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It’s Halloween at the other end of the globe. Ironic, as I type away into the dead of the night while the world is celebrating the days of the dead. A friend from the States said his little daughter woke up all excited to ‘play spooky tricks’. For me, I think Halloween sets the tone for the festive seasons ahead -- Diwali, the festival of lights in India, and Christmas and the New Year the world over. I love this part of the year. It’s so autumn, autumn. And the chill in the air that touches the skin just feels right!

It was different when I was growing up. Festivities then began in end-November, the onset of a long, raucous winter holiday. And with it, reliving spooky tales.The place: my maternal village. Reinforcing the tales were my aunts and uncles who lived there. Every night, after dinner we would hop on to one big bed and then start the stories one by one -- the elders getting a thrill out of our very frightened looks.

The ones that immediately come to mind are of the fairies or "haloi" as we called them. And central to the stories was the huge bunyan-like tree, standing tall and spread majestically on the road near the house. A few km away was the river. On moonlit nights, my aunts told us that the fairies would come out from the tree and make a bee line for the river banks to dance away into the night. Sometimes they craved for human companions too. My childish reaction then: how did the fairies lure humans? Said my aunts, they would come by the window, tap, and seduce the most vulnerable of the lot. I spent all my nights half awake, making sure the lanterns were dimly lit, (the houses did not have electricity then), the mosquito net firmly tucked beneath the mattreses and a piece of iron by my side to shoo away all kinds of hallois.

For long, I feared the tall bamboo groves and the bunyan tree. One night my elder uncle said he was sleeping outside the house after returning back from watching a late night drama (the only source of entertainment then after projector-run movies played in the paddy fields) in a nearby village and he fell asleep on the verandah after no one heard his frantic knocks on the door. No sooner had he fallen asleep than he heard small footsteps and then sand being thrown at him. Groggily, he opened his eyes and saw little girls in playful mood. On chasing them, he said they disappeared into the bamboo groves. This isn't a spooky tale but a real story. The children we are told were good spirits, little angles or the halois.

And there's one more story that I, however, suspect was conconted by my younger uncle (he still denies its untrue). Those days, in the early eighties, with hardly any transportation, (people walked miles to reach their homes. Well, the village still doesn't boast of many facilites now and the transport has barely improved. Only a few three-wheelers and rickshaws ply). So, this one night, younger uncle said he was coming home late from the town.

As he crossed the river by boat, he noticed a man sitting on one end. He didn't realise till he reached a certain point that man was walking behind him. He turned back to strike a conversation, but what does he see? Man grows taller and taller and taller and taller, almost overpowering him. In his defence, younger uncle said he recited the mantras taught as kids to ward off evil spirits and sprinkled his urine on the growing man. He was told about the deadly consequences of looking back, so he ran and ran till he reached home. He fell ill for a few days. Grandma said when any human being encounters an evil spirit, he falls ill.

They are funny, but for years, these stories stood out in my mind. You can never tell about ghosts or angels, I feared them both even more, as I became aware of their existence after these tales and more. In truth, I still believe in them. After all, there are still some things that modern sciences cannot explain. Time to grab a drink!


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