Real life ghost stories I’ve heard

Have you heard a real life ghost story? Whenever I’m travelling and meet someone new, this is the first thing I ask people. Have they seen any ghosts that have jumped onto them from spooky corners or any hazy female figures dressed in white that they saw shimmering on a lonely, dark road? I write ghost stories because I’m highly curious about ghosts, monsters and all things that belong to the dark. In this blog, I wanted to share with you a few stories I’ve heard from friends and strangers over the years. They’re all true, atleast to the people who told them to me.

Double suicide in IIT Kanpur

I stayed at the beautiful IIT Kanpur campus for a few weeks a couple of years back. It’s a dense, big campus, a whopping 1055 acres of lung space in the outskirts of the chaotic madness that is Kanpur. At a literary meet, on asking, a student told me about a room in one of the hostels, where there had been two suicides in a row. After the second one, the authorities locked up the room. In the night, some students could hear a rattling sound from the room, if someone was trying to open the door from inside. This student even approached the room door one night when the noise was disturbing him from his late night studies. “The door knob turned even though I knew there was no one inside,” he said. He ran back to his room, firmly shutting the door. “Yeah,” said another, “but the next year the room was cleared and just given to a first year student. The ghost is forgotten.” I wondered if the first-year student had experienced anything, but I never got to talk to him.

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The man with a lantern

I heard this story in the mountains somewhere in the Himalayan region. Most people there have various paranormal experiences in their pockets. They tell them as if it’s an everyday occurrence and don’t think of ghost stories as something unnatural, the way we city dwellers do. In this case, an old man told me about a time when he was young. He was walking down a lonely stretch of road at night, in darkness as there was not much moonlight. He saw a man up ahead of him walking with a lantern and called him since it was too dark and the jungle had a lot of snakes and wild things. The man didn’t turn. He reached the man and touched his shoulder. The man turned and the lantern he carried illuminated his face. There was nothing there. No eyes, no lips, no nose. “I turned and ran so hard that I have no idea where I went,” said the old man.

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A dancing table in Switzerland

I got this story from a friend, an enthusiastic blogger who has experienced it herself when she was little. “My great-grandmother had a small round wooden table, a tabletop with a central stand on three split legs that would rock and knock when people gathered around it for a ‘spirit’ session,” she says. Ever the curious, she approached the round wooden table one evening with a few cousins and an uncle, determined to dispel the illusion. When the table started to wriggle and tilted to stand on one leg, she asked her uncle to stop pushing it and freaking them out. “I got an electric shock from the offended table because I refused to believe it could shake on its own accord.”

Read a real-incidents inspired ghost tale based in Manipal

 


Have any paranormal incidents to share? Put in a comment below. I would love to hear your experiences.

The dentist nightmare

reaper199x309-1One early morning, while I was sleeping, a premolar fell off my upper set of teeth. It fell into the dark abyss of my mouth and lay there like a hardened piece of rock. ‘Go back to sleep,’ I told myself. ‘It’s just a nightmare.’ Always happens after or before a dentist visit is due. But I woke up, my heart throbbing, as blood pumped into my brain. ‘Only a nightmare,’ I repeated to myself, rotating my tongue to check all my teeth. One was missing. It lay in my mouth, like a hardened piece of rock. I pulled it out, panic throbbing my brain. ‘Oh shit oh shit oh shit,’ I said aloud, running to the dentist.

‘You just cleaned it last week,’ I screamed at him. ‘Why is it still dirty?’ I showed him the broken premolar, looking at him accusingly. Its inside was stained with patches of yellow (remnants of my tea habit). He looked abashed but said nothing. Dentists!

I stomped over to the mirror, tears in my eyes. What would happen to my smile now? I do smile a lot. Will it become a horrible, witchy grin with a gaping blackhole for a tooth? Will I be a villain in my tale for the rest of my life? I opened my mouth wide, trying to see the damage. The gap was there all right, right there in the upper right side of my set of teeth. I was about to shut my trap up and cry when I saw the little white spot. Another babytooth lay growing out of the gap. I took a calming breath. Okay, so maybe it was just a pre-wisdom tooth that fell off and finally my wisdom tooth was making an appearance. Maybe my smile won’t be ruined! (Yay!) The little tooth will grow up and fill up the gap and no one would know about this. It would all be forgotten like a bad dream!

