The day was coming to an end. The sky outside was a shade of topaz, the deepening topaz of sunset. Long shadows had crept in under the door, through the windows and into the empty corridor of the vast deserted house. Leaves and branches grew through cracks in the walls where the plaster had peeled off.
“Are you sure you want to stay back?” the other masons had asked him.
“Yes,” he had said. He had to finish the repairs.
Now he was having second thoughts. It didn’t seem a wise decision to have stayed back alone. There was something about this place; he couldn’t put a finger on it, but it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. But the repairs had to be carried out.
Anyway, he would be done soon, he told himself, as he hummed a tune under his breath. Then he froze.
A little distance away, where the tumult of the birds seemed to end and the darkness grew denser, someone stood in the shadows, a hazy silhouette indistinct in the gloom. It seemed to be a woman. But no one lived in the house. Who was she? What was she doing there at this indifferent hour, when the day lingers on the threshold of night?
Heart thudding against his ribs, the mason turned to see if any of his fellow workers were still around. But they had all left. He was the only one who had stayed back. He turned again to look at the woman.
She stood there. A woman with long hair, clearer but still hazy. Then she vanished, as suddenly as she had appeared.
'She stood there. A woman with long hair, clearer but still hazy. Then she vanished, as suddenly as she had appeared'Shutterstock
Empty corridors, broken structure
Ghosts live by word of mouth, their insubstantial existence lengthened with every retelling. It’s the same with the spirit denizens of Kamalpur Zamindarbari, a rundown building not far from Burdwan, a few hours’ drive from Kolkata.
Local people, in this village under Khandaghosh police station, Purba Bardhaman district, talk about hearing distant laughter or seeing the obscure image of a woman blending into thin air.
Some say they have heard the sound of hushed cries, like the muffled wail of the wind against the door. From one to another, the stories spread. And so it was that one day three young journalists planned to check out for themselves. No, it wouldn’t be a casual visit; they would stay the night at the house, just in case its invisible inhabitants decided to make themselves visible.
But we’ll come back to that. First a brief history of the house, owned by the Basu family, former landlords of the surrounding areas. The Basus, it is said, started the zamindari system in Kamalpur sometime in the 16th century after the patriarch, Kishore Basu, laid the foundations of the family. About a couple of centuries later, a few years after the Battle of Plassey, the descendants of the family would hold their first Durga Puja. Those were the heady days of this sprawling house, when the corridors would throb with human presence, but that time is long gone, along with the footfalls. Age too has taken its toll. The building is now a large broken structure, although some parts are still liveable.
The building is now a large broken structure, although some parts are still liveable (representational image)Shutterstock
Today, most members of the Basu family rarely visit their ancestral house, except for the Puja days. The responsibility of maintaining the building has largely fallen upon Dr Srikanta Basu, one of the descendants of the family, while a local villager keeps an eye on the property. There’s also a trust that the Basu family runs jointly with local villagers.
Has he ever come across any ghostly presence in the house?
No ghost in the house, says descendant
“There is no ghost in this house at all,” says Basu, librarian of Bejoy Narayan Mahavidyalaya, also known as Itachuna College. “But there may be some miraculous power.”
The caretaker, though, is less emphatic in his response. “Yes, I have felt the emptiness like a chill in my bones many times, but nothing I can say with certainty.”
But the stories spread. Like the one the mason had narrated after his twilight vision of a woman with long hair.
Some local people said the goddess herself had visited the house that evening. Others came up with stories of some evil presence, although accounts from the past reveal nothing untoward, nothing to taint the long history of the house.
Another “incident” that some villagers recalled also involved someone at work. Like other villagers, this man too had one day come up to the building’s huge terrace to dry his freshly harvested paddy. Everything was going fine on the airy, vacant terrace when the villager suddenly felt someone standing behind him. Before he could turn back, he felt a push. He lost his balance and toppled over the edge. But he survived without any injuries. After other villagers heard about what had happened, most would avoid coming to the terrace alone. Some, however, claimed that the villager was probably hallucinating and had imagined the whole incident.
There are also those who believe that a dying priest had recovered by the grace of their long-revered goddess.
Inevitably, stories about the strange happenings at the house spread beyond Kamalpur village and soon got published in newspapers. The stories and reports would intrigue the three journalists. That was how they landed up in Kamalpur one autumn evening in their car, prepared to stay the night in the building.
The setting appeared perfect for a ghostly encounter. An old house, crumbling walls that stood like shadows of the past, and approaching darkness.
Cameras, but no images
As night fell, the three young men went around the structure, placing cameras at different places — on the veranda, in one corner of the main building, on the terrace. Then they sat in one place and waited. Every now and then they would go and check their cameras.
The night passed, but nothing happened. In the morning they concluded that the whole thing was a hoax, and all the stories and so-called incidents were only figments of the mind. There was nothing extraordinary in this house.
As the three journalists packed their bags, they checked their cameras one last time. The cameras were intact but something was wrong. None of them had recorded anything. In fact, everything — every video and photograph, even those taken earlier — had somehow got deleted from the memory card.
Like the unearthly inhabitants of the house, the recorded images had vanished too.
Riksundar Banerjee has done a PhD on Ghosts in Literature: Tradition and Evolution. He is the author of The Book Of The Indian Ghosts (Aleph Book Company).