Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Haunted house

The first short-story, ‘‘Dharma’’, clearly reminded me of a particular story back home. In Guadeloupe, there is house called ‘‘Maison Zévallos’’, which was built in the nineteenth century on a sugar plantation. It cannot be visited because it is a private property, but it is possible to stop in front of the gate and to admire it. It is said that numerous slaves were slaughtered in the back yard of the house. This the reason why their cries can still be heard by people today, according to some. Other people said that they could hear a baby crying. They said that during slavery, the masters hung a mother in the mill, and her baby stayed next to her corpse all night long, crying. The slaves promised that when they die, they would come back and haunt the house so that nobody could live in it. The owners of the house declared having witnessed supernatural events : big rocks falling into the living room, shoes moving on their own, a white horse in the yard at midnight…In reality, I did not become aware of the existence of this house until a few years ago. One day, I was with my friend, and we just stopped there, and she showed me the house. The first thing she told me about this house had to do with ghost stories. Actually, it is how this colonial house had become known in Guadeloupe, contrary to other colonial houses that don’t have ghost stories attached to them.
In the same way, Jago’s house is different from any other house because there is a particular story, a past and personal memories attached to it. In other words, the first short-story as well as the example detailed earlier, show that story-telling and memories help define home. For instance, when Jago Antia anounces to Todywalla that he wants to sell his house, the latter replies : ‘‘Sell that house ? Na, impossible. There’s something in it.’’ (Chandra, 14). Todywalla is not the only one aware of this fact Thappa tells Jago : ‘‘No one on this street will come near this place after dark. Everyone knows. They were telling me not to stay.’’ ( Chandra, 15). Interestingly, the verbs ‘‘know’’ and ‘‘tell’’, which are both linked to orality are used. Again, we see how storytelling help construct a definition for Jago’s home. Everybody knows about the reputation of Jago’s house because of the numerous stories that are told and retold by the people who live around. However, Jago does not adhere to this ghost story. It is the way others define his home. Actually, the short-story brings out a tension between superstition, traditions conveyed by story-telling and the rationalism of others, usually youngers ones who have been educated according to Western standards. At first, Jago refuses to acknowledge the presence of a ghost in the house. When Todywalla, a toothless old man mentions it to him, he says : ‘‘I haven’t heard a damn thing, be rational.’’ Similarly, not everybody believes that the ‘‘Maison Zévalos’’ is haunted. They just think that it is a legend. Some have rationalized the story by saying that the supposed cries of the slaves are the product of the wind.
As we have mentioned earlier, home also involves memory. When Jago decides to face the ghost uspstairs (or to reexplore his childhood), ‘‘somewhere deep comes the poisonous seep of memory.’’(Chandra, 24). The narrator uses the stairs as a symbolic bridge that allows Jago to go back in time and to reexplore memories attached to this house. He sees his parents, he witnesses the death of his brother Soli again, he sees himself playing with his brother, he remembers the stories told by his mother…Those memories do not only involve what he can see, but also feelings, odors, food, all those elements converging to what he calls home. If he decides to sell this house, he also decides to sell a part of himself, to give a part of himself away. Jago’s house becomes the locus of his identity. As I wrote before, we can’t go into the ‘‘Maison Zévallos.’’ However, when I see it from outside, I go back in time. I think about all those slaves who worked on the plantation, I think about the harvest of the sugar canes…all those memories that define home and the Guadeloupean people.

If you want to see the house, you can click on this link :


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