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)

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