Those days it wasn’t just about “trick or treat” and parties, wearing ghostly costumes. It was all about going in for the “real kill”. We got to know about Halloween much later in life, when the three of us devoured books on paranormal activities and ghosts, in high school. The 300-year-old school library seemed to be an ideal setting for a horror flick!
“‘184 Lower Circular Road’ that’s where we need to go,” whispered Renata, as we munched on peanuts and discussed our Halloween plans, at midnight. This particular address always perturbed us. We grew up within the confines of our boarding school, which was situated on the same road as this cemetery that was established in 1840, in Kolkata. We regaled ourselves with ghost stories that were interred with the bones of the dead. It had the graves of many officers of the East India Company. We learnt that on the day of the Celtic festival of Samhain, the dead came back to this world, especially the ones who died under unfortunate circumstances. Thus, we geared ourselves to “treat” a ghost, whose address we knew for sure. We set forth with a Jack ‘O’ Lantern made from a potato, took some cookies to placate the soul of the dead we thought we would meet and wore black and orange clothes to keep up with the colour scheme of the day!
As we walked into the cemetery that afternoon, the dry leaves crackled under our feet, the three of us held on to each other. A queer draught suddenly touched us, as we leaned forward to study the name on that particular tombstone. That of Sir William Hay MacNaghten, who was killed in the Anglo-Afghan war. Legend has it that if anybody narrates his story near his grave the tree above it would begin swaying — a paranormal activity that we were keen on witnessing first hand! The feisty Renata began narrating the story, her voice was steady, our palms were wet with sweat as we held each other’s hands. We suddenly felt the branches of the tree near us sway, as a few dry leaves fell at our feet. Renata fell silent as we stared at each other. Did the tree move in response to the story or due to the breeze, we wondered! Suzette placed the cookies near the grave of the man whose remains were brought here all the way from Afghanistan, sewn together by his wife. He deserved a treat, for sure!
Like bats on a moonless night
Halloween seems to have gained commercial momentum, with shops abundant in spooky merchandise, horror movies are made to release coinciding with the ghostly appearance of this day, candies and chocolates fly off racks like bats on a moonless night. Only thing is that they come at a price!
Last year, I had children from the neighbourhood at my doorstep, shouting in a spine-tingling chorus, “Trick or Treat”. I had my candies ready, however. I just wanted to test their knowledge about the “Trick” bit. One of them, a replica of Count Dracula came forward and performed some “magical” tricks and whispered confidentially, “Did you know that the famous magician Harry Houdini died on the night of Halloween?” At the time of his death, Houdini was planning an endurance stunt that would require him to survive entombment in a coffin. To drum up excitement for the upcoming stunt called “Buried Alive”, Houdini was exhibiting the coffin in the lobby of his theatre shows in the autumn of 1926. Ironically, that coffin was used to transport his body back to New York City for burial.
I am a sceptic, I believe in what I see. However, I believe in what I feel, too. Do ghosts exist? The answer is ambiguous, but I will continue to treat myself and trick my senses with spooky tales.
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp.