[Note: Link to Sonnets of Spring. Entry is on topic #3]
I was twisting and twirling in delight amidst the clouds when the unfortunate thing happened. I had been summoned by Mr Boogedy. A convulsive shiver trickled down my spine (only, I didn’t have any!). Oh wait, l guess an introduction is in order. I’m Phantom. But don’t raise your hopes up too high my friend! I’m not the Guardian of the Eastern Dark. I’m an ordinary ghost but with an extraordinary life. If you’re thinking of tossing away my story anticipating it to be yet another surreal horror tale, stick around. I’m friendly and though I’m not very fond of you eggheads, I have a knack for putting up with the most impudent of species.
So that unfortunate evening it was, Boogedy who is the President of the Human Welfare Association in the Ghost World, had sent for me. I had been dreading this for quite some time. Often, I’d wondered what I would do when the guards came looking for me and almost always, I had thought I’d make a run for my life. But when the plight finally hit me head-on, any attempt to abscond seemed futile.
As we entered the big palace of the President, I tried to recall the rules that I had read in the Ghost Manual in my pre-nursery which talked about ‘How to stay calm when your ass is on fire?’ but my memory failed me. These are the few rare times in life you wish you had paid attention in the class. But then again, had I been a good student in class, it would have been a different story altogether. Maybe, I could’ve gotten a degree to work in this association itself rather than having to bother with the eggheads at all. But another look at this gloomy place changed my mind.
Everywhere inside the palace, there were surly, clerical type ghosts wearing black collared uniforms with an insignia of Casper (Yes, it’s the same Casper you’re thinking about!). Because we ghosts are not endowed with an innate creativity, I think they might’ve decided to copy the egghead created graphics. But if you’re already thinking of trying us for plagiarism, think again! ‘Cause we can sue you too for the gross misrepresentation and attempt to disrepute our ghost community in the popular media through the libellous horror movies, which by the way scare the hell out of us!
I was greeted by the receptionist, Ms Hania, with a smile as if sneering at me. I didn’t smile back. She asked me to wait for some time as the President was having a foot massage by the pixies (And in case you’re wondering-No, they don’t have big ears nor do they always dress in green- They have a fashion sense too you know.). The wall outside the President’s room was adorned with posters, one of which said, ‘Egghead world Triskaidekaphobics anticipating horror show: Volunteers needed for the upcoming Friday the 13th’. There was another one saying ‘Recruitment for the Sallie Haunted House in Board Room: Interview Guide’. How could spooking the eggheads be a welfare scheme for them, I wondered. ‘We can’t always be the good guys right, we have to live up to the human projections too sometimes’, said a ghost in uniform beside me, which made me realize I’d said it out loud.
A few moments later, I was called in. Contrary to my expectations, President Boogedy was a scrawny fellow who was a little too meek for the post of President of one of the highest levels of organization of ghosts in the world. He commanded just a little authority, if not none at all. He glanced at me with a mix of scorn and exasperation, trying to instil pangs of fear in me. I almost felt a little sorry for the fellow who was clearly trying so hard. I prepared to defend myself but before I could utter a word, he burst out, ‘So Phantom, I hear you’ve been travelling and having a gala time while your host is becoming a soulless halfwit. We here, Mister, have a reputation to maintain and we’re not going to pamper all your whims and fancies. While you’ve been enjoying your vacation without any leave of absence, that lowbrow seems to have squandered off the 3 pound egg sitting on top of him. May I ask if you have any explanation for this callousness?’ I began with my explanation that I had rehearsed probably a hundred times before, ‘I’m sorry Mr President but I have had a hard time inside the body of my pig-headed host. He is suffering from the BOCCT (Brain too obstinate to change the course of thought) syndrome! He always seems to..’ But Mr Boogedy interrupted me and complained, ‘You all always come up with the same excuses. I know that brain is a queer thing and these eggheads are queer fellas. And this is precisely why we’ve been entrusted upon this task of saving humanity. Too much of brains on the planet and soon it’s going to see its doom! No matter how much these eggheads might ridicule us, we have a heart, you know—Oh, not literally of course. ‘
I realized this was going to be a futile argument and partly to stop the President from accomplishing the near impossible task of causing a ghost to doze off to sleep (you see, we suffer from perpetual insomnia), I acquiesced to my fate. ‘Rise and Shine, my boy!’ he exclaimed. And the next moment I remember, I regained my ‘consciousness’ inside a short, pot-bellied young teenager sitting in a classroom, who happened to be called Christopher Walker. Almost instinctively, I tried to recollect the golden rules of possession.
