History & Culture

Nostalgic tales of Dak Bungalows

A colonial bungalow in a dilapidated condition (a representational image)   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Some of the dak bungalows of the British days were said to be haunted by the ghosts of sahibs long dead and gone. Then there were the spectres of ‘native’ women who had fallen in love with a passing firangi and died of a broken heart when he left them in the lurch. Besides these, there were old khansamas whose spirit could not rest in peace and made an occasional appearance at midnight to surprise some young Englishman with a tray of whisky-soda.

Provisions for sahib

In Delhi there were some PWD dak bungalows, like the ones of Alipur Road, Nizamuddin and Mehrauli, for which the khansama bought weekly provisions. But the meat was bought only when an officer in transit arrived. If he came late in the evening, he could only be served vegetable soup, egg curry and potato cutlets, rounded off with a dessert of pudding made of baker’s bread and milk brought from a nearby gwala (milkman). The ‘sahib’ had to make do with his own bottle of whisky or rum.

Once a sahib went looking for the khansama and found him hanging from a tree. When he called out to him, the man just vanished. But who would ever imagine a Baby Morris suddenly emerging in front of a dak bungalow at midnight, depositing a ghostly form and then zooming off with a headless driver, who wore a muffler round his bleeding neck? Believe it or not, that was what William Chinga, the late PWD supervisor, who had six fingers on his left hand, used to say.

Such strange happenings at dak bungalows were not uncommon. Ever heard of Siri dak bungalow made famous by Kipling where the old khansama had lost touch with the world and used to call dinner “ratab” or dog’s food?

Scary bungalow

The dak bungalow at Fatehpur Sikri was frequented by British officers on their way to the erstwhile Rajputana. It now serves tourists and other visitors to Akbar’s dream city – and also officials of the Uttar Pradesh government. But some confess to feeling scared there at night.

The dak bungalow at Sikandra was until lately preserved in 19th century style, complete with a lantern that mysteriously got extinguished at midnight. There are extensive grounds all around with shady trees. If one doesn’t mind the bugs that infest its ancient beds and the scary yarns associated with it, one can enjoy a stay there.

Delhi Dak Bungalow was situated near where the ‘Mutiny’ memorial now stands, opposite the erstwhile telegraphic office. It was the abode of officers in transit – or on holiday. Some of the old residents used to recall how it looked and provided easy access to Skinner’s church, the Kashmere Gate, the Civil Lines and the Delhi main railway station.

Unusual incidents

This dak bungalow also had its share of strange happenings, for a young British officer shot himself dead in it after an affair with a woman.

Some said she was already married, others that she decided to get engaged to someone else. The girl’s name was Madeline but she was better known as “Maddie”.

To end this bizarre yarn, one can only add that the officer’s Baby Morris one night drove off on its own and was found wrecked near the ruins of the Purana Qila.

Believe it or not, but the late Mrs Whelpdale of St. Xavier’s School, Raj Niwas Marg, used to swear that it was true. You may perhaps even spot it on a stormy night. Beware!

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 10:55:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/nostalgic-tales-of-dak-bungalows/article29679532.ece

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