Welcome to OBSCURUS, your weekly dose of paranormal fiction. Every Wednesday OBSCURUS features new short stories and serialized novels written by novelist, screenwriter, and voice-over artist Biswajit Banerjee. The realm of the paranormal stretches far beyond the usual horror story. So, while you will get to listen to lots of ghost stories on this podcast, there will also be many tales of lesser-known paranormal themes. To get us started, here's your host Biswajit Banerjee.
HOST TALK 00:00:47
Hello, and welcome to OBSCURUS. My name is Biswajit Banerjee, your host for this show. Today’s episode features the first part of a two-part story. Before we plunge into the tale, I urge you to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com for information on my creatives. And I also have a dedicated website for this podcast: obscurus.buzzsprout.com. Here you will find all the OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers for easy navigation.
Here’s a disclaimer - please appreciate, my stories are primarily meant to entertain you. Although many of my stories are based on my studies and research, they are not intended to convey either my point of view or a statement of fact. The characters in my stories are entirely fictional. Any possible resemblance to real people, dead or alive, is unintentional and coincidental.
And now, let the story begin. After forty years of paranormal investigation, Alok concludes there is no life after death. Is he right? Let’s find out.
PHANTOM CHASER PART 1 00:02:33
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
The television anchor Swati Jain picked up the book and said, "In the last chapter, you have suggested there's no life after death."
"Yes, indeed," Alok Tiwari said, nodding, "I haven't found any concrete evidence for life beyond death."
"So, you believe your career as a paranormal investigator spanning forty years has been a waste."
"Not at all. I never said that."
"But your book says so."
"On the contrary, the book explains I have had a rewarding career. It describes some major investigations I carried out in supposed haunted buildings and how my observations led me to believe that the reports were either misconceived or pure lies. Some chapters explain how I debunked reports of other supposed paranormal activities such as angelic manifestations and reincarnations. Please understand my team, and I approached each case with open minds and without bias. We never went with preconceived ideas that the reports couldn't be correct or that we had to somehow debunk the general belief that ghosts showed up in those places. After falsifying so many claims of ghost activities worldwide, I guess I am entitled to express my opinion on life after death. Now that I understand nothing such as the astral world or disembodied spirits exist is a great reward my career has given me."
"Many of the spiritualists believe mere debunking of a few reports of paranormal activities doesn't in any way prove that spirits don't exist."
"Few! Five hundred-odd cases cannot be referred to as 'few.' Don't you think so?"
"Well, Mr. Tiwari, I am just telling you what your critics are saying?"
"The critics are free to say what they want to say. That doesn't change the truth. After all, I have given solid reasons for my conclusions."
"Every culture believes in life after death."
"That is not my problem, Swati. As far as I am concerned, the truth is loud and clear — ghosts don't exist."
"A few days back, an author called Dr. Ramcharan Dahiya wrote an article in the popular international magazine called 'Decoding the Infinity' that reports and analyses paranormal activities."
"Yes, I am aware of that."
"Dr. Dahiya reckons your conclusions as immature and unscientific."
Alok laughed. "What can I do about that? You might be aware, Dr. Dahiya is known for his conservative and rigid views. Earlier, he criticized several scientific papers written by renowned scientists."
"Did you ever get to meet Dr. Dahiya?"
"No, and I have no desire to meet him."
"He was a scientist, a biochemist, to be precise."
"What is important is the word 'was' you just used. Why is Dr. Dahiya no longer a scientist?"
"Well, several reports indicated he tried mixing spirituality with science. This was deemed as unacceptable behavior. So, he was removed from the research center he was working in."
"That was not the exact reason why he was removed, Swati. Dr. Dahiya was found conducting stupid experiments. One of his experiments involved the summoning of spirits through some ancient chants. Don't you find that ridiculous?"
"But you too did so much of ghost hunting. Would you call that ridiculous as well?"
"No, you must understand the difference between what I did as a paranormal investigator and what he did in the research center. The purpose of my investigations was to find out if the paranormal happenings reported to my team carried any substance. You will appreciate, and I said this earlier, I didn't start the investigations with any fixed ideas or preconceived notions. On the other hand, Dr. Dahiya’s act of summoning spirits presupposes the existence of ghosts. Putting it differently, he believed in ghosts. As for me, I wish to make it clear yet again, I neither believed nor disbelieved in ghosts. My intent was to find the truth. Although I understand the scientific community deems even ghost hunting a waste of time, I never claimed to be a part of the scientific community. All I was doing was to find the truth for the sake of my own understanding of the universe. It was for my own satisfaction. For sure, you cannot compare me with Dr. Dahiya, who claimed to be a scientist and at the same time tried calling spirits in a supposed scientific experiment. What he did was not expected of a scientist. And he did all that in a government scientific lab by spending public funds."
