Friday, 10 October 2014

The farmhouse at Sainik Farms

Image source: Wikipedia

I have realized that it’s a bad idea to write ‘stay tuned’ at the end of a travel story which I had been too lazy to complete. Because, that next part just doesn’t get to see the light of the day. I had started Wayanad Diaries and Shillong Trip with much fanfare and signed off each with a happy and excited ‘stay tuned!’ Till now, I haven’t been able to start the sequels. Bad idea, I tell you.

To be fair, I had opened a Word file to write about my Shillong trip, but suddenly my mind went elsewhere. My mind has the attention span of, let’s say, a goldfish. Or a squirrel, if you prefer. It veered away from the blue hills of Shillong and started thinking about Sainik Farms and the time that I had spent there.

So, since the file was already open, I ended up writing about Sainik Farms in Delhi. Poor reader, you. 

I had stayed in a medium sized farmhouse in Sainik Farms, towards the south of Delhi, for two years while pursuing my MBA. It was a PG accommodation, meant for 8 girls from our business school. That was the first time I was to live on my own, far away from home and my parents. Imagine my parents’ horror then when we landed up at the farmhouse and saw that there were a bunch of Merchant Navy officers staying there as well. The landlady saw the look of concern on my parents’ face and hastened to clarify that they were there only for a month and then it will be exclusive for girls.

Other girls had already arrived and quite contrary to their parents’ feelings, they were filled with joy on seeing the guys there. Most of them were from all-girls colleges. The guys, who had spent innumerable months and seemingly endless solitary nights sailing on the sea, had similar emotions on seeing the gaggle of bright-eyed girls. It was therefore not a surprising development, to see rampant flirtations emanating from both sides. One of the girls, in fact, went on to have a serious affair and ended up marrying a Merchant Navy officer from the lot.

Our landlord, whom we addressed as Sir, was a strict looking man but loved to regale us with horror stories. Once he had even driven us to the famous haunted bungalow in Greater Kailash (GK-1?) in the middle of the night. He was originally a hotelier and owned two hotels in Manali, which he had to relinquish later owing to financial difficulties. At the time we were there, he had no discernible occupation and stayed at home. His wife was an ex-lawyer who had given up her practice after the birth of her two sons – Samir (15) and Sumit (11). Sir had his aged mother living with them and Daadi –ji was quite a cantankerous person. 

Now, although we had started off with 8 girls in the PG, by the end of the year it had dwindled off to just one – me. The girls found the location too cut-off from civilization and entertainment options, and the rules seemed too stringent. There were to be no late nights, no alcohol, no non-vegetarian food (thanks to Daadi-ji) and strictly no boyfriends allowed to enter the rooms. Besides, it was quite an expensive accommodation, given the stifling set of rules. 

On the other hand, I loved the place. It was tucked away in a quiet corner, far from the hustle-bustle of the main road. There was plenty of greenery around and peacocks roamed over the lawns. There were high walls on both sides of the road and rumours abounded that the owners of those farms kept wild animals as pets. I never saw any of the owners or even their mansions behind the gates but my first foreign car initiation happened there. Till then, I had seen those cars only in movies.

Our rooms were in the terrace, a sprawling structure. There were two blocks of rooms and only one had an attached toilet – the other one’s was separate.  It was a huge area, bound on one side by other terraces, which you could just leap and cross over. We would sit out till late at night, gossiping and laughing.
I remember some quaint incidents regarding the ‘presence of spirits’ in the farmhouse. Ritu, a hot-blooded Sardarni from Chandigarh who had a fight with the landlady, decided to leave the PG citing its cost. Before leaving, she called me aside and said that she believed the premises were haunted by a spirit.

“Daadi-ji also knows and that’s why she has installed that huge temple on the ground floor,” said Ritu.

“Mark my words,” she continued. “I am never wrong about such things. I even dreamt that a spirit lived here. You, too, should think of moving out soon.”

She warned me and left.

