Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A haunted palace in rural Bengal

Two visitors from Calcutta go to the haunted house of an evil zamindar (landlord) in rural Bengal. They come out terrified. But do they manage to survive? 

Midnapore was billed as the ‘dark district’ of West Bengal in the 1970s where no resident at its headquarters, Midnapore town, or villages, had ever known anything other than darkness.

Electric lamps lighting up cities and towns was something they had only heard of from friends.

In the absence of electricity, even the zamindars (rich landowners) had to make do with the ubiquitous lanterns that ran on kerosene.

The minuscule electric connections they had served no purpose because the rooms were so dimly lit that people could barely see each other.

The nights were pitch dark and there were no lamps on the streets either. People had to carry a torch (a burning flame) with them whenever they ventured out at night.

Once, a villager was going to his friend’s house at night. His torch got extinguished midway.

So, he was literally perched on a tree near the village pond because the road, made of mud, wasn’t visible in the dark. He sat there till the wee hours next day before heading back home.

Uncannily, only the tribals, who were a minority in the region, could move on at a brisk pace even in the darkest of nights.

And, amid this darkness, the supernatural flourished and the numerous stories associated with the paranormal.

The zamindars of the district were known for their notorious ways in dealing with their subjects and the villagers. They had gruesome secrets buried inside their palaces that no one dared to dig out.

One such palatial home was known as Rajbari, which had macabre tales associated with it.

The Raja, as the zamindar liked to call himself, was an intolerant man and known for his notoriety in the entire district during his reign that spanned from 1950 to 1965.

So much so that if anyone dared to voice his protest or went against the Raja’s will, he would be the victim of a gruesome murder.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many were found hanging on trees, while some were killed in desolate areas, like the banks of the river.

But the fate of many were not known, amid murmurs of even more frightful deaths.

There were spots of high paranormal activity that the villagers stayed away from at night. Like a bamboo tree, where many people had been found hanging during the Raja’s time.

There was a belief that if, accidently, someone went close to the tree in the dark, he would also be found hanging the next day.

With this infamous reputation, the district seldom saw any visitors.

But two historians from Calcutta Gautam and Subha decided to visit Midnapore in January 1971 to study the zamindari system of South Bengal.

They scoffed at these horror tales, that spread far and wide, and thought that the district was a treasure trove for their research.  

The duo was staying at the house of Tudu, a tribal, who had great knowledge about the history of the district.

He even knew many secrets of this Raja as his parents and grandparents had worked in the Rajbari.

It was their friend in Calcutta Mana who was known to Tudu and set up their stay at his house.

Tudu told them about the atrocities of the Raja. He said, “During his time, if a villager failed to pay the high taxes imposed in the area, he would get 10 whiplashes. And, if he didn’t pay up after that or protested, the person would be killed by the Raja’s henchmen and dumped at some unknown place.”

Tudu carried on. The Raja even took away some children of nearby villages and trafficked them to international destinations. There was not one good that this Raja did, said Tudu.

The most gruesome incident was that of Lalwanti and Jisnu. The two used to work inside the Raja’s house and had developed a liking for each other.

They decided to get married but the Raja came to know about it through one of his spies. So, he separated the couple.

But the duo, a few days later, met at a secret location and decided to run away. While they were making an attempt to do so, the henchmen spotted them and handed them over to the Raja.

The Raja took them to a small verandah, where the two could hardly move. He had the entire verandah cemented, so that no air could go in and the couple suffocated to death within a few minutes.

The couple died a macabre death unheard of ... and even today, Lalwanti’s and Jisnu’s presence can be felt around the palace.

It is believed that the palace, which was abandoned a few years after the Raja's death, became a den of paranormal activity.

People who have gone inside have come up with violent horror stories, like hands coming out of walls and trying to strangle them, and apparitions suddenly popping up hanging from the ceiling fan.

But it is believed that Jisnu’s spirit was the most virulent and bays for the blood of anyone who sees it. 

It was believed that if someone saw Jisnu, he would become mentally deranged and the spirit would follow him till death.

But despite hearing this, Subha and Gautam just scoffed at Tudu and told him to take them to the palace after midnight.

Tudu folded his hands and said, “Sir, tell me to do anything else. But I cannot go to the palace at night. And please, you must not go there either. People have seldom come back alive from there at night.”  

So, Subha and Gautam decided to go there themselves. The palace was about a km from the village.

After dinner, they took two fire torches and a big battery torch along with an extra set of batteries and set off. Tudu followed them for a while but came back.

The two headed towards the palace and despite their torches showing the way, the adjoining areas were pitch dark.

Even though Gautam felt a chill down his spine, Subha was unperturbed.

They walked for a while in the pitch dark, and finally reached the gates of the palace. Upon opening it, they got their first shock.

A body hanging from a rope suddenly fell from a tree. But it soon disappeared. After this, even Subha started getting goosebumps.

Gautam, along with Subha, felt an eerie presence, someone was surely walking with them. But no one was visible.

Things were getting frightening for the two. They held their hands together and walked inside.   
As they moved along, Gautam touched one of the walls. Two hands came out from nowhere from inside the wall and started to strangle him.

Subha struggled to pull out Gautam from the clutches of the evil force. A little later, the hands disappeared

In the darkness, they moved on in the palace. It was like a never-ending labyrinth.

With a room here and a passage there, Subha and Gautam thought they would never find their way out throughout the endless corridors.

As they moved on, Gautam saw a large door in front of him and opened it. Suddenly, there was a shrill and a woman in a white sari came out and held Gautam by the neck.

As Subha tried to help Gautam, the woman pushed him away. Subha skidded and hurt his leg. Then, after a minute or so, the woman just disappeared.

Gautam fainted and it took Subha a while to revive him. “This was surely Lalwanti,” Subha told Gautam, who was still recuperating from the trauma.

The duo was now terrified. They were no more interested in the palace or its history any more.

That had to just leave in order to survive. They turned back and started to walk at a brisk pace, holding each other’s hands.

Then suddenly, Subha’s torch extinguished. He took out the battery torch and switched it on. There it was... right in front of him lay the spirit of Jisnu.

At no cost did they want to see Jisnu after all this. Seeing the evil spirit, both Gautam and Subha thought that their last moment had arrived.

Even though Gautam gave in, Subha caught Gautam’s hand and they started running. The evil spirit came towards them and held Subha’s neck and tried to strangle him.

This time Gautam hit Jisnu’s spirit with a heavy chair and as the spirit looked at Gautam, Subha freed himself.

The spirit went near Gautam and looked into his eyes for a while and disappeared. Gautam’s head began to spin and he felt something strange.

As he gained his composure, the duo quickly ran and ran until they reached the palace’s staircase.

Then they went down and out of the gate. On the road also, they sprinted for 10 minutes with their torches on.

A little further, they saw a house that was lit by lanterns and electric bulbs. They thought it was a station. But it wasn’t.

They moved on till they reached the house. They clearly ran in a different direction from the village out of panic and this house was their only ray of hope.  

As they walked closer, they saw that it was a hotel. “A hotel out of nowhere,” Subha told Gautam as they went inside to check in.

The lobby was surprisingly impressive but it looked like a house rather than a hotel. There was a manager at the reception, who greeted them.

The duo opted for a double bedroom and was accompanied by a waiter to the room.

The room was well lit and when Subha and Gautam were about to shut the room, thanking the bearer, they looked at him in bewilderment.

He wasn’t human, at all. As the bearer left, the door closed on its own. Subha called Gautam and when he looked back Subha was terrified. No, it wasn’t Gautam. It was Jisnu!

Immediately, the hotel turned into a dilapidated house and the electricity was gone! 

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