Ghosts

Dear L,

Fear of ghosts, or anything spooky is a very unique kind of fear. It’s very different than fear of losing a job, or rejection, or burning stew. It’s a very primal kind of fear. I grew up in a town where chronic electricity outages was the norm. Almost every evening, I would spend some time in darkness. During those moments, life’s reference frame would shift from visual to aural. Foxes would howl louder, cicadas’ hum would be more audible, even falling leaves would ask for attention.

Someone would light up a candle. The orange glow of a paraffin candle flame was only good for making shadows with hands, and occasional impromptu plastic bending fiesta, which my mother behemently objected to. So if I was done with my homework, I would find myself looking at the dark sides of the rooms, or the little corridor, or sometimes at the backyard; Those dark corners would become most exciting. Sometimes it would cage James Cameron’s Xenomorph, or sometimes Davy Jone’s crew, awaiting an ambush. We have a little pond behind our house where I grew up, full of critters, trees and fish. The loudest noises were from that side of the house. I would sit on a window sill and imagine things happening in the dark. Almost every evening there would be massive battles between good and evil on that dark patch of land I would stare at; Between trolls and mosquitoes. Between fish-men and frog-men. Sometimes, aliens would get involved too.

But, funny enough, I never really made connections to ghosts. Where I grew up, folks have confabulated ghosts very differently than their western counterparts. They are nothing like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “espantos de agosto” or Helado Negro’s “fantasma vaga”; Scary, but of a unique sort. I grew up with anecdotes of ghosts seeking attention, or asking for help; At their worst they steal fish and bananas from unsuspecting strangers. Sometimes they light the way for someone lost trying to make their way home, or warm a broken heart during a rough East Indian storm. I have heard stories about strange tall figures guarding poor farmer’s fishery; Story of a dead brother asking for a doctor for his sister on a moonlit night; Of a son coming home every fortnight to apologise to his mother that he couldn’t support her anymore; Non-existent boats lighting up lanterns to guide  fishermen ashore. Stories of mysterious voices keeping priests sane in remote Himalayan temples; Of far off battle cries of patriots raiding British armories.

Inadvertently, as an adult, I find that this cultural & environmental conditioning have made me very comfortable in darkness; Almost as if I am never ever alone in it; I do get scared, but I am never lost. I sometimes recall my grandfather’s wrinkly hands embracing me, like he used to do when I would wake up in the dark, scared, imagining some figure behind the curtain. Sometimes I recall riding pillion on my uncle’s reckless motorbike, zooming through stagnant traffic of oriental dusks. Sometimes I remember a photograph from Himalayas; Photograph of a distant uncle, smiling, with a sunglass on his face, under a sunny sky. I remember my aunt telling me stories on breezy summer nights; Being sleepy, she would blend many stories into one, which is way funnier in retrospect. All these people, like many others I have met, have passed away over the course of my existence. But during the darkest of times, they have been like wispy spirits on a foggy night over the grand plains of eastern India, pointing the way.

Being far from where I grew up, I have been asked many a times why I never seek out cosiness or crumbs of my origin in this part of the world, like I am a dry leaf on a fall evening with no roots. But the truth is, that I never felt the need assert my roots to be comfortable, no matter how dark or cold it gets. Instead, I just never let go of the ghosts that made me; No matter how haunting it gets, they have been always around me, from coldest nights to harshest climbs.

I never subscribed to the colloquial idea of happiness, because I want none of that for myself; What I want is to be the man who will become someone else’s ghost, holding their hands when they dance in rain, shining light in their darkest, being the warmth during their coldest, beacon during their most difficult voyages and...

[...] they'd never believe me
They'd think that I'd finally lost it completely
I'd show them the stars
- “Subterranean Homesick Alien”, Radiohead

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Best,
A

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