You don’t always see them. But they’re out there, in the dark. And they’re looking for the next urban legend to bust. Over the past two years, a small group of professionals with regular day jobs have been visiting spots in and around the city, rumoured to be haunted and systematically, scientifically proving that the rumours are just that. It began six years ago in Bhubaneswar when 15-year-old Sarbajeet Mohanty decided to tackle his fear of darkness. “I was pretty scared of dark places, they used to unnerve me,” says Mohanty, now 21 and studying for a B.Tech degree. After reaching a point where he would fake illness to have his mother stay in his bedroom at night, he began reading up and researching paranormal activities. As his interest peaked, Mohanty reached out to others with similar interests and organised informal meetings.
Informal gatherings of individuals interested in the subject eventually led to Mohanty co-founding the Parapsychology And Investigations Research Society. The society, says Mohanty, is dedicated to dispelling superstition, irrational fears and investigating claims of supernatural activity.
While the society has its offices in Bhubaneswar, Kolkata and Bengaluru, most of its current strength of 18 members is drawn from Mumbai. Members include lawyers, teachers and filmmakers. “I think people in Mumbai are either more aware of these things or so interested that they want to know more about it,” he says.
After he starred in a limited series in Odisha last year, Mohanty began to receive calls from far flung areas of the state, asking him to debunk stories of haunted homes.The calls, however, were not restricted to Odisha, with several curious callers from Mumbai. “It is good that they call us instead of paying lakhs of rupees to some tantrik,” says Mohanty. While the society usually carries out investigations on the basis of requests, there are several places they have verified on their own, for instance a church in the city’s western suburbs rumoured to be haunted and parts of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
“Generally, we prefer to visit a place at night because it is quiet and there are not too many people around,” adds Mohanty. The society stresses that its investigations are purely scientific and they take an arsenal of devices to visit a site rumoured to be haunted. “We use full spectrum cameras, sound recorders, motion sensors, temperature sensors and night vision cameras to document a change in any phenomena,” he says.
With the equipment sensitive to manipulation, a team of two of three members take care to switch off cell phones and disconnect electricity when working inside a structure. “Most times what people feel are ghosts actually turn out to geomagnetic hot-spots, these are known to cause hallucinations,” he says. Mohanty cites the example of a family, promised full confidentiality, in Panvel, who called in the society to investigate strange sounds heard in their newly-constructed home. “The family had a baby who they claimed would stare a particular corner of the bedroom and cry. They had also reported hearing voices in the stairs leading to the first floor. They suspected that their house was haunted,” he says.
However, an investigation of the house by the society revealed nothing untoward. Mohanty then asked whether the electric supply to the house was erratic, causing appliances to malfunction. When the family replied in the affirmative, the society had found its explanation. “The house is sitting upon strong electro-magnetic field. These are known to cause hallucinations,” he says. The society has to frequently reassure callers that there are rational explanations for the phenomena they are experiencing.
Thus far, the hardest challenge that the society is up against is being taken seriously as investigators. “People do not like it if you challenge their belief system. I have received abusive messages when my show aired. But at the end of it, if we are able to convince at least one person not to believe in superstition, it will make me very happy,” he adds. Pooja Vijay, who is also a co-founder of the society, based in Navi Mumbai says, “The calls we receive indicate that people are ready to at least talk about this with an open mind. This was not the case a few years ago.
Vijay (40), who has been in the field for close to a decade now, claims there is a high-incidence of people living in and around Mumbai, who claim to have experienced paranormal activity. “Everyone is sitting around with very fixed notions. We are trying not to get people to be trapped by tantriks. I think are slowly succeeding in doing that,” she says.
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