About forty-kilometres north of the city of Kolkata on the west bank of the two-hundred-sixty-kilometres-long river Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, a distributary of the mighty Ganges in the state of West Bengal in India lies a once important port town during the pre-colonial times, the ancient borough of Hooghly-Chinsurah city.
Hooghly was founded right after the decline of Satgaon, the mercantile capital of lower Bengal, in 1537 by the Portuguese. They were, however, expelled ninety-five years later in 1632 by the Mughal armies. Nineteen years after that in 1651 it became the first English settlement in lower Bengal, only to be abandoned by the colonialist thirty-nine-years later for the city of Kolkata in 1690.
Chinsurah’s, on the other hand, budded one-hundred-and-nineteen-years later than that of Hooghly when in 1656 the Dutch built their first trading station and factory in the city. One-hundred-and-sixty-nine-years later in 1825, in exchange for holdings in Sumatra (now Indonesia), Chinsurah and other Dutch settlements, were ceded to the British. Then in 1865, the cities of Hooghly and Chinsurah were finally constituted, as a joint municipality.
The area’s fertile, low-lying alluvial tract dotted with marshes encouraged substantial cultivation of the main crops of rice, jute, sugarcane, and potatoes, also farming of bananas and mangoes as far as the eyes could see. Industry, however, had always been, that which had fuelled the region’s growth and economy. Mills of rice, jute, cotton, and rubber and chemical factories have always though dominated the riverside view in this geography.
Much had changed during the second half of the 20th century. Many varied factors right from abandoned water channels drained by the rivers Rupnarayan and Damodar, to extreme unionism under the communist rule in Bengal, caused the permanent shutdown of many of these factories.
The region’s five-hundred-year-old history of conquest, rule, and inhabitation by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, Mughals, Bengalis and many other races, marred with wars, trade, blood, and money have given birth to many unearthly legends or wraiths whose souls could not escape the mortal realm due to some unfinished business or simply for the right to be. Ghosts, ghost stories, things eery and unearthly had become a part and parcel of the everyday life of the people of certain regions in the Hooghly-Chinsurah city.
Now in the first decade of the 21st century, the banks of river Bhāgirathi around the city of Hooghly was dotted with abandoned palaces, mansions, and factories of the dead and gone Bengali business families of 20th century.
One such riverside relic of a mansion in the city, in the middle of an abandoned property also housing a dilapidated non-functional rustic jute mill and acres of once-abundant jute fields now turned into wild sunburnt golden grassy prairies, was referred to by the locals as the ghost house or ‘Hanabari’ in Bengali.
Tucked away from the hustle-bustle of the main city, a rustic wrought iron crumbling gate from the late 19th century, on a dirt road leading to an abandoned dockyard was the main entrance to this property. There was not much reason for the everyday townsfolk to come in the vicinity of the ghostly Hanabari. Most of the townies cautiously avoided even looking at the spooky mansion, which they believed, was haunted with things much eery.
The occasional passerby would hurriedly cover the stretch of this property remembering their Gods, chanting protective prayers at least in the mind if not loudly. The Hindu would say “Ram Ram” or chant the Hanuman Chalisa, while the Muslims would pray for a protective Dua. The Christian would seek protection from ‘The Almighty Father’ or ‘His One and Only Son’ or ‘The Holy Spirit’ or the ‘Heavenly Mother’. Whatever the person’s caste, creed, or race, they would become super religions while crossing Hanabari.
The haunted property had gained a bad reputation over the year for being the devourer of souls of men, women, and children who dared to cross its demonic boundaries.
Though nobody had actually, seen or witnessed someone being killed there, maybe it was a rumour or urban legend or something else, which made sure that no one dared place a foot inside it. The locals believed that whoever crossed the wrought iron gate would fall victims to the demonic forces that resided in the premises and would never make it out alive of the cursed property.
As the light of the day drew its last breath daily, Hanabari would transform into a hub of poltergeist activities. The locals said that frothing daemons with glistening razor-sharp teeth and luminescent eyes could be seen roaming the premises ready to devour any soul that dared enter the property. The unearthly activities would always heighten on a full moon night when the resident beasts seemed to be extra wild intoxicated in the lunar hue and with the cold winds from the ghostly prairies.
One thing that most raised hairs and produced cold perspirations on any skin was the bone-chilling continuous wailing of animals that came from the property. It was simply the most non-human cry that one could hear, referred to by the locals as the ‘Haunting Howls of Hanabari’.
Sixteen-year-old Munia was a darling in the local community. The larger than life orphan was the liveliest young girl that one could meet. She worked at the local Bengali dhaba (roadside eatery) ‘Nimai Line Hotel’, situated about one kilometre from the main gate of Hanabari.
