by Shameem Akhtar
Posted by MydeaMedia
NERVOUS believers fear it to be spooky, disbelievers dismiss it as plain hallucination, while adherents attest to its power. But mediums claim they hold the key to a walkway to the spirits, often those of their beloved dead. And Mumbai, despite its overt materialism, also quarters the otherworldly. In fact, many, including Rhea Pillai, dancer Shiamak Davar, industrialist Yash Birla, have accessed it.
Davar has regular heart-to-hearts with his dead gran, Birla has found solace after the soul-crushing death of his parents and sister in an air-crash, while Pillai communed with a spirit to confirm if her beau, filmstar Sunjay Dutt, would find reprieve from his incarceration.
The most common practices in India are automatic writing where the spectre is said to guide the medium's hand to scribble out a message, the mysterious ouija board that many have tapped as frightened but curious children, clairvoyance or clair-audience with the spirit whispering into the medium's ear, and trance of the possessed. In fact, a few mediums in Mumbai have translated their incorporeal experiences into books. Pune-based Nan Umrigar, mother of the teenaged jockey Karl who died tragically from a horsefall while racing for the championship trophy, has written the
Sounds of Silence. What started out as a bereaved mother's bid to reach out to her dead son has now grown into mediumship, where she helps others facing losses like hers, promising them messages from the phantom world with her son as 'intermediary'. Shops, tentatively stocking her book, find it has been a sell-out. Khorshed Bhavnagiri who, with her husband Rumi, now dead, has "communicated" with the spirits of her young sons Ratoo and Vispi killed in a crash while on a pre-trial run before a car rally, has already written a three-part book on The Laws of the Spirit World. Even as these have gone into their sixth reprint, she has completed book four, to be released next month. Her books are inexpensive, costing between Rs 16 and Rs 28, and her sessions are free-of-cost. So, her phone peals non-stop, with curious callers eager to learn about the world of ghosts, where to get her books and her classes on how-to-become-a-medium.
She speaks of a seven-realm phantom world, a place of candyfloss clouds and perfect peace, of spirit guides for dogs on earth, of a Yeti with an animal soul that has turned human and how earthly pests like roaches and mosquitoes should not be destroyed since they, too, have souls. Sceptics may sniff and snigger, but her circle of believers only seems to expand.
Inconsolable Nan Umrigar mourned for six desolate years before curiosity in the after-life pushed her into probing out the mediums. She beat a track to the local mediums Bhavnagiris, Prabhavati Rishi, the Phiroze Wadia couple, internationally renowned Coral Polge, and attended sessions at England's Arthur Findley College of psychic sciences where she saw the competitiveness of mediums practising it as a profession. She finds her son's irrepressible spirit all around, in his promise to be present at sister Tina's wedding as "golden threads in her hair", making appearances in various garbs, one day as a foreigner named Karlstorm, or a woman with braces like those he wore, or generously offering prescriptions for ailments in the family.
As her soul-driven hand writes on, Umrigar is convinced that her son, after death, was taken under the protective car e of the spirit of Meher Baba, sadhu of Ahmednagar. Since then many have followed her to Meherabad to make contact with the sadhu's spirit whose spokesman, Umrigar says, is her son Karl.
Those expecting spine-chilling thrills from her seances will be disappointed. She 'confers' with him best between 8 am and 9 am. She keeps Karl's photo beside her, does not get into a trance, merely holds pen to notebook even as—she maintains—the book moves away from her as if manipulated by someone in front of her. Among her most cherished messages from him: "Mum, there is no night or day here. We have no food, no hunger or thirst—only love and fresh air. We can talk, laugh, sing, pray together and say hello to all newcomers." And: "Just say Karl, come to me—and I will be there in a matter of seconds. I will come flying from the ends of heaven for you."
