It’s the stuff of pulp fiction. A ‘witch’ — some say three ‘witches’ — is rumoured to be on the prowl in Delhi, asking for onions. The tale goes that anyone unfortunate enough to give her an onion dies after the witch cuts the onion. What’s more, blood pours from it. Those falling for the gag are applying palm prints of turmeric and henna on doors to ward off her evil eye.
GANESHA’S MIRACLE: Welcome to 21st century India — an India where reports of witches, black magic, supernatural beings and superstition still grab eyeballs, leading to mass hysteria and suspending the common sense of people. No wonder the yarn of ‘Ganesha drinking milk’ was lapped up not just in India but in distant nations too on September 21, 1995. Scientists tried to explain the phenomenon as capillary action by stone statues but were shouted down by arguments that metal statues too performed the miracle.
Another melodrama that subsumed people was the ‘monkey man’ who wore “a metal helmet, had metal claws and glowing red eyes” and terrorised the Capital in May 2001. Many people were reportedly scratched, and two people even died when they leapt from roofs in panic. But no ‘monkey man’ was ever photographed or captured. The fact that people sleep on roofs in summer, well within the reach of real monkeys, probably contributed to the collective hysteria.
And often, such urban legends have held people spellbound. Years ago, both Mumbai and Kolkata were rocked by the ‘stoneman’. Mumbai suffered his attacks twice, in the 1960s and in the mid-80s. The first time, a man was arrested for the murder of 42 people. But that did little to stem the killings which started again in 1985. The mystery murderer of beggars and pavement-dwellers remained elusive. Kolkata’s ‘stoneman’ killed 13 people between 1989-90.
MUNOCHWA WONDER: If Mumbai had the ‘stoneman’, UP was terrorised by the ‘munochwa’ between June-July, 2002. This was an unknown object which injured hundreds in Mirzapur, Lucknow, Kanpur and eastern districts of the state. The ‘attacks’ were variously described as an invasion by UFOs, insects and others. Recently, IIT Kanpur professor Ravindra Arora said the reason behind this was ball lightning, a phenomenon where a cluster of high temperature luminous particles emit an orangish, red colour and wave through the air a few metres above the ground due to electric charge. He said almost 96 per cent of ‘munochwa’ incidents were reported during or after heavy thunderstorms, often accompanied by rainfall.
Interestingly, Silicon City too has had spooky experiences. In 1996, stories of a female ghost knocking at doors did the rounds in Bangalore. Soon people even put up sign boards asking the ghost to “come tomorrow”. Apparently the blood-thirsty ghost was kind enough to spare that victim! Finally, Bangaloreans laid the ghost to rest one day.
Two years later, the city was again gripped by a fear of being injected by the AIDS virus. Sinister messages were stuck on people, saying: “You’ve been injected with the HIV virus. Welcome to the world of AIDS.” There were rumours of people being jabbed with syringes containing the virus. Illusion or reality — a very thin line divides the two.