SONGSOPTOK: It seems that fear is the most important primal instinct in the animal world. The two main manifestations of fear in the human society is centered around two entities: God(s) and Demons. We somehow learn to fear ghosts and spirits at a very early age and remain marked by that fear later in life. What is your personal experience? When did you start fearing ghosts and for what reasons?

MITRA: As far as I can remember; when I was very young; we were very often threatened by the elders in the name of JUJU; if we did any mischief; we believed the Juju would catch us immediately; but, we didn’t have any idea what exactly it was or what harm it actually could do to us! But my first fear was Juju. There was another fear of “Chele-Dhora”… if children went outside of the house alone or at a  wrong time in the absence of guardians; we knew a bad man would catch us and take us forever from our parents and family. We might be turned into beggars or sacrificed to their causes. Then came the fear of curse from god/ goddess and lastly, very little fear was left for ghosts. I used to be afraid not only of ghosts and demons; but also of the curse of gods and goddesses (“Thakur Pap debe”). Beating, scolding, calling names by angry senior people of the joint family or neighborhood (in the name of taking care and teaching moral things) and ridiculous and innovative punishments from angry teachers of the school as a part of the lessons created lots of fear, guilt and shame in my child-mind. ‘Do and don’t do’ were set for us with very strict boundaries by all these sources. Rather, ghost stories or fairy tales of big and small giants kept a broad spectrum of imaginations and thrill (fight of the prince/ princes or the village boy/ girl ultimately defeating the giants) beyond the periphery of fear. So, of all, the fear of getting beaten, scolded, and punished affected me most. If fear did any damage in me, it was never generated from ghosts and demons. I never took them seriously. It was rather a curiosity, entertainment and fun for me. With my little observations and intelligence; somehow I discovered that ghosts didn’t exist and if they existed at all, they were not going to eat me, kill me, humiliate me or punish me.   

SONGSOPTOK: Very often adults try to control the tantrums of children by threatening them with ghosts and spirits. Do you remember any such incident when you were very young? In your opinion, do such methods have a permanently negative effect on children? In what way?

MITRA: As I mentioned just now, only threat of ghosts came to me from the adults was ‘JUJU’. They never described clearly whether it was a tiger or bat or ghost; whether it had horns, tail, sharp teeth or only one red eye in the middle of the forehead! I used to imagine it from the latest ghost or fairy story I heard from them.  I think I was one of the luckiest children who didn’t face much threat directly or indirectly through stories, rituals and ideas. Let me describe my only experience of real fear of ghost. In our house; everyone in the three storied building had to cross a long open terrace in order to reach the toilets lying at the corner of the first floor.  When I was very young and had to go there alone after the sunset, I used to get really afraid of ghosts, as if some were sitting in the visible huge trees and moving the branches vigorously with their long, thick, branchlike legs. I used to run into one of the toilets and run back through the dark terrace to reach the main corridor of the first floor. But I didn’t seriously believe that; rather I indulged myself to enjoy the cold and shivering feeling! Our uncles and some cousins were seriously very afraid of those trees (inhabited by ghosts) and never used to go there alone. I knew this fear was baseless; but liked to hold the imagination and feeling for some time, may be a year. But when I started to go to school; somehow I found much more interesting and fascinating things to attend than to be trapped in the imagination of ghosts. I can’t say about permanency of any negative feeling or practice; rather I deny it. And I also deny the chance of permanent fear from ghosts and demons. As far as life is concerned, there are many ways to overcome any threat, constraint, restraint or fear. But yes, of course any kind of threat in any form, even the ghost stories, tales about demons and fierce creatures, do affect a child’s mental set up; especially if, in course of growing up to an adult, mature person, the child does not get enough and constant exposures in the form of love, empathy, courage, trust, education, experience, success and so on... The bigger and deeper the fear, the greater the risk or chance of mental weaknesses and more fights and problems a person has to face to overcome them. Fear is the root of almost all weaknesses and vices a person suffers from. To get defensive, he/she becomes offensive or manipulative and channelizes the fear through a series of negative maneuvers and activities. Some real helplessness might result which need professional intervention. But, I don’t think ghost stories are responsible for generating such long lasting fear. I would rather say that the horror and violence in movies, stories and video games do a greater and long lasting damage not only to a child, but to an adult too! Though I am not very sure – it could be fear or anger, which is the source of violence, but also some deep rooted sense of insecurity, fear and sadism might be there!