"The scientific community was pretty enraged by his experiments. Some suggested he was promoting pseudo-science in the garb of his supposed scientific experiments."
"That was the reason why he was removed from the service in the biochemistry research center. Now, tell me — of what value is a paper written by Dr. Dahiya suggesting my conclusions are immature and unscientific."
"But he is highly regarded by spiritualists."
"So? Am I supposed to change my conclusions because the supposed spiritualists like him?"
"The expression spiritualist needs some clarity, don't you think so? When someone calls herself or himself a spiritualist, I get confused as to what she or he means."
"Will you not be conducting paranormal investigations again?"
"No, this book marks the end of my career as a paranormal investigator."
"What about your team? Will, the team members also not take up investigations in the future?"
"Not quite. There are so many young people on the team who just started the work. They, I believe, will and should continue."
"Won't your book discourage them and other paranormal investigators for that purpose?"
"Not at all, Swati. This book explains my conclusions. Those are my truths. I am not imposing my conclusions on others."
"And you are satisfied with what you learned?"
"Of course, yes."
"You are convinced life after death is not a reality?"
"How many more times do you want me to say it — I am one hundred percent sure there is no life after death."
Alok's interview was telecast live. When he came out of the studio, he received several calls from his friends. They congratulated him for his confident answers. His book, several of his friends, believed, would now become one of the national bestsellers.
Later in the evening, he watched the repeat telecast of the program. Indeed, he had spoken with confidence. And he was happy about being truthful in his answers. Forty years back, when he resigned from a top-paying corporate job to become a paranormal investigator, he wished to approach the subject of life after death with objectivity and without prejudices. The application of scientific methods to determine the possible existence of disembodied spirits, Alok was convinced, could help throw light on the subject.
Traditional science dismissed the existence of phantoms due to the want of tangible proof. Although Alok had a strong scientific temperament, he couldn't be sure if traditional science's approach led to the correct inferences. The subject of the existence of life after death merited logical scrutiny by the employment of verifiable procedures. Many great women and men of science and arts over the last three centuries recorded sensing ghosts. Could they all be wrong? Alok had no answer.
The paranormal investigators were often called phantom chasers at the time he started his new career. Thoughts of Sonakshi crossed his mind. How angry she was at Alok's decision to become a phantom chaser! As a prominent scientist in a national establishment, it was no less than a stigma to keep a phantom chaser as a boyfriend. Images of their last meeting and the words they exchanged crossed Alok's mind.
"Looks like you have gone crazy, Alok."
"This is an important subject. We need to find out the truth."
"Where is your scientific temperament? Is it dead?"
"It is my scientific temperament that doesn't let me reject an idea just because there appears to be no tangible proof for it at a given moment. Science may not have developed to the degree to be able to explain life after death. We must not undermine the power of intuition. And my intuition suggests ..."
"I know," Sonakshi responded, "your intuition suggests life continues beyond death, and all stories of ghosts, spirits, and reincarnations are true."
"No, I didn't mean that. But, I do feel use of scientific methods in paranormal investigations can help us find out if spirits really exist."
"Rubbish, Alok. What you are saying is pure junk. Scientific methods are meant to be used in areas of science. These methods are not supposed to be used for hocus-pocus."
"Paranormal investigations are not hocus-pocus, Sonakshi."
"They are useless activities. There is no life after death."
"Maybe you are right."
"What do you mean 'maybe you are right?'"
"Only after thorough investigations can we find out the truth. It is possible that after in-depth surveys, we conclude there is no life after death. But to assert spirits don't exist without research or investigations goes against the scientific spirit, I guess."
"These arguments are sickening. What you are saying is so asinine that I don't even feel like countering your ideas."
"Please don't be so upset, Sonakshi. Perhaps my findings will help the scientific community one day."
"My foot, your hocus-pocus work will never be of any use to science. Now, listen, Alok, I wish to make one thing clear. I cannot live with the shame that my boyfriend is a damn phantom chaser."
"Are you suggesting we got to break-up if I don’t change my mind?"
"I thought you would respect my decision."
"Well, it is your choice — me or phantom chasing."
They broke up. Alok joined a local ghost-hunting club. None of its members was a professional phantom chaser. Most were part-timers and conducted paranormal investigations more as a hobby than anything else. Their crude methods of ghost-chasing didn't impress Alok in the least. The club had no equipment such as sensitive voice recorders, digital camcorders with night vision technology, and EMF readers.
