Subhajit tastes the ecstatic flavours of murk, weird esotery in Darkness There But Something More that give him enough fright to visualize gleaming eyes in darkened room at night.
“A person terrified with the imagination of spectres, is more reasonable than one who thinks the appearance of spirits fabulous and groundless.”
~ Joseph Addison
Darkness There But Something More
Edited by: Dr Santosh Bakaya and Lopa Banerjee
Publisher: The Blue Pencil; 1 edition (2017)
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‘Anybody out there?’
‘Hello? Who’s this? Answer me?’
‘Are you a deaf or dumb? Can’t you say your name?’
‘Just then the air inside the room sighed on the shoulder, with a wicked giggle it grinned, “You were the one who sewed my mouth seven years back, remember?”’
‘Who has not been intrigued and enthralled by the spirit world, ghosts, other-worldly beings, or in other words, the paranormal?’ The very first line of the blurb at the hind side of the book cover taunts us to read the entire short gist and conclude that the book is a collection of some 30 ghost stories. ‘Come, experience the cataclysmic, weird, and at times, benevolent spirit world and you will never have a dull moment in this roller-coaster ride!’, it exclaims as it lets us dive into the book. Wandering through the pages of the book, moving into the editor’s notes, Dr Santosh Bakaya comes up with her nostalgic memoirs of how our elders used to narrate some really eerie tales, sitting ‘around a crackling log fire’ [P.S. With proper sound effects]. An eloquent joke punches on the face as the ghost is overworked to have suddenly appeared for some of the ‘peanuts’!
Yes, our childhood was of sheer fun and of adventure. Amidst our queer excitement, the flickering lantern rekindled the spirit of overworked imagination as our grandparents, elders or friends, brothers or sisters shared whatever they had heard from the world outside, be it true or false. That age was the time when we first learnt that there was something really spooky about certain things, and thanks to our innocent craniums then, we often seemed to see such figures emerging from nowhere, even in the broad daylight, at times, amidst the crowd.
Yet, jokes apart, such unexplainable issues have been subjected to a wide range of dispute for years. The world of paranormal activities has always made our numb minds ponder and wonder what if things were just born out of co-incidence or telepathy. What if the intuitions we have are farce, or, maybe true?!
Then, moving to the note by another editor, Lopamudra Banerjee, I could smell the air around me gripping tightly my collars as she beseeched for another level of excitement, disclosing that certain stories are from a ghost story contest, organized by the Learning and Creativity! They all start with the line: ‘She woke up to find a figure seated on the only chair in the room, looking weirdly at her’. Well that’s quite challenging. After all, it is not that easy to play the dare-game of weaving something very subtly, using a limited array of words, phrases and with an introductory line! Having said that, I was also reminded of the fact that, all these stories are the fruits of those creative boxes who can take things to any level at any point of time!
Without wasting any time, I reclined on my bed at midnight with a torch to taste the ecstatic flavours of murk, weird esotery that, at times, did give me enough fright to visualize gleaming eyes in the darkened room at night!
Before I begin scrutinizing, I would like to let you know that I have accomplished reading only the second volume: ‘The Bench Stories’ of this ghost story anthology. Although people start reading a book from the beginning, I chose to focus on the second volume for it includes those stories which came out of such amazingly mused quills who wrote for a picture prompt at The Significant League, a famous literary group in Facebook. Also, I have chosen to unravel the mystery of ‘The Boulder’ with ease, later. As for now, me being one of the contributors, I couldn’t wait to read the known stories once again, on their publication. I started with my stories (you can call me selfish for this) in order to arm myself with protection spells so that I don’t find semblance in the acts described, in real life, in other stories. However, as I ran through the pages, the nooks and corners of other stories, I felt the needless preparation I had done in order to recollect my rationality before reading each of them.
When it comes to the fragrance of flowers, be it in any season, one must feel its ambience rather than just smelling it. The fragrant Jasmine haunting the unnamed architect aroused such sweet sensations that one could not express in mere words. How beautifully Sudeshna Mukherjee weaves a lullaby out of a romance, a simple story of ecstatic excellence where the ‘raging fire of their love’ in its ‘lascivious tongues’ consumed the two and the sudden disappearance of one breaks the other. A very short enthralling composition, this prose took me to the level where I could say without any doubt I was in a frenzy. I could relate to what is widely known as the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. To end with, her use of exquisite words elevate the paranormal activity to a sublime supernatural wonder.
