June 2012 Chasing ShadowsA paranormal investigator is preaching new ways of understanding ghosts. By Jen SwansonIt’s about 11 pm on a cold, windy night in February and Gaurav Tiwari along with three of hisinvestigators are in the outer limits of Delhi’s north, in the neighborhood of St Nagar, a localecomprising small concrete houses and empty plots of land straddling a busy highway. The teamis setting up equipment in the single-storied house of Anurag Sharma.Sharma, 33, who runs a convenience store, lives with his parents, wife and child in the small,cramped one bedroom house. Inside, the smell of sewerage hangs thickly in the air andturquoise paint peels off the living room walls revealing concrete underneath. The solebedroom is windowless, there is mould in one corner and sad-looking children’s toys arescattered around. Attached to the bedroom is a storeroom with old mattresses poled highinside and a plastic doll that stares unblinkingly at whoever enters. Sharma claims that he’sbeing troubled by a ghost- egg trays mysteriously tumble off the counter, his mother says shehas been pushed from the flight of stairs leading to the terrace, lights flicker on and off, andobjects, most recently his school certificate, allegedly vanish before his eyes.Tonight, Tiwari, a tall 28 years-old man with a bowl haircut, big eyes and the gait of a cowboy, ishere to see if he can find any paranormal evidence. As the head of G.R.I.P. (Ghost Research &Investigators of Paranormal), he directs his team to install infrared cameras in six spots aroundthe house and terrace. The cameras are hooked up to a small television, next to the living room,that projects fuzzy black and white images. Base readings for temperature, humidity, andelectromagnetic fields (EMFs) have already been taken. Anything contrary that shows up couldbe as evidence of spirit. Some orbs flash across the television screen. Tiwari dismisses them.That’s what new ghost hunters get excited about but they’re probably just dust particles, hesays.The team places other equipment inside the bedroom. There are two camcorders, one has aninfrared night vision lens and the other is a full spectrum device. According to Tiwari as spiritmanifest themselves at night it’s possible to capture them on camera. On the bed sits a laserpointer which projects a grid of green dots on the wall that is refracted by anything, human orotherwise, that moves in front. They also have other tools in tow, such as a K-II meter, which
measures EMF’s and looks like a cheap remote control with five tiny, colored LEDs. And there’san EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorder that picks up voices pitched too high for thehuman ear to hear. Most of the gadgets were sourced in the US. Throughout the night, they’llcontinue to gauge the temperature; Tiwari says spirits leaving or entering an environment drawenergy from it, which causes a sudden dip or spike in degrees.While the investigators set up, Sharma listens attentively to Tiwari about spirits- He calls themthe “consciousness of a dead person” – and the two main types of haunting: those of “residual”spirits, which are only visible to some people and are wrinkles in time, like a “tape on playbackmode”; and “intelligent haunting” when a spirit makes contact with humans through noise,touch and by moving objects around.Sharma himself seems somewhat attuned to strange activity, of which he says theneighborhood has seen its fair share. One of his neighbors around the corner claims to haveseen an old man of street dissipate before her eyes and another one says she opened the doorto a child’s voice only to see a cow that “converted” into a dog.It’s time to start and everyone sits silently in the living room. The doors and windows are close.Dogs growl outside. Tiwari and Ayesha Mohan, an actress from Bombay who has joined theinvestigation for the night, are in the bedroom. Tiwari starts to speak out loud in Hindi askingthe spirits, if there is one, to show itself in any way possible. Soon after, the camera in thebedroom falls from its perch, the door to the adjoining storeroom closes; Mohan comes out.She says it’s spooky inside. But the investigators are excited that these incidents could signify apresence. Tiwari continues talking in the dark bedroom alone.About an hour later, two investigators come down from the rooftop saying they’ve madecontact with a spirit using the K-II meter. They say the spirit has answered two lights or three toquestions about their sex (male) and if they want to be friends (yes). After exploring every nookand cranny, at about 4 am, the team starts winding up the inspection. Later, at their office,they’ll analyze all the footage and data they’ve gathered to figure out the cause of the allegedhaunting.Each month, Tiwari and his investigators carry out two to 20 on site investigations. On average,they receive about 40 enquiries a month, sometimes much more, from people reporting spookyhappenings in their homes. Most problems are resolved over the phone or email.Tiwari and his team may not be the first in India to explore the paranormal, but Tiwari viewshimself as decidedly modern, because of his techniques- involving up to date gadgets- and hisdidactic approach to ghosts. In a country of myths and superstitions, he says he’s here to teachthe public about what are “real haunting phenomena” and propagate the idea that ghosts areas harmful as a “honeybee.”
