Sunday, September 12, 2010

STORIES OF MYSTERIOUS ENCOUNTERS-4: Phantom of the Bungalow, Part 1.

Based on Real life incidents:


Many would call this incident as the one involving poltergeist occurrences but I would not tend to call it so for the reasons that I narrate below.  I seek excuse from those who are looking for the gory stuff or the usual horror drama, for this is a real account which does not indulge in any fanciful reading. 

It was in early Nineteen-Fifties that my father had purchased an old but reasonably large bungalow in Central Bombay. The bungalow was away from the main road and was located in a huge compound which also housed other immoveable properties. On the east of the compound wall, it was bounded by the fields where seasonal crops were grown.

The bungalow was at least a century old and was in fact the property of Maharani (name is withheld for the sake of propriety) before she sold it off to the person from whom my Dad had purchased it. Except for this, I had no inkling about the history of the Bungalow or the land on which it had been constructed. Since the adjoining lands surrounding the bungalow were also vacant, there were good many stables for the horses that might have been used by the royalty sometime during the British era, but which had long since been abandoned. However, some enterprising persons began using these stables on a commercial basis for plying horse-driven carriages called Victoria locally. Victoria was a popular conveyance in Bombay during that time, along with the public transport systems such as trams, buses and the railways. For many years, the bungalow itself had been lying vacant since no one seemed interested in buying it.

By the time we had arrived there, there was a watchman who used to look after the security of the bungalow. No, he was not the filmy looking caretaker they usually show in Indian movies and the TV channels. He was a middle-aged person and he lived there with his wife and a child of ten. I still remember that his name was Gangaram. As the new owner, my dad told him to continue his job. He was entrusted with the security of the building as well as the storage area on the ground floor which inter alia, housed many items of old traditional furniture that were elegantly crafted out of choicest teak wood.

Since this was the time of his retirement, my dad needed a source of income. Therefore, he constructed some thirty tenement premises on the first floor of the bungalow, some big and some small, in order to accommodate the middle-income groups. These tenements were soon occupied on rental basis by various tenants, including some who worked for a very famous 5-star hotel in Bombay as waiters and even chefs. Some were teachers in a convent near the Regal Cinema. Some of them worked in the nearby Docks while some were sailors by profession. There were also a couple of businessmen who manufactured cartons in their premises for some pharmaceutical companies.

As the years rolled by, my dad felt the need to augment his income. The only other way was to construct more rooms on the huge unused attic which was as large and as high the first floor premises. It was a huge task to put the attic in order. There was no flooring and no natural light. Entrance to this attic was by means of one-foot wide iron ladder that was installed from the first floor leading to the small opening on the attic so that one had to pull himself up to land on the attic. There were many X-shaped wooden props of pure teak wood at various places that were used to support the roof structure that was laden with too many layers of tiles. At the northern and the southern end of the attic there was a small terrace, each open to the sky, which could accommodate only a few  persons. The entrance to the terrace was so low that one had to crawl on all fours to enter.  From one end to the other, it was not possible to walk without the battery light, even during the broad daylight.  Such was the darkness during the day! Since hardly anyone visited the attic for any reason, there were lots of cobwebs and dust around.  Those who made the attic their home included the innocent pigeons, owls, and Qaasam!

Qaasam was a frail person of about 50 years, with thinning hair and broad forehead. What I found unique to his personality were his long strong nails that were almost like the beak of a parrot. He used to be a ‘Lakhpati’ or millionaire during the last days of the British Raj. During his hay days, he was addicted to smoking and drinking imported brand of cigarettes and liquors and moving about in his own DeSoto. This was the introduction my father had given me about him. What he did not tell was filled in by Qasam himself. He had whiled away his time and money in the company of starlets of the growing film industry and the fair-skinned beauties. Evidently, the guy had squandered all his wealth and fallen upon evil days and completely reduced to penury. Such reversal of fortune is nothing new! We have a history of famous people who lived life king-size and died as paupers. Why, even his contemporary Indian actor who used to charge One Lakh Rupees (an astronomical amount during the British Raj) for a movie died as a pauper so that the film industry people had to contribute money for his funeral. Qasam’s bearings and speech did give a hint about his glorious past about which he often talked to me. Sometimes when I met him I had the pleasure of listening to the old Hindi film songs of the Forties that he sang on my request. I still remember the Anokhi Ada (1948) song, BHOOLNE WAALE YAAD NAA that I learnt from him. For my part, I used to apprise him with the songs of the nascent Sixties. Often I wondered how Qasam never felt frightened sleeping alone at night in the attic where one would not dare to step even during the day.