But that wasn’t it. I saw a little drilled hole above the baby tooth. Something, an instinct lying dormant in the back of my head, make me snarl. Out popped two sharp vampire claw-like teeth. One on each side of my mouth. I was shocked.

‘Oh,’ I said out aloud, shock making me close my mouth. The vampire teeth pricked my lower gum. ‘Ouch,’ I cried. I would have to be careful about this new set from hurting myself. I snarled a little bit more (for what else can you do when you are shocked?) and a whole other set of teeth grew up inside my upper set of teeth. I snarled some more and there was another set of teeth inside the new ones. A lower snarl showed me two sets of sharpened, pointed teeth alongside my lower jaw too.

‘Oh,’ I cried as the six set of teeth, two normal and four sharpened like a tiger’s or a carnivorous animal’s. ‘Will I need to change my eating habits now?’ I asked my mirror self. By now my conscious mind realized that it was all part of a nightmare. I woke up, my heart throbbing, as blood pumped into my brain.

The broken piece of tooth, plasticated now, lay in my palm when I opened my eyes.

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Ever since my first visit to a dentist, I have always got nightmares before or after a visit to the flatbacked chair of the tooth fiddler. This is one the happened on Sunday morning, a few days after a dentist visit. Once I woke up, I woke my husband up and recited the nightmare to him. He never really completely believed in the shudders I had before a visit to a dentist. Now he believes I am scarred for life.

(pic credit)

 

Songs of travels

Found a perfect picture to go along with this poem I first scribbled on my Facebook wall somewhere.

 

My hair’s not right

My skin breaks out

I am tanned, darkened, spotted and sore

My muscles ache, my lips are torn

My back hurts and my stomach growls

But my shoes are dirty

And they can sing you new songs.

 

travels

 

May you, me and everyone

#travel always.

 

(The chappals belong to me and a wandering pal of mine.)

Why I am shunning Women’s Day

A day before Women’s day, I got a press release pitching an idea about women tweeting in the Twitter-verse. An idea meant for Women’s Day. And this is how it began.

I write to you on behalf of my client, Twitter and a possible tech feature on Women & Social media for Women’s Day edition.

We have often joked about the quintessential Indian woman and her conversations which are deemed loud, exaggerated and never-ending. One wonders how some of these argumentative ‘bhartiya naris’ are able to succinctly put their thoughts on Twitter in just 140 characters. Not only have they taken to this platform in great gusto, they have risen above the din and become celebrities with large followers. Young girls, suave mothers, aspiring comedians, successful entrepreneurs, fervent feminists of all hue and shades are present on Twitter, eloquently and effectively airing their thoughts, advice, jokes, tips etc…”

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The email went on to give names of women on Twitter who have been doing spectacular work by themselves or for their gender, or for society at large. But I didn’t even read those women’s names because of the above paragraph. My head swam with a senselessly violent anger, the kind which I would image someone as destructive as Kali would feel. Where reason takes flight, scared. Where words just. don’t. express. it.

Yes. I get kind of nuts when faced with such obvious chauvinism in something that’s supposed to be about women. Exactly the kind of unreasonable, emotional woman that men make fun of in my gender. For the people who are We in the paragraph above, is not me. I am not a reasonable, powerful man, who has language at his disposal. The one who calls women’s conversations “loud, exaggerated and never-ending”. Or calls women different, or the other gender, or the ones who don’t have a penis. Or makes jokes about them about their loud mouths, their sagging or perky breasts. Their weaknesses and bangles. Their clothes or lack of it. Their faces and lumpy bodies.