Nimai the owner of the dhaba took care of Munia like a daughter. No one knew how she ended up at the dhaba, but over the years, the locals had come to love and accept her, living and working, washing plates, and serving hungry customers visiting the dhaba daily.
“De botol’ta de (give me the bottle)” shouted Noton at his comrades. He was at the wheel of the brand-new Tata Sumo SUV gifted by a political party, which used the boys as its muscles to carry out their shady biddings and illicit activities whenever necessary.
The group of four were hardcore criminals, the scum of society, the kind you would not like to cross paths with. They were driving from Kolkata to Ranaghat via Chinsurah city, where they were to assassinate a local businessman on the hit list of their benefactor political party.
A much intoxicated Bhola, riding shotgun handed over the half-filled bottle of Haywards 5000 beer, from which he was gulping, to Noton da (elder brother), who was the leader of this hoodlum party. Super drunk and much high on the back seat of the SUV, Daton and Jhontu were busy filling Hashish in their earthen bong called the chillum colloquially.
At about 5 o’clock in the evening, their SUV screeched to a halt in front of Nimai Line Hotel. Noton’da, Bhola, Daton, and Jhontu had too much to drink and smoke, they needed a break and Chinsurah was right at the middle of their route. It was an ideal pitstop. Further Daton and Jhontu’s Hash chillum was ready to be lit. They just needed some strong and sweet tea with lots of milk to give them the perfect high.
“Ei meyetaaa, charteee kora chaaa, maximum dudhhh aar chiniii diye laga toeee (Heyyy girlll, make four teasss with lotsss of milkkk and sugarrr),” blurted Noton with a slurry tongue to Munia, who was gathering all the thrown away and leftover food from the hotel dustbin, especially chicken, mutton, and fish bones into a bucket.
“Dicchi Dada’ra (in a minute brothers),” said Munia and went to make some tea leaving the bucket of human chewed food waste at one corner of the shack, hidden away from the customer’s eyes.
Noton took the first long pull from the earthen bong, while Daton held two lighted matchsticks few millimetres above the chillum. “Fuuuuuuuhhhhh… shuuuiiiii…,” blew Noton a hazy and steady stream of smoke into the atmosphere. The intoxicating vapour filled in the shack and slowly escaped from the cracks and holes of the corrugated tin sheet walls of the roadside eatery. The four shared the chillum and smoked it till they were quite high.
The shop hardly had any customer at the time. Even owner Nimai was not there. He had gone to the market to get supplies. Only Munia and a twelve-year-old boy Choton, also an orphan, were taking care of the food shanty.
As Munia served tea, Noton caught her hands and pulled her a bit close to him. His intentions were vile. All that drinking and smoking had clearly instigated his wild desires, and Munia was the only girl around on whom perhaps he could vent out some of his pent-up steam.
“E ki korcho dada (what are you doing big brother),” said Munia and tore herself away from Noton’s grasp and walked away. Bhola burst out laughing, somewhat mocking Noton’s manhood, insinuating that he could not even get a little girl under him. The other two, Daton and Jhontu also giggled, adding further fuel to Noton’s freshly insulted manhood sprees.
Munia picked up the bucket of human-chewed food chum that she had kept aside earlier and walked away towards Hanabari. While leaving she instructed Choton to take money from the four for the tea, but not to insist for payment if they did not want to pay. The girl understood that the four were simply trouble and it was best not to mess with them in any way.
Over the last few years, Munia had developed a very unusual habit of collecting all the leftover and thrown food from the hotel to leave it on a circular marble baptismal-font-like old and dysfunctional fountain base, to be devoured by the creatures of Hanabari, in front of the rustic mansion, at the middle of the haunted property.
The next day, when she came back to leave a fresh load of chum, she would always see the fountain base licked clean of the previous day’s chum. This made her believe that the Ghosts of Hanabari were gladly accepting her food offering and she would always be safe from their fury. Munia looked up to the wraiths as her Gods. Not knowing her original faith, she had come to worship and pray to the daemons that resided within the property.
She was perhaps the only human who dared to enter the haunted premises. No one, however, knew how she started doing this in the first place, she would never say. That day too, Munia rushed away from Noton and his friends to offer her bucket of chum to the wraiths of Hanabari.
Munia had finished pouring the bucket of food on the designated spot for the resident daemons and was spreading it around as was her habit. Just about that time, two hands caught her from behind, while another pair gagged her mouth and covered her head with a cloth. Something else caught her legs.
There were hands all over her. She felt them groping and tearing her clothes, scratching on her skin. They lifted her and were taking her away somewhere. Gagged and blinded, she could not see or scream.
Alas, why had the daemons turned on her? She screamed in her mind and did not know whom to pray to. The supernatural beings of Hanabari were the only entities she had ever worshipped, and now her Gods were about to end her life it seemed.
