The Ouija Board and the fun we had with the spirits – My childhood nostalgia series – Chapter 13
// WARNING: It is dangerous to play with Ouija board. Never attempt to do it. We did at our young age purely out of innocence and fortunately nothing worse happened. But it is not a child’s play. //
Whenever I think about the days when we ‘played’ with the Ouija board and invited spirits for free astrological consultations at our village home some 45 years ago, I never cease to wonder how we had the innocent courage to do it; More than our courage, I wonder how our conservative parents permitted us to do it, though it lasted only for a very brief period.
It all happened when Seenu visited our village home for holidays for the first time. Seenu was the younger brother of my middle sister’s husband. The lean, dark and carefree boy, hardly twelve years old, was conspicuous with his round, bulging eyes and an unusually shrill voice.
It happened during one of the typical summer afternoons when we (myself aged about 15, a couple of cousins slightly younger than me and a couple of other village boys) felt terribly bored; having exhausted playing practically all the indoor games like Hide and Seek, ‘Pallanguzhi’, Trade, ‘Audupuli Attam’ and so on, we were loathe to going through any of them another round; We were frantic to find something new and exciting to pass the time at the sultry indoors. It was then that Seenu asked “Shall we try “Aavi Josiam” (Seeking answers to questions about future from the spirits)?” We were bemused.
“What do you mean?” we asked in chorus.
The ouija board (ghosts.org)
“I mean, playing the Ouija board. We use to do it in our village. It’s sort of psychic reading to know the future with the help of spirits. I am actually a ‘medium’ — the spirits will come through me to answer our questions on the board…” he went on to explain the procedure involved. We were quite excited. My elder sister who passed by heard bits and pieces of our conversation and she got worked up. “You mean, a spirit will come here and talk to us? Oh NO. Nothing doing. I will tell the parents!”.
But Seenu said “No Sister! Nothing of that kind! Let me show you..” He took a chalk piece and drew a rectangle of size some 2 feet by 2 feet on the cement floor. Inside it, he drew yet another square, about 4 inches offset from the outer one. In the gap between these two squares, he wrote English alphabets ‘A’ to ‘I’ along one side, ‘J’ to ‘R’ along the next side and ‘S’ to ‘Z’ along the third side. On the fourth side he wrote numbers 0 to 9. Then, across two diagonally opposite corners inside the inner square, he wrote one “Yes” and one No”. He asked me to fetch a small stainless steel tumbler from the kitchen. Keeping it upside down at the middle of the square, he drew a circle along the lip of the tumbler.
He moved the tumbler near the alphabets and numbers to cross check whether the tumbler will only touch one letter at a time without crossing with adjacent letters. Having satisfied with himself with all the preparations, he kept the tumbler upside down at the middle circle and said, “Now listen. I need 2 more persons to operate this. All the three of us will touch the tumbler with our index finger lightly. One of us can call any dead relative of ours; If the spirit is available and willing, it will enter into the tumbler through me and move it to answer our questions – either by giving Yes or No or by moving form letter to letter to form the words of the answer.”
“Ah! I know the trick! You will move the tumbler yourself with your finger” I objected. Seenu replied: “It’s impossible with the other two persons too touching the tumbler. More over, what I need is just a light touch – no force is ever needed. It will move on its own! Promise! There is absolutely no cheating..”
We got excited. After lots of cajoling and pleading, parental permission was obtained. Our parents too got curious and soon there was a small crowd around the Ouija board ( rather Ouija floor) now. Every one volunteered to be Seenu’s company in touching the tumbler. Seenu chose me (because he wanted to prove to me that there was no cheating involved) and another cousin for his company.
“Listen! You must now call any one of your dead relatives three times very earnestly with utter respect and belief. You may also call some other popular dead persons, but I am told by my village elders that some other dubious spirit may come instead and they won’t give factual replies”.
We agreed. Every one in the family suggested to me to call our dead Periappa (our father’s elder brother) who passed away hardly a year ago. I called out his name (with the relationship tag) three times, while all the three of us were keeping our index fingers on the tumbler.
There was a deafening silence in the gathering. Suddenly Seenu said in a hushed tone “He has entered” and just then the tumbler moved a bit and adjusted itself exactly to the center of the circle!
Seenu then said “We must first ask him whether he is willing to answer our questions. If he is not willing, we should not trouble him. That’s the rule.” I said aloud “Periappa! Will you be kind enough to answer our questions?”
With a jerk, the tumbler moved to the corner where Yes was written. There was a murmur of excitation all around. It was undoubtedly obvious to me that all the three of us were touching the tumbler very lightly and there was no question of any one of us moving it at his will without the knowledge of the other.
Now what to ask? There was a flurry or suggestions. My cousin asked “Can you tell my name?”. The tumbler moved immediately from Yes to R-A-V-I letter by letter! There was a big cheer! It was right! There was a deluge of questions afterwards.
“Will I pass my S.S.L.C?”
“What percentage will I score?”
“When will our third sister get married?”
“In which year did India get Independence?”
“How long will our ailing grandmother live?”
“Which popular political leader will die soon on a school working day?”
“Is your nagging wife still around in the world of the ghosts near you?”
“Who else of our dead relatives have you met?”
“What will I study after P.U.C?”
“Did you meet your favorite musician MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar’s ghost there?”
