GHOSTS OF THE QUADRANGLE by Brig Jasbir Singh, SM (Retd) Featured

15 March 2016 by Blog 757 Views
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March 1966 was a fine time to be in RIMC, Dehradun. We were in our final term and ready to join NDA, Kharakvasla, after successfully qualifying the scary UPSC Written Examination and Services Selection Board test. The Rimcollians Meet on 13 & 14 March, had gone off well and we were fortunate the Chief Guest, Nawab Zafar Alam of Rampur, had declared 15 March as a school holiday. Cadet Arun Mamgain and I had

stood together and listened in amazement as the portly Nawab Sahib had raised his right fist in the air, looked at the blue sky and shouted in a deep, baritone voice, ‘Three cheers for RIMC, Heap, Heap Hurray!! Though, we were excited when he declared 15th March as a school holiday, my personal joy knew no bounds as 15th March is my birthday. Each year in school, I used to wait expectantly for the ‘Chief Guest’ to declare 15th March as a holiday, so that the good time could continue after the Old Boy’s Meet was over. Some of the ‘Chief Guests’ were very condescending when approached by the motivated Cadet Captain, while others would nod their heads, have a quick word with Mr SP Sharma, the Principal, and make a short speech, that extolled on the need to attend classes on 15th March, study hard and do well in life! In short, there was to be no Holiday!

 

After nearly half a century of wondering, I am yet to understand how, by attending routine classes on 15th March, we could become toppers in class! With a holiday having been declared on 15th March 1966, we had a leisurely breakfast and then ambled to No1 Cricket Ground, where a cricket match against 58 GTC was in progress. The school team had won the toss and was batting. A motley crowd of spectators sat on the grassy slopes near Pratap Section, and occasionally a cheer went up as one of the openers played a nice stroke. Generally, Cadet Swapan Bhadra, our opening batsman, would execute a fine late cut and score a boundary. This was an opportunity for us to clap hands and yell in unison, ‘Jeetega bhai jeetega, RIMC jeetega!’ We [Cadets DS (Fatty) Grewal, AS Kajla, HS (Bugle) Vaid and myself) sat on the small slope besides the road and near the Letter Box. There were a few junior cadets from Pratap Section and Ranjit Section sitting near us. Kajla and Vaid began to talk loudly of the ‘Headless Horseman’ who was known to gallop madly across the Quadrangle to sound the historic, brass, School Bell with his drawn sword*.

 

The spectacle of the ghostly gallop supposedly took take place at the stroke of midnight, whenever it was a Friday/Saturday night. The young cadets sitting beside us seemed to be very interested in the ghost stories we were relating, for they edged closer to us and began to ask serious questions about the ghostly apparition.

 

That is when I casually announced that the ‘Headless Horseman’ had not been seen for the last couple of years. It seemed he had been replaced by a pair of tall ghosts who walked from the Cadet Captain’s Room, across the Quadrangle and sounded the School Bell once, exactly at midnight on every Friday/Saturday night. These two ghosts were known to dress in flowing white robes and carry a lit candle in each hand. By now, the gathering around us had increased manifold and the cricket match seemed to be holding only secondary interest, as compared with our interesting ghost tales. Very seriously Vaid added that since it was Friday, it was very likely the ghosts would appear that night. This caused a deep murmur of heightened interest and our impromptu audience began to excitedly chatter amongst themselves.

 

Finding a suitable opportunity, we rose and quietly moved back to our dormitory (Ranjit Section Senior Dormitory). We laughed amongst ourselves and clapped with glee when we thought of the fools we had made of the junior cadets. Once we had reached our dormitory, we seriously thought about the ghost act we were to perform that night. Sitting on the stairs outside the dormitory, it was decided that Bugle Vaid and I would impersonate the two ghosts at midnight. We were to drape ourselves in white bed-sheets, open our long hair before our faces and carry lit candles in both hands. We took CS Lehl, Cadet Captain, into confidence and reached his room about 15 minutes before midnight.

 

Dressed in PT Kit, Vaid and I and quietly slipped inside the Cadet Captain’s room. We were carrying a bed-sheet each and were closely followed by Fatty Grewal who held four candles and a match box in his hands. Checking his wrist-watch, Fatty told us to drape the bed-sheets and commence our ‘ghost act’. We draped the white bed-sheets over our shoulders and loosened our top knots so that our long hair completely covered our faces. We could barely see through our hair, but it did not really matter as it helped the ‘ghost act’. Fatty handed each of us two lit candles and gave us a gentle push to commence our performance. Before we knew it, Vaid and I were walking down the steps in front of Cadet Captain’s Room and entering the Quadrangle. In addition to the lit candles, I was also carrying the short, stout staff with which I was to pound the brass gong.

