Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India (HB)
Author: J Furcifer Bhairav, Rakesh Khanna
9789380636467 | HB | pp. 456 | 2020 | Blaft Publications
Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India, with 353 entries (722 if you include subtypes), is described as “an encyclopedia of evil entities and folkloric fiends from across the country, from Ladakh to Kerala, Lakshadweep to Nagaland, Naraka to Tuchenkwaka” and features illustrations by Appupen, Priya Kuriyan and Samita Chatterjee, among others. It also includes poetry by Joseph Furtado and Jyoti Prasad Agarwala.
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This anthology includes short stories, poetry, myths and more, and beautifully balances the macabre with the whimsical, the eerie with the humorous. While the alphabetical categorisation gives it an encyclopaedia-like feel, the writing is far from pedantic. The authors have taken pains to point out the nuanced differences between species, and draw attention to the connections between similar apparitions from different regions. Co-author Rakesh Khanna cites the example of a hunter-ghost from Kumaon called Airi, who has eyes on top of his head and venomous spit. “It seems to be almost the same entity as the spectre huntsman in Malaysia called Hantu Pemburu. It is very curious to me how this fellow got from Kumaon to Malaysia without leaving a footprint in between!” He hopes readers will look “beyond the nationalist tendency to promote a very narrow, monolithic view of what Indian religion is supposed to be, and step back and look at the tremendous diversity of ideas and stories around evil, death, the supernatural, and the afterlife that we have in this country.”
Apart from being a rolodex of ghosts monsters and demons, the book is also a record of how they have evolved over history. Many monsters, for instance, come out of traveller’s tales. Similarly, Muslim invasions brought new classes of ghosts – jinns, shaitans and ifrits, along with more localised ones like the Khavee, supposedly the ghosts of Pathan warriors from Afghanistan, or the elf-like Tasrufdars of Kashmir who are very annoyed if the springs they live in get polluted, an early eco-ghost. With the arrival of the British, a new class of ghosts emerged.
Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India provides a much-needed escape to an entirely different kind of world. And whether you already have an interest in the subject or are approaching the book as a card-carrying scaredy-cat, you are sure to find something in it that will make you laugh, wince and, yes, look over your shoulder.
J Furcifer Bhairav, Rakesh Khanna
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