Photobucket had recently made a very dick move by disabling all third-party embedded pics unless I pay $399. I've been blogging for 13 years and have 2000+ embedded pics across 650+ blog posts, which are now all unviewable. I'm working on moving my images to a new host, so until then, please do bear with me if you cannot view any images on my older blog posts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chp 227. The demonization of Mizoram




“Oh brother, why have you tarnished my name?”


North East India is a complexity that outsiders will struggle to understand, simply because most of us from this region itself don’t understand our own complexities.

It is on such occasions that we look on to experts and academia for their pedantic researches. Stereotypes are easy to manufacture when ignorance persists, especially if defamation spits out venom in the form of unprofessional biased Reports.

The recently published HRW (Human Rights Watch) report had done just that – demonized the peace-loving state of Mizoram and horrified people all over the world into believing Mizoram is as bad as Afghanistan or Uganda.



I edited the above map from the HRW site for easier understanding. The area marked in yellow is Burma, including the blue area which are the Chin states. The area in red is Mizoram, a part of India which shares 404 KM long border with Burma (40% of Mizoram’s entire border).

Mizos, Chins and many others in this region share the same ancestry but are divided by an International border and a few dialect differences.

These people in the Chin states of Burma face extreme torture under the evil Thatmadaw (Burmese Army) regime and frequently flee to Mizoram to escape persecution. Everybody knows what is happening in Burma but nobody is willing to do anything about it. The Chin cause is like the Tibetan cause – Lost. It becomes a dinner-table conversation topic, and remains just that.

Just like Biafra, or Rwanda, or North Korea, people exclaim… “oh shittt…” when they hear the news. And then they carry on with their lives. Sure, people like you and me may not have the power to change the world, but Super Powers can… oh wait, I forgot. There ain’t no oil in those places. Stupid me.


Recently the HRW filed a report on the Chin people, aptly termed “We are like forgotten people”.

We are like forgotten people – Part 5 - Life for Chin in Mizoram.
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/79892/section/8


The content under section 5, called “Life for Chin in Mizoram” was terrifyingly disturbing. Keep reading this post to know what I’m talking about.

Meanwhile, I respectfully urge the HRW to take notice of this too. This is not one of those pompous “Open letter to somebody who’s not going to give a damn” articles. But I do need to address the people responsible for this report in a very direct and personal way.

Dear Amy Alexander, Sara Colm, Elaine Pearson and the rest of you who had dedicated their life to such a noteworthy cause as the HRW, I just wish to convey my utmost support and commendation for the admirable work that you’ve been doing in the name of humanity.

Having said that, I would also like to convey my disappointment on the quality of work rendered at the section “Life for Chin in Mizoram” in your article “We are like forgotten people”.

I wouldn’t exactly call it shoddy, but it definitely reeked of favoritism and lacked any mature signs of professionalism.

Believe me, my heart and sympathy go out to the Chin people. But you didn’t have to take Mizoram down just to exhibit and magnify their plight.

Your report: “Life for Chin in Mizoram” couldn’t have been more one-sided!

You’ve branded Mizoram and the Mizos as a devil-incarnate in your report, like the kind of villains Rambo would shoot down with no mercy if his latest movie was extended for another 10 minutes. Everything was negative about Mizoram, right from the very beginning to the afterthought. Believe me, that negativity will linger in anyone’s mind after reading it. In that page alone, Mizoram was mentioned 233 times.

233 times of mostly criticisms, vile dirty criticisms about Mizoram.

Everything was so biased, with no actual research done to hear the other side of the story. Well, let me be that voice for you, if you think I’m not worthy of an interview since I’m not one of those persecuted by the Junta.

Starting with the very first point on that page:
“Here [in India] I am like a prisoner. Even though India is the biggest democratic country, staying in India is like staying in prison: no freedom, no happiness, no money to take care of my family.”

-Chin refugee living in New Delhi, India [236]

First of all, we’re talking about a Chin refugee living in DELHI and the problem he faced with India as a country. So why was this issue placed right under “Life for Chin in MIZORAM” section as if to single out Mizoram or somehow imply that Mizos were responsible for the treatment he received in Delhi?

Secondly, let us put aside (for a moment) the discrimination he faced in Delhi. FYI, not only Mizos from Mizoram but the entire Northeastern community face such discriminations in mainland India especially in Delhi. If the refugee felt he was treated badly, he should know that even WE face that same treatment and many of us still feel like a stranger in our own country.

