First there was a sound of a thud, like something dropping on the floor. Those present in the home even heard someone lunging at the latch of the bathroom.
But no one got worried, everyone ignored the rustling sound coming from the bathroom. Indian door latches often turn rusty and refuse to work in a single turn.
But when Gaurav Tiwari did not emerge from the bathroom for almost an hour and there was no sound of the flowing tap, nor ruffling sounds of pushing water from body, his wife knocked the door.
She knocked one, twice, thrice. And then, she, Arya Kashyap, peeped through the window glass of the bathroom and screamed. A neighbour heaved at the door, almost fell inside by the impact. Pandemonium prevailed in the house.
India’s most well known ghost buster was on the floor, sweating profusely, eyes protruding, gasping for breath. The family members did not notice a deep black mark on his neck, they had to rush him to the hospital. An hour-and-a-half later, Tiwari breathed his last, even before the doctors could put him on the ventilator.
It was on the morning of 7 July 2016. A fortnight later, cops are now suspecting a case of homicide, pooh-poohing the original theory floated by members of Tiwari’s Paranormal Society of India that the death was the handiwork of some “evil forces”.
But still, the cops and the doctors have not been able to offer an concrete answer about the black mark on Tiwari’s neck. Such marks, Tiwari often narrated during dinner table conversations, are signs of revenge of spirits in distress. His family believed him at times, mostly ignored him. Arya did not even liked the ghost busting profession, she wanted her husband to wear a tie and suit and carry a leather case to a corporate office.
But Tiwari would ignore everything and routinely leave home in the night. The Paranormal Society of India received over 250 mails regarding alleged existence of “spirits” at various homes across India, handled over 500 calls a day at their office in Dwarka on the western fringes of Delhi.
Tiwari often cited the example of the American-British 1976 supernatural horror film, The Omen, to narrate such “black line” theories. The film also had examples of a photographer finding black lines appearing from nowhere in his photographs of a priest probing mysterious and ominous deaths.
But the cops at the Dwarka Police Station are not buying such theories, a deputy commissioner has been pushed into the investigating team that has even started looking into the case of a possible murder. The cops have found enough information from friends of the family that Arya suspected her husband of infidelity.
“The two argued for almost two hours the day before Tiwari’s death,” said Ashok Singh, a sub inspector who looked into the case and did the first round of questioning. He further said Tiwari's father and wife were questioned for more than eight hours, both unable to offer answers narrating the sequence of event leading to Tiwari’s death.
Singh said the final word is still not out in the case that has forced Tiwari’s outfit, the Paranormal Society of India to shut shop, reject mails and phone calls for over two weeks.
His ghostbuster partners say they are saddened by the turn of events. The group has been in existence for over a decade and helped many resolve their problems which are, largely — almost 98 percent — psychological. The rest need cleansing, popularly known in the West as exorcism. Using electronic voice and image recorders and magnetic plates, Tiwari and his men would help “purging of souls” from homes plagued by mysterious events. They would visit unoccupied houses, graveyards, morgues, even vacant churches to see if ghosts exist. Very recently, they busted the myth of spirits in Bangarh, an abandoned fort in Rajasthan.
“Bulk of it is sheer hallucination,” says Amit Singh, one of the active members of the group. Singh says methods adopted by Tiwari were extremely scientific. A recent case of the group cleansing a house of the spirit of a baby drew a huge response on YouTube.
It was in South Delhi where a couple saw images of a baby girl fleetingly moving in and out of their living room and bedroom. The couple was scared, called Tiwari and after an arduous eight hour operation, the spirit was cleansed out of the home.
“We were investigating a suspected haunted house in West Delhi’s Janakpuri neighbourhood and Gaurav returned home around 0200 hours,” says Singh.
And then he was found dead the next day.
Singh said Tiwari’s first encounter with the paranormal was in his hotel room in Texas where he saw an apparition of a young girl. Tiwari was then training to be a commercial pilot in Texas in 2003. He eventually completed a Certified Paranormal Investigator course and traveled across the US to witness 80 spooky investigations. Tiwari, who set up the Indian Paranormal Society in 2009, visited over 6,000 ghoulish abodes across the world and shaped his research on the paranormal with a deep sense of empathy. “Do not disrespect the dead, he would often tell us,” said Singh.
So who killed Tiwari? Ghosts, or someone who had sneaked into the bathroom and was waiting for him? The cops have no answer; Singh says he would not hazard a guess. Top Australian ghostbuster Allen Tiller, who worked with Tiwari for a television series Haunting: Australia took to Facebook to claim Tiwari had a heart attack. In a statement to the cops, Tiwari’s father said his son told him “I am feeling extremely uncomfortable for quite some time, I am being followed, I am being watched by someone who refuses to leave me." The cops ignored it. They say there is a tendency to become very preoccupied with putative demonic explanations and to see the devil everywhere.
“Sometimes, spirits leave negative impact in your home if they are disturbed,” says Sashi Dubey, a practitioner of the occult in Delhi. Speaking from the US, Dubey said “too much of interaction with spirits can always have its side effects. In the US, nearly one third of Americans claim to have experienced an encounter with the undead”.
Unlike in the US where 35 percent of respondents claim they have lived or are living in a place that is haunted, Indians have different theories about haunted homes. Some travel groups have even put together some creepy criteria to determine some of India’s most haunted homes in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and routinely take people for visits, some houses are even available to stay in overnight. Some houses have also been rebuilt to resemble the original, like D’Souza chawl in Mumbai which was known to be a haunted place after a woman drowned in a well.
Soumee Mitra, a celebrated fitness trainer in Kolkata who has studied about life after death says most stories about spirits in homes often turn out to be fake, but some are genuine. She personally experienced spirits at her ancestral home that was built on a graveyard.
“There would be someone heavily breathing close to you, someone would bang on your door, I would hear sounds of someone climbing up the stairs. But all of these were very, very momentary, happening mostly in the night.”
“Entities that continuously wander in a place of their preference normally do not harm anyone, though I have heard cases where people were forced to commit suicide because of spirits,” says Mitra, who has helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — representing the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.
“Sunlight, prayers have helped me ease them out, it's been tough,” says Mitra.
In Tiwari’s case, only the father persists with the theory of numerous spirit sightings at home, all having occurred within five feet of his son. He spotted them, others didn’t.
No one is buying his theory, and the fact which Tiwari, if alive, would have propagated: That spirits he chased eventually got after him. At the Dwarka police station, there is no panic about Satanism, the cops seem convinced it is a case of suicide, unless proved otherwise.