Horror Books

Shadows of the mind: Review of Venita Coelho’s ‘Dark Tales: Ghost Stories from India’

Children can be creepy. Dozens of disembodied, dead children creepier still. When they crowd around our protagonist, slipping cold hands into his for comfort or when his bed covers are lifted and “cold little bodies climb under it and cuddle close to him,” it can only be the prelude to a sinister turn. And it is. However, the payoff doesn’t quite live up to the promise; it may raise an eyebrow but won’t make your hairs stand on end. In Venita Coelho’s Dark Tales, a collection of 11 “ghost stories from India”, dark and grisly things occur, but if the intent is to excite fear, then something is lacking.

The story above, ‘The Lost Children’, and ‘Jaan’, starring another creepy child, do succeed, somewhat, in building up a foreboding atmosphere. The best of the lot though is ‘An Interview with Death’, in which a bored, stoned journalism student, who needs to interview a common man, encounters ‘Death’ — who looks “as aam an aadmi as you could get” — and your heartbeat does quicken towards the end.

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Others fall flat. In ‘Last Local Home’, a young woman is assaulted by would-be-rapists on a train but fights them off with supernatural strength. Her boyfriend then devours them — and that’s all. Perhaps it’s a piece of social commentary, some wished-for retribution, but as a story in its own right, there’s very little to it. Some fall more successfully into the genre of horror comedy. ‘The God of All Drunks’ is a real blast from the past, combining the most clichéd stereotype of the ugly American tourist with an age-old parable about angering the gods.

All these stories are more concerned with mixing commentary on Indian society — from Naxalites to the Nirbhaya case — with gruesome and supernatural elements than with horror as such. But all too often, the commentary is clunky, and sometimes it turns out to be a red herring. In ‘The Lost Children’, a police officer is forced to stop investigating a case when it turns out powerful men could be implicated, but this is incidental and has no bearing on how the plot resolves itself.

Dark Tales: Ghost Stories from India, Venita Coelho, India Penguin, ₹250

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 3:31:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/shadows-of-the-mind-review-of-venita-coelhos-dark-tales-ghost-stories-from-india/article34945744.ece

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