There is a house near the Shovabazar jetty on the banks of the mighty river Ganges, in the postcolonial city of Kolkata in India’s West Bengal state. Once it was a beauty to behold, a mansion of breathtaking artistry, a marvellous reflection of the Roman architectural style. A spectacle of wealth and power of the Bengali Babus, who profited by serving the oppressive British colonisers of the time.
Long gone are the mansions glorious days, long gone are the Babus. Now what remains is a dilapidated two-hundred-year-old haunted house, partially occupied and partly abandoned, with a reputation of unearthly terror from within its crumbling walls. They call it the ‘House Of The Living Dolls.’
Many have said with great confidence that the house is haunted. It is considered as one of the topmost scary places in an otherwise vibrant cityscape. People claim that a very eery and chilling unearthly giggle can be heard from within its walls and the ghostly presence of spectral entities can be felt in the mansion’s dilapidating premises.
Back in the year 1819, it was two decades prior to the dawn of the English Victorian age. Calcutta then was the empire’s jewel in the crown, the second busiest city after London in the British-colonial global-presence.
The precinct of Shovabazar was a spectacle to behold in those days. Leagues of trading ships from Great Britain would unload and store their loads in the warehouses of the Bengali Babus dotted along the banks of the river Ganges.
Shops of all sorts of things, different kinds of businesses, colourful bazaars or varied wares, and even a brothel, which would go on to be Asia’s largest flesh market were a part of this vibrant neighbourhood, a hustling-bustling simmering cauldron of human life in the colonial cityscape.
At that time, a young Bengali businessman had amassed a lot of wealth and built a three-storeyed mansion and warehouse in the region. His house was an epitome of luxury, unique in a million ways. The young Bengali had a vivid artistic taste and painstakingly infused beauty in the minutest of details. From bannisters to doorknobs to electric switches, he customised and built everything to the rarest of taste.
To create this adobe of breathtaking wonder he spent a magnanimous amount of wealth. He engaged the best architects, engineers, masons, carpenters, and workers of the time to build his dream palace.
The businessman’s daughter was the apple of his eye and to please her he would go to extreme lengths. The daughter was loving, kind and happy in every way and had just one obsession that was a big part of her life every day. She was insane about dolls and loved to play, spend time, and constantly think and be with them forever and always. She had dolls from all over the world, that her father got with great efforts spending a lot of wealth.
Wanting to please and make her daughter happy in a big way, the businessman came up with a plan to adorn every corner of his mansion with statues and dolls of cement, wood, stone, and marble.
He got the best sculptors and craftsmen from across the subcontinent to make and install spectacular statues all over his beautiful palace. There were busts of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, kings and soldiers, beautiful maidens and handsome men, artisans and craftsmen, children, animals, and many other figures of fascinating finesse. He even got statues from England, Italy, and Spain, and when the installations were complete and the house was finally made, it was nothing like anyone had ever seen or witnessed.
All was well till one dreadful winter something terrible happened. A sudden and unknown sickness crept into the little girl’s body, slowly draining her life away. The businessman got all the best doctors and medicine men of the time, however, alas! all was in vain, no one could find a cure and the girl’s life ebbed away.
The grief of losing his child was too much for the businessman, he could no longer stay in the doll-house, that for his beloved daughter he had lovingly made. Unable to bear the memories of pain, the man sold his business and dream home and vanished away to some obscure place never to be found again.
Many years passed by, and it was sometime around the mid-1800s, now the Victorian age in Calcutta was at its pinnacle. The city had become a treasure trove of unfathomable riches. The nouveau riche Bengali bourgeoisie led a life of extreme lavishness and squandered wealth at every chance and instance.
From organising exorbitant weddings for house cats to throwing money on dancing girls many Babus of the nineteenth century would waste their wealth on unimaginable nuisances, and along with the riches came many evil indulgences.
Ownership of the doll-house was now with a very vile and sinister Bengali Babu who led a lavish and vagrant lifestyle, taking sadistic pleasures out of unimaginable deeds of wickedness. The happy home of the doll-loving playful little girl and her artistic father had mutated into a house of torture, pain, and death.
The evil Babu had an exquisite taste for young and tender women. He along with his debase friends would take great pleasure in torturing, ravaging, and murdering helpless girls abducted from different regions.
To engage in these atrocities of unspeakable horror on the ‘weaker sex’ he had made many modifications to the house to maintain discreetness. Many of the main doors of the mansion were not entryways but just for mere appearance, they were false gates, visible on the facade of the house even today.
