Today we start a new series, The Whirlwind. Wait! Are you the kid who wakes up at night, thinks, “Oh, the cat’s making so much noise,” and goes back to sleep? Or do you huddle under the cover without moving a muscle until sunlight streams through your window? Why do I ask? Well, our new series, the Whirlwind, is a ghost story.

When you go to the villages in India, you are bound to hear stories of strange happenings. Usually, a spooky spectral being is attached to a tree, and children are warned not to go near it at noon, dusk, or dawn. It’s as if ghosts must have their haunting schedule. You know some ghosts from the sounds of their anklets and bangles, the smell of jasmine, or their long floating garments, especially the white saree!

In our story, four cousins visit their grandmother in a small village in Tamil Nadu. They are unsettled when a strange man shouts at them as they swing from the roots of a banyan tree. Other disturbing events tell them the village is not as peaceful as it seems. Whether you think ghosts are real or not, you must agree that listening to a gripping, nail-biting story is fun. Turn the lights off, pull your covers about you, and listen to the first episode of The Whirlwind! I hope you have a torchlight next to you.

The Whirlwind

“Dey, Dey, get away, get away from that banyan tree!!!” The elderly man waved his stick at the kids. Ramu and Mani released the ropelike roots and landed hard on their butt. Valli and Senthil walked over to stand by their cousins. Who was this man, and why was he after them?

“Run! Run as fast you can! Don’t turn back!” the old man hissed. Something in his voice made them feel uncomfortable. The kids walked backward, their eyes on him. He pulled the tip of his black blanket and swung it again over his shoulders. His shabby dhoti hadn’t seen soap and water for many a day. It wasn’t just the tattered clothes. He looked around with one eye while a black cloth covered the other.

Turning back, the four kids walked as fast as they could, trying to drown out that horrible voice. They didn’t stop until they reached the banks of the river Kaveri. A few women were washing clothes on the banks of the river. The kids waded in, the water soothing their aching feet.

“Hey, aren’t you Geethmani’s grandkids kids from the town? Our village life must be so different! What were you doing there? What are you up to?” An elderly woman asked them as she bent down, spreading her clothes to dry on the rocks.

“Paatti, you know that banyan tree in the back. We were swinging from the tree’s roots when a strange man in shabby clothes waved us away,” said Valli, looking for some explanations.

“Oh, you must be new to Suzhalnagaram!” the woman nodded as if she knew some secret.

“Yes, Patti, we are,” four voices rang in chorus.

“Well, the old man was right! You kids better stay away from the banyan tree,” she said mysteriously.

“Why is that Patti also saying the same thing?” Mani’s voice trembled.

“Bah, You know what these old people are like! They like to add some mystery to everything to keep kids from playing. Forget it, da! Come, let us go home,” Ramu brushed off the warnings.

The four cousins were in the village to visit their grandmother. The aroma of hot, sweet Paniyarams and bhajis filled the air as they entered the house. Valli filled her lungs before filling her stomach.

“Patti, when I grow up, I want to make your special recipes exactly the way you prepare,” said Valli licking her lips.

“Come, children, have your snacks when they are hot,” said Patti, fishing the last batch of bhajis from the sizzling oil.

The kids sat on the floor and munched the snacks.

“Patti, why did you buy a new house here? Why is this place called Suzhalnagaram?” asked Ramu.

“Well, we liked it because it’s near the river,” Grandma replied.

“Patti! See, you’ve forgotten me because your grandchildren are here!” A thin boy stood at the doorstep, smiling at the others. His hair fell over his forehead, almost touching his eyes.

“Come, Babu, you are in time for the tiffin,” Patti welcomed him. “Children, meet Babu. He keeps me engaged when you are away. He knows every nook and corner of our village. He will show you around all the interesting places for kids,” said Grandma.

Babu was not a big kid. His messy hair grew long, and he sported a big scar across his left cheek. Valli looked at his thin body in wonder as the paniyarams on his plate disappeared as fast as Patti served them. Her face turned red when he caught her staring at him.

“Babu, What is there to do here?” Valli asked to cover her embarrassment.

“We can play … swim in the river. If you are not used to that, we can explore the mango groves too,” he replied. A secretive look came into his eyes. The others helped clear up the room and rushed outside with Babu. “Listen, there is something unique here. But I didn’t want to say anything in front of Patti. Let’s go and play on the top of the village water tank,” said Babu.

“What’s so special about it?” asked Senthil.

“The view is something you must see for yourselves. It won’t be the same if I describe it,” said Babu.

There was no one else at the water tank. “Is it safe to go up there?” Valli asked, eying the curved metal stairs. “We’re not going into the tank. That’s locked up safely.”

‘Was he mocking her for being scared?’ Valli wondered. She put on a brave face and climbed the steps behind the others. The view from the top WAS breathtaking! They could see the bend of the Kaveri and the tree canopies. Narrow roads ran here and there like small arteries.

“See that tree!” Ramu pointed to the banyan tree. “Babu, a man told us we can’t play near the banyan tree. Do you know why?”

“Oh, did you try to play there?” Babu’s face was pale.

“Yes, but…,” Valli halted mid-sentence.

“Woooow! Look at that,” Senthil exclaimed.

