Espresso Shots

the girl on the terrace

i am quietly freaking out right now.

ever since yesterday, i’ve been thinking of a “ghost story” my mother told me years ago. i’ve been pondering whether to write it or not since the one i just posted about bungalow no. 7 in digboi was liked by so many people.

my mother didn’t believe in ghosts. no, not at all. she worried much more about human beings. people. and maybe she was right. in fact, she was. still, i can’t help but get the shivers, that funny feeling back of my neck, a sudden need to just get up and run, when i think of spirits, apparitions… that girl on the terrace.

and yet i tarried. i kept thinking, yes, it’s a creepy enough tale, but really, should i write it? finally i decided, maybe not.

this morning i opened facebook and saw a lovely picture of a dear aunt with her friends. they were all dressed up; matching sarees, lots of flower in their hair, smiling cheerily. as i read her post, i realised the shot was taken at the very place where that story is set.

now what are the chances that on the day after you’ve thought innumerable times of a mysterious girl and a particular old mansion, your aunt would post a picture taken at that very mansion?

do you understand why i am freaking out?

this is not an everyday destination. it is a rajbari, an old one, that once belonged to a wealthy zamindar. and it’s quite a hike from where my aunt lives. you don’t just happen to be in a rajbari, you go there for an occasion. in this case, it was their club’s celebration of some sort.

zamindars, or jomidaar as we say in bengali, were feudal chiefs under the sultans of bengal and owned large tracts of land which they administered and grew rich from. the zamindars of bengal thrived under british rule, later contributing much to the making of calcutta; also to education, culture, music, and art.

many of them, however, had a great time doing what they pleased, enjoying excesses, not being too concerned with morality or anything as mundane as that.

they also often gave themselves honorary titles like raja or king, maharaja or great king. these were recognised by the british royal family itself, no doubt for their own reasons, which had nothing to do with them thinking you were indeed a royal. history… always full of wondrous shenanigans.

anyway. thanks to those titles, the old, massive, often magnificent, mansions belonging to zamindars came to be known as rajbari, literally, king’s house.

shobhabazar rajbari is one such palatial manor, it was built by the well known zamindar raja nabakrishna deb, back in the late 1700s. most of these aristocratic residences are in the northern part of calcutta, the south came up much later.

it was a winter month, in 1964 or ’65. one of my mother’s cousins was getting married and as happens many a time, on the very same day she had to attend another wedding. a cousin of my father’s was tying the knot as well.

weddings take place at the bride’s home usually. but even in those days, spacious venues were often rented for the nuptials. my mother’s cousin was getting married at the shobhabazar rajbari. by then, the zamindari system was over and many of these grand homes were being hired out for weddings and other festivities.

ma had never been to the rajbari before and was naturally looking forward to seeing it, but she would have to get there pretty late, after attending my father’s cousin’s biye… wedding.

she must have arrived there around eleven in the evening, the ceremony was to be conducted even later, at the auspicious hour as per the bengali almanac.

she remembers the moment she walked in, a couple of her cousins, younger than her and as yet unmarried, came over and told her they had seen a ghost. my mother rolled her eyes. they laughed. yeah, rajbaris got to have their spooks, it’s only aristocratic, after all.

then they said, well ghost or not, there was this young woman who kept coming and standing by the low railing of the second-floor terrace every now and then. she looked at the proceedings silently and walked away, but she had already come by a few times. who was she?

in a giggly, let’s have silly fun wedding mood, my mother went to one side and waited with her cousins, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl the two young men insisted was somewhere there. it was a cold, dark night, the building was lit up for the occasion, but the spot where the girl had been seen was in the shadows.

that night, alas, no girl came and took a peek at the wedding again.

the cousins were teased roundly. hallucinating about a beautiful mysterious woman on a wintry night, who looks on forlornly at the gaiety below, hair open and blowing gently in the chilly breeze…

the story was forgotten.

years later, my mother was chatting with one of her closest friends. she told my mother a sister of hers had had a strange experience recently.

she was visiting someone who lived in a rented flat on the upper floor of shobhabazar rajbari. the door of the apartment had been left slightly ajar for some reason. as they spoke, she could distinctly hear a door close somewhere, then the sound of anklet bells as someone came down a set of stairs and approached them along the corridor outside. quite unconsciously she looked toward the door to see who was passing by. a young woman walked past and down the steps to the floor below. the sound of anklets could be heard receding, going further away.

her host said nothing, the conversation continued. however, soon, one could hear the anklets again. the girl came up and went past the door as before, without stopping or looking in, and went up the steps. a few minutes later, she walked by on her way down, her anklets clinking, a beautiful young woman, eerily silent all the while.

this occurred a couple of times more.