The periphery of her vision was hazy. She could vaguely see herself been carried inside the mansion where she was thrown on a long rectangular old dinner table. Tears, perspiration, anxiety, sudden trauma, and next moment’s uncertainty, everything worked against her capacity to protest or fight to escape this unearthly calamity.
Then she could feel slurry mouths and rough hand all over her body. They were about to peel off her clothes, and she only prayed that they would not do the same with her skin. She understood that they were about to defile her and then perhaps eat her meat and drink her blood, and she only prayed for a quick death in the hands of her daemonic deities.
At that very moment, when Munia was about to give up all hope and surrender to her ghastly fate, came the bone-chilling inhuman wailing, the legendary ‘Haunting Howls of Hanabari’. Aaahhhwwwuuu…
Through the meshed cloth that covered her oculi, she could vaguely see many pairs of glowing eyes in the distant dark surroundings. Aaahhhwwwuuu… came the bone-chilling wailing over and over again. Those who were on top of her froze in silence. Their hands wherever they were did not move anymore.
“Noton’daaa meyeee taaa keee charooo (Brotherrr Notonnn leaveee theee girlll),” spoke up Bhola in a slow and trembling voice. “Dada praan thakle, abar hobe (Big brother if we live, we can have fun some other day),” uttered Daton shaking. “Shobai palaa (everyone run),” screamed Jhontu and started running away.
Munia now understood that her perpetrators were not the daemons but the four intoxicated rascals, who had followed her from the food shack into Hanabari, to take her forcibly and perhaps end her life after satisfying their carnal instincts.
“Aaahhhwwwuuu… Aaahhhwwwuuu… Aaahhhwwwuuu…,” continued the wraiths. Daemonic sets of glowing eyes started appearing in every dark corner of the mansion surrounding the grand dining hall, in between which lay Munia on the ancient dinner table while Noton, Bhola and Daton stood shaken, dead scared and frozen, unable to move. Along with the howl came unbearable noises of growl, snarls, and daemonic barks. It was as if scores of Sammaels or hell hounds were circling, ready to pounce.
The three finally mustered a bit of courage and darted towards the main door of the mansion, from where they had dragged Munia inside. Noton flung open the heavy teakwood panels and the three stumbled out to escape into the darkness.
They ran for their lives, falling and getting up several times. Shoes and slippers aside, leaving wallets and glasses behind they scrammed in different directions. Chasing them were the monsters of Hanabari.
They could not see the creatures; whose shadows were enough to fuel their terror and belief. They could hear the growls and snarls right on their heels and feel their hot daemonic breadths on the back of their necks. With a jump and a roll and a sprint, the three somehow just managed to cross the threshold of the property.
Without a second thought, they jumped on to their SUV, Jhontu, who had escaped earlier, and did not know how to drive had already boarded the vehicle and was cuddled up shivering under the backmost seat.
Engines started, tires screeched, smoke rose from burnt rubber grazing the stony contour of the dirt road in front of Hanabari, as Noton pressed on the accelerator of their jeep to set themselves free. The four barely escaped a grizzly death, having a last glance at the glowing eyes in the distant darkness faintly reflected on the rare view mirror of the SUV. The vehicle darted away, vanishing into a cloud of dust, never to return to this godforsaken city.
Munia shivered stiff as a pair of sharp canine teeth caught hold of the cloth that covered her face and set her vision free. She slowly opened her eyes. She had kept it closed all the while, as the howls, growls, snarls, and barks encircled her lying on the dining table. What she saw next was something she could have never imagined even in the wildest of her dreams.
Her Gods, the wraiths of Hanbari were a pack of abandoned house dogs of different breeds, who had somehow come to take refuge in the deserted property. The pack was an unimaginable mix of breeds. There were ferocious kinds such as German shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinscher, and Pitbulls to lapdogs such as Chihuahuas, Pomeranians and Pugs. The alpha of the pack a Belgian Tervuren slowly walked up to Munia and licked her face to comfort the girl who had been feeding them for so many years relentlessly.
Munia finally got to see and meet her Gods, who were just abandoned dogs. They had somehow managed to come from different places and cities to join this unlikely pack and stay at Hanabari. Somehow they were intelligent enough to create an aura of ghostly activities to keep people away from the property. That night the rejected canines had protected the orphan girl, who continues to feed them daily.
So today if you happen to visit the ancient borough of Hooghly-Chinsurah city and get a chance to catch a meal at the Nimai Line Hotel or even have a glimpse of the legendary eery property or perhaps even hear the most bone-chilling inhuman wailing don’t be alarmed for now you know the secret behind the ‘Haunting Howls of Hanabari.’
Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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