As the batter slid smoothly down from the ladle into each mould of my paniyaram pan, the loud sizzles emanating from the hot oil reminded me of something- The ghostly roar of a violent downpour! And my conditioned mind quickly retrieved spooky visuals to associate it with- Visuals of lashing rains accompanied by eerie music when the breathless subject on screen runs to escape the unknown entity that’s been haunting her…visuals of a small boy running in the rain, chasing his paper-boat that finds its way into a haunted drain….visuals of a paranormal investigator pounding the door of a haunted house, trying to save her husband from a demonic nun…visuals that my mind has gathered from the countless on-screen rain/storm-horror sequences that have left a lasting impression on me!
I’m not sure how or when I started to enjoy this genre. In fact, at the very beginning, horror stories terrified me. They’d give me sleepless nights. Even the smallest rustle at night would spook me out. And to top it, there was always someone to fuel my fear! My brother and my cousins played an active part- sometimes with stories of ghost-sighting, and sometimes with tales of their supernatural experiences. They’re such great story-tellers. The sequences in their stories were so seamlessly woven and narrated to perfection, that I believed every word they said!
The Stairway Ghost was one of the first I heard about. One of my cousins, the same age as me, had a favourite pastime back then. It constituted scaring the wits out of me with the story of a blood-sucking ghost that lived on the dark stairway leading to the 3rd floor of their apartment building. He told me how the occupants of the 3rd floor often noticed bloody footprints on the stairway. For me, this story was terrifying to say the least! I have a vivid memory of how every time I heard footsteps coming down that stairway, I’d imagine some abhorrent creature making its descent. I’d hold my breath and run for life!
The Resurrected Watchman was another one. Some of my most memorable summer holidays were spent at my uncle’s place in a town called Kavali, neighbouring Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. Although his two sons are much older than me, I’ve always loved their company for two reasons- their unmatched wit and humor, and their remarkable story-telling skills. One of their stories was about a night watchman who lived in their college campus. They told me how one night, while casually strolling through the college grounds they spotted the night watchman and had a chat with him. The next morning however, when they mentioned this encounter to some of their friends, their responses came as a shock. “That’s not possible” their friends said. “The man died 2 days ago!”
To this day, I can’t forget how this story sent chills down my spine!
The Presence in the Attic & the Spooky Basement Door are the most unforgettable. On my first visit to the US, I stayed with my brother and sister-in-law for 3 months. While weekends with them were a lot of fun, I didn’t have much to do on weekdays, other than watching TV, reading books, and waiting for my brother and s-i-l to get back from work. The dark, cold winter of Michigan was a stark contrast to the bright, hot days in my hometown. My ears and eyes which were accustomed to the busy, noisy streets of my neighborhood found the peace and silence of this new place quite eerie.
My dearest brother, who’d miss no chance to trick me, saw great opportunity in the way I felt about being alone in the house. One morning, just before leaving for work, he pointed to the attic door and said in a rather matter-of-fact way, “You know, sometimes this attic door opens by itself. And I’ve heard noises from up there. But don’t worry about it. If you see it opening, just ignore!” That was more than enough to leave me terrorized! As ignorant as I was, I had no clue that strong winds could sometimes suck the attic boards up into the attic. So I curled up inside a blanket and stay put on the couch in their living room the whole day, somehow imagining that spot to be my safe haven!
But what transpired has remained the scariest event of my life! From the spot where I lay on the couch, I heard and saw the basement door creak open. I watched the gap from the door-frame to the door gradually widen. This was accompanied by a mild screech and a rhythmic sound of scratching. I was petrified. I could feel my heart pounding. My hands and feet turned cold. I had no courage to get up and find out what was happening. I didn’t want to move, as if my slightest movement would draw the attention of whatever it was behind that door! With half-closed eyes, in utter panic, all I could do was call out to Hanuman for help! Slowly, I gathered enough courage to lift myself up to a sitting position. I could still see nothing but the door opening. In utter horror, I stood up on shaking legs and took a few steps forward, getting ready to run out of the house. That’s when I saw the black, furry creature crawl out. Startled, I let out a shriek when Jazz, my s-i-l’s cat sprang from the half-open doorway, gave me one angry look and sped past me, meowing. I’d never imagined that little Jazz, who mostly remained snuggled-up among the clothes in my s-i-l’s walk-in closet, would give me a bloodcurdling, near-paranormal experience!
It’s perhaps these stories and experiences that laid the foundation for my penchant for horror flicks. The ongoing sense of lurking danger and imminent harm projected on-screen somehow started to appeal to me. Somewhere along the way I began to like how thrilling the whole experience was, and began enjoying the creepiness of this genre!
Or is it that the taste for horror movies just runs in the blood? My brother and cousins too are avid horror-film buffs, after all! So blame it on our genes! That explains why I can’t control my cravings for these flicks. But then, why should I?
Paniyaram- An Indian dish made with fermented rice-lentil batter
Hanuman– Hindu God worshipped to gain courage and strength