He was tall, ruddy of complexion and well-built, as hill folk are apt to be. He also radiated warm cheer – something that was immediately felt by his colleagues and my family. Sheikh (just Sheikh), which affectionately became Shekhu, soon became a popular member of our domestic help team. This unique man’s imposing physique was however compromised by one weakness discovered by my mother just days after his arrival. This he-man suffered from fear of all things - ranging from insects and reptiles to the supernatural.

Our family home on Queen’s Road was a rambling pre-independence bungalow with a spacious compound that had been constructed along with neighborhood residences over an ancient graveyard. This meant that our team of gardeners often dug up skulls and bones, while planting trees. We had also been through some inexplicable experiences, but since these had been benign, and in one case even protective, we had lost all fear of such phenomenon. To Shekhu however, the sight of our ‘mali’ carrying skeletal remains from one part of the compound to the other was sheer trauma. He would generally avoid the spot and refuse to look at what the ground had turned up. The effects of such ‘encounters’ lasted for a day or two, so much so that he needed a companion to accompany him on the dark walk to where our domestics lived. Sitting around our dining table, we often had family discussions on the possibility of the man giving us notice, which was frankly not a very welcome thought. Little did we know that such an eventuality would manifest itself sooner than expected.

It was Shekhu’s custom to ‘piggy back’ me to the YWCA premises (which happened to be my kindergarten alma mater) next door, to see a weekly film show organized by the Government Public Relations Department film unit. These shows included nature and science documentaries mixed with an odd cartoon. Good old Sheikh would sit through the reels in rapt concentration as if he was imbibing every image and every word from the screen. It was usually dark when I was ‘piggy backed’ home with my ‘horse’ running and singing loudly as he ran the gauntlet of the dark drive from the gate to the house.

It was during one of these return journeys that Shekhu happened to glance back over his shoulders. I felt his whole body tense, followed by a wailing sound that came from his mouth. His trot became a headlong gallop, which ended rather unceremoniously on the back terrace, where the family usually gathered for summer evening meals. Minutes and multiple ‘sprinklings’ of cold water later, a babbling Sheikh said that as he passed under the old ‘peelu’ tree (often found in old graveyards) he had looked back and seen a black dog with fiery eyes following him. The thing that made him go mad with fear was, that while the animal’s head was a few yards behind him, its rear end was at the gate - almost fifty yards away. An immediate search of the spot by my father revealed nothing, but no amount of pleading or even incentives, could stop Shekhu from immediately packing his stuff and bidding us goodbye.

It was many years later that a guest visiting us, drove back in panic from our drive way, saying that there was an old woman with unkempt hair and wild eyes, who had suddenly appeared in front of the car at exactly the same spot where Sheikh had seen the ghostly canine. Again a search of the area revealed nothing, and no arguments that members of the family daily passed the spot for their post dinner stroll without having felt a malevolent presence, could motivate the guests to visit us again.

My family resided on the premises till commercialisation invaded our privacy, forcing us to relocate. Throughout the five decades that we lived there, we played under the ‘peelu’ on the drive both by day and by night, but never felt an iota of fear. Both incidents therefore remained a mystery raising the question if there was a possibility, wherein a specter appeared malevolently to specific individuals and not to others. Someone from my readers may provide the answer.