Friday, January 11, 2008


A few days back, I somehow stumbled across a piece of useless trivia while surfing the web. In a survey conducted a few years back, they found that slightly less than 50% of the population in India believed in ghosts. I searched for the corresponding number in the US and I came across this cbs article from 2005, which states that almost the same percentage of people in the US believe in ghosts too. This similarity is indeed quite remarkable given the vast difference in culture between India and the US.

And so this survey set the rusted wheels inside my brain in motion and these creaky wheels groaned out a question to me in a rather surprisingly shrill tone - Do I believe in ghosts? I think the honest answer would be that I don't want to and nor do I think that ghosts exist, but that does not mean that I will be eager to spend a night in a dark graveyard. So I guess that makes me a part-time believer - a believer under special circumstances. Which means if my only job was to be a believer in ghosts and I got paid for the amount of time I believed in them, I would be well below the poverty line, but I still would earn something. I wonder what category the survey put people like me in. And I wonder what percentage of the population is like me ?

One of my favourite ghost stories (from real life and not from a movie or book) is the one I heard when I was about 9 years old or so. I heard it from friends a few years older than me. A building was being constructed near our apartment and rumour had it that a construction worker slipped from the scaffolding, fell 4 storeys and died instantaneously. Apparently his wife was also working in the same building and she continued working there after his death. The story goes that every night, in the pre-dawn hours, the guy or his spirit would come on a bicycle to the building, ring the bell on his bicycle a couple of times and then call out his wife's name (his wife's name was Kunti) in a kind of long drawn out way - almost like an eerie, forlorn moan. This would be followed by all the stray dogs barking their disapproval at the current situation. This is how the whole cycle of sounds went - "Trriinng, Trriinng, Trriinng, Trriinng. Kuuuuntiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii". This was a cue for the dogs to go 'bhow bhow bhow bhow bhow'. (Note that these being Indian dogs, barked in the local dialect and did not go 'wuff wuff' or 'ruff ruff' like their Western counterparts.) This whole cycle would repeat over and over again for a few minutes and then it would stop automatically. I am a very heavy sleeper and I never heard it except once. I had woken up in the middle of the night for some reason and was not able to go back to sleep rightaway. And then, I heard this exact cycle of sounds and I lay there wondering if I should look out of the window. I did not end up looking out because I was scared - scared that the ghost may divert his attention from his unresponsive wife towards me - scared that the ghost may be really hideous and I would not be able to get that picture out of my mind forever - scared for many reasons unknown to me. Anyway, I tried to make myself feel better about it by telling myself that it was probably a drunk man returning home late and I would feel foolish if I made all the effort of getting out of bed, going to the window and looking out. I think I made a wise decision.

Another story (funny now) which I half-believed in was told to me when I was about 8 years old. One evening, my elder brother told me that he read an article in the newspaper that Count Dracula was visiting Bombay and he was specifically drinking the blood of children born after 1975. I think he may have been reading the story of Dracula then, but in those days, I used to believe anything my brother said and since he said that he read it in the newspaper, it sounded even more authentic. My brother having been born in 1972 was safe from the Count but I, being born in 1976 was very much fair game. I spent the next few nights wishing that the Count would do his rounds in downtown Bombay first and then, when his supply was exhausted, turn his attention to the suburbs. Most probably, I figured that he would even be done with his visit to Bombay before he came to the suburbs. I think my calculations were right because as far as I know, he never came to the suburbs.

A decade or so later, a story which even had the tabloids by its holds was of a ghost-woman with 2 heads, who would walk into buildings and knock on the apartment doors. When you opened it, she would attack you. So the general advice was not to open your door at night. Especially not when it was a dual-headed ghost at the door waiting to rip you apart. Many people followed the advice, much to the chagrin of family members returning from night-shifts, travellers coming into the city late at night, patrons of discotheques, pub-hoppers and other nocturnal members of the society. Anyway, some people laughed at the story, some enjoyed the story and some people actually believed it. But it was definitely the topic of conversation for a couple of weeks in our part of the city.

Most of the ghost-stories obviously stem from our own imagination. The ghosts invariably take the form of whatever what you want to see. Otherwise there is absolutely no reason for ghosts in India to be wearing white most of the time, whereas there does not seem to be any such restriction for ghosts in Western countries. If its an Indian woman-ghost we are talking about, she will most definitely have long black hair and be in white clothes - white clothes because white is a colour of mourning among Hindus. But long black hair? Maybe an explanation for the dearth of older silver-haired Indian woman-ghosts is that they lack the glamour quotient that comes with younger black haired ones.

Coming back to the survey, I think surveys like these should also include another question. Along with 'Do you believe in ghosts?', they should also include 'Do you get scared by your own imagination?'. I am very sure the percentage of people answering 'yes' to the second question is going to be very high compared to the first one and it does not matter what part of the world you live in. So my friends, do me a favour and ask yourself the second question and if you answer 'no', maybe I will send a construction worker, a bicycle and a few Indian stray dogs near your bedroom window tonight.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

When in doubt, fall

I recently discovered that not only can I ski on my feet, I can also do it off my feet. I must confess though that skiing off your feet (a) does not look pretty (b) hurts a little (c) should not be called skiing since the skis are not exactly being used.

I am just going to jot down some notes about skiing here for my benefit as well as the benefit of anyone who has not skiied before. Next time I go skiing, I will use this to refresh my memory and make the experience less painful.

1. Skiing is a 1000 times easier than ice-skating. You see, I had a traumatic ice-skating adventure in a rink a few years ago. Basically, I just clung onto the support-rail for dear life (mine and all the 2 year olds who were zipping by in my falling-zone) and took an eternity to go from the entry to the exit. I fell so many times that when I stepped out of the rink, some parents watching from outside the rink started clapping for me. Sarcastically or not, I don't know but at that point, I was beyond caring about anything except getting the offending skating shoes off my feet.

2. To control your speed, dig the inner side of your skiis into the snow and point your toes (and so your skiis) towards each other. If your friend (and skiing-teacher), SB, tries to describe this as making a 'V', please ask him why he can't be more articulate.

3. To control your direction, use exactly the same technique in point 2 except that you don't point your toes towards each other. If you want to turn left, dig in your right leg and point it inwards and vice-versa for a right turn.

4. Remember that skiing is much easier than ice-skating since you don't have a problem of maintaining your balance when you are travelling in a straight line unlike ice-skating. The only problems you will face are controlling your speed and taking a turn. If you are going to crash into trees, fall down deliberately. This is the highly sensitive art of skiing off your feet.

5. Try not to hit people who help you up onto your feet, with your ski-poles. Especially when they are the ones who are teaching you. ZD, I swear I did not do it purposely.

6. Don't give up. Thank you SB and ZD for not giving up on me.

7. When you get home, drink "Ouzo" on the rocks or neat. Thank you ZD for that too.