Can death change the qualities of your heart? The answer to that is both a “yes” and a “no” and that’s not as puzzling as it sounds. In a nutshell, instances abound in ghost lore of the spirit of a criminal or a “bad” person undergoing a positive evolution after death and making remorseful amends by helping the living in some way. For example, in the mountains of Garwhal in what is now Uttarakhand, there was Pyarelal, a muleteer and informal guide, who killed trusting trekkers who hired him for a trek to remote areas while they were asleep and either dumped their bodies in a stream or placed rocks on them.

After several such disappearances, Pyarelal was apprehended but died before any punishment for the cold blooded murders could be decreed. The news of Pyarelal’s spirit haunting the trekking trails sent a shiver down the spine of locals but their fears gradually receded as event after event showcased how Pyarelal’s spirit was no longer a killer but helped those who were in distress. A trekker who had fallen into a gorge was saved by Pyarelal’s spirit, a hopelessly lost party of trekkers in a snowstorm was guided to safety by his spirit….it is a long list.

For paranormal researchers, cases like Pyarelal’s who was “bad” while he lived but turned “friendly” after he died creates a grey zone of friendly ghosts or energies in which it is extremely challenging to ascertain whether a friendly ghost was a good or a bad person when alive. In January this year Agence France-Presse reported that Queen Silvia of Sweden believes the royal palace where she resides is haunted. Drottningholm Palace, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, was built in the 1600s on Lovon Island in Stockholm and is the permanent residence of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.

She is quoted as saying in a documentary, “There are small friends… ghosts. They’re all very friendly but you sometimes feel that you’re not completely alone…” Fox News added that Princess Christina, the king’s sister, backs the claims of the Drottningholm phantoms. Christina was reported as saying:“There’s stories about ghosts in all old houses. They have been filled with people over the centuries. The energies remain.”  These energies certainly remain, even in a “bad to good” changed form. Even the energies of fictional ghost characters live on. Take the case of Casper, the friendly ghost who has been around for some 70 years. Casper is more popular today than when he was created in the late 1930s by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo. There is an official page for Casper the Friendly Ghost on Facebook which has 1,364,361 “likes” and is followed by 1,333,075 people. He is there on Pinterest, and in May this year, under a report headlined “The physics of Casper the Friendly Ghost: why can’t he open the door?” the Guardian said that “Twitter spent the holiday weekend debating the science behind the animated spirit…

“Why is Casper in the news? Because US comedian Daniel Kibblesmith has raised a significant question… He wanted to know why solid objects sometimes passed through Casper’s body and at other times were absorbed.… it tickled the fancy of the US and UK twitterati …”. The twitterati supplied many answers such as “He has an ectoplasmic membrane of variable solidity…”, “He exists both as a particle and as a wave” and so on.

Even the energies of fictional ghost characters live on. Take the case of Casper, who has been around for some 70 years. 

However, let’s move away from Casper and look at what happens in a real life scenario when a “good” person dies. Unless driven by revenge, such a person’s spirit seldom becomes evil. That’s when “benevolent” haunting take place. “People who have experienced benevolent hauntings often describe moments in which an unknown force saves them from a minor inconvenience. Lost items reappear out of nowhere, TV channels change on their own, and snacks are tossed to children from high shelves. Besides performing helpful gestures, benign ghosts will also appear for profoundly personal reasons.”

There was the case of Ratti Ram. A widower in his late fifties, Ratti Ram was the pradhan of the sweepers community on Kanwali Road in Dehra Dun. Everybody agreed that though Ratti Ram the sweeper literally handled dirt, he had a heart of gold. If he found some unfortunate beggar scrounging for scraps he would take credit from the chai shop owner and hand it over to the overjoyed beggar. If he found an injured or abandoned animal, he would pick it up and take it home or leave it at our home. He’d once taken home an eagle which had somehow damaged its wing and looked after it till it could fly again.

Ratti Ram met with an accident, lost his mobility and eventually died. Even as we mourned the passing away of a good man, we began noticing “things”. Long before his sons arrived with their long brooms, the road would be swept clean, our staircase would be spick and span. Yet despite these strange happenings, we would reassure ourselves with an Agatha Christie like line, “Dead men don’t sweep”. But it was almost as if Ratti Ram was determined to prove that he was still around.

About a fortnight after he died we were surprised to find a puppy with a broken leg whining outside our door. The chowkidar swore nobody had come up the stairs. A few days later, we found a bedraggled, half dead bat baby outside the door. It was Ratti Ram back at work, and we’ve heard the ghostly footsteps and the invisible broom whenever we’ve been up at the first light of dawn. On a day when the rain was hammering incessantly on the roof and the rain waters on the road were swirling as if the rain gods had forgotten to attend to the flood gates, a tiny black kitten with a mangled ear meowing piteously was left at our door.  Many long years have passed since Ratti Ram died but the passage of time has not dampened Ratti Ram’s Good Samaritan zeal. The actions of Ratti Ram’s ghost continue to reconfirm that death doesn’t change the good qualities of your heart, “bad” can become good, but good will remain good. A salute to you, Ratti Ram : as you were in life, so you are after death. A soul, a ghost who still cares, like so many other friendly ghosts who inhabit our living world.


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