SONGSOPTOK: Not only do we frighten children with ghosts, we often entertain them with ghost stories. When children learn to read, grown-ups often try to incite them to get into the habit of reading by buying ghost stories. What do you think of this practice?

MITRA: I am against horror and violent stories /movies. Ghost stories are just made up stories; while some of them are really fearful; some are very funny and there are lots of ghosts (as I read) who are friendly, protectors and problem solvers.  Like magic, ghost story creates some illusion, which everyone knows not happening really! Some recent Bengali movies on the existence of ghost mostly belong to these categories. Sudden fear and surprise are very usual and primitive feelings of ours…. stories based on them are attempts to express those feelings and a story is always colored, winged, folded and twisted to create new taste and emotion. I think they are not serious and feeling threatened by ghost stories is a threat which comes from other kind of insecurity. I myself is not very fond of ghost stories; I usually don’t buy one or present somebody.  But if I didn’t read any ghost story at all, how could I find some classic and marvelous stories like ‘Bhushundir mathe’ by Rajshekhar Basu, ‘Le Lullu’ by Trailakyanath Mukhopadhyay, ‘Monihara’ by Rabindranath Tagore. In fact, the presentation of fear always spurs me to take up the challenge to get more courageous. Sense of fear only makes me ashamed of a limitation that I have to overcome with knowledge and courage.

SONGSOPTOK: Adolescence is normally the period when we start asking questions about different things. Did you start asking questions about the existence of ghosts? Will you share the details with us?

MITRA:   First of all, even in childhood, I was never afraid of ghosts. I read those books for thrill, different taste and feeling - mostly fun. I heard and read lots of ghost stories but each of them appeared to me as a non serious story with its unique taste, color, stunt and twist.... they generated no bad effects or harm in me. I don’t believe ghost stories could ever make an otherwise normal child into a timid, cowardly or disturbed human being. Who didn’t and don’t read ghost stories?  Are all of them or most of them or even some of them suffering from serious fear in their adulthoods? If an adult person has fear of ghost, he or she must have other sources of trauma in their childhood I think.

SONGSOPTOK: A lot of people claim to have direct experience of ghosts or other inexplicable phenomena. Do you have any such experience to share with us? Or experiences of people you know?

MITRA:  NO ! I heard many stories from many persons about their direct experience (or experience of some ones they know) of seeing ghosts. But we all knew at the same time, those were told in a gathering with the purpose of passing leisure  time , to create some special effect and ambience on a rainy or dark night, to keep awake during  the night on long drives. I appreciated - the stories were very interesting (creating lots of attention) and the purposes were served well. That’s it! I could write here a story about how I feared about ghosts when I was forty two years old, a mother of two young girls but how I got a full explanation of my scary imaginations.

SONGSOPTOK: It is true that most of us like reading or watching films about ghosts, spirits or mysterious phenomena. Do you enjoy these things too? Can you think of a specific story or a film that really thrilled you? Do you have any favorite writers of this genre?

MITRA:  No, I don’t. I don’t get any enjoyment from them; my choice and passion for art and literature are entirely different. I still read fairy tales and may be also ghost stories (and watch one or two new or special kind of scary movie)  if some of my reliable sources recommend. But, most of the time, they do not fascinate me so much to try another. Bottom line is, neither am I interested in ghost nor in scary or flowery stories of blind religion and faith. I may enjoy a ghost story and movie once in a while; but never enjoy made up religious stories of gods and demons.

