Power of the ‘spirit’
Reviewed by Vikrant Parmar

by Kankana Basu, Pan Books, Pages 189, Rs 250.

LamplightA single spooky encounter is enough to send shivers down the spine of most mortals, but in Kankana Basu's book Lamplight there is an entire family that accosts spirits — mostly benevolent and benign, with a couple of exceptions.

Stitching together eight short tales, Kankana's book comes across as a cohesive whole where characters freely float from one story to the other. So while Boro Jetha is a character in one, his clinic is mentioned in another where somebody else is the protagonist. Indeed a narrative invention that deserves applause.

Post a devastating earthquake that rocks Monghyr, Bihar, in 1934, the author sets the scene at the Chattopadhyay mansion where members of an old aristocratic family all of a sudden develop a unique connection with the paranormal. So much so that almost each of them encounters a nether world guest in one form or the other!

In The Seance, following a communion ritual, Nirmal Ranjan Choudhury seeks a proper burial after narrating the sequence of his painful death. Unrequited love and occult combine to form pathos of situation in the story titled Rosy. In The Guide, Nirmal once again appears as a benevolent guide to save an avid cyclist, Shontu. Then there is the ghost of Chitra Pishi, who carries her spite into after-life in Mala's Story. In The Terrace, a dejected Ronojoy hears a whispering spirit while sleeping alfresco; words that change his future for good. The lovelorn ghost of Amina Bai, 'the infamous courtesan of the 1770s', takes over the spirit of Mini in the Monghyr Fort. In The Wedding of Tigmanshu Pramanik, a spirit goes back to human form through the auspices of a clairvoyant gardener Raghu Kaka to get married, only to vanish from the altar, while a politician's daughter on a vacation in Mahabaleshwar is guided by the spirit of Smita Rane, who mysteriously disappears when alive, to her burial spot in Blood Emerald.

Kankana's characters are endearing and albeit the stories deal with the arcane, fear is the last emotion one goes through. In fact, the sharpness of syntax props up the lucidity factor and builds an endearing interest. She has been able to recreate the old-world charm of Monghyr and replicate the exact mannerisms as well as sartorial sensibilities of the people as they were then.

The author strives hard to unravel the depths of the human mind, which she believes is the 'tip of the iceberg, the actual mysteries lying way below this tip'. Kankana sure has pulled out an eerie, yet amiable one with Lamplight.