THERE was once a wrestler called Vijay Singh. A tall man with
massive shoulders and muscular arms, he towered over
others like a giant. Vijay Singh, people said, was a born
wrestler and could beat all other wrestlers in the world.
This pahalwan had but one shortcoming which often
landed him in awkward situations. He was fond of boasting.
One day, he was sitting in the market-place surrounded by
several young men. After drinking many glasses of milk, he
suddenly proclaimed, “Why are people afraid of ghosts? I am
not. I wish I met a stout ghost. I’d teach him a lesson."
There were murmurs of applause as well as apprehension
among the young men. “If you walk alone at night through
the Haunted Desert," one of them said, “you are sure to meet
ghosts. They roam there freely. Strange shrieks and moans
can be heard all over the place. Travelers have been looted
and killed. Would you really want to go there?" Vijay Singh’s
mighty heart missed a beat or two. Why did he have to boast?
“Yes, I have heard of the Haunted Desert," he said
nonchalantly. “I think it’s just a fairy tale."
“Oh no," said one of his admirers, “it’s true. This place is
ten miles to the west on the road to Jaisalmer. The landmark
is an ugly black rock that looks like the head of a camel.
Beyond that there is nothing but sand and wilderness and,
of course, ghosts."
Almost the entire
village turned up that
evening to bid farewell to
Vijay Singh, who was
ready to set out west.
Just then an old woman
came forward and thrust
a small packet into his
hands, and Vijay Singh
started walking into the
red sunset of the desert.
As he walked, the night deepened. The moon was bright
and the stars shone clearly in the Rajasthan sky. Still a few
miles short of his destination, Vijay Singh remembered the
old woman’s packet. He opened it and found nothing but a
lump of salt and an egg. The old woman was well-known for
As Vijay Singh stepped into the Haunted Desert, he heard
a voice. “Vijay Singh, Vijay Singh! You will get lost in the desert.
Come this way. I am your friend, Natwar." At once Vijay Singh
realised it was not his friend but a ghost. Trying to sound
brave, he called back, “Where are you, my dear Natwar? It’s
dark and I cannot see you. Come here and show me the way."
Like all good wrestlers, Vijay Singh wanted to size up his
Soon the ghost appeared at his side. Vijay Singh peered
into his face and declared, “You are just a plain, lying ghost.
Anyway, now I don’t have to walk all night. I was longing to
meet you." Not used to insults, the ghost was taken aback.
People generally started back in horror when they met him.
They often fainted. But here was this unfeeling creature
claiming he wanted to meet a ghost. It didn’t make sense.
“Really, I don’t know why you longed to meet me," the
“That proves," said Vijay Singh in a bored voice, “that you
are a stupid ghost. The least a ghost can do is to read a
man’s thoughts. However, a worthless ghost like you is better
than no ghost. The fact is, I am tired of wrestling with men. I
want to fight a ghost."
The ghost was speechless. Marshalling his ghostly wits,
he made an attempt to look Vijay Singh scornfully in the eye.
“Frankly," he said, “you don’t appear all that strong to me."
“Appearances can be deceptive," Vijay Singh said. “Take
your own case. You claim to be Natwar, though actually you
are a rascal of a ghost. If you doubt my strength, let me give
you a demonstration of it."
VIJAY Singh picked up a piece of rock from the sand. “Take
this," he offered it to the ghost, “and squeeze it hard. It is
filled with fluid. See if I am wrong." While the ghost tried to
squeeze the rock first with one hand, then with both, Vijay
Singh stealthily took out the egg from his pocket.
Vijay Singh snatched the rock from the ghost and placed
it between both hands and squeezed. At once the yellow yolk
oozed from around his
fingers, and the crackling
of the egg-shell created
the illusion of the stone
being crushed. The ghost
was so astonished he did
not notice Vijay Singh
bending to clean his
hands with sand and
disposing of the tell-tale
shell. Vijay Singh then
picked up another piece
of rock and gave it to the
ghost. Without a word
the ghost took it, felt it,
and peered at it. Vijay
Singh put his hand into
his pocket to take out the
lump of salt.
“This is only a stone," protested the ghost. “And anyway it
is too dark to see."
“Never heard of a ghost who can’t see in the dark!" remarked
Vijay Singh. “That stone which you hold in your hand contains
salt. Crumble it and see." Again the ghost tried to crush the
stone, but in vain. He handed over the stone to Vijay Singh.
The ghost was now beginning to doubt his ghostly powers.
“I can see that you’re not going to be a worthy opponent.
What’s the use of wrestling with a weakling whom I can floor
in a minute?" So saying, Vijay Singh casually crumbled the
lump of salt and let the stone drop in the darkness. He held
out his hand and commanded the ghost to taste the
strength, the ghost
did as he was told.
Alarm shot through
him. This man
vanquish him in a
wrestling bout in
the dark. But
perhaps, he could
be tricked in other
ways. Assuming a
servile manner, the
ghost said, “Friend
Vijay Singh, it is an
honour to meet a
man like you! I
admit to being
defeated. But where will you go tonight? Rest in my house.
You can leave tomorrow."
Now thoroughly elated, Vijay Singh replied, “I cannot refuse
your hospitality but tomorrow you will go with me as my
prisoner. I must display the trophy of my victory to my people!"
The ghost bowed in agreement, but silently vowed to kill Vijay
Singh in the night. He led him to his house in the cave.
The ghost fed him dry fruits and a lot of milk, and later led
him to a luxurious bed to sleep on, complete with pillows
But Vijay Singh lay awake listening to the snores of the
ghost. In the middle of the night, he slipped off his bed. He
placed a bolster in the centre of the bed, throwing over it a
coverlet to make it look exactly like a sleeping man. Having
done this he crouched watchfully in a dark corner.
Sure enough, just before the break of dawn, the ghost
approached the bed armed with a stout club. He brought the
club down on what he thought was Vijay Singh’s head. Not
hearing even a groan, he smiled, pleased that he had killed
However, just to make doubly sure, he struck the bolster
six times more. Satisfied with his work, he returned to his
couch, and covering his head, settled down to sleep again.
Meanwhile, Vijay Singh crept silently back into bed. After a
pause, he groaned, as if in disgust, threw back his coverlet,
and sat up.
Disturbed by the noise, the ghost peeped from under his
bedclothes to see the strong man stretching his arms above
his head and yawning. For a moment the ghost turned rigid
with shock. “Friend ghost, there are insects in your cave,"
said Vijay Singh in a complaining voice. “Here I was, enjoying
the sweetest sleep I’ve had in years, and there comes this
insect to trouble me. I distinctly counted seven flappings of
its wings. Of course, it has not bitten me, but it’s most
annoying." The ghost panicked. Those seven blows would
have reduced any other man to pulp. ‘There is no safety near
a formidable wrestler like this,’ he thought and fled from the
cave leaving behind all his ill-gotten wealth.
It took several camels from the village to remove the
property Vijay Singh had acquired. He returned much of it to
the rightful owners. He went especially to the old woman,
thanked her for her invaluable gift, and asked for her
granddaughter’s hand in marriage.
Thenceforth, Vijay Singh was more careful about boasting.
It is said that no traveller was ever troubled again in the