Ghostly Kick

Mussoorie and Landour, 1860s.jpg
Mussoorie and Landour, 1860s.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Photo of a stone fireplace.
English: Photo of a stone fireplace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 29th week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ghost Estate

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.

Postcard Nostalgia–My Affectionate Aunts

English: the first ever picture postacard (cla...
English: the first ever picture postacard (claimed), made for Camp Conlie, 1870. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam (now Thaila...
Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811, were the origin of the term “Siamese twins”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Postcard Nostalgia—My Affectionate Aunts

Having fallen in this nostalgia crevice I cannot but think of the humble postcard that arrived at our home in Chandigarh once in every fortnight. It was usually addressed to my grandmother from one of her daughters—my affectionate aunts.

Today when I have daughters of my own I can understand the value of a message from your child living in a distant city. Then I used to watch my grandma’s glowing face as she held the postcard. It was pure love that I saw in her eyes. She could not read. She would ask my mother to read the scrawled Hindi lines. The message had a standard format. ‘I hope this letter finds you in the best of health as I am here. Please write back as quickly as you can. With respectful prayers and well wishes, your daughter.’

Those postcards were like messages from Mars confirming that life still existed. These distant aunts would appear for a few days after a couple of years and then disappear again for the next seven hundred days. Meanwhile they sent their smoke signal postcards reminding my grandmother of their existence in some lonely marriage at the frontiers of a rigid society.

My grandmother also had two brothers. The senior brother sent such a post card every six months. This meant he was coming for a day or two. Grandmom would go crazy preparing things in the kitchen for her brother. It was a great time for the kids because this Mamaan made us laugh with his practical jokes on his sister. The other Mamaan also came but he never stayed overnight. He was the father-in-law of a famous bureaucrat and later Union Minister. The senior Mamoon scared us at night with his stories especially the one in which he made his dentures eject and dance between his lips when he played the role of a monster. That really sent us to sleep.

Later my wife began to get postcards from her saintly uncle (mother’s brother.) These came in duos. Two postcards like Siamese twins still joined in the middle. In one there would be the usual scribble in Punjabi, ‘How are you my daughter? I hope this finds you well as it does me. Please consider this postcard a telegram and reply by return post. I have sent an addressed envelope for your convenience. Write a few lines or just send the blank card back. I will know then that you are fine and doing well. Your mamaan (maternal uncle)—-‘

It is a curious fact that all the women received these strange Siamese twins. These cards assumed that the receiver did not live near a post office and would have a difficult time replying back. Thus even a blank card posted back was an indication of ‘all is well in my domestic married life.’ The major reason for this being that most women were still uneducated and would not or could not find someone to write a sympathetic note back home. It was and still is a man’s world.

The men did send and receive postcards but the writing was cleverly camouflaged in Urdu which all the males had learned in school at Lahore before partition. Now I remember that my dad even got a Sunday edition of a famous Urdu daily from Jullundur or was it Ludhiana? I envied there ability to read this strange language. I have many such postcards as heirlooms. They rest somewhere still undeciphered. Someday I will learn Urdu and read them.

Today my daughters have fancy smart phones but still they do not send a simple message confirming their well being. Perhaps I too should start sending them those conjoined twins in postcards.