What is “paranormal activity”? Does it only have to do with how people normally perceive ghosts and spirits? Do people “hallucinate” when they claim to see “apparitions”? Such questions have come into sharp focus after the mysterious death of Gaurav Tiwari, 32, founder of the Delhi-based Indian Paranormal Society and India’s most famous ghost-hunter, in the bathroom of his Dwarka flat here.

Waqar Raj, professional paranormal investigator (PPI) and technical head at the Indian Paranormal Society, who handles video and audio surveillance equipment, told The Sunday Guardian, “Paranormal activity can be defined as a phenomenon which is beyond the explanation of today’s science. We include phenomena like metaphysics, parapsychology, UFO-logy and hypnosis as being paranormal due to very inadequate genuine documented evidences related to such subjects.” Raj further said, “As we understand, no ghost or spirit can kill a man or at least there is no documented evidence to suggest that. They can only temporarily cause some disturbance, especially to a person with a ‘weak aura’. A person with bad habits, as someone on drugs, can develop a weak aura.”

The Indian Paranormal Society, a “professional non-profit association of dedicated paranormal researchers”, had formed a team called G.R.I.P (Ghost Research & Investigators of Paranormal) to investigate the paranormal in India under Gaurav Tiwari’s leadership. Rajesh Kumar, who was a former director of Indian Paranormal Society and part of the G.R.I.P team, told The Sunday Guardian, “Paranormal as the word itself suggests covers everything that cannot be categorised as normal. Which means it cannot be explained by current scientific theories or religious beliefs. Ghosts or unexplained energies are, of course, the most primary part of this research as they are the ones who interfere in human lives the most. Other life forms, dimensions as well as future theories also form a part of this research.” Kumar is currently the “lead paranormal investigator” at Team Pentacle, a Mumbai-based paranormal society many of whose members had earlier worked in the Indian Paranormal Society.

‘We believe in energies, and as far as my research goes, it’s neither negative nor positive. It’s a matter of perspective. But here I will like to quote Gaurav himself who said, no human can kill himself; if he does, he must be possessed.’

What do paranormal investigators actually “see” and “feel” when, after much waiting, something actually “happens”? Waqar Raj said: “Most paranormal investigators hear footsteps, feeble sound, feeling of being touched, sometimes a feeling of heaviness. In my initial days of this kind of work, I tended to be afraid, but after working with Gaurav Tiwari for several years, I no longer feel afraid now. Gaurav helped me understand the ‘psychology of spirits’. The first requirement for this kind of work is to have a strong mind that will not allow any entity (‘spirit’) to dominate you. One has to be very strong psychologically and mentally. However, physical fitness is also important.”

Raj should know and went on to tell The Sunday Guardian some spine-chilling details. “I have experienced paranormal activities several times. Once in a private flat somewhere in central Delhi, I was performing investigations and experienced battery drain in the camera. It’s a strong indication of spirits as they have a tendency to acquire energy available from surrounding resources like current flowing in DC circuits and acquisition of heat energy from surroundings. That’s why some particular spots become at least 10 degrees Celsius colder than the overall ambient temperature.”

Rajesh Kumar, Lead Paranormal Investigator at Team Pentacle.In fact, Gaurav Tiwari had investigated thousands of “haunted” locations. Talking of India’s most haunted places, Raj said, “Though many media reports have claimed that Bhangarh Fort in Alwar district in Rajasthan is the most haunted place in India, I don’t think that is correct. I think Kuldhara village in Jaisalmer district is the most ‘haunted’. The place has some real ‘outstanding energy’ and I have actually seen shadows. In Kuldhara, when I was investigating in a dark room, I heard a feeble scream and then the motion sensor light got activated. I tried to click random images on flash, but didn’t find any substantial visual evidence.”

