I remember the oft quoted story about how a skeptic was confronted by a man on a lonely road and asked if he believed in ghosts, “no, I don’t” said the skeptic. “That’s fine with me”, said the stranger and disappeared into thin air. As far as I am concerned, coming across paranormal phenomena is a matter of opportunity and exposure. A house or office bound individual is liable not to come across experiences (some of which may be strange), when compared to a footloose person, who spends his life travelling, sleeping in century old ‘dark bungalows’ and enjoys tales told around a fire on dark winter nights, as the wind howls like a banshee in the surrounding wilderness. I was fortunate and grateful to my creator, who ordained me into a career, which provided ample opportunity to do all these things to my heart’s content. It was during these adventures that I came across many occurrences that could be called otherworldly.

I have often written about these events along with the fact that I was born and brought up in a house, where unexplained phenomenon was common and even benignly protective. These incidents were most of the times preceded by a perfume like aroma, which resembles an ‘attar’ of some kind. I have narrated in my previous pieces, how a burglar was neutralised by an unseen entity and the time, when a large sized cobra about to strike my parents, who were taking an after dinner walk on our drive along with our pet dog, was driven away by something invisible, but whose presence was discernible by a wonderful aroma that pervaded the spot. My mother’s instructions to us was never to show fear, whenever we saw, heard or felt anything extraordinary. We were also instructed never to empty our bladders anywhere outdoors in the compound. I have come to believe that our home was a perfect example of a happy coexistence with those that we couldn’t see.

As I came of age and adopted a career, I carried this lack of fear with me much to my advantage. At times, my experiences with the ‘paranormal’ took an unexpectedly humorous turn. It was during a field trip near Jaranwala that I decided to spend the night, not in the nearby village, but in my vehicle parked near a tube well. When I conveyed the decision to my team, which had opted to use the canal rest house in the vicinity, they thought I had lost my mind. Minutes after their departure, I was approached by some local old timers, who told me that I was being foolish, since the spot I had chosen was haunted. It turned out that anyone, who dared to spend the night there, found his bed overturned by some force. I thanked my well-wishers and told them that perhaps I would be left alone since I was not sleeping on a ‘charpoy’, but inside a vehicle. As the men left muttering amongst themselves (and I can guess what they must be saying) I was reminded of a similar occurrence involving myself and some unseen friends, months earlier at a ‘belna’ (a place where sugar cane juice is extracted and reduced in a large wok to make jaggery or ‘gur’) site near Faisalabad.

Sometime, past midnight, I felt as if my sleeping quarters were being violently rocked, I then heard sounds as if someone was banging on the sides of the vehicle. All I could do was to recite Quranic Verses and in between tell whatsoever was at work, to let me be and play elsewhere. The shaking stopped as abruptly as it had begun and the next thing I remember is waking up with the sunlight streaming through the windows and my team members with perhaps the entire village gaping at me, as I stepped out and with a twinkle in my eye and dramatically stretched myself.

We hurriedly resumed our journey, afraid that staying any longer may at any moment elevate me to the status of a ‘pir’ and heaved a sigh of relief on reaching the main road to Okara. On arriving at this busy city, I bought an Urdu newspaper with the lead story “Parts of Punjab hit by a strong earthquake”. I spent the rest of my travelling itinerary wondering if a brave soul from a particular village near a tube well had ever tried to emulate me and if he had, was his slumber peaceful or did he flee in terror as his bed was overturned.

The writer is a historian.

As I came of age and adopted a career, I carried this lack of fear with me much to my advantage. At times, my experiences with the ‘paranormal’ took an unexpectedly humorous turn.