How if someone on a night trail asked you if you believed in ghosts, and then vanished! This was probably the subject of a Russian story I read in my childhood. The fear of the unknown emanates from apprehension, and the unknown fear from obtainment, one intellectual, the other situational.
But I am talking about the stunning impact that some horrible thing can make, whether in imagination or when encountered. The heart going pit-a-pat or the brain freezing, the tongue going dry or the eyes bleeding tears, the palms sweating or the legs shaking, the face gone wooden or the scream vented no-holds-barred-is all what fear factors make up to and are made up of.
There was one Baad-Shahi Pul, a bridge on the canal that flowed past my village. This was about 4 kilometers towards the small town. Of the canal banks, one had smooth and motor-able road. We had heard innumerable stories that people not only were robbed there but also some saw apparitions and could not recover from near-fatal shocks. There were also the tales of those who were thrown into the waters from the bridge by the revengeful ghosts and witches.
The villagers had their own description of them. Generally, they donned loose, white drapes. Well on a lighter note, if ghosts and witches had gender, they did need to have clothes on, too. Another spot on the canal was a siphon, close to which on a denuded tree lived a "sar-kata bhoot", a headless ghost. I don't know if that could be more dreadful than a headless body. Eeesh! But yes, only a few diehards dared to go that side after sunset. People ascribed tales to the ghost under reference as someone who was done to death when his desires were only half fulfilled, and who was now taking revenge on all whom he happened to encounter.
Women in general were the ones to spread the stories of witches and vampires. I heard some say they heard giggles and groans, besides the jingle of pajebs worn on the anklets. On a lighter note, for whom did the witches make up their faces and wore jewellery? Women who lost their children soon after giving birth were said to be haunted by the "un-satiated" witches. Stillborns were said to be not only cursed but also born so because the witches "entered the wombs".
The spirit I dreaded the most in my childhood was "Sayyad". Stories were rife in the village that anyone meaning disgrace to Sayyad invited his ire to the extent that he would beat him up black and blue. People even showed villagers their bruises after Sayyad had thrashed, smashed, punched and bundled them, hard enough. I now wonder if he was a cop or a washer man! All my childhood beliefs now have been transformed into rational ideas, some to be discarded, and others to be preserved. "The will of the wisp" is just an explanation of things mysterious. firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a senior IPS officer in Haryana.)