Spooky tales from the hills
Shimla: Ghosts from Shimla`s past are back to haunt this picturesque hill town. Shimla-based writer Minakshi Chaudhry has come out with another set of 16 spooky tales of the spirits that refuse to die down.
"Spirits wander in these hills - the English nurse, the theatre manager, the lord and his sister, the ghost who gave away his treasure - these are real encounters narrated by the local people of Shimla and nearby areas," says journalist-turned-writer Chaudhry.
With thrilling twists and turns, each story recreates the horror of the victims and the fear of the unknown, she says.
Her latest book "More Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills" (Rupa and Co), released last week here by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, is a collection of 16 stories about the supernatural, originating from Shimla folklore to the trail of the Raj.
The author`s earlier book, `Ghost Stories of the Shimla Hills`, published in 2005 also by Rupa and Co, became a bestseller and is in its 10th reprint.
"Ghost Stories became so popular that I was repeatedly asked to bring out the second volume," Chuadhry told IANS.
For the 42-year-old writer, Shimla, which served as the summer capital of British India between 1864 and 1939, is the perfect place for the supernatural beings, the main characters of her stories, to survive the onslaught of modern times.
Dark moonless nights, lonely stretches, mist enveloping hills and valleys, something howling in the faraway jungle - everything in the Shimla hills gives an appearance of these unearthly beings.
In these 16 stories, she says, the readers will encounter bhoots (ghosts) and churails (witches) who wander in the Shimla hills. These stories also tell us about the cultural and religious life of hill people. Generations of Shimlaites grew up hearing stories about bhoots and churails. These tales based on facts and experiences shared by people, have been narrated in a fictionalised way.
Chaudhry, who has 11 books to her credit, says when she started working on the second collection on spirits, she was amazed by the response she got from the people.
"The surprised look that I got from people when I had wandered in and around Shimla in 2003, collecting tales for `Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills`, was gone. It was no longer a frustrating or embarrassing experience. This time no one said to me: ghosts in this age? I met so many people who had not only enjoyed the book but who even expressed their disappointment that I had not included the real tale they knew or that a popular story from their area was left out," she says.
The new book includes tales about the spirit of an English nurse who wanders in the wards of Lady Reading (now known as Kamla Nehru hospital in Shimla), taking care of the children in need; a theatre manager - an Englishman who died before India`s Independence who was so much in love with Shimla that he did not leave even after he died and his spirit haunts the (Gaiety) theatre and roams there on dark nights.
In these stories we meet people who can talk to the spirits and who live between the two worlds - living and the dead! We also travel to the strange world of fairies, who land and take off at the lawns of Pari Mehal (a locality in Shimla) and meet members of a unique family that claims to have met ghosts just as we meet each other.
"Most of the bhoots and churails narrated in the book are not scary. In fact, some of them are naughty," Chaudhry says.
"There is a touching tale of a Muslim ghost who came to Shimla hills (in Nankhari village, some 100 km from Shimla) after partition and stayed back. It plays pranks on people but as it grew old, it lost interest in teasing people and longed to go back to Lahore but could not do so," she says.
The writer, who herself never had a ghostly encounter, has learnt a lot about their spooky ways through research and interviewing people who have experienced an interaction with a spirit or ghost.
"Ghosts prefer thick, dark groves, murky alleys and lonely spots, uninhabited forested paths, `bowlis` (natural water points) and springs. Ghosts and spirits love mountains," she adds.