Mangalore Haunted Stories Episode 1 – The Lane of No Return

(The following is a mixture of fact and fiction… mostly fact)

It was the darkest of nights and the cold rain pounded the pavement… Oh fuck it! Whom am I kidding? Mangalore never has the Arctic darkness nor the chill of the British moors. So here goes.

The Cheshire Home Road near Kankanady now lies in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traffic crossing from Valencia and Jeppu to the Falnir. With cars occupying every inch of tar on the road and beyond there is no way that one would imagine the Cheshire Home to be what it was 30 and more years back. Some say there are remnants from that past. Here is a true tale I have to get off my chest.

1986 was a lonely year. For some reason that year had the most holidays and school was scarce, at least for me. My health too added to my school woes as I missed a lot of classes, but there was hope. Aunt Tina had this membership of a cul-de-sac of a library that had some of the most amazing books on the planet – at least they were amazing for this 9 year-old. Every week, she would religiously take me down to the library. It was just three stops away by bus. The Standard Circulating Library near Vas Bakery was a treasure-house of fables of some of the most popular and exotic authors. I stuck to popular, picking out Tintin and Asterix and the latest Commando comic consignments. We would then pack some meat puffs from Vas Bakery and take the bus back to Valencia. All this in good time.

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Photo Courtesy: Dark Road by Sophia-T

Now it so happened that one evening we were down at the library later than usual and by the time we checked out it was 7 PM. In those days Mangalore shut down by 7 PM, latest 7:30 PM. We hurried down to the bus stop. I clutched my set of comics and had to run to catch up with Aunt Tina. Bus No. 5 was our bus and fortunately we got to the Balmatta bus stop in time to grab one of the last buses down to our part of the city. The evening humid air and the quick run along with the buzzing malarial mosquitoes made it quite a challenge to sit still in the still night air.

No. 5 buses are notorious. One – they are notorious for knocking down all and sundry in their path. Two – they had a reputation for breaking down. Probably some bones or ligaments of those they ran over may have got stuck somewhere between the axle and the brake liners. Whatever it was, they weren’t the most reliable modes of transport in this part of the world. But they happened to be the only one.

As we approached Bendoorwell Circle and Kankanady market, we all heard the first strains of something going wrong in the bus. There were creaks, then jerks, then a shudder till the bus stopped short of Kankanady market. The final shudder made me bump my head against the metal headrest in front of me. Damn! that hurt. The peeved conductor began running around like a headless chicken while people tried to collect back their fare from the stalled bus. Aunt and I slipped off. Our home was around a kilometre from where the bus stalled. It would be hard in this weather, but we could walk back and survive this ordeal.

And so we walked. Walked past the Kankanady post office – a tiny landmark whom the next door hospital authorities were trying to evict as it was their property. We passed the Fr. Muller Hospital – Mangalore’s pride in healthcare and the joint where all those of unsound mind found solace in (I am not being rude, but that was how the hospital was considered in those days). There used to be horror stories coming out of the psychiatric ward there. Tales of possession – incurable even with the most modern methods in the field, clashes between the exorcists and the psychiatrists and tales of blood curdling experiments ran through the Mangalorean grapevine. We never knew what was true, but we sure as hell avoided the hospital except for the inoculations.

The hospital premises was followed by a dark stretch of road with gloomy, leafy trees lying still like crouching giants ready to pounce. And there to the left of this stretch was the Cheshire Home lane. This narrow stretch of road was to the left of the main road. Leonard Cheshire had visited this place some time in the past and the home was a silent place for the aged at the end of the road. The Cheshire Home lane sloped downwards and with no streetlights it was dark as hell. Actually the K.E.B. (Karnataka Electricity Board for the uninitiated, now MESCOM) did install a light pole somewhere in the middle of the road, but the tube light had long fused into oblivion.

As we passed this lane the quietness of the main road was even more pronounced. There was no traffic, the only soul was someone in the distance but he/she too faded into the night as we walked on. The Cloistered Carmel convent was on the other side of teh road, home to the Cloistered nuns who never stepped out of the premises. The Gothic structure remained hidden in the darkness with only the spires piercing the sky that shone the last light from the sun. It was now well past 7:30 and darkness had fallen. We had nearly passed the lane when we heard an anguished cry from the depths of the lane. It was a sort of wail, loud, blood curdling and angry at the same time. It hurt, it raised the hairs on our skin and it sure as hell was unnatural. We have heard cries from the horror classics, be it Bram Stoker or Edgar Allen Poe, but the reality of horror struck home here in the darkness. We froze.

My one hand clutched the comics tightly while my other hand held Aunt Tina’s. She was shivering and you can imagine my plight. We were now at the top of the lane and even though the main road beckoned us, fearful curiosity made us peer down the road. We looked and we looked through the darkness. Nothing.

