President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hand out candy to costumed children for Halloween on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Image Credit: Agency

“The photographs that we clicked last October, in that palace, in Jaipur, are all smeared with this queer apparition in the background,” said Alisha, in a fear laden voice. She found it rather odd and the only person who would understand her, she thought, was me. She sent me the pictures, that showed the date and time. There was something about the date that struck me, 31-10-2019. Then it sank in. Halloween!

‘Halloween’ dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly inhabited the area that is now Ireland.

This day marked the end of summer and the harvest season. Celts believed that on the night before November begins, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

Jaipur, the city studded with palaces and manors, is an ideal tourist spot. Many palaces have been converted to hotels or lodges by royal families and each one has tales to tell from days of yore. The one in which Alisha and her family stayed had gory secrets buried in the walls. Every old house has a soul of its own. As it gets older, the more severe are the emanations from the past. The walls echo the tales of love, conspiracies, intrigues. Beautifully framed mirrors have reflected faces that remain ensconced within them as enslaved portraits.

When she showed me those pictures, initially I thought that there was something wrong with her phone camera. Later she told me about her bloodcurdling experience in the manor. Every night, just at bed time, a petite girl, wearing the local attire of Rajasthan would bring glasses of saffron flavoured, warm milk, for Alisha and her family. It was like a ritual on all the five nights that they spent there. Soft-spoken, her skin was like molten gold and it was as if she smiled through her hazel coloured, doe-eyes. She told them that the milk was complimentary. The day that they were leaving, 31st October, many pictures were clicked in the palace. Alisha’s mother asked the man at the front office about the girl who came to them every night. The man mumbled something vague and seemed to avoid the topic. But she wanted to tip the girl hence she pressed on.

Just then, Alisha’s sister, who was in the durbar (main hall) clicking pictures of the throne, ran out ashen and trembling. In one of the paintings that adorned the walls of the durbar, stood the girl, near the princess and the other royal ladies of the family. The painting was created in the 1800’s. Alisha’s family was dumbstruck. Her father, a skeptic, was shocked. When they enquired, they found out that the girl was the favourite chamber-maid of the queen, her name being Bhumi. One fine day she was mysteriously found dead in her room. The whispers on the grapevine say that Bhumi was violated by one of the men in the royal family. So, did the orbs in the photographs depict the presence of Bhumi? Unbelievable, strange, unnerving but true.

This year has been disturbingly different, thanks to the sinister virus. Another thing that’s going to be rather distinctive this Halloween is that a ‘blue moon’ will embellish the sky… the second full moon of the month. A full moon on Halloween is seen every nineteen years, approximately.

My dear friend, Mrs. Kohli is all set to ring in the day with tricks and treats over a Zoom Halloween party. She has bought things like a skull print rolling pin to prepare ghostly cookies and the tandoori chapattis that are on the Halloween menu. Carving and cooking pumpkins is what she has advised me to do, because “it’s an immunity boosting food”. Masks with monstrous designs have been bought too, her Instagram pictures will have ghastly selfies, I suppose. And of course, we’re going to have a ‘ghost-story’ telling session in the flickering light of candles.... the highlight of our Zoom party.

This year we have a real ghoul invisibly and deceptively lurking around us. A situation that happens “once in a blue moon”! Lower your defenses (read: masks) and “BOO”- you will be possessed! Happy Halloween, stay safe!

— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @VpNavanita