Her second prose, ‘The Last Assignment’ made me shiver at 1 am. I must say here that the author has efficiently amused me with her realistic portraiture of the conflicting ideas of a rational mind and the unexplainable mists. As the adventurous guts forces the journalist to unearth the hidden truth, behind a series of mysterious events, he falls prey to the mystery itself. Using a very short word limit, she reaches the apex of the climactic moment when the strong pull of the bench takes the shape of a lady who dolefully laughs, saying ‘I am the one who was misled’. I was at the brink of terror while running through each of the lines as if I was being chased by the same pull of the music turning into a crescendo.
When I read the unedited version of ‘The Strange Imposter’ by Sunila Kamal, I felt it had more qualities of a suspense thriller than of a ghost story. However, this time, my feelings were a bit different. The insertion of a strange shadow whizzing past into the air of loneliness in a monotonous afternoon did have its eerie consequences in my subdued cranium which was eager to know what exactly was the connection between the anonymous ‘It’ and Kushal. The missing daughter, Shweta seemed to bridge the inquisition with another question, ‘Why She?’. However, all these questions are the ones we ponder whenever we are actually unable to figure out such abnormal, rather paranormal activities we frequently come across, aren’t they? For a moment, I felt it was a case of kidnap but as I culminated to the conclusion where with a faint drizzle outside, suddenly ‘the leaves rustled nervously near the bench as a shadow moved past the bench and disappeared into darkness’, I felt my throat drying out. Kudos to the writer for her excellent choice of words and playing with them, cooking such a mind-boggling suspense on the dishes.
A similar feeling touched me while going through ‘An Encounter with Death’, written by Nandita Samanta. I should also say here that this was one ghost story bluntly narrated, yet woven perfectly. I had been going through the bench stories but this was one piece full of layers. The newly arrived couple, Suhani and Varun, their interactive conversations were as enjoyable as they were between other characters. A rich array of multiple faces and incidents centered around the park, right next to the newly bought house intrigued my mind with the absurd conclusion as seen in the typical horror movies. Over all, it was a horrifying read!
I found semblance of this idea in ‘The Play House’ by Bhuvaneshwari Shivkumar Shankar. Modelled on a similar backdrop, this was the story where I was not much horrified but was amazed. The emotional tone seemed to connect the old couple who rescued the juvenile Deepali who was being teased by a ‘tall heavyset man’ and his gang of cronies. How easily she got attached to the old Lila and Issac whose house was actually theirs! In fact, the story had been circling around the bench that was the witness of their love life and as I could conclude, this story showered a different flavour, far away from the usual raw horror of such stories. This prose made me rethink about the idea of a ghost story and definitely, it was a game changer.
What made me giggle and laugh was the first story of ‘The Bench Stories’ by Satbir Chadha. She delightfully exhibited what would be the case if some day, the most bewildered dreams, that, to some extent, are also horrifying, would come true! The introduction of shape-shifting gnomes added sheer amazement when I could unearth how funny the visualization of such an awkward moment would be. As for the moment, I would prefer to conceal it for the audience, so that they can enjoy its mystery. The second story was equally enthralling as I noted an unpredictable change of mood and tone altogether. As the viper swaggered away, I was boggled by the way things recur every time, with the same trees, wall, creepers and grasses witnessing the incidents. As a matter of fact, the writer has done complete justice to what she had thought of sharing in the two short and crisp narratives, served on the platter.
‘Promises to Keep’ by Pratima Apte is yet another prose bearing a different tone. She writes ‘A promise is a promise is a promise!’, distinctly mentioning what the moral of her story is. I personally have been acquainted with her short stories for quite a long time and I was always aware that she bore an extraordinary quill. Her way of narrating such a short glimpse with such perfection deserves ovations for the same! In fact, thanks for letting us read such a tale-telling story that we had heard of, in fairy tales; of rebirth and unkept promises.
What made me teary was ‘The Old Man’. In fact, during the panel discussion of this book, I had heard one of the panelists say that the book is not only full of horrific tales with ghastly images but also includes such entities who could be called ‘good ghosts’! Deepti Singh’s prose perfectly weaves what we call, a flashback of events. It sways from one memory to the other, dropping the narration with subtlety. As the old man lures two saplings with ‘a box of chocolates’, I felt as if the author was implying that the grandson was living in those planets. Indeed, this could be considered among those stories where the emotional overtone highlights love more than horror for a lost entity or a connection.
