A few days ago, as I sat watching some old reruns of the 'Twilight Zone, I was reminded of a story passed down by my great grandmother of her encounters with a huge hairy serpent that lived in the basement below her old house inside the walled city of Lahore. Much later, I was born and raised in a house, where inexplicable happenings took place on a regular basis. In fact, the presence or group of presences that we could sometimes see and hear became to be regarded as benign and even protective. In one particular incident, a burglar was found lying unconscious under one of our windows in the early hours of the morning. On being revived he became incoherent and spoke of being lifted bodily by an unseen entity, who whispered that the premises he was trying to intrude into, was under their protection. It was in the late sixties that professional commitments demanded my visit to a village community near Sumundri. It was late autumn and with the sugarcane harvest at its peak one could inhale the sweet caramelised odors of the 'belnas as they prepared 'gur out of sugarcane syrup. The 'belna is a mechanical contraption consisting of two rollers operated by a rotating wheel, used to extract juice from the harvested cane crop. While the word essentially denotes this machine and the crushing process, it has somehow assumed the mantle of describing the entire ritual of 'gur making. Imagine a circular-shaped mud-plastered clearing in the middle of a sugarcane field, complete with the 'juicer, a large 'choola, a giant shallow wok-like cooking utensil, big sized cooling trays with moulds and some 'charpoys. Add to this a boisterous group of village folk complete with a 'dhol and fife and voila, there we have our 'belna. The process of 'gur making is in itself simple - first the sugarcane syrup, mixed with some lime juice, is cooked in the wok till it is reduced to a thick caramelised semi liquid form. Dry fruit is then added to the syrup, which is drained into the cooling trays and moulds left to assume the shape of mouth watering 'gur nuggets. While all this happening, fresh cane juice and ample quantities of the hot caramel syrup are being consumed by all those present at the site. When I arrived at the scene, the 'belna was in full swing and I was received with the customary hospitality seen so often amongst simple village folk. As evening fell and everyone prepared to go home, I was invited by these wonderful people to share their home and hearth for the night. Silence fell as I told them that I intended to pass the night in situ, under the small open sided thatched shelter that could be seen one side of the clearing. There were furtive glances and whispers as everyone stared at me and then sidled away to their houses. I stretched out my sleeping bag under the 'chappar and was soon asleep, only to be awakened by the violent shaking of the shelter and an oppressive feeling all around me. I now had the answer to the strange behaviour of my hosts, when I had expressed the desire to sleep here. I rolled up my sleeping bag and sat on the edge of the clearing, reciting all I could remember from the Holy Quran, while what appeared to be an invisible group of unruly children romped all over the 'belna site. The whole episode subsided with the coming of dawn and the call to prayer from the village mosque and then one by one, the village folks began to appear. Their first sight of me safe and sound raised a cheer and I was hugged and perhaps even looked upon with a bit of awe. It transpired that the place was considered to be a play ground for the supernatural and was strictly off limits at night as the same phenomenon had been experienced by many residents, who had dared to volunteer and guard the 'belna property. Needless to say, that I left the village as a celebrity and on my subsequent visits there, decided that it would be best to spend the nights at the nearby rest house. I am often reminded of my encounter with what can best be called the 'haunted belna, whenever I pick up and eat one of my favorite desserts golden nuggets of mouth watering dry fruit encrusted 'gur. n The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.