Thanks to horror films and shows, the image of the haunted house is a familiar one. They’re usually built in the Gothic style with pointed arches and flying buttresses, overgrown with vines, have doors that creak, and at least one room with an abandoned doll left on the floor or placed in a corner.
But if there’s one thing we know for sure from the countless spooky stories we’ve heard from our friends and their friends, it’s that ghosts aren’t really choosy about their habitat. These tortured souls, it seems, can be found anywhere – from ancestral homes to serviced apartments.
So, why do people end up staying in apartments where shadows keep following them and their stories keep getting darker? We asked them.
“On some days, we hear painful war cries of soldiers being slaughtered, and women wailing for their slain husbands.”
The ancestral home where I stay in the Palghar district of Mumbai in India is more than 350 years old. There is a popular saying in our community that the older a family tree is, the more it is cursed. The same holds true for this house. It has seen many wars, including a really bloody one involving a Maratha general and Portuguese invaders.
A few years ago, we discovered the human remains of the soldiers who had been killed in previous wars. On some days, we hear painful war cries of soldiers being slaughtered, and women wailing for their slain husbands, emanating from the basement. We can’t leave this home because it’s ancestral land and we each have our own memories and nostalgia attached to it, in spite of the war cries. My memories of the house are of eating mangoes with my grandmother and playing in the verandah during those hot summer afternoons. How can I let it go? No one has been harmed in all these years.
However, many in the community believe our home is cursed, because of all the wars and the several lives it claimed. It’s a fine balance between being respectful of this tragic past and also not letting it affect our own childhood memories. The basement still remains a black hole: locked, filled with trauma, and wandering souls. — Bhaumik Gowande, 29
“In the middle of the night, we saw the spooky shadow of a child flit past, we could even smell him. The three of us stopped breathing for a minute.”
My friends thought we had got a good deal in this residential block that took care of us in every possible way: food, cabs to the office, gym, and in-house counselling, too. So, the exorbitant rent seemed reasonable.
But within a week of moving in and setting up the house nicely with fairy lights and scented candles, we had the first creepy sighting of a little child. In the middle of the night, we saw the spooky shadow of a child flit past, we could even smell him. The three of us stopped breathing for a minute. It was too real to be an illusion as all of us in the house had seen and even smelt it.
The next morning, when we spoke to others in the complex, they all had horror stories of their own – not of the child necessarily, but of similar spooky apparitions. Someone had seen blood splattered in their kitchen that disappeared within a minute, others had a vision of the chandelier in our lobby morphing into a big, slimy insect. My own flatmate could hear some creepy singing whenever she took a shower – she said it was the devil’s song.
We stayed in the house for almost two years. The mysterious child would keep reappearing at random intervals, almost mocking us, but never harming us. We couldn’t leave the house because the amenities were simply too good. Also, it’s not like we saw the “ghost” of the child every day. He would appear randomly, sometimes after a gap of almost a month. By the time we got over the shock of the initial sightings, we had other things to worry about like getting a job, becoming financially independent, and getting our final-year academic projects approved. After a point anyway, your life starts resembling that of a ghost and the “real ones” start to matter less. – Ana, 32
“By night, the entire cupboard had peeled, revealing a soot-covered, horribly discoloured surface. Our cat started to contort her body and licked the cupboard.”
In a city like Mumbai, having an expansive cupboard is a luxury. After all, the rooms are mostly matchbox-sized and there is little space for anything else. It’s a miracle if you can even fit your study table inside. So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my room had a massive cupboard that looked like it was from the 1800s – heavily embellished and totally out of place in a new building like ours. This was in 2017. We wanted to remove it, but the landlord said that it would be impossible to take it out without breaking it into pieces.
On the first day itself, the colour of the cupboard changed to black. We thought it was some sort of oxidation. By the night, the entire cupboard had peeled, revealing a soot-covered, horribly discoloured surface. Our cat started to contort her body and licked the cupboard. Apparently, the previous tenant was a model who had poisoned herself and was discovered inside the cupboard almost three days later after taking her own life. We found out about this through our neighbours only a month later, by which time it was too late because the contract had already been signed. Also, we had properly settled in by then. We didn’t want the pain of finding a new house all over again in a city like Mumbai where landlords have their own set of weird rules for bachelors. – Sanjay, 35
“Just last month, when I was sitting in the car outside my home, I saw her agitatedly knocking on the car window. For the next two weeks, I was bedridden with fear.”
In the state of Uttar Pradesh, child marriages are common, and girls as young as eight or nine are married off to older men in their sixties and seventies. One such couple, where the girl was in her late teens and the man his 60s, had rented a room right next to our haveli in the city of Lucknow, in India, in July 2019.
Everyone assumed this was going to be one of those unhappy marriages involving two jaded people. But soon, they were madly in love with each other. You could see them holding hands, drinking tea on the patio, and going for dinners. When he passed away, she was shattered. Within a week, she passed away, too, under mysterious circumstances. No one to this day knows why. Some suspect she died by suicide; others say his debtors killed her.
The shadow of that tragedy followed our home, too. We would see her clothes in our home, outside our gates, and her metallic jewellery would also be seen scattered around. Just last month, when I was sitting in the car outside my home, I saw her agitatedly knocking on the car window. For the next two weeks, I was bedridden with fear. Our haveli comes under the heritage category and has a lot of value attached to it. We can’t afford to abandon our ancestral home despite the strange but tragic incident. – Suhasi Mittal, 27