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The supernatural diaries

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The supernatural diaries

Be it ancient legends or modern paranormal accounts, the mystical aura beyond the realm of rationality never fails to draw one’s undivided attention. ANANYA BORGOHAIN explores such ‘ghostly’ encounters that send shivers down the spine, and attempts to understand what about them fascinates everyone

It is difficult to describe Mumbai’s Marine Drive in words that could highlight any of its newer, unexplored nuances. It’s arguably the reflection of the pulse of the city that is often described as the portal to colourful dreams and glories. On an average day, it buzzes with local Mumbaikars spending a few idle moments there, gazing at the waves of the Arabian Sea splashing across the famous tetrapod blocks on the shore. There, almost at the end of the walkers’ path, past the spot where the Oberoi hotel stands, is a very popular peanut seller; popular, assuming the enormous and never-ending crowd that throngs him. He wears khaki pants and a light shirt while carrying his peanuts in paper cones. There are two impressionable facts about his daily business: First, neither his customers reduce in number nor does he run short of peanuts, and second, neither him nor his customers are visible to the people around them.

The paranormal realm always prompts curiosity and unique emotions in one. A sense of threat from invisible predators stimulates a distinctive excitement. Believing — or at least engaging in intense debates about their existence — of aliens, celebrating Halloween, fantasising about vampires and zombies, being obsessed with slasher and horror films and books like such as Dan Brown’s, attempting spirit calls in high school etc are almost an imminent part of one’s journey of life. Obsession with the inexplicable and unreal is not new and although some do not relate to this fascination, reliable studies have concluded that a hormone called dopamine is released during intimidating activities which enables people to be thrilled by the circumstances. This might, however, vary among people. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy to our own Ramsay brothers, from the Harry Potter series to Now You See Me, it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t grown up listening to electrifying stories that defy all rational explanations.

Of course, vocations — as different as chalk and cheese and not to be confused with one another — such as mentalism, psychics, magic, witchcraft are all substantially distanced from each other, but human psychology and curiosity play a determining role in them. Ian Fernandes, co-founder of Urban Shaman, is an expert in magic, hypnotism, mentalism. He says, “Magic has the ability to make the impossible real and vice versa. It combines knowledge of physics, chemistry, arts and crafts, psychology, etc. It gives an audience member an adrenaline rush or can even put them into a state of extreme relaxation.

Our audience members are always in a state of awe and wonder and always leave our shows extremely positive and happy.” A shaman is like a witch doctor. Ian’s team reconfigures traditional magic concepts in a contemporary fashion. His partner Azhar Pirani adds, “I think it is primarily about timing. Misdirection is important in our case. I make a lot of eye contact and thrive on swift hand movements when I am performing.” Here, they prefer to avoid dramatics and choose to turn simple moments into magical memories. But far segregated from this discipline are the occult sciences that delve deeper into factors that conundrum the very basis of a person’s being. Ian says, “To be a good magicians takes years and years of practice and knowledge. Armed with these abilities some magicians like us use these skills for entertainment while others claim to have supernatural abilities. So yes, humans have always wanted answers for the unknown and will accept them from whichever avenue is available”.

Deepta Roy Chakraverti, who has seen the peanut seller mentioned earlier and has narrated her encounter in her book Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, says: “There is much more to the world than what is seen or heard. It is the same philosophy which pervades all the great mystical paths of the world.”

In the book, she has listed 12 such supernatural experiences she has felt in different parts of the world. She recalls the unresolved spirit at Puri of Shyama Pallavi who was left by her son on a stretcher to die in front of a temple’s entrance after he forcefully got her thumbprint on some documents; the young girl in black hijab, reading and reciting from a large book near the Lodhi Gardens in Delhi; two figures, who looked like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, engrossed in a conversation while walking towards 1, Safdarjung Road, the house where Mrs Gandhi was assassinated; the silhouette of what seemed to be a tourist staring at Princess Diana’s wine glass at the Harrods store but was possibly Diana herself, and many more. Probably spirits who have unfinished business are trapped in the shackles of time?

Deepta, at the same time, follows a methodical, scientific paradigm in comprehending the other world. She refers to history, psychology, science, and religion to not only put forward a balanced overview of her experiences but also raise the right questions. She refers to Islamic beliefs that oppose postmortem examination since they believe that a person may be capable of feeling pain after death as well. She then asks, “Could it be that modern developments on old burial grounds might have shattered the rest of those who have been laid there centuries ago?” She also juxtaposes this line of thinking with scientific concreteness, “Clinical psychologist Bruna Van Cleve, PhD, has observed that a Nobel Prize winning experiment by Tsung Lee and Chen Yang at Princeton in 1956 and verified the following year by Chien-schiung Wu at Columbia has supported theories of panpsychism (a belief that even objects have consciousness and a psyche). The experiment showed that particles even at a subatomic level possessed a rudimentary intelligence, and were permeated with something that could be called a ‘universal mind’.”

