India's haunted places

A Real Horror Show

First Published Oct 27, 2019 in Mumbai Mirror

Spontaneous fires, banshees and ghost riders – discover the most haunted places in India, this Halloween.

Urban mythology is replete with ghost stories and accounts of paranormal activity – this holds true all across the world, not just in India. But if New York has Dakota building, which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of John Lennon and others; Paris has Hotel Lutetia, inhabited by the spirits of concentration camp survivors; and London’s Tower of London is home to ‘presences’ with illustrious bloodlines – India too has its fair share of ‘places with paranormal exposure’ as experts like to call them. Many swear that they’ve seen apparitions drifting around an abandoned Mumbai mill, for instance, while many others have heard the cries of a long-gone Peshwa on the plot of a Pune fort, and still others will tell you of Bengaluru’s ghostly night-knocker (think Naale Ba). Are these places really haunted, or are these legends simply the product of fertile imaginations? What better time than Halloween to revisit these haunted histories.
Some of the following legends inspired me to pen short stories around them, and these make it into my book, India’s Most Haunted: Tales of Terrifying Places (HarperCollins India).

Karnataka’s Haunted Place

In the industrial area of Peenya in Bangalore, as well as in other parts of Karnataka, the 1990s saw the birth of a horror legend. This one I actually bore witness to, as my family and I had moved to the garden city at the time. Though just a child then, I remember the story vividly: that of a female spirit that would come knocking at doors at night and claim any man who dared to answer. It sprouted the tradition of writing Naale Ba (‘Come tomorrow’) outside homes. I’m not certain the message keeps malevolent spirits at bay – but perhaps it works on nosy neighbours. 

Not just the Naale Ba scare, in this book, I have also borrowed elements from four other ghostly stories from Karnataka, namely from the towns of Mangaluru, Belmane, Punaroor and Melukote. And if I write the second instalment, rumours around the Vas Vila and Terra Vera ‘haunted houses‘ on St Marks Road in Bengaluru would be worth considering.

Colaba’s Mukesh Mills is said to be haunted by those who gutted in a fire

Fire and shadows in Haunted Bombay

When it was built, in the late 19th century, Mukesh Textile Mills in Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood was probably a bustling site – with workers transporting massive bundles of cotton to the dock nearby. But caught up in litigation, the place has worn a rundown look for years now. Spread over 11 acres, it is not open to public. But peek through its large gates and you may well pick up on more than the smell of decaying construction. Long-time residents of the area say that spirits roam the property, linking these presences to a fire that consumed the place seven years after it was remodelled (in 1975). 

The cause of that fire is shrouded in mystery, but what is known about the incident is that it claimed many lives. Ever since, passers-by have claimed to have heard whispers and cries coming from the abandoned property. Its dilapidated condition rendered it a popular site for film shoots, but the cast of a horror movie that was being filmed on the site also reported hearing mysterious footsteps, eerie laughter and other spooky sounds. During the filming of another movie, reports claim, an actor came to be possessed by a spirit – she apparently spoke in a voice that was not her own, and asked the others to leave the compound immediately. 

Psychological experts would tell you that the actor, thus afflicted, may have suffered from ‘histrionic personality disorder’ or some other mental illness. 
When more than one person sees the same ‘paranormal entity,’ it could also be explained by the ‘folie à deux’ syndrome – where the delusion is shared by others who are either influenced by a dominant person who suffers from psychosis, or who suffer psychosis themselves. 

Have you met the hitchhiking ghost of Aarey Milk Colony

Spirits of the forest – Haunted Place in Mumbai

Developments in Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony may have the city residents all heated up right now, but legend has it, the temperature dips the moment you enter this area. Some have claimed to experience a prickling sensation on their skin, some say they felt numb. These experiences usually precede the sighting of an ‘old lady’ apparition on the stretch of road that runs through this place. 

Another legend here involves a young girl’s spirit – this ghost is said to flag down cars, asking for a ride. According to those who claim to have accommodated the ghost rider – who, in an unusual departure from paranormal tradition, is said to be seen in ordinary clothes (not white, red or black garbs) – the spirit does no harm, other than to send shivers down the spine with stories about death and the afterlife. This spectre has one more trick up her sleeve: she is believed to disappear as soon as she’s dropped off. 

Another phantasmal hitchhiker apparently roams through Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park – a ‘woman in white’, who apparently moves at the speed of light. Legend has it, the woman was killed by a leopard. And, if you don’t stop your car when her spirit flags it down, you’ll see her in the rear view mirror, right behind you. Guards here apparently prefer to do their rounds in groups, with a prayer on their lips. 

Such stories are par for the course in forests – where the wind plays devilish tricks with sounds, and the twisted branches of trees look like the outstretched arms of monsters. The right lighting or lack thereof, and hey presto! A lamppost turns into a ‘woman in white’.

Haunting and housing

In a superstitious country such as ours, you’d think that many people would believe that living in a place where someone committed suicide, or was murdered, would attract bad fortune – or, at the very least, bad spirits. In other Indian cities, too, sites with such histories tend to get tagged as ‘haunted’, though it seems to have little effect on those who occupy these spaces. People have claimed to have heard screams and sounds from unoccupied rooms. 

Talks of ‘negative energy’ and scary sightings notwithstanding, when it comes to prime properties at least, it seems people can be pretty selective when it comes to phasmophobia.


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