Hey look! Langdu has come in a colour dress today. Must be his birthday,”
“Happy Birthday, langdu!” Manohar’s gang chorused and Varun’s face
turned red with embarrassment. He had hoped that at least on his birthday Manohar and his friends would spare him.
Varun and Manohar were class five students of Digvijay Public School. Varun had fallen down the staircase when he was a toddler and had twisted his ankle. As a result of this injury he had developed a permanent limp. This made him an ideal target for everyone to poke fun at.
Manohar, in particular, was very mean. He was the class bully and hated Varun because he was better in studies. He had named Varun langdu (a person who walks with a limp) and the nickname had become very popular throughout the school.
Every time Varun heard anyone call him langdu, he cringed.
That evening when he returned home the maali (gardener) gave him another piece
of bad news — Mittal seth was planning to cut down the Peepal tree.
Varun lived with his parents on the first floor of Lakshmi Nivas, a two-storeyed bungalow owned by Baidyanath Mittal. Mittal lived on the ground floor along with his wife Lakshmi. They had no children. Lakshmi Nivas had a fairly large compound with a lawn and surrounding it a flowerbed. In one corner of the compound was a huge Peepal tree. It had been there for as long as Varun could remember. It was his favourite hideout.
Whenever he felt lonely he would climb up and, perching himself on one of its branches, he would read a book. Many a time he had escaped a spanking or avoided meeting an obnoxious uncle or an overbearing aunt by disappearing into the thick foliage of the tree.
Lakshmi Dadi (grandmother) was very fond of Varun and treated him like her own grandchild. She was a terrific cook and liked to make Varun’s favourite dishes. She loved to watch him eat.Dadu’ (grandfather,) on the other hand, was a grumpy old man. He reminded Varun of the old Mr.Wilson of ‘Dennis the Menace’ fame. Dadu considered Varun a pest and tried his best to avoid him. But because of Lakshmi Dadi’s love for Varun he kept silent most of the time.
When Varun entered the living room he found Dadi knitting a sweater.
“Dadi, I have come to fight with Dadu.”
“Oh my! But why, beta (son)?” she asked with mock seriousness.
“He is planning to get my Peepal tree cut.”
“Yes, son, I know. He plans to build a room there.”
“But, Dadi, cutting down trees is a crime.”
“Dadi, trees give us so many things — food to eat, air to breathe. They
provide shelter to us as well as to a number of animals and birds. We get
medicines, paper, wood, gum and numerous other useful things from them.
And this Peepal tree is so special to me. I love it as much as I love you, Dadi,” Varun said, throwing his arms around her and giving her a big hug.
“Okay, okay, my child. I am convinced. I’ll talk to Dadu and persuade him. You leave it to me.”
Next day was a Sunday. Dadi called Varun and gave him the good news.
“Varun, you can rest assured. No one will touch your Peepal tree. It was not easy, but I managed to convince the old man. He is now sitting in the pooja room and sulking.”
“Oh, Dadi! You are a darling,” Varun said, jumping on to her lap and
One evening, after suffering Manohar’s pranks the entire day, Varun was
“Varun, why are you so sad?” A soft voice spoke in his ear.
Startled, Varun almost fell out of the tree, “Wh…who is it?”
“It’s me. Bhootnath.”
“B…but who are you and where are you?”
“I am right behind you?”
Varun turned around. A strange looking fellow was sitting on a branch.
He was quite short – hardly four feet high. His face was of a young boy’s but he had a long white beard that stretched down to his knees.
“Wh…who are you and how did you get here?”
“I am Bhootnath, the friendly neighbourhood ghost, and I live here.”
“A g…ghost! I don’t believe you.”
“Okay, I’ll show you. Now just watch me.”
As Varun stared fascinated, Bhootnath’s head started moving round and
round at a dizzying speed. Then it suddenly shot up and hung itself on a branch like a ripe mango.
“Now do you believe me?” the head asked Varun, rolling its eyes.
“Yes. Now please get back to your body. It is so scary to talk only to a head,” Varun said, addressing the head.
Bhootnath stretched out one arm with which he picked up his head and placed it back on his body.
“How do you know my name?” Varun asked Bhootnath.
“I told you I live here. I see you every day.”
“How come I have not seen you?”
“I am a ghost, silly! No one can see me unless I want to be seen. For the last couple of days I have been meaning to thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?”
“You talked to Dadi, she talked to Dadu and this Peepal tree was saved. Had the tree been cut down I would have had to look for a new home. And in these times, with so many trees being cut so mercilessly, it is difficult for an outdoor ghost to find decent accommodation.”
“Yes, there are ghosts who prefer to live inside houses. But I like to live outdoors, on trees. It is very good for my health. It keeps me fit and fine. Now tell me, my friend, why are you looking so sad?”
Varun told him the entire story — from the day Manohar had first called him langdu till the insult today.
Bhootnath heard everything silently.
“Okay, Varun, see you. My only advice to you is,” Bhootnath opened his
mouth and started singing, “Don’t worry, be happy!”
