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She saw Goddess Durga surrounded by sadness

By Chandrima Pal
August 03, 2015 13:31 IST
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Wiccan and corporate lawyer Deepta Roy Chakraverti talks to Chandrima Pal about her book that chronicles her psychic investigations into what she says are unnatural occurrences in familiar places.

High-flying corporate lawyer Deepta Roy Chakraverti may not look like someone who is well versed in the art of spells and charms, but in her crisp King's College English speaks of her years of psychic investigations and eerie encounters with as much finesse as she would serve scones with delightful table talk at some posh high tea party.

Daughter of the self-styled Wiccan high priestess, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (also a best-selling author whose works have inspired articles and films), Deepta has been groomed in the Wiccan tradition by her mother.

In case you are wondering, Wiccan is a modern, pagan witchcraft religion that was introduced to the public as recently as in the '50s though it was developed decades earlier.

Deepta recently made her debut as an author with Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, and as expected, has met with more hostility from the real world than that she writes about.

The book is about her psychic investigations into what she says are unnatural occurrences in familiar places. From Delhi's Lodhi Garden to a park in Kolkata, to Mumbai's Marine Drive and beyond, Deepta says there are spirits and energies that she has encountered. And not all of the 'meetings' are very cheerful.

The book ran into controversy when her publisher withdrew it a day before going to print. Apparently, certain influential groups were unhappy with her explorations of a few popular public spaces that she said were "haunted".

Nonetheless, the book finally found a new publisher and was released in Delhi recently in the presence of stalwarts from media, entertainment and publishing.

In a conversation with contributor Chandrima Pal, Deepta talks about how the book had a will of its own and how we can read more into coincidences. 

How does a corporate lawyer and psychic investigator keep her two lives apart? Do they collide? Do the lines blur at any point?

The world of spirits is very much a part of daily life. It is not something I switch on-off. And perhaps a sensitivity to them is inbuilt; an inherent part of me. Like my Wiccan training. That is why being a psychic investigator is not something which is to take on or take off. And that is also why it does not strike me as being something separate, or different which would collide with any aspect of my life.

Has your calling ever come in the way of your professional perception/image?

Perhaps it has created more interest or curiosity!

How long did it take for you to complete the 'investigations' featured in the book?

The experiences written of span many years. Some go back to the time I was in college, and some are as recent as 2013.

After each experience, as is the Wiccan tradition, I wrote in my book of shadows (it is a daily journal every Wiccan keeps. It is a very private diary). That is where details and certain research thoughts were gathered. That is why perhaps when writing them for a book, it was easier. I already had the basic material. This took a little over a year.

Which place according to you had the most intense energies to deal with?

There is an abandoned shed by the Rabindra Sarobar lakes in Kolkata, which has in recent years (winter 2012), been turned into an exhibition hall for old idols from the annual Durga Pujas.

After the pujas, the idols from various places are chosen and placed there. I have visited that shed twice in the past few years.

It holds a terrible feeling of sadness. The Goddess has been stripped of her adornments and her weapons, and she seems to be standing there, as helpless as those who now go before her.

There is an atmosphere of desecration. Of an ancient ritual interrupted. Of an old power gone astray. Old records show that area where the shed now stands has a past going back to the Second World War.

At one time, there stood a US army hospital (the 142nd General Hospital) on that land, with a well established psychiatric ward. When the ravages of war and conditions of a foreign land caused the mind to collapse, the soldiers would seek refuge there.

There are interesting writings by Richard Beard, who was an army psychologist assigned to that hospital and was in charge of the neuropsychiatric ward there.

He had written of the swampy lands, the unending traumas and the streams of patients. That is also the place where many who were part of the war forces, ended their lives, far from home and their families.

Today, on that land, stand these empty idols of the great Goddess. The ancient ritual of immersion at the end of the pujas is interrupted. The hopes, and prayers which she absorbed from those who stood before her during the Durga Pujas, lie embedded in her. And now, it is more -- as if a drifting consciousness from the past, from the old psychiatric ward and its people have also blended in with the idols.

Is it true that in the process of publishing the book, several people associated with the book have experienced unnatural incidents? Could it be coincidence or is there something more to this?

Usually, when one writes of the spirit world, it is in close conjunction with them. Is it inspiration? Is it mediumship? Clairvoyance?

But the main thing is, that their presence is very close. Madame Blavatsky is believed to have written her magnificent book Isis Unveiled as told her by an unseen spirit force.

When people are associated with such books, they may experience temporary shifts in energy pattern.

It may be something as simple as a series of bulbs fusing inexplicably. It may be door latches inexplicably slipping shut or open. Clocks or watches may suddenly stop with no reason (this last has happened very frequently with me when writing). But then, I suppose we can never say how much is because of spirit interaction, and how much just coincidence.

What was your experience like in Mumbai? Other than Marine Drive are there any other places that you would like to investigate in the future?

The Marine Drive story was a very strange and a very intense experience. Because it was the only time that I saw and spoke to someone else who was also seeing the same spirit world I was seeing. There was no gimmickry, there were no airs and pretences. It was reality. Completely. I remember his fear, and his fatigue. I remember how tortured he was. An everyday man from an everyday world. And yet -- not of the everyday.

Have you ever experienced fear? If yes, what kind?

Yes, of course. At times, I have been very afraid. For example, I have written of an incident in Puri, where I encountered a very hostile presence, Shyama Pallavi. I remember how she suddenly appeared one night, bent close over me, flecks within her pupils spinning like pinwheels. I remember how she stood before me on the verandah of the hotel where I was staying, and her anger was sliding off her, almost tangible. So, yes, there is fear. But there is also an overcoming of fear. For without that, there is no way of striding forth into new adventure.

Your book has a foreword by your mother, who is also your teacher in the Wiccan tradition. What kind of a bond do you share with her?

Ipsita is my mother and teacher. Wiccan knowledge, as I have learnt from Ipsita, follows the old gurukul system. It is a tradition which is imparted by absorbing the ways of old from the Wiccan teacher.

A philosophy and a way of life. The way we think and behave. Wiccan is a blend of something which is very ascetic and at the same time, very beautiful.

Ipsita has taught me, like she teaches her students in the Wiccan Brigade, how to live with strength and dignity. To have a sense of oneness with something greater than all of us. Perhaps the divine, or perhaps nature, or maybe a bit of both.

Something that Ipsita has taught is that there are many sides of every phenomena, or happening, and it is for us to have an open mind. Perhaps that is why psychical research is so interesting for me -- to be able to see the oneness in science and mysticism. For we believe that there is no quarrel between the two. It is lobbies with vested interests who create a divide for their own very commercial interests.

What is the Wiccan Brigade and what does it do?

We are a group of individuals, on the same path, questing for an ancient knowledge, combining the mystical with the scientific. We follow the old gurukul system, and believe that there is much more around us than what is merely tangible. We fight superstition and seek to bring back the ancient knowledge from old traditions and esoteric paths around the world -- be it Taoism, the Sufi way, Wiccan, Shamanism, and many more.

Image (top): corporate lawyer-Wiccan practioner Deepta Roy Chakraverti. (Below): The cover of Deepta's book Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters

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Chandrima Pal