A week back 'Dakshin Bharat Rashtramat", a Hindi daily published from Bangalore, ran a story of mine, "कमरा नंबर तीन". I thought I can bring it onto my blog in a translated form for those who would like to read it in English. It's a story people liked it in its original form, even though there were critics pointing out that ghost stories do not match the modern taste. I don't agree with them. It's rather Ruskin Bond who had solved the confusion of those progressive writers once for all: "One need not believe in ghosts just to enjoy a ghost story." So, it's readers pleasure that matters. And I'm happy that those who criticised it also admitted that the story ensures readers' enjoyment. In fact I loved creating this so much so that in my next book "एक साल बाद" I wrote another story to extend the original one in "विरासत".
Room Number Three
Moorie, a fascinating tourist destination of the country,
is now at the peak of its popularity. It is a hill station of exquisite scenic
beauty and unpolluted environs. Come April tourists just rush there in great
numbers and the flow remains unabated until the harshness of the summer abates
in the plains. Some tourists reach here for no other purpose than affording
their minds some well-deserved rest but there are many that choose to stay here
for the entire duration of the tourist season just to gain health and sink into
a state of torpor. Some of them visit the spot regularly, almost once every
at Moorie, the Department of Post has made an elaborate arrangement of boarding
and lodging for its employees. The guesthouse run by the department is known to
be one of the most elegant structures of the town. It is a landmark building and
no visitor can afford to miss its sight. Its decorated porch, its windows with
attractive sun sheds, the colourful stained glass fitted to the window panels
are the talking points among those who have once visited the hill station. It
is a heritage building of sorts and its age should be at least one hundred
years, if not more. Among the materials used in it, one can spot many that are
of English provenance. Then use of concrete was only few and far between and
mostly people used to cast their roof using homemade mixture made of molasses
and ground limestone. There was no concept of reinforcement at that time and
what they used to produce in the name of roof was just a platform of iron and
timber on which the limestone mixture was delicately spread.
The ownership of this building was transferred from a
British Sahib to a Marwadi businessman and then to a Bengali gentleman and
finally to the department of Post. Be that as it may, it is being regularly
maintained by the department for last fifty years. There were occasions in the
past when senior officers had thought aloud to demolish the old structure and
raise a new one in its place, but nothing has actually progressed beyond that.
Maybe, it is due to the department’s excessive attachment to old and heritage
structures. All share the sentiment, ‘Let the structure continue to exist as
long as it does not prove absolutely dangerous to the occupants.’
is another reason why the structure is allowed to continue in its old shape.
The guesthouse is the subject matter of many stories and that too, all of them
are concerning ghosts and goblins. Often the senior employees of the department
narrate these stories to their junior colleagues and that is how the stories
have been handed down to the successive generations. Once a gentleman officer,
by telling those stories, frightened his lady colleagues to such an extent that
even to this day they do not dare to stay in that guesthouse whenever they happen
to visit Moorie. The hotel may be expensive, yet they do not mind staying there.
And if anybody ever suggests them to stay in the guesthouse to save on their
hotel expenses, they would just snub that suggestion, ‘Oh no, we’re better safe
here and would not mind paying a piddling little extra for that!’
If one ever tried to probe into the whole
thing, he would easily find the whole matter an unmixed hoax. Only one question
would clearly shed light on the matter: ‘What have you seen there—a he-ghost or a she-ghost?’ In reply some would confirm the belief yet cleverly gloss
over the question on its sex, ‘Look, there’s a ghost...and that much is not to
be doubted,’ and the others who liked to precisely respond the question would say, ‘Well, there’s a she-ghost along with a he-ghost’.
Some would say, ‘The she-ghost wears a sari very much like a Bengali lady,’
whereas some other would insist that the she-ghost comes out wearing a salwar
and kurta. There could be as many versions as there were people. In fact they
simply loved to make up a story just like that and improve it on the fly, as
though a procession of storytellers were on the move across the generations.
