Ghosts? What nonsense. I’m not the superstitious kind.’ I catch myself saying. Only till ‘something’ turns up. To my east lives a friend, who lived overseas and recently inherited a farm atop a hill. She has come home to what she refers to as her ‘Ithaca’ home.
And thereby hangs a tale.
‘Strangest night in the forest here last night,’ she writes. ‘Heard the cries of a creature so loud and distinct that the dogs awoke and began to bark furiously and persistently — it wasn’t a leopard or deer but like a full-throated bird or half human.’
Above her farm looms the Witches’ Hill or the Burnt Hill Ruins or traces an early settlement. During our growing up years, Col. Powell, who lived in Seven Oaks, Balahisar told us he would often see twinkling lights on the hill and it was the handiwork of Djinns or fairies.
‘Old fogey is trying to put the frighters on us.’ We murmured. But probes in the 1970s proved the place had high phosphate deposits, which attracted lightning, giving the hill its charred look, and the name: Burnt Hill.
But our Ithaca lady presses on: ‘Maybe the full moon brought out longings in the heart of someone who would usually be silent and deeper in the forest!’
Should I turn story-teller and tell her a tale from the once-upon-a-time days? When a local official was snared in the clutches of the station’s money-lender. To escape his unfortunate situation, he agreed to the marriage of his daughter to old Shylock — much to the disgust of the girl and her dashing lover.
The years rolled by, when Fate decreed her return to Mussoorie at the same time as did her old lover. He had, by now, become a Captain posted at the British Convalescent Depot.
Love’s enterprise managed the rest. Late one evening the couple got word that tales of their trysts had reached the old codger’s ears. He was heading back up the hill. They eloped, scampering down the path going past Dhobi Ghat and on to Burnt Hill, hoping to get lost in the vast greyness of India. Fate had other plans. On that stormy night, as they huddled together in the ruins, lightning struck.
Were they buried there? You do find traces of a room, seven feet by six feet can be seen. Why build a shack given the vast open spaces all around? Or is it the lover’s last resting place? I never mention of their burial in our cemeteries.
‘It was a feminine cry — a bit high-pitched and filled with a forest presence,’ says my friend. ‘It was as if the dogs could sense something was out there.’
When I mentioned the sound to one familiar with the area, he said: ‘A spooked barking deer utters a deep guttural cry — almost human — it’s the swan song of one who is about to become a leopard’s dinner.’
I prefer to believe it’s good old-fashioned lovers returning to the Burnt Hill Ruins.