Coast to Coast — Ghost Stories from Bombay to Goa

Coast to Coast — Ghost Stories from Bombay to Goa
My favourite oracle deck has a curious card, depicted with water bubbles floating skywards, it reads…

‘Let your edges be liquid’

It is a particular affirmation, asking us to become one with the water, return to our oceanic roots and tap into the parts of us that are magical and otherworldly. In a city like Mumbai, both my home and one of the (physical) homes of Shop Lune makes believing in this liquid magic quite easy. In my initial conversations with Sreesha, Shop Lune’s founder, our love for the coast and the stories it births came up quite quickly.

What is it about the ocean that makes us think of the great beyond?

In my three years of academic research in Mumbai, I’ve chased ghost stories and urban legends and the esoteric forms of knowledge that exist just beneath the city’s concrete surface. There are some gorgeous stories that jump out from the pavement crevices, if only one knows where to look.

I start my walk along the city’s otherworldly scape by the sand lined Chowpatty — facing the Arabian Sea. Under the shadow of a glittering, marble domed private hospital lies a colonial era well. The story goes that this well is inhabited by water nymphs. During the later 19th century bubonic plague, it was seen as a site of healing and if one were to pass by right before the crack of dawn, you could hear soft laughter, singing and the unmissable chime of anklets.

Following the sound of anklets, I give chase to the gothic structures of South Bombay. The influence of colonisation in the shape of this region is ignorable. Ghosts of horses race along the Royal Western Turf Club at night and the maan-kapiya , an indigenous headless horseman haunts the Kothachiwadi, the Portuguese painted neighbourhood in Girgaon. It is in the midst of these maddening spectres are the stories of those who are forgotten.

The particularly poignant ghosts of Bombay are the women of the forgotten Japanese cemetery. Nestled at the end of Dr. E Moses Road, this cemetery sees few visitors — living or dead. It is the resting place of Japanese traders from the colonial times- and the sex workers who came with them.The city’s Japanese community fled at the end of the second world war — and all that remains now is shrines and ashes of their dead.

Though, what soil swallows the tears of women separated from home both in life an afterlife — can a ghost speak to you in a foreign tongue?

The traders came to Bombay by sea and it is often the coastline that brings colour to the changing landscapes. On the line of Konkan coast — Goa and Mumbai both claim some of the most subversive creativity. I think of Angelo da Fonseca, born in Goa- and dropping out of the prestigious JJ School of Arts who painted the Virgin Mary in a kunbi saree around the same time the Japanese sisters flitted across the colonial bay.

The saree clad Madonna leads us to the Western Suburbs. Her pallu spreads over the nets of the Koli folk spreading their nets for fish as the sun begins its ascent. The smell of salt and soaked fibre whistle quietly. The Basilica of Virgin Mary- Mount Mary is lined with candle light. Legend goes, in the 1700s a fisherman dreamt that a statuette would emerge from the sea. The next day they fished the Pearl Mother or the Mother of the Mount. Apparently it is this statue that watches over the mayanagri — city of illusions.

My feet are weary as the sun rises against the bandstand. The ghosts go sleep when daylight comes- Mumbai though, she finds herself glorious both in moonlight and the sun. A young boy calls out — tempting morning joggers with kadak chai. I put my lips to the offered Styrofoam cup. A Red Pierrot
butterfly flits over the seascape. My grand-aunt used to say that when you see a butterfly, the soul of a beloved is watching over you.

Many have loved- and been loved by this city. How can it not have its own guardian angels?

About the author //Azania Imtiaz Khatri-Patel (@azania_patel) is a Bombay author, now based out of London, though she considers herself a longtime resident of the liminal space. She chases ghosts and concepts and falls in love with cities and people more often than she should.