Apart from these stories, I also managed to go through some of the stories of the Volume 1: ‘The Boulder and Other Stories’ and I can’t stop myself from saying that these are not mere fictional tales born out of overworked imaginations. The plots, backdrops and the narratives conceal some serious alarming topics in many of these works. Yet, I have been amused to see the height each and every one has reached in making their writings unique.
Partha Sarathi Mukherjee’s ‘Apparition’ was nostalgia. The scenes were so lively, each culminating to the other and one after another, memories chained up to reach the climax of the story. Centred around the mystery queen, Kolkata, the story rotates and revolves around such a sublime concept that any sensitive mind can connect, to the bond of friendship being highlighted here. The story would be very much heart-warming and welcoming to any reader who loves to be in any kind of company.
Coming to Ramendra Kumar’s ‘The Peepal Tree’, the prose is not just about the ghastly presence of an ugly spirit but also the desperation of an ugly looking girl to make others feel the same sense of rejection. The writer has effectively portrayed the soulful connection between two souls, one mute and the other meek. The stereotypical idea of beauty and the usual bullying, rampant amongst an age is noteworthy here apart from a wicked spirit’s connection to the same victim through a tree. The writer deserves his part of honours for composing it amazingly, blending the spirit’s healing touches to the victim via vengeance.
It seemed as if Death was given a new appearance in Cathy Sydlo Wylkes’s ‘Silent Witness’. I could smell a faint fragrance of Mrs. Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness here as the bed-ridden patient recalled what exactly put her in such a dingy place and towards the conclusion, why her friends were crying! I couldn’t avoid Death’s fine portrait in the guise of the weird figure. This is one of the awarded stories of the ghost story contest organized by the publishers and it would be incomplete to end this without saying that the writer has done a marvellous job in weaving such an unpredictable offbeat gothic prose summing up everything semi-humorously.
I felt Shabir Ahmad Mir’s ‘The Last Trick’ was an apt choice as a winner of the previously mentioned contest. How graphically he cast the failure of a magician’s trick, with vivid images, intriguing interactions and a drastic conclusion. I could be the character who, in the middle of the night, was frightened by the magician with his absurd explanations! To top it all up, the story is projected in three parts, The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige, corresponding to the three parts of a magic. Draped in humorous conversations, this is one of my favourite reads along with others till now. Shabir indeed deserves to be the best.
Coming to Reena Prasad’s ‘By the Lake’, I had to read it twice. When I had read it in a crowded metro, things seemed to go beyond my legible limits. Finally, as always, I chose to revisit the story at midnight and goodness gracious, that was one spooky story! I loved how the plot shifted drastically from the past to the present, the haunting spirit and the leaves uniting in a unique harmony to enrich the horror terrifically! As multiple vapours seemed to come up, the leaves seemed to be the horror-stricken multitudes of the tree who turned happy ‘when lovers met under it!’ It seemed to be a figment of a writer’s bewildered imagination that was being casted in the form of a story, a fragment of some paranormal presence! I would conclude that the writer must have been immensely triggered by a spirit to compose such a shifty tale with a great deal of dedication, presenting it with utter perfection!
Spirits or ghosts, whatever you call them, are born with the death of a living being. The dare to go beyond the notions of stereotyped imageries as noticed in masterpieces has found an elaborate expression in Dr Ampat Koshy’s ‘A Ghost Story’. Ghosts are like the humans. They too have feelings, they too want to be with their near and dear ones who are living! Such a delightful concept finds a serious expression in this short flash fiction. As Boo becomes a ghost, she is too tiny and naïve to realize that the world she lives in is far apart from the world of living. Their world is vulnerable to the attack of Ghostbusters and people would never realize her desire to be a part of her own family! Dr Koshy has wittily portrayed such a sentimental issue, of an innocent child spirit’s wish to meet her family in this short prose. Undoubtedly, he has done sheer justice in highlighting the similarity between our world and the world of ghosts that could be subjected to many critical views but not, if dealt delicately.
The stereotypical tales are too nagging and exaggerating at times for our small creative boxes. They want to be fed with delicacies and flavours that are completely new. Such flavours seem to be brimming in this collection of ghost stories, ‘Darkness There but Something More’. However, it is Time who would let me deduce it, fully confirmed, when I would complete chasing all the mystic nameless entities hiding in every nook and corner of its pages.
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