Or keeps her happy with a day from 365 days. Makes March the Eighth especially about them. This day is for women, reserved. Let’s celebrate women. Let’s tell them we love them. Let’s hug them, keep them safe, buy them clothes and greeting cards. Who is the we in this conversation? The one who is generous enough to grant the other gender just a day out of 365 such days? When did the word ‘gender’ became ‘women’ and ‘women issues’?

No, the we is not only men. It’s also women who speak the language and give the reasons created keeping men the primary gender. Women who uphold and encourage patriarchy thinking and behaviour. The ones who whisper about other women who wear short clothes, show breast or bum cleavages. The ones who like to get  their period things in a black bag while looking away apologetically. The ones who call the women who have sex ‘sluts’. The Women’s Day is for them. Not for me.

I have decided to shun Women’s Day and my gender. I stand today, genderless. Not a woman, definitely not a man. Just a body with breasts and a lot of anger. 365 days a year.

The rape of Meghalaya

Eight hundred dumper trucks filled to the brim with coal and limestone stand on the Indian side, patiently waiting to cross the border into Bangladesh and dump their load. That’s all they do, day in and day out. Pick up limestone and coal, dug out from the mountains of Meghalaya, head to the border at Dawki, cross into Bangladesh and dump it there. To be exported to China or be made into cement. Who knows? Who cares? The politicians, the landowners, the people of Meghalaya are making money. They are beginning to buy bigger cars and other good things in life.

The mountains of Meghalaya, are old, more ancient and wiser, more mysterious but also kinder than Himalayas.  Perhaps that is why they do not protest to being drilled, cut, stripped of their soil and stone. Maybe because it’s all legal: as in each truckload is given a wadload of paper, stamped by the government. Papers, dead trees license the owners to cut and grab and gobble.

‘The people who own the mountains are selling them,’ a guide we meet on the way to Dawki informs us. We stand on a high road, for a chai break with the valley on one side and the lush green curvaceous mountains behind. His voice is one of acceptance. ‘They were the ones who made gold by buying when the government was selling the mountains. Now, they sublet it to the contractors and they sell the land.’

By selling the land, the guide means, mining it away, selling the raw materials that might be lying in the womb of the mountains, that had been created and took hundreds of years to be created. All to be gone, in twenty years of senseless human greed.DSC00200

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(Trucks and trucks some more. All off to Bangladesh with loads)

‘Ten years ago, there was less of this, but it’s been increasing. The government wants it and the people who own the lands want to do it. ’

‘Doesn’t any of you protest against this?’

‘It’s not ours. The landowners are selling their land. Who’s to stop them?’

After that, a few men from Maharashtra, whose guide we have been speaking to, mutter about politicians and rich people and their greedy hearts. Their tea is finished. They try to throw the plastic cup across into the valley, but we point to a dustbin. The mountains, standing infront, look at it all, at us with our meaningless conversations as tourists who are equally disruptive on their ecology, at the trucks that roll heavy over them filled with stolen chunks of them and remain silent, patient. How can someone own the mountains? But then, how can we own anything of the land? But we do, don’t we?

At the border, at Dawki, the roads are mere trails of mud covered with long lines of trucks filled to the brim, waiting to cross the border and an equally long line coming from Bangladesh emptied of their load. We walk through the slush, dust clinging to everything. There are no tourists here, only silent eyes of men, labourers, or truck drivers. On our side, a long series of huts, with chairs and tables and typewriters and printers. To make the stealing official. To give it a seal, the seal of India’s government. To show, to cry out, to the mountains perhaps, that it’s all legal. That they’re all good men.  We are hesitant, even afraid, not sure how far we can walk. after all, the tourist stays in similar spaces, with other tourists. This is not that space. This is business, this is industry, this is supposed to stay hidden in dusts.

The border ends in a valley. A gate at one side, welcoming people to Bangladesh. We stand at ‘our’ side. The policeman in the hut, looks up.

‘What you want?’

‘We want to see.’

‘Ok,’ he says, to our surprise asking the BSF fellow with a gleaming, polished gun to show us the ‘border’. The BSF jawan is helpful, from UP, and waiting for just such an opportunity to jabber. He tells us how people across the border wait, day in day out, young men to cross the border.