---------------------------


Regarding all those lines and paragraphs about how Chin people in Mizoram are discriminated when it comes to jobs and salaries, I wonder why Ms. Amy Alexander never MENTIONED in the report that the Mizos in Mizoram THEMSELVES are not able to find any work or jobs that pay enough, therefore many of us are forced to migrate to other parts of India looking for jobs.

That was a cheap shot, Ms. Amy, really cheap and sly.

It wouldn’t have hurt to mention in your report that the economy of Mizoram is too small and underdeveloped to maintain this large influx of Chin refugees in Mizoram, which by the way is more than 100,000. That’s roughly 10% the population of Mizoram.

10% of an entire population is not a miniscule amount, mind you.

Suppose we look at America, based on the data of “total number of refugees that enter the country every year” from NCELA and US Dept of Health and Human Serivces - Office of Refugee Resettlement, the total number of refugees who entered America between 1988 and 2008 (the same period of time when Chins came to Mizoram) is roughly 1,300,000 which is just around 0.5% of the Country’s population.

And Mizoram is not even comparable to America in terms of development. There must be at least more than 100,000 Americans whose personal asset value individually is more than the collective wealth of all the Mizos put together. Many people now feel that if this is the response Mizos are getting from the World community, then Chins are always free to move to neighboring states like Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Tripura etc.

Do the maths, dear Ms. Amy. Mizoram – high unemployment among youth – lack of opportunity – lack of modern technology – lack of MNCs and other private sectors – saturated government services – no means of self development - restless youth everywhere with qualifications but no job openings… When we can’t even feed our own mouth, why do you crucify us for not being able to feed the Chin people?

Seriously, it is fine by me if you mention about this issue, as long as you also mention in the same sentence about our current situation. Our Chin brothers need all the help they can get from anyone who are ABLE to provide them. But by avoiding that fact, it looks like you’re just trying to win the sympathy of “overloaded philanthropists” who have no idea what or where Mizoram is.

This is completely hogwash, ma’am.

---------------------------


This is another quotation many of us fail to digest, and has caused a huge furor not just in the Zo online community but back home too.
The way [the Mizos] think is that killing a Chin person is like killing a dog. It is not that serious.

- One Chin woman.


All I can say is, Whaaaaat????

Everybody’s totally shocked at such a statement because this goes way beyond anyone’s most vivid imagination. How could any normal sane human-being say that?

Due to this, we had to moderate and delete many comments that poured in at our discussion forums. Comments like, “If that’s how they feel and how the World is going to look at us now, might as well…”

I don’t even want to continue typing such disgusting comments…

See the seed you’ve planted?

This report definitely alienated the Mizos further away from the Chins and we tried our best to control the damage by removing provocative comments that poured in regularly.

And with such reports highlighted in Reuters, BBC, FoxNews, AP (Associated Press) and many more, the world is now going to look at us in a completely different way.

Like what many Mizos and Mizo expatriates commented, sometimes people exaggerate a lot so that they can get a refugee status as quick as possible from developed countries and migrate there. No offence intended to all my Chin brothers who had migrated to other Countries – I know the treatments you’ve faced in Burma are genuine. But is it really this bad in Mizoram? Is this how you really feel we consider you all as? I need to know this, straight from your heart.

I would really LOVE to meet this Chin woman who made that statement. Sit down with her for a cup of tea. Listen to her story. If she is lying, ask her why politely. If she is telling the truth, ask her to take me to this Mizo who treated her like that and take appropriate actions against him.


---------------------------


And dear Ms. Amy, in your entire article you failed to mention one very IMPORTANT factor, probably the most important factor if I may say so. And that is the CRIME rate of the Chin refugees in Mizoram (mind you, I am not generalizing the entire Chin community elsewhere here).

You yourself mentioned that Mizos accepted the Chins during the first wave of migration in spite of India not being a part of either the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol.

We never complained about that influx or the many others that followed, after all, they are our brothers.

And then you started writing about how Mizos are now pushing these Chins back into Burma, like as if they are diseased or something. I admit there exists many tensions between the local population and the Chins. To deny that would be to blatantly lie in order to save one’s face. But I won’t resort to such blinded chauvinism. There is a lot of truth in your report, but the way you have reported it is completely wrong.

Yes, many Mizos aren’t exactly the best of friends with the Chins.

But in your long course of research and interviews etc, I am surprised you never took any effort to find out how this rift took place. Did you think the Mizos suddenly woke up one fine day and decided, “Hey I hate the Chins!” ???

