“Nine-thirty. We have another fifteen minutes at least before our ‘night watchman’  comes”, whispered our vibrant Viju as she put off the torch. We sat huddled together on the edges of two beds, whispering and tittering as we relished the chivda and barfi Farida had hidden in the dormitory. It was just a week since school had reopened after the Diwali vacation. We had wept, moaned and groaned back into the disciplinary grind of the boarding, but she had returned late and bold as she was, managed to smuggle the goodies past the sister in charge of the ‘tuck’.  “We are going to have a treat tonight,” she had said conspiratorially to our small circle of friends earlier in the day. It was something to look forward to.

Our dormitory was at one end of a long hall on the second floor, in one arm of the H-shaped building. The nuns’ quarters were in the other. The offices and classrooms were located on the floors below, all locked up and quiet by evening. To come to the dormitory side, the nun had to walk through the art room and down a short veranda that linked the two buildings. She had to use a torch as all electric lights were turned off by the time she came. Lights going off in the opposite wing, was our signal that she’d arrive presently.  But that day, when we should have been on guard, we were too immersed in enjoying the ‘forbidden pleasures of a late night’.

Suddenly, earlier than usual, we heard the door at the other end open with its customary click. A torch flashed and the door was bolted from inside. In a trice we scrambled into our respective beds, leaving Farida to lie over the food under her mattress and pillow. We lay still as the nun on night duty that week came towards the dorm, with her rosary beads and the large crucifix at its end clacking. Sweet and witty, she was equally strict. It was only now that we became aware of an owl hooting eerily somewhere. Jackals howled near a pond, quite some distance away from the building. They never failed to make us shudder under crawling skins. Beyond the pond, our trustworthy gossip agent (fruit vendor) had told us, was a haunted cremation ghat and the jackals howled at ghosts on no moon nights.

In the front and at the back of the buildings, stretched huge playgrounds. A road passed by the front gate across which, a railway club and a desolate parade ground yawned into the night. Beyond the ground at the back were endless fields. Only on one side of the dormitory there was presence of other humans in the form of a row of low houses. In those days with hardly even radios accessible to most, every thing went dead quiet by nine o’clock in the night. Even if our neighbours were awake, we didn’t see or hear them because the back doors which fell on our side were shut by the time we went up.

This upstairs hall was full of special effects. During examination days, we were allowed to study till ten in the night. Once the lights were off and we were in bed the show would begin: a thud on the roof and something would roll down, as our hearts thumped to its tumbling beat. To date it has remained an unsolved mystery, because there weren’t even trees with overhanging branches for birds to drop something onto the roof. Next switches went on and off by themselves; light bulbs or a torch would flash and go off just as mysteriously; the whoosh of a nun’s habit would make us jump when we knew she was asleep in her bed or hadn’t yet come. The door that led to the veranda opened and shut without anyone coming in or leaving. At such times we believed that sister had come and had to return for some reason. It was scary, but we were always given some explanation for these happenings that we naively believed.

That day, hearing Sister enter the dormitory, I watched for her through the mosquito net and almost stopped breathing when I saw her! This certainly was not Sr. C. Unusually tall, even her habit wasn’t white and worse, she seemed to glide not walk, faceless, towards the row of beds!! I clamped my eyes so tight, probably a surgeon wouldn’t have been able to pry open the lids. For the first time I understood what it meant to be petrified! No god, no prayers came to mind. I could sense her moving from bed to bed. As she neared mine, my heart was ready to burst and spew blood all over her. The untucked flaps of my mosquito net parted and I waited for long, clawing nails to dig into my throat; if she didn’t I knew fear would kill if she stayed a moment longer near my bed. Mercifully nothing of the sort happened. Long after she moved away I was unable to twitch a muscle. Rigor mortis had set in my living body! I could ease the aching tension a bit, still without moving a finger or opening my eyes only after someone coughed and another girl turned in her bed.  Strangely, I had not heard or sensed the nun go into her little curtained off cubicle. Totally spooked I just could not imagine where she was, afraid my thoughts would make a sound and she would materialize again out of thin air. Mouth dry and breaking into perspiration in the November chill, all memory of the barfi, chivda and gossip of the earlier moments vamoosed.

Though it seemed like an endless night, it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes before we heard the door open and shut again! The same clickety-clack of the rosary tied around her waist, only, this time Sr. C’s cough was unmistakable. What relief! She went directly to her bed and that’s when Farida dared to open her mouth.

“Sister, when did you go back? Weren’t you here a few minutes ago?” she squeaked breaking the rule of silence after eight-thirty p.m. The rest of us were still too scared to let on that we were awake.

“Shh…go to sleep. I’ve just come in.”

“Then who was here earlier? Someone definitely came and went around are beds to check if all were in,” Farida quaked.

“ You must have been dreaming. We’ll talk in the morning, you’ll wake up the others” she replied with a distinct tremor in her low voice. I could imagine her making the sign of the cross and kissing her crucifix as they often used to do when confronted by any kind of trouble. It raised my fear to its previous level.

