Jefe's House

Contacting the Dead in West Bengal

by on Feb.18, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Truth Is In Here

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I’ve traveled India a bunch in the past five years and have learned that almost no one in India seems to have heard of a Ouija board. I’ve also been in tons of stores ranging from rustic bazaars to gleaming shopping malls and have never seen a Ouija board for sale even though they have plenty of other Western toys and board games.

People there do, however, know what you’re talking about when you explain it, only they call it “doing planchette” and those who do it would only ever make their own. The idea of buying one seems foreign to them. Culturally, “doing planchette” seems to hold the same place as it does here: spooky, scary, forbidden, inviting doom, naughty, tempting, very real. Once I got my wife’s Hindu family elders talking about it, they recalled tons of stories that pretty much parallel the kinds of escapades you hear recalled in the US.

Her great uncle warned me against it, telling me there’s a reason God has created two separate dimensions for the living and the dead, and that to try and bridge the gap is inviting trouble. He then told me how once as a young man he and a bunch of friends were vacationing in a small shack in the jungle on a wildlife preserve (the Indian version of the “cabin in the woods” archetypal horror setting) and one evening they got bored and someone made a planchette board. They typically use a coin as the planchette. They soon were in touch with a man who said he was recently deceased. He said he was a Naxalite (Indian Marxist rebel) who had recently been killed by a rival Communist. At that moment the lights went out, engulfing them in darkness. Everybody freaked, they balled up the planchette board and threw it away and my great-uncle vowed never to do the planchette again.

He remains true to his word. I asked him if he would draw one for me exactly as they had drawn them back in the day, and he grimly said, “This is not possible.”

I dropped the subject but later that evening I approached my wife’s grandmother to ask the same question. She shrugged and said,

“Why not?” I gave her a pen and a blank sheet of typing paper and she drew the following picture. As it was on the date of mine and my wife’s 5 year wedding anniversary I told her I considered it a cherished anniversary gift. I’ll never be able to use it because I don’t read Bangla (aka Bengali, the native language of West Bengal) but what you’re seeing is the Bangla alphabet across the top and the words Yes and No beneath that. The flower at bottom center is the starting place for the coin. I asked her about numbers and she said they never included them but that she could add them if I wanted. I declined, telling her I wanted it to be authentic.

So…if you’d like a genuine Bengali planchette board just print this out on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. Ideally a rupee coin would do the trick but you’ll have to improvise.

Be warned: a few days later she remorsefully called to warn me not to use it, as everyone she knew who had “done planchette” regularly throughout her life had met unhappy fates. I assured her that I rarely actually use them except in my show Boneyards once in awhile and that mainly I appreciate them as art and folklore. I think that put her at ease.

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