Many crimes in Mizoram, especially burglary and drugs trafficking are committed by people from Burma. This is a fact. I am angry at my own Mizoram Government for not taking any effort to publicize this fact to the Human Rights Watch commission. People always have an unfortunate incident to narrate regarding the time they were robbed by their maid or servant from Burma. Watch the evening news about the police nabbing a thief who stole a bike or a pusher caught with drugs, and chances are, they are usually from Burma.

My family itself had been a victim on many occasions. Whenever a maidservant leaves for her home [Burma] for “vacation”, a lot of stuff from our house disappears, and she never returns. Once our maid even ran away from our house in the middle of the night taking along with her all our expensive household possessions that she could grab.

And at our farm in Neihbawih, Sihphir, two different sets of Chin caretakers ran away from our farm taking along with them our entire livestock (cows, pigs, hens etc). When the first set ran away, we rebuilt it from scratch suffering a HUGE loss. And then the same thing happened again in spite of my relatives telling my father not to hire people from Burma again.

Now our farm is completely ruined, but fortunately it is now utilized by my cousin who runs a de-addiction center [Bethesda Care Center] there, free of charge. Yes, at least those untoward incidents led to this noble venture, but the way it happened is not exactly right, don’t you also agree?

This is also the main topic of discussion regarding this issue at any Mizo discussion forum. One user called chenguaio from misual.com commented:
TO AMY ALEXANDER, incompetent self ambitious so called social worker :
my brothers and sisters come from burma, i take them in, WITH EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES.
BUT THEY SELL DRUGS TO MY KIDS, STEAL and RAPE my daughter. Madame AMY, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Believe me, Amy ma’am, this is the sentiments shared by many.

My mom is now skeptical about employing anybody from Burma, but my dad is still the same. He tries not to stereotype and has been called a fool many times whenever he pays for his principles. But I admire him for that and follow his footsteps. I abhor generalization of any kind, but I do not speak on behalf of the entire Mizoram population.

Hence with every reported crime that came in, Mizos grew further and further apart from our Chin brothers, such that all it required in the end was a single matchstick to ignite the fuse. And that was lit with the rape of a nine-year-old girl on July 17, 2003. The Mizos cried out, “Enough is enough!”.

That’s the “Quit Mizoram” movement you were talking about in your report.

Sure, many of us condemn the fact that a lot of innocent Chins had to pay for the crimes of a few, especially through mob-rule methods. But we need to look into the crux of this matter deeper.

Much as I did not support that movement, I don’t blame the Mizos. I don’t even blame the Chins who committed such crimes in Mizoram. Just like how Mizos have a reason for resorting to that, the Chins too committed such crimes because they were driven to desperation. Desperation that arises from the utterly pathetic socio-political and economic conditions back home in Burma.

Hence we need to point our fingers back at the military regime in Burma. The real bastards who are killing my brothers.

Maybe for once we can stop spreading the blame everywhere. What’s happening in Mizoram is just the ricochet caused by what’s happening in Burma. If we all concentrate our focus back to Burma alone, none of this will happen again. My brothers will be free in their own homeland, instead of being forgotten by the World.


Yours truly,
Brother of a Chin.




Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chp 226. Valentine Post – The sequel.


Ok I will make this post shorter than usual.

Just to answer many of my kind friends and visitors who asked: "Why don’t you just ask a girl out?"

Well, frankly speaking, which girl would ever wanna go out with a guy like this?







[All photographs taken on Feb 15th, 2009]











And of course the priceless one!




Cheers!

So that’s what I was doing on Valentine’s weekend - Playing around with Nicola’s MacBook "PhotoBooth" application. Jobless me!


Next Post: Trip to Daman and Udvada, Gujarat. Hope you visit again to read that. And don't stop loving each other just because V'day is gone. Peace.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chp 225. Valentine for the Lone riders


Lovers all around me, hand in hand, with fresh red roses and whispers of sweet nothings straight out of a cheesy love song. I realize I am living the lyrics of song writer’s dream, eating every word from the pain to the overwhelming passion.

Every single line is personified, every punctuation magnified. The melodious tune renders me immobile, transporting me beyond an astral plane within my head. Love – a realization that it conquers all. No matter how much one tries to deny it, in the end we all succumb to its consummate Power.

The methodology may differ – be it a chubby young cupid in pink diapers shooting its red arrows of love, or a sultry blonde siren with blood trickling down her fangs amidst a dark gothic ambience, eventually we all fall in love with the person made for us.

The difference sometimes, is that some people have too many people made for them. Such consequences are disastrous. The casualty figure is higher than all the wars put together, after all, we die not just once when it comes to Love.