He had also made a secret entrance from the side of the circular railway tracks behind his palace of death. His vile friends and the violators of innocent women would secretly enter the house from this hidden gateway to carry on their misdeeds of abhorring ghastliness.
During the same epoch, in the year 1869, under the inspiration and enthusiasm of a budding theatre aficionado, Baikuntho Nath Natta, a theatrical troop by the name of ‘Marchrong Boikuntha Sangeet Samaj’ was born in the streets of Barisal city in the undivided Bengal of those days, now a part of the country of Bangladesh.
Many years before the ‘Partition of Bengal’ (in 1947), a part of this Natta theatre family came to Calcutta and settled. The Kolkata branch of that theatre company known as the ‘Natta Jatra Company’, still exists today. Their connection to the doll-house would, however, comes much later in the mansion’s historical timeframe.
As the years progressed the walls of the gentle and beautiful doll-house got stained with the blood of helpless women. The corridors, halls, and rooms of the mansion resonated with the wailing cries of murdered feminine innocence.
The atrocities continued and spilt over to the twentieth century. Now at the height of oppression by the ruthless British colonisers, the doll-house continued mutating as a place of torment, pain, and death. In order to please the very vilest of the Britishers in the region, the owner of the mansion entertained and allowed them to torture and kill many freedom fighters of the day.
Then time progressed and traversing a bloodstained phase of partition, where the nation was divided on the basis of religion, into the two new countries of Muslim dominant Pakistan and Hindu prevalent India, the subcontinent finally got its freedom from the Empire of Great Britain in the year 1947.
With the fall of the British empire, the source of illicit wealth of the oppressive Bengali Babu’s completely dwindled. Owners of the doll-house then, the Saha family gradually found it more and more difficult to upkeep the mansion and keep it maintained.
During these deteriorating times in the mansion’s life-frame, the Saha’s started taking in tenants to sustain the house and themselves. Many of the rooms on the ground floor were let out to companies to be used as godowns and to individuals to operate petty businesses. Few of these rooms are still used as warehouses even today and a small sawmill also continues to operate till date.
Two rooms on the second floor of the doll-house at that time were taken on rent by the ‘Natta Jatra Company’ to store their equipment. As time flew the theatre company’s fame and fortune grew. Now, Makhanlal Natta, the owner of the theatrical troop had amassed a decent bit of honest fortune and wanted to buy the house from the Saha family, most of whom had become near paupers, and many were scattered in different places.
Then finally in 1978, Makhanlal Natta managed to buy the house through getting the signature of seventy-eight members of the Saha family from all over the country with much hard-work and great pain. Members of the Natta family continue to reside on the third floor of the mansion even today, however, their fame and fortune have perhaps dwindled.
During this two-hundred-year-old history of the doll-house, sometime after the little girl’s death, the presence of her unsatisfied spirit started to be seen and felt. They say her giggles can be heard even today, and after the torture and murder of many innocent women and freedom fighters, their unsatisfied spirits remain and roam in the mansion’s earthly realm.
Today the second floor of the house is completely abandoned, while the Natta family continue to reside in portions of the third storey and some rooms on the ground floor continue to be used as godowns and another one operates a tiny sawmill, the mansion, in general, is a dying and crumbling facade of a colonial architect.
Some tall tales claim that the dolls come alive in the nighttime, possessed by the spirits of the unsatisfied and tortured souls, they roam the premises. No one has ever died or been attacked in any way, so perhaps all the stories may be figments of our imaginations, or perhaps myths spun by individuals with vested interests, or maybe they are true who knows.
Presently the house’s ghostly popularity has risen to this extent, that the remaining members of the Natta family have been forced to put up hoardings and notices declaring that there are no ghosts in the premises, to save themselves from the barge of curious and at times pretty disturbing ghost-crazy tourists in the region.
Perhaps such a beautiful part of Calcutta’s history should not be allowed to crumble with ghost stories, perhaps the mansion should be declared a heritage building and restored to its former glory by the Government. Well, these are not so easy things to decide or act upon, however, it would be a shame to lose this astonishing marvel of architectural wonder to unproven ghost stories and neglect, from the face of the post-colonial cityscape.
So today if you happen to be in the vicinity of the Shovabazar jetty beside the train tracks of the circular railway, it will certainly be worth your while to have a look at the crumbling doll-house marred with ghastly and ghostly tales. I would request you not to disturb the residents but to admire its dying beauty from a distance.
Who knows you may spot a statue on the terrace move for a split second, or maybe it’s just those ghostly lore’s playing games with your mind, clouding your thoughts in an imaginative way.
Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction inspired by real life place and events, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at email@example.com or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.