Kim Newman,  author of  An English Ghost Story,  has raised several interesting questions. Are ghosts the unquiet spirits of the restless dead? Or three-dimensional recordings of past tragedies? Non-human entities without bodies who can nevertheless interact with us? There are legends—about ghostly animals—or trees, or even houses—so does a ghost even have to be a person? Does everyone who dies become a ghost, or do most people pass on to a higher or lower plane of existence—with only a select few being trapped or opting to stick around in some form. If so, why? To finish things left undone in life? Or get revenge for the circumstances of death? Is becoming a ghost a punishment, a reward or just a neutral state?

In addition to these questions, in the light of fascinating experiences over recent years, I would like to raise another intriguing question. Keeping pace with modern technology, have ghosts in recent times gone digital? My first affirmation of this came after I’d mailed a story, which incidentally had nothing to do with the supernatural or astrology, under deadline pressure. Mid-way through relaxing with a coffee, it suddenly struck me that oops, I’d forgotten to mention the date of inception of a project and a couple of other facts which were closely linked to the core of the story. 

Frantically, I made a call and was relieved to find that I could make the additions but within twenty minutes. When I scrolled down to the place where I wanted to insert the line, I was amazed to find that not only had the line been added, but facts had also been added which I was not aware of but found to be correct when I checked.  I then turned to the sent e-mails and the changes were very much there in my story. I must confess that rather than facing the embarrassment of explaining something inexplicable to the editor who was a nuts and bolts Westerner with no patience for “irrelavancies” as he termed them, I simply re-mailed the story within the stipulated time.

A month or so later, a bureaucrat friend who was on deputation abroad called up. When he was in India, he had been a follower of a media shy but highly respected spiritual guruji with immense powers. At the time of his guruji’s passing away, he was upset that he wouldn’t see him or converse with him the way he had been doing all these years. But when his guruji began communicating with him through dreams, he was mollified though not entirely satisfied, and he conveyed this to his guruji. “Amazed is not the word”, he told me over the phone. “I was stunned to discover when I switched on my laptop to find the words, ‘Are you satisfied now? This is how we will communicate from now on. Key in your thoughts and questions for me and I will guide you, but don’t always expect an immediate reply’.  And we’ve been in frequent and very satisfying touch since then. The laptop has become my lifeline to guruji.”

While my bureaucrat friend doesn’t always get an immediate reply, a friend of mine who lost her husband gets immediate replies and other messages from him on her laptop. “He died a very painful and traumatic death after the cancer from his throat spread to his vital organs. More important, he was still relatively young and apart from the close bonds with me and our school going daughter, had a lot of dreams which remained unfulfilled. Now, thanks to the laptop communication, we can pour out our hearts to each other any time and can expect a quick response.”

But digital communication between ghosts and living beings isn’t always positive. Sometimes, it can be very dangerous.  

But digital communication between ghosts and living beings isn’t always positive. Sometimes, it can be very dangerous.  I have written in an earlier column about the Nishi Dak. Nishi means night or dark, “dak” or “daak” means call. The Nishi Dak is a spirit that calls out twice to one at night or in the dark in a familiar voice.

It is a very dangerous spirit, once fairly commonly encountered in Bengal—where it still known as the Nishir Daak or “Call of the Night Spirit”, Bihar and Jharkhand where it is known as the Nishi.

The Nishi calls out to its victim at night in the voice of a person known to the victim, appears as a form which the victim can’t fully see because it is always in the distance, or appears in the form of the known person whose voice it has used, and keeps beckoning the intended victim to follow it. It walks very fast and at a distance ahead of the victim and usually leads the way to a deserted area where it reveals its true form to the helpless victim, and then almost invariably kills the victim.

Even today, many people in areas frequented by the Nishi are aware that they must not respond unless even a known voice doesn’t call out three—or to be on the absolutely safe side, four times. A tea vendor close to my house hails from Bihar and he told me that in and around his village there is a Nishi who is always on the prowl.

To this day, nobody, according to the tea vendor, goes out at night if called. And these days, he says, a Nishi’s call can even come on a mobile—there has been one such instance where a person was killed after responding to a call repeated twice on his mobile to come outside. The way and speed with which he was killed was the work of a Nishi says the tea vendor.

Spirits with the characteristics of the Nishi exist in other parts of India too and are known by different names in different areas. And in all cases, like the Nishi, they lure people by calling out their names in a loved one’s or a familiar voice. In recent times, I have been hearing steadily increasing accounts of how such spirits are calling on mobiles to deceive and ensnare people. There have been instances as well where a vindictive spirit has bunged up mobiles or deleted the entire contents of a computer. As a friend quipped, “ from what you’re narrating, Ghostware seems more dangerous than the WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm.” Yes indeed, and perhaps harder to counter.