A year ago on a visit to Coonoor, I noticed a moving truck in front of the house on the bend. ‘Ah’, I thought to myself, ‘another effort to live here”. Over the years I have been watching the house; nobody stays for long.
I have never visited this house but have often passed by. The first time I saw the house was on one of those lovely Nilgiri mornings that are still so fresh in my mind. I remember the clear blue sky sprinkled with small cloud puffs; the air redolent with the smell of freshly cut grass, of roses in bloom and of the eucalyptus.
Cousins from all over
were home for the summer and
there was never a minute to spare. Songs were sung, stories told often with a
punch line in Hindi. I listened with awe to what they said. I would read the
Jug Suraiya column in the old copies of JS that the cousins discarded and
dreamed of the faraway cities. India
The cousins would set off in the morning, exploring the countryside and I would tag along. We had walked past the house on the bend, when one of the cousins said; you know this house is haunted.
We stopped and looked over the gate, when we heard that distinctive laughing call of the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush. What we saw was not very scary: just a big house with a wooden verandah running around it and a large untended garden. The house had been built at the top of a promontory. At the side of the house was a small roofless outhouse. Maybe it was the bird calls and the sheer beauty of the day which set us at ease. But the story the cousin recounted was far from that.
The house was built by one Major John (Farty) Farrington, who had amassed a lot of wealth in the service of a north Indian Raja. He was well into middle age when he decided that he wanted to be English after spending a better part of his life living like an Indian. The Indian way of life suited him to a tee, until now. He wore pyjamas and kurtas at home, smoked a hookah, indulged in charas and bhang when the fancy took him. He had a retinue of servants, a stable full of horses, string of mistresses and some children by them, too.
The Coonoor society made up mainly of English Quakers really disapproved of him. Actually the women disapproved of him, while the men were all secretly envious. It was Mrs. Thompson, who lived in Nenagh on Gray’s Hill, who came up with a plan to bring the Major back into the fold; a really devious one at that.
Farrington found that he could not attend a Masonic meeting, even though he was a master mason. He had been blackballed at the Coonoor Club, mainly because the Thompsons did not approve of him. He was not invited to any of the hunts, soirees or parties which made up the life in this hill station. It was hard, to have money and not the acceptance. So that is what they dangled in front of him. Acceptance! To achieve this, Farrington would have to marry an English lady.
Mrs. Thompson had already selected Miss Angela Carr, all of thirty, as the bride, too. She was a relative of merchant prince Thomas Parry, who had come out with the fishing fleet and not landed a catch. “A bit long in the tooth, but Farty is no spring chicken,” was the general consensus.
The offer was made to Farrington, who dillied and dallied mainly because the latest mistress to engage his passions was a girl of great beauty called Amera. He had paid a king’s ransom for her. She was a skilled dancer, poet and was well versed in Tamil and Urdu literature. He also had two children by her.
Farrington, finally, agreed to the match but only after he was allocated Arbuthnot &Co shares at below the market value. Not only was he marrying a Parry, albeit on the distaff side, he had become a major shareholder of one of the largest trading houses this side of the
. Farty Farrington
has indeed done well for himself. Suez
So Farrington waltzed off to
and married Angela Carr. After a whirl
of parties and socializing, the Farringtons came back to Coonoor. The new Mrs.
Farrington had quite a task ahead of her. She had to get this house back on tracks,
that is, British tracks. The house, she said was run “quite in the native
fashion” with lazy lay about servants, unpolished silver and no thunder boxes
(only the major had one). Madras
In the meanwhile, Amera and her children had been banished to the outhouse. So Angela did not know of her existence until a few months had passed. Farrington had taken to adding a sedative to the wine that Angela drank at night to ensure that she did not awake at night, while he slipped out to be with his Amera.
Angela was soon part of the social scene. One evening, she was in the ground floor of the Coonoor library searching for a particular book in the last row, when she overheard two people talking. As she listened, she realized with horror that they were talking about her husband. “He has not got rid of the Indian girl, lucky dog” said one man. “Once Beth comes to know about it, there will be hell to pay”, said the other. The said Beth was a coffee planter’s stodgy wife who was challenging Mrs. Thompson’s position as queen bee.
Angela was no fool. She had spotted Amera and the children many times at the back of the house. But every time, she attempted to go out, something or the other came up. Only now she realized that the whole thing was a game and she was being played with.
Angela Farrington was not to be trifled with. She wrote a letter to her uncle in
In the meanwhile she unearthed the truth. Within a week’s time, the uncle along
with the Governor’s secretary was in Coonoor. The entire hill station was agog
with the scandal. Now the writing on the wall was clear. The girl and her brats
were to go. In the meanwhile Angela would stay in Ooty with friends. Madras
Farrington was caught in the cross wires, he found that he could not let Amera go. So he dithered for a month or two. The rains and the high winds came. He said, “You can’t turn anyone out, in this weather”. Finally, one evening when the drum beats from the Mariamman festival in the bazaar could be heard, he called his head ‘boy’ and gave him and the entire lot of servants the evening off to go and enjoy themselves in the bazaar.
Only Amera and the children were left. As the sun set and the night shadows lengthened he called Amera and told her that he had a nice place for her and the children near
Amera listened to him with her head lowered. When she looked up, she said, “I
will go, don’t worry”. Mysore
She poured him a drink followed by many more. In one of the inside rooms, the children started to cry. She did not go to the children until Farrington had passed out. She then went to the children and fed them some rice and curry. After they had slept, she walked around the house, touching all those lovely things she loved.
The next morning, when the servants came back they found Amera’s body hanging from the Jacaranda tree in front of the house. The children were dead in their beds.
Farrington died soon after, of heart break they say. Angela Farrington never came back to the house on the bend, though she inherited all the money. It was said that she went away to
England and then to where she married a rich
Nobody lives in the house on the bend. Once in thirty or forty years, a family would come and stay. But not happily! Husbands would become wayward, wives would leave and children would cry themselves to sleep. The lucky ones managed to get out before something bad happened.
The last known tenant was a cynical timber merchant. He was a bachelor and a rationalist who did not believe in ghosts. But he said that the sound of children crying at night kept him from sleeping and try as he did he could not prevent that woman coming in at night and rearranging the furniture.
During the day the thrush laughs outside. Amera’s still walks around the house and her children still cry at night