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