Winding up to go home after nearly four years across the Bay, I was asked, “What will you miss most about Bangkok?”
That was easily answered: my friends, the engaging mix of Thais, Singaporeans, Japanese, farangs and Indians I was lucky to befriend in that busy place.
I’ll probably miss the easy affordability of Pan-Asian khana that everyone says is more expensive at home though it’s all available. And between us, though it sounds wholly daft, I’ll miss the ghosts and spirits — the bhoot, pisach and pey who seem to ‘exist’ freely in Thailand with respect and honour.
See, despite the rationalist education and outlook that we have to have, I, like many, have neither yielded to nor shied away from our other side where the interface between the known and the unknown is vividly articulated - those dark imaginings, that ecstasy of white light and cranes flying, the friendly tree and water spirits - you know.
So I was minimally polite at home to bhoot and pey with tiny nods and furtive namastes but never openly acknowledged them.
In Thailand however, bhoot-pey (called ‘poota’ and ‘phee’ in Thai) are openly respected in thousands of guardian-spirit shrines, with red and yellow threads around trees and through tattoos embodying spells and incantations and so on.
My defenses, while holding up against the strong Indian undertow, totally crumbled in Thailand and that too with a kind of moral relief that I could openly greet the spirits. I mean, many pey and pisach sound as interesting as the characters in English books or Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ that we’d pay a wodge to meet in print or in a musical. So why don’t we want to know interesting old spirits from the oral tradition for free?
A fond farewell anyhow to my building poota, the guardian spirit of my office skyscraper in Bangkok, to whom I did a big, bold wai (namaste) each time I went past its shrine. Getting stuck in the lift happens suddenly during the spectacular thunderstorms that are as common to Bangkok as dust-storms to Delhi. I’d like to think that this nice poota made sure I was never once stuck in the lift, something I was secretly terrified of.
If, but only if, you’re a closet respecter of spirits too shy to openly greet them at home, don’t hold back if you happen to be in the City of Angels. Just wai.