A Christmas Carol? Ghostly Tales for the Season – Part II

 

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Moving on from my tale of spooky happenings when I was a young(er) man living in my home town, today I want to tell you a little about the nature of the supernatural in Bangladesh. As it happens, as part of my Masters Degree work, I have done quite a bit of studying about this and found both the folklore and the stories fascinating. How Bangladeshis behave – at least in the villages – is often dictated by superstition and ghostlore. Much more so than I have ever seen in the west.

Petni

Shefali sat in front of me with a mischievous grin on her face. I knew she was about to tell me something good. She’s a good friend and we enjoy many chats in Bangla about so many different subjects. My ability to understand anything at all in Bangla is due, in large part, to our conversations. She’s a quick thinker and often cheeky with it and you don’t see that too much in these parts of Bangladesh.

We had been talking about the names we give to our family members when she said: “Dada, do you know what my husband calls me for fun?”

No, I didn’t, I confessed. There was a definite twinkle in her eye now.

Petni,” she said and gave a little giggle.

Six months ago I would not have understood what that meant; now I understood all too well. I think my jaw actually dropped.

“No way! Really?” I said in genuine surprise. “Your husband calls you a demonic ghost?”

“For fun,” Shefali repeated, “but yes, that’s what he calls me.”

In a country where respect is everything, where village people often don’t call their own spouses by their own names (again, for possible superstitious reasons) and a wife might even call her husband malik (owner) rather than shami (husband), a daknam or ‘nickname’ like this was very unusual.

Bangladesh has a lot of supernatural creatures. It makes me wonder how any of us make it out alive. Of course, that is the point: many don’t and in a land with high infant mortality, you are not going to take any chances.

The Ghosts and Ghoulies of Bangladesh

There are feresta which are angels; jinn where we get our Western idea of Genies from; Qarina which area kind of jinn which are a personal ‘twin’ but of the opposite sex; Bhut are the most famous perhaps and the word means ‘ghost’ usually of someone who died a horrible death. The horrible the death, the more power the bhut has. They are very dangerous and are particularly attracted to small children and women; Rakkhosh are monsters who have a huge appetite and love to suck blood; Pichat are demons or vampire ghosts; Bhulas are female bhut who lead people astray perhaps by calling them out of their houses in the dark by imitating the sound of a friend’s voice and leading them to fields where they can torment the unfortunate soul; Nishi are similar but may well be summoned up by a malicious neighbour. People who sleepwalk are said to be controlled by nishi; A kondhokata is a creature who swallows people whole. He lives in holes by the side of the road. Takra-takri are body-less spirits who eat babies; Danobs are demons;   Pori are beautiful fairies that are especially attracted to young men. Some fall in love with the youths and may demand marriage. Woe betides anyone who crosses a pori

…and then there are petni. These creatures are often thought to be the same as bhut and the two are often used together: Bhut-petni. They are female and linked to suicide deaths. They especially love little children and cause them to laugh, cry and throw stones. For some reason, burning chillies under the nose of someone possessed by a petni will see the demonic ghost flee from them.

I hope you’ll feel safe sleeping in your beds tonight. Personally, I don’t understand how we can move here in Bangladesh for all the supernatural creatures out there! I’ve not told you of all the creatures that roam this land – just the notable ones.

I do wonder though, if my friend Shefali might really be a petni and that is the reason Thing II is so wild: not ADHD at all! I think I may need to thrust some burning hot chillies under her nose some time and see…

The serious side is that people are genuinely scared of losing their cows, their husbands, their children, their babies to any ill circumstance and where there is a spirit, there is usually a charm, spell or amulet that will keep it at bay. Spirits are much more predictable and controllable than fate, chance or luck.

For this reason, cows are given cowries around their neck and babies are given a black spot on their foreheads – a ‘third eye’ – basically to make them look blemished or ugly. Beautiful things attract attention – including the dreaded kunojor or evil eye – and then cows stop producing milk and babies grow sick and die.

The Ghosts of Christmas Present are living and well here in Bangladesh where such fears and events are all too common and very real. Until education, health care and funding lifts millions of people out of poverty, the spirits will be here for many Christmases to come.

Tomorrow: The Ghosts of Christmas Future and I finally tell you about wifey’s ‘spooky’ moment.

 

 

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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9 Responses to A Christmas Carol? Ghostly Tales for the Season – Part II

  1. Rinth says:

    Djinn and ferestas are Islamic elements which we believe to be true. All the other stuff is just superstition. Djinn exist, but in another “dimension”. As far as I know, they’re made of fire (whilst we are made of earth). And we can’t see or interact with them (despite what the superstitious people believe). Ferestas are angels. They also move around among us, but we can’t see them. They can see us though, I think. For example, it’s bad for us muslims to hang pictures of people in our homes because that keeps the angels from entering the house (and thus you miss out on a huge blessing).

    If a girl is called a petni it usually means that she’s very ugly😛. Or yeah like with your friend it could be for fun as well.

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    • Thanks for the extra information Rinth. I didn’t want to put in too much information (this is meant to be entertaining after all!) but I’m glad you’ve brought things up here to flesh out the details a little. I didn’t make any distinction between faith and superstition (Christians, for instance, often believe in both angels and demons too) and almost all of the things I raised here are based on studies about Folk Islam so the distinctions are blurred.

      Nevertheless, as your own comment hints at, even people who have a faith but don’t consider themselves superstitious can believe some dubious things and this leads through to many questionable statements of ‘fact’ or ‘it really happened’. Despite my own little ‘true stories’ I am very cynical of any claims of supernatural or ‘faith’ happenings though I am far from saying they don’t happen at all. As I say, my own background is very much intertwined in these kind of things though it SOOOO upsets me that I have never been present when a ghost supposedly is being seen. I would really love to see one!

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      • Rinth says:

        Yeah of course I know it’s supposed to be entertaining😛. I just thought I’d just share some of what I know with you in case you wanted to know some details ^_^. Honestly it’s kinda scary the lengths people will go in their belief of superstition in those countries. Many times it goes against Islam (not against Hinduism though) believing in these things and doing the stuff they do. Lack of education:-/.

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        • Sorry, sorry Rinth, my comment about entertainment was ENTIRELY aimed at me and not you! You wrote wonderfully. Had I tried the same thing I would have written lots of paragraphs and that would have bored everyone. Please forgive me if I was suggesting anything else – your comments are terrific!🙂

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  2. Pingback: A Christmas Carol? Ghostly Tales for the Season – Part III | kenthinksaloud

  3. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep now, lol!

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