Tags: New Literature
Covering over a million square miles, India is home to the full range of cryptids, malevolent spirits, and fiends. Rakesh Khanna and J. Furcifer Bhairav catalog them in their new illustrated encyclopedia “Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India.” Though shaggy in the storytelling and often lacking in spookiness, “Ghosts” provides one of the first comprehensive guides to India’s many dark-sided folk tales.
The range of ghouls Khanna and Bhairav detail is staggering: trucker ghosts that haunt isolated stretches of mountainous highway, gigantic birds that snatch people from their doorways, Tamilian undead monsters who double as avatars for a lost goddess, and on and on. The collection is endless in its tellings. Some descriptions are short and unsatisfying – the Belmmyae, for example, eight feet-tall giants with eyes in their chests or shoulders, are described in only a few sentences that leave a reader curious as to how they figure in Indian storytelling.
Others are expansive, making connections to modern horrors like sleep paralysis demons, or else connecting to a given monster’s counterparts in other cultures and countries. Contextualization for many monsters come with a review of Indian history – some creatures were taken with Jahaji indentured laborers to the Carribbean or followed routes of migration within the Eurasian continent. Khanna and Bhairav save the most delicious and thorough passages for the ghosts attached to recent history, like the ones that arose during the British Raj, or that encompass various subsections of ghouls.
As a guide that name checks a dizzying array of creatures, “Ghosts” is highly successful in providing a jumping off point for the more intrepid reader to dig deeper into their favorite horror stories. As a work of storytelling in and of itself, it often falls short with somewhat simplistic reviews of each fiend. Illustrations are well-deployed but do not feel cohesive with a set style. Still, “Ghosts” feels singular in its intention to commit these stories to paper. And at nearly 400 pages, the book feels like a worthy investment for the right reader.