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Book Excerpt

The disappearing traffic sergeant at the crossroads at Hastings

An excerpt from Riksundar Banerjee’s book ‘Haunted Places of India’, which documents the diversity of horror in India

RIKSUNDAR BANERJEE | Published 09.04.23, 01:58 PM
Will you agree to give a stranger a lift at night the next time you are driving through Hastings?

Will you agree to give a stranger a lift at night the next time you are driving through Hastings?

TT archives

There are many stories about the ever-changing nights of Kolkata. The crossroads at Hastings, the turnaround at the P. G. Hospital, is among many places that a streaming river of people pass by everyday. But a few decades ago, these streets were not as crowded. The call-a-cab apps were yet to be invented; yellow taxis ruled the streets. And at times, solitude was the only company around these long, wide roads. The lonely street lights, standing vigilant, guarding the city from darkness, are the only witnesses to the changes that have taken place over time.

This is a story from a couple of decades ago. Madhab was waiting at the crossroads at Hastings in his yellow cab. It was going to be hard to find a passenger there at night. He was tired after a long day and would have liked some company on his way back home. Waiting in his cab, Madhab was falling in and out of sleep. With the insouciance of the night, having no care at home and the little hope that someone may still come around looking for a cab, everything was still; water calmly flowed under the Howrah Bridge. A bunch of dogs were quarrelling amongst themselves over some food packets. Suddenly, Madhab awoke to a gentle knock on the back door of his car.


Madhab was used to people knocking on the front door and negotiating the fare through the window before they got on board. Another set of knocks shook him out of his thoughts. Madhab sat upright and looked at the back, ‘Who’s there?’

‘Bhowanipore Police Station?’

A cop was standing there in a traffic sergeant’s uniform. His shift had probably just ended and he resorted to taking a cab instead of waiting for the police car. This was far from ideal. Police officers were not the kind of passengers one desired at night. They often had no fixed destination and bargained a lot before paying. But before Madhab could say a word, the sergeant had already opened the door and sat in the backseat. He looked tall, healthy, and bright in a neat uniform. Though he must have been returning home from his duty, there was no sign of fatigue, nor any sign of wear on his uniform. Looking at him in the rear-view mirror, Madhab figured that this person was in no mood to talk. He was looking out of the window from the backseat. The weather was a little cooler now with the wind blowing and the roads pretty much empty. Bhowanipore Police Station would not be a long ride. The sergeant had probably fallen asleep in the light breeze.

There were not many red lights on the way. Just one more turn and the destination would be a short drive away. It would be all good if he paid right. Madhab could not even demand extra money from a police officer just because it was late. His eyes casually rolled over the looking glass, and then again. There was nobody in the back! Where did the sergeant go? Madhab parked the cab on the roadside and looked back — there was nobody there. He got out of the car, opened the back door and checked again, but could not find anyone there. Did that guy just vanish into thin air?

The cab never stopped for long. It was impossible to get down from a running car without Madhab noticing it. He turned around and drove back on the road he had just come along, but he did not find a single wandering soul. The only presence was the strange mystery of light and shadows.

He had been driving fairly fast, how could someone get down from the car?

A few days later, Saptarshi was driving home around the Hastings crossroads. The road was empty and he planned to reach home fast while humming to music. He was about to take the turn when a traffic sergeant waved his hand. He was probably trying to collect a bribe. Saptarshi had all his papers in the car, there was no way that guy could get him to take out some money. He stopped the car. The constable silently went near the rear door.

‘Lift...Bhowanipore Police Station.’

This was an unexpected turn of events. Saptarshi considered whether he ought to offer a lift to a stranger at this late hour.

It could be someone in a fake uniform, trying to scam him. He snapped out of his thoughts when he noticed that the guy had already boarded his car. He was certain that the door was locked, how did he get in? If dropping him off at Bhowanipore Police Station would do it, so be it, he thought as he started the car. It would not take long but having a complete stranger in the backseat of his car in the middle of the night was making him uncomfortable. He was not used to driving anyone other than his family members and a few friends. He frequently glanced at the stranger in the rear-view mirror.