And then we heard it – a scuffling as if something was making it’s way to the top of the lane. It stopped and then it began again, faster this time. We couldn’t move. And then through the darkness we could make out a silhouette. It wasn’t even a silhouette, it was like a piece of the darkness moving around. As it moved towards the top of the lane, it began screaming a string of obscenities. To my young mind I could pick out only a couple of words that I could interpret, the rest was just a high pitched stream. Aunt Tina finally found here feet, she grabbed my hand tightly and ran as we heard the whoosh of the movements of that unholy body moving towards us.

We ran on the main road, ran till we reached the front gate of grandma’s house. Ran into the verandah and collapsed on the rattan chairs there. “That was Miriam”, Aunt Tina finally gasped. “Who?” I was not in a position to gauge anything from this encounter. All I had was gratefulness that we managed to evade the monster down that lane. “Miriam, she used to be an inmate of the hospital adjacent to the lane.” And then I learnt about the closed ward in Fr. Muller hospital. A ward that was home to some of the most violent patients under psychiatric care. You could hear their cries and screams throughout the day and Miriam was the most troubled of the lot. One night she managed to pry open the window bars using the metal headrest from her bed and jumped from the 5th floor ward. Some say she fell into the adjacent Cheshire Home Lane from where her room faced. However, no one found her. There was no doubt that her survival was left to the imagination. The only trace of her existence to this day remains the silhouette of that creature screaming after dark down that lane. No one ever knows where she goes during the day time nor how she sustains herself, but people swear it’s her out there in the night.

These days, the area is crowded with hawkers and traffic. The hustle and bustle continues well into the night. And the psychiatric wards no more face the lane. But people who have made the lane their home do say that on some summer nights you can hear the anguished scream and the scampering around of something desperate. It claws through their gardens and destroys fences. And no one has seen this entity.

Where have all the good toys gone?

Big in Japan. There used to be a time when every toy out there was manufactured in Japan or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Be it Matchbox, Mattel or even your Lego blocks – these countries were the usual suspects. The quality was good, the blocks were harmlessly edible and the wheels never left scratches on the floor. And of course Hong Kong was very much a part of cool Britannia. The toy guns fired bullets that neither blinded nor left angry red bullet marks on your body. Kids were safe.

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A scene from ted

And then came the Chinese invasion. High quality metal gave way to cheap quality plastic. Your Lego or Duplo blocks now tasted funny, probably a result of the smoggy weather and the weird coloured water in Xinjiang province. Hong Kong was ‘liberated’ by China. Your toys now cost hardly anything. And so we bought and bought and broke and broke and babies laughed at weird Chinese lullabies cackling out of their crib hangings. Daisy guns were no longer safe, maybe relics from the People’s Liberation Army. Your clothes now smelt funny and left angry welts on your body. It itched like a insect infested tropical rain forest. Everything looked so tacky.

Japan and Taiwan faded to return to their Zaibatsu’s and the uncertainty of the Formosa strait respectively. It’s hard when you see quality degenerate as you grow up.

I look at the toys lined up in Landmark and they scream out saying “So this is how it feels like to be cheap.” A sad reality if there was any.

Kabira – Rhythm and notes

Kabira is an extremely guitar friendly song and the rhythm and riffs really reach out and make me want to strum my guitar. For some reason, this song takes me back to the notation days where I used to write music as a student of the legendary Bennet Pinto – musician extraordinairre.

My first composition was writing musical notes for Edelweiss (The Sound of Music). The notations stumped me and I got it all wrong the first time. And then I remember sitting late and picking out the chords and strings to get the right musical balance and then churning out the complete song on note.

Kabira is beautiful, haunting and the chords are simple – D, A and B-minor with F and G sprinkled in between. Rekha Bharadwaj and Tochi Raina bring in a soothing lilt that captures the essence of Sufiism in all its spirituality and awakening. I need my guitar right now, cause every time I listen to this song it makes me pluck the strings mid air.

Skinned knees, kicked shins and hurting ribs

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Udayavani newspaper circa 1996 – Our team – St. Aloysius, Mangalore – when we qualified for the state levels

That’s what you get from a couple of hours of intense football. The weekly football sessions at the Decathlon ground in Sarjapur are a good way to close the week, but the after effects are there for all to see. Playing as the goalkeeper and then the sweeper, I managed to ram into a forward who was trying to get a goal through and ended up kicking me in the chest.

This was followed by a diving save that saw me skin both my knees. And the blood flowed on my gloves too as I tried to stem it in between the game. The final bruising came in the form of my shins kicked by the defenders as I played a sweeper with a couple of runs to the opponents box. Managed to assist and slip in a goal, but hell the bruising really hurt this time.

The Decathlon ground is a good five a side field where football matches are intense and well fought. Preparing for the corporate football tournament in April we are trying to cram in as many training hours as possible with quite a decent team of players. I have to brush up my goalkeeping skills, last displayed more than 15 years back at the state level. It’s hard after such a long break where the only games you played in between have been the beach football matches with cousins in Mangalore.

So here’s to the next round coming up this weekend. Ouch! but hell yeah!

Cheers to the class of 2004!