Sibilant whispers punctuated the chilling silence as we prayed ourselves to sleep. Had we been visited by this apparition for being disobedient that night? No, it certainly wasn’t the first time we had broken rules. The girls who had begun to snore as they hit their pillows were lucky and knew nothing.

Next morning, after mass, as we exchanged notes and spoke to the priest about the visit, he tried to calm our fear. We insisted that he come with holy water later in the day to bless the premises. He came, sprinkled holy water, prayed and blessed us all.

We didn’t see ‘her’ again, but the other inexplicable occurrences continued. The fallout of which was that my sister “consecrated” a glass of water when she prayed every night. She then sprinkled this water around the room as the girls waited up for her with outstretched hands. “X, give me holy water” was a refrain we heard every night from then onwards and ghosts or not all slept peacefully. She had certainly exorcised them from our minds. It was a different matter that she didn’t let the girl next to her even lie down or the light to be switched off till she was safe under the covers. And, she is still afraid of ghosts.

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38 responses »

  1. Thank you for reminding me of my good old days. I personally think that there is NO hostel on the planet that does not have ghosts as co-hostelers. Trust me on that. Our school hostel was next to a graveyard and people and seen “some guy” walk through the closed gates, in to and out of our school campus.
    Gives me goose-bumps still.

  2. Smita Luthra says:

    Wow! What a ghost story! Shernaz, you do know how to create an ambience and make the reader flow with the tide. 🙂

  3. Shernaz says:

    Thanks Safiyyah. It gives me devilish pleasure in knowing that I could share the ghost and her spookiness with so many after decades. She deserves a toast!

  4. Safiyyah says:

    I totally agree with Varun’s response. I was so spooked that I thought now I’m going to have to read so many more stuff to cover the effects of reading this. Then I read the comments and Jitoo Uncle’s and Shernaz aunty’s exchanged had be rolling with laughter, And May I take the liberty to say, that you please have such humourous exchanges on here after such a scary story, an antidote for us with an imagination to kill.

  5. nadi says:

    brrrrr
    Shernaz!

  6. Shernaz says:

    Thanks Deepika. My daughter is refusing to read it even during the day!

  7. deepika says:

    Thank God I,m reading your article in day time or I would’ve been in the trouble like Varun.

  8. Shernaz says:

    Dear Varun, It goes to show that you have remarkable imagination, which was aided on by Shail’s selection of the perfect image. She really enhances every article with the pictures she selects. Thanks for the visit.

  9. Varun Reddy says:

    How spooky was it? I opened this page yesterday night, thinking “Chalo ek article dekh lete hain, aur so jaathe hain jaldi se aur baaki kal dekh lenge”… I was so scared, I had to read 4-5 articles more before my nerves were calm enough for me to fall asleep !!! The chill was equally contributed to by the image… Hats off to Shail Ma’m – she adds one of the best dimensions to any article here – the imagery !!!

  10. Irene says:

    Spooky and fun!

  11. Sonal Shree says:

    Shernaz, it was as if you have written what I had experienced as a boarding student. Trust me, I could identify with every single detail- the fear about ghosts, sisters, fathers, the ‘forbidden pleasures’ of late night- oh, everything!
    How can it be possible! I am reminded of one such night in hostel when all of us in the dormitory tried to sleep holding hands, shivering out of fear. We dared not go to the washrooms alone.
    Very well written.

    • Shernaz says:

      Sonal, I don’t think it is all that surprising or impossible that you should identify totally with this experience. All convent hostels, I guess, have their share of ghosts and scary tales and all young girls probably react in similar ways. Don’t you miss those days, just sometimes? Thanks.

      • Sonal Shree says:

        O yes, I do miss those days of full discipline and breaking rules despite it. 🙂
        Surely all convent hostels share these things- ghost tales, school building built on graveyard etc.- in common.

  12. Dear Shernaz,

    I really loved your tale, the way you narrated it. It was as if I was going through all the emotions too. Most students studying in hostels and the like have something enjoyable or spooky to narrate about.

    Good one!

    • Shernaz says:

      Glad you liked the narration Shail, because I was unsure about sending it. Even after submitting it, I kept debating with myself wondering if I should ask you not to post it. Anyway, it hasn’t been so dull and unreadable after all. So I thank you and once more all who have read it and responded favorably.

      • Not at all Shernaz. If ever (and I don’t think so ever) it happens that I feel that your article/story/poem is too provocative or whatever you will be the first one to know. So, don’t even think about it. Ok?

  13. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Shernaz, extremely interesting and spooky tale. Loved the gripping narration. It did remind me of all those adventure stories we used to read in school. But I believe boarding schools have their own charm and pleasure apart from the discipline. Have always been to regular school so missed out on that score. But enjoyable read – a surprise break from inspiring poetry which is your forte!

    • Shernaz says:

      Yes, Geeta boarding schools do have their own charm and no matter how much we cried and hated going back after every vacation, today we (sisters as in siblings) remember those days with smiles. Thanks for your encouraging comment.

