I don’t know about you but in my childhood, ghost stories told by my grandmother used to be the most favourite and enjoyable moments for all of us (me and siblings). If I recall it correctly, we refused to go to bed unless she told us a ghost story almost everyday. At times, it was a bit of an embarrassment for her as she used to run out of her stock of ghost stories but somehow she always managed to fulfil our demand for one. It needs no elaboration that because of those stories, we carried an impression, obviously fearsome and horrifying, in our sub-conscious mind about ghosts since childhood.
But, do we know what a Ghost is? Whether it exists at all? If so, how it looks like? Where it stays? Why we see / experience ghost only during moonlit night? The responses are at variance as nobody has practically seen ghosts and what they tell are based on their feelings / perceptions. Some people say ‘Ghosts exist only because many a people die with unfulfilled desires’. However, if we go by the folklore and mythology, a ghost (sometimes known as a spectre, phantom, apparition, spirit, spook or haunt) is the soul or spirit of a dead human or animal that can appear to the living. Descriptions of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to realistic, to lifelike visions. Ghosts are generally described as solitary essences that haunt particular locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life.
Anyway, despite all the stories and the experiences shared by people, I, being a student of science, became a firm believer that ghosts are nothing but an illusion. In other words, human weakness is the main reason for the survival of ghosts in our mind, family and society. It does not mean that I was totally fearless and unconcerned of ghosts. Incidentally, during my school / college days, I always used to avoid some places, spots, areas, etc. alone, particularly during night only because I was told about the possibility of presence of ghosts in those places, spots, and areas, more so during night. But, can you always avoid such happenings? The answer definitely is a big “NO” because of the huge storage in your subconscious mind. I shall share with one such incident in my life which could have killed me (Not by ghost but due to fear) had the electric power not restored in that very moment. But before proceeding further, I must give you description of the place / site, the prevailing circumstances thereat and various other details to make you understand the real incident, as under:
After completing my graduation from Kandi Raj College, Kandi, Murshidabad in West Bengal, I joined Science College, Rajabazar in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and applied for hostel accommodation but as it was taking time, I had no option but to stay in a mess located in Bowbazar (in Central Calcutta & 3 KM from college) where my Mama (maternal uncle) used to stay. After a gap of almost two months, I came to know that I was allotted to a hostel in Ballygunge (15 KM from college). Meantime, mama decided to bring his family to Kolkata and so he shifted to a house around 12 KM from the mess and other side of the college. While he wanted me to stay with him in his new accommodation, I preferred to stay back in the mess because of the convenience of travelling to college and other places. So when the allotment came for hostel accommodation, I skipped the same in favour of one of my close friends. Needless to add that because of the location advantage, I continued staying in the mess so long I was in Calcutta.
At this juncture, it is necessary to have some hands on knowledge of the messes located in Bowbazar area. All the messes were housed in very dilapidated buildings, mostly situated on vested lands and as such, the owners did not have any interest. Some of the buildings were in a very precarious condition and they might collapse at any time. Despite that the residents of those messes were reluctant to vacate them mainly because of (i) their convenient location, (ii) negligible charge for lodging, and (iii) nominal cost of both main meals (Courtesy: Public Distribution System).
Our mess was also housed in one such dilapidated building. It was a huge building having fifteen medium / large sized and marble floored rooms. The doors and windows were made of very costly wood and were fitted with some arrangements to allow air inside the room. In each room was having 2/3/4/5 single cots depending on the size of the rooms. Incidentally, there were three kitchens for three separate messes running in the same building. Our one accommodated 15 persons who belonged to various places (mostly from adjoining districts of Calcutta) in the state. If I start narrating the character and behaviour of each of them, it will run into several pages. But as my focus is on a particular incident, I am concentrating on that only. However, I cannot avoid talking about a particular messmate, one Dr. Halder who was a homeopath doctor and was posted in Calcutta Municipal Corporation. He hails from Midnapore District – around 130 KM from Kolkata. On Saturdays and Sundays, I was the only member available in the building other than the cook and his helper. However, on alternate weekends, Dr. Halder used to stay back as it was not possible for him to go to his native place because of distance and two changes in mode of conveyance including crossing of a river.
