The moaning and creaking sounds coming from the house no. 3 of Park street often agitate the old, middle aged and the young. The sounds come not from the swaying of the branches or the moaning winds during a particular season. The sounds, people say, have been heard for decades . During the day time the children would tell their fantasized stories about how the house called them by their names.
Rohit walked , after school, to the side walk across this haunted house and tried to draw it on his note book, to the best his 10 year old hand could. None of the kids were ever allowed inside this house. Even those who were not superstitious, believed that the house was infected with parasites and its walls and floors were now almost in a dilapidated condition. The kids over fantasized these warnings. None were brave enough to enter it.
The story of this house originated from old Miss Mathur who taught French to the children of the St. John school. After drawing a sketch of the house, Rohit walked to Miss Mathur’s house. He was eager to hear some new yarn from her. On his way, he saw a girl drawing with a chalk this haunted house on the side walk. He was amazed. He approached her and showed her his drawing of the house. The girl was excited and spat out that she was new to this city but had already heard about this particular haunted house. As she rambled on, Rohit asked her if she would accompany him to Miss Mathur’s house to hear some story of a haunted house. The girl accepted his invitation and they walked down the side walk together. They met Miss Mathur at the doorsteps of her cottage . She was about to lock the gate but as she saw Rohit, she stopped. She was fond of young Rohit who was a brilliant student. They all came inside the cozy living room and Rohit requested her if she could tell them one of her yarns, perhaps, the story of some haunted house and this is what she narrated.
“My mother often talked about her younger sister Mithila who was a wonderful artist, good at writing poetry and a voracious reader. As I was born soon after her death, Mum thought that her sister was reborn in her house to fulfill her unfulfilled dreams. I had imbibed all her loves for poetry, painting and literature. My aunt Mithila had died at the age of seventeen in her father’s house at Mohamdabad .”
“Mohamdabad in Uttar Pradesh was, in those days, a very small village, just a few miles away from Tundla junction . Fifty years back when we occupied this house, there was not even a proper road to reach the village. From Tundla one could hire a horse driven covered cart for a mile and then wade one’s way through the fields. The two houses that my maternal grand father had built in this village were almost palatial. In his times, the second house was occupied by his younger brother, a doctor. Very often this young doctor would go to the village grave yard, bring a newly buried body from the grave with the help of his house boy, study the anatomy and then walked back to the grave yard to bury it. Not many people shared his secret. The house in which my grand father lived was haunted. On each Diwali it needed a sacrifice. My aunt Mthila was its first victim.”
“When my aunt was fourteen, she was married to a lawyer’s son, a student of B.A. I still have a photograph of aunt – a slim girl with very sharp features and large, deep eyes , almost an angelic face. But she was not fair complexioned. The day she entered her husband’s house, she was greeted by her four sisters-in-law. They told her that she was going to be the first of the four wives of their brother. This forecast was made by a famous pundit of their town.”
“My maternal grandfather was a medical doctor, like his other four brothers and seven first cousins but there was more religion in his blood than science. He and his mother preferred to be alone with god than to be lonely and miserable amongst human beings. After his work hours with his patients, he would meditate for hours. The household responsibilities were left to his cousin Col. Dev, an army doctor. It was this cousin who arranged the marriages of his two nieces. Both the marriages were most unhappy.”
“The very first month of marriage brought unhappiness in aunt Mithila’s life. Her “ monster-in-law” who, for some unknown reason, had an intense hatred for the daughter-in law, broke her wrist with the rolling pin because the “chapattis” aunt made for the ten members of the house, were not round enough. A year passed somehow and a son was born to her. The mother-in-law massaged the infant’s body with pure “ghee” and left it to sleep in the sun. The cow, sitting nearby, started licking “ ghee” from the infant’s head till it was hollow. Perhaps, it was a sheer accident and not a preplanned murder to torture aunt Mithila.”
“When did she succumb to tuberculosis no one knew. No news ever came from Hathras to Mohamdabad . She was not allowed to talk to anyone from her father’s place. They all wanted to get rid of her. This time the mother-in-law pushed her from the terrace. Her spine was broken yet, lying in bed, she still wove her dreams. It was in this state that she gave birth to a daughter. As aunt could not breast feed the baby on account of tuberculosis, her husband who was still not employed, stole a paisa from his lawyer father’s coat pocket to buy some milk for the baby girl. He did not know that the infant’s mouth was to be wiped after she had taken milk. In the morning the baby girl was found dead, her throat eaten by ants.”
“Informed by some good neighbours my grandfather brought aunt Mithila to Mohamdabad . She lived for fifteen days, talked about all that had happened to her and quietly died in my mother’s arms on Diwali . The very next year my grandfather’s eleven year old son, younger to his sisters, died on Diwali. It was then that the house was locked and the family moved to Agra”.
“It was in 1950 that my father’s services were transferred to Tundla and since the two houses were lying unused, we occupied them. Ours was a large family in those days- my parents, their six children, a horse, a cow, a dog, a goat, a rabbit and a parrot. Wherever we moved, our animals moved with us. Whenever any of these died, new ones were bought. I inherited my father’s love for animals, specially for dogs and horses. “
“My father was a wonderful horse rider, chain smoker and a lover of all beautiful things. Superstition had no place in his life. His early carrier in the British army had turned him into a dashing, slightly arrogant officer. He loved his horses and his son, born after the four daughters. The others did not exist for him. “
“The left and the right verandas of this house were occupied by the animals and the upper storey was given to Hakim Singh, the one eyed office boy of my father and his young, tall , fair complexioned wife. I do not remember the face of this woman, but she is still there in my memories, like a half forgotten dream. I was almost five then. Our first Diwali was still ten days away. Except my mother, no one was burdened with the shadows of the past. One evening, people brought my father home along with his horse. Both had fallen in a ditch. The horse had broken its hind legs while my father’s ribs were broken. For ten days and ten nights both the horse and its master fought for their lives. On the Diwali morning the horse was found lying dead. We all cried but those were the tears of relief. Our father was saved. Ghosts from the past were revisiting us.”
“My father often dreamt of strange creatures warning him to flee for his life. He would talk of these dreams and laugh. But my mother was always scared. My eldest sister was sent to Agra to our grand parents. The others were too young . In her moments of anxiety, my mother often implored my father to leave this house. I often heard her crying in the nights.”
“Two more horses and the rabbit died on subsequent Diwalis. Hailey, our beautiful black dog , had the most painful death from rabies. But before her death she bit my mother who was eight months pregnant. The cow was given to a villager.”
“Apart from the strange dreams my father dreamt, there was nothing weird or scary in our lives. Only I, a born introvert, often saw a bearded snake without a tail and two very long and very beautiful cobras. They appeared only when I would be sitting alone on the terrace. They never harmed me and since no one else ever saw them, I did not share my secret with anyone. I would watch spellbound and the two cobras would run everywhere. They could not be the evil spirits that needed the yearly sacrifice.”
“Yet another Diwali was approaching. My younger brother, in the company of my elder sister, was playing on the terrace. He was one and a half year old now. Suddenly, every one was screaming. He had fallen from the terrace. He was the child my father loved most, the first male child in the family. He did not die. There were still seven days left to Diwali.”
“On the Diwali morning , around 5 A.M. there was the sound of a gun shot. My father, who had never believed in superstitions, had suddenly felt panicky and killed himself to save his son.”
“This time, when we moved to Agra, my father was not with us, nor were any of the animals. After my grandfather’s death, the house was sold for almost peanuts and we heard that the three inmates died within three years. The villagers destroyed the haunted house.”