  14. Shernaz says:

    Jitoo! Are you insinuating that my story is based on that scene? 🙂
    The doors in our dorm did not squeak open and no frogs croaked there…But yes I remember that scene very well, because I’ve watched that film more than once just for that. The only way I can prove to you (not that I want to) is by hoping the nun visits you and tells you that it is a true incident, down to the names. Sr. C is still alive, want to pay her a visit? Now if you have any more to discuss on this write to me on my personal id. Wouldn’t want to bore the rest of them with our exchange, but would love to hear from you.

    • Shernaz says:

      Jitoo, please don’t be put off by this bruque sounding remark of mine. Some times, without the tonal expressions, written words do not convey what they are exactly meant to. The above one is certainly not to say don’t comment on my work. Continue doing so in your own special, humorous way.

  15. Shernaz,
    Whenever any spooky experience happens, I always have one litmus test :- Did it happen to a single person, or to more than one person – if it is more than one person, it is safe to assume that the person was NOT under any influence – be it fear, imagination, etc. That way, your experience certainly passes the litmus test as it was a group. Spooky. And trust Shail time and again to get “matching” pictures. This time, even if the person in the pic IS wearing a cross, the person appears…..spooky!

    • Shernaz says:

      Can’t agree more with you Om. Though sometimes I have wondered if it wasn’t something like mass hypnotism. I have read that is also possible. But it happened so often that we used to get spooked out. And oh yes, Shail manages to get very very apt pictures. This one’s spooky no doubt. Hope I don’t see her (the one in the pic, I mean, not Shail) tonight. Ha!ha!

  16. J S Broca says:

    Dear Shernaz,thanks for you repartee.
    I kept thinking of your story..I am reminded of a lovely spooky comedy scene from a movie titled PYAAR KIEY JAA (I966) enacted by Mehmood with Om Prakash.The gist of the scene is as under :Atma (Mehmood), ambitious but penurious film-maker and owner/producer/director/actor of Wah! Wah! Production, is trying to get his father, Ramlal—played by Om Prakash— to finance Wah! Wah! Production’s maiden venture. So, as an incentive, Atma narrates what he considers the highlight of the film: a Ramsay Brothers-like scene, complete with croaking frogs, drifting ghosts, and doors that squeak open on their own. The dialogue and Mehmood’s acting (not to mention the sound effects he provides to embellish his narrative) are superb. And Om Prakash is fabulous as the initially scornful then slowly interested, and finally thoroughly spooked, audience.
    It is one of the best comedy scenes in Hindi films according to me.
    See and hear the scene on youtube by going to the following link :

    Enjoy it and then comment.Your story too had a lot many similar elements like in the above video.

    J S BROCA

  17. Shernaz says:

    Thanks Jitoo. I don’t think the nun could be rolling in her grave any longer. I think we had her packed off to wherever, with all that holy water…Why no prayers came to my mind? Have you been scared right out of your mind ever? As to a ghost visiting me today, I’ll give it your address and send it off to Delhi, to bless you. What are friends for if not for sharing? Even the poor ghost needs a change of air.

  18. beyniaz says:

    Great story. You had me completely spooked!

    • Shernaz says:

      This incident had been in my mind ever since I read a ghost story on 4iw Sorry, I forgot who had written it. Grateful for your visit, Beyniaz

  19. J S Broca says:

    Dear Shernaz,Holy Ghost,what a spooky narration of a real life experience in a hostel.I feel the characters and the places are all real and not make-belief.It was a good read like those Enid Blyton mystery series for children titled “The Five Findouters” or that other series “The Famous Five” or ‘The Secret Seven’ that my children used to read when they were in Chandigarh.I too used to read them before returning them to the Central Library. Yes they were a real treat and my kids just loved reading them.So reading your tale of the vanishing ghost,was another treat after a long time.BTW,is there a word like say “Ghostess”? (for lady ghosts).If the Sister concerned,reads this now,wherever she is,I am sure she would be rolling in her grave with laughter ! God Bless her soul ! I also wonder why no prayers came to your lips in your moments of crisis for, I still recall one prayer from school days which went thus :
    Our Father, Who art in heaven,Hallowed be Thy Name;
    Thy kingdom come,Thy will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us;
    and lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil. Amen…I am very sure the evil ghost-ess should have vamoosed if you had said the above prayer,which is learnt by heart by all students.Suppose you now see a ghost in your Pune house one of these nights,what would you do ?
    Would love to know !!
    J S BROCA

  20. vimala ramu says:

    Oooooh, Spooky. You have brought out the ambience very well.

    • Shernaz says:

      Can you imagine how terribly spooked out we were Vimala? And as they say a guilty man sees an officer in every bush, so we used to imagine punishment from up above, for every rule we broke and got away with.

  21. Eva Bell says:

    Nice one Shernaz!
    I could feel goose pimples on my skin and a tremor down my spine.
    It also brought back memories of school days and the fun and excitement of breaking rules and getting into trouble.

    • Shernaz says:

      Eva, appreciation from a seasoned and established writer like you will go a long way in furthering my confidence. Thank you. Yes, the excitement of breaking rules and getting into trouble had an attraction all its own.

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