(Don’t be scared! I have just learned the word, which means fear of ghosts.)

Does anyone, or did anyone ever, have fear of ghosts?

I used to have it as a child. I never particularly liked ghost stories. Still, in one of the weeklies of those days, called ‘Shonibarer Chithi’ (Saturday Mail) there used to be a ghost story, and like it or not, I used to read it. What I read never thrilled me, the details were too improbable. But, I feared the possibility that I might encounter a ghost sometime, and have some very unnerving experience.

Once, at the age of seven or eight, I was visiting my paternal grandfather in the village. One night, I was asked to go and call back father who had gone out to meet some friends. It was close to dinner time. As I was scared, I was dispatched with a clutch of cousins of more or less my age. We dreaded passing a bend in the road where there was grove of extremely tall bamboos by the side of the road. We knew that ghosts rested on those bamboos. They trapped people by lowering a bamboo and laying it across the road. As soon as someone stepped across the bamboo, it was flipped up, carrying the person astride. And, no more was seen or heard of the victim. So, as we approached that spot, with just a lantern throwing a pall of gloomy light on the dusty road beyond which ruled the dark universe, we held each others’ hand, and closed ranks, bodily speaking. Just then, I saw in the faint light something approaching us in a shapeless shroud. I panicked and found my throat choked with fear. And, I found myself all alone. Just when I was about to pass out, that something threw off a brown shawl, and one of my older cousins emerged, baring his gleaming teeth with a satanic laugh. And, my company, huddling in formation behind me emerged with sheepish grin, and came abreast with me.

As I grew up, that primal fear subsided, but did not quite go away. I think I grew out of believing in the commonly perceived manifestations of ghosts, like a cold breath on the nape of the neck, a silent door eerily creaking open, a vaporous thing floating in the moonlight etc. But, I continued to believe there was something in all that, behind all the stories and superstitions, which man did not yet understand.

In the early seventies, I joined a library, which had a full section of books on the supernatural, and stuff like telekinesis, teleportation, clairvoyance and all that. There were books written by Conan Doyle and a few others that I could recognize. But scores of books were there, written by unfamiliar authors, with excellent collection of facts, surmises and theories about the spirit and the supernatural. I was then barely in my early twenties, had few who shared my interests, and I lacked the experience and intelligence to critically examine what I read. I began to semi-believe in what I read, thinking, ‘There must be some truth in it’.

It was probably in 1978 that for my sister’s marriage father rented a large company quarter near ours, for the guests. Till they arrived, someone had to sleep in the house to ensure that the fans and fittings did not get stolen. I was assigned to do it. I found that the last occupant had left the rooms in a mess, with lots of scrap and dirt lying all over. Among them, in the storeroom I found a piece of yellowed newspaper. Always curious about printed matter, I picked it up, and immediately the picture of the bloated grotesque face of a dead woman assailed my eyes. It was one of those unidentified dead bodies that the Railways used to advertise in the newspapers those days. It not only made me feel queasy, but a chill ran down my spine. I threw the paper down on the floor, trying to control my fear. At the same time, I did not have the will power to take it and throw it out of the window. As if, in a way it fascinated and challenged me. I let it remain on the floor. I went to sleep with all the lights on, but could hardly sleep, troubled by an uncanny feeling. The situation repeated the next night, and thereafter, till guests arrived, and were accommodated in that house. Every night I would go, and after some hesitation, pick up the scrap, peer at the picture, and feel the revulsion of my fear. And, every night I could not sleep.

I like to think I no more fear ghosts. There is probably no such thing, or, if there is, it ought to be benign, or at least neutral, towards us. But, I cannot still vouchsafe that I do not think spirits exist.

What has been your experience with ghosts (or the fear of ghosts)? Do you too have a story to tell?

© Indroneer / 13 January 2015