SONGSOPTOK: Many of us think that science still has to go a long way to explain everything that we experience on earth. Science has enlightened us about a lot of things, but there are certain areas that can be considered as the twilight zone – the breeding place for the uncanny and the preternatural. What are your thoughts about this?

MITRA:   There are two types of unknown; one is yet to understand and discover (the journey of Science and exploring new and unknown horizons is still going on -- human race is evolving everyday) and the other is blind faith : for whatever reason, when someone chooses not to accept, search or wait for the actual explanations which already exist and choose to stick to that blindness and blind faith. I have still so many things to know and experience what mankind already opened up; I feel no urge or interest in the dark supernatural things.  If I watch any of these show in TV or get a book of this type; I used to leave them after a short while. Not for any opposite belief or opinion; just for finding them boring. Not my cup of tea.  Not my subject to discuss; as I am unaware and disinterested on this issue. Rather, my awareness stops me and takes me to different areas which gives positive vibes and pleasures to me.

SONGSOPTOK: We find it difficult to accept that nothing remains after death, which often leads us to imagine the supernatural. We are naturally attracted to what lies beyond the known everyday world. What is your opinion about this? Do you think that everything ends with death? Or is it because since we don’t really know that we oscillate between belief and doubt?

MITRA:  If I am in doubt about anything; I try to approach professionals and mainly research the subject on existing information, through internet. If I don’t get any answer; I prefer to keep it aside and wait for my next search rather than to go for any readymade alternative and false theories and beliefs. I have unlimited things yet to know about life; don’t find any eagerness to go for this research. Let the interested and professional people explore and find it; I could wait for the result. I am curious and hard working on what could be solved but I am lazy and reluctant about the issues which are beyond my long earned knowledge, interest and capacity. I am not an ignorant or arrogant, I always give space to research and people who are focused on different direction and if the result makes sense to me; I accept. Whatever I gather or read about the journey beyond death or reincarnation; it gives me the pleasure of reading a story; yes, like ghost stories. The bottom line is; I have no idea whether life ends in death or there is another journey beyond death.  Not my cup of tea again.

SONGSOPTOK: Almost all societies believe that the entities that exists in the realms that are beyond our understanding and our sensory perceptions possess an immense amount of power. But the capacity of humans is limited. So why does humans believe that the souls of the dead are immensely powerful? What, according to you, is the reason for this?

MITRA:   No idea, honestly. Unaware in this subject.

SONGSOPTOK: As we grow more and more dependent on science and technology, it is possible that our belief in the supernatural will grow weaker with time. In that sense ghosts and other entities are likely to have a very dark future indeed. But wouldn’t that deprive us of a whole range of feelings and emotions? Wouldn’t we become poorer in our sensations? What is your opinion?

MITRA:  I don’t find any threat from knowing the fact, reality and truth.  Those will go side by side. As long as man does not stop hearing, reading, watching and get rid of emotions and sensations, there will be readers of ghost stories and fairy tales. I am not talking about the horror and violent literature and art. Let them go (but, could we?) The real threat is, as I realize how many readers are there now and will be in future? How many are reading these universally well circulated webzines and books, old books? The globe has turned into a market place. Everything is salesmanship. Anything could be sold, whether right or wrong, true or false, ethical or unethical, Science or beliefs, war or peace. We are trying to keep into the positive sides of everything; but if there is a war, we don’t know who will win. We are just solders if not puppets.
MITRA GHOSH CHATTOPADHYAY:  An ex Scientist of India (worked for 20 years) in the field of Geological Science with degrees from India, UK and Canada. At present, She lives in Canada and India, she is a writer (mostly in Bengali), working as an editor and publisher of a magazine ( Prabhas) and a publication  (Sohojiya Prakashoni). Two books, few short stories and many travel articles are published. Besides writing, travel/ globetrotting and photography are her passions.

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