If you’d say that having a sleepless night after watching a good old horror movie is your kind of fun then I’d say you’re my long lost twin. My preferred superheroes aren’t the Avengers, they’re Ed and Lorraine Warren….which explains why my idea of paranormal investigation involved communicating with dead people and banishing demons back to hell. The reality, as I have come to know, especially in a country like India that’s overrun by blind faith, is very different.
For Jay Alani, a professional paranormal investigator and founder of The Paranormal Company, it wasn’t horror movies that sparked his interest in the unseen, but a real-life experience. “I was 17 when I visited a temple in Rajasthan where I saw people performing exorcisms on a few women. The devotees around the scene cheered on as godmen continued to beat these supposedly possessed women with rods, sticks, slaps and punches. They were in pain and screaming in agony but their scream was considered as the evil coming out of their body. I couldn’t sleep at night after I witnessed that. It was wrong and I wanted to do something about it.” Witch-hunting is still very much a thing in many parts of India. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicates that approximately 2937 women were killed in India from 2001 to 2019 on alleged charges of practising witchcraft. With 10 years of experience, Jay has investigated over 1100 cases of paranormal activity and over 300 haunted locations in India with a larger aim to bring about awareness against superstitions. In 2020, he started India’s first paranormal helpline (+91 99995 18600) to offer free consultations to those in need. We caught up with him to understand what really goes into being a paranormal investigator in India:
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ELLE: How would you define a ghost?
Jay Alani (JA): I don’t think I’m capable of answering this question as a human. But what I can say is that ghosts certainly do not exist in the way that they are perceived in movies. I haven’t seen any ‘ghosts’ in my 10 years of paranormal investigation. I would like to highlight that India functions in a very different way. Here, we have black magic, witchcraft and blind faith. We have human sacrifices, we have animal sacrifices. I am more on the human side of these phenomena. I say that if there is black magic, then go on and do it on me. And if it works, then okay, the world gets proof that these things exist. Through my investigations, I try to save people from falling into the traps of blind faith and superstitions.
ELLE: What occult practices are the most prevalent in our country?
JA: There’s a huge business that these babas and tantrics are running in the name of penis enlargement. Indian men are lured into taking jadibootis, participating in black magic rituals and ultimately paying huge amounts of money. The age bracket of mainly 15 to 27 is also falling into the trap of Vashikaran. Tantrics claim that they will help you meet the love of your life and you will be in complete control of your partner. In India, we tend to look for magic in everything. A lot of people argue with me saying that blind faith and superstitions have taken a dip but they have not, in fact, there has been a rise. The modus operandi has changed, and the language has changed. Now, well dressed, English speaking people sit on Youtube, Facebook etc and talk about the cosmos and energies etc. There are also exorcisms being conducted on Facebook Live.
ELLE: Do people often mistake mental illness for demonic possession?
JA: 100% of the possession cases I have received so far are of three types— one, people pretending to be possessed to fuel their intentions. For example, I got a case of a young girl who was acting like she was possessed because she wanted to convince her parents to get married to her boyfriend. She pretended to have four souls inside her body, saying that she should marry that guy. Two, I have seen people getting paid to act like they’re possessed in a lot of temples and places where exorcisms happen. And the third is mental health conditions which no one is considering in India.
ELLE: What has been the scariest case you have investigated so far?
JA: One case that came to me was of a 22-year-old girl who was a dentist. She believed that a ghost in the shape of a legless lady was trying to kill her. She told me that her parents sent her to an ashram where the head godman tried to rape her by stating that his sperm will cleanse her soul. When I investigated, I found out that she was suffering from pareidolia and paracosm— psychological conditions where one often tends to create an imaginary body or creature. It was triggered because of PTSD from an incident that happened in her childhood when her uncle tried to physically assault her. The condition of that girl was pretty drastic and I was very emotionally attached to that case.
ELLE: What’s your investigation process like?
JA: When we get a case we have to apply for permission from local authorities if we have to access a location. Sometimes it takes months. We visit that place, do a recce and talk to a lot of local people to try and understand their beliefs and superstitions. We also find out about the wildlife around the area because sometimes the scary sounds are nothing but animals that people haven’t heard before like bullfrogs or red foxes. We spend one or two nights at the location to investigate. I do not use a lot of gadgets for this, my team and I believe in the human gut feeling and we try to look at everything through a very logical lens. 99% of the time we are able to give a logical explanation.
ELLE: Are there any myths that you would like to bust about the paranormal investigation?
JA: Yes. Number one, equipment like nitrogen cameras to monitor any sort of trespassing and frequency meters to try and understand the sounds and where it is coming from are useful. But no machine ever made on this planet can help you establish a connection with or communicate with a ghost. You cannot talk to ghosts as easily as we see on YouTube these days. Number two, there’s a myth that paranormal investigators have superpowers. I can’t speak for other people but I can tell you that I have no superpower. I have just a rational, logical, curious mind that is trying to explore. Number three, paranormal investigations were never conducted to prove that there is a ghost. It is done to uncover the truth and make people aware of the reality.
ELLE: What’s the protocol to follow when one sees or hears something that they think is paranormal? (because it’s always the extra curious ones who die first in horror movies)
JA: There are 3 stages. One, ask questions to yourself to try and uncover all the possibilities. Two, use logic not magic. And three, if you’re seeing and hearing things, make a visit to a doctor first and only then to any paranormal investigator. I personally believe that everything in this world is mortal. Everything except one, and that is stories. Stories will exist even if nothing else does. If there will be no earth, then there’ll be stories of earth on another planet. But sometimes building on these stories and our blind belief in them creates a lot of unnecessary troubles in our life. Ghosts, energies etc are all stories and you shouldn’t believe them until you experience them yourself.