The World of Spirits The world of spirits has always been a fascinating subject for human beings. When I say ‘spirits’, I do not mean the bottled ones that come with a variety of intriguing names which are as intoxicating as their contents. What I mean is the ones that get separated from human bodies upon death. This is one mystery that man is unable to unravel except through his esoteric ruminations which are usually interspersed with mind-boggling words like Atma, prana, pretha etc that only confuse the uninitiated more and more. I have no intention of leading you through such a contemplative route but instead will discuss spirits as we know of them from stories and films. Every one who has had the privilege of listening to their old aunts and grandmothers telling stories of kings pitted against spirits would have some rough idea about the habits and appearances of spirits. My maternal grandma was a firm believer in spirits and she kept seeing them in action now and then. Once she was spending a few days with me when I was working at Tuticorin. I had rented an old independent house there as I had my parents living with me and I had just got married. It was a spacious house with very large rooms and we were quite happy there, until of course my grandma arrived. The very first night of her arrival, she looked up at the ceiling and shouted ‘What are you doing here? Go away!’ On hearing her addressing an empty space, we were rattled. If I say, my blood froze on seeing her uncanny behaviour, it would be putting it mildly. From next day, everyone including my DW started seeing what my grandma was seeing and in less than three days, I became as pale as a dead fish in deep freezer. We waited for my grandma to leave after her horror-filled holiday with us and quietly changed the house thereafter! Many people believe that there are benevolent spirits and evil ones. They try to communicate with the good ones through a ‘medium’ About a few decades back, a girl called Amudha was creating waves in Chennai with her ability to communicate with the dead. She was called ‘Aavi’ Amudha! I have seen people thronging to her séance to seek guidance from their dead ancestors on vexatious issues. When they were alive, they were just totally ignored! People believe that the spirits of the dead acquire special powers. There are a few Ouija Board operators who live around the Madras Race Club to predict the winning horses! Many may not know that all spirits are not the same and they are classified according to their characteristics. Let us take a look at them one by one. A good spirit is called ‘aavi’. They are invariably dressed in spotless white and they love dressing up with anklets, bangles, flowers et al. They put up their appearance at dead of night and move around very gracefully surrounded by a whiff of luminous white smoke. They sing very well and captivate people with lilting songs like ‘Naane varuven’ and ‘Naina barse rim jhim’. They do not disturb anyone unless you find their music disturbing. They are mostly jilted lovers who commit suicide. They have a nasty habit of vanishing when the desperately chasing man gets too close to them. A ‘pei’ or ghost is the diametrically opposite version of ‘aavi’. They are very ugly and have a very bad dress sense. In fact, their ugliness is accentuated by the manner in which they dress. They dress to kill in the literal sense as many have been scared to death by their attire alone! They usually have two gaping holes where they had their eyes when alive. They hate music and are famous for making hideous noise to announce their arrival. Ghosts also are nocturnal creatures with a few exceptions like Alberto Moravia's Ghost at Noon! Their intentions are quite questionable and many even consider them evil. There may be an occasional well-intentioned like ‘Kalyanaraman’ who not only allows his brother to love the girl that he was himself in love with when alive but helps him to marry her too! They are all supposed to be spirits of people who get murdered. Bootham and Pisasu are the same except that a bootham represents the spirit of obese people. Boothams are usually ravenously hungry in keeping with their size. There are many other versions of spirits and most of them are distinguished by their activities. The latest addition to the list is the ‘Kaadal pisasu’ (Love ghost). I do not have much information on this latest addition and would love to be enlightened by any of you who may have any first hand information about it!