Monthly Archives: October 2013

HAUNTINGS IN LUCKNOW: FACT OR FICTION? PART II

This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (12th – 18th October 2013) titled: A SPIRIT IN SEARCH OF MAKKHAN ROTI

Kothi Hayat Baksh, circa 1860s

Kothi Hayat Baksh, circa 1860s

Lat Kallan ki Lat is an old British cemetery in Aminabad, named after the Resident of Lucknow, Col. John Collins, who was buried there on 18th June 1807, and an obelisk or “lat” erected in his honour. Parveen Talha writes in her book, Fida-e-Lucknow, that till the 1950s, people would avoid the area as they believed that the ghost of the colonel loitered around in the night, begging for makkhan roti!! With increasing encroachments and land-grabbing in the area, resulting in the complete overshadowing of the lat, the ghost of Collins appears to have moved to quieter pastures.

Kothi Hayat Baksh, later christened as Major Bank’s House and presently Raj Bhawan is reportedly haunted by the ghost of Major William Hodson. Hodson earned notoriety after he arrested Bahadur Shah Zafar and his family from Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi on 20th September, 1857, which he followed up massacring the unarmed princes in full public view, the next day. Hodson’s nemesis awaited him at Lucknow, however, when he was fatally wounded during the decisive battle at the Begum Kothi on 12th March 1858. Sidney Hay in Historic Lucknow writes that Hodson was carried to Kothi Hayat Baksh, where he died in great pain early next morning. His khaki-clad ghost is supposed to still stalk the house and walk through the rooms. Hodson’s melancholy grave is extant today in the grounds of the La Martiniere School for Boys.

The Noor Baksh Kothi, present residence of the District Magistrate of Lucknow has a similar sinister reputation. Again Sidney Hay writes that within the kothi are some Muslim tombs in a room under the main staircase. It has been reported by other guests of the Kothi that the room containing the graves is reportedly opened and cleaned every Thursday, followed by lighting of incense sticks, in a bid to pacify the restless spirits in the room.

The original British cantonment of Lucknow was situated in Madiaon (present day Aliganj area). The cantonment was abandoned at the first sign of sepoy unrest on 30th May, 1857 and the residents were hurriedly shifted to the Residency. The then Chaplain of Lucknow, Rev. Henry S. Polehampton resided in a bungalow in the Madiaon cantonment, with his family. The bungalow in question, called Beechy Sahib Ka Bangla was reputedly haunted by Mr Beechy, who had originally owned the bungalow. In one of his letters, Polehampton wrote that the house had an ill-reputation, and only a priest could survive in it. The Polehamptons had a tragic end in the events of 1857. It is not known if the malevolent spirit of the bungalow was responsible for this turn of events.

The Shahi Baoli or step-well, which we see in the Bada Imambara complex has a similar sinister reputation. This baoli was part of an immense palace complex, the details of which are sadly not available today, but is said to pre-date the adjoining Bada Imambara. It was still luxurious enough to have accommodated Warren Hastings on his visit to Lucknow during the time of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. The baoli is reputed to be connected to the Gomti river through underground channels, and hence could never be drained. Its dredging was considered important at one point of time, because it was rumored to contain a large amount of treasure which had been thrown into it before the imminent re-capture of the city by the British.

Attempts to dredge the baoli met with failure every time. Not to be outdone, and on the advice of some local British sympathisers, a venerable Muslim mendicant was identified, who examined the premises and promptly announced that the baoli was under the protection of an extremely powerful and malevolent guardian spirit, and any further attempts to disturb the baoli would have tragic effects on the persons involved. To prove his point, the mendicant applied oil on the nail of his right thumb, so as to make it shiny and uttered some incantations. An image appeared on the shiny surface of the nail – the image of the guardian spirit, standing resolutely by the well in a guarding posture. The mendicant muttered few more incantations and ordered the spirit to sit down (baith jao). The spirit sat down beside the baoli (all images appearing on the shiny nail), but with a malevolent glare, refused to leave the premises. Finally the mendicant announced the proceedings to be over and stated that there was no way the guardian spirit could be dislodged. There are no further reports that there were any subsequent attempts to get the baoli drained.

(to be continued)

Translation of Sahir Ludhianvi’s famous nazm, “KABHI KABHI”.

Sometimes I wonder
what would life have been
under the soft shadow
of your tresses;
this darkness lost
in the sparkle of your eyes.