Then there are those who still haven’t found the one made for them. Like cowboys we roam the planet, whistling our song of sadness as a form of escapism. Ridiculed by those who are in love, we are like the pariah of Paradise. The wind is my only companion, and memories are all that I have of what it feels like to fall in love.

The journey ahead is still barren, like a parched land of paddy where the root refuses to sprout, not because of the lack of water, but because the farmer refuses to care for it. I’m a potter without the clay.

When Pygmalion created the statue of Galatea and fell in love with it, Aphrodite gave Life to that statue. As for me, I have already sculptured my Galatea in my head. The problem is, she comes to life and then dies again, many times. And every time she dies, a part of me dies. Others may resurrect again like the magnificent Phoenix in all its fiery glory. Me, I zombify, mentally.

And yet in spite of all the forlornness and empty talks, there is also that great freedom and euphoria about being a lone rider. The call of the wild is enticing, and like the mighty river Amazon, we cut across unexplored parts of our emotions slowly, but steadily.

Maybe in that journey we will come across a new Goddess to worship again. A new religion to follow. Someone who can make us change everything that we stand for and believe in. Never underestimate the power of a woman.

And when that day comes, there will be lightning and thunder battling with each other inside my head again, celebrating the highest achievement of mere mortals. A fusion between the darkest inhibition and the purest of all sins. An avatar of completeness. A ridiculous melodrama of never-ending bicker, yet perfectly fine and acceptable.

But until then, us lone riders will keep riding. Alone. From one sunset to the other, occasionally sending out smoke signals to reassure each other that we are not alone. An acknowledgement. A universal understanding.

A testosteral bonhomie.


Meanwhile, a happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of you.

If you like this post or you’re A Lone Rider riding towards the sunset all by yourself please feel free to digg!


Monday, February 09, 2009

Chp 224. The Women in my Life!



I thought of calling this post – A tribute to women of Metal, but then, I know how unworthy I am to make such a humongous mammoth topic.


I don’t want to misguide metal fans all over the world into coming here hoping to find famous Metal women, only to find a few selective ones. Like how 90% of the visitors who came to my 2006 post "Underworld - 3"– a sardonic fiction I wrote about interracial relationships based on the movie, were actually looking for the official Movie review!

[In my defense, I had no idea they were going to make part 3 back then! And oh by the way, I went for the First Day First Show of "Underworld – Rise of the Lycans" on Friday, and it was AMAZINGGG, though a bit disappointed that it was only 80 minutes long. Do watch it in theatre if you’re a true Underworld fan… psst psst, yea I know, aXXo hasn’t released the divX rip yet ]

Hence in order to avoid messing with SEM, I call this post "The women in my life" - Women that I have deep (and a wee bit disturbing) crushes on these days.

A must read for Metal fans or those who want to experiment with new music.

I’ve already mentioned a couple of Symphonic Gothic babes in my post "Sweet Gothic Love" that covered some of the more popular bands like Epica, Sirenia, Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania, After Forever, Within Temptation, Eden Bridge and Lullacry. This post is more about female vocalists that really really touched me (emotionally speaking ).




First of all, there is Doro.

Love her! Her music style nostalgically reminds me of those Alannah Myles "Black Velvet" and Joan Jett "I love rock and roll / I hate myself for loving you" days.



What I really love about Doro (formerly the vocalist of Warlock) is that her style is exactly like those 80s 90s rock style, and yet she is still able to pull it off even today. In fact, her most recent album was released just last month - Jan 30th (9 days ago!). The album’s called "Fear No Evil", where she paid a tribute to ROCK with her song "Celebrate" (my favorite song in this album).

We celebrate our love for Rock and Metal
We raise our heads as we salute
Tonight we share our love for Rock and Metal
There's nothing more we wanna do

Seriously, we all love that era but how many bands do you know that still play in that style? I can bet my metal-crazy ass anybody listening to this 2009 album would assume it’s a blast from the past. That’s why she is truly the queen of Metal.

Here is the official trailer of her new album, courtesy afmrecords



Enjoy!




Ok now, moving to a little bit more symphonic gothic metal, I give you – Sirenia!

Sirenia’s latest album featuring their new spanish vocalist Ailyn is a must buy, and is worth every penny. No offense to the former vocalists, but I really really love this new album and Ailyn delivered perfectly. Plus she is sooo cute!



Here is their official promo, courtesy Nuclear Blast Records:



See how difficult it is not to fall in love with her! That cute smile, that innocent laughter, that romantic accent, that childish giggle, and yet all those with such dark gothic aura… oooh boy, I am sooo in love!

