Peachland was once a sprawling property filled with pine slopes, a large garden with carnations, roses, sweet peas, forget-me-nots, holly, pansies, and every other flower that thrives in the mild weather of Shillong – that once-beautiful hill station, often called the Scotland of the East by the British. There were also peach and plum trees, which became a canopy of white and pink flowers in the spring. There was a large tennis court next to the garden, a bamboo grove at the end of the lawn, and a dank pond on one side from where workmen drew water on long hoses for the garden.
It was here that I spent the first few years of my life. The owners of the property were a retired British couple that had stayed back in India, like so many other former British bureaucrats. They had built lovely homes which they did not wish to vacate. At one time, a part of the large estate also had a quiet hotel tucked in. By the time our family shifted to the cottage on the property, the hotel was past its glory days. There were hardly any visitors. It had fallen off the radar and was in a state of permanent decay.
There were two other huge estates adjoining the Peachland. One belonged to Manipur’s royal family and the other, which was filled with chestnut trees, was owned by a minor royalty from the Northeast.
The place was beautiful but it would become silent by evening. Shillong in those days was a quiet hill station, squeaky clean and green with the wind whistling through the pines gently but sometimes it gathered speed and howled in anger rattling doors and windows and frightening children.
The Peachland had pine slopes, a bamboo grove that took on a sinister appearance at night. The dining room, kitchen and the store room were away from the main house. There was a craggy lane from the bungalow leading to the kitchen and dining area. The lane was thick with undergrowth interspersed with peach and plum trees. We had to come down this lane, cross the tennis court for our meals. The servants had quarters near the dining area and would often talk of sighting ghosts. There was loose talk of ghost sightings at night, but our parents always pooh-poohed these stories and said that servants made them up to frighten the children.
One day when I was sitting down for dinner, the food had not come in from the kitchen and my brothers had gone in as we usually did to see what was on the menu. I have no idea why I did not follow them as I generally did. I just sat at my place at the table and looked out waiting for dinner.
The dining room door was open and one could see the lawn outside. I suddenly saw a figure dressed in white and gold, like a maharaja, glide past the open door as I sat there. He was facing me. He was wearing a long white tunic with gold trimming with a golden sash around the waist and a flowing turban of the same colour. I was transfixed. That person floated outside the dining room door in slow motion and looked at me with bloodshot eyes. He was moving sideways and the vision disappeared, having passed the length of the open doorway. I was transfixed. I could not move. I did not scream as fear choked my throat.
When the dishes were finally brought to the table and dinner was served, I kept quiet and did not tell a soul what I had seen. I was numb. But fear of being teased or scolded for making up stories made me hold my tongue. Mine was a family of rationalists and no one believed in ghosts. Perhaps that made me hold my secret.
We had left Shillong several decades ago. The Peachland had been sold to investors and now has a massive concrete structure. I don’t know if the tennis court and the bamboo grove have also disappeared.
I told my family this story only after I had graduated. I still don’t understand why I did not speak out. The figure was real and haunted me for years. I often think I may stumble on a similar vision in white and gold. The thought gives me goosebumps. Was it a ghost or a figment of my imagination? The ghost that walked still haunts me.