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World of witchcraft

R. KRITHIKA


WHAT'S the first image that comes to mind when you hear "witch"? Macbeth? Broomsticks? Cauldrons and smelly potions? Perish the thought. Meet Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a Shoba De look alike, India's first initiate into Wicca and a practising witch.

Many consider witchcraft to be akin to Satanism. But while there are superficial similarities, like the use of the five-pointed star and performing rituals within a circle marked on the ground, Wiccans hold that their "magick is limited to the non-manipulative, consensual and positive kind".

In many incipient social communities, witches began as women who practised the arts of healing and counselling. As they became too powerful to be controlled by the largely male leadership, they had to be pulled down.

In India too, the art of Dakini vidya has hoary traditions. Witch-hunts continue till today and it is not surprising to learn that one of Chakraverti's planks when she stood for election in West Bengal in 1998 was against this practice.

Sacred Evil: Encounters with the Unknown is Chakraverti's second book. Her first Beloved Witch published in 1999 told of how she entered the world of magic and witchcraft. This one details her experiences as her fame grows.

There are stories of encounters with voodoo, ghosts, zombies... with notes at the end of each chapter on that topic. The story of a police officer's encounter with a coconut is truly chilling, as is the one of the descendants of Rudrani, the matriarch who brought Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa to Kolkata.

She has her own take on the tragedy that hit the Nepali royal family garnered from her contacts in the royal family and refers to "the nine people killed by the Crown Prince" as still haunting the palace.

Throughout Chakraverti refers to herself as a sceptic. "I find it hard to believe in what I don't see and fell and hear. I need the proof of my senses." Yet the stories she tells are bound to raise the ire of a rationalist. You can almost hear one spluttering about "superstition" as you read "Those who return".

While the language is simple and uncluttered, there is an arrogance about the tone, as if the writer is conscious of her importance in the scheme of things. This is particularly so in "Bungalow Number 13" and "The Tree" and the last story of "Woman in Red".

In the final analysis, the book is a good read — whether you believe in the dark arts or whether you just want to curl up with a spine thriller.

Sacred Evil: Encounters with the Unknown, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, HarperCollins.

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