Parvin Sultana
TRAVELLER’S GHOST by By Deepa Agarwal Ukiyoto Publishing, 2023, 123 pp., INR 155.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Deepa Agarwal’s Traveller’s Ghost is the story of three teenagers—Kriti, Mohit and the journalist Neel Pargat. The story starts in the hilly town of Banari where the families have gone for a holiday. They learn of of missing children. All the children have been however photographed by the eccentric photographer Mr. Yatri before they went missing.
Kriti always feels uncomfortable around Mr. Yatri and these uncanny coincidences make her more suspicious of him. But as Mohit and Kriti start helping Neel Pargat in uncovering the truth about the missing children, they discover many sinister aspects about Mr. Yatri. When the missing children return and Mr. Yatri vanishes, Kriti and her friends are relieved. But they have not seen the last of him.
Some days later another mysterious person enters the lives of these three friends—an artist Mr. Pathik. He starts teaching them art and does portraits of many. But just like Mr. Yatri, the subjects of Mr. Pathik’s portraits start withering away. Again, Kriti and her friends are successful in stopping Mr. Pathik before anything untoward happened.
As life starts returning to normal and Kriti and her friends settle for a cozy Delhi winter, another young boy vanishes from the Diwali Mela. He is supposed to have been seen last in the hall of funny mirrors. Kriti, who seems to have an uncanny sense of déjà vu, feels that this was related to the earlier incidents. To uncover the truth, they visit the mirror shop owned by one Mr. Muzaffar who is unnaturally fat and short—just like the distorted image in one of the funny mirrors.
But as luck would have it, they miss him. Around the same time, Kriti and her friends are invited to revisit Banari with Mrs. Roy for a picnic. They are in fact booked into the same house where Mr. Yatri lives—a house which feels haunted. There is thunder, lightning and power cut during the night, and Kriti feels the presence of an unnatural being in her room. Her encounter explains the obsession of Mr. Yatri and his later avatars with Kriti. As Kriti takes a stand against this being, a restless soul is finally put to rest.
This atmospheric story plays on the age-old fears of people—child snatching, souls being captured for infinity and souls feeding on youth like parasites. Sinister intentions are attributed to those engaged in this crime. But the author in a very nuanced way deals with the grey areas of the issue. Can ghosts be lonely and yearn for companionship? Is there a space between good and evil? Written in a very lucid way, the small story is a page turner and engages the readers.
The twists and turns will keep the readers guessing about the plot. Introducing young readers to the genre of horror is a challenge in itself. Authors need to see to it that too much gore is not involved. At the same time, elements of shock, supernatural, etc., must be there. The author does an excellent job of presenting a scary story. The atmospheric feeling reminds us of the ghost stories written by MR James—which make readers look over their shoulders often. Like James, Agarwal emphasizes more on the psychological aspect of fear rather than the physical one—the suffocating feeling of being trapped in a photograph, a portrait or a mirror, the eerie sensation of being constantly watched, are all relayed perfectly in the book.
The editing of the book could have been better.