When I was young, ghost stories amused me. While some ghosts offered boons, others were busy holding princesses captive in tall towers. But the ghosts that had the most impact on me were the formidable ones created by Shirshendu Mukhopadhay, who is known to have written more than 100 stories and books for children, most of which are about ghosts. At this year's Dhaka Lit Fest, the author spoke about his book, Goshaibaganer Bhoot, a satirical take on ghosts narrated with his trademark style and humour.
In the story, young Barun, who fails to score good grades in his math test, runs into a ghost, Nidhiram, in a deserted orchard. In a desperate attempt to try and scare Barun, Nidhiram tries to bribe the boy to act scared; as otherwise, he would be shamed in the ghost world. But Barun stays unfazed. The story highlights the reality of peer pressure, expectations and teenage dilemmas, tinged with the supernatural, making the book appealing to both children and adults. “I often receive letters from children who tell me that their fear of ghosts vanished after reading my stories,” Shirshendu said at his session at the Dhaka Lit Fest.
I remember spending lazy afternoons reading Manojder Adbhut Bari, Hirer Angti, Patalghor, or his stories in the Puja special magazine, Anondomela. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to see my favourite writer up close. I desperately wanted to get his autograph, but alas, the tight security held me back. I dabbed my book to a friendly journalist, Altaf Shahnewaz, with a request of an autograph from Shirshendu. I held my breath as Altaf bhai walked out the door and returned the book to me with a smile. My hands were shaking with joy, I couldn't believe my luck. As I walked out of the premises, I saw a sea of people waiting for the man to appear. That sight was enough to reassure me that even in this digital age, there are people who still hold books close to their hearts.