Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Of Haunted Places

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Of Haunted Places I have been asked if, in all my ramblings across the length and breadth of Pakistan and having spent nights in the unlikeliest of places, I have ever had a paranormal experience. Before I go any further, let me say this up front: I do not believe in ghosts and haunting. Having said that, I have to confess to three experiences that I have never been able to explain.

In 1983, right after we married, Shabnam and I lived in the ground floor of 77-A, PECHS Block 6 near Chanesar Halt. About a year after moving in we began to be bothered by the front door latch suddenly going ‘clack’ as if someone had snapped it down and sharply released it. The landlord’s (who lived upstairs) two young boys were right demons and I always thought they did this mischief in walking past. I therefore tried to catch them at it. But it never worked.

Then sometimes as we sat in our living room we would suddenly be assailed by this somewhat unpleasant odour. It was something like you smelled in a poultry shop. It would quickly dissipate, however. I investigated every little bit of our few pieces of furniture and the drapery for the smell, but there was nothing.

In the summer of 1987, when Shabnam was visiting Lahore and I was all by myself, our friend Mark McCann, on his way home from his teaching job in Lahore to Britain for the summer, arrived to stay a couple of days. Now, Mark is a bit of mystic who dabbles in all sorts of hocus-pocus, as the late and wonderful Theo Phailbus used to refer to these things. He even had a ‘hocus-pocus bag’ at home! Mark taught me the meaning of the tarot cards; he lectured me on I-Ching and other things. And in those two evenings we spent together in high spirits we spoke of hauntings that Mark had either experienced or had heard of.

One sure sign of a haunting, he told me, was a recurring and totally inexplicable puddle of water anywhere in the house. One morning I drove Mark into town for him to revalidate his ticket. I must add that we left the house together as I locked it after me. As I entered the foyer after a few hours with Mark in tow, I was dumb-struck by the puddle of clear water sitting right in the middle of the room.

I turned on Mark saying, ‘Nice try, chum.’ I actually thought he had somehow managed to leave this water when we left home earlier that morning. But he simply could not have for he had left the house and was already outside as I collected my stuff and locked the door behind me.

We were unable to make any sense of the puddle and Mark was convinced that our home was haunted. He said the foul smell was also a sign of some presence which, even if it was not outrightly malevolent, was unpleasant. As well as that, the recurring sound of the door latch was sign of the spirit’s mischief.

I made light of it. We sat at table laughing, eating and drinking with me making fun of these spirits who had nothing better to do than hanging out in places such as ours. Really, theirs must have been pretty dull and boring lives that they wished to be in our home with its staid lifestyle.

It was sometime in May or June 1988; just months before we left Karachi to return home, that the door latch went a few times in quick succession just when I was deep in perusal. And then the foul miasma rose from one corner of the sitting room. I lost it. And thank heavens for being a Lahori, I let whatever it was have it. I told it the relationship I would like to establish with it through its mother, sisters and daughters. I went as far as its grandmothers, aunts and nieces. I was simply out of control and verbally assaulted every single woman of its family. In brief, had anyone heard me at it, they would have phoned for the men in the white coats and I might have been committed to the asylum.

The stench evaporated of a sudden. Thereafter we remained in that house until December that year. Never once in those last months did we experience either the reek or the door latch that worked by itself. I came to the conclusion that it was not holy verses that exorcised demons – not in the 20th century, at least. It was the unholiest of the unholy verses (preferably Punjabi) that did the trick.

In August 1994, my wife and I spent one night in my aunt’s home in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. Built in 1963 or thereabouts, the house sits in a large six-kanal property and after his retirement as Surveyor General of Pakistan (incidentally, the last civilian to hold this post before it was usurped by the army), my uncle rented out the main house and built an annex to live in.

On that particular August evening as Shabnam and my aunt chatted I went upstairs with our stuff hoping to do a bit of reading. As I ascended the stairs, the hair on my nape stood so hard erect that I felt them against my collar. As I went through the sitting room to our bedroom, I felt this incredibly unnerving chill run through my body. I wanted to look over my shoulder. But I did not.

I could hardly remain in the bedroom about five minutes before bolting. The feeling was that in the sitting room just outside the bedroom, there was some frightful and malevolent presence. Later that evening when the two of us came upstairs to turn in, we kept the door between the bedroom and the foyer open in order to let the breeze run through the room. Every time, just as I would begin to doze off, I would of a sudden be wide awake imagining something dreadful standing in the doorway.

But there was nothing. Though the feeling of cold horror never left me, I did not say a word to Shabnam. About 10:30 PM, sensing that she too was awake, I asked her if I should shut the door. She said that would be better.

Thereafter I still could not fall asleep. Now the dread was that the door was about to burst open now, now, now .......

At some point during the night we both fell asleep and as far as I can recall, it was a fairly sound, undisturbed sleep. In the morning, the creepiness was gone.

I did not say a word to Shabnam about the eeriness I felt, yet she too experienced the same dread. Neither of us spoke of it before we fell asleep for fear of alarming the other. When I mentioned it in the morning Shabnam said she too had a feeling of peculiar dread.

The following summer, 1995, while their parents were travelling abroad, Shabnam and I were minding my four nieces (three teenagers and one already twenty-one) and a teenage nephew. Part of this episode was a trip to Abbottabad and surroundings. Every evening after a day of fun and frolic, the girls got out their Ouija board and we played our silly little games.

Aside: I know for a fact that this is a load of bullshit because we happened to conjure up the spirit of a girl who claimed to have been in love with me in 1974! If we were to believe the coke bottle top sprinting around the board, she died shortly after. I told the bottle top that having realised she loved a crass lout that was the only way for her to go. That shut her up and the bottle top refused to budge thereafter.

