Ghosts of the Silent Hills | Collection of short stories | Anita Krishnan |
Fingerprint Publishing | 978-93-8971-713-6 | Pp 308 | 250
A connection and continuity with the past
‘You don’t believe in me,’ observed the Ghost.
‘I don’t,’ said Scrooge…
Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.
‘Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?’
‘Man of the worldly mind!’ replied the Ghost, ‘do you believe in me or not?’
‘I do,’ said Scrooge. ‘I must…”
- Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
My introduction to the horror genre was during my school days when I read Edgar Allan Poe’s collection of horror stories. The tasteful manner in which Poe built up horror in his stories still runs a shiver down my spine. In contemporary times, Neil Gaiman comes close to recreating this genre to suit the tastes of the current generation. In the South Asian context, it is not easy to come across good pieces of horror stories in writing. Closer to home, I remember reading ghost stories written by Ruskin Bond. The reliability of oral tradition of storytelling especially when it comes to this genre runs very strongly in this part of the world. Most of the indigenous horror stories have been passed down generations by revisiting them in the oral format. Unfortunately, most of the horror narratives find a place in the visual medium – films or online series.
When I came across Anita Krishan’s book- Ghosts of the Silent Hills, the cover of the book tugged at the level of curiosity that I keep aside for this genre. Once I began reading the book, there was no putting the book down for me till I reached the end. The book follows a timeline – it begins in the fifties and the sixties with mountains as its backdrop. The stories gain authenticity with the author’s own bringing up in these parts and the stories have been inspired by ones that have percolated down in the writer’s family. Not all but a few. Writing in this genre is a tricky business if one does not get the characters, the setting and the timing aligned well enough to create an atmosphere of fear. The success of any book on ghosts lies in the ability of its writer to take charge of the fear factor while it also relies on a reader’s imagination to recreate the setting in one’s own mind. Krishan has been able to swing the narrative from that of pure horror to trying to make sense of the hauntings. The book begins by pulling you into a well of horror that creeps up at the dead of the night and forces you to keep looking behind your back but by the middle of the book- the stories makes a reader go beyond their fear to understand familiarity as well as gives a human quality to these hauntings. The hauntings – as terrifying as they are have a side to them that makes them relatable. Krishan does not leave the ghosts as simply existing to scare the daylights out of people rather; they carry pasts and burdens with them. They return to finish the unfinished business thereby maintaining a connection and continuity with the past and bringing it into the present. The purpose of writing this book is not to leave its readers traumatized but to make them receptive. It all comes down to the impact that words can have on one’s mind. As I mentioned at the beginning how reading Poe’s works at a particular age continues to have its impact on me till date.
As Kimberley Reynolds mentions in the book Frightening Fiction- “Texts which provide vicarious encounters with ghosts, the undead, and others who exist outside the conventional definitions of life may be read as confirming this belief: seeing a ghost is frightening, but it can also be taken as evidence that death is not the end of the self, and even that interaction with the known world remains possible after death.” When reading Krishan’s book- the narrator does not disappear completely but is present to help her readers walk through a story. The protagonists of every story in this book go through a phase of introspection and are sensitive enough to understand things that might seem oblivious to others. From a dead friend who reaches out, to a man who faced an unjust death, to a couple who have been murdered in their own house- the narratives are distinct with no repetitions. The stories begin in the mountains then move down to the plains and end back in the mountains.
The book is a promising one and the latest addition in the genre of horror. It does not matter if the stories are fictional or based on true events. What matters at the end of the day is to what extent they have been able to affect one’s psyche and make one question the realm that one chooses to either ignore or not talk about. This book does not require a cold winter night or a silent surrounding to scare you. It just asks its readers to immerse themselves in its pages and suspend any ideas of disbelief. It is then that these stories begin to truly possess you.
Issue 91 (May-Jun 2020)