How to tell you're in a haunted house
You can never really foretell when the past of a place will reach out and take life once again.
- Total Shares
You are never really completely alone.
Do you remember all the times when you have felt someone standing just behind you, and yet when you turned back, there was no one? Perhaps you have been caught up in a busy day. And yet you remember the darkness of the shadow which flit past you and which you cannot forget. And the times when you have walked into an old house, perhaps renovated and redone, and yet felt that cold wave of apprehension sweeping over you and overcoming you with an inexplicable dread?
We live side by side with many worlds. And yet, do we recognise them?
I visited an old palace in the outskirts of Bengal a few months ago. It was still winter. At one time, it had been the residence of the zamindar of the area. An egotistical and ruthless man, they say, who was fond of his wine, women, and gold.
I walked into the old house. Its owner of many years is no more. The new generation of the family, or whatever remains, is scattered abroad, and care not for the upkeep of their ancestral home. And yet, it is a beautiful place. Long corridors, with tall windows all along. Wooden shutters flung back. Black and white chequered floors. Dark teak furniture still carrying the atmosphere of the olden days. As my footsteps tread on the old marble floors, it is as if the hands of the clock sweep back. The layers of dust seem to fade away from the tabletops and the ornate mirrors on the walls seem to reflect other forms as you pass them by. A delicate hand gives a glimpse as it quickly draws its owner's veil close to her face shyly, and I get an impression of downcast eyes, and curling lashes fanned out on pale cheeks. I go past a staircase, which leads one to the courtyard and gardens, and there is the sound of light running feet, and the faint tinkle of anklets.
The central audience hall, which still has the high-backed chairs which the zamindar used to sit on, is enormous. The old time punkhas - enormous and velvet-draped - still hang from the ceilings with their cords and frayed tassels, waiting to be swung for the master's ease. A beautiful crystal chandelier, still bearing the delicate golden tint of past times, hangs suspended in the centre. Everywhere, it is marble, dark wood, and crystals. There is a hidden door, carved into the ornate frieze on the wall, made so that the family could escape in case of a sudden attack. All at once, I notice myself feeling strangely cold. Almost clammy. I start to feel choked, as if my throat is suddenly full of sawdust and ash. There is something unpleasant in the room. It is behind me, next to me, and all around.
My nails dig red crescents into my palms as I fist my hands and will myself to overcome this strange aggression. As I turn to leave, a light breeze rises from within the room and carries a strong scent with it. The smell of old leather and moist fur. Of shikar. And a strong heady waft of amber. My eyes fall on the large punkhas, swaying silently from the ceiling.
You can never really foretell when the past of a place will reach out and take life once again. And for whom. Sometimes perhaps they draw their strength for revival from your vitality. From your sensitivity. Sometimes, those from the past, who step through and come before us, are not very different from us in our ways and our situations in life. Many times, they may just be seeking a listener, to hear their side of the story.
Researchers in the West have delved into the subject of haunting. Physicist Sir William Fletcher Barrett has said that past events could leave an imprint on places which could be perceived by someone many years later. In fact, HH Price, Oxford fellow and professor of logic has talked of "place memories", where individual memories could be imprinted on the atmosphere, to be picked up years later by someone sensitive to it. Archie Roy, professor emeritus of astronomy at Glasgow University called this a sort of "psychic video", where someone who was sensitive, could in effect, play back the whole.
But if you think of it, we are all afraid to even imagine that there is something beyond what the orthodoxy can measure and condone. Aren't we? Perhaps, we are not so different from those, who once laughed at the idea of crafts which flew, and mobile phones which could work everywhere.