The number of stories is designed to be perfect – unlucky 13 with all those memories of associated deaths, a ghostly follower on a lonely road and other such chills. Shinie Anthony has gathered together a bookful of shivers from an assortment of authors. The paranormal experiences span KR Meera, Durjoy Dutta, Kanishk Tharoor and Ispita Roy Chakerverti to name a few. Jerry Pinto pops in to do a horrifying Stephen King number which is a commentary more on the nature of the Indian system and what it propagates that is the true horror story rather than paranormal activities. Some of the stories are haunted more by sadness than fear — and many deal with the subject of handling grief in a world where loss is all too common as Jhanavi Barua does. Her protagonist has lost a son and is coming to grips with that in Shillong until she chooses to distract herself with another kind of reality.
The authors have been given the freedom to let their imaginations loose in whichever direction suits them. Whether ghoul of goblin or things that go bump in the night. All the stories are evocative though some more gentle than others. What we do realise is that women are the most affected by spooks — there are very few terrified male protagonists barring the ones in Shashi Deshpande’s and Shinie Antony’s stories who are haunted more by memory than anything else. Feminists may have something to object to perhaps unless they consent to a willing suspension of disbelief.
There is also a strong association between love and the paranormal as well as men’s fears of women. Ipsita Roy Chakerverti’s story is a meditation on why women are accused of being daayens and is possibly an experience straight out of her actual paranormal experiences. KR Meera is a woman determined to spend the night in the bungalow where her lover was murdered and manages to be as indestructible as the ghoul that materialises, surviving crushed ribs and a nightgown in flames — of course, those could be metaphorical rather than anything else. Usha KR contributes a story of a presence which may or may not be an alter ego, Kiran Manral brings in the dream of a baby clawing out of the womb — linking back to Durjoy Datta’s story of hired wombs and a curse.
The question is, is it all spooky or are many of the situations psychological? Until one has precise confirmation of the paranormal which is visible to all and sundry, it has to be explored in the sense of hallucinations, drug overdoses or crises de nerfs, all of which are valid viewpoints because each is terrifying in its own different way. What Boo explores goes deeper than the superficial paranormal description to a kind of embedded collective wisdom.
Boo has a hair-raising note to it because the paranormal, as it appears, has on many occasions a malicious edge.
Anjana Basu is the author of Rhythms of Darkness