Ghosts From the Past

Our paper skeleton didn’t look half scary. To be honest, he had such a goofy smile on his paper face that he couldn’t scare anyone even if he started jumping on the parapet. By his side, our felt-paper witch stood demurely, waiting it out till the sparkle on her hat dried.

“They make quite a pair, don’t they?” I asked Mom, nudging her as she put some final touches on to our jack-o-lantern. It was quite a task placing it at a location where our curious cats wouldn’t be able to overturn it and create a fire hazard. I watched as she carefully set it aglow and put the lid back on. The stairway lit up – a soft, gleaming light that dispelled all melancholic thoughts of early winter, even from my granddad’s mind. He joined us in looking at it and also dropped a few chocolates into the owl-shaped pouch we had hung by the window. We hadn’t explained to him yet what it was that we were celebrating. But he knew very well that chocolates were universal tokens of celebration.

Right from the first time I had read about Halloween, in one of those 365-facts-for-your-year book, it had captivated me. I loved the idea of lighting a lantern in your yard to scare ghosts away. I loved the idea of distributing chocolates and cookies and other little treats from the bakery. As for the decorations and costumes, especially the hats, I totally loved them too. Mom, always eager to join in for anything I was enthusiastic about, helped me put together knicks and knacks for the festival each year. We would always have a lantern, a few would-be-scary decorations, and a bag of goodies to share with the family.

Last year in Pune, R carved out for me the biggest lantern I have ever had. He pored over it laboriously, cutting and scraping with immense concentration, even as I fooled around making mock-videos. We put it out in our balcony later, amidst curious stares from the neighbours, and sat by it munching sweetmeats and discussing the onset of winter. Our maid was worried about it the next morning and could not for the life of her imagine why we had made a pumpkin look evil. I am sure she was rather fearful around us for a day or two, before she accepted that our explanation was really quite harmless.

Our Jack-o-Lantern

The streets and shops of Vienna are buzzing with Halloween decorations. There are cute costumes for the kids, severed felt fingers that look almost real, masks that are nightmare-worthy, bottles of “vampire blood”, horrific spiders, artificial nails, witch hats, chocolate pumpkins…It is odd to see these objects straight from horror cinema take on such a very attractive, even adorable colour. Kids crowd around them happily, trying on this and that, not afraid but definitely excited. Come evening, they’ll prepare to go trick-and-treating, wearing their Halloween costumes. And even if it is only a matter of a few years till they decide they are “too old for this”, they’ll have created some strong memories.

When I look back over the years, and recall moments punctuated by these little events, I realize how they weren’t little at all. The glow of my jack-o-lantern brightening up a nippy Delhi night. The family enjoying a meal of chicken and rice together. The chocolates that I’d later count and carefully stock in the fridge. The decorations that I’d take off a few days later to reuse the next year. And talking all these over with R even as we added new memories of our own. These moments fly up to me at random times. They are very much like friendly ghosts who can magically recreate a former time from a whiff, a song, a photograph. And these ghosts I love.

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