Night of the Muhnochwa
Story and art by Orijit Sen
This comic was originally published in the December 2002 issue of Outlook magazine. The story came about in reaction to a spate of bizarre reports on a mysterious phenomenon that terrorised rural populations in western Uttar Pradesh in 2002.
Hundreds of people claimed to have been attacked by a light-emitting entity, suffering scratches and bruises on their faces and arms. Villagers said it flashed red and blue lights, landed on the ground and attacked people. Others called it fuzzy with soulless eyes. Some speculated that it was a remote-controlled monster or drone. Soon, the ‘unidentified flying object’ was dubbed
the muhnochwa (meaning ‘face scratcher’).
The fear it created had serious effects. Elderly men died of cardiac arrests. A villager killed his dog when he woke up at night to find something licking his face. Terrified people started staying awake at night, even banding together to form watch groups.
One such vigilante group claimed that they had seen a flying creature.
Was it a prank, or the result of some form of mass fear psychosis? No one knows for sure, but by the monsoon of that year—as farmers returned to their fields—the attacks came to a halt.
This 2020 piece on an online portal also provides a good example of how these stories get sensationalised over time: