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When the scary comes to stay

It’s that time of the year again. Shops arrange pumpkins of various sizes in a strategic spot meant to catch the eyes of shoppers and dangle plastic skeletons or costumes or masks with skulls and bones in anticipation of the upcoming Halloween “festival”. For some of us, adult or child, “celebrating” Halloween is not confined to carving pumpkins and stocking up sweets for youngsters who come trick-or-treating. We get into the “spirit” of the whole thing, find ourselves the most gory-looking costumes, spring up on others from the darkness, and generally get as grisly as we can. When we were young, while we too advantage of numerous occasions to celebrate, somehow Halloween was not on our list. This could have been because our everyday life in large old bungalows in lonely areas was spooky enough, especially when our parents were out at some official evening party and windows and doors creaked and groaned like they do in scary movies; or it could have been because we had older siblings and cousins who embellished normal stories to make them as horrifying as possible. They waited until the house was dark and shadowy during a power cut and then they started their tales. They used sound effects for maximum impact: Their voices would fall to a whisper and we would strain to hear what they were saying — and then a sudden screech or the grip of fingernails on our necks would have us clutching each other and screaming for our lives! Having been one of the “victims” whose fears were played upon in those long ago days, I naturally resolved, when I reached adulthood and thought I had overcome my dread of the dark, that there was no way I was going to do the same to others. So, Halloween was not talked about, scary stories were not narrated at night or at any time of day (although I secretly created a written collection of them), and I thought we had led our child past all “unnecessary” interest in the macabre — until suddenly we found him and his ten-year-old friends swinging dark cloaks, wearing masks with vampire teeth and painted blood dripping down their faces, all ready to wander the streets of our gated community in the late evening, to try their hand at scaring unwary walkers. They were not afraid that someone else, larger and more threatening, would pounce on them or would have a scarier costume; they had none of the fears that had held us back or made us hold them back through the years! Everything was obviously out of our hands. The scary had come to stay! Staying locked in a coffin Apparently, then, there are many who have a taste for the macabre; who love to hear of ghosts and ghouls, and even when they are young, clamour for tales that give them goosebumps! That probably explains why there are actually challenges that require a person to stay locked in a coffin for a certain number of hours and there are offers for tourists to check into jail cells for a night of confinement! I can quite understand visiting an abandoned jail like the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands or Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay or the innocent looking cells at Ahmednagar Fort where Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian freedom fighters were imprisoned — but to actually stay in one of them? To hear the doors clanging as we are shut in? In addition to sheer daring — and a shutdown switch on an overactive imagination — doesn’t one also need a huge amount of optimism to go ahead with something like that, firm in the belief that someone will definitely let one out the following day? — Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.

It’s that time of the year again. Shops arrange pumpkins of various sizes in a strategic spot meant to catch the eyes of shoppers and dangle plastic skeletons or costumes or masks with skulls and bones in anticipation of the upcoming Halloween “festival”.

For some of us, adult or child, “celebrating” Halloween is not confined to carving pumpkins and stocking up sweets for youngsters who come trick-or-treating. We get into the “spirit” of the whole thing, find ourselves the most gory-looking costumes, spring up on others from the darkness, and generally get as grisly as we can.

When we were young, while we too advantage of numerous occasions to celebrate, somehow Halloween was not on our list.

This could have been because our everyday life in large old bungalows in lonely areas was spooky enough, especially when our parents were out at some official evening party and windows and doors creaked and groaned like they do in scary movies; or it could have been because we had older siblings and cousins who embellished normal stories to make them as horrifying as possible. They waited until the house was dark and shadowy during a power cut and then they started their tales. They used sound effects for maximum impact: Their voices would fall to a whisper and we would strain to hear what they were saying — and then a sudden screech or the grip of fingernails on our necks would have us clutching each other and screaming for our lives!

Having been one of the “victims” whose fears were played upon in those long ago days, I naturally resolved, when I reached adulthood and thought I had overcome my dread of the dark, that there was no way I was going to do the same to others.

So, Halloween was not talked about, scary stories were not narrated at night or at any time of day (although I secretly created a written collection of them), and I thought we had led our child past all “unnecessary” interest in the macabre — until suddenly we found him and his ten-year-old friends swinging dark cloaks, wearing masks with vampire teeth and painted blood dripping down their faces, all ready to wander the streets of our gated community in the late evening, to try their hand at scaring unwary walkers. They were not afraid that someone else, larger and more threatening, would pounce on them or would have a scarier costume; they had none of the fears that had held us back or made us hold them back through the years!

Everything was obviously out of our hands. The scary had come to stay!

Staying locked in a coffin

Apparently, then, there are many who have a taste for the macabre; who love to hear of ghosts and ghouls, and even when they are young, clamour for tales that give them goosebumps!

That probably explains why there are actually challenges that require a person to stay locked in a coffin for a certain number of hours and there are offers for tourists to check into jail cells for a night of confinement!

I can quite understand visiting an abandoned jail like the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands or Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay or the innocent looking cells at Ahmednagar Fort where Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian freedom fighters were imprisoned — but to actually stay in one of them? To hear the doors clanging as we are shut in?

In addition to sheer daring — and a shutdown switch on an overactive imagination — doesn’t one also need a huge amount of optimism to go ahead with something like that, firm in the belief that someone will definitely let one out the following day?

— Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.

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