December 10, 2015

Everyone knows someone who saw a ghost!

Going to an old palace that is in ruins during the day was one thing, but going there when it got dark was quite another. I took a stroll through the rooms to take a picture of the sunset through one of the windows, and the ambience definitely made me uncomfortable! By the time we explored the place and came out, the full moon was up, and in the darkness, I casually asked the watchman whether there were ghosts there. 

The watchman was surprised at my question and the first thing he said was no, and then he mumbled that only some people had the ability to see ghosts. Then he pointed at another watchman and said, "Ask him...he is on night duty and said he saw a ghost the other night". So some of us gathered around him and heard his story. It was around 3 am and since he couldn't sleep, he was taking a walk. Then suddenly he saw a 7-8 ft outline of something in white, near the scooter parking a little distance away. At first he thought it was the other watchman with a shawl draped around him, but what he saw was quite tall. He was looking at and beginning to feel uncomfortable when the other watchman came out from inside the building! Then, he said, poof...this apparition just disappeared! We were smiling now, and asked him whether he took a photo. He said, no, he was a bit scared and didn't think of taking a photo. We told him that next time he saw a ghost, he should remember to take a photo, and he said he would. "But perhaps, ghosts don't show up in photos?" I wondered aloud, and he seemed to agree.

So that was the first time I met someone who said he actually saw a ghost. I have only known people who knew someone who saw a ghost, and who told me stories in great detail, as though they themselves saw it. Like they told me when I was 8 or 9 that there was a ghost on the tamarind tree in the galli from our house, which led to the main road. So every time we had to go past that tamarind tree at twilight or after dark, we closed our eyes and ran as fast as we could! If there had been a ghost waving at us from the top of the tree, well, we didn't see it! 

When we first moved into our home Ratnakara, we began hearing periodic 'ghal....ghal' sounds like those made by ankle bells (gajjelu, or ghungroo associated with ghosts) every night. People at home were puzzled and began asking one another about it...and one uncle said it - maybe there is a ghost. My father said nonsense, it is a cycle rickshaw with bells on its wheels going past the house every night. I was a nervous wreck as I had to go upstairs all by myself to study. Every shadow scared me; every little sound made me jump out of my skin! Sometimes, when the fear overtook me, I simply ran downstairs. Finally it turned out to be a small insect, maybe a cricket, that made the sound. So that ghost was only a figment of imagination!  

And then another story gave me nightmares - we began hearing of the 'dancing legs ghost' spotted in one of the towers at a school in my town. Yes, it was supposed to have only legs! Creepy! The next story that used to scare me was when suddenly people began talking about bangles that rolled away on their own...I wonder who made up that story! Movies like Madhumati, Mehbooba and several others only whetted people's appetites for more ghost stories, and they were willing to believe anything. My maternal uncle, when asked for directions to his house, used to tell us that we should take a right turn after we passed by a graveyard where we would see a team of ghosts playing cricket! I love this one. :)

I have stated many a time that ghosts do not exist because no one I know has seen one. Of late somehow, after a long time we have suddenly been hearing and re-telling ghost stories. It all started with a link on FB, listing the haunted places in Calcutta. Then there was a list of haunted places in Hyderabad, which included Babukhan Estate in Basheerbagh, Golconda Fort and even Shamshabad airport! And so since the children are older (and braver?) now, I recounted the above stories, which I hadn't told them earlier because they would be scared! Our dinnertime conversations turned creepy and scary, and but we ended up laughing our heads off! 

So are ghosts only in the mind? Are they only created by imaginative minds? By story tellers? If there are ghosts and only some people can see them, I am happy that I have not been blessed by that ability. Roald Dahl said, "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it". Maybe, as the watchman had pointed out, this applies to ghosts also! 

An apology to Africans

We have had a professional connect with Africa for a long time. While at ICRISAT during the eighties, we met and were friends with sever...