Scary living for India’s ghost man
Sunday, 02 October , 2005, 07:50
Pakurtala: Mothers use his name to scare their children, while adults hope they don’t bump into him in the dark. For more than 40 years, Gopal Haldar has been making his living in India’s Sunderbans mangrove region as a ghost.
Measuring a mere 1.21 meters (four feet) and weighing a slight 24 kilograms, Haldar—now near to retirement age—says he has been malnourished all his life.
“My mother was very weak. So am I,” said Haldar, who lives in the Sunderbans village of Pakurtala, about 90 kilometres south of Kolkata. “I have hardly had the money to buy good food or visit a doctor. I have been suffering from malnutrition since childhood and am unable to work in the field”
Because of his poor health and stick-like physique, neighbours had said he was “born to play a ghost”.
Haldar took to the idea and his reputation began to spread through the myriad islands that make up the Sunderbans.
“Wherever I go children call me ‘Uncle Ghost’ and peep at me through windows,” a smiling Haldar said. “Women and children are even scared of going out at night in case they meet me.”
His friend Sunil Chakraborty helps him perform on candle-lit stages in villages. He says it takes him only 10 to 15 minutes to do his makeup and transform his emaciated self into a ghost-like creature—mainly by painting his sunken face, protruding ribs and skeletal limbs with soot.
“I see it as acting,” said Haldar, adding that while he roams from village to village scaring the daylights out of people, his wife and son work in the fields.
“I have no regrets,” he said of his spooky profession. “I enjoy it.”
He mainly does his shows during the festive seasons and earns Rs 40 to Rs 50 a time, said his wife Malati. But she added resignedly “he is addicted to smoking hemp and spends all his money on this habit”.
Lighting up a hemp cigarette in front of his wife, Haldar acknowledged his love of the herb.
“[But] when I indulge myself in smoking hemp and playing chess, I wonder if I am a real ghost or a human being,” he said philosophically.