Oblivious of pain
I would have lost myself
in the contours
of your beautiful body.
The nectar of your lips
the answer
to the bitterness of the world;
your tresses
to its scorching heat.

But this was not to be
And now there’s neither you
nor the pain of separation;
not even the need
of a companion.

Embracing the sorrows of the world
I have travelled
through strange territories
with engulfing shadows coming closer.

Aimlessly I grope in the darkness
to be lost in this void
one day.
I know, my love,
but still
sometimes I wonder.

HAUNTINGS IN LUCKNOW: FACT OR FICTION? Part –I

This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (28th September – 4th October 2013) titled: THE SPOOKS WHO HAUNTED LUCKNOW.

Bulrampore Hospital, circa 1870s

Bulrampore Hospital, circa 1870s

It is not unusual that Lucknow – a city with a tragic history of wars, massacres, mass executions and hurriedly buried dead bodies, (often without proper rites or graves), has several accounts of supernatural haunting. At least three sites in the city saw heavy casualties on both sides, that is, the British soldiers and the Indian freedom fighters in 1857 – 58. These are, the Residency, the Sikandra Bagh and the Begum Kothi.

The Residency was the site for an estimated 2000 deaths and the Sikandra Bagh was the site for the deaths of about 2200 Indian freedom fighters and 72 British soldiers. After the fighting was over, it is said that the British dead (including the dead from the loyal native Punjab Infantry) were buried in a deep trench in the Sikandra Bagh garden, but the bodies of the freedom fighters left to rot in the open. Rosie Llwellyn Jones in her book, The Great Uprising in India, 1857-58: Untold Stories, Indian and British, maintains that the Begum Kothi had a casualty figure of around 600 – 700 Indian freedom fighters, whose bodies were rolled into a ditch, which still lies under the traffic of present day Vidhan Sabha Marg. Actually, the number of dead amongst Indian freedom-fighters is hard to pin-point, since they were an irregular fighting force; hence no records of their presence or deaths are available. In short, they were faceless beings, who were simply obliterated off the face of the earth – no one knew who they were and or where they went. It is therefore no surprise that Lucknow has several famous haunts and stories of disembodied spirits roaming the killing fields of 1857 – 58, or otherwise. Some of these accounts, which have been published or narrated word-of-mouth, will now be re-told here.

A scary story was described by one Mr Sovan Banerjee as published in The Sunday Pioneer, 29th June 2003, about the haunting in Oel House, the former residence of the Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University. Oel House was originally the Kabootar Khana Kothi of Wajid Ali Shah, and was the scene of heavy fighting in 1857. Apparently a well in the compound of the kothi had been used to stuff the bodies of several dead British soldiers. The restless spirits of the dead continued to haunt the well and the house, and were finally raised because of the VC’s carriage driver’s teenage son, who had developed a nasty habit of throwing stones into the well, just to hear the faint wails emanating from it. The errant son was eventually possessed by the vengeful spirits, leading to his untimely death, although the then VC had tried to take appropriate steps to have the well exorcised.

The Statesman, Calcutta, had earlier published a story on 17th December, 1995, describing the haunting in the railway quarters in Lucknow by the vengeful ghost of a Bill Turner, Chief Engineer of the erstwhile Oudh Rohilcund Railways. This colonial house, nick-named “Turrets”, had been occupied by Turner, who had had a late marriage. Unfortunately, his young wife developed affection for a British army officer, and finding them in a compromising position one Christmas Eve, Bill shot them both, and later committed suicide. It is not known whether or not “Turrets” still exists in the present Railway Colony of Lucknow.

An endearing tale is related by Parveen Talha in her book, Fida-e-Lucknow, about the origins of Balrampur Hospital, the premises of which, was located in a plot of land originally belonging to the Residency. Along with the land also came several British graves, which remained hidden behind bushes, so as not to disturb the patients of the hospital. It so happened that a young Indian lady was admitted to the hospital one later winter night, suffering from severe appendicitis. By the time the surgeon reached the operation theater (those were the days without telephones), he had resigned himself to the fact that the patient might have died due to the delay. But he saw the patient being wheeled out, her operation already over!! The patient recovered in due course of time, but her operation was a mystery as no surgeon of the hospital had operated on her on that cold and wintry night. The nurses were unable to pin-point the mysterious surgeon who had conducted the operation since he had worn a surgical mask. It was no coincidence, however, that there were graves of two young British doctors adjoining the back wall of the hospital’s operation theatre.

(to be continued)