India, Nov. 2 -- In the early 80s, around the time the first construction licence was being issued to a private firm, DLF, to build a new metropolis more efficient and accommodating than New Delhi, my parents moved into a small gloomy, decrepit colony for retired servicemen in Gurgaon.
It was a spooky, unfamiliar and unsafe area to settle in, with heaps and mounds of barren, uncultivated land stretching out to the horizon on all sides, and only four to five houses to call it a neighbourhood.
A family living in the corner of the colony, who became friends with my parents, would often complain of strange, paranormal events taking place in their home: unplugged electronic appliances like geysers and music systems would blow up randomly, servants would get into petty fights, which would spiral out of control (man setting woman's clothes on fire, or the cook getting fired for attempting to stab the employer over less salt in the meal), and their daughter would keep falling ill, and behave abnormally at night. At first they were sceptical about spirits and would nervously joke about a poltergeist at play. But soon their opinion began to darken.
About the time they were considering to move out of the house, a baba from Benares, who happened to visit the locality one summer evening, began to shiver uncontrollably while sipping tea in their house. He said he felt a strong presence of a woman's spirit. He was able to tell within minutes what kind of mischief it was up to, leaving the family stunned by his precise intuition. Before leaving, he turned to the lady of the house and warned her to move out at once; otherwise it would destroy her family and split her marriage.
In the old days, Gurgaon used to be a cluster of impoverished, uncultured and arid lands. The money, glamour and prosperity, which you see today, came very recently with rapid flow of urbanisation. The poor, uneducated tribal and feudal belt, which was languishing for centuries, struck gold, and turned them into multi-billionaires almost overnight.
This onset of mercenary modernisation began to fuel other problems, including a gun culture, depletion of natural resources, khap diktats, pub brawls, gang rapes, murders, organised crime, and real estate mafia, of which you find a lot of mention in newspapers today. But, something more eerie and sinister went unnoticed. Many educated people and migrants who were spilling in also began to report strange paranormal activities.
Another house in the neighbourhood, which had apparently excavated bones and skulls in its backyard while doing their garden, would have the strange misfortune of a car accident in their family every fortnight. They would also complain of hearing footsteps, voices, and seeing apparitions in their house.
A couple, a businessman and nutritionist, who rented out a floor of the house next door, would face a harrowing time when visiting relatives would throw inexplicable fits at night, hurling vile abuses and shrieking in a different tongue. The nutritionist herself would often say that she felt someone was strangling her in her sleep, and within months fell ill, and passed away.cyber city,
My grandfather who was a visionary farmer, educated in Mayo College and Doon School - who descended from a royal family - would often deem Gurgaon as the cursed lands. There's an ill omen here, he would to say, that can't be washed away with progress or development. He'd point to the ground and say, "Something evil and unholy is buried and a lot of innocent blood has been spilled over it."
He would say, during the Mughal era and up till the 20th century, the area used to be infamous for being infested with dacoits. The bandits would hide along the arterial road connecting Delhi and Jaipur - a thriving trade route - waiting to slaughter and loot any convoy that would pass its way. The mutilated corpses of these tradesmen and their families would then be strewn and buried all over the place.
Rumour has it that a few years ago, when a school was being built near the Cyber City, the authorities were having a hard time finding securitymen to guard the premises at night. Strange sounds of men, women and children howling and anguishing in pain would emanate from the dark. By morning, the guards would be so traumatised that they would have fled without coming to even collect their pay. This went on for quite some time, till the owners had to organise a massive puja, and only now have things began to quieten down a little.
Similarly, a call centre in Udyog Vihar, which was believed to be haunted, had to be shut down eventually. While there are many horror stories that still circulate today of the place, there is one freaky tale, which will send a shiver down anyone's spine. A girl who used to work in the BPO had just returned to work from a long leave. She must have attended a few days of work when one of her employees called her home to check on her, and found that the girl had died about two months ago (about the time when she went on leave). After that, even her spirit vanished.
They say there are essentially two kinds of spirits found in haunted spaces, intelligent and residual. The residual ones are like a fragment of someone's memory, like "a tape being played over and over", which you can see or even pass through, but it won't bother you. The intelligent ones, however, are more childlike, stubborn and menacing, who seek your attention and want to establish contact. They can also be highly territorial and vindictive; or possess you, if you're vulnerable and weak. If you ever encounter such spirits, your only defence against them is to have an impregnable belief system. Fear allows them a window into you.
Gurgaon, the so-called 'Millennium City', with high-rises, metro, call centres and malls literally mushroomed out of a rustic village in less than half a century, over 8,000 hectares of land from a place they call 'out there'. In the past decade alone, the city's population has doubled from nearly 8 lakh people to over 1.5 million, with more trickling in with every passing year. Despite the fresh whiff of mint and opportunity wafting in the air, one is still unaware of the cultural past and historical significance of the land they dwell on and traverse.
Close to the Dwarka Metro station, legend has it; you see the spirit of a woman wearing a white sari at night who teases drivers and fellow travellers by asking for lifts. If you ignore her, she sometimes sprints along the car looking at you, and then disappears after appearing to come under your tires. Over time, too many people have seen her to vouch her presence, and many visit the desolate spot just to catch a glimpse of her for thrills, according to a report in the HT.
While we may never know the exact evidence of whether ghosts exist or not, there are areas in Gurgaon on which great unrecorded atrocities have been committed. These are places where time doesn't forget and land doesn't forgive.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.