Listen to these small samples I made of three of my fav songs from their latest album. They are of around 1 minute each only. Thank you dear Eve for showing me how to do this!

It’s just a sample so I hope I won’t get sued for this Plus hey, I am giving them more publicity, free of charge! Also hoping Google won’t delete my post!!! (I’ve always been a very good boy. I swear!)

Here is my favorite song from this album: "Led Astray" [1:02]



Here is another song entitled "The Mind Maelstorm" [1:00] with classic symphonic gothic Gregorian chants, a style that many other bands follow too.



Another song called "Beyond life’s scenery" [0:48], magnifying Ailyn’s alluring voice. If she was a sultry siren, I would gladly captain my ship straight to its rocky death just to listen to her fatal songs! [Refer Odysseus and Sinbad legends]



Now go buy the album before it’s out of stock!




Dark Moor.

Another great band, sometimes categorized as Power Metal. Although there are no female vocalists in the band currently, they still use a lot of female back-up vocals. I would love to see them hire a female frontwoman again. I miss you Elisa!!!



Here is my favorite song called "The Emperor" from their latest album "Tarot".



Also listen to "Devil in the tower" from this album if you buy it. It’s another great symphonic gothic song.




Dark Princess.

One of those symphonic gothic vocalists with a unique voice, the kind that seems to transport you across a serene river amidst time standing still, the kind that gives you an out of body experience as the song transports you to an unblemished Paradise. Meet Olga Romanov, vocalist of the band "Dark Princess".



See if you like her style of songs. This one is called "Living in me".






Battlelore.

A very unique gothic and folk metal band. All their songs are based on J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle Earth! If you’re a fan of his books or the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and into symphonic Metal, then you are bound to love this band! (They also sing a couple of death metal, which I personally don’t like coz I’m not into that genre. But I love their other songs.)

Another thing very unique about this Finnish gothic band – their vocalist Kaisa is an Indonesian! - Something that you usually don’t see in these kinda bands. And boy do I loveeee her clear pristine voice!



Although their latest album "The Last Alliance" was released last year, I haven’t laid my hands on it yet, so I will talk about my two favorite songs from their album "Third Age of the Sun".

Elves of Lúva – A slow melodic song about the Elves. It has a very raw appeal, and there is a slight North-eastern accent in her English (!) which makes me love this song even more! Feels like one of our local celebrities singing it.




Valier - Queens of the Valar. My favorite song from this album. Listen to the sample [1:08] and you will know why it is my favorite.



You can also listen to the complete song here.




Next on my list is… Tarja Turunen!

First of all, most of you must be knowing Alice Cooper right?

Yeah that famous 70s to 90s Glam Rock band many of us grew up listening to. "Poison" is undoubtedly their most famous song (seriously which Mizo of that era can ever forget "one look, two look, three look, four look" !!! )

Well, my deep crush for the past 5 years Tarja Turunen (ex-frontwoman of Nightwish) came out with her first studio solo album called "My Winter Storm" in 2007 and did a cover of "Poison", which I must admit is freaking awesome.



Here is a slide-show of the song "Poison" by Tarja, courtesy nikoletka2525



For my Mizo visitors, well the other night I was having a discussion with some of my friends – which Mizo pop icon could pull this song off like how Tarja did? We shortlisted the vocalists to two finalists – Mami Varte and Tetei Ralte.



Please feel free to vote! Listen to Tarja’s version and tell me who would "fit" her voice better.








And to end this post… how can I talk about Tarja Turunen and not talk about her former band Nightwish?

Meet Anette Olzon, the new Nightwish vocalist.



The internet community is still deeply divided between who is better, Tarja or Annette. Well, I will not give my opinion, because I love them both and I think they are not comparable as they have different styles. You be the judge, my friend.

Below are two music videos from Nightwish’s latest album featuring Anette: Dark Passion Play [2007] courtesy Nuclear Blast Records.

Bye Bye Beautiful:



Amaranth:



So do YOU think Anette Olzon is better/equal/worse compared to Tarja Turunen? When she joined Nightwish, she must have known that she had some pretty big shoes high-heels to fill. Do you think she managed to fill it?

Cheers, and rock on!!!



If you like this post or you’re a fan of Doro or gothic metal bands like Nightwish, Sirenia, or you’re deeply in love with Ailyn, Tarja etc, feel free to digg!



Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chp 223. Photographs Never Lie…



"Are you sure you don’t wanna come with us?"

Farahnaz sweetly asked me one last time.

"No Farah, you guys carry on."

It was really hard saying no to those large beautiful round eyes.

