Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spirits I Have Known

Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (born Ipsita Chakraverti; 3 November 1950) is a Wiccan priestess based in India. Born into an elite family in India with a diplomat for a father and royalty for mother, Chakraverti spent her early years in Canada and the US where her father was stationed. There, she was allowed to join a select group of women studying ancient cultures of the world and the old ways. Chakraverti studied with them for three years and finally chose Wicca as her religion. After coming back to India and getting married, Chakraverti declared herself as a witch in 1986. Amidst the backlash that followed her declaration, Chakraverti explained to the media the Neo Pagan ways of Wicca and its healing power.

Chakraverti started administering Wiccan ways of healing to the people of India, including traveling to remote villages and teaching the Wiccan way to the female population, several of who were often accused of black magic and "witchcraft" by male folk, and murdered. In 1998, Chakraverti campaigned as an Indian National Congress candidate for the Parliament of India in the Hooghly district, but was not elected. She released her autobiography Beloved Witch in 2003. A second book titled Sacred Evil: Encounters With the Unknown was released in 2006, and it chronicled nine case studies during her life as a Wiccan healer and explained why those events happened. Both books received positive critical acclaim.

The book, Sacred Evil was made into a motion picture by Sahara One Pictures. Titled Sacred Evil – A True Story, the film starred Bollywood actress Sarika playing Chakraverti. The film was a commercial disappointment but received mixed reviews. Chakraverti started the Wiccan Brigade, a platform for those who wanted to study Wicca. Later, Bengali TV channel ETV Bangla, created two tele-serials based on Chakraverti's life and her experience with the paranormal. Chakraverti, who believes that Wicca is the first feminist movement in history, has been credited with throwing new light on the taboo subject of witchcraft in India, and the rest of the world.

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Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s first ‘out’ witch, describes her first brush with the supernatural as one that didn’t make sense when it happened. “I would observe the visitors who came to my house and would be surprised to see that I could see another print on their faces,” says Chakraverti over the phone from Kolkata, “I was to realise later that I could see their past lives. I think my attunement with nature was always there.” She has grown acutely conscious of being surrounded by the supernatural since then.

Recently, she had to let go of her dog Kalu. It was suffering old-age illnesses. But even after it died, she says it continued to follow her around. “I would often see its paw prints on the floor leading to my study and smell its wet fur next to me,” in her words. “Outsiders would comment on the paw prints as well.

The dog was as attached to me as I was to it. I feel that it never really left me. It may not have been my first encounter with the supernatural, but to my mind it was one of the most touching. It also proved that just like humans, animals have spirits too.”

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As I see it, I am alive. You people are not,” says Devyani, in spirit form, in Trapped. Is the supernatural world really as alive as our real world? Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the author of Beloved Witch and Sacred Evil, feels so. The reasons she describes in Spirits I Have Known, a collection of nine stories [Harper Collins, Rs 350] which has recently hit bookstores. On summer solstice, the Wiccan high priestess tells t2 about the spirits she has known...

Spirits I Have Known feels like it picks up from where your last collection of short stories Sacred Evil left off...

Yes, both have nine stories. But in Spirits I Have Known, all stories except one, Hand of God, have strong women protagonists. This point came to my mind in the last few years, about how women get a raw deal. Even if not through social circumstances, by the way God treats them. They have a very hard life, maybe because they are more sensitive and vulnerable. Since the days of the Persecution (in Europe), women have had to bear the brunt. More than in Sacred Evil, the women in Spirits I Have Known have seen life and suffered. In each story, they look out for themselves in their own way. They fight back, either in their physical bodies or in their essence. The difference between the two books is that here they are bloodied but unbowed.

In the story Crossroads, you write that ‘magic should heal, not harm’. Is this your belief as a practitioner of wicca?

Yes, of course. At the same time, I cannot completely dissociate myself from the women I have written about. What they bring about is justice in some way. But you can always ask, who is to decide what is justice? For instance, the protagonist (Sitara) in Tea for One is unwilling to take things lying down where evil is concerned. Sometimes you don’t get justice through law, sometimes magic lends a hand. That is also healing. In The Spirit Machine, the protagonist has lost her life but she still can get healing. Yet the question remains, how much do we take into our hands? What is morally right or wrong? But if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? Maybe in a way, this is my wiccan philosophy as a writer.

In Crossroads, I also mention that I am not sorry if something has been done through me. See, it is not only about a gender war. It is also about how these women take life head-on. There’s a line in Beloved Witch which says ‘If God forgets, the witch cannot’. This, you could say, is one of the messages that comes through in Spirits I Have Known. But I have never forced the reader to believe in my views. This is as I have seen it. From the supernatural point of view, it’s up to the readers whether they want to believe in it or not.

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