Anyway, I used to spend those weekends, particularly Saturday evenings, very happily when he was around. At around 10 p.m., we used to start discussions on various topics including stories on ghosts. What transpired during conversations, was that he was very much afraid of ghosts and the same can be corroborated from the following:
- He used to put the light on throughout night in his room when he used to be alone.
- He told me in a suppressed tone that he saw ghosts in that building. What he saw was really horrifying – an old lady in white clothes whose one leg was on the ground and the other on the first floor. (I did not believe it but certainly enjoyed the fear on his face).
- One day he told me with confidence, “All of us know that a few persons after death become ghosts. But do you know what happens a cat dies. Do you know anything about Magrol?” I was clueless hearing that new nomenclature. He took some typical pleasure of my ignorance and told me, “A cat after death becomes a ‘Cat Ghost’ i.e., Magrol. I could not resist my laughter but he was nonchalant.
Leaving aside Dr. Halder, there were a few other mates who also narrated some stories (including some abnormal incidents they had experienced) relating to that building. One such story was that a few years back, a person (I forgot the name) who was occupying the cot now used by me died there uncared. The story goes like this: In those days, all inhabitants used to leave the mess on Saturday evening for their native places (Located within a maximum distance of 70 KM) and come back on Monday evening after attending offices. Only cook and his helper used to stay in the mess during that period. On a particular Saturday, that gentleman could not go to his native place because of some reasons (not known to anybody but it was probably because of high fever) but nobody was aware of it and when the other roommates came on Monday evening, they got some foul smell and to their horror, they found that their roommate died there long back unattended.
Days were passing very quickly as Durga Puja (DP), our main festival, was approaching fast and I was planning to go home (in a village) during DP holidays. But God had some different plan for me. A week before the DP to start, entire West Bengal was lashed by torrential rains for seven consecutive days (It was in the year 1978) and state was under the grip of severe flood, washing out roads and rail lines at several points. So my desire to go home was completely shattered and I had no option but to stay back in the mess during that period. Durga Puja started in the entire state albeit on a low scale in the country side which was severely affected by flood. But it was in full scale in Calcutta where DP celebration is an obsession of every Bengali. I cannot recall the exact number of pandals was there in that year but finding an opportunity, I visited maximum number of pandals during the first three days of the puja, to be precise, during nights. In the process, I became very tired because of scant sleep and continued travelling from one corner to another. I had some fever as well. So I decided to stay back in the mess.
After serving the dinner to me, the cook (only the other person stayed back during that time) left the mess to visit pandals. I went to bed around 11 p.m. and was trying to sleep but because of uneasiness prevailing in the body, I was changing sides frequently. Moreover, the sleep got distracted due to continue noise of loudspeaker coming from a nearby pandal. Incidentally, only one song was repeated often: “Tere mere bich me kya hai bandhan anjana ………” from film ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’. I did not know when I fell asleep before waking up all of a sudden because of some abnormal noise on the door, as if somebody was trying to break open the door. I was at a loss and did not know what to do. Gathering some courage, I pressed the bed switch on but alas, there was no power supply (It will be pertinent to mention that power cuts were too frequent in those days in Calcutta.). The noise generated due to violent shaking of the door was becoming unbearable and I became so nervous that I failed to locate a single match box even though a good number of match boxes were there on the table. At that moment I forgot all logic, lost total courage, remembered all ghost stories involving that building and I was sweating profusely. In other words, I was about to collapse finding myself in the grip of ghosts as I lost strength even to open my mouth. However, as expected, my silent prayer to God might be continuing and God decided to keep me alive to tell you this story.
Yes, God was really kind enough to save me from inevitable death (due to failure of heart) on that fateful night. Suddenly the power came back and with the light in the room I also got back my courage though that heart breaking noise was still continuing. What I saw was not only strange but also puzzling. It was a big rat (almost 9” long) with glossy reddish fur. It got stuck in one of the gaps meant for providing ventilation to the room in such a manner that it was neither in a position to come in or go out. So I was saved from the hands of ghosts. Then, my task was to release the rat from the trap. Next 10 minutes, I had to struggle hard to get it released.
That incident confirmed my belief, “Ghosts are not only surviving but flourishing because of our weaknesses only. I can tell this with utmost boldness (?) now as I had survived that night. I am still in search of a ‘GHOST’.