PodCastle 777: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

“Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree” originally aired as PodCastle 523 .

Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree

By Nibedita Sen

The moment I swallowed the pret, I knew I should have taken my grandmother’s advice. Never yawn under a banyan tree, she used to warn me. A ghost might jump down your throat. Well touché, grandma. I’m sure you’re shaking your head at me in heaven, but consider this: Was it really fair to expect me to believe not just that ghosts were real — and lived in banyan trees — but that they liked to cannonball down people’s throats?

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, either. After months of carefully-timed sighing about her lack of grandchildren and leaving copies of matrimonial magazines where I would find them, my mother had persuaded me to meet a nice young Bengali (Brahmin) boy who was the son of the sister of the chartered accountant of one of her colleagues in the Fixed Deposits department of the State Bank of India. “Just let him buy you lunch,” she implored. “Just give him a chance. And if you happen to start comparing horoscopes, that’s fine.” Now, I could have told her it was pointless, but a free lunch didn’t sound so bad, especially once I got to texting with the nice young Bengali (Brahmin) boy and he suggested the new fusion cuisine place on Ballygunge Street. We Bengalis don’t have a food of our people so much as we are the people of food, you see. Visions of five-spiced baby potatoes tossed in vegetable oil and fish croquettes with mango mustard were enough to make me quickly text back: How about Saturday?

His name was Rahul, and he was nice, young, Bengali and a boy (and Brahmin), four of which were fine and one of which was a deal-breaker. Not that I was about to tell him that when he was buying me lunch. At least not over the main course, which was pork vindaloo with wilted greens. I’d picked it because it had four red chili peppers next to it on the menu, and it’s hard to discuss horoscope compatibility when you’re both breathing very hard and drinking multiple glasses of water. Look, I wouldn’t be a single twenty-year-old female academic if I wasn’t good at this, okay?

Unfortunately, Rahul was a persistent one. He patted his sweaty face with a napkin and took another swig of water. “Soooo,” he panted. “What do you, uh, do?”

I fingered my phone, mentally wording my restaurant review for Zapple, where I’d recently gathered enough points to make it from level-ten Super Foodie to the coveted level-eleven Epicure. “I’m a junior research fellow at Jadavpur University. I spend all day with my nose in a book. I’m not very social, really.”

“That’s nice.”

“I’m also a terrible cook. That’s why I eat out all the time. Which is why I’m fat. But hey, hey, hey, you know what they say, the best things in life are edible, right? Haha. Hah.”

“I, uh, see.” His face had taken on a strangled cast. It was working. I almost felt bad, but you can’t take any chances in the matchmaking-avoidance game. Then his phone rang and we both subsided a little with relief. “I’m sorry, it’s my tutor from the the third of my four chartered accountant extra preparation classes. I need to take this. Excuse me for a moment?”

“Sure,” I said. “In fact, be right back myself.”

Just so you know, I don’t make a habit of yawning underneath banyan trees. This isn’t because of my grandmother’s warning, but because there just aren’t that many of them up in North Calcutta, where I live. The banyan tree just outside the restaurant was a grand old specimen, though, some fifteen feet of knotted branches reaching for the sky. It had a full head of dangling roots whose hairy tips nearly brushed the street.

This was where I decided to stand and smoke a quick cigarette to prepare myself for the rest of the ordeal ahead. This was also where the combination of afternoon sun and the rice I’d just ingested began to work their magic on me, and I yawned. I yawned so hard the rickshaw-wallas sitting on the pavement by their line of rickshaws looked at me askance.

And the pret jumped down my throat.

It tasted faintly like chicken samosas and Tetley tea. I swallowed, and then promptly burped in astonishment. The rickshaw-wallas clicked their tongues at my unladylike behaviour. Hand over my mouth, I wondered if I had any spare antacids in my purse. Then the pret began making itself comfortable, and I dropped my cigarette and dashed back into the restaurant, blowing past Rahul at our table before he could open his mouth.

The restaurant only had two single-occupancy toilet stalls tucked away in an alcove in the corner. I’d figured out what was happening at this point, so I sat in one, underwear down around my sandal straps, and began looking up exorcisms on my phone. It was at this moment, as I scrolled through the unhelpful annals of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, that the pret first spoke up.

Order the cumin seed crème brûlée for dessert,” it said. It had a quavery, faintly peevish old-man voice. “And an order of pecan rasogollas. And some rice pudding, too.

The pretI realized in horror, was Bengali too.

Someone knocked on the door. “Meena?” Rahul called. “You’ve been in there a while. Everything okay?”

Weak as milk-rice, that boy,” said the pretYou can do better.

“I’m fine!” I said. “Totally fine!”

“Should I just go ahead and order dessert?”

My search had finally turned up two promising results: a temple in Rajasthan and another in Gujarat that still performed exorcisms for the princely sum of five thousand rupees and three boxes of chickpea-flour-and-sugar sweetmeats. The money was supposedly for the priests and the sweets for the gods, but I had the sneaking suspicion the sweets, too, would end up going down the priests’ gullets the way the pret had gone down mine. Five thousand rupees was a month of my stipend — and Rajasthan was at the opposite end of the country (but Gujarat was a vegetarian state, so that was out of the question). I concluded that you couldn’t put a price on a ghost-free digestive system, and pulled up the number for the temple in Rajasthan.

The pret clutched me in panic somewhere around the region of my diaphragm. “Wait!” it said. “Don’t do it!

“Give me one good reason,” I wheezed once I’d recovered enough air to form words.

“Meena? Who’re you talking to?”

They’re going to cut down my banyan tree! I have nowhere else to go!

“Not my problem,” I said, but I felt a twinge of compassion despite myself. Or maybe it was just the pret pinching my liver.

You don’t understand! This tree used to stand outside a stables when I claimed it! Then they went and turned it into a restaurant and I’ve been in agony ever since. Do you know what it’s like to be able to smell fenugreek fish steak wafting up into your branches all day when you haven’t had the ability to taste anything corporeal in five hundred years?

“I guess I’ll just go back to our table . . . ” Rahul mumbled outside.

It was a good thing I was in a toilet, abode of sudden flashes of brilliance, because one struck me just then. “What if I save your tree?” I said to the pret“Will you get out then?”

The ghost went quiet as it thought over this. “Fine,” it said, grudgingly, “on one condition.”


You order the crème brûlée. And the rasogollas. And the rice pudding.

Well, this date was already a disaster. I could live with Rahul judging me for eating three desserts.

Read the full story here

About the Author

Nibedita Sen

Nibedita Sen is a Hugo, Nebula, and Ignyte Award-nominated queer Bengali writer from Calcutta, and a graduate of Clarion West 2015 whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Uncanny, Podcastle, Nightmare and Fireside. She accumulated a number of English degrees in India before deciding she wanted another in creative writing, and that she was going to move halfway across the world for it.

These days, she can be found working as an editor while consuming large amounts of coffee and videogames. She lives in NYC with her boo and their sweet, flatulent old cat, enjoys the company of puns and potatoes, and is nearly always hungry. Hit her up on Twitter at @her_nibsen, where she can usually be found yelling about food, anime, and what she’s currently reading.

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About the Narrator

S.B. Divya

S.B. Divya (she/any) is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Meru and Machinehood. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and she is a former editor of Escape Pod, the weekly science fiction podcast. Divya holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing. She worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. Born in Pondicherry, India, Divya now resides in Southern California with her spouse, child, and two fur babies. She enjoys subverting expectations and breaking stereotypes whenever she can. Find out more about her at www.sbdivya.com or on Twitter as @divyastweets.

Find more by S.B. Divya