Family memoirs normally deal with ghosts of another kind- secrets, thoughts or feelings that haunt us. However, Ghosts in our backyard: The Ramsays’ Real life encounters with the Supernatural by Alisha ‘Priti’ Kirpalani (HarperCollins) could well be a ‘horror memoir’. It tells us about a family’s encounters with spirits. The family in question here, Ramsay Brothers, were the pioneers of the horror genre in Bollywood.
“The Ramsays were the pioneers, creating an empire and a cult-following with their exaggerated horror, over-the-top ghosts and nail-biting climaxes. The maker of 36 odd films, Ramsay Brothers whipped up hit after hit in the Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties and, by the time Indian Cinema completed 100 years in 2013, stood proud as the original kings of India’s horror genre” writes Dhruv Somani in his extensively researched encyclopaedic volume on the Horror genre, A Touch of Evil Volume 1 (Ramsay Brothers).
However, back to the author, Alisha ‘Priti’ Kirpalani, whose mother Asha Thawani—daughter of Fatechand Uttamchand (FU) Ramsay has been the inspiration for this book. As a child, the author was at home amongst ghoul masks and the dark rooms at her maternal grandparents’ residence at Lamington road in Bombay. Through her reminisces we get a glimpse into the daily life of one of the most famous film families of Bollywood. However, the memoir is specific in its purpose- to tell the true stories of paranormal experiences of the different members of the Ramsay family.
Excerpts from an interview with the author…
How did the experience of the research on the book impact you and your life in context of the relationships you have with your extended maternal family?
It was a great bonding experience with the elders who were more than happy to share experiences they had never really discussed. My mother thoroughly enjoyed the interaction between her family members and me. Sadly, in the interim, she lost three of her brothers and they never did get a chance to read the book.
What was the most horrifying and scary story for you?
To coin a phrase, fear lies in the heart of those who experience it first-hand. Each individual encounter must have been completely traumatising but objectively speaking, “The Jogger” was the narration that filled me with unadulterated horror.
The accounts rely on memories. How did you try and balance authenticity?
I stayed absolutely true to the narration and imagined the physical and mental ambience of the person and the place.
Did you write the poems in the book?
Yes, totally my doing. I love writing poetry. I began my journey of writing as a poet and continue to write in its varying formats including nano-poetry and 140-character tweets.
You explain this affinity to the supernatural elements as a gift to the family. You ask in the book, why did the Ramsay brothers choose horror as their specialty? Or was it that horror chose them? Now, as you look back at these experiences, what do you think is the purpose behind this?
Life is a discovery in motion. I am trying to find the answer to that statement myself. I will probably never know the truth but the exploration is fascinating.
This is in a way also a tribute to your mother. We know her paternal family as the “Ramsay Brothers” but the sister also had a role. Do you think that the book is also finally giving that credit where it is due?
I am glad you noticed that it is first and foremost a tribute to my mother. I hope she gets her due credit via readers and interviews like these. So far, it has been recognition beyond her expectations. Her unabashed joy about this book is priceless.
One of things that I noticed was that the physical changes in the person experiencing the paranormal event were similar all across. Other signs such as the temperature being cold for example was also similar. What struck you the most about this similarity?
The universality of these experiences. It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon as far as ghost encounters are involved. I think that itself makes one rethink the scepticism towards the existence of spirits.
This book is like a one leg of a journey. Where do you think your mystic calling will take you now on?
I have no plans except to flow with it. I drifted into this book too. Wherever life takes me, the possibilities are endless. I want to keep writing and hopefully people will keep reading. The only thing I know is that my writing will always touch upon the condition of living beings and even the non-living, with utmost sincerity and heartfelt compassion.
Many people do not believe in spirits or in the paranormal. Were you ever a disbeliever yourself at any stage in your life?
I was neutral because I respected the other side, since I knew no better. My mother and my daughter would tell me about their experiences and I would listen with keen interest and an open mind. It’s only when I had my own real encounter with a spirit did my personal belief take root. And so, did the seed for this book.