In a small village in Himachal (A state in northern hilly region in India.) lived an old man and his wife. Both were over seventy and both loved one another. Only five other families lived in this tiny village.

One cold winter evening the old man and his wife were sitting inside their hut. Outside it was snowing. Suddenly the old man looked up and said, “I wish we could have some pakodas (Salty snacks prepared by frying vegetable mixed in gram flour batter). I very much feel like eating pakodas today.”

“I’ll see if there’s any besan (Gram flour) in the house,” his wife replied. She got up and opened the tin of besan. “Oh, there’s only a little bit here,” she said. “It’s too cold to go out and buy more. So I shall make pakodas from this little bit of besan.”

The old woman lighted the fire and made pakodas. She made five. She gave her husband three pakodas and herself took two.

But the old man would not take the palcodas. How can I eat three when you are getting only two ?” he said. “Take one pakoda from me.”

“Two pakodas are enough for me,” his wife replied. “It is you who asked for them. You take three now. Tomorrow I shall get more besan from the shop and make pakodas. I can then take one more than you.”

“We’ll see about that later,” the old man said. “But today you must eat three pakodas.”

They kept arguing like this all evening. Night fell, but they had still not eaten the pakodas. At last they agreed on a plan. “It is quite late,” they said. “So let us go to sleep now. Tomorrow morning, the one who gets up first will have to eat three pakodas.”

So they both went to sleep. Morning came. But still they kept lying in bed, eyes closed. Each wanted the other to get up first, for each wanted the other one to have three pakodas. It grew quite late and the sun rose high in the sky. But still they would not get up. The neighbours saw that their door was still closed. They got worried.

“What is the matter with the old couple ?” they said. “They still have not got up. Let us go and find out if they are all right.”

The neighbours went and knocked at the door. They called out to the old couple, but there was no reply from inside. Then the neighbours hammered at the door with their fists. But still the door remained closed. Now they got really worried. “We shall have to break the door,” they said. “The old people may be ill.”

So they brought an axe and broke open the door. They then went in and saw the old man and his wife lying on their cots with eyes closed. “Oh no,” they said. “They are both dead! Let us take them to the burning place.”

When the old man heard this he shot up in alarm. He realised that they would both be burnt alive. “Oh very well,” he cried. “I shall eat three andyou can eat the other two.” On hearing this the old woman also shot up and cried, “That’s what I’ve been telling you all this time. If you had listened to me, we could have eaten them last night. We wouldn’t have gone hungry all night then. But we can eat them now.”

When the neighbours heard this they were alarmed. They ran out of the door shouting. “Run! Run for your life! The ghosts of the old man and his wife are after us! They are going to eat us all up! The old man’s ghost will eat up three families, and his wife’s ghost will eat up the other two families in the village !”

The old man and his wife were surprised. They ran after the neighbours to tell them that they were not ghosts. At this the neighbours were even more frightened. They ran faster still.

Much later the old man and his wife told the neighbours about the pakodas. When they heard this, they burst out laughing. That day the old woman brought more besan from the shop and made lots of pakodas. Then she invited everyone in the village for a feast of pakodas. You see, she was sorry that she and her old man had given everyone such a fright.

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