‘I don’t believe in ghosts but at night I am more open-minded,’ is a tongue-in-cheek slogan sighted on quirky T-shirts. It sums up the ambivalence around an alleged spectral illusion associated with ancient buildings, dak bungalows, hill stations and dark forests. Throw in a reunion and as the day wanes into darkness, glasses tinkle, nostalgia swirls and tales emerge, often the good old ghost story is narrated with a preamble: “My friend had this strange experience one night...”
Ghosts as part of literature, movies and anecdotes, have always been in vogue, but a tough question lingers — ‘do they really exist?’ Over the last month, two books trying to cash in on the Halloween vibe have tried to answer this query as old as the hills. Haunted by Jay Alani in association with Neil D’Silva is a first-person account of encounters with the denizens of the other world besides ripping the mask of fake sanyasis claiming to be the last word on warding off evil spirits.
The second tome is India’s Most Haunted by K. Hari Kumar which technically is fiction masquerading as non-fiction since it involves a series of short stories that deals with popular yarns about haunted venues and restless souls. The usual tropes of
Mumbai’s Aarey Road, Chennai’s De Monte Colony, Kerala’s yakshis in temple groves, to name a few, have all got adequate play. Yet, there is a problem as the author does not have a central role in any of these tales which to quote him “were inspired by rumours, news articles, famous incidents, personal experiences, etc.” He also adds a caveat: “I have also exercised my creative freedom as a writer.” The book doesn’t necessarily answer the existential queries about ghosts but surely it offers enough material that can be recounted on gloomy nights while the verandah’s doors rattle.
Alani’s Haunted cuts closer to the bone as he makes these trips to forts, churches and jungles with the ghost-buster equipment in tow like spectral thermometers which highlights dip in temperatures indicating the presence of ghosts. The ‘I was there’ touch to his writings adds a tinge of credibility even if deep down most of us are sceptics when it comes to paranormal events. If Hari Kumar remembers stories passed on by others and embellishes it with adjectives, Alani goes to haunted spots and either confirms an eerie presence or lampoons the ‘god-men’ who monetise our fears. He also has these conversations with ‘souls in a state of limbo’ and that could be unnerving if you do believe in nights having a touch of the macabre.
Alani too dives into common myths like Bengaluru’s Vas Villa or Mussoorie’s headless boy but unlike Hari Kumar, he visits these places and makes that ‘connection’. But there is a common thread that binds both books as the authors constantly reiterate that more harm is done by the living while the machinations of visitors from the grave could be quelled.
Haunted: Real-life Encounters with Ghosts and Spirits; Jay Alani with Neil D’Silva, Penguin/Ebury Press, ₹299
India’s Most Haunted; K. Hari Kumar, HarperCollins, ₹499