story time

What is Christmas Eve without a good ghost story?

Here are five you can start with.

Henry James’s classic tale of horror and possession, The Turn of the Screw, is about the telling of a ghost story as much as it is about ghosts.

  The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.  

The story has the quality of an incantation, holding listeners spellbound as long as it lasts. Such is its power that when it ends no ordinary conversation is possible for a while. Winter claws at the edges of this enchanted circle, warded off for a while by the pool of light cast by the Christmas fire.

Winters in Victorian England tended to be a nature red in tooth and claw sort of business - snowy and cold and no central heating. As chilly Victorians huddled close around the fire on Christmas, they told themselves tales of the uncanny and the supernatural, of beings who may well have been birthed by the howling winter world.

Telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is believed to be a tradition that goes back several hundred years. But it seems to have been revived by Charles Dickens and The Christmas Carol, published in 1843, when the Victorian age was still young. “There is probably a smell of roasted chesnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories,” writes Dickens in Telling Winter Stories.

But there may nothing good or comfortable about this winter ritual, which takes listeners to lands untouched by Christmas cheer. These stories dwell in churchyards and old manor houses and cliffs battered by a noiseless sea. The ritual touches on something ancient, something primeval at the heart of the Christmas mystery. It recalls the “yuletide” that is “older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind,” as HP Lovecraft put it.

Now the Christmas fires are dying out. Certainly, those celebrating in India will not light them. But there is no reason the stories should be forgotten. Here are five that you could curl up with this Christmas Eve:

The Mezzotint (1904): Perhaps it is right to start with MR James, master of the Victorian ghost story and a medieval scholar with an interest in antiquaries. Very often in his tales, ancient objects glower with unknown secrets and properties, which must be unlocked by the wandering historian or some other species of scholar.

In this story, an art collector for a museum buys a bland mezzotint of a manor house for a song. Only to find that the picture may contain more than meets the eye.

Man-Sized in Marble (1893): Did you think of E Nesbit as a writer of sweet stories for children, spinner of yarns about love and courage triumphing poverty? Think again.

When a writer begins with “Although every word of this story is as true as despair,” you know things cannot end well.

A newly married couple settle down in a charming cottage in a little village on a hill. Only trouble is, the cottage is very the village church. And in the church there are “two bodies, drawed out man-size in marble”.

Smee by AM Burrage (1931): Not quite Victorian but in the firmly in tradition of telling a story to go with the egg-nog. Beware what games you play on Christmas Eve. For you could end up playing “Smee”.

One person hides and others look for them in the dark. When you find the hider, they say “it’s me”, shortened to “smee”, a word that sounds like the beginning of a scream. What if there are more players than you know in this game?

The Face (1928): EF Benson brings you face to face with horror. Not for him the power of suggestion, the terror of what lurks in the shadows. In sinuous, visual prose, he will paint the moment of confrontation for you.

In “The Face”, a woman keeps dreaming of walking on a cliff edge next to a church. The landscape evolves as she ages. The waters eat away at the cliff edge, until they tear at the church. And the walker draws closer to someone waiting at the end of her journey.

The Festival (1925): With HP Lovecraft, we may be straining at the bounds of the traditional Christmas ghost story. But don’t worry, nobody dies, we think.

Lovecraft loved Benson. And he loved snarling, tentacled, ebullient horror. In this story he explores that yuletide which is older than Babylon and Bethlehem. It is Christmas and a traveller arrives at the old fishing town where his ancestors once lived. As darkness falls, the inhabitants of this village celebrate a festival. But it is not the one where you deck the halls with boughs of holly.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.