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The Ghost of Golden Gates
|by Swapna Dutta|
“Go and live somewhere else? You can’t mean it!” cried Nina.
“We’ve lived in Delhi all our life”said Bablu looking up from the book he’d been reading.
“I don’t believe it” said Chotu complacently. “It’s one of mum’s jokes.”
“But it’s not” said their mother facing them bravely, “Just listen to me, all of you. Our landlord wants this house back so we’ve to find some other place. Dad feels we should go and live in Chandanpur rather than buy a place here. His uncle left Golden Gates to him, you know. So it belongs to us now.”
Nina, the eldest of the three, looked at her mother. “What about school?”
“All of you will start your term in a new school there” aid mother, “Luckily this is your summer holidays and there’s good school there affiliated to the CBSE. So you won’t have any problem.”
“But mother I don’t want to go to a new school” protested Chotu, the youngest of the three, “My teacher says ….”
“What about father’s shop?” asked Bablu anxiously. All three knew that father’s antique shop was the pride of his heart. And the business was good as there were many takers. “He won’t sell it off, will he?” asked Nina.
“No dear. He’ll have his new shop in Golden Gates. It’s a huge place, you know.”
None of the children had seen Golden Gates before. Father’s uncle had lived there all by hiself after the death of his wife and little son and did not want to see anybody. He kept the smallest wing of the house for himself and had let out the rest of his house to a medical centre doing research. Everyone had expected him to gift the place to them. In fact it had come as a shock to them to know that it belonged to them now. The medical centre had just moved in to their newly constructed building. So Golden Gates stood empty, waiting for its new occupants.
“Won’t father’s business suffer?” asked Nina.
“Not particularly” said father coming into the room, “I shall keep in touch with my old clients online. And Chandanpur is only a few hours’ run from Calcutta. I’ll find plenty of new clients there.”
“When are we leaving?” asked Bablu.
“At the end of this month” said father, “that will give you enough time for packing.”
“You can also say goodbye to your friends” added mother.
“And invite them to come and stay with us when they can” said father, “it’s a big house.”
“Yes, but won’t it be a big problem for mother to keep it spick and span?” asked Nina. She was always concerned about the others.
“Uncle had several servants for whom he built cottages behind the house so they worked free for him. I expect they are there still” said father.
“Yes, but things have changed, Dad” said Bablu, “I don’t suppose they’ll work for free now.”
“Oh well, I dare we’ll manange something” said father, “don’t worry about it.”
When they landed in front of their new house a few weeks later they realized why the hose had been named Golden Gates. The rays of the sun fell on the yellow ochre gate giving it a golden hue. “Uncle always loved this colour” said father looking pensive. Upendra, the man-Friday of the place for years opened the gate to let them in.
“Welcome home” he said.
“Good to see you, Upen” said father smiling at him, “you haven’t changed at all. These are my three children. You haven’t seen them before.”
Upen nodded at them.
“He looks like a character from a fairy tale” whispered Chotu, “goodness! What a huge house! Hope it isn’t haunted!”
“Don’t be silly” said mother. “We are tired after our journey. Could someone please get us some tea? I’ll see to things properly once we’ve unpacked.”
“Of course, ma” said Upen, “Saraswati must have got it ready by now and also cleaned up your rooms.”
“What a beautiful garden!” said Nina looking around, “look, there’s a river just outside the gate.”
“Can I go fishing?” asked Bablu with shining eyes.
“Of course” said Upen nodding again.
“We shall enjoy living here” said father smiling.
Their troubles started the week after. At first it was Saraswati and the maids who did the cleaning up. Then it was the gardener and his two assistants. Finally it was the servant and the accountant who had promised to help father in his new shop. All of them gave notice and refused to turn up.
“But why?” asked father looking helplessly at Upen, “these people have been working for uncle all these years! And he gave them houses to live in and looked after them all these years. It’s really abominable of them.”
“Master has gifted them the houses so we can’t force them to work” said Upen.
“I’ll pay them wages” said father, “though of course we can’t afford so many. But someone must help with the cooking and cleaning up.”
“These people won’t come to the house” said Upen with a bland face.
“Then we must employ others” said father impatiently.
“But these people won’t let them in” said Upen, “it’s just no use.”
“What do you suggest we do?” asked father anxiously, “we can’t keep up such a huge place without help”
“We’ll have to manage the best we can” said Upen. “I’ll help.”
“Nonsense. You’re getting old. You can’t do much” said father.
It was a tough week for the family as they could not get any outside help.
“Anyone would think the place was haunted” said Nina.
“Perhaps it is” said Upen who was dusting the pictures.
“What do you mean?” cried the three children together. Fortunately their paents were not nearby or they’d have scolded Upen for speaking nonsense.
“Have you seen one?” asked Chotu, goggle-eyed.
“No. But others say they have seen the little master sitting on the terrace playing the mouth-organ sometimes. He’s not likely to hurt you, of course” said Upen.
“Little master? You mean granduncle’s little son who died? How old was he?”
“He was ten when he died. He loved to play on the mouth-organ.”
“But surely the servants haven’t left because of him? They wouldn’t be afraid of a little boy, even if he was a ghost” argued Nina.
“No, but they feel that it would be disloyal to work for someone else and that the master would not like it” said Upen.
“That’s nonsense. He gifted his house to father. Why should he mind their working for him?”
“Village folk are terribly superstitious and just won’t listen to reason” said Upen, “I’ve argued till I’m black in the face but they simply won’t listen!”
A few nights later Nina suddenly woke up hearing the sound of a mouth-organ being played. She sat up at once. Bablu was up too.
“Did you hear that?” whispered Nina.
“Shhh don’t make a noise. It’s coming from the terrace. Let’s go up and see” said Bablu, “don’t wake Chotu. He might be scared.”
They peered out of the window from where they could see part of the terrace. Sure enough there sat a little boy playing the mouth-organ, his back to them.”
“Could it be…?” asked Bablu sweating.
“I expect so” said Nina. “Get back to bed. We won’t tell anyone.”
“I heard some noises” said Bablu going back to the window. Both Nina and Bablu saw Upen standing below gazing up at the figure. Most of the servants were there too, looking in rapt attention.
“There was something vaguely familiar about the ghost” remarked Nina, “and he played badly out of tune.”
“Yes, I thought so too” said Bablu.
The next morning all the servants were back at work, including the cook. They looked sheepish but offered no explanation. Everyone was so relieved that they asked no questions.
“Why did they come back?” Nina asked Upen.
“Because they saw the little master again and felt they were being unfair to his relatives” said Upen.
“But how did they see him?” asked Bablu surprised. They couldn’t have seen or heard him from their houses.”
“I went and called them, of course” said Upen.
Surprisingly Chotu said nothing.
“By the way, Chotu baba” said Upen with a chuckle, “the little master never wore jeans and he never played out of tune! Thank goodness the others did not notice that!”
“Do you mean to say it was Chotu who was masqarading as the ghost?” cried Nina.
“I thought as much” said Bablu, “no wonder he looked familiar. But where did you get the mouth-organ?”
“Upen bhaiya got it for me” said Chotu complacently.
“Well, we’d better keep it to ourselves” said Nina firmly.
The others agreed!
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