I took this to be the tale of a girl who wanted to see everyone live the PG, thus scoring against the landlady.

My room was a 3-seater, occupied by Kala, Chaya and myself. Kala was a feisty girl from Kanpur who would frequently shock us with revelations like “We have a female ghost living with us in our home. She walks about the corridors, her anklets clinking, but she doesn’t harm anyone.” We would just take everything she said with a pinch of salt.

One night when Chaya was away at her relatives’ place, I was awakened by Kala at midnight. She shook me and asked me what I had spoken to her.

I was surprised since I had not spoken anything to her and had been sound asleep.

“But you did!” Kala was almost indignant. “I was dreaming and someone came and said something loudly in my ear. It woke me up. It must have been you, it’s only you in the room!”

Admittedly, Kala’s bed was next to mine but I assured her that it could not have been me and she must have dreamt the whole thing. She didn’t say anything but sat up the whole night with the lights on.

Soon, she, too, left the PG and warned me about the presence of a spirit, speaking almost the same lines as Ritu’s. I told this to Samir, our landlord’s son, and he laughed it off saying “Kala didi ke saath bhoot bhi chala gaya” (the ghost must have left along with Kala)

Finally, it was only me and Chaya left in the PG. 

One night, I woke up hearing Chaya muttering wildly in her sleep. I woke her up and she was relieved to know that it was a dream that she had witnessed. Out of all the girls I knew in the PG, Chaya was the most level-headed one and she didn’t make much out of it.

I asked her what she had seen, sensing her huge relief.

“I was back in my boarding school in Nainital,” Chaya related. “Suddenly a man appeared and started to follow me around and I just could not shake him off me. He stalked me everywhere and somehow I felt he was a nasty man. I began to be afraid and decided to hide in the topmost bunk of our 3-tiered bed. It is quite at a height and that man could not reach me there, I thought. So I flattened myself on the bed, covered in my blanket. But he appeared by the side of the bed, I don’t know how, and said something in my ear. I got so scared that I started chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. And then you woke me up, thankfully.”

We forgot about this incident soon enough and led on with our lives. Then, one fine day, I found myself the sole inhabitant in the terrace. Chaya had left, too, but without any warnings to me like the others.

Honestly, I was extremely glad to have seen everybody out of the PG. Deep in my heart, I was a loner and loved my solitude. I didn’t even remember any of the stories told by my friends regarding the spirit in the farmhouse. Till one night when I had a nightmarish dream (which I don’t remember now) and at the end someone suddenly screamed something in my ear and I woke up with a start.

I have no idea why I was not scared at that time, although I lived all alone in the sprawling terrace with empty rooms. I didn’t give it a second thought and went on to live the rest of my tenure there without a repeat of that dream. I used to read up till late night, go out to the ‘unattached’ bathroom, and sometimes even walked about on the terrace at odd hours. Anybody looking at me from the adjacent terrace would have taken me for a ghost, for sure. 

Samir and I had become buddies and he would share with me all his secrets, mostly unrequited crushes, and his stash of horror movies. He would get his laptop and we watched them at night. Once, while watching the movie Gothika, starring Halle Berry, a storm gathered outside quite unexpectedly. Just when a particularly engrossing scene with the female ghost came online, the electricity went off, leaving Samir and me in complete darkness. The wind was howling outside and we just sat quiet, a thousand thoughts crowding our minds. Why did the power go off just at that moment? Finally, Samir broke the silence.

“Didi,” he called out. “Aap didi hi ho na?” (You are still who you were, right?)

A similar power outage had happened when we were watching the Japanese horror movie ‘The Ring’ on TV. But rather than getting scared, we were irritated at having to miss out on important parts of the movie.

I left Sainik Farms once my final semester was over. The family had already told me that they were moving, too. They had sold the farmhouse and bought an apartment in Gurgaon. I sometimes wonder about them. Maybe next time when I visit Delhi, I will pay a visit to my old PG accommodation. I know the way too well to forget.





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