By Aditi Sen
Ghosts don’t exist in a vacuum. They are a culmination of numerous things – actual historical events, social oppressions, and injustice. They surround us; breathing, living entities, that are hoping we might inhale them and keep their legacy alive. Or occasionally, just offer them a piece of fish.
My father’s stories always had a colour; black was horror, pink was comedy, red was for war and tragedy. I picked a colour and the tales followed. According to him, the stories of different colours floated all around you, you had to hold and inhale, and the story settled in your head.
“Baba, where do you get so many stories from?” I asked, in awe of his endless stock. “Golper Desh (Story Land). That’s where I go every month to buy them for you.” Since my Baba did go away once a month; I believed him. It’s only later that I realised they were all office trips, but for a long time I believed Golper Desh was a real place.
My favourite story colour was black. Horror is still my favourite genre, more specifically, ghost stories. Since I am a historian by profession, I value these stories as legitimate sources of oral history. They preserve our collective memory. A story is alive, breathing, and by retelling it, we ensure its survival.
As Ruskin Bond points out, “India is full of British ghosts – the ghosts of soldiers, adventurers, engineers, magistrates, memsahibs, their children, even their dogs.” Warren Hastings still haunts his residence in Kolkata. The ghost of Major Burton, a British officer killed during the 1857 mutiny, still haunts the Brij Raj Bhavan Palace hotel in Kota, Rajasthan. In Ekbalnagar, Bihar, a British ghost regularly demands tea and cake.
British ghosts still dominate the Indian landscape. As Rudyard Kipling succinctly puts it in “My Own True Ghost Story” (1888), “There are, in India, ghosts who take the form of fat, cold, pobby corpses, and hide in trees near a roadside till a traveller passes. Then they drop upon his neck and remain. There are also terrible ghosts of women who have died in childbed. These wander along the pathways at dusk, or hide in the crops near the village, and call seductively. Their feet are turned backwards that all sober men may recognise them. There are ghosts of children who have been thrown into wells. They catch women by the wrist and beg them to be carried. These corpse ghosts, however, are only vernacular articles and do not attack sahibs. No native ghost has yet been authentically reported to have frightened an Englishman; but many English ghosts have scared the life out of both white and black.”
Ghosts are never created in a vacuum. They are a culmination of numerous things – actual historical events, social oppressions, and injustice.
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