Shamim was only a new recruit in the department as an
officer. While in the training college, he came to know about that particular
guesthouse at Moorie, especially about those spectral stories doing
rounds. He himself did not believe in such stories—not that he had adopted such
a negative posture out of some religious compulsions; he was, in fact, a
courageous young man who hated superstitions.
day Shamim thought, how about visiting this guesthouse? ‘From a distance so
many things are heard about it, and what all things would not greet me if I go there?’
day Shamim actually visited Moorie, the guesthouse was entirely vacant. Only
the caretaker was there, waiting for Shamim to reach and check in. Shamim
reached Moorie and occupied room number 3 which was reserved for him. The room
was clean and the bed and furniture were properly dusted. There was biting cold
outside, for it was the month of November. Shamim checked the bed and blanket
and became satisfied that the room had everything necessary for a comfortable
a while the caretaker came to Shamim. He stood there in silence for a minute.
Finding his posture only too peculiar, Shamim reckoned that the fellow was
interested in drawing his attention so that he could say him something. Anyway,
instead of enquiring him as to what was that he wanted from him, Shamim waited
for him to open his mouth.
‘Sir, I’ve a wedding to attend at my relations’ tonight.
If you’re so kind as to grant me permission, I’ll remain absent for a night
would, in fact, welcome an opportunity like this. He was interested in a state of
total silence to prevail in the guesthouse. As per the popular belief, whether
it is a he-ghost or a ghost of the opposite sex, they look for a completely
silent night to haunt. In case the prevailing ghost-related stories about the
guesthouse were simply the figments of imagination, there would be no ghost at
night even though there was a complete silence. On the whole, what Shamim
desired was an authentic experience to buttress his disbelief of ghosts and
goblins, so that in future if he were called upon to counter a ghost story
relating to the guesthouse, he would put forth his argument with authority.
‘Oh yes. By all means. You can go out for the night. Just
do me a favour: buy me a loaf of bread and that’s all. I’ll manage.’ Shamim,
thus, readily complied with the request of the caretaker.
a happy caretaker went off after expressing his gratitude. While going away he
stared at Shamim in such a mysterious way as if he were condescending to his
benefactor. But Shamim hardly had the time to take any note of this, now that his mind was
completely preoccupied with ghosts and goblins.
wore in. It was darkness all around. While going away the caretaker had seen to
it that all the lights of verandah were on. Maybe he did so just to prevent
ghosts from straying into the campus. But no sooner did the caretaker leave the
guesthouse than Shamim put the lights out. He did not even switch on the radio
set or the television of the guesthouse. On the whole Shamim shaped the
ambience in such a way that if something strange were to happen, it definitely would.
And then he waited for the ghost to materialise.
The night thickened. It was about ten o’ clock when a car
came into sight in front of the gate of the guesthouse and tooted its horn. The
caretaker was already gone and so who should open the gate? In fact the gate
was not properly locked; rather the lock was so suspended from the latch that
anybody would be tricked to think that it was closed. Finally Shamim had to
switch on the lights of the verandah and come out. He then opened the gate and
let the car in. It was a very old car as though the visitors were coming
straight from a vintage rally!
Now Shamim was unhappy finding his plans fizzling out. He
tried to cheer himself, ‘Now no ghost would appear, but then what else could be
done? It’s a guesthouse only, and so people will come and go as per no fixed
pattern. Anyway, the experiment could be tried again at some other time.’
As he returned to the guesthouse after opening the gate,
he found that the caretaker had also come back. He was not happy in that he
could not finally attend the function at his relation's. He was asked to return
to the guesthouse immediately since a certain senior officer’s daughter and
son-in-law were coming to stay in the guesthouse.
Even though Shamim was trying to remain aloof from those
two guests, he could not do so for long as he found them to be very friendly.
One was Prem and the other was his wife Yamini. Yamini liked Moorie so very
much, especially the departmental guesthouse in the
town. Years ago they had celebrated their honeymoon in this very celebrated guesthouse
in room number three.
‘R-r-room Number Three?
But then...yeah! I’m already staying there,’ stuttered Shamim
‘No problem, Shamim Saheb. We’ll stay in room number two
then,’ Yamini said.
She had no sign of displeasure on her face as she uttered
so, yet Shamim read between the lines. It appeared as though Yamini was up to
gauging the attitude of Shamim as to how prepared the young officer was to
empathise with them. In the soft gleam of an incandescent bulb inside the room, Yamini’s
face exuded a delightful radiance, as though she were about to shower her
romance on anyone that touched her excited sensibilities.
