This Halloween, we scour the country interviewing guides, historians and — yes — ‘ghost hunters’ to unearth spooky spaces and chilling urban legends
On a paperchase
With buildings dating back to the 1800s, there are Kolkata locals who believe it is possible that old inhabitants of these precincts still go about doing their business here. As legend goes at Garstin Place, for instance, which once housed the national headquarters of All India Radio, one can still hear an old English gentleman playing lilting tunes of Mozart on his piano at midnight. Historian Anthony Khatchaturian, who leads midnight ghost walks in Kolkata, has a gripping tale of the National Library nestled in Belvedere Estate, said to be haunted by Warren Hastings. “Belvedere was given to Warren Hastings by Mir Jafar as a ‘thank you’ for being reinstated as Nawab of Bengal.
It was given sometime between 1760-1763,” says Anthony. Hastings was impeached for the Bengal Famine, rapacity of the East India Company and judicial murder of Maharaja Nand Kumar. All through the impeachment trial, Hastings pleaded innocent, and by the end of the almost eight-year-long trial, he was bankrupt. He was, however, acquitted. “Legend has it that he still haunts his old home looking for documents to prove his innocence,” says Anthony, adding theatrically “And late at night, when the roads are near empty, the rattling of his carriage can still be heard outside gate number 4 of Writers’ Building, where the former Governor-General turns up unfailingly seeking official documents.”
During the day, a lot of vehicles take this short-cut to get to Besant Nagar. But when it is dark, only the brave venture here. The Blue Cross Road’s eeriness is not just because of the dim lights and the canopy of trees in its vicinity; there are tales from the past that point towards the supernatural here. A few old residents of the nearby Damodarapuram insist that there were two identical palm trees on this road in the past — giving rise to its locally-known name rettai pana maram theru — and that men would sit under the trees to perform rituals of exorcism.
Today, the road is much busier than before, but at night, there’s still an air of mystery that envelops the place. Added to that is the presence of a huge space that houses hundred-plus dogs, some of which howl at night. Are you getting the chills yet?
A love affair gone wrong reportedly ended with a young woman taking her life in a green, slimy pond on the 450-acre Kariavattom campus of Kerala University in Thiruvananthapuram. Popularly known as Haimavathy kulam (pond), named after the woman who is supposed to have drowned there. An abandoned hut near it completes the haunted look. As with any good ghost story, there were allegedly witnesses who saw a white, ghostly figure near the pond.
“Vaidyan Kunnu, a novel published in 1983 by SE James, an alumnus of the University, mentions that a student who was pursuing a post-graduation in Psychology, drowned following a romance that soured. James clarifies that this was fiction, but the story became real for many. To add to the confusion, a lady did drown herself, but in another pond on the outskirts of the campus. All these facts and fictions merged, Pullekonam Chira behind the ladies hostel became the Haimavathy kulam and Haimavathy became a ghost for students and residents in the area. The eerie surroundings of the pond, with tall acacia trees preventing even sunlight on the pond, made it possible to give the legend more acceptance,” explains Achuthsankar S Nair, head, department of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and a keen history buff.
In 2011, the Campus Development Committee proposed a project to revive natural ponds and work on the Haimavathy kulam was completed by the Kerala Irrigation Infrastructure Development Corporation. The area has been cleared of trees and the sunny rectangular pond, enclosed by stone walls, bears no resemblance to the dingy, green, dark pond of yore. Students held a meeting beside the pond to discuss the ghost story and dismiss it. But even on a busy weekday morning, Haimvathy kulam is deserted and commuters still avoid the area once the sun sets. That is when the legend comes to life.
Mohammed Imran, founder, Bengaluru-based The Real Asian Paranormal Society, which he says is a “paranormal investigating group”, picks Kalpalli cemetery, located in Kathalipalya, as the most haunted place in Bengaluru. He says there have been claims that a man’s spirit hovers around in the graveyard. “Three years ago, we had gone there for investigations,” says Imran, who states that they attempted to get photographic and video evidence of the spirits, a man and a little girl. “When we went in, one of the caretakers told us of the tragic demise of one of his friends, who was laid to rest there. He said that he sees his spirit there,” says Imran, who adds that he feels the caretaker’s story is true. However, even as Imran is convinced about his findings, sceptics would argue that any graveyard feels eerie at night and that it does not necessarily mean it is haunted.
“Any old Delhi monument that has allowed Nature to take over and also has graves in its premises with barely any light, seems haunted,” says Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot Adventures. He takes people on night walks to Mehrauli Archaeological Park (MAP) to experience the city’s haunted past. At MAP is the abandoned Jamali Kamali mosque (built in the first half of the 16th Century). Jamali was a Sufi poet, but there is no historical explanation for Kamali. But the other reason is the complex itself. It houses Balban’s tomb and is overrun by brambles. “Balban was the last sultan of the Slave Dynasty and one of the most cruel,” says Mitra. The deserted 14th-Century Tughlaqabad Fort too, has behind it, the story of a period of extreme violence: Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, founder of the dynasty, beheaded his predecessor, and is said to have crushed the invading Mongols by killing them. Legend has it that he was involved in a disagreement with the Sufi saint Nizam-ud-din, who is said to have cursed the city by predicting it would be abandoned. If you are more inclined to grant-giving spirits, Delhi’s djinns supposedly reside at Feroz Shah Kotla, a 14th-Century fort. Every Thursday, people come here to have theirmannat (wishes) fulfilled by these supernatural beings who are supposed to be somewhere between a farishta (an angel) and the shaitan (the devil).
Chowmahalla Palace links Hyderabadis to the grand lifestyle of the Nizams. Situated beyond Charminar, the 18th-Century palace, is known for the beautiful courtyards and four palaces within — hence the name ‘chow mahalla’. Looks like the palace continues to charm some souls beyond their mortal life. Locals strongly believe that the palace is haunted by the ghost of one among the 7,000 guards who died mysteriously while on duty.
The ghost is however not a violent one and only gets offended when security guards show up at night in the main courtyard. Security guards by now are aware that they should not meddle with him as ‘he’ is possessive about his work. “There have been many stories of security guards being pushed and thrown to the ground. The ‘presence’ doesn’t disturb us. It can get quite spooky even during the day when there are less tourists. Many guards have quit because they got scared,” says a worker at the palace.
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