These days, he leaves his home with a bag full of gadgets every night to spend it under a roadside peepal tree, not far from his apartment in Sector 9, Dwarka. Gaurav Tiwari, 28, a professional paranormal investigator, sits in the dark all night under the tree, walks around it, climbs it - scanning the tree and surrounding areas with his gadgets.
The reason: His ghost-hunting mission. "Many call centre executives travelling back home from Gurgaon at night have complained that whenever they pass this tree, an invisible hand slaps them hard. Then they see an old, haggard woman running behind their vehicles. They believe the tree is haunted and I am trying to ascertain if it's true," says Tiwari.
A typical day in the 28-year-old's diary begins with his sleeping through the day; it ends in graveyards and ruins across the city, where he hunts for ghosts. William Dalrymple described Delhi as a city of djinns, and Tiwari has taken to believe in it literally. "The city has several haunted graveyards, houses and ancient ruins. Last week, I spent the night at Jamali Kamali in Mehrauli with my team. About 1am, we started hearing fierce growling at short intervals of time. The growling followed us all the way to my home in Dwarka. We have even recorded this paranormal activity on our EVP recorder," he says.
Ask him how he ended up as a ghost-hunter and he says it wasn't his original plan. He wanted to be a pilot and had gone to the US to get trained as one in 2007. He had shifted to a new apartment in DeLand, Florida with his batch-mates, when the latter began to complain of footsteps and faint voices in their rooms. They were convinced that the house was haunted.
"I was brought up in a family of non-believers, so I dismissed their fears as baseless. But then, one day, when I was alone in the room, I too heard footsteps behind me. Someone even softly spoke my name in my ear. I thought I was hallucinating, but my one of my roommates saw an apparition almost at the same time," he says.
That was the day when Tiwari's life took a turn. Curious and determined to solve this mystery, he enrolled himself in ParaNexus Association - an organisation that "focuses on researching and understanding the human condition through scientific study of aerial, physical and anomalous phenomenon" - even as he continued his training for being a pilot. The course required him to conduct field investigations at haunted houses, hospitals, graveyards, sanitariums, factories and hostels. "I completed 80 field investigations across the US and became a certified paranormal investigator," he says.
He returned to India in 2009 but instead of pursuing a career as a pilot, he founded the Indian Paranormal Society, India's first association of 'dedicated paranormal investigators'. "In the US, people are quite open about paranormal experiences. But here in India, if you talk about such experiences, you are either considered superstitious or illiterate. My friends and relatives thought I had gone crazy," says Tiwari, who was born and brought up in Lucknow.
Today Tiwari, who is single, is a much sought-after ghost-hunter. Every week, he receives five to seven calls from cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Panaji, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata and Patna from people who want him to detect ghosts in their houses. "A lot of calls come from West Bengal. We not just detect paranormal activities but also give counselling and help people learn to communicate with spirits. So far, we have helped over 200 people," says the suave, soft-spoken Tiwari, who looks more like a techie than a ghost-hunter.
His last assignment was from a shopkeeper in northwest Delhi's Burari who had complained of items disappearing in thin air from his hand when he picked them to give them to customers. "After investigation, I found that his house was haunted by a couple who had died there many years ago," says Tiwari. He also recounted another of his innumerable paranormal experiences: "I went to a graveyard in Paharganj in the middle of the night and heard a woman singing and a man shouting in pain. We recorded the sounds on our EVP recorders. We also saw an illuminated face of a baby on a tree that had graves of children around it."
But not all of the so-called haunted spaces are really haunted, he says. In fact, he has detected paranormal activities in only 5 per cent of the places he has visited so far. "The rest can be explained scientifically. Only those phenomena that defy scientific explanation in a lab can be considered paranormal," he adds.
Tiwari also claims to have debunked many myths relating to haunted places, including that of Bhangarh - an old, ruined fort in Rajasthan, which is considered one of the most haunted places in the world. In fact, it is believed that whosoever visited the fort at night has never returned. "I spent two nights there, and here I am talking to you," Tiwari smiles.
The paranormal investigator carries with him a bag full of gadgets on all his missions. These gadgets include electromagnetic field meter, infra-red thermometer, electronic voice phones (EVP), full spectrum cameras. These devices, he says, can detect manipulations in electromagnetic field and temperatures, and thus trace paranormal activity. "Spirits are also made of energy. So if there is a disruption in the electromagnetic field, it is a sign of paranormal activity," Tiwari says. In fact, he claims to have recorded his conversations with ghosts on the recorder and taken pictures of several paranormal phenomena. "Visit my home and I will show them to you," he says.
But doesn't the idea of a ghost scare him? No, he says and adds that ghosts are harmless. "Spirits are the conscious of living beings that survive physical death," he says.
But there's an irony. Even as Tiwari is earning name and fame as a ghost-hunter, he is yet to turn his Hyderabad-based parents into believers of paranormal activity. "But they are happy about what I am doing, " he says. And what do his Dwarka neighbours think of him? "They feel safe in my company," chuckles Tiwari.