The kids asked if I had ever experienced a haunting and I told them of the peculiar feeling in phoophi jan’s home the previous summer. So, it was resolved that on the way back we would overnight in Rawalpindi to check out the demon of Satellite Town. But the condition was that when we arrived, I would first of all go upstairs to see if all was still not well and then the children would follow.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dud. The hair on the nape of my neck remained flaccid, there was no cold feeling of dread. Nothing. The evil spirit of 91-E, Satellite Town, Rawalpindi had died of boredom because the upstairs rooms were seldom used.

Thereafter I returned to that home several times and on a few occasions also did sleep in the same room without any untoward experience.

The second occasion was in Sanghar in Sindh. It was, if I remember correctly, March 2012 and I was doing some work for an NGO. About 10:30 PM, shortly after I had been fed and was making ready to hit the sack in a room in the office, they said they had been able to organise a room in the local Irrigation Department rest house.

As we stopped at the wrought iron gate of the property I said almost jokingly, ‘This looks like the Addams’ family home!’ There behind the high gateway was a sprawling unkempt garden dripping with sad dreariness; its far reaches unseen in darkness. One of our party disembarked and opened the gate for us to drive in.

Inside, I was actually quite delighted to see thick, mud-plastered walls which kept the rooms rather cool. I was assigned a bedroom and my friends, having instructed the watchman to keep the generator running when we had a power cut between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM, left me for the night.

Alone in my room, as I prepared to brush my teeth, I felt this presence right behind me. I deny there was any swish of garments or the sound of breathing or a soft footfall. There was absolutely nothing. Except, the sense of a presence was overwhelming. However, unlike the feeling of extreme malevolence in my aunt’s home, here was something benign or even impotent.

I walked around the large room and the presence kept right behind me. Then I stepped into the dressing room on my way to the bathroom and suddenly there was no one. Speaking to myself loud enough to be heard, I said, ‘She’s got to be a girl and she’s bashful. Doesn’t want to watch me undress.’ Either that or the man was too damn decent.

Back in the room whoever it was still there. I lay in bed and read and was kept watch over from behind the headboard of the antiquated bed. Shortly before the witching hour, I switched of the overhead light but as I turned in, I kept my personal torch burning. At 1:00 AM, I was roused when the generator was switched off. Then there was the loud clang as the watchman turned the power back on to mains. Thereafter all was quiet. All, except the horrid mosquitoes. At sometime about 1:30 AM, whoever had been keeping watch over me very likely having been bitten to death by the mosquitoes bolted. Thereafter I was alone in the room.

The following morning Samina Mallah of the NGO asked me how my night had been and I said other than the invisible company it was quite all right. ‘What? It happened to you as well?’ she asked.

Then she told me of the two consultant girls from Islamabad some months earlier who bolted during the night. Both went down with high fevers and had to be repatriated home. I was also told that people venturing into the dining room and pantry even heard footfalls behind them. But all this happened only during hours of darkness.

My friend Hameed Mallah also told me that the evil Jam Sadiq Ali when he was Z. A. Bhutto’s most obedient cur back in the 1970s, had used this rest house as a private jail. Here he tortured and murdered dozens of Bhutto opponents. It is said that the back garden has some mounds that mark multiple burials. And the presences that stalk overnight boarders in the rooms are those who suffered at that evil, characterless man’s hands.

I must end this by saying that across this country there must be dozens of rest houses, most of them more than a hundred years old, where I have spent nights by myself. And there are wild places from Tharparker in the south to Chitral and Gojal in the north where I have been alone. Other than these (and a rather tame episode from the rest house of Sann in Sindh), I have had no paranormal experience.

As I said, I do not believe in ghosts and hauntings, I like to think that this strange feeling is caused by a disruption in the naturally existing magnetic field of the particular place. Other than that, there is nothing. I strongly aver that other than this peculiar unsettling sensation I have never seen an apparition. I have never heard things going clunk in the night nor have I seen things move of their own volition.

If anyone claims to see frightful images, it is only the non-material personification of their own fears. Be not afraid and you will see no demons.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 28 October 2015 at 14:42, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Sir, I was accosted by a thick legend of a Djinn in Mastung in 2003, that had inhabited the old Hindu Haveli that was abandoned in '47 and never settled. People swore of strange voices coming at night. Turned out it was cats and Swallows in the false ceiling. We ended up renting that majestic house.

At 28 October 2015 at 15:52, Blogger Ravi Kahani said...

I had a first hand experience of being slapped in my deep sleep. I also heard the sound of Inhale before receiving it. I was told there was other paranormal events of the same kind, happened at that place

At 28 October 2015 at 18:33, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

It may be true but i do not believe such stories

At 29 October 2015 at 10:15, Blogger montybandial said...

always a pleasure reading your words Uncle, abba sends his regards.

At 29 October 2015 at 12:29, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Interesting write up on the "paranormal" incidents that you have experienced. Many such stories are heard in South India. How ever I have an interesting experience in the Oasis desert town of Ibri in Oman during my visit on official duty, while I was in that Country for eight years. Though I do not believe in such happenings, I could not get any logical explanations for the same. Regards.

At 2 November 2015 at 10:42, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Monty! What a lovely surprise. Just the other day in Palandri I was thinking of you three children.

At 2 November 2015 at 10:49, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Rehan, I am sure there is always a logical , natural answer for all 'supernatural occurrences. Though I cannot but wonder how my friend Khayam got slapped in his sleep.


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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

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Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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