She believes she has matured into an established medium. All sorrow has been wiped out of her softly-wrinkled face. She gently explains: "I do not charge anything. People keep calling me, at least three to four calls daily. Surprisingly, most of the callers are young. The older lot want to make contact with their dead, but youngsters are keen to learn about their future. But I try to dissuade them from too much dependence on the spirit world."
One such youngster was model Rhea Pillai. As a family friend she often 'chatted' with Karl who, Umrigar says, had predicted she was "destined to make contact with one who will fall in love with you—his name is Moon". It was much later, when her romance with the young Dutt had blossomed, that he revealed that his mother Nargis "always used to call me her Moon, her moonchild".It clinched everybody's belief in Karl, particularly Pillai's who consulted him again when Sunjay was rearrested.
Umrigar says Karl predicted the jinxed Dutt would get a reprieve. Even as everybody else gave up hope, Pillai stuck on: "I open my book and read Karl's messages over and over and they give me strength." And on October 16, 1995, when the Supreme Court granted bail to Dutt, Pillai was ecstatic that her belief was vindicated. Today, however, Pillai has taken Umrigar's advice against delving too deeply into the spirit world. She says softly: "I believe that there is life after death. I was fascinated that Nanny could relate things which were true, but of which she could not have known. But I would not like to make a habit of it."
On Yash Birla's experience, Umrigar says: "Instilled with the teachings of the Gita, he believed somewhere his family still lived on. 'How will I know you, Mama,' he asked when he was scheduled to go to Mehera-bad. 'By the smell of flowers,' she answered him." As the young Birla recited aarti with his fiancee, Avanti, "his eyes suddenly flew open. 'I smell flowers,' he said in a hushed voice. There were no flowers around us except those inside the tomb, but the air was suddenly filled with the powerful fragrance of God's blossoms. Yash knew in his heart—his mother had arrived."
Of course, there are plenty of Doubting Thomases, but the paths of the believers and non-believers are unlikely to cross. The sceptics are more likely to be outnumbered by advocates of the spirit world, if one goes by Bhavnagiri's appointment book; so much so that it might take over a month to fix up a session with her. A month after the tragic loss of her sons, they had 'reached' her through trance-medium Kapadia. For Bhavnagiri, their first words were proof enough. "Hello, mummy fatso," Kapadia said, ostensibly speaking on their behalf. What better proof, the Bhavnagiris thought, since that was how Vispi always referred to his mother. Bhavnagiri, who feels she has progressed from automatic writing to telepathic communication, claims the four books were dictated to her by her sons.
THESE speak of spirit Rest Halls with feather-soft couches, seven-realms through which souls must progress from a depressing chasm of creepy-crawlies to a plane of indescribable beauty with flowers not of this earth and crystal water that spouts energy, and contain hundreds of letters from bereaved who found comfort by "talking" to the spirits through the Bhavnagiris.
"Earlier people came with simple problems. But the world has turned so evil the problems I hear are many and very bad," sighs Bhavnagiri. She tries to "solve" the problems with the advice of her sons, and her "Popsie", another spirit guide, but warns against expecting miracles. Her lessons in automatic writing are popular, with rigorous coaching on the 25 rules that need to be followed if the corporeal wants to ooze its way into the spirit world.
Bhavnagiri's charming home at Rustom Baug has been converted into a shrine for her sons. They stare at you from every conceivable angle, on ceramic plates and tiny medallions. In her bedroom there is further consecration, a temple almost, with a cluster of diyas and candles throwing golden light on the corner where she confers with her boys. Those expecting mystery and melodrama here too will be disappointed. Shiamak Davar grins: "There is nothing spooky, weird or scary. The spirits just want you to lead your life as usual. No rituals, just have a ball."
Davar, a regular at the Bhavnagiri residence since he has adopted her as the granny he lost while still a child, says: "My search for the spirit world started 15 years ago. I was keen on knowing where I came from, where I was destined to go. I was always thirsting for knowledge. I read about Vispi and Ratoo, after their death, and felt instant love for them. I told them mentally, 'Hey, guys, I want to meet your parents.' A few days later I was visiting friends whose guests were the Bhavnagiris. It was amazing. Remembering it still thrills me."
