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The Ghosts on the River

The Ghosts on the River

My maternal grandfather was a District Magistrate, and was recently transferred to Varanasi. Unlike today, District Magistrates then were not considered as public servants. They represented the crown, and wielded plenty of power and authority.

He was allotted a huge six-roomed mansion with sprawling lawns on all sides. The bungalow was located in cantonment area, where a British Regiment was stationed to support the civil administration. The house stood right on the bank of a river, rather a rivulet, called ‘Barna’. It is a tributary of the mighty river Ganges. Being situated at a height, the front lawn and the verandah, commanded a magnificent view of the Barna flowing smoothly towards its confluence point with the main river. Barna was notorious because of its deadly fury after the rains. It used to overflow its banks, and flood the entire low-lying area.  However, in summers, it was as quiet as a sleeping baby.

 

It was hot summer. My mother and I were visiting the grandparents. I was a small four-year-old child then, but I do remember this particular visit. My mother was expecting her second child, my little sister to come. She suffered from a bit of insomnia in the sizzling hot weather. She used to prefer spending most of her night, sitting in the front lawn in a reclining chair, gazing at the river, and relishing the cool breeze from the river.

 

One night it was around midnight, when everyone else in the house had slept off; and the river flowed smoothly as usual. The silence of the night was suddenly shattered by the rowing sound of a small boat. The boat seemed to be coming from the far bank of the river. There was nothing unusual about it, except for the time. Usually, there were no boats on the river at that time. The boat kept advancing, rather at a hasty pace. My mother rubbed her eyes, and tried to focus; but nothing was clearly visible in the pitch-dark night. In the twilight, somehow she deciphered blurred images of perhaps a man rowing, and a woman sitting opposite. When the boat reached almost near the middle of the river, she heard a piercing loud heart-rending shriek of a woman. There was a loud thud, and it appeared as if something was thrown into the river. The boat then turned, and started its journey back  …chap, chap, chap; and within a few seconds everything was silent. It was the same old river flowing peacefully again.

 

In the morning, fearing that something untoward had happened on the previous night, my mother related the incident to her father, the District Magistrate. To put her at ease, he brushed off the incident by saying that since she was not well, it was perhaps a mere flight of her imagination. At lunchtime, he reiterated that he had enquired, and the police had nothing to report of any incident on the river, whatsoever.

 

Having personally experienced it, my mother was not somehow satisfied. Out of curiosity, she mentioned the incident to some local people around. To her astonishment, they did not seem to be surprised at all.

 

It was revealed that a few years back, a British Army officer had seduced his teenage maid. But, when she became pregnant, he lured her for an adventure boat ride on the river at night. In the mid river, he lifted her bodily and threw her in the river, amidst her shouts and shrieks. Next day, her body was found floating. The declared public explanation was that she committed suicide. Soon there after, it was reported that the concerned officer was found dead in the barracks under mysterious circumstances. Since then, the whole episode seems to be re-enacted again and again on a particular night of the moon’s phase. Several people claim to have witnessed it. It seems that my mother, too, was one such mute witness. Scary! Isn’t it?