Rule #1: Conceal yourself inside the host.
Rule #2: The host shouldn’t have any qualms about your existence. In simple words, desist from ghostly pleasures like hanging out with other ghosts, satiric philosophizing on the inadequacies of egghead race, posing for the digital cameras etc. Luxuriate in humanly pleasures like money, fame, material possessions, passive entertainment etc. as far as possible but at the same time, always remember the ghost motto-‘Defy gravity! Save humanity!’
Rule #3: When it comes to matters of love, remember you take the call.
Rule #4: The above 3 rules are self-contained (In case of any discrepancy, refer to the above three).
I felt a sense of pride at having remembered all the rules so vividly. Soon enough, the silent communion was overtaken by a stream of thoughts from my host. Then I realized what I’d really settled for. Christopher was thinking about neurons and axons and spinal cords but it wasn’t until I’d glanced at the blackboard that I realized he was taking the biology exam. The brain is pretty good at all this stuff, I thought. So I decided to give myself a little break. I dreamt about all the good old times that seemed so long ago now when I was basking in the beauty of the afternoon sun, wishing ghosts could get sun-tanned, far far away from the egghead world. Suddenly, I was baffled by that charlatan’s thoughts. This is what he had written on his exam sheet:
‘The emotional reactions of humans are controlled by groups of nuclei within the brain, called amygdala. Further, the hippocampus decides which memories are important and worth remembering for the brain. A multi-dimensional analysis of the brain can further reveal the source of all human emotions.’
And for the first time in what seemed like a long long time, I was outraged. Usually, I am a convivial, patient guy but this insult was more than I could take. I was being dismissed as a nonentity by this smug nobody. I exploded with anger, ‘We, ghosts, have a job too and it is much tougher than that of the cranky organ inside your skull. If you are a machine, then I’m the remote control for it. All the passé terms that are a part of your everyday vocabulary like ‘kindness’, ‘love’, generosity’ would have been non-existent had it not been for benevolent ghosts like me. Yes, you got it right-that’s me! It is the same thing which helps male eggheads to accommodate and live (if not necessarily happily!) with the females. Yeah, that’s all me again! If not for me, the arteries of your head would have burst out due to relationship troubles. What you call the theory of evolution and the subsequent ‘moral’ edification and one-upmanship of humans over other living creatures, is actually the possession of humans by noble -and if I may add, bountiful and totally awe-inspiring- ghosts like us.’
But I realized that I had forgotten to unscrew the cerebral cortex of his brain in a frenzy of rage. What a waste! But it did manage to cool me off a little, else I might have had to face the consequences of violation of Rule #1. So I knocked on the cerebral cortex and when it didn’t respond, I unscrewed the cortex myself and got in.
I began, this time with remarkable forbearance,
‘Hey there, This is your conscience (Just euphemising!). You seem to have oversimplified the things a bit (A bit?). Don’t you think I deserve some credit here too? Do you really believe that your central nervous system alone has the capacity to love? ‘I’ am the cupid of your life. Yes, Me! For all the science you’ve studied, complex human relationships surely couldn’t have been managed in just those few terabytes of storage capacity! ’
Ah! It had been immensely liberating. I would have continued with my mini-soliloquy but I restrained myself (Rule #1 of possession, you see).