He is among the most public votaries of the spirit world. A few years ago the family of air-hostess Neerja Bhanot, who had perished in an air-crash, had ignited interest in after-life after announcing contact with her. Recently Mumbai's most famous transvestite Aida Banaji had, in Riyad Vinci Wadia's documentary on her, revealed she had survived suicidal depressions only through automatic writing with the favourite person in her life, her dead father. Among those who court the spirit world in Umrigar's book are famous jockey and son-in-law Pesi Shroff and pop diva Sharon Prabhakar.
Medium Yasmin S. Contractor, who lost her 14-year-old son to a congenital heart lesion, learnt to 'contact' him via automatic writing imbibed from Bhavnagiri. Based in Coonoor, she practises clair-audience. "It's partly psychic, partly holistic medicine. I hear the voice, which guides me. I do not know whose voice it is, but it is definitely a male voice. It is deeply satisfying to see that I can help people in trouble. There have been so many beautiful experiences. When one learns to see beyond this world, into that of god, there can be only love and peace. " She deciphers trust in god as credence in life after death.
The same holds true for Kamlu Keswani, who dabbled with mediumship to establish link with her little son who died one sad Christmas after a fall from his ninth-floor flat. She relinquished it after realising the "mind was taking over, where the answers were being channelised by what I wanted to believe". As the network of automatic writing widens, there are more chances of such dangers, especially if the rules of the spirit world are not met, warn Umrigar and Bhavnagiri. "Attempting to contact the spirit without the guide (in medium parlance a door-keeper like Meher Baba) means your door is open for any spirit. It shouldn't be used frivolously," cautions Umrigar.
This may explain why many tortured souls rush to Mumbai's famous medium Prabhavati Rishi. "People playing with ouija boards call up any spirits wandering around. When these refuse to leave, people approach me to get rid of these stubborn ghosts," wheezes 93-year-old Rishi who is semi-retired, only sitting for a conference with the spirits on full moon nights.
Her late husband V.D. Rishi was the first to call out to his dead first wife. He trained with the most flamboyant of spiritualists, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote several books on mediumship that have now been donated to Mumbai University, attended major international spiritualists' conferences at Paris, Glasgow, and Barcelona, crammed at London's College on Psychic Sciences and finally found Coral Polge's endorsement. Prabhavati tried trance, but felt tired and often unnerved by the experience of not knowing where she had been during the period the "spirit possessed her".
Rishi's chalk-white ouija boards, bearing the alphabet in English, Marathi and Hindi in black, and her tiny triangular table that rotates and revolves on circular coasters whichever way the "spirit commands" are her only tools. While other mediums have trouble "summoning up" a particular spirit, Rishi is "powerful enough to elicit instant obedience". Even so, seances with her may take agonisingly long, with the pointer table, on which both Rishi and the client place their hands, moving from each letter of the answer, even as someone methodically takes it down to scramble together a cohesive response. "But," gushes her relative S.K. Thipse, "once a woman was asking questions in Malayalam, while the spirit responded correctly in English."
"I miss the spirits sometimes," sighs Rishi, missing also the rush of desperate humanity who came to her in search of a link, however tenuous, with their beloved dead. Superstition, quackery, mind-games? These words have no meaning for the believers who have their spirited arguments ready.
For others, like the Kapadias, trance mediumship is not so difficult. Says a close associate of the Kapadias: "Mrs Kapadia does not like publicity since she feels odd about the trance experience. She does not know, it is somebody else talking. Once we were featured on the television show, Hum Panch. But it distorted the good work we are doing. Our main motive is to relieve a mourning humanity through our psychic faculties and it is not used commercially."
Copyright to OutLook/ Idea By MydeaMeda @ 2011