Their eyes were drawn to a whirlwind right by the banyan tree. It was not large. Black as charcoal with reddish-orange fumes rising from the centre, the whirlwind spiraled violently upward. It went around the village, emitting dark fumes. It finally rested on the banyan tree and disappeared. What was that? The children turned to Babu for an explanation.

“Now you know why this place is called Suzhalnagaram! It is the town of the whirlwind,” Babu’s cheeky tone didn’t make them feel any better.

“Where did the whirlwind go? How did it start? Where did it vanish?” demanded Mani.

“No one in the village knows. Now, don’t turn into a detective. Somethings must be left alone,” Babu said as they climbed down.

What is the best way to encourage children to do something? You tell them not to do it! Naturally, the four cousins wondered how to find the truth behind the whirlwind. Babu had to go back and finish his chores. They made plans to meet him in the evening, and he left.

The cousins didn’t have to discuss anything. As one, their feet led them back to the banyan tree. The place was quiet. “Caw Caw!” cried ravens, dark as the moonless night. Was it their imagination, or did the banyan tree look like a demon? The air around them felt muggy. Blackness hung over the tree.

“The tree looks different today, doesn’t it?” asked Valli. “This place makes me nervy.”

“Someone has hammered so many nails on the tree. Why would they do that?” Senthil looked to see if there was a pattern. Some were rusted, and quite a few were twisted.

Senthil grabbed a large stone and started hitting a nail. DUNG! DUNG! DUNG! The nail chipped the bark and fell to the ground. Senthil pulled out the nail, and instantly, black fumes erupted, their long curly fingers reaching out for him. But Valli scopped her cousin and dragged him away from the tree. The kids ran, without stopping to see what they left behind.

The smell of biryani hit them as they entered Patti’s home. Growling stomachs sang different songs as they took a bite of the biryani.  

“Patti, the biryani is tasteless,” Ramu blurted out.

“How can that be? Babu had some just now and said it was the best biryani ever!” Patti sounded hurt.

“No, Patti, Ramu is not fussing. You should taste it. Here!” Valli fed a mouthful to Patti.

Patti shook her head, baffled. “This is tasteless! Babu lied to me because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Poor kid! Oh, I forgot to tell you, he’s here. He’s sleeping here tonight. Don’t stay up talking all night, okay?” she reminded them.

The kids went to their room, still thinking about the smoky fingers. Babu looked up from the book on his lap.

“Wasn’t that biryani delicious?” he began.

“It was tasteless,” Mani said bluntly. Babu’s eyes narrowed.

“Wait! Did you go to the banyan tree after I warned you not to?” he rounded on them.

“What? Why are you bringing that up now?” Mani protested.

“Go on, tell me! You went to the banyan tree, didn’t you?” He asked them again.

The rattled cousins confided in him.

“Where did you go after pulling out nails from the banyan tree?” asked Babu.

“Here,” said Senthil.

“You shouldn’t have done it. The ghost would have latched on to you and your house,” said Babu.

“Ghost!” screamed the four together.

“Look, it is a long story. Let’s go to bed now. I will explain tomorrow morning,” said Babu.

The cousins got ready for bed in silence, their minds racing. Were ghosts real? No! There was no such thing as ghosts. Senthil tossed and turned. If only he hadn’t removed the nail on the tree! It was some time before his eyelids felt heavy.  


Senthil sat up, jolted awake. Was that a puppy? He shook his head. It was the thought of the tree! A dream….


No, it  was not a dream. And why would a puppy knock? Senthil willed himself to get up and open the window.

A bent old woman stood there; her saree pallu over her head. “Hello, have you seen my cats?” she asked gruffly.

“Cats?” blinked Senthil. He shook his head.

“I have nine cats, and they’re all missing. I wondered if they wandered into your garden,” she sounded dismayed.

“No, I haven’t seen any cats,” the boy answered aloud.

“Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow,” said the woman.

The woman turned away and left. This time, Senthil did fall asleep!

The following morning, the children sat around Babu’s bed even before brushing their teeth. He began to talk.

“This village is known as the place of whirlwinds. And, yes, it has to do with the banyan tree and this elderly woman who used to live in this village. There was some mystery about how she died. The villagers tell children not to go near the Banyan tree because strange things happen around it. I don’t know the whole story, but it has something to do with whirlwinds. People whisper about whirlwinds that formed in the village and tore through the streets and the fields. They came to the foot of the banyan tree and became one large whirlwind that was swept into the tree. No one tells us, kids, anything clearly,” Babu paused.

“Remember I asked you about the banyan tree right after you told me that the biryani was tasteless? There’s a reason behind that. The ghost that lives in the banyan tree is supposed to be fond of biryanis. If it comes to town and eats anyone’s biryani, it takes away all the flavor and leaves behind the tasteless biryani.”

Babu looked at Senthil. “You must have unleashed the ghost when you pulled out the nail.”

“The ghost may have followed you from the banyan tree,” he continued. “No one has seen that lonely woman except a handful of people. Poor woman! She spent her life living with her nine cats.”

The others sat still; their faces terror-stricken. Senthil felt dizzy. He went back to his bed and curled into a ball. Should he tell the others about the mysterious stranger looking for her cats?

Who is the woman looking for her cats in the middle of the night? Will Senthil be alright? There’s more about the whirlwind next week!

Read more here:

Is it a good idea to tell or read ghost stories to children?

Other scary stories:

The Rainy Night

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