"Alright… if you really don’t wanna see the tide coming in… but I’m telling you it’s gonna be amazing…"

"I know… I just don’t feel like going out today."

"Ok then… I guess we’ll see you when we return…"

I could feel the sense of hesitation in Farah’s voice… like she didn’t want me to stay back at the mansion all by myself while they frolicked on the beach. But she didn’t know that I knew why she didn’t want me to stay at home all alone!

…..

Last week the gang decided to go for a road trip - Spend a well-deserved and long overdue relaxing vacation at Farah’s ancestral home in Udvada, Gujarat for the weekend. Since she was the only Parsi in our group, she wanted to take part in the Fire Festival, the Jashn-e Sadé, as she hadn’t been to one in ages.

Renowned for its Zoroastrian Fire Temple and large Parsi population, we prepared ourselves for the trip. There were Farahnaz and Pooja from HR, Paul from administration, Shaan and me from marketing, and Teresa from Customer Relationship. Together we formed a close pack in office, always hanging out together during the weekends or even during our short lunch breaks.

When Farah suggested that we go on a road trip to her ancestral home in Gujarat, most of us weren’t very enthu, until she mailed us photographs of her so called "house". It was a freaking mansion! Old and antique, it was built during the Portuguese colonial era of 1600s!

It resembled one of those historical palatial bungalows we flipped past in our school history textbooks. It had everything right from early masonry blood-red brick walls to vintage steeples that were crumbling away at some sections of the large pre-Victorian building, with long winding dark corridors leading to the semi-detached toilets! It was a must visit!

Farah herself had been there only thrice, and the last time she’s been there was more than 10 years ago.

During the journey from Mumbai to Udvada, Farah couldn’t stop talking about the great times she used to have there with her uncles and cousins when she was a kid, and how the beach was just a few hundred metres away. She assured us that the place was still secluded and undisturbed by civilization!

After driving for nearly 4 hours, we reached Udvada. We refueled and bought groceries. I didn’t know Gujarati so I had to communicate using sign language. From the historical town we proceeded towards the mansion. Finally, we reached a towering rusty old iron gate that creaked loudly as one of the servants dragged it open. The servants were informed a week in advance about our weekend plans and they had prepared everything for us, right from clean bed sheets and mosquito nets to bottles of mineral water. Farah’s uncle had suggested that we use well-water like they had done when they were our age. We decided otherwise.

After freshening up and exploring the place for almost two whole hours, we finally relaxed in the large salon. We still couldn’t stop admiring the awe-inspiring architecture and medieval wooden furniture that looked as if they survived the Protestant Reformation era.

"Looks haunted!" Shaan suddenly exclaimed and grinned.

"Yeah, like those B-grade slasher movies, you know… where a couple of weekend backpackers suddenly started disappearing one by one in the middle of the night…" Paul joined in.

"Shut uppppp!" All the women cried in unison.

"Comon Farah," I pried. "I’m sure this mansion must have its own fair share of… unexplained stories to tell!"

"Well…" Farah hesitated.

Pooja and Teresa immediately got up to leave but we held them down amidst their cry and protest. Farah smiled and then suddenly became serious again.

"Well, there had been none of those luminescent spirit sightings and weird noises in the middle of the night…"

"But…?" Shaan enquired slowly. By now all of us including Pooja and Teresa were glued to Farah. Pin drop silence suddenly flooded the room. I thought I felt a brief gust of chilled air… but then, it could be my imagination too.

Farah slowly continued, "Ever seen those horror movies where somebody takes a photograph and later when the picture is developed, something else appears on the photograph?"

"Don’t tell me…" I cut in. "Some…thing appeared in the snap?"

"Well… not exactly…" Farah’s face was dead serious now. I could see from the corner of my eyes that Teresa and Pooja were holding each other’s hands tighter…

"The funny thing is… any photographs taken during this Fire festival inside the Master bedroom never sees the light of the day…"

"You’re kidding!" Paul shouted in disbelief.

But Farah was not the type who would play that kind of prank on us and we had known her for a long time.

"This was what my uncle told me. For some strange reasons, the negatives on their camera were always solarized… overexposed… when they tried to develop them. Of course when my father, long before he met my mom, told his college friends about this, they all came in a large group during this very festival and clicked as many photographs as they could inside the bedroom and all of them came out perfectly. But again, the next year when my uncle and his family came her for the festival, the negatives couldn’t be developed again…"

Silence…

"And my uncle swore it was not his fault… Moreover, he’s a professional photographer… I know it’s weird. You may ask how come nothing happened to my father’s friends… I have no explanation for that but other than those, all the photographs that had been taken here all came out blank…"

"Any… ermmm… reasons for this phenomenon?" Paul enquired in a low voice. Our heads inadvertently moved closer to Farah.