As the renovation began, the iron ladder was removed and the opening sealed. A gate was built on the attic and a proper staircase was built from the first floor to this entrance. The props were removed so that the attic was transformed into an open hall or space. The weight on the terrace was lightened by removing the unnecessary layers of tiles. In this huge open space, rooms were built but after doing the flooring job. Since not all the flooring work was done, a long wooden plank was placed from the entrance to these rooms. Since the plank was long it bent a little under the weight of the person walking on the plank.

At the foot of the staircase that led to the first floor, a small dais was also built in one corner, adjacent to the walls, where sometimes some elderly persons often used to sit to while away their time. Those were the days when there was no TV and even the programmes aired on the radio went silent before midnight. As a result, our tenants used to sleep early by about 10 or 11 p.m.

Now it so happened that a new tenant rented a room on the first floor. Unknown to us, he was a bootlegger. Later, when we came to know about his illegal activities in the building premises, I took a strong objection and even lodged a police complaint. A verbal quarrel ensued between us and it could have progressed to physical assault had not my father intervened. Now this incident assumed significance by what transpired immediately the next day.

The next day, I was surprised to see the bootlegger all beaten up black and blue. He could hardly walk. His neck was sprained so that his head tilted at an angle of 45 degree. It was a pitiable sight. He had a strange story to narrate. According to him, the night before, he had consumed some liquor. After strolling about he went to the foot of the staircase that led up to the second floor. There he sat on the dias. It was already after the midnight and all was silent and still in the building since everyone had gone to bed. However, he didn’t remember when he fell asleep there and would have remained there till morning if he were not woken up by the blows to his body. There were no lights on the staircase and he could not see his assailant. Worst of all, he could not even catch hold of him. It was as if some invisible entity was giving him the thrashing of his life. After he was lifted up and thrown down on the dais, the blows stopped and whoever it went away. This gave him a chance to scram home, beaten and bewildered.

He narrated the story unabashedly and sincerely, and I listened to him with rapt attention. I felt that there were some grains of truth to it. The bootlegger was not a person who could be afraid of getting into any kind of scuffle with any person. However, the fear on his face, his tilted head that resulted from the severely sprained neck, as well as the bruise marks on his body were enough tell-tale signs to prove that what he had narrated was the solemn truth. There was no reason or interest for him to lie! I decided to check out with the watchman whether he had seen any outsider during the night.

Immediately thereafter, I made enquiries with the watchman whether he had seen any outsider in the building last night. When he said he hadn’t, I related to him about what I had heard from the said tenant. He was not in the least surprised. According to him, the bungalow had been lying unused and vacant for a long period of time. So that when he was appointed by the erstwhile owner as a Security Guard or a caretaker, he used to hear lots of strange noises and foot-steps as if someone was walking about in the bungalow. Initially, he used to be very scared. However, he took everything in his strides and never bothered to upset the equation. He was not harmed. Thus assured he had called his wife and the child to stay with him. He admitted that sometimes he used to see an apparition walking past upstairs well after midnight. From the description given by him, this apparition was visible in white clothes, and wore a black beard. In course of time, the bungalow had gained the notoriety as the haunted house and hardly anyone had dared to purchase the bungalow that was offered at the rock-bottom price.

“Saab, is liye is ko Bhoot Bangla boltaa hai. Kashaala ik.de aale tumhee?” he blurted in Marathi.

I had no time to explain to him why we had come to stay in the Bungalow. However, based on his anecdotal and visual evidence I was persuaded to believe the bootlegger. The bootlegger was probably beaten up for two reasons: One, he had, perhaps, slept in such a way that he had obstructed the path of the apparition; and two, he was dead drunk which was not liked by it and so it gave him a sound thrashing as a warning. I inferred that perhaps this apparition was a soul of some holy person who did not like people obstructing his path in an impure state. Nor could it be a Jinn since the source was a grave. This is the reason why I said at the very beginning that I don’t agree with the word, “Poltergeist”.

Now curiosity got the better hold of me and I began to frequent the first floor’s staircase after midnight when all was quiet, in the fond hope that perhaps I would catch a glimpse of the apparition. However, after a few nights, I gave up those nocturnal rounds because, frankly, I was scared of the eeriness that the atmosphere had generated.

Continued in Part 2…..


  1. I can't wait for the next instalment. The curiosity is killing me...

  2. The next one has been published Veen. I'm afraid it's not sensational since it's been narrated in the way it happened without adding glosses or icings.