finally, my mother’s friend’s sister couldn’t stop herself. she had to ask who the girl was.

she was told: oh, she lives here, nothing to worry about. they say, she died in one of the uninhabited rooms in the basement of the rajbari, a long time ago. she just walks around the place at times, coming up from the basement, going to the terrace, then quietly descending to her room below. she never speaks or does anyone any harm. the people who live here are quite used to her.

i really don’t know if what they say is true. but two of my uncles did see someone there that night. and this morning, that picture was there on my facebook.




thanks for reading. i am still a bit gobsmacked by what happened. maybe it was nothing. yeah, that’s it. if you’d like to know a bit more about zamindars and their way of life, you might want to see two wonderful films: satyajit ray’s jalsaghar/the music room, and guru dutt and abrar alvi’s sahib biwi aur ghulam. 


indrani’s index

originally posted on 8/22/2016

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  • Reply
    August 23, 2016 at 10:46 am

    There is a sadness there, isn’t it? In her silence… In her isolation… In her looking in… A search for something? Freedom from the loop she is stuck in, maybe? A waiting for someone? A desire to reveal her story?

    Ok Indi… Now I am sitting here drawing scenarios around her. Who was she? What was her background? Was she a wife or a concubine? Did she die naturally or not? What keeps her here? The coincidence of you thinking about her and then seeing the photograph on Facebook is certainly remarkable. Not scary… more like she wants her story to be shared. And yes it was sad.

    Fabulous as always Indi. Thanks for sharing.

    Love and regards,

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      August 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      yes, in the stories of this young girl there is a sadness, sam… you almost get caught in it and can’t leave, even while your teeth are chattering and you must flee (usually my state). you read? yay. perhaps i thought of her too long and with too much intensity and she came along and said, she wanted her story told. or perhaps it was just one of those things. it was quite bizarre though. i like you floating into her world and imagining things… not too long ago, if you were a girl, any of those things could have happened to you, even now… though now we have more options…. but then? ufff, and if you belonged to the wealthy lot, even more suffocating. maybe she was a young daughter who had dared to fall in love, so they buried her quietly in the basement and nothing was heard of her ever again. have you seen sahib biwi aur ghulaam? that wrenching numbing sadness of a girl who doesn’t fit in and the upshot of that, terrifying and beautiful in meena kumari’s slightly uncontrolled portrayal. i am always bhoothnath, the quiet male protagonist, looking at her in awe.


      and that epilogue will get written soooon. you almost make me want to take the plunge into a story of asr khushi once more. lemme think lemme feel. see ya.

      • Reply
        August 24, 2016 at 1:30 am

        i have not watched S, B our G… and if it’s sad… I aint watching it now. I am a happy ending kind of person. Laughing.
        oh the epilogue is on it way? kya baat hai aapki… and what is this i hear? another A&K story. jadoo ki japhi(hug) coming your way! dil khush kar diya aapne.

        love and regards,

        • Reply
          indrani robbins
          August 24, 2016 at 9:26 am

          sbg happy ending in a way… lyrical and sad too. beautiful songs. but watch only if in the mood. taking japhi before it’s withdrawn and running away giggling… a&k shall epilogue soon.

  • Reply
    rhea sinha
    August 26, 2016 at 11:55 am

    oooohhh.. my grandmother and cousin sister love ghosts and punar janam.. am the sane one or so I think lol.. Have you seen gumnaam? That was one spooky Hindi move I loved. Years later came to know its based on an Agatha Christie book.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      August 26, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      gumnaam haiiiiii koi, badnam haiiiiii koi… based on agatha christie’s 10 little indians, yes, have seen bits and quaked. i used to love listening to bhooter golpo as a kid, but sitting with one ear closed, both eyes too, and shivering. we had some great ghost story tellers… say petni and see my state. i pretend i am fine, but… so you can imagine what happened when i saw that picture on facebook. thanks for reading.

  • Reply
    November 2, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Hayee re, you’ve spooked me out! The thought of being alone the next 5-6 days doesn’t seem very good now!
    My father talks of this one ghostly experiene of his as a young man. Once when he had come home for a weekend and had alighted from the taxi he had caught from the bus stand, in the early morning when it was still dark, this old lady who lived in the neighbourhood came over and talked to him for a short while. Later on in the day the said lady’s daughter had come over to fetch water from the well in our place and my father generally asked after her mother. And she replied “Didn’t you know, she passed away six months back”!!!

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 2, 2016 at 9:10 am


      now i can’t breathe.

      thanks for return spook out.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 2, 2016 at 9:11 am

      and since i am sure your father wasn’t imagining it all… now you know. and more importantly, now i know. okay, must share this story with a friend and the husband… and all those who laugh at my shivers.

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