This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (19th – 25th October 2013), unfortunately titled: THE GHOST WHO WALKS IN LA MARTINIERE GIRLS’ COLLEGE.

The Dilkusha, circa 1860s

The Dilkusha, circa 1860s

Satyajit Ray in The Duel of Lucknow describes how an Indian bachelor living alone in Lucknow (during colonial times) comes across a pair of dueling pistols at an auction, and fascinated by them, bids the highest, to buy them. Shortly afterwards, he is visited by an Englishman, who says that a duel was fought near the Dilkusha, two hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century, on 16th October, at 6 am, between John Ellington, a portrait artist and Charles Bruce, an army officer, for the affections of a girl, Annabelle Hudson. A government official, Hugh Drummond, had arranged for the pistols and had agreed to be a referee of sort for the duel, although it was a foregone conclusion that the artist, John, stood no chance against the army officer. Due to the tragic circumstance, the scene was re-enacted every year at the site of the tragedy, on the anniversary of the duel.

The stranger then invites the bachelor to the site in Dilkusha on its anniversary day, and in the eerie shadows, the bachelor does see the duel being re-enacted in the dim, early morning light. He is accompanied by the stranger. However, contrary to expectations, two shots ring out and both duellers fall to the ground. At this, a waif-like figure comes running out of the ruins, calling out, “Hugh! Hugh!” The stranger, who now begins to dissolve in the fog, says that he was Hugh Drummond, and actually it was Annabelle, who had shot both Ellington as well as Bruce, because she did not love either of them. Her true love was Hugh. The bachelor is chilled at this revelation and returns home, where he finds the duelling pistols to have the distinct smell of freshly discharged gunpowder. Dilkusha has another ghostly tale attached to it by the local populace. It is said that on every Thursday night, around 9 pm, whomsoever ventures into the abandoned ruins encounters two British officers, in full regalia, accompanied by a Labrador. One officer walks the dog and the other asks for a light. Once the light is provided, both the officers and the dog vanish.

The Butler Palace in Lucknow was built by the Raja of Mehmoodabad in the year 1919. The foundation of the palace was laid in 1915 by the then Deputy Commissioner of Lucknow, Sir Harcourt Butler, who also used it as his official residence. It is said that a guardian spirit or Brahmo Daitya permanently dwells on a peepul tree in the premises. A wooded forest initially existed in the area, situated beside the Gomti river, and when the palace was being constructed, many of the trees were cut down, resulting in the displacement of the tree spirits of the forest. The most powerful of them, the Daitya, refused to leave, and took abode on the peepul tree, to keep a watch over the area. “An old wives’ tale”, one may mutter. But in fact, a small Shiva temple has been erected to pacify the spirit living on the tree. It is also said that the palace itself is haunted and in some nights, one can see a female figure gliding down the stairs, before jumping into the nearby lake within the premises.

Similar tales abound the exotic building Constantia, the creation of General Claude Martin, which houses the La Martiniere School for Boys since 1845. Often dismissed as old schoolboys’ tales, the students, more often the boarders, claim that they are sometimes pushed around by an invisible force inside the building, particularly so near a round marble structure, which apparently used to be a punishment zone for boarders during the early days of the school. It is also claimed that on dark nights, one can see a shadowy figure on the embankment, which separates the school premises from the river. It is conjectured that during the flash floods of 1971, one of the school guards was swept away at night during duty. Although his body was never found, his restless spirit still continues to keep vigil over the river for the safety of the school.

Khurshid Manzil was so named by Nawab Saádat Ali Khan after one of his favourite wives, Khurshid Zadi. Built during 1800 – 1810, it was a double-storied, castle-like manor, with six turrets at irregular intervals and four entrances – which were originally draw-bridges over a deep moat. This building, housing the La Martiniere School for Girls since 1869, is replete with similar legends. Straight out of Polidori’s writings, there is the Victorian Lady in Grey haunting the dormitories on dark, moonless nights; the unseen ‘thing’ clanking its chains up the stairs. Certainly even today, many students will not go to the loo in the turret at the far end of the terrace alone at night for fear of running into ‘something’. Everyone believes that there is safety in numbers! And the famous ‘haunted’ Turret Room continues to remain vacant, as no teacher is willing to occupy it.

to be continued..

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