Hari Lal Giri began conversing with spirits at the age of eight. By the time he was 16, he was a professional shaman driving the devil out of those possessed in the village of Katunje in Okhaldhunga.
Exorcism is not as easy as it seems, says Hari Lal. It needs learning and patience and a lot of energy leaping around to the beat of the dhyangro. "You can't just go and call on some deuta to help you because it is actually the debis who are more powerful. The most powerful is Kali," he says. Many villagers still trust the jhankri more than a doctor. A jhankri also needs to know about medicinal herbs because a lot of villagers come with simple ailments like stomach aches.
Hari Lal learnt to deal with the spirits by making them listen to him. "Most spirits are of children or people who've died young," he says. "Spirits do exist. They are like shadows with no concrete form. They come only if invited." Hari Lal gave up being a shaman 10 years ago and became a security guard. He converted to Christianity and still believes in spirits: the Holy Spirit. But a night security guard's salary is not enough, so he paints furniture by day to make extra money.
Even in Kathmandu, people used to come from far and wide to seek his services. "The work just got too hard, the spirits sap your energy, they don't let you sleep," he says. "If they come to talk to you, you can't ignore them as they become angry."
For a while, the spirits wouldn't let him alone although he wasn't a jhankri anymore. "They'd hit me and drag me across the floor, they stopped bothering me when they found out I wouldn't relent," he adds. These days, Hari Lal likes the solitude of his night work so he can contemplate on life and the mundane matters of daily survival.