A few days later Manohar, the bully, was asked to read aloud a story at the school assembly. This meant he had to pick up a classic story or play, rewrite it in his own words and read it out aloud. Manohar chose Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The play, in a story form, was already in their supplementary reader and, as such, he had no difficulty in simplifying it further.
He started off quite well. He had an impressive voice — loud and clear and a pleasing accent. It was when he reached the famous balcony scene that the trouble started.
Manohar began reading — “Romeo stood below Juliet’s
balcony and said, Peeti kya Coca Cola?”
For a moment there was a stunned silence and then the students and even the staff began laughing! The Principal turned red in the face. Manohar himself looked utterly baffled. He stopped for a few seconds and then, with an effort, continued — “Juliet replied, Yeh dil maange more.
Romeo smiled and said, Jo chaho ho jaaye. Coca Cola enjoy.”
Mr. Suresh Aiyyar, the English teacher, went to the dais, caught hold of Manohar’s hand and dragged him off to the staff room.
“What is this nonsense, Manohar? Did you see how angry the Principal was? Do you want to be chucked out from this school?”
“Sir, believe me, I really couldn’t help it. It was my voice but I wasn’t
speaking…I…can’t explain it sir, but please believe me.”
“So, now you are blaming a spirit or probably the devil himself for all this! Now that is really the limit. I know you love to play pranks. But this is not a harmless prank. This is gross indiscipline. I’ll have to ask the Principal to take action.”
Manohar was summoned to the Principal’s room and given a warning. He
was also asked to stay back after school for an hour each day for two weeks to help the librarian in arranging the books.
Manohar walked back to his class, his head hanging in shame.
Later during the day he found that even his friends had started avoiding him. They probably felt that he had gone too far and was heading towards greater trouble. They didn’t want to associate themselves with him and land up in a mess.
The next day during the Geography class, the teacher, Mr.Joe Winston, asked Manohar a question – “M…Manohar…t…tell me th…the…cap…capital of I…I…Ice…Iceland?” Winston Sir was in the habit of stammering and he was popularly known as the ‘Stuttering Parrot’.
“S…sir…I…I…d…do not…kn…know?” There was a stunned silence. No one had heard Manohar stammer before. It was evident he was only doing it to make fun of Winston Sir.
Winston Sir was livid. He walked up to Manohar and slapped him hard on his face. Then he walked out of the class to report the matter to the Principal.
Manohar was called to the Principal’s room. There too he started stammering.
“S…see, Sir…h…he is d…doing it again!” Winston Sir shouted, jumping up and down.
“Calm down, Winston. I know Manohar. He is no fool to attempt something so silly in my presence. I think he has a genuine problem.”
“Y…yes…sir, I…I…am unable t…to….”
From that day onwards Manohar wasn’t able to speak a single sentence without stammering. Someone coined a nickname for him — hakloo — meaning the one who stammers. The name stuck and Manohar became hakloo. Wherever he went he was taunted. He felt miserable. Even his friends started making fun of him, if not before him, then definitely behind his back. The only person who never laughed at him was Varun. In fact, Manohar had even heard Varun chiding their classmates for teasing Manohar.
Varun was surprised by the turn of events. A few days ago if someone had told him Manohar would become a laughing stock he would probably have jumped with joy. But now, surprisingly, he didn’t feel happy. Rather, he felt kind of sorry for Manohar. After all, Varun had suffered ridicule so often he knew exactly how it felt to be the butt of all jokes.
One day Manohar was sitting under a Peepal tree in the school compound, eating his lunch.
“So, Manohar, how does it feel when the whole school laughs at you?”
He looked around. He could see no one.
Manohar looked up and saw a boy with a long white beard sitting on a branch.
“Wh…who are you?”
“I am Bhootnath — your friendly neighbourhood ghost. The strange happenings – your spouting ad lines, your stammer — I am responsible for all of it.”
“Y…you? B…but, why? W…What h…have I…I d…done?”
“You were unkind to my best friend, Varun. You teased, taunted and mocked him for no fault of his. Is it his fault that he has a limp? Yet you humiliated him at every opportunity. Poor Varun was always decent and polite with you, but you have always been mean and cruel to him.”
“So, it was Varun who set you on me?”
“Of course not! He doesn’t know anything. I, on my own, decided to teach you a lesson. I hope you have learnt it,” Bhootnath said and disappeared.
During the gym period Manohar went up to Varun, “I am really sorry for what I did to you Varun. Please, will you forgive me?”
Varun hesitated for a moment.
“Please don’t think I am pulling your leg. I really mean it. I have learnt my lesson. I’ll never again be mean and cruel. Actually I am really grateful to you, Varun. I was terribly unkind to you and yet when you got a chance to pay me back, you didn’t. Instead, you went around fighting on my behalf.” Manohar paused and offering his hand, said, “will you be friends with me?”
“Yes,” Varun nodded and they shook hands.
“Hey, Manohar! Did you notice? You are not stammering anymore!”
“Yes, man. You are right. Thanks to Bhootnath.”
“Bhootnath! How do you know him?
“That is one secret I will never tell you,” Manohar said, winking at