Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Living in a Torture Cell

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I have spent nights (and days) in some of the remotest parts of Pakistan. Once slept on the wall of a graveyard somewhere near Domeli; have been in hundred years plus old rest houses all by myself and been terrified of wolves out in the open at night on Deosai but nothing beats the experience of the irrigation Department Rest House in Sanghar town (Sindh).

This was March 2012 when doing some work for the NGO SAFWCO, I ended up in their office at Sanghar. Hameed Mallah, who looks after the affairs there, said he had made arrangements for me to sleep in the office. Just when I was ready to turn in, he said, it would be better if I spent the night in the rest house which had just been sanctioned for me. So we drove off. At the gate of this large building with the rambling, unkempt garden I quipped, 'This is just like the Addams' family home.' I should have kept my mouth shut.

It was 10.30 PM and we had to rouse the chowkidar to let me in. The rest house had thick mud-plastered walls and its high ceilings gave the rooms a damp cool. We went into the room allocated for me and my flesh crawled. I had a tingling sensation on the nape of my neck. Instructing the chowkidar to run the generator for the load shedding between 11.00 PM and 1.00 AM, Hameed and his colleagues left me to sleep. As I was taking out my tooth brush, I had this eerie feeling of someone standing behind me. There was of course no one. Went into the bathroom to brush and whoever followed me to the door remained outside. Came back to the bedroom and the same feeling of someone being right behind me.

Now, until about ten years ago, I could only sleep in pitch darkness. But then a change came and in a strange place I would wake in the night and wonder where I am and which way to the toilet or how the bed was placed etc. So, I kept my travellers' torch burning throughout the night in order to keep my bearings. Here in the rest house, I kept it burning to see if I could actually spot someone.

I must have slept at some point because I was roused by the clack-bang the chowkidar did as he switched off the generator and turned the main switch to mains. The room was dimly lit by the torch and there was the feeling of someone standing behind the headboard of the bed. I stuck my finger up and said out loud, 'Bugger you!'

Whoever it was always behind my back must have been offended by my rudeness because he/she left at this point: suddenly the feeling of the presence was gone. I joke that the mosquitoes that drove me crazy had bitten this presence to death.

The next morning I had a chat with Samina Mallah (also of SAFWCO) and she told me the tale of the two consultants, both women, over from Islamabad a few months before me. They were scared out of their wits in the rest house and called to be extricated during the night. Both had high fever!

Hameed later told me this rest house was a torture and death cell under Jam Sadiq Ali during the Bhutto government back in the 1970s. The men who succumbed to torture, he said, were buried in the lawns behind the building. I don't know if that is true and I am also skeptical about hauntings, but the whole aura of this rest house is eerie. I like to think the feeling came from an unexplained magnetic field or some other rubbish, but the feeling was quite palpable.

I had it only on two other occasions. First in August 1994 in my aunt's (phuphi) home in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi - never before and never after. That was a very overpowering and dreadful feeling. I didn't tell my wife, but in the morning she said she hadn't felt good during the night. Then again in Sann Rest House in December 1998 while making a PTV documentary. My assistant producer was scared out of his wits during the night and though, he Parvez Akhter and I were in the same room, he complained in the morning of being smothered by someone. But all told, the Sanghar Irrigation Rest House was tops in eeriness. I don't think I ever want to spend another night there.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 11 July 2013 at 12:28, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

OMG, it seems we still have friendly bhooths living around us.

At 11 July 2013 at 13:30, Blogger Haroon said...

Lived a night alone in the same rest house while monitoring BISP project for USAID. Happy to report that didnt know about the history of the rest house and slept soundly without a care.

At 11 July 2013 at 20:46, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

I kept it burning to see if I could actually spot someone.......lols. Rest houses or other desolate places are generally occupied by these ''guests'':)

You know I've come across such being in the bright light of morning at 11am. And believe me he was like human being and I remember that being even today.

At 13 July 2013 at 15:43, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

I have never actually seen anything, and really, I am quite skeptical. But, Haroon, if it was after March 2012 my finger and the 'Bugger you' (plus the colourful Punjabi additions) might have exorcised the place!


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days