‘Illegal immigrants?’ I ask.

‘No, no. They want to get booze. You see Bangladesh is a Muslim country and drinking is not allowed. Poor fellows want to drink. Sometimes they beg us to look the other way so that they can cross the border, get a fix and return. But I do wish that there was a fence between the borders. Right now, all there is are marked stones. It makes manning these fields rather impossible. But who’s to say. The upper echelon bosses want it this way.’

Cows graze in the flatland between the two countries, moving seamlessly from one side to another. No passports required for them, unlike us. A family from Bangladesh with a suitcase approaches the Indian side. Tourists, we are informed. ‘You can also go to the other side. It’s visa on arrival for both the countries,’ says the BSF guard. We, the city people, crib about how the government is mining the mountains away and no one seems to care.

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(The border at Dawki)

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(Our helpful BSF jawan)

‘The government is too greedy. they can make cement here, in Meghalaya, give work to more people, but they dig and sell the motherland away in peanuts. From Bangladesh it goes to China, the raw material, the earth. Why don’t they make cement here? She’s our mother, but no one cares about the mother now,’ he says wisely. ‘They don’t understand that we will lose the vantage point, the height of the mountains. Then they will attack and enslave us all. You see, madam, in a generation, we will be desperate to enter their country like the Bangladeshis want to enter ours now.’ We nod, and see and click pictures refusing to shrug off the tourist in us. He poses for us, still proud of his country. Not the people, but the country—his mother. He’s been trained to be proud.

Back in Shillong, my heart is still somewhat heavy. Even the lovely cottage I stay in, doesn’t cut it. I chat with the owner of the cottage, a lady who lives in Shillong and Bangalore.

‘Is there any activism in Meghalaya at all? Is anyone protesting this mining away of hills like in Karnataka?’

‘No one, dear,’ she says, kindly. ‘They don’t seem to see beyond the riches. What you saw was legal. The Jaintia hills have illegal mining of the forests and mountains by terrorists and we have no idea how much, since there’s no tracking, no paperwork.’

Me, with my privileged outlook, do not understand why. Why do those with trees and mountains and fresh air want to sell it off? Not hoard it, make love to it, cherish it. A college-dropout from Manipur, who meets me in the airplane back home, gives me the answer.

‘We want development,’ he says.

‘What kind of development? Jobs? What else?’

‘Jobs, yes. But development. More.’

He cannot express it but when he talks about Bangalore, a city of malls, traffic, people, energy, colour, human bustling, his eyes shine. For him, from Manipur, from Imphal, from the quiet mountains, the city life is the lure. He craves for that, just like me. I have lived in cities all my life and I love it. Can I live in Dawki? I don’t think I can. But I do dream of mountains and greenery and forests and trees. And a part of me wonders if we, the human race, with our greedy cravings, are going terribly wrong, somewhere.

So here’s a poem to perhaps express what my sentences could not. Perhaps not.

Dirty are the fingernails

Filthy

Not with the earth

But with jaded greed

Dead and dried

Of all emotion

Of everything

But the desire to own.

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Shovelling, cutting, whirring away

They claw the mountain side

Screaming in their destruction

Unbinding that which binds

Destroying that which gives life

For something that cannot be eaten,

Cannot be shat out

Cannot sustain life

 

For the coin, for the note

For the greedy eye.

 

I do hope this blog, somehow, somewhere, shows me or someone else a way to somehow stop it. With some hope.

Wordless

My words are gone

Only a trembling remains

In my hands, slight epilepsy

In my eyes, a silent burst

Of emptied mind

Of thoughts no more.

 

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For gone are the words

Flung away letter by letter

Torn off, screeching, screaming

Taken to the recesses

Burnt alive

Hacked to pieces

Crushed and then buried.

 

They lie under the earth

Not breathing anymore

Not hearing the sighs

Nor feeling the caress

Of the motherly winds

Suffocated

Dying

But not yet dead.