"Well… supposedly… one of my great grand uncles died during a family photograph many years ago during this Fire festival. They had called a professional photographer all the way from Daman… Since he was almost bedridden, they set up the bedroom itself for the family photography…"

Fear had well crept into the eyes of Pooja and Teresa.

"And then just as the cameraman pulled the plug, that sudden bright magnesium flash from the 19th century camera gave great grand uncle a sudden shock and he died on the spot…"

"Ah, those large cameras with a tripod stand and black cloth covering the person behind it?" Pooja had barely managed to ask coherently.

"Yes."

The room went through yet another round of deafening silence and then Farah continued.

"Anyway, that was the only story this mansion had. Other than that, no eerie apparitions walking through walls or mysterious women sobbing by the well in the middle of the night…"

"Or headless babies crawling in the corridor!" Paul added.

Farah smiled, Pooja screamed, Teresa threw a pillow at Paul and we laughed, although a bit uncomfortable.

We soon changed the topic, brought out the beer and played dumb charades. Soon the alcohol kicked in, the volume on the stereo pumped up and we started dancing, although we all went to the loo in pairs as the toilet was situated at the end of the dark corridor far away from the main room.

When it was time to sleep, we all slept together in one of the five bedrooms. But none of us dared to sleep in the adjacent Master bedroom, although surprisingly, we all slept soundly that night.

The next morning, Farah went to the Atash Bahram Fire Temple while the rest of us nursed a hangover. Parsi food was served by Garima, the residential servant who had seen 4 generations of Farah’s relatives undergo their sacred thread ceremony in this mansion. The food was surprisingly pungent for a Parsi dish, but we later found out Farah had informed Garima to make it extra spicy as she was afraid we wouldn’t like the traditional bland taste.

Farah came back in the afternoon and by then we were all fresh and ready to go to the beach, which was just a few hundred metres away.

It was then that a strange thought suddenly overcame me. I needed to see this photograph black-out phenomenon with my own eyes!

I know it might sound stupid to some, but being a horror movie buff and extremely inquisitive about unexplained mysteries, I suddenly had this immense urge to see with my own eyes if this story could be true!

…….


"So are you sure you don’t wanna come?" Farah asked me one more time.

Paul too beckoned, "Dude, it’s gonna be fun!"

"Seriously guys, I don’t feel like going out in the sun right now. Bloody hangover. Anyway we are having the bon-fire party tonight right? Lemme save my energy for that."

Farah pleaded with me one last time with her eyes and then said, "Alright then, we’ll catch ya later for lunch. We won’t be long anyway."

And they all started walking towards the gate.

"Hey one last thing!" I shouted.

Farah turned.

"Those two kids playing there, they are Garima’s kids right?" I smiled.

"Yes." She replied with a puzzled look on her face.

"And that old man in a white inner vest is her husband?"

"Yes." She smiled back.

"So other than the four of them, there’s nobody else here correct?"

"Correct." She was about to laugh now realizing why I asked.

A silly grin appeared on my face.

"I just don’t wanna be talking to some strange kid or man, and then you coming home later and telling me the person I’ve just described that I was talking to, had been dead for 100 years!"

Farah laughed out loud.

"Dude…" Shaan shouted, "If you ever come across any ghost, believe me, it’s not going to be THAT clichéd!" And they all laughed, turned around and disappeared behind the gate.

As soon as they were out of sight, I ran to the bedroom and opened my bag. My hands trembled a bit… With a heavy breath, I whipped out my trusted Sony Cybershot digicam!

Now we shall see if the legend is true or not…

As I switched the power on, I felt a little bit dizzy because of the excitement and suspense. I sat down for a minute and closed my eyes.

ok, this is it. It’s now or never!

I tried to convince myself - Farah’s relatives had used the old-fashioned film cameras… the negatives could be overexposed due to various reasons like the moisture in the room and direct sunlight from the mosaic windowpanes. I was using an advanced digital camera, something that could not be affected by… "ghosts".

unless of course, the ghosts these days are tech-savvy! I joked.

However, I couldn’t even bring myself to snigger at that joke inside my head.

