Why I write Horror despite being a scaredy cat?
Whatever horror I knew as a small child was either through the spooky desi tales narrated by our house help or by watching Ramsay’s movies. Our house help Madhu had a bag full of creepy stories from her village. Now that I look back, those stories were mostly folklore or tales concocted through Chinese whispers.
“Chikkiboon (boon is ben or sister in a local dialect of Gujarati from North Gujarat), we had a huge tamarind tree near our village square. In the daytime, it looked like an innocuous tree, but once the darkness fell, it took over a sinister garb. Its long, convoluted branches swayed in the breeze and came dangerously low to the ground ready to pounce on any hapless bystander happened to repose under it. And if one even managed to escape the fatal clutches of the branches, the non-human tree-dweller wouldn’t let them go.”
“Non-human, Madhu?” I asked, my 8-year old eyes widened in surprise.
“Yes, a chudail,” replied Madhu.
“What’s a chudail?”
“An evil spirit who wears bridal red saree, has long black hair braided in a neat plait and is extremely beautiful, her eyes lustrous and her mouth painted bright red.”
“Then how is she evil, Madhu? She seems to be pretty?” I wondered.
“She is pretty unless you look at her legs.” Madhu smirked.
“Legs? Why are her legs not pretty like the rest of her?”
“They are the ugliest looking legs you will ever see. Not only they are covered with spidery red veins protruding through the skin, but also the skin is shrivelled. But that is not what scares you. The thing is a chudail’s legs are turned backwards.”
I was shocked to the core. Could such a thing happen?
“Baby, if you ever come across an impossibly beautiful woman, dressed in red and gold finery, standing under a tamarind tree once the sun sets, don’t get fooled; just look at her feet. She has to be a chudail.” I gulped and nodded my head.
“Have you seen her yourself?” I asked.
“Yes, a few times, but only from afar. But my older sister was taken away by her. The wicked chudail called her out, and she went up to her, in spite of my father having warned us never to go near the tamarind tree after sunset. But she went to the tree, and was never seen after that.” Madhu’s face took a sombre expression.
After that evening, I never even visited our backyard where there was a huge tamarind tree. Even during day time, I would go only if I was accompanied; I could see its thick branches loaded with sour brown fruits swaying when there was not a breeze. I was convinced a chudail dwelled on that tree, and I for one was not taking a chance.
This one and other such tales narrated by my house help had a deep impression on me, or one could say I was scared or scarred for life. Till this day, I don’t pass a tamarind tree post evening. I chant ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ even while visiting the washroom in the night, and don’t look in the mirror if I am alone in the room.
Then how come I started writing horror stories?
As frightened as I am by horror, horror holds a strange fascination for me. I watch certain parts of horror movies with my eyes and ears closed, and rush through the pages where the spectre comes to the fore or the ghost is unleashing violence on its hapless victims. But I still find them interesting and exciting.
When I first wrote the horror story ‘The Haveli’ for The Hive, frissons of excitement rushed through my blood and the hair on my nape and on my hands stood up. I never knew writing horror could be such a mind charging activity. Creating a sinister atmosphere and detailing the entry of the ghost took a lot of time and effort, but what a stimulating experience it was.
With my second horror story “Look into My Eyes” for Trail XIII – Path to Perdition, the story started well but it lost steam in the middle. It was not scary, not even for me. I sent my story to Ell P and Priya for the first read, and they came back with some invaluable suggestions. Meanwhile, I also read a few horror books, Stephen King’s Shining being one of them, and learnt quite a lot. Repetition of words or sentences of fear and violence invokes fear. However, it were the bad ones from which I learnt the most. I learnt what not to write. The type of violence inflicted by the ghost/monster/spectre should be creative and not repetitive or the readers lose interest. It helped, and I rewrote “Look into My Eyes” which came out really well.
I have learnt one thing about writing horror that the story needs to be scary for the writer. When I write horror, the narration has to frighten me to the point where I stop writing and take a break. That is when I feel it is good enough to share it with my readers, so that they can feel the atmosphere and be disturbed by it, so that they can experience the same gamut of emotions, from disbelief to shock and from thrill to fear.
Horror may not be my favourite genre, but I enjoy writing atmospheric horror stories. And enjoy the spurt of fear that overtakes me either for a brief amount of time or sometimes follows me well into my dreams.