Decades ago when Kolkata was still called Calcutta and hardship for me only meant class exams, I met a ghost.
Those days, summers were extra special. Long holidays, abundant juicy mangoes and the topping – our yearly visit to grandpa and granny.
Spacious garden to play all-day long, trips with Grandpa and royal delicacies by Granny. It was heaven on earth. Then at dusk, when light fell aslant from departing sun, we, me and my sister, sat close to Granny. She would open her Pandora’s box, stocked with tales of an eclectic crop of ghosts. The Bengali ghosts in those stories, the GechhoBhoot, MechhoBhoot, MamdoBhoot, Shankhachunni, Brahmadaitya and so on, were scary, but, like their human counterparts of the same ethnicity, were too gastronomically inclined. While some ghosts had an appetite for fish, others craved sweets, both of which are well-known Bengali proclivities. The opulence of such tales gradually led to our normalcy of accepting the presence of ghosts in the fabric of our daily life and we believed, meeting them is just a matter of time.
Now one particular summer, when I was studying in class 4 or 5, on reaching there, we realised something was amiss. Grandpa strictly forbade us to visit Chhordadu’s (Grandpa’s brother) house, which was adjacent to our building. We didn’t understand much, but, heard words like land, court and advocates. Anyways, we were too young to be deterred by such inconsequential problems. Soon, our attention was drawn by another weird occurrence.
On our each visit, Grandpa would bring varieties of fish in the house to feast on. Usually Chhordadu’s family would join us in the sumptuous repast, but, this time, for reason beyond our comprehension, their participation was missing. Nevertheless, each day there was a shortage in the pieces of fish. Granny would blame Grandpa’s marketing skill and Grandpa would be confused. But, we cracked the riddle. Must be the job of the Mechhobhoot( fish-craving ghosts)!
So that evening we kept a close watch while Granny cooked the meal. Surprisingly, she took out some pieces of fishes from the curry and put it on the window slab before leaving kitchen. And we waited with baited breath behind the door, for the live ghost show!
After sometime, a sari clad figure appeared near the window, with face hidden. It took the fishes and was going away when the veil slipped, revealing the face. Chhordida!!(Wife of grandpa’s brother)
We rushed to Granny with our newly found revelation.
“Granny, Chhordida is the Mechhobhoot!”
She kept quiet for a second and then gravely replied, “ These ghosts take the form of your near ones to befool. But, never share this with anyone. Else we’ll all fall under the curse of ghosts.”
We were scared enough to keep mum.
Years later when we realised how one sister-in-law was helping the not-so-fortunate one at the time of a feud, this ‘Mechhobhoot’ would often provide us solace and restored our faith in this otherwise haunting human world.
Brahmadaityo, the Brahman ghost – Brahmadaityo is an intelligent kind of ghost. He prefers the high vantage point of the bel gaach (bilva tree) and he usually likes to interact with humans and give them boons.
Shankhachunni – ghost of a married woman. It wears a Shankha( bangle made from conch shell), hence Shankhachunni.
Mecho Bhoot – If a Bengali’s love for fish stays on after his time is over, he supposedly becomes a mecho bhoot( fish is Mach in bengali). He lusts after fish and because he has no money, prefers to steal it from fishermen. Worse, he may also rob or scare it off from someone. Can be female too.
Mamdo – Yes, ghosts are also religious. Mamdo is only a male Muslim ghost who keeps a long beard.
Gechho bhoot – These ghosts live in trees, hence the name “gechho”, which comes from the Bengali word for trees – gachh.