Do people hallucinate when they claim to see “apparitions”? Raj said, “Yes, I have seen some people hallucinate due to exposure to strong electromagnetic field or due to some other reasons like presence of ammonia gas due to bats, which are typical creatures in such locations. Strong exposure to an electromagnetic field cannot affect a person much if one has a strong mind. I want to give the example of Formula 1 drivers and fighter plane pilots who experience gravitational force multiple times, but can handle the situation very well.”

Talking of his investigations together with Gaurav Tiwari, Raj said, “On 8 August 2014, we encountered unexplained heavy breathing sounds in the Lambi Dehar mines on the outskirts of Mussoorie in Uttarakhand. On 24 November 2015, I and Gaurav sighted moving shadows during our investigations in Kuldhara. It was an amazing experience for me as Gaurav pointed at the moving shadows visible in the moonlight; but for sighting such a phenomenon, your eyesight should be perfect.”

“No one can replace Reverend Gaurav Tiwari and his death is a major blow to the Indian Paranormal Society as well as this kind of study around the world. We are yet to decide on the mode of operations, management etc,” Raj said when asked about their future plans.

On the portrayal of ghosts and spirits and ghost-busters in the form of ojhas, babas and tantriks in most Bollywood movies, Rajesh Kumar said: “Bollywood has no understanding of ghosts. It works on adages and the whole business is about creating fear. They sell it. The trend is changing now. Our Team Pentacle has tagged up with production house Weeping Graves to give India reality-based movies rather than serving the fear psychosis. Wait till we come out with our series of movies; the country would then have a fair idea of how it actually goes. There is nothing like ghost-busters. If there is, then the role is specific and that is to find if there is an unexplained mystery at a given location. Once found, it depends on the belief system to resolve it. It can be a religious way out or a metaphysical system to resolve. Yes, but it is not as dramatic. As I said, films need to play on the fear factor.”

Waqar Raj, Professional Paranormal Investigator and Technical Head, Indian Paranormal Society.Raj said, “Personally, I strongly disagree with the film industry’s portrayal of ghosts and spirits. We have never encountered such experiences in our investigations in over 3,000 alleged haunted locations. Ojhas, babas and rituals have a deep impact on psychology and people start feeling positive. We don’t consider religious rituals as scientific. We try to deal with such matters scientifically with some psychological philosophy. During our investigations at alleged haunted places, we use different kinds of equipment like EMF sensors (to detect change of electromagnetic field in a particular place), electronic voice phenomenon recorders (to record very feeble sound almost inaudible to human ears), infrared cameras (to detect shadows, transparent or non-transparent movements), passive infrared motion sensors (to detect motion by any humanly figure), and thermal cameras (to document huge temperature variation even in a small area).”

“Mobile phones do work in alleged haunted places,” Raj said, rubbishing the commonly held belief by many that they do not. The need to deploy sophisticated and costly equipment to “detect” paranormal activity perhaps explains why it costs Rs 35,000 for a three-month basic PPI course offered by the Indian Paranormal Society. Six-month advanced courses cost more. “We have received good response in terms of enrolment of students. Plus 2 candidates above 18 years of age may pursue these courses,” Raj said.

On reports that Gaurav Tiwari had told his wife that a “negative force” was pulling him towards it and he seemed unable to control it, Kumar said, “We believe in energies, and as far as my research goes, it’s neither negative nor positive. It’s a matter of perspective. But here I will like to quote Gaurav himself who said, no human can kill himself; if he does, he must be possessed.”

However, Raj said, “I don’t know whether Gaurav had said this. But, in my personal opinion, I rule out any possibility of negative energy. In fact, people get confused with the words ‘negative energy’. Our thoughts, lifestyles and ways to survive in this world make it a positive or negative approach. There is no existence of negative energy. How can you define energy of any form as negative or positive?”

Raj claimed that there are almost 15 paranormal societies in India, mostly limited to Facebook and Twitter. “We believe that just creating a FB page and copy pasting articles from the web cannot make a society an authentic institution. The core criteria related to research in this field needs too much observation, field study, updated surveillance equipment and, of course, extraordinary patience,” he said.