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Whatever Happened To The Monsters Under Our Beds?



You used to be scared of the dark. Now, Monday mornings are scarier.

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You used to be scared of the dark. Now, Monday mornings are scarier.

Everyone needs at least one close encounter with a ghost. How else do you know you are alive?

More to the point, how else do you know your heart can beat so fast that you feel like it’s going to jump straight out of your chest? The total terror inspired by a thing that moves when it ought not to, a door that opens when it shouldn’t, a person who floats outside your window when er… nobody ought to float outside anyone’s window, thankyouverymuch! Nothing quite matches that terror.

A doctor friend once told me, “My father appeared in a dream the night before he died, wearing a pure white shirt. I’d never seen him in a white shirt in his whole life. I was abroad and didn’t get to say goodbye. He wasn’t even ill, he just died in his sleep. I almost never tell anyone this…I feel like he’d come back to me, y’know, to say goodbye!” It’s hard to say these things aloud without other people getting that expression on their faces: 'what will they say' is a total feeling-killer. 

You’ve got to respect Sylvester Stallone for not having such hesitations. He had a shraddh performed for his dead son Sage in Haridwar. Sage Stallone died of a heart attack three years ago at age 36 years. Sly, however, is reportedly still seeing his son in the daytime, and is quite shaken up by this behaviour. Which is why he found a pandit in Rishikesh and sent his family to perform a tithi shraddh – performed for people who’ve died either in accidents or murders.

When we were children and more open to every feeling, we ran fast for fun. We also ran much faster through the dark house to the kitchen because we knew the possibilities of something lying in wait for us. We read ghost stories much more, told each other those scary stories so much more. We all had a friend who had a friend who had seen a ghost. He REALLY saw it with his own eyes, this friend who had a friend.

Somewhere along the way we forget not just the ghost stories but also the fresh flush of emotion that the thought of a ghost brought into our lives.

As adults we compartmentalise it, this tingly scary feeling. We give the supernatural a thumb up or a thumb down at the movies, though you may have screamed as loudly as your girlfriend while watching the movie. Don’t lie now.

Of course, if you were a hardcore believer and went to the recent Bhoot Mela in Jharkhand, you may have ended up with more reasons to believe than you wanted. The mela was being held in Palamu district despite prohibition orders. After all, why would sorcerers be afraid of small things like lead bullets? The cops did their solemn duty and duly tried to arrest witch-doctor Ramesh Bhuiyan while he was attending locals supposedly haunted by evil spirits. The villagers rioted, stones were flung, bullets fired, and one villager died of a gunshot.

Villages believed to be haunted are often abandoned. Thousands of rural women are still killed on suspicion of practising witchcraft. An urban teen was recently burnt to death because she didn’t want to be chased by a ghost anymore. And while we’re on the subject, are Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe still among us?

Have you noticed that every era’s ghost movies reflect the fears of its time? While the Ramsay bros and others have stuck with the classics of the old house and the wronged woman, others have moved on superbly. Ram Gopal Varma can bring fear and terror to the idea of the new rental apartment. The Koreans and Japanese specialise in putting fear into our new toys and technology – from cursed video cassettes in Ringu to ghosts on the Internet.

The best new trend has to be that of kids being scary. The last decade has had so many kiddie bhoots that any child with limp hair in a white outfit has the potential to scare the pants off any adult, as this prankster Spanish TV show demonstrated in a hotel corridor.

Our own desi horror hotties Bipasha Basu and Emraan Hashmi can’t seem to leave well alone and just let us watch the damn movie. They also insist on appearing in the celeb papers to discuss how they spotted a ghost on the sets of whatever ghost movie they were working on. Ooh so creepy. Not. Ghost movies seem to need their own haunted PR too.

When we are not feeding our ghost movie addiction, we pay money to go on a haunted house walk, safe with a guide and other half-believing gigglers, ready for a carefully calibrated thrill. Or when a party slows down, we bring out the Ouija board (so much more of a thrill than a game of Taboo), where some stray eye contact assures you that everyone is willing to go a little further. Nothing usually happens at the party and you go home to bed, mildly unsettled but also more than mildly pleased.

We need ghosts in our lives, if not in a close encounter, at least in the realm of our world’s possibilities. We need ghosts to remind us that there are things beyond this moment, this day filled with its missed deadlines, delayed projects and unpaid bills. Those moments are why we want someone to say Boo!

Photo Credit: Super Awesome

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