Deepta’s mother is India’s most famous wiccan, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the country’s biggest authority on the subject of supernatural. Her father was posted in Montreal, Canada, as India’s Permanent Representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. One of the most famous and reputed nuclear physicists, Dr Homi Bhabha, had once joined them for dinner. Ipsita noticed his face fading away and another face — also hearing an unfamiliar name at the same time — superimposed on his. She realised later that the face belonged to Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist known for establishing the existence of electromagnetic radiation. Ipsita is also the founder of the wiccan schools, The Wiccan Brigade and The Young Bengal Brigade.

According to her, wiccans can choose their origins of birth. She says that she chose India as her place of birth and because she knew her life would be difficult, she picked the family of Nisith Sen, who was then the Mayor of Calcutta. He was a criminal lawyer and was much feared and Ipsita knew that in this life, she would need powerful allies. She calls herself a daayan, a witch, but laments the blurring of the line of distinction between ‘superstition’ and ‘gagged learning’.

In the sequel to her autobiography, Beloved Witch Returns, she writes, “There are some who would rather see superstition perpetuate and keep the masses in ignorance. Unheeding of their threats, I am teaching the young the ways of mystery and forgotten learning, and admonishing India’s young women to be strong and fearless, for they have been trampled upon by a perverse society which believes girls should be killed in the womb.”

A wiccan is the same as the Khandroma in Tibetan Buddhism or Pori in Bengali. She says that a wiccan is a female deity. It is substantial that she raises women’s issues as witchcraft in India is uncompromisingly seen as a destructive discipline. She believes that wicca goes back 25,000 years in time. It was perhaps the first feminist movement in history because of its worship of the Mother Goddess. The wiccan goddess was Isis in Egypt, Arinna in ancient Turkey, Ishtar in Babylon etc. No wonder she took film producer Ekta Kapoor to task for her ‘dark’ portrayal of daayan in her film, Ek Thi Daayan. She recalls meeting President Pranab Mukherjee and the then National Commission for Women chief Mamta Sharma to complain against the misinformation about witchcraft that the film was portraying. Pursuing history, scientific understanding as well ancient legends and mysteries, she defends her skill by underlining Stephen Hawking’s subscription to the idea that black holes in the universe could be a way of getting through to a parallel universe, an alternate universe from which, however, it would be impossible to return.

The likes of Jyoti Basu may have been vocal critics of Ipsita and her discipline that is often seen as regressive and fraudulent, yet the mention of possessed people, objects, or places, still finds relevance in modern times.

Among the many haunted places in the country, Bhangarh is perhaps the most popular. Legend has it that the beautiful Ratnawati was brought to Bhangarh by King Jai Singh II. She was a mistress of magic and adept in the occult arts. Singhia, the prince of the neighbouring Ajabgarh who was skilled in black arts himself, pursued her in lust. Spurned by Ratnawati, he sought to avenge himself and a battle broke out between the two kingdoms. He lost the war but as he died, he cursed Bhangarh — that all who died there would forever remain trapped there. Ratnawati was killed in a battle between Ajabgarh and Bhangarh the following year, and in 1783, a massive famine struck Bhangarh, reducing it to an abandoned township, all in ruins. It’s now not only illegal to be on the Bhangarh fort premises at night but it is also believed that whoever stays there post sunset never returns.

It is not just the infamous Bhangarh that seems to be cursed. All over the world, many places, from trivial to the ones with historical significance, seem to have registered bizarre occurrences. While apparitions in the White House have been attributed to Abraham Lincoln’s spirit, ghosts of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, have also been reportedly spotted by several people.

In fact, some of the world’s famous ghosts have been the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall (named so because she appears in a brown dress), the ghost of Freddy Jackson in the group portrait of a World War I squadron (Freddy had died two days before the photo was taken), the ghost of the second Viscount Lord Combermere, captured in a photo taken in his library whereas at the same moment, his funeral was being held four miles away from the library, and so on.

According to Ipsita, Delhi’s 3, Motilal Nehru Marg, has a tragic vibe around it. Congressman Arun Nehru who lived there had a massive heart attack which was followed by a fall of his fortunes. Former Union Minister CK Jaffer Sharief, another resident of the house, too had serious heart ailments. Yet another resident, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had an embarrassing defeat. Currently, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is its occupant.

From riddle-solving to treasure hunts, we tend to gravitate towards anything that can break the monotony of the human cycle. Ghostly encounters or anything even remotely paranormal drive us towards an underexplored arena; they make us question what is real. Probably that is why the prospect of finding a door to a parallel universe motivates us, as if we have found deeper meaning or something superior to what is too mundane.





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