More and more questions poured in from the audience. Some questions were answered. For some, the spirit refused to answer; for some it didn’t move at all. After a while, Seenu said “We should not trouble one spirit alone too much. Let him ‘climb the mountain’…”
After thanking my Periappa’s spirit profusely, I humbly said to him in Tamil :”Malai Eridungo”(‘you may please climb the mountain’ – which means ‘you may leave the place’). The tumbler moved in a whiz to the central circle and stopped exactly at the middle. Seenu announced :”He has left”.
In the next two hours or so, we tried to parade one dead relative to another; some responded; some didn’t. Some came after several and persistent calls. Some refused to answer any questions and left immediately.
After a while, we became bolder enough to call some public figures. We called the ghost of Jawaharlal Nehru too! But from the way it gave rubbish answers to some specific political questions thrown by my father, we were left to doubt whether it was a false spirit that came in to do some mischief!
But did any of the questions related to future predictions come true in the future? I remember well that my Periappa’s spirit predicted about my studying B.E. (Bachelor of Engineering) and at that time we did not believe it for two simple reasons: one, at the village level, we had hardly had any idea about what to do for getting in to B.E. and where to study it. Two, what we were familiar those days were only B.Sc and B.A. offered at the arts college at Mayavaram (Mayiladuthurai, a town nearby our village) and our aspirations never went beyond those degrees. But the prediction did become true. I remember a couple of more such predictions too becaming true; at the same time several other predictions did not happen. Perhaps there are errors of probability in the predictions of the spirits too, like what you have in regular astrology!
Coming back to our Ouija board excitement, Seenu had to return to his native village the next day. After he left, we were curious to know whether any of us boys could act as medium. We tried ourselves in various permutations and combinations but none else in our family or amongst our cousins had the power to draw the spirits. Then we started experimenting with some of our street boys and at last found out that an eight-year-old boy — Subbu residing at the third house from ours had the powers of a medium. We cajoled him to offer his services by baiting him with sweets and he obliged to be present with us for a couple of hours that day without the knowledge of his parents.
After exhausting practically all our dead relatives, we were frantically searching for a suitable spirit, when my sister suggested calling our dead next door neighbor Ramani Aiyer, who had passed away just 2 months back.
Ramani Iyer was a very familiar person to us, not because he was friendly to us, but rather because we knew all his whims, fancies and loud-mouthed utterances. Both he and his wife were hard of hearing. Obviously both had to talk louder than normal; Being a typical village house, just a common mud wall separated our house and his. Ramani Iyer was a highly irritable old man, who never saw anything eye to eye with his wife. Not a day would pass without a well audible verbal onslaught between them and Iyer would use swearing words generously at his adamant wife.
With Subbu acting as medium, we called Ramani Iyer and he responded immediately. Perhaps his soul was still wandering around his house! He played truant, funny and mischievous in answering some of our questions. “Is this really Ramani Iyer’s ghost?” spoke my sister in a hushed voice at my ears. “Let me ask some pointed questions to ascertain it”, she said.
“What do you love most?” she goaded me to ask this question.
The spirit spelt out S-N-U-F-F. My sister smiled gleefully. “It’s right. Ramani Iyer frequently stuffed his nose with the snuff power! Now ask this question: Which swear word do you use the most?”
The tumbler moved hither and thither doubtfully, without reaching up to any letter for a while. Then swiftly it travelled to the number “7” and then to letter “V” and then to “U”.
“What does it mean?” I asked my sister. She too looked confused. “What does it mean by Seven-V-U? Ask him again” – she said.
“Sir, what do you mean by it?” I asked humbly.
The tumbler, after shaking a bit, went again to 7-V-U and waited.
I asked the same question again. This time the tumbler moved too fast – as though the spirit was getting irritated. It moved again and again to 7-V-U four or five times; then it traversed to letters G-O-I-N-G and without waiting for our formal request to quit, it made the exit on its own by going at lightning speed to the center and then becoming motionless.
It was time for Subbu, our medium, to go back home, never to return, because someone else had spread the news to his parents that he is playing with ghosts! Naturally, after delivering a few whacks at his rear, they forbade him to visit our house again.
Thus the curtain was drawn over our experiment with spirits. But one question remained to haunt us. What the hell was meant by Ramani Iyer’s “Seven-V-U?”. Should we consult any psychic reading expert to decipher the code words?
Early next morning, I was shaken up to waking state by my sister, who was shouting at my ears :”Hey! Get up! I figured it out!” I felt instantly awake and swung up to sitting posture! “What’s it?”
“It isn’t SEVEN in English! It is 7 in Tamil – that is “ezhu”. Now you see? ezhu+vu is “ezhavu” – “death!”. Don’t you remember that it is this swear word “ezhavu” that Ramani Iyer used to shout at least a dozen times every day at his wife?”
Both of us laughed and laughed till curious elders too joined us to share our finding. It was undoubtedly Ramani Iyer’s spirit indeed that visited us the previous day! Now we had absolutely no doubt about the genuineness of our ‘experiments with spirits’.
– S.S.L.C – School final exams (11th Standard in those days)
– P.U.C – Pre University Course (equivalent 12th Standard in those days)
– Adupuli Attam : A simple folk board game involving 3 tiger and 16 goat coins.
– Pallanguzhi: A game played on a wooden plank with 18 cavities using shells or tamarind seeds.
– MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar: A very popular musician and film actor of yester years.