In the centre of Behrampore, a town in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, there is a ubiquitous Circuit House with huge pillars and a portico. Part of the house is the District Magistrate’s office , who also resides in the rooms above. It is a typical British residence built in the ‘Company’ style, probably around the mid-eighteenth century. Next to it is another big building from the same era. They are separated by a courtyard that used to be a tennis court. Today it is only a shabby open space.
The building is still solid with a musty smell. Some of the rooms have high ceilings with horizontal beams. Not much ventilation was allowed in these mansions as the British tried to ward off the heat and dust by building massive walls, huge rooms and small windows. VIPs come and stay in a gigantic bedroom on the ground floor. The housekeeper told us that Warren Hastings used to stay in that room at times, perhaps after he was appointed British Resident at the Murshidabad court in 1758.
A close look revealed that everything in the room has changed in 250 years — the modern double bed, the dressing table and even the small secretariat table are all from recent times. The room is dimly lit and has an indifferent carpet on the floor. But near the bed is a black rocking chair which looks eerie as if it has been used by many a strange visitor. It is distinctively different and clearly from the British times though the original cane has been replaced by plastic. One can almost imagine Warren Hastings sitting on that rocking chair.
He probably liked Behrampore and stayed in that house often. He lost his daughter and wife in Murshidabad, and their common grave bears the date July 11, 1759.
I wondered whether the place was haunted. They said it was. There was a ghost who could be seen coming to the bedroom from a corridor (now closed), wearing shorts. He would get into bed under a mosquito net and after some time, get out and take up a racquet and play tennis in the tennis court outside. Perhaps it is Hastings himself who has been playing tennis all these years! He left India in 1784 and his trial for impeachment began in England in 1788. He was acquitted in 1795 and became poor fighting the case. He liked India and Indian culture, having come to work as a clerk in Calcutta at the age of 16 with the East India Company. He, however, is buried far away in Daylesford, Oxfordshire. It could be someone else — for the sahibs loved tennis.
It is a pity that the maintenance of such a grand house is so poor and only the meeting/committee room has its original high ceiling, massive doors and red flooring. The glass sideboards of the dining room contain rare ivory figures and statues (all carved in Murshidabad) but are in a state of decay. The house and the tennis court can easily be restored to its original glory for it is truly a heritage building, with or without the ghost.