HAUNTING BOMBAY by Shilpa Agarwal


Email this review


Set, obviously enough, in Bombay, this novel purports to be eerie but doesn’t wring much horror from the weirdness it recounts.

A very pregnant young woman defiles the altar of a goddess when her water breaks unexpectedly, and shortly thereafter the baby drowns. Thirteen years later, a young girl named Pinky, who had been brought into the family shortly after her birth, opens the door of a bungalow that has been bolted—uriously enough for 13 years—and lets loose the ghost that has been awaiting an opportunity to emerge. Pinky’s entire family is both haunted by and implicated in the unearthly and sinister exploits. Savita, the mother of the dead child, finds her breasts begin to swell and then explode with milk, while her husband Jaginder, who deals with his pain by drinking and by asserting his dominance over his wife, is set into a rage when she reveals the secret of her dead child to others. A Hindu priest is called in to do (for want of a better term) an exorcism, but he’s both spooked and ineffective. One of the problems with the narrative—and what prevents it from being either hair-raising or bone-chilling—is that the ghost manifests itself, sometimes by weird sounds in the pipes (because “what killed the baby now sustains the ghost”) and sometimes as a phantasmal presence: “The ghost gracefully unfurled herself along a line of jute in the boys’ room and hung upside-down, hair swaying beneath her, as she assessed her work.” And later, “Hovering just inside a window, the baby ghost watched the family’s new routine with curiosity.” A ghost with this kind of physicality is hard to take seriously, and the family’s reaction to their supernatural harassment seems overwrought.

All the ingredients of a great ghost story except fear and trembling.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-56947-558-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2009