The Spooks of Rajendrapur Ghostly Mansion
It was one of those early Monsoon days in the Shal forests of Rajendrapur. Rajendrapur fell within my roads and highways subdivision of which I was a greenhorn Assistant Engineer. My job then (I am talking about early nineteen sixties) was to inspect work of road contractors who had the task of repair work in Gazipur Thana (which is a district now). I was travelling in a government provided Willy Jeep by myself as the driver had fallen sick, and I was supposed to report on the progress of repair work to my supervisor, the Executive Engineer next day.
Unfortunately, I was late in reaching Rajendrapur since I had a lot more of inspection works earlier in the day on roads that I had to see before. I was hesitating to proceed any further through the forests since it would be futile to see repair work in the evening what with rains coming down in buckets making the road impassable. To add to my misfortune suddenly a Shal tree fell right before my eyes right across the narrow road. I braked as hard as I could with the result that my Jeep slipped by the side of the road almost throw me off the road. I climbed out of the Jeep and surveyed the scene to assess the road condition. It was clearly not possible to remove the tree, nor was it possible for me to drive the jeep over a huge log.
The only way was to go back after somehow reversing the Jeep. I climbed back and tried to reverse the Jeep but to no avail. The rear wheels would not budge since they were stuck in deep mud. I tried a few times, but then I had to give up as the wheels were stuck like spikes on a bed of cement.
I did not know what to do as I was inside a forest, and it had gotten fairly dark. I did not carry any flashlight as I had not prepared for such contingency. In those days mobile phone was not even invented, so the question of calling for help was out of question.
My only hope was to walk along the road and somehow reach a nearby village and seek help to rescue my Jeep. So, I started walking leaping over the fallen tree and leaving the Jeep behind. I took my small duffel bag that I always carried with me which contained my inspection book, pencils, and a spare set of clothes in case I stopped somewhere for the night.
I probably had walked about a few hundred yards from my Jeep when I saw a man coming from the opposite direction with a flashlight in hand. He was wearing a raincoat and a hood covering his head. He stopped before me and beaming his flashlight on me he asked, are you stranded? I said yes and pointed at my Jeep behind. The man flashed his light on the Jeep and saw the fallen Shal tree before it. He looked at me and said, Sir, your Jeep is badly stuck. You will not be able to retrieve it until tomorrow morning, he said sagely. What are you going to do now? He asked.
I told him that I was hoping to reach a village and get some help. The man replied, no way anyone is getting to help you in this rainy night. Moreover, the nearest village is more than three miles away, he added. I was really worried by his words. What the man said next put some hope in me. He said, if you do not mind, I can offer you my hospitality tonight. My humble house is only a quarter mile away from here. I readily accepted and started to follow him through a narrow mud road that meandered through the forest.
I had been to Rajendrapur many times as a student, primarily for picnic in the Shal forests there like many of the students from schools and colleges from Dhaka and surroundings in the sixties. Rajendrapur was really backwaters at that time although hardly two hours of driving distance from Dhaka. There was a single lane motorway that wound through the forests and went up to Tangail. Rajendrapur was sparsely inhabited as most lands there at that time were government owned. There were forest bungalows that people could rent for picnic or night stay.
There were also big buildings also in Rajendrapur and Joydebpur which were houses of old Zamindars dating back to late nineteenth century. Most such buildings were well kept even though the families lived in Dhaka. Some had moved to India after partition, but their descendants lived in the buildings. As I was following the stranger through the mud road I was wondering if the man lived in one such building. But I left my curiosity aside as I was desperate to be in a dry place.
After walking or rather slogging along a rain swept muddy road for about half an hour (the man had said a few minutes) we reached a rather massive two-story building that had a graveled road leading to the porch. It was dark outside but to my utter delight I saw electric lamp posts in the porch that kind of gave the house an eerie look because of the darkness surrounding the building. My guide stopped before the huge front door which was apparently made of curved wood.
It is for the first time that I saw his face under the porch lamp. He had a full beard of white hair trimmed very properly, with white bushy brows adorning his eyes. He knocked on the door with heavy iron knockers that hung on the door. In minutes, the door was opened by a heavyset man with big moustache. What took you so long? The heavyset man asked. My companion replied because of him, pointing at me. His jeep got stuck on the road because of a fallen tree. He cannot rescue his Jeep tonight, he added.
The heavyset man said in delight, we are lucky then. We have a Mehman (guest) tonight. Welcome Sir to my humble home, he added. Rahman, he hollered to someone. Immediately, the man he called appeared. Rahman was a turbaned fellow somewhat short in size but stocky. He also had a moustache but less ferocious than his boss. He asked the turbaned fellow in Urdu, Sahab ka ghar thik karo (fix the room of this gentleman).
