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Haunted barsatis of Nizamuddin

Among some haunted barsatis in Nizamuddin, there is a particular sinister garret where no tenant stays for more than a few nights. A headless woman wakes them up during sleep. Sarat C Das tells about the hearsays built around these barsatis. See video
Hindustan Times | By Sarat C Das, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 05, 2008 01:09 AM IST

Nizamuddin East in Delhi is an upscale green and pollution free residential colony. In this location, there are some 300 houses built around 32 public parks which include YMCA and Jaipur Estate. See video

Located on Mathura Road Nizamuddin was home to Muslim Sufi saint Hazart Nizamuddin who now has a darga to his name within a striking distance from Humayun's Tomb. Many celebrities who live in this neighbourhood include artist Anjolie Ela Menon, chief election commissioner MS Gill. There is also a huge expat population which include hotelier Francis Wacziarg, a Frenchman who took Indian citizenship in 1990, and author and former BBC journalist Mark Tully.

These people inhabit stately bungalows with palladian and box-bay windows, spacious courtyard, manicured lawns, and servant quarters. Mark Tully's house at 1, Nizamuddin east has become a landmark - taxi drivers instantly point in the direction of house when asked. There is a small commercial strip in the colony, with several grocers, internet parlours, tuck-shops, pharmacies, and eateries.

Some celebrities during the formative period of their career too have stayed in some of the Nizamuddin barsatis (garret) which sometimes don't offer you more space than a chicken loft. Journalist Tavleen Singh during early seventies stayed at a barsati in Nizamuddin. She said she hung around with Marxists and quasi-Marxists, naxalities, and JNU political theorists as they would gather on a badly-lit terrace, drank cheap liquor, smoked cigarettes and talked revolution.

Writer Arundhati Roy stayed at a barsati near the dargah at Nizamuddin. She was earning a small pittance from National Institute of Urban Affairs, hence could afford only a barsati. She had hired a bicycle since it cost her two rupees a day than going by bus, and bicycled down the lane to amusement of entire neighbourhood. Andrew Whitehead, BBC's former South Asia correspondent, too stayed at barsati in Nizamuddin east nearly a year after he set his foot in Calcutta.

Nizamuddin offers a potent combination of the luxury of new world and the charm of old world. Many say since a layer of civilizations from Mughal to British is buried here some of the dark corners of Nizamuddin are haunted by supernatural. The barsatis are more proned to hanunting since they are mostly deserted or locked up.

India Today published a story reads: "The barsati in Nizamuddin where no tenant stays for more than a few nights - after being woken up by a headless woman who had been murdered there years ago."

It is a hearsay that an expat when moved into a sprawling bungalow did not open his barsati which had been closed for years thinking it was haunted. But one day he mustered up courage to climb a decrepit step-ladder to reach the barsati. He pulled the latch of the barsati door to find sunlight filtering through a dense curtain of cobwebs. It was eerie like an unearthed secret chamber - termites gnawed into some soggy wooden furnitures, ants had drawn their battle lines on the floor, grubs were metamorphasing, and soon a swarm of insects rose from no where and surrounded him. The expat fell ill for several days and never again climbed his pulpit-stairway to reach the barsati.

The haunted barsati story connects to the old film The Ghost in the garret (1921). Delsie O'Dell (Gish) is a poor girl who shows up unannounced on the doorstep of her affluent uncle, her pet bulldog and parrot in tow. When an expensive dollar necklace is stolen, Delsie is determined to track down the theft. She finds the culprits in a garret that is supposedly haunted, so she sneaks in and plays "ghost" herself, scaring the thieves to obtain the necklace.

The Ghost in the garret just might be a story but some of the Nizamuddin barsatis seem to be real and dreadful.

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