I seemed to have left quite an impression on him. Soon, Christopher scribbled on his answer script,
‘All that said and done, what we are forgetting here is the impact of the inner voice in guiding us in our actions. Surely, the brain isn’t entirely capable of doing all this on its own. What assists it is the soul or conscience.’
As if this wasn’t enough, he further scribbled off whatever he had written in the previous paragraph. I was elated. Could it have gotten any better?! He wasn’t as unyielding as I had perceived him to be, I thought.
I hadn’t realized the consequences of what seemed like an innocuous influence until the answer scripts were returned the next day. A blank face over of a hundred was all that was written on top of it (Oh, and with a note of appreciation from the teacher too-‘Forgive me Christopher. But it was my ‘inner voice’ which compelled me to give you a zero!’).
It seemed to have gotten on the nerves of him. As we treaded along the road back home, the almost deranged fella kicked and tossed anything that came in hos way. I was beginning to feel the pangs of anger myself. So you see, the influence of the host can also creep in sometimes, through the cerebral cortex of course, inside the ghost. It was this part that now that I didn’t like. It wasn’t such a great start after all!
But my despair didn’t last long. When we reached near the front of the house, I saw her–the love of my life– for the first time. That beautiful sight still lingers in my mind like an unfading memory. Her arms moved so delicately, like the wings of a butterfly. I looked and looked and looked, as if trying to absorb all the magnificence she radiated at once. I could almost hear the slow music of violins. This must be love, I thought. And when I realized what I had just thought, it was even more exhilarating. I kept repeating it again and again till I was overwhelmed with ecstasy. I was in love. With the delicate ghostly spirit inside that heavy-built not-so-delicate egghead body. But as if my nemesis sensed my happiness, he immediately turned away and began to move towards his door. I pleaded him to stay and walk back towards her, but all in vain.
I felt a certain rush of consternation, of parting even, although our love story had not yet even seen the light of the day.
But I wasn’t going to let my first love slip away so easily (How could I? It’s not often that our soul-mate stands right in front of us but we shamelessly turn a blind eye and carry on with our lacklustre daily routine, right?). All throughout the night, I kept pouring in all kinds of thoughts about the girl into the cerebrospinal fluid. Sometimes, he tried to shun me away by responding with impertinent comments like “Why ARE you thinking so much about that fatty? She must be the new neighbour. Go to sleep! She isn’t worth a dime!” I snapped back, “She is the reason you are not sleeping. It must be something. C’mon, she’s swept you off your feet! Go speak to her tomorrow else you won’t be able to sleep again.” It convinced him, and the next morning, the first thing he did was walk out the door and wait for her to show up.
I was so nervous that some of it might have crept into Christopher and his hands started trembling. He began adjusting his round spectacles and considered changing his Polo T-Shirt. I considered telling him that that wasn’t going to matter anyway but I thought it would be fun to watch his pointless endeavour. Soon, she stepped out of her house, her beautiful self. But to my utter surprise, Christopher responded with intense disapprobation. He kept repeating, ‘How could you think she was the one for you. Surely, you couldn’t fall for this blimp!’ And before I could even begin to say anything, he rushed back into the house and the screw of his cortex tightened. And without a screw driver, it was next to impossible for me to penetrate through. “Please, please listen”, I winced, aghast. But it was as though he had built a dyke that prevented anything I said from spilling inside. I was helpless.
So I went out straight from this hostile egghead body to the Office of the Human Welfare Association in the Ghost World and filed for a sick leave on account of H2D2H virus. In case you are unfamiliar with our ghost terminology, it is the Host too difficult to handle virus. Ms. Hania granted me leave for an evening on one condition- that I spend it with her. It shouldn’t be so hard, I thought. I am a charming young fellow after all and when a young girl asks me on a date, I simply can’t refuse. Out of sheer decency, of course. So off we went to her house, not far away from the Presidential Palace itself, which was like a reservoir of all the books in the world.
“You must be an avid reader”, I said, dully.