 

Waiting, patiently, tirelessly

To be believed in

By dreams and hopes

So that they can start

Create and make

When things need a shake.

 

2014

Rajnikanth’s birthday, with love

Around 9am on Sunday morning as I walked to my nearby slum where I teach yoga to superbly enthusiastic kids every week, I saw a poster hanging at its entrance. Rajnikanth’s smiling face jumped out of the poster. Alongside were two words in English: Happy Birthday. It  was a small poster, about A3 size, strung up casually, hanging in the air, tilted. The poster had more love than execution (Wish I had taken a picture, but I usually don’t take my phone to the class).

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Before the class began, I asked the kids who put it there and what it meant. Was Rajnikanth coming to their slum? What was the connection? One of the kids, Pratap who’s the librarian in the area too, told me that they were celebrating Rajnikanth’s birthday. They had gone around the slum, collected small bits of money from everyone and with that, bought this poster which was proudly hanging at the gate of their slum. They had also bought a huge cake and candles and were going to come together as a community, light up the candles, sing the birthday song and cut the cake.

Yes, they love Rajnikanth and who doesn’t? But that’s not the only time they celebrate. Even though most of them barely have enough food on their tables, they celebrate all festivals and birthdays together. They cut cakes, buy sculptures, dance, drink, laugh, all as a community. That’s how this community works. They do everything together. Celebrate, cry, support. I constantly get amazed about how people in this community are so there for each other. Yes, there are fights, but there’s also constant celebration.

I am an outsider. I have no community. I am middle class and in my building people nod and smile to each other, but they are too busy, with their televisions or their phones or their internets or their children or worrying about their maids or EMIs. They don’t walk together, they don’t laugh together. Take their cars out, go to malls. They look at people on the roads suspiciously. They keep the cars and the home doors closed (In that slum, the doors are always open).

So I wonder. Do the doors close and togetherness lessens because we are living in bigger houses? Or does it happen because we have money and more stuff? Do the things we have collected around us: our TVs, phones, clothes, jewellery, spic-a-span, make us suspicious of others? When did it happen that the things we collected took over our lives?

The garbage amongst us

Not so early in the morning, I look down from my third floor apartment. There’s a lady sweeping the dead-end road. I know her, though I don’t know her name. She wears the official BBMP coat and she collects garbage from each of the apartment building. Sometimes I see her, while walking, from a car and smile and wave at her. She smiles back. A beautiful, cheery smile, but with an edge of self-consciousness. As if unused to be smiled at. As if unacknowledged as a human by those who live in apartments.

(Pic for representation only. Can’t find the one I clicked)

Then there’s another from BBMP, I see from my third floor apartment. He comes on the open garbage truck, a small one to pick up garbage from the apartment building opposite mine (there are 24 flats there). The building has three long drums which are filled upto the brim with all kinds of icky stuff—polythene bags full of kitchen waste, toilet paper, condoms, leftover curry gone bad and dust. He puts his naked hands into this middle class garbage and efficiently separates the non-biodegradable, the tetra packs, mulchy polythene bags, Styrofoam cups and recyclable waste.

A middle class man who lives in the apartment sees him and makes a face full of disgust. A lady with a little child, walks by, crinkling her nose at the awful smell. And I, clean and distant from the scene, on my third floor balcony, wonders how someone who deals with other people’s shit, can smile so beautifully.

What does the Iyer ghost look like?

Is it a kite? Does it look like a pretty handkerchief or a old Nokia phone? Does it have five hands or three feet? Does it wear striped yellow socks, have a pot belly or does it have long, flowing red hair which smell like a running gutter? What does the Iyer ghost look like?

Participate in this contest by Hachette India and win something that I consider the best gift ever: More books!

All you need to do is buy my book The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong

Ghost Hunting contest

 

Check out entries for the contest on the Hachette India Children page

To read reviews, synopsis and even peek inside The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, head to this page here.

Unfortunately, as you can read in the conditions, only kids can participate, so if you land here and read till the end, please share this contest with your children, nephews/nieces, grandkids and neighbours.