“Our mission, “he says, “is to educate people-get rid of their fears.”Tiwari prefers to be called a “Paranormal Researcher” as opposed to a “ghost hunter”. Heexplains: “We do not like to be called ghost hunters because we believe ghosts were humantoo; we would not hunt them down, other human beings”.Since beginning his undertaking in 2009, Tiwari says he met his first ghost in 2007. He was livingin Deland, Florida at the time, training to be a commercial pilot when one evening while sittingalone in his shared house he heard footsteps and a voice whisper his name in his ear. That wasjust the beginning of a scare week: he and his housemates heard scratching on the windowsand saw pebbles fall from the ceiling; one girl allegedly saw an apparition.The event led Tiwari to reconsider his stance as a “hard core non believer”. To explain theexperience, he embarked on a period of intense study, which included certifications inparanormal investigation with the academic arm of ParaNexus – a Florida-based association ofresearchers and investigators of anomalous phenomena that was established in 2008.Tiwari brought his new skills back to India in 2009 and founded the Indian Paranormal Society(IPS) in Delhi as the first Indian chapter of ParaNexus. At the same time, Tiwari started theassociation’s ghost specialist squad, G.R.I.P., which currently has nine core members includinghim as the lead investigator. Thirty four part time researchers who carry out investigationsaround the country complete the network.“India is a land of wars,” says Tiwari, “with many storybook places said to be haunted becausepeople died there. But most of these places have real paranormal activity.” Ninety Five percentof the team’s explorations haven’t yielded any ghostly activity, says Tiwari, including atBhangarh fort, the abandoned Rajasthani town long touted as the most haunted place in India.Others have proved more fruitful, such as a deserted army building in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh,where Tiwari says he was pushed by an unknown force and other team members recordedstrange noises and apparitions on their instruments. Some of the group were touched byspirits, he says, describing the sensation as one of extreme coldness.People contact G.R.I.P. through their website, their active Facebook page, or after watching theYouTube videos or coming across media coverage. Based on his experience, Tiwari says “mostpeople in India don’t understand the difference between the natural and unnatural causes[behind haunting].” In other words, there are often logical explanations for what are perceivedto be ghostly disturbances. He cites creaking floorboards, bad wiring, rodents, and gas leaks as“natural” reason behind goings-on that lead people to believe there are ghosts in the house.Other clients show signs of mental instability and they are referred to G.R.I.P.’s residentpsychologist or to a doctor.
Two days after the St Nagar investigation, Tiwari sent Sharma an email with a “Thank youLetter” and a link to a video showing findings from the night: an apparition, the momentaryfading of the laser dots, an orb before the camera falls, and a woman singing or crying in thebackground- all of which are virtually impossible to discern from the grainy clip. The reportstates that there are two spirits, possibly of a couple, who might have died in an accident. Thereport further explains that the spirits are stuck in the house because of its “negative vibrationand energy”. To help them leave, Tiwari prescribes establishing “harmony and order”. To dothis, he advises Sharma to sell off all the old objects, “old dolls” and repaint the house.Yet someone like Tiwari, whose reputation as a ghost expert has grown, faces a curiousdilemma. He says his father still helps him financially, and most of his team members arevolunteers with day jobs. He conducts investigations at the behest of people for free in keepingin line with “international protocol”.Occasionally he may ask his client to reimburse travel expenses. Since there is no direct moneyinvolved, he has diversified into various money-making methods: selling, on their e-store, T-shirts and jackets with the G.R.I.P. logo; offering online certificate courses for 25,000;investigating haunted locations for TV channels.In 2009, Tiwari was approached by MTV to play the resident paranormal expert on Girl’s NightOut, a 13 episode thriller reality television series that offered a five rupee grand prize to thecontestant who proved to be the bravest after spending the night in a haunted location.“They knew there were going to take three girls to haunted places, “says Tiwari about theshow’s producers, “but they were not sure where or what different risk factors were involved”.So G.R.I.P scouted out 40 to 50 places in India with rumored levels of paranormal activity-abandoned jails, bungalows, forts and even a movie theater that burned down in 1988 killingpatrons inside.- which producers whittled down to 14 locations featured on the show. “Weinvestigated and then we sent in the girls to experience the haunting,” Tiwari says. The showaired in September 2010, and in early 2011 won two awards for its pilot season, including the“Best Reality Show” at the Asian Television Awards, Singapore. Season two was underdiscussion at the time of writing.The show gave Gaurav’s brand a boost, particularly within India’s television space. “We wereflooded with offers after Girls Night Out,” He says, although most of the networks wanted tomake “some spicy, horror, fabricated ghost hunting shows” that didn’t resonate with IPS’s aims.Ayesha Mohan, 28, who was at the St Nagar investigation, is a Bollywood actress turneddirector working on a mockumentary about djinss in Delhi. Mohan believes that Girls Night Outwas a good concept, but she says she found the show’s final edit baffling. “I wish they had kept
it more genuine, you know? If nothing is happening in a house, fine” she says “you don’t haveto put sound and foley [reproduced sounds such as foot-steps, creaking doors and breakingglasses] in every little sequence to make it more dramatic.”She believes there’s a market for investigative shows that communicate the subject of theparanormal in a genuine way. “It’s a sellable subject.” She says. “If they make it in the right wayit will work”. Mohan who herself believes in ghosts, says: “I’m sure that there is an audienceout there who wants to see the way things really happen.”Besides finding new partners and sponsors for his projects, Tiwari hopes to leverage his growingprofile by setting up his own production house, so he can make exactly the shows he wants.Some of those projects are already in the works, including one with Robb Demarest, the formerlead investigator of Ghost Hunter International.Since the MTV show however, Tiwari has also observed the springing up of investigative groupsstarted by college-going youths. Some of these groups have been begun by younger people,including one in Hyderabad led by a 13 year old boy. Sometimes they get in touch with Tiwarifor advice. Tiwari seems happy to see this hobby take off, but expresses concern that these newgroups don’t follow G.R.I.P’s standards and could damage the reputation of ‘legitimate’investigators.But for the most part, the emergence of groups interested in paranormal as well as theinteractions he’s had with people through IPS and G.R.I.P., have led him to believe thatattitudes toward ghosts are changing.“Earlier people used to think that spirits and ghosts were always evil, that they would alwaysharm you,” Tiwari says.“Now people dig it,” he says. “People go to haunted places for fun now. So the fear factor hascome down. Annette Ekin contributed reporting to this article.