I still felt a bit shaky and my knees didn’t exactly feel sturdy when I stood in front of the tall hand-carved Elizabethan door. With one swift but anticipating push, the door creaked open and a forceful leap took me across the threshold…

So there I was, standing in the center of the infamous Master bedroom. Long slender rays of sunlight beamed in from between the mosaic glasses above. There was no dust on the wooden vanity or the antique mirror, nor were there cobwebs covering the roof beam. The servants had done a good job stripping the room bare of its undesirables and eeriness.

It looked just like any of the other bedrooms inside the mansion, except this was bigger and it had a "history".

I looked into the display lens of my digicam and aimed it across the room.

Remember… there are no ghosts… there are no ghosts…

With great trepidation, I clicked on the camera… the sudden flashing lights from the camera shocked the hell out of me. The room suddenly felt… darker, hence the reason why the flash felt brighter than usual.

It’s all in your head you idiot… comon be strong…

I looked into the display… everything felt like slow motion… time seemed to stand still and all sound ceased to exist, as if I was living in a vacuum…

The display slowly loaded…

Perfect picture!

It looked like one of those photographs in a National Geographic magazine! The exposure and color settings were perfect. Nothing blurred, nothing unfocused. It was one of the best natural snaps I’ve ever taken!

I laughed at myself. First a grin, then a chuckle, until I ended up laughing out like a madman permanently lodged in a forgotten asylum.

How silly of me to think I was actually going to see a ghost or a blank screen!

I clicked a few more times, capturing the room from different angles and perspectives. I wondered how it would feel like had I been able to capture the past in my camera. I looked at the pictures again and again, making sure they didn’t disappear mysteriously! And then I chuckled like before when I tried to imagine the supernatural trying to erase the data in my memory card!

A haunted memory card! Now that is hilarious!

What if the intensity of the haunt depended upon whether the memory card is a micro SD or CompactFlash card! Would the memory card ghost spread via USB port? Could anti-virus remove them?

All I could feel now was laughter.

20 minutes and 30 photographs later, I walked out of the Master bedroom and explored the rest of the mansion one more time. I took pictures of the cobblestone, the ancient well next to the servant’s quarter and the beautiful flora surrounding the mansion.

As I was focusing my camera on a rusty old bicycle semi covered with shrubs and roots that was probably used during World War II, a childish giggled startled me. I turned around quickly and heaved a sigh of relief. It was one of Garima’s kids. Upon seeing me, he laughed again and ran away.

I ran after him until I reached the servant’s quarter, where Garima and her husband were both preparing the lunch. They stopped what they were doing and smiled at me.

I waved to them using sign language, asking them to move closer to each other so that I could take their picture. They gave a puzzled look and smiled again, so I had to repeat my gesture. Finally but slowly, they huddled together by the cooking pot.

I guess they had never seen a person of oriental origin or a digital camera before, or even both.

At least one good thing out of this was that I didn’t have to tell them to smile. They couldn’t stop giggling at me! Hence I didn’t have to figure out how to say cheese in Gujarati.

I love these folks!

After I took their picture, I waved bye to them and walked back to the house. I could still hear them giggling behind me. An hour had gone by since the guys left. They should be back any moment now.

I sat on the large wooden dining table and Garima laid the plates, quickly followed by her husband who carried a large vessel of steaming curry.

"Mutton dhansak!" he proudly proclaimed in a highly accented English. I nodded my head politely and smiled.

After all the dishes were laid on the table, resembling a medieval banquet fit for a Nawab, the servants left, still giggling and I could hear the voices of Paul and Shaan in a distance.

Finally, they’re back, just in time.

I looked at the camera one more time. Although a part of me knew the photographs were not going to "black out", I just felt like browsing through all the pictures I just took.

All there!

As I put the camera down next to me on the long wooden bench, Pooja’s unmistakable laughter followed by the sweet giggle of Teresa and Farah filled the hall. Shaan and Paul too laughed hysterically.

In a matter of seconds, they walked into the dining hall. Their feet were wet and covered with sand.

Farah immediately asked, "So Garima told me you were trying to socialize with them using sign languages?"

I grinned.

"And what was that strange stunt you were trying to pull? They still can’t stop talking about it!"

"What stunt?" I asked perplexedly

"I don’t know. I just assumed you were up to your tricks playing with people. But you sure made them laugh a lot. They really liked you!"

We all laughed.

"I guess they found it strange that I was taking their picture," I replied nonchalantly.

Paul who was already sitting and pouring a glass of water gave me a dumbfounded look.

"Dude, what picture?"

"Photographs, duh! With my digicam." I replied.

Farah’s eyes froze. "What do you mean your digicam? I took your digicam with us to the beach." And she pulled out my digicam from her handbag…

I looked down at the bench…

There was no digicam.



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