal stories for Carl V's really fun R I P reading event devoted to horror, Gothic, and paranormal literature. The rules for the event are on his blog and Carl has made it easy and a lot of fun to join in.
This will be the tenth story by Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941-India) on which I have posted. I really hope I can encourage others to read his stories as I think there is great wisdom in them (Albert Einstein discussed metaphysics with him, W. B. Yeats wrote a preface to one of his books, and Gandhi came to him for moral consultations). Here, taken from my post on a very famous ghost story of his, "Hungry Stones", is some background information on him.
Tagore was born in Kolkata, Indian into a family whose wealth and life style can now only be seen in movies. His father owned an estate so huge that at one point in his life Tagore traveled through it on a luxurious barge and was met on the river bank by tenants paying token rents to him. Tagore was raised mostly by servants as his mother died young and his father was very busy administrating the vast estates he owned. Tagore was educated in classical Indian literature and at age eight began to write poetry and ended up reshaping the Bengali Language. Later in his life he founded a school and devoted himself entirely to his writing and teachings. His moral authority became so great that he was able to write the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, give Gandhi the title of Mahatma (teacher), and in fact in his life had a status as a moral leader on a par with Gandi. He traveled to the west and met William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound and other notable literary figures. He is considered prior to WWII and perhaps even now the most widely read Indian author both in the west and in India.
"Living or Dead?" (it is translated from Bengali-not a real good translation I think and in my reading source there is no translator credit given) begins in the home of a childless widow with no relatives of her own. She has adopted a foster child who when the story opens is on her deathbed. The child's age is not real clear but it seems to be middle or early teens based on the fact that she is considered beautiful and is still unmarried. The widow has been left financially comfortable Tragically the foster daughter Kadambini dies. As required by custom, immediate arrangements are made to burn the body. Four funeral porters are called to take her to the place where her body will be burned. When the porters get her body to the spot, they see the wood that was supposed to be there is not. Two of the porters take off to get wood. Two hours go by and the other two porters get bored and go in search of their coworkers. When the come back the body is gone. At first they think maybe a jackal carried her away but there are no signs of that. They run in terror concluding she is now a ghost.
It appears that Kadambini was not really dead at all but went into and has now come out of a coma. She thinks she is dead. She begins to hide in the shadows, caking herself in filth. When people who knew her when she was thought to be living, see her, they run from her and treat her as if she were a ghost. She begins to fear herself. At first she lived in the ruins of an old temple living from the offerings of temple goers but longed for a home. She went to the house of an old friend who is shocked by her appearance but with the approval of her husband, takes her in. (Tagore is deservedly famous for his sympathetic treatment of women and his portrayal of marriages and there are some great scenes in this story showing the relationship of the friend and her husband.) Slowly they come to see something is very wrong with Kadambini when they find out from others that she was said to be dead.
She ends up back in her old house. No one notices her as she enters the house. She sees that she is being nursed. Suddenly she awakes. It seems this whole experience may have been a long nightmare brought on by high fever. She begins to walk around the house but still no one can see her. (Spoiler alert). She runs in terror from the house and in an effort to prove herself alive, she jumps into a well and dies.
Like a lot of good ghost stories, you are left a bit in doubt as to what happened in "Living or Dead?". There is a good bit to be learned about life in India in 1916 from this story also.
You can read it online Here (along with a number of his other works).
"The Living and The Dead" is a first rate well told story that most people will like. I think a better translation would do wonders for this story.