It’s 10 years since we passed out from Manipal Institute of Communication. During that time our institute has even gone through a name change. And though we call each other names, we still bring in the smiles when it comes to saying cheese. Though a bulk of our class ply their trade in Bangalore, occasions like this are far and few in between where most of the class catches up. We did meet up in Biere Club and as always there were laughs, drinks and stories going around the table. One of our classmates was moving to Amsterdam and this was enough of an excuse to get together and give her a good send-off. And I did get my first taste of something they called mock beer. Cheers!

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Photo Courtesy: Saina Jayapal – Bangalore’s Best Culinary Photographer

 

Mysore Cannonball Run

A road trip was due this year. And I really needed to brush off the grime from a hectic week – hectic but highly productive. And to top it off the weekend had me give a two hour lecture on corporate communications at St. Josephs college PG Studies Department. Fortunately that went off well too and I did heave a sigh of relief that I had somehow managed to keep 50 post-graduate students attentive and got them to ask questions on a Saturday afternoon. That done, it was time for lunch with the staff and then scoot.

So I make my way to Jayanagar to pick up an old grumpy cat of a friend, Sandesh Shenoy (and he does love the grumpy cat memes), and we set off on this impromptu journey to Mysore. This was a long pending journey with him and we just wanted to get out of the city for some ‘peace and quiet’. The NICE road was a perfect setting for the start of this journey. Even though I hate afternoon drives, what with a heavy lunch in your tummy and the sun bearing down on you, one really feels for a snooze. However with Sandesh there’s no snoozing. Judas Priest was blaring loud enough to keep me awake and as we exited onto the state highway we also had our rooms booked. Talk about spur of the moment decisions.

The traffic on the state highway is stupid. There is no lane sense and changing lanes is as dangerous as the tora tora cars in a mad carousel. I had to keep alert and maintain a steady speed to avoid any untoward incident. I had my Thums Up and Sandesh had his Pilsners and it was more than enough to keep us alert – me actually. And we did reach Mysore in one piece. The rumblers did us in as they slowed our progress towards Mysore. Chamarajnagar and Mandya have rumblers sprinkled across that route and they really get on your nerves specially with it being a state highway.

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Brothers Grimm

Reaching Mysore at 8 PM, we drove around a bit before we finally managed to get a clear idea of where our hotel was. Mysore is clean, really clean compared to Bangalore and you can see the shops along the main commercial areas are quite conscious of their cleanliness at the end of the day with carefully swept pavements and the garbage neatly piled. The Park Lane hotel is situated near an actual park unlike many other hotels that never reflect what their names say. It was a comfortable accommodation and the air-conditioning was welcome in the slightly dull weather. The slight humidity gave a hint of rain but nothing else. We collapsed on our beds and ended up watching Mr T “Pitying the fools” on World’s Craziest Fools. Boy was it hilarious and we laughed our a***s off this one.

Dinner at Park Lane was so-so, but after a good nights sleep the continental breakfast was quite good. The french toast and cheese masala omelettes did wonders and so did a strong brewed coffee. The coffee was amazing. You could taste the Chicory blended brilliantly in. And so we set out once again in the afternoon – 12 to be precise. We checked out and drove around Mysore a bit. Having seen Mysore in detail earlier, we now headed off to Srirangapatna where Tipu Sultan’s summer palace is located. Well maintained and with manicured gardens it did bring in a few yawns but then we did the touristy thing of standing with the canons and getting someone to shoot us. It was hot and our irritation with the heat did reflect on our faces. Oh and then was the hilarious case of Sandesh being mistaken for an NRI or European. If not for the choicest Kannada gaalis, Sandesh would have had to shell out 100 bucks on a 10 buck ticket.

By this time we were hungry and as we set off to Bangalore, Sandesh got some leads on where we needed to stop for ragi mudde and naati koli curry (that’s ragi balls and wild fowl curry). Through the Bangalore Foodies Guide Facebook page, Sandesh was guided to try Vaishali, a highway hotel between Mandya and Chamarajanagar. No problem, with all the humps we were able to gently make our way here and the food was worth the appreciation it received on the Bangalore Foodies blog.

Sandesh got an SOS from his mom to buy jackfruits on the way as they are much cheaper in this part of the world. So we stop at a point where this guy has some 5-6 jackfruits lined up by the side of the highway. A good haggle later we have 2 huge jackfruits and a half opened one int he back of the vehicle. The smell is tolerable but it starts getting on my nerves as we approach Ramanagaram. And then we stop at Rasta Cafe.

Rasta Cafe is a quaint cafe situated just off the main highway near Ramanagaram. I forget whether it was before or after the town. Anyway I needed a coffee – a cold one that too. And I got it. Rasta has a limited menu. The setting has a Bohemian feel to it, I can’t place my finger on whether it’s put on… there’s so much “Bohemian-themed” stuff going around town that you reach a stage where you  just don’t care. Nice cold coffee though.

And that was that. It was one hell of a “chilled” outing that really unwinded us. I love driving and Mysore was a good place to go to. Next stop – Kodaikanal?