Most of their investigations were based on the inferences of the senior-most member, a woman supposed to be a psychic. Whenever they had to investigate a haunted building, the psychic would move around, trying to sense incorporeal presences. Others simply followed the lady and noted down her thoughts. More often than not, the psychic found the reports of ghost sightings to be of substance and would tell a story as to how the ghost manifestation started through her supposed psychic inferences.
'A little boy is looking for his mother in this house,' 'Oh, several people were brutally murdered here' — some story or the other would spring from her supposed psychic senses. Within a couple of months, Alok left the club. The woman was no doubt an impostor.
Then he decided to start investigations on his own. So, he purchased several ghost-hunting gadgets and began offering services at reasonable prices. In less than a year, Alok became a famous paranormal investigator. Alok's fame spread far and wide. Soon enough, he had a team with full-time phantom chasers.
The life of a paranormal investigator is not easy as people may think. One has to study hard to understand the latest trends and findings in the field. Besides, case-specific studies and research are also crucial to meaningful investigations. Interpretation of collected data is yet another challenge. When such data is obtained from electronic gadgets, its interpretation becomes all the more difficult. Last but not least, one has to constantly face one's fear.
The news that Sonakshi married a colleague hurt him, but he didn't let his emotions affect his work.
By the time he stepped into his forties, he was quite a celebrated paranormal investigator. With two successful books to his credit and frequent appearances on television shows, he had become a household name. Alok had never imagined ghost hunting would make him rich and famous. Although money and fame gave him happiness, he never forgot financial well-being and recognition were not his purposes for taking up phantom chasing. His quest to find out if there was life after death continued with the same gusto with which it started.
After Sonakshi dumped him, Alok chose to be a bachelor. Being single would help him put complete focus on his mission. Alok's commitment to his work and employment of scientific methods through advanced gadgetry inspired generations of paranormal investigators.
In a seminar on new paradigms of quantum physics in Bangalore, Alok met Prof. Puneet Sharma, Sonakshi's husband.
"Hello, Professor Sharma."
"Hello, Mr. Tiwari. How's everything?"
"Fine, and how are things with you?"
"Well, I am trying to get over it."
"Don't you know, Mr. Tiwari?"
"Oh, so you are not aware of it. Last month, Sonakshi passed away."
How shocking and shattering those words were! Alok's limbs went numb.
"The doctors tried hard, but they couldn't save her."
"What happened to her?" Alok asked when his limbs started moving again.
"Sonakshi had contracted a peculiar disease during one of her tours to the middle-east. Soon after her return, she fell sick. The medical tests showed signs of multi-organ disorders. Sonakshi's condition quickly got worse, and she died within a month."
"Shocking! I am so sorry, Professor Sharma."
The news had shaken his soul, but his quest for the truth did not get a dent. For another twenty years, he continued his work. During the total span of forty years of his career as a paranormal investigator, Alok visited about sixty countries and five hundred supposedly haunted places. And he applied scientific methods to find out the truth in each of his assignments. None turned out to be a genuine report.
Alok switched off the television, leaned back in his chair, and stretched his legs. With his head resting on the top rail, he looked at the chandelier above. A smile played on his lips. After all, he had all reasons to be happy — it had been forty years of unflinching devotion to his work. Well, Sonakshi was right. There is no life after death. But to arrive at that conclusion without investigations would certainly be against the spirit of science.
His plans for post-retirement life were clear — reading and traveling. Although he had stepped into the seventies, he was pretty fit. In fact, over the last ten years, he had been participating in the half-marathon events. The fact that he was sixty when he started running was never a demotivating factor. Alok's enthusiasm and degree of self-motivation to learn and do new things made him a rare example for people of his age. Within a year, he was ready to run his first half-marathon. Thus far, he had run in over twenty events.
Wow! Now, he had everything — money, health, time, and the truth that life doesn't persist beyond death.
The sound of the calling bell brought him out of his ruminations. For a moment, he wished someone else was there to answer the door. But he was all alone — that was the life he chose for himself. Oh, no, he didn't regret his decision at all. Instead, Alok was happy to be alone. Solitude, he always believed, was bliss. He was even averse to the idea of keeping housekeepers or servants. Save a few brief periods during which he employed servants, he did all the household work himself. Doing one's own work also helped one keep physically and mentally active. After a good stretch of the body, Alok got up to answer the door.
Dear Readers and Listeners, who do you think pressed the calling bell? What does the visitor want? Well, we will find out all that and much more in the second and concluding part of PHANTOM CHASER. Do catch up with OBSCURUS next week. I promise the tale is going to take an exciting turn.
Thanks for listening to OBSCURUS. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and visit biswajitbanerjee.com for more information about Biswajit's books, movies, documentaries, and other creative pursuits. We shall see you next Wednesday with another episode of OBSCURUS. Till then, take care!