Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, October 27, 2011

By Nutboltu

Nothing instils fear into the hearts of men (and women) like the fear of losing hair. Or ghosts, which can incidentally lead to the occurrence of the former. Hence, Halloween, the occasion that celebrates all things scary like ghosts, spooks, monsters, and Lady Gaga, is now the second most commercially lucrative holiday after Christmas. So why do people love to be sacred so much? This includes people who say otherwise. We have some pretty shifty characters here in Bangladesh.

Most of our ghosts involve spirits of those who cannot find peace in the afterlife or die unnatural deaths. They remain on Earth to torment the others into joining them. Ghosts are lonely people you know.

Take for example Shaakchunni. It's the ghost of a married female that wears bangles. According to our extensive research (two people and the millions on Google), this particular ghost has a fondness for the wives of rich men. Some say they take over the live women and live their lives. That means the wives of Arab sheikhs are the primary targets. Contradiction comes up when some say they live in mango trees.

But women power plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh's ghostly culture. Petni is a female ghost. Unmarried this time. Usually, they've committed some sort of crime like murder or watching too many Hindi soaps and trying to live them. These are vicious (like the women of Hindi soaps) and are apparently very human until attacked. Legend has it that you can identify them by their feet; backward feet. So that actually makes them very safe to deal with. How fast can they run before they trip up? No wonder they are always feeling vicious.

Then there's Chorachunni, a thief ghost. Less vicious and more mischievous, these are apparently the souls of dead thieves. You know how you can never find matching socks, how the other pair often goes missing? Well, blame it on thief ghosts.

But why let humanoid ghosts have all the fun? Animals need to be scared too. For them, there's Pecha-pechi. Pecha in Bangla means owl so it's not surprising this ghost is in the shape of an owl and hunts at night. While owls look cute and cuddly and great as a friend for wizards, Penchapechi consumes its victim. Speaking of animals, there's Mechho, a ghost that likes all things 'mecho' or fishy. They are known to live near village ponds full of fish. So, when fish go missing from your cooking pot believe your maid when she says it was the mecho.

Continuing on our fishy trip, Maal is our local version of the mermaid. Beautiful, obviously because no one has seen one and the imagination reserves creative license. Maal drags unsuspecting people into the water, drowning them. If you don't know how to swim, you will be 'maal-ed'. Bad joke, but then, it's a bad ghost. They are also called “Asib” is some places.

Incidentally, all these ghosts we speak of generally work at night. Makes you wonder what their day job is. This brings about Nishi which is literally night. It's a prank calling ghost. It lures people to a secluded area by calling to the person with the voice of a loved one. Then that person is never seen again. There's a way to avoid them too. They can only call out twice. If you ask them to call you once more, and they can't, that's the clue that if you follow, you'll die. Or disappear. Or become a Nishi yourself. So that's a bit like rebirth. Only you come back as a ghost.

These are the popular, or rather the most unpopular ones. Our culture is rife with everything taking on a ghostly shape. Diseases are caused by Mamdo Bhoot. We imagine them to be shaped like bacteria. Even marsh gas is known to be a ghost. Aleya is the name given to the gas which disorients fishermen, making them lose their bearings and then dying. Quite a common thing, this dying part.

Of course, nothing is more dead than a dead ghost. But what about a ghost without a head itself? Kondhokata, literally meaning ''headless ghost'' is one that has definitely lost all bearings. Headless ghosts in the shape of humans, animals or politicians are quite common in the UK and Ireland. You even have ghosts that are the result of people being particularly eaten by tigers. Begho Bhoot, they are known as. Seems ghosts become quite mean when they die. Begho tries to scare other people who enter the jungle and put them in front of tigers.

So basically, they end up serving the very animal that killed them. Apparently when you die, logic dies with you. To be replaced by a misplaced idea of vengeance.

Even trees aren't safe. There are ghosts in trees, on trees or even the trees themselves. We've got trucks and buses that kill people. It is quite clear that ghosts are predominantly evil, especially Bangla ones. They are nothing like Patrick Swayze in 1990's Ghost, all handsome, witty and helpful. Our ghosts are more like Justin Bieber; scary, annoying and scary. That's why local culture has mothers putting a big round black mark on their children's forehead to save them from the effects of the evil eye. We should put a black mark on our forehead when Bieber releases another album.

In the meantime, Halloween comes by and no one in Bangladesh really pays attention. Not Hallmark, not pirs and fokirs and not your lawmakers. Our Bangladeshi ghosts are a vicious lot, and being ignored isn't making them any happier.



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