“Well, of course. How else can a lonely, single young ghost while away her time?” she said with a special emphasis on ‘single’, looking at me anxiously for a response. But I wasn’t really feeling at the top of my spirits so I thought it best to remain silent.
“So you tell me, what it is that brings you on a leave?” she asked, mainly to fill the awkward silence.
“I’m having love troubles.” I confided. Then blushingly, I added, “Um..well, Not exactly love troubles. I haven’t even started the romantic course of my life yet, thanks to my ever so congenial host. Tell me Hania, is this fair?” I instantly sensed a breeze of despondency. She might’ve fallen for me. But she did manage to keep a stiff upper lip about it. But what could one do if one was as prepossessing as prepossessing could ever be?
After moments of silence she finally spoke,
“Are you sure you haven’t tried enough? You could try your host in the court for violation of treaty, no?”
“What treaty?” I asked, a little perplexed.
“Oh well, you sure have signed the Treaty of Farrago with your host, haven’t you?”
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard the name.”
She looked astounded and almost as if to herself, she said,
“This is the reason I keep telling Boogedy for a screening test before the possessions but he always seems to disagree. He thinks all ghosts are far too smart for that. What a pity! You have secured a certificate for passing the ‘Possession eligibility Test’, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have”, I said, wondering if I should feel embarrassed about my ‘achievement’.
“Then you can’t possibly say that you don’t know the fundamentals!”
“But I do remember the golden rules of possession!” I said. They are the only fundamentals we were ever taught, I thought to myself.
“Even people who fail the test know that! “, she retorted.
This tirade of insults, that too by a young girl definitely not more than a few years older than I was, was beginning to unnerve me but now I really wanted to know about this treaty.
“Now that you’ve disparaged me enough, can you care to explain what exactly this treaty is all about?” I asked finally.
She took out an elementary book from her shelf and threw it over the table in front of me. As I opened the book, I was overcome by feelings of indignity and a certain solace at the same time. The first page of the book read,
The Treaty of Farrago
It is the treaty that you must sign with the host right after possessing the body. It lays down the jurisdictions of both the host and the ghost.
Under this treaty, the host would have power over the following:
All decisions pertaining to education, career, health and the like which require intelligence, complex levels of analysis and creativity.
While the ghost can wield power over all of the following:
All decisions pertaining to love, friendship and other strong emotions incapable of being handled well by the host alone.
How could I not know all this? True, I often carried crib notes during exams and more often so, couldn’t resist the temptation of looking at my peers’ answer sheets during the finals, but I would’ve remembered something about the Treaty if it were ever asked in the exams, no?
As I began absorbing all the clauses of the Treaty, a doubt crept into my mind, and I wittingly asked,
“What about things that fall in the no man’s land or in both their lands for that matter? Like for example, what if the host decides to pursue a career abroad while the ghost wants to stay close to the love of his life? Who gets to decide then?”
She replied, this time a little patiently,
“Well, that’s a good question you ask. Lately, there has been a debate going on inside the House of Commons over adding a clause about this. But, as of now, different host-ghost combinations come up with different arrangements for it. Like when I possessed a human body long ago, we had decided upon a statistical distribution for resolving this dispute. Based on that, we would determine who gets to decide in which situations. But, I’m afraid this might be too complicated for you”, she said and I could sense a sort of smugness in her remark.
“Don’t worry, everyone figures out something on their own over time”, she added in an apologetic tone.
Now, that sounds like a brilliant treaty for living together peacefully. Doesn’t it?
I dreamt about all the things I could finally do inside my host, if he signed the treaty. Probably, he will not remain my nemesis after that. Perhaps, he could come to heel and I could get to talk to her, my true soul-mate. As I considered these wonderful possibilities, I was reminded by Hania that my leave of absence was coming to an end. I prepared to get back to the human world and this time round, the thought of returning didn’t trouble me as much.
What happened after I returned? Well, that would be another story, don’t you think?