Some old ghosts do not seem to go away from New Road, which boasts the famous Peepalbot, where people always had more liberty than many other places to say what they felt like. For decades, discerning individuals used the Peepal tree as a symbolic space to defend ideals like freedom and democracy. On the flip side, however, shrewd manipulators used the same platform under the tree to circulate doubtful claims, outright propaganda and mischievous rumours. In both situations, the tree inspired free speech. Near that icon Monday, a ghost rumour brought traffic movement to a sudden halt, disrupting the business in the busy hub of the capital for hours. The rumour had a ghost appearing in a five-storey house nearby. The dubious claim reached deeper in the midst of an anxious crowd gathering around the house. In no time, somebody said the ghost had slapped and injured a television journalist, who was there to shoot the house, which had remained unoccupied for a long time. The TV crew was there to cover the story of the ‘haunted house’ with the help of an astrologer and architecture expert. To the expert, an electricity transformer and transmission lines near the house caused unusual effects on the tenants who had left the house.
Many of us have come across one or the other unsubstantiated rumour about ghosts appearing in the graveyards and houses where, for example, young girls and boys, who died unnaturally, were buried. Our friends and relatives have the propensity to share these stories with a weird kind of confidence about the existence of the spirit of the dead influencing the spirit of the living. Oftentimes, however, sheer mischief, deliberate disinformation, jealousy and malicious intent help the rumour mill to churn out false statements and salacious pieces of gossip. These rumours later take on a life of their own. People stop bothering to check the facts.
The media, being part of the popular culture, see a story in these rumours. To them, mysteries make news. Bizarre ghosts provide a sensational, saleable angle to appeal to the eager ears and eyes of the unsuspecting audiences. In a culture where even the leaders in politics, society and business make flimsy public statements devoid of solid evidence and fact, the common people are naturally falling prey to one or the other kind of rumour or propaganda almost daily. So misinformation and misinterpretation of facts abound in our society. We do not even hesitate to call ourselves ‘hallai hallako desh’, meaning a country full of rumours. In the daily stream of these rumors, the ghost story was only a momentary break. It became a compelling media story because it resonated with our culture. We try to have our kids go to sleep with lullabies and, failing that, invoke stories of ghosts. Now some among us grow up to be skeptical about ghosts while others believe in their existence. However, all of us would be better off if we could know the nature of the living ghosts running the rumour mill.