the ghosts in pacman

This is not from Bengal, but it does have something interesting to say about the horror-end-of-the-scale formulation of ghosts in contemporary western culture.

But you go a little deeper, and this particular understanding is neither only contemporary, nor specifically western. The idea of ghosts that are jealous of humans because people can eat is as old as the form of narrative itself. Food is a symbol of the attachments and tastes of the material world, from which ghost-ness is deprived. This idea emerges repeatedly in ghost stories from India, China and at least some parts of eastern Europe.

And the idea of ghosts who can eat you up (if you go out in the afternoon heat/ don’t finish your homework/ sneak away from lighted areas after dark) is familiar to children in several parts of the world. Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes certainly believe in them:

In the Bengal in which I grew up, they were used as a child-disciplining tool. There was one rhyme that began:

Theek dupur byala

bhoot-ay maaray dhyala […]

which refers to such mid-afternoon ghostly activity, and is usually focused specifically on children who will not listen to adult directions and advice.

I am old enough to have played pacman as a young adult, and was delighted that Padmini Ray Murray pointed me to this very interesting reading of the game.

Thanks, tina!