Snow covered everything. This was a strange land for everyone after the heat of Lahore. We were in the hill station of Mussoorie. The children had the entire Malakoff Estate to explore. The fireplace was a quaint focus of family gatherings in the evening. Tea was being made and served all day long by our newly acquired servant, Kaalu. It was like a big picnic. Strolls during the day on the Mall which only a few days back had not allowed ‘dogs and Indians’ to walk on it.
Some of the men were still in Lahore trying to sell off everything and come back with as much precious stuff as they could from our old home. Malakoff Estate was a huge place but my parents were part of a large entourage of members of a gigantic extended family. My grandfather was there with his two brothers and all of them had their wives, children and grandchildren along with them. This joint family had not yet got used to the large rooms for everyone. They preferred to stick together in the giant living room and eat dinner together before going off to sleep in their various allotted rooms.
Of course, I was yet unborn, this is all hearsay evidence. The ghost story though is true. I heard it from my mother. Although the days were spent by my aunts, uncles and parents taking pleasant trips to the Mall shops a pall of tension hung over the fate of the men who were still not back from their mission in the new state of Pakistan. Everyone huddled together near the fireplace, sang songs, played cards and munched on the delicious pakodas that Kaalu made.
Everyone had to walk down a steep path about a half a kilometer long before reaching the Estate. This was a very dark passage and everyone heaved a sigh of relief in the evenings when safely inside. Things were thus going well in their repetitive calmness when suddenly a strange incident scared everyone. Dinner was finished and the family members were chatting and joking around the fire when they heard a loud banging on the front door. It was very dark outside but the young men got up to check who it was. They found nothing. Fresh snow had fallen but there were no footprints. A cloak of chilly fright touched everyone. That night everyone stuck together in the living room and waited out the night. The incident was reported to the distant police station. A tall and thin policeman came and checked the house. He talked to everyone present and then left to make his report.
Sadly the knocking on the door after dinner continued for many nights. Everyone became convinced that this was a haunted house. Sunday night was fraught
with fear and the children sat huddled with the elders in front of the fireplace. There was a bang on the door and then shouting. The young men’s league got up again to check and to their surprise found their uncles back from Lahore and in their grip was Kaalu.
They thrashed him till he admitted to banging on our front door at night. Motive- to get a raise of ten rupees. He was handed over to the police and life returned to normalcy at Malakoff Estate.
Days and nights passed while the men discussed their next move in Independent India. It was a Sunday and the family was having a hot debate over this incident when suddenly the front door was being banged again by a new ghost. The men again jumped to the rescue. No one noticed my mother and my aunt slip onto the carpet in front of the fireplace. They had a guilty look on their faces but also one of having accomplished something very naughty. They giggled and muffled their conversation in order not to invite undue attention. Strangely the ghost did not appear again after that night.
Many years later my mother and aunt admitted to having kicked the door just to get a feel of the ghostly sound. They ran for their scared lives after that into the outhouse. Then they slipped in sniggering near the fireplace through an open backdoor. They never tried that stunt again because they had scared themselves more than the other occupants of the house.