A few minutes later, there was a sudden jerk. Saptarshi looked at the back seat. There was nobody there anymore. How was that possible? He had been driving fairly fast, how could someone get down from the car? He stopped and looked around, but there was nobody to be seen.

Whenever he tried to close his eyes, he could hear the wailing of that constable from Hastings

‘Haunted Places of India’ by Riksundar Banerjee, published by Aleph Book Company, released for sale on April 4

‘Haunted Places of India’ by Riksundar Banerjee, published by Aleph Book Company, released for sale on April 4

Aleph Book Company

A few months passed by. That incident at Hastings had faded from Madhab’s memory. It was a rainy night. Madhab’s cab was once again at those crossroads. The wipers were noisily clearing the windshield. The heavy rain and the yellow light from the street lights together created an eerie atmosphere. Was there someone at the roadside? Madhab slowed down the car and saw a person in a traffic police uniform, struggling on the ground, with one hand raised. Getting closer, Madhab was shocked to recognise a familiar face. It was the sergeant who took his cab a few months back, towards the police station of Bhowanipore! His forehead was covered in blood and even more blood was flowing down his face. His white uniform had turned red. Madhab stopped the car to get the person to the nearest hospital. But just as he stepped out, the sergeant disappeared. Madhab could hear him wailing, but the sound was faint, the rainwater puddle at that spot was still red from the blood. Where did he vanish? He was in his cab that day, and lay injured by the roadside just a moment ago. How had he just disappeared?

Madhab could not sleep that night. Whenever he tried to close his eyes, he could hear the wailing of that constable from Hastings and his blood-covered face flashed before his eyes. He was asking for help to save his life, and his throat craved for a little water while the rain washed away the blood from his body, with him begging for help with one feebly raised arm. Madhab felt terribly guilty. He could not do anything to help that poor fellow. He had brushed off the first incident but what he saw that night was unnatural.

Madhab started out in his cab at first light. There were not many shops around this side of the town, but there was a tea stall on his way from south Kolkata. He parked the cab and stopped there. Many mysteries come to light when the sun rises. The morning’s crowd was slowly beginning to show, the city was creeping out of its slumber with the rising sun. Madhab asked the tea stall owner if there had been an accident around the corner the previous night. That man

stood still for a couple of moments and asked, ‘Did you see a traffic policeman?’

‘Yeah, last night, just a little way back...’

‘Did you go near him?’

‘Yes! I approached him to see if I could help him in any way. But as soon as I stepped out, he vanished!’

‘The one you saw is not a human. He passed away, right there, long ago.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘It was right before his shift ended at night, he was hit by a truck and collapsed by the roadside. Nobody came to help. One after the other cars passed by but none of them stopped to help. Not a single one of us knew about the incident and the poor fellow bled to death, right there.’

‘But he was in my cab, and then by the road from last night.... Why would I happen to be the one seeing him?’

‘Some people can see him, asking for lift at night, and then he vanishes on the way. Some people can see him begging for help at the crossroads. I have never seen him even though I

stayed this close for many years. A lot of us don’t even know about the accident.’

Madhab felt remorseful. The first time he saw the sergeant, he had suspected whether the guy was a police officer in the first place. Such an awful incident — how bad was the fate of this person who was responsible for the safety of others! Nobody even spared a drop of water for him. Madhab walked to that spot, the road had dried from last night’s rain and there was no trace of blood.

When driving by the crossroads at Hastings at night, if a police officer asks for a lift or some help — it won’t hurt to stop a little. Even though he is lost forever, he returns to that place every once in a while to see if some human with a conscience will help him.

This excerpt from Haunted Places of India by Riksundar Banerjee is republished with permission from Aleph Book Company. You can get the book here.

Last updated on 09.04.23, 02:55 PM

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