It is this last plot stereotype in the horror genre that bothers and amuses me at the same time. I don’t believe in ghosts but at the same time don’t want to announce it out loud, just in case something pops up to prove me wrong. Maybe the childhood stories of ghosts, that my grandmother claimed populated her village in every shady nook and corner, got ingrained deeply in my psyche. The variety of the ghosts in her stories were astounding. There were ones that morphed into human form to steal and eat raw fish from boats of fishermen; a ten foot tall gentleman dressed in crisp white dhoti-kurta and giving Marfan’s Syndrome a complex while he roamed within the periphery of temples; a hairy, headless dwarf with bulging red eyes instead of nipples; haunted bamboos that lay innocently on the ground and flung high into air the people who leapt over them; cursed pots of ancient gold coins that brought ill luck and certain death to the person who accidentally dug them out in fields; a woman who wept and called out someone's name right outside their window at midnight; ghost ants that sneaked under sandals and led astray a person into dense forests where they preyed on their unsuspecting victim. I could just go on and on about that tiny village in my grandmother’s stories where colourful ghosts and witches outnumbered human beings.
You can say I am a sceptic in accordance with societal expectations of rationality from a well-read person in her late twenties; yet there is a part of me that gets intrigued by the thought of the supernatural. This duality of my (lack of) belief led to a humorous situation when I worked as an intern at the psychiatry out-patient department and was assigned the responsibility of taking up elaborate histories of patients and present a provisional diagnosis to the professor.
Once I examined a highly agitated young man of twenty-three. He told me that a month ago, when he was out helping his father in the farm on a hot summer afternoon , he saw her for the first time. She was unusually tall with ankle-length hair, deathly pale and dressed in black. From that day onwards, she had followed him everywhere and even tiptoed around his bed every night. She sat on the roof watching him as he worked in the fields. No one believed him and all sorts of pujas and mantras conducted by his distraught family had failed to get rid of that evil presence! I listened rapturously to his monologue, as his mother sat beside him looking somewhat scared. There was no history of use of alcohol or psychoactive substances, no previous history of psychiatric illness, no family history of psychiatric disorders, no known physical illness, no obvious emotional triggers, no history of psychological trauma, and he even got along fine with his peers and did reasonably well in his studies.
Is something disturbing you right now?, I asked him as he kept shifting his gaze at something beyond me.
She’s here too, he mumbled.
Did she follow you here?
When I was travelling here on the overnight bus, she flew beside my window the entire way.
Where is she now?
She’s standing right behind you.
My clinical reasoning told me that his visual hallucinations and psychosis could spring up anything from schizophrenia to an underlying brain tumour on further evaluation; but for an absurd moment, I couldn’t help wonder if my fate would be akin to the disbelieving doctor that becomes the collateral damage in the rampage of an evil spirit!
Even though no one knows about what went on in my mind that day, I feel highly embarrassed every time I recall that incident! *sheepish*