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How the Ghost Got into the PC by Payal Dhar

There's a Ghost in My PCThere’s a Ghost in My PC had its genesis in a short story I wrote for a Puffin anthology of ghost stories. I’ve never met a ghost myself, so I don’t know much about them except that they tend to hang about in old houses. But haunted house stories are so last century. I asked myself, if I were a ghost, what would my haunt be? The answer was easy: a computer! Thus, the idea of ghost in a PC was born.

In short, Ghost in My PC is a story about an almost-13-year-old called Madhu and a ghost called Viru, who lives in Madhu’s laptop. How this came about was that, a couple of years ago, when… no, wait, let’s hear in from Madhu herself:

A little more than two years ago, Raghuvir Nair was my neighbour…. Viru, which is what Raghuvir Nair preferred to be called… was actually very sick. He was severely depressed (the only time Amma almost slapped me was when I once called Viru “retarded”) and he also had a phobia about going outside. The technical term is “agoraphobia” and his other illness has a complicated name, but I’ve forgotten what it is. Anyway, to cut a long story short, he was terribly sad, but he was so ill that he couldn’t do anything to make himself happier. He had tried lots of treatment and many doctors, but nothing worked and he still wouldn’t get better.

The one thing that Viru liked to do was work with computers, which was why he and Amma were such great friends. Amma was, in fact, his only friend. They used to spend hours talking about computers and programming. He wanted to write a new sort of operating system and Amma was helping him with it….

I’m not sure what happened next, but Viru got sadder and sadder, and nothing helped, not even Amma’s company. It came to a point where he couldn’t take it any more and he killed himself.

Telling this story is really hard because I can’t help trying to imagine how someone can be so sad that they’d want to die. I just can’t imagine that. The worst day of my life was when Appa died. When I was little, I used to cry when I thought of him. Now I feel sad, really sad, but it doesn’t make me cry any more, even though I miss him a lot. But when I try to think how sad Viru must have been, I can’t imagine it. He was 22 years old—as old as Kavitha—he could have done so much, he’s really clever and funny, and he would have made his own operating system and put Microsoft out of business one day.

Sorry, where was I?

Okay, so after he died, Nair Aunty and Uncle were, of course, very upset, and so was Amma. But Uncle and Aunty were really grateful to Amma since she had been the only person to treat Viru with respect. They gave her some of his old things, including his laptop, which Amma later gave to me, after formatting it and putting new software on it.

Meanwhile, Viru realized that dying was no good. It was boring and there was no scope to nap when you wanted or surf aimlessly when you were bored. So there was only one thing left to do: he started haunting his own PC. (You might wonder if there are ghosts randomly whizzing about your computer’s circuits. Viru says it’s highly unlikely, since there was a lot of difficult tinkering to do before he managed it, and it’s that much harder if you are an ethereal being, whatever that means.) At first, he was a little panicked and started sending me messages, including “virus here”. He meant to write “Viru’s here”, but he says if he could punctuate correctly, he would have been a writer. He only meant to let the user of his computer (that is, me) know that he was around. But all he did at first was just freak me out.

Anyway, we’ve sorted things out since. Viru lives happily in my laptop, keeps it updated, and spick and span. He also manages to get me online for short periods at a time. Sometimes he helps me with homework, gives me bad advice and tries not to read my personal files. (pp.24–27) 

At first, the short story (called “Virus Here”) was never intended to be a book. But then, one of Scholastic’s editors started haunting me about making it one. At first I just said, “Hmm…” and changed the subject quickly. But the more I thought of it, the more I liked the idea.

Somehow, Viru the digital ghost and his “owner” Madhu grew on me. I wanted to know what happened to them. Did they make friends? Did Madhu’s inquisitive sister Kumuda find out about Viru? What about Amma? Heck, was Viru really a ghost or was it just an early version of the operating system that Viru had been developing?! Well, the answer is… ha, I’m not telling you! You’ll have to read the book to find out.

But ghost story (or not!), There’s a Ghost in My PC raises a lot of questions about cybersecurity. What would you do if your computer started talking to you? Would you talk back to it or would you smell a rat? A ghost in your PC sounds like a fun thing to have, but only in stories. Real life can be a lot more complicated. But that’s a subject for another day.

 

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