Mr. Dhawan was a mighty gregarious man. Apart from being my father’s friendly boss, he was also a regular participant in the mess meetings which were held almost every day right after the tea sessions at about 4.30 pm in the late afternoon. Jokes flowed with inevitable laughter, a pall of smoke from innumerable cigarettes hung around the room. In the 1960s’, smoking among young officers was quite prevalent and was recognized as a chivalrous act, as opposed to what we see today.
The meeting of the officers ran almost for two to three hours before it got dismissed as the team dissociated to chase the home bound duties. The work at the camp at Bageshwar, started quite early, close to about 7 am in the morning to make use of the day to the maximum. Being a hilly district, the sun came down fast in the winter months. Mr. Nihar Mukherjee, senior to my father, Dinabandhu Lahiri, used to show up sometimes, at the mess. In one of the meets, Mr. Dhawan had narrated an incident to Mr. Mukherjee about my family, and I happened to hear it from him years later when he had visited our residence at Calcutta, way back in the 1970s’, when I was in my primary school. I remembered it in bits and pieces. My monosyllabic father had never mentioned until my mother told my sister and me when we grew up, and I will make an honest attempt to tell you what I had heard.
My father under Dhawan was researching about the rock formation of the area of Bageshwar which had undergone intense geological and tectonic deformation resulting in folding and faulting of the rock arrangement. Little away from the camp and the office was an opening within the tall oak trees. A beautiful looking one storied circuit house, built by the British in the 1940s’ stood, stout, and sprawling. As the main geological effort was being done here, my father decided to shift with family, from Degana to this house for about six months. He wanted to save precious project time by reducing the long, and arduous Jeep drives from Degana to Bageshwar. The lovely circuit house was meticulously decorated with all the old world charm present in its every inch. The unmistakable stamp of British structural design wrapped the edifice. Fireplaces with well-connected smoke ways were present connected to four outlets that belched grayish smoke as the night fell, and the warmth was embraced by the shivering inmates in the mid Decembers.During the weekends, the circuit house used to glow with social activities.
All the seniors, including my father’s boss, and many young officers met for long parties. Few families or couples also came in and that made my mother quite happy as many occasions saw my mother, being the only one lady in the party. So, an officer with a woman in tow was a welcome change. At first, nothing unusual was felt or seen. Gardeners came regularly to maintain the trees and gardens that surrounded the circuit house. Cleaners came and so did the regular visitors.
With my family, came Raju, my father’s and family’s most trusted companion, protector – a mixed Alsatian who was like a radar in an airport, ever vigilant to catch and strike, if something out of ordinary surfaced. Both my parents had noticed a change in Raju’s behavior ever since it came and especially when it roamed around the house. The most friendly dog, who used to wag its tail when it saw any known visitor started to lose its cool temperament and screamed or howled at times across a day. While sitting with my mother, around midday, suddenly, Raju, snarled its snout and tufts of hair on the neck rose, and it started to growl. Initially, it started occasionally but with passing days, the recurrence increased and my parents found Raju, changing its nature. Why was it happening, everyone wondered.
Especially, in the morning the circuit house looked its best, off-white slats ran on its roof, a mezzanine with raked roof sat atop the house. The sun rays painted colors, light gray to white through the trees. Heavy wooden doors and windows, interspersed with the well laid out bricks around formed a very pleasing look. When the afternoon set in, the house slowly took a different look. The trees looked dark and unfriendly. The sky was completely blanked out so seeing a starry night was never an option. A person staying alone would definitely feel to have a group around. My mother felt something awkward when she sat to read a book, or was knitting a sweater for my sister. Although there were five domestic helps who frequented every corner of the house, doing something alone was quite challenging.
An uncanny feeling, as described by my mother, used to set in. As if, someone is continuously looking at her from a distance in every room. She had never seen anything abnormal but this feeling of a pair of unseen eyes chasing her and my sister existed. The sensation was all pervading at times, and when that did happen, my mother picked my sister in her arms, walked out of the door, and traveled the graveled and rocky path to a place about hundred to two hundred meters away from the main entrance where a family from a Kumaon village had installed themselves, and sold handicrafts and diverse items. They also sang Kumaoni songs to attract the attention of the passers-by. They were a bunch of happy, simple nomadic people who stayed on for few days and moved on to places far and wide.
It was quite unnerving for an inmate when the feeling of discomfort continued. My mother stayed there for hours until my father’s Jeep could be heard making its presence felt by the sound of its engine coming through the driveway. The area was so quiet that even a dry leaf falling on the ground made a person jump even under the bright sun.
Hills, play a lot of tricks on the human mind.
The big drawing-room, where the main section of the guests sat, over drinks, and the food was very well designed. Arched door construction housing glass paneled doors which were polished brown to wine color was bright and beautiful under lights amidst the cheers, and laughter of the guests; however, looked quite brooding when there was no one in the house.
With a lot of reluctance, my mother approached my father, asking if there was a possibility of changing the house. She told her concern, about the feeling she used to have when she was alone with my sister. She also pointed a change that had taken place with my sister. She was perhaps four to five years old then and was like a flower in the house. Always merrily moving around, switching arms, picked up by anyone who met her. She used to sing her own tune and jumped around the house. Very soon, things started to change over a month. She started feeling sick and started to lose her buyout self. Most importantly, she started having a protracted fever and became grumpy over the days. Raju’s behavior too raised eyebrows of my father. My father had a pure scientist’s mind and believed in reasoning.
He refused to believe that there was something paranormal that existed in this circuit house.
Well, there were too many peculiar things happening in parallel, and the office seemed a far comfortable place for my father to stay and spend time in compared to the house. This was surely not a scalable state to be in. So, one fine morning, my father decided to leave the place. The family packed all their stuff, loaded the trailer and the Jeep and looked for a different house. While he was on his way out, he asked one of the neighbors, about any history that lurked behind this beautifully crafted house. About a score of a neighbor had come to see off the young couple. My parents with their little daughter were quite popular. So, naturally, leaving lock stock barrel attracted people around to bid them goodbye.
From an Anglo-Indian old lady, my parents learned that this house belonged to a British doctor who was serving the army built this house and stayed with his very beautiful wife. He was killed in action and the wife, hardly six months into the marriage could not bear the death of her husband and killed herself by hanging from one of the rooms.
Was her unsatisfied soul, very unhappy who could not fulfill a content life roamed the house which she so dearly loved and felt even worse when she saw the couple with their daughter? Did Raju see the spirit which humans can’t and used to show its displeasure? …or was it a figment of complete imagination on the part of my parents.
The questions will remain unanswered forever.
A person’s life experiences a multitude of events, feelings, few from this world, and few unexplained which transcends the boundaries of human ingenuity. Interestingly, when things like these happen, we cower back and feel mystified and scared. Again, at the same time narrate these to our friends and acquaintances typically on a weekend party, under the dimmed light, soft music in the background along with the cling of the utensils, with a drink or two when someone says, “Hey, anyone up for ghost stories?” as they drive renewed energy into us in a queer way and make us feel surprisingly good.
I am sure, readers may have similar experiences, and will understand how a family feels and goes through if ever, it encounters one.
Thanks for your time and staying with me.