Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
A STRANGE INCIDENT.
The law has, however, changed the custom and the public opinion too.
Still, every now and then there are found cases of determined Sutteeism among all classes in India who profess Hinduism. Frequent instances are found in Bengal; and whenever a case comes to the notice of the public the newspapers report it in a manner which shows that respect for the Suttee is not yet dead.
Sometimes a verdict of "Suicide during temporary insanity" is returned, but, of course, whoever reads the report understands how matters stand.
I know of a recent case in which a gentleman who was in Government service died leaving a young widow.
When the husband's dead body was being removed the wife looked so jolly that nobody suspected that anything was wrong with her.
But when all the male members of the family had gone away with the bier the young widow quietly procured a tin of Kerosine oil and a few bed sheets. She soaked the bed sheets well in the oil and then wrapped them securely round her person and further secured them by means of a rope. She then shut all the doors of her room and set the clothes on fire. By the time the doors were forced open (there were only ladies in the house at that time) she was dead.
Of course this was a case of suicide pure and simple and there was the usual verdict of suicide during temporary insanity, but I personally doubt the temporary insanity very much. This case, however, is too painful.
The one that I am now going to relate is more interesting and more mysterious, and probably more instructive.
Babu Bhagwan Prasad, now the late Babu Bhagwan Prasad, was a clerk in the ---- office in the United Provinces. He was a grown-up man of 45 when the incident happened.
He had an attack of cold which subsequently developed into pneumonia and after a lingering illness of 8 days he died at about 8 o'clock one morning.
He had, of course, a wife and a number of children.
Babu Bhagwan Prasad was a well paid officer and maintained a large family consisting of brothers--their wives and their children.
At the time of his death, in fact, when the doctor went away in the morning giving his opinion that it was a question of minutes, his wife seemed the least affected of all. While all the members of the family were collected round the bed of their dying relative the lady withdrew to her room saying that she was going to dress for the journey. Of course nobody took any notice of her at the time. She retired to her room and dressed herself in the most elaborate style, and marked her forehead with a large quantity of "Sindur" for the last time.
["Sindur" is red oxide of mercury or lead used by orthodox Hindu women in some parts of India whose husbands are alive; widows do not use it.]
After dressing she came back to the room where her dying husband was and approached the bed. Those who were there made way for her in surprise. She sat down on the bed and finally lay down by her dying husband's side. This demonstration of sentimentalism could not be tolerated in a family where the Purda is strictly observed and one or two elderly ladies tried to remonstrate.
But on touching her they found that she was dead. The husband was dead too. They had both died simultaneously. When the doctor arrived he found the lady dead, but he could not ascertain the cause of her death.
Everybody thought she had taken poison but nothing could be discovered by _post mortem_ examination.
There was not a trace of any kind of poison in the body.
The funeral of the husband and the wife took place that afternoon and they were cremated on the same pyre.
The stomach and some portions of the intestines of the deceased lady were sent to the chemical examiner and his report (which arrived a week later) did not disclose anything.
The matter remains a mystery.
It will never be found out what force killed the lady at such a critical moment. Probably it was the strong will of the Suttee that would not allow her body to be separated from that of her husband even in death.
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Another very strange incident is reported from a place near Agra in the United Provinces.