For a minute Shamim reflected on the whole situation. He
thought he should not be so selfish. By now he had realised how important was Room
Number Three for Prem and Yamini. Every year on this very day the love-stricken
couple used to come to this guesthouse to stay here in room number three and
refresh their memory of honeymoon. The time had passed and it would not come
back. Only they had retained the sweet memory of the event and they wished to
relive it. Once again Shamim thought, ‘Now I should respect this delicate
feeling of love, or else why am I a young man?’
worry. I’m going to vacate room number three for you. Just allow me two
minutes,’ Shamim said.
Very promptly Shamim changed his room. He got room number
two and the couple got his room: Room Number Three. Now the romantic couple
would rekindle their sweet memories and nobody would bother them.
Ten clear minutes gone, Prem knocked at the door of
Shamim. As Shamim answered the knock and opened his door, Prem came in. He had
come to invite Shamim to come to their room. He just disclosed that they were
going to propose a toast and Shamim should grace the occasion by his sweet
Now Shamim had nothing to spurn; rather he happily
accepted the invitation. He was now agog with romantic feelings. Aha! He was
completely besotted with the gracious lady living just the next door. He
thought, ‘A lady of Yamini’s elegance would attract one’s attention all the
while.’ Really, his thirst was so intense that he just wished to quench it by
letting his eyes sip the wine of bliss flowing from her gorgeous body. The flow
of event was taking a strange turn—a scientific expedition was about to enter
the sweet alley of yearning and passion.
Room number three: Shamim could not recognise the room he
had occupied just twenty short minutes ago. It was all dreamy and hypnotic all
around. There were a few colourful lights inside and in that soft light Yamini
was seated on a bed like a fairy perched on an enchanted tree in bloom. There
were three glasses on the table and the glasses were filled to their brim with
red wine of Johny Walker brand. Shamim could not decide for a moment which one
of the two was really intoxicating: the red wine in the glass or the overflowing
youth of Yamini.
Prem lifted his glass and proposed the toast, ‘Let this
150th honeymoon bring back the colours of youth.’
Shamim was amazed. One hundred and fiftieth honeymoon! What’s
that! Could any couple on earth live that long to celebrate its 150th
honeymoon? Nevertheless, responding to the demand of courtesy and formality, he
just perfunctorily repeated the trailing words, ‘Let there be a colourful honeymoon.’
Probably Yamini could gauge the ambivalence in Shamim.
She asked, ‘Couldn’t you understand the idea of 150th anniversary of
honeymoon? Have you forgotten that the Department of Post is celebrating its
sesquicentennial year now?’
On being reminded of the significance of the year, Shamim
realised how forgetful he had been these days. This was rather a delightful realisation
to dawn on him and so he laughed sonorously. Accepting a second peg of that
beverage he said in a raised voice ‘Bravo! Young hearts! Bravo! Let there be a kaleidoscopic
honeymoon for you!’
It was till midnight the boozing session went on. Shamim
just lost count of pegs he guzzled. Inebriated, he shed the last particle of
inhibitions and just gawped at Yamini on and on. And Yamini, too, was at her
high after she took her first peg, but then again, she just continued.
Presently, she was even unable to take care of her sari that flew unruly and
loose. However, nobody was willing to concede a defeat in that drinking bout.
Shamim did not know when he passed out. He had only the
remembrance of the fact that he was almost in the petting proximity of Yamini before
In the morning when the caretaker came, he found Shamim
lying on the floor. He went near him and tried to wake him up. Shamim woke up
but for a few seconds only. And then with a head that was reeling, he went back
to sleep on the bed.
By afternoon Shamim was out of the state of stupor. As he
woke up, he found himself alone in room number three. There was none by his
side. Then he called the caretaker and asked him about Prem and Yamini.
Listening to the whole episode the caretaker gave a knowing
smile and said, ‘So, this year, too, they came as Prem and Yamini?
‘Who were they?’ Shamim demanded. He was only too eager
to know the whole matter.
Finally he came to know all about that. The three fellows
that came to that guesthouse the previous night were ghosts. From among the
trio, one had come in the guise of the caretaker, for the real caretaker had
gone away on the plea that he was required to attend a wedding at his relations’.
He knew that on that particular night ghosts would be on the prowl in the
guesthouse and he had already planned to escape. Poor Shamim got no scent of
Now Shamim, the possessor of a robust scientific temperament,
began to wonder, ‘At the end of the day, is there any difference between a
party arranged by ghosts and another thrown by living fellows?’
A. N. Nanda