As I was wondering why suddenly the Urdu dialogue, the heavyset man himself explained, my servant is from Bihar. I was least bothered about the domicile of the servant as I was drenched head to foot and desperately wanted to change to dry clothes. At that time, my guide came to my rescue. He said to the heavyset man, our Mehman needs to change first. Let him go to the bathroom here first. He pointed me to a room nearby.
I went to the room which was really a spacious bathroom fitted with all modern amenities including bathtub, faucet, European toilets, and a closet. I washed myself and changed into the other set of clothes that I had fortunately carried in my travel bag.
As soon as I emerged into the main room, I saw the two gentlemen seated in large bespoke sofas that showed elegance and class of the people who lived in that house. I looked around and saw paintings of individuals dressed in traditional Mughal outfits, some also in European dresses. Hanging from the walls were also heads of different animals mostly deer and some leopards. There were stuffed birds also. The heavyset man asked me to sit beside him.
So, what is your name and what do you do? He asked. And before I could answer, he said, oh, where are my manners. I should tell myself who I am, he added. Then he said his name was Hakim Ali. Then pointing to my guide, he said, he is Nasim Ali, my younger brother. We live here in this house all alone since my wife died, and Nasim never married. I have no children, he added.
The photos that you see on indifferently, obviously Hakim Ali was a famous Zamindar of whom I did not know much. In fact, I wondered how in 1966 his kind still lived in such opulence since Zamindars were long gone by that time. Probably he had some other business in Dhaka and lots of property still left, I thought.
I told Hakim Ali that my name was Nafis Ahmed. I worked for the government as Roads and Highways Assistant Engineer, and that I was only two years into my job. I also told him that Ghazipur was my jurisdiction and that much of the time I was on the road inspecting road repair.
That I know, commented the brother Nasim Ali. I saw Roads and Highways sign on your Jeep Nafis Sahab. But why are you here so late? He asked. I was a bit offended by his question. What business does he have what time or where I should be? But I contained my annoyance and responded that my work earlier in the day took longer and I was late in coming to this part. Nasim Ali seemed not satisfied but said nothing further except twirling his moustache rather aggressively.
Right at that moment, Rahman the turbaned bearer appeared with a tray of snacks and drinks. Hakim Ali asked me to take some snacks and a drink of my choice saying further that we could talk later about my work. The snacks were extraordinary. There were various kinds of cheese that I had not seen before arrayed in a tray along with grapes, figs, and varieties of nuts. I had not tasted this cheese before, all of which must have been imported. The drinks were fresh juices of apple, pomegranates, pineapple, and mangoes. I was wondering where my host was getting the juices.
Snacks over Hakim Ali announced that he would have to perform his Esha prayer before dinner, and that he would see me at dinner an hour later. He signalled to Rahman to take me my room. Nasim Ali also said the same to me and left the lounge.
I followed Rahman upstairs to my designated room. As soon as I was entering the room, I saw a Saree clad woman with drape over the head departing swiftly through the doors. I looked askance at Rahman. He said indifferently "Woh ghar ka kaam karti hey, Hujoor." (She works in the house, Sir.) I asked Rahman what he did besides attending the brothers. Did he also cook? He shook his head. He said there was a Bawarchi (cook) in the mansion who prepared all the foods.
I found my room very spacious fitted with a huge, upholstered bed made of mahogany wood. There were also throw sofas, a beautiful writing desk made of stone and large closets. The room was big enough for four people. There were large windows including a French window leading to a veranda. From the window I also noticed a service staircase from the veranda to the ground below. But I found the French window closed shut from outside. Very curious, I thought.
I had already changed into my dry clothes and Rahman had put out my wet clothes to dry in a hangar in the room. There was nothing much to spend my time on. In those days TV had not made its appearance outside of Dhaka. There was a large radio, but I did not turn it on. Instead, I looked around my room and saw different artefacts lying around. Among these were a large pendulum clock which seemed to be from another age, a shot gun, a sword, and a large machete hanging on the walls. There were several hunting boots also by the closet also. I wondered if the owner used all of these. Was he an avid hunter?
In a short while Rahman reappeared to announce that dinner was served, and my hosts wanted me down below. I promptly followed him downstairs. It was ten o'clock by the pendulum clock.
The dining room was in one corner of the hall. It was very large with a table for about twenty people. A large candelabra hung from the ceiling lit up the table with electric bulbs. Obviously, the candelabra have been retrofitted from candles in old times to electric bulbs. The seating was odd.
To be continued...
The writer is a former civil servant