 

Once the grass of the Quadrangle had touched our PT shoes, we walked abreast with our shoulders nearly touching one another. From the corners of our eyes we could see anxious faces of cadets peering out from Ranjit Section Junior Dormitory, Mixed Dormitory and Pratap Section. ‘Let’s make some sound to scare the jokers’ , I hissed at Vaid and let out a horrible screech. The eerie sound I had emitted, totally surprised me and soon Vaid too joined in with an even more hopeless wail. We swayed our candles from side to side and cast weird shadows on the grass. We were having fun and it all seemed to be going well, despite our outrageous shrieks. Wearing their striped pyjama suits, cadets could be seen hiding behind whatever cover they could find. They watched us in awe from all the dormitories adjoining the Quadrangle. It was all going so well when suddenly the unthinkable happened and tragedy struck our ‘ghost act’. Bugle Vaid stepped on his bed-sheet, muttered a loud curse, and come crashing down to the ground. His candles fell on the grass and were snuffed out immediately.

 

I was stunned and halted both my movements and the absurd wail I was emitting. A loud mumble was heard from the awe-struck cadets watching us from their hiding places. The mumble quickly changed to loud shouts. I distinctly heard, ‘Bloody hell! They are NOT ghosts!’ and ‘Maro Inko, Chhodna Mat !!’. I heard the sounds of slippers landing on cement and ‘bajri’ and soon a horde of shouting cadets were charging into the Quadrangle, from three directions. Vaid was still on the ground, struggling with both his open hair and the offending bed-sheet. I realized that ‘discretion was the better part of valour’, and quickly decided to save my skin. While Vaid was trying to dis-entangle himself from the bed-sheet, he made horrible sounds, as if he was being strangled. I threw down my candles, bed-sheet and stout staff, quickly twisted my hair into a top-knot and ran at full pelt across the Quadrangle and towards Junior Ante-Room. Luckily for me, the onrushing swarm of cadets found the downed figure of Bugle Vaid a more attractive option and did not pursue me. As I ran, I could hear Vaid’s loud yells and knew he had been caught and was being soundly thrashed. Without a backward glance I literally flew like a ‘bat out of hell’, past the College Office, Flag Pole and Open Air Theatre. I finally regained my confidence and slowed to a walk, near the Gobar Gas Plant. With hands on my hips, I puffed hard and listened intently. There was silence all around me and happily I could not hear any sounds of my pursuers.

 

Cautiously, I tramped back to ‘Ranjit Section’ and crept into the Locker Room of Senior Dormitory. Here I found the tall figure of a ‘soundly thrashed Vaid’, surrounded by many Ranjit Section cadets. Everyone was laughing and slapping Vaid on the back. They were very pleased to see me and sat me down on the wooden lockers. Gradually I learnt what had happened in the Quadrangle, after Vaid’s tragic fall. Following the initial

kicks and blows, I was told Vaid had been saved from further harm by the timely arrival of the Cadet Captain. Horrified on seeing Vaid’s bloated face I had asked him the reason why he had not his seniority and blasted the juniors, who seemed to have gone berserk in the Quadrangle. Vaid’s reply had us all guffawing madly. He said softly, ‘I did try! I shouted at the juniors and told them they would be taken to task for assaulting a senior cadet’. The juniors had promptly replied with big smiles on their faces, ‘What ‘senior cadet’ are you talking about, Sir? We were only thrashing a ruddy Ghost!’

 

 

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Note

 

* It was widely rumoured that on one night, the ‘Headless Horseman’ had swiped ‘Nannu the Bell-Bearer’ on his head with the flat portion of his sword, causing Nannu to become a diehard addict of the firebrand ‘Tharra’ from Garhi Bazaar! After the fateful night, Nannu was rarely known to be sober! In his drunken state, Nannu often sounded the School Bell prematurely, thereby sounding an early end to the day’s classes, much to the annoyance of our teachers! However, it was whispered that some cadets would deliberately tell Nannnu the ‘wrong time’ to make him to sound the bell prematurely, and terminate the day’s classes or evening Prep!