Sunday, 6 December 2015

Ghost stories from Goa

                                                             Carpe Diem, Majorda
                                                         Saturday, 5 December 2015

When I became aware that Jessica was reading from her book on ghost stories from Goa at Carpe Diem, Majorda, I was delighted.  A 4 p.m. timing Saturday, suited me fine and if it wound up as it said by 6 p.m. that would give me enough time to dodge the ghosts round the bend at Cansaulim on my way back to Vasco. I also liked the nominal fee for participating in the reading. After all writers must eat too.

A series of ghostly readings with my class from Jessica's book led us to sharings in the class where students spoke of ghost sightings at Borim, Ponda, Cansaulim, Sonsoddo, and of course Raia. These included a woman who ran past drivers and jumped into the well at Borim bridge and viewings of a bridal couple asking for a lift at dead of night. There is also the mentioning of a wedding hall in Salcette where the ghost took the shape of the bride and danced with the groom. When the real bride came, the imposter disappeared.  

After a hearty biryani at Camilo's beach side shack at Majorda beach, I stepped in for the session in the impeccably maintained old house at Godinho vaddo, Majorda, Goa. The place had a tremendous sense of atmosphere which was the most important element in a ghost story besides emotion and plot. Jessica shared with us her earliest instance of seeing the curtains sway and the rocking chair rock with no breeze at her family home at Raia. The incident features in her story 'Jacinto.' 'The Princess' was developed from the lore of Sophia College, Mumbai which does have a library where a princess is buried. What was important was how to integrate different elements to make a story work. Detail was extremely important. These 'bread crumbs' as Jessica put it enabled the reader to make connections and piece together the events of the story.

Stories worked through common memes which included mirrors, children, houses, trees, water and birds. Jessica had read the work of several writers of ghost stories before she embarked on her own. Venita Coelho's Washers of the Dead, a feminist collection came in for special mention as The Turn of the Screw (1898)by Henry James, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Poe's 'The Masque of Red Death.' (1842). A survey of the Gothic novels like Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole set the pace for Victorian Gothic. Dickens' story 'A Christmas Carol' (1843) is about 3 ghosts who chastise a miser named Scrooge. Jessica spoke then of Empire Gothic which held sway from 1830 to 1930. Vikram Chandra's Love and Longing in Bombay was also discussed for the ghost story in 'Dharma.' The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories was a source book of incidents. The earliest antecedents of the ghost story could be seen in the work of Homer, Pliny and our own Kathasaritsgar.(11th century). Rocking in a sea of literature my desire to read more was rekindled by Jessica's own dedication to her ouevre.

An essay which had a profound influence on Jessica was Freud on the uncanny. Freud describes the uncanny as the familiar which is set beside the unfamiliar. As Jessica reached into the memories of childhood, the subconscious and spirits it became clear that this was a vast territory waiting to be explored. Afterlife which was a framed narrative, i.e. a story within a story, could be studied as individual stories or as a novella. At any rate students with whom I read some of the stories were touched and awed by the power of the writing and the realism of the incidents. As one student said the next morning quite shaken, 'I couldn't sleep last night.' This was after we had read the story 'The Shortcut.' One student who is working on her own story is weaving it out of her own experience of watching a bird like the kogul in her village. 'Everytime a kogul is seen in our village, someone has to die,' she says.
Jessica Faleiro, Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa. New Delhi: Rupa, 2012. Pix by Brian Mendonca

1 comment:

malyan said...

Shiver...Ghosts and me don't get along so I sleep with the lights on.however poetic prose on the supernatural such as this whets my appetite to run into an apparition