Haunted: Hotel Admiralty
Haunted: Hotel Admiralty6 mins 235 6 mins 235
Do we really believe in ghosts and apparitions? A tricky question, but those who believe, do so with great sincerity. One such person was a friend and colleague of ours in the company where I had worked for nearly 20 years.
Shama was quite the “touch-me-not” type of girl. She was a Delhi-ite and a Punjabi. It was in the year 1982 that 22 of us reported for induction training in Hotel Admiralty in Chennai (then Madras). Most of us, barring a few like me, were fresh out of college and this was their first job. We arrived at the hotel where the training was conducted from different corners of the country. The training was for six months and residential.
We realized from the beginning that Shama was a very sensitive girl and prone to volatile behaviour. While you may not call her un-social, she was not friendly either. Our interactions with her were “functional and formal”. There were two instances when one of us tried to get close to her and regale her with jokes, but the result was not quite what one would expect. Shama would get angry with us or disgusted or even hurt and would sob uncontrollably. As days passed, we thought it wise to keep a safe distance from her.
The hotel, we gathered, was once the place of a Raja. He had lived there in opulence till one day he mysteriously fell off the balcony and died. Thereafter, the property was sold to a wealthy businessman and filmmaker, who converted it into his studio and began shooting films there. However, two films later, the businessman mysteriously, for reasons unknown, stopped making films in the studio and sold the property hastily to another wealthy businessman. This new landlord again, and mysteriously, stopped using the property for his personal affairs and abandoned the building. Years later, it became a hotel, Hotel Admiralty. Mysteriously again, the hotel shut down after a few years and fell into disuse. Meanwhile, there was a widespread belief that the property was haunted. Who or what haunted the property shall remain a mystery.
Our company, which had headquarters in Chennai, was searching for an appropriate place to run its training; and the management found Hotel Admiralty best suited for training. This was how our training centre was established here. We were the first batch of officers to be trained in Hotel Admiralty, and all of us were aware of the haunting of Hotel Admiralty.
Most of my colleagues and fellow trainees, I told you, were fresh from college and studies and were still possessed with the excitement and exuberance of college. Diwali was round the corner, and we planned a grand celebration on our campus.
Unlike the Northern parts of our country, South of India celebrates Diwali early in the morning. However, we had planned our celebration for the evening and throughout the day; we went about decorating the place with colourful festoons and flowers. We collected money to buy fireworks and sweets. The canteen staff was sufficiently incentivized to prepare a feast.
As dusk settled, groups of trainees went about huddling in their rooms to open bottles of beer, whiskey and rum. We could not consume liquor on the premises, but, you know, rules are ‘rules’.
The revelry had begun and soon a group below lit the flower pots, coloured sparklers, pencils, sparkling wheels and chilli-crackers, Lakshmi crackers and so on.
A group of ladies climbed on to the terrace, planning to light up the dark spaces there with candles. The dark terrace slowly lit up to the glow of tens of candles that were being stuck in neat rows on the walls. Shama was happy and excited today, though she was missing her family in Delhi. She carried a pack of candles and was humming a song as she placed the lighted candles one by one. What happened next was narrated to those of us who were not on the terrace later.
It transpires that Shama was singing and chirping happily as she moved towards the large water tanks on the terrace, sticking candles as she moved. Suddenly, from behind the water tanks, she saw a figure in white, illuminated only by the candlelight on the terrace, walking towards her. It was a lady, dark eyes wide open and painted white around her eyes. The light of the tens of glowing candles fell on this eerie figure, slowly moving towards Shama. Someone had set off the string of 1000 red crackers below, which started making a deafening sound.
Despite the noise and din, we heard a shrill cry of a lady from the terrace. We feared that some accident could have happened and rushed up. People on the ground could hear nothing. When we reached the top we were shocked to see Shama on the floor in a semi-conscious state. She was wailing bitterly and loudly. Her heart was sinking, and she cried.
It was Diwali and there would be no doctor or clinic available nearby. Shama needed to be taken to a doctor at once or God knows what will happen. The locals, trainees who were residents of Madras, had gone home for the festival.
I remembered to have visited a small clinic nearby, and I knew that it had a resident doctor available round the clock. We rushed Shama to the clinic. The clinic seemed shut for the festival and it was dark inside. I went up to bang the door to wake up the doctor. The door was open, and I walked inside shouting for the doctor.
There he was, slouched in his chair. On the table before him lay a bottle of rum, half empty. There were glass and a jug of water and a plate of peanuts. The glass was empty and the peanuts mostly consumed. The doctor was drunk; too drunk to be of any help, but he was our only hope. I went up to him and shook him awake. He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids were too heavy for him to open. I picked up the water jug and splashed some water on his face. I had seen this being done only in the movies, but it worked like magic.
We rushed in Shama and the doctor, now sufficiently awake and conscious, took her readings and prescribed tablets which he himself dispensed. He assured us that nothing was serious about our beloved friend and she would be normal soon.
We tucked Shama into her bed. The campus had gone silent after what happened. None of us dared to speak loudly in Shama’s presence. She was sleeping like a baby.
Who and where was the dark lady ghost? Chaya had locked herself up in her room and was crying and praying for Shama. She felt afraid and guilty and feared that she had committed a crime. With her, in the room, were two others. There were complicit in this prank and if something had happened to Shama, all the three of them would have been sent to prison. When we entered the room, Chaya was still dressed in a white saree. There was white paint around her dark eyes and she still looked like a terrifying ghost!