It was late evening when I reached the 'Dak Bungalow. There was a chill in the November air and the smoke of the cooking fire from the caretakers lodge hung low over the ground. I was a young man, fresh into a career, who had come to visit an old friend, who lived in a nearby village and had decided to stay in the colonial era rest house so as not to encumber my host. Having had a dinner of chicken curry and boiled rice, whipped up by the caretaker, I bathed and changing into my sleeping dress settled into an antique looking padded chair with my newly acquired collection of Kiplings Verse. I had scarcely begun to enjoy myself, when an eerie feeling came over me and I felt engulfed in an oppressive atmosphere of inexplicable grief. It was fortunate that I had grown up in a house, where things happened in total defiance of logical explanations and the entire family had learned not to be afraid. However, unable to continue my tryst with 'Gunga Din, I went into the adjoining bedroom and a night of uneasy sleep. Beset by a nagging feeling that last nights presence had been benign, in some distress and trying to send me a message, I awoke early with the intention of exploring the premises. As I walked around the vast lawns and amongst the dense shrubbery that skirted the building, I felt the familiar burden of overwhelming grief once again. The feeling increased with each step, until I found myself standing in front of a dense growth of jasmine bushes unable to move. It was with some difficulty that I tore myself away from the spot and headed for the rear of the rest house, just in time to see a wrinkled and stooped old man coming out of the caretakers lodge. This was the man who told me Margarets story. It was in the summer of 1904 that a British Civil Engineer was tasked to design or inspect the irrigation canal system in the area. The sahib arrived at the 'Dak Bungalow with his wife and a small female child. While the engineer went about his business, Margaret, for that was the childs name, played amidst the bushes and trees with her ayah. There was, however, one hibiscus shrub under which the child spent most of her time and which became her favourite spot. Nobody knows if it was the hot weather or any other reason but one day, the little girl caught cholera and was dead by dawn of the next day. Distraught with grief, her father buried her under the same hibiscus bush where she had spent some of the happiest moments of her short life. Evening found the 'Dak Bungalow empty, as the couple packed up and left for Lahore immediately after committing their beautiful daughter to her last resting place. For decades after the tragic event, successive caretakers received a monthly money order for 10 rupees from some source, with instructions to care for Margarets grave. The practice continued into the 1950s when the money suddenly stopped coming. Callousness perhaps and neglect too, covered the spot where Margaret lay, in a thick layer of dirt and decaying leaves. The hibiscus shrub grew into a small tree and withered, its life cycle completed and jasmine bushes were planted on the spot. Perhaps the grave was rediscovered at the time, but forgotten soon after. As the old man finished his story, I thought I saw the fleeting glimpse of a tiny figure in a frilly white frock and a wide sun bonnet duck around the corner of the rest house. I now knew why Margaret had contacted me last night and there and then I decided what needed to be done. I called together the entire staff of the rest house and together we cleared out the ground under and around the jasmine bushes. A glimpse of white marble first showed itself and then the small white slab with its engraving came into view. In less than an hour, we had cleaned up the area and stood around the small grave in mute silence. I do not know what came upon me, for I began reciting the verses of the Holy Quran normally reserved for funerals. I then washed the slab and locating some red hibiscus flowers placed them on the grave. Suddenly, it felt as if the oppressive atmosphere of grief had transformed itself into one of peace and contentment and I thought I heard a small happy laugh fading into the distance. I left the 'Dak Bungalow, the next day leaving instructions that the grave must be tended and cleaned, if for nothing else, to gain merit in the eyes of the Creator. So, if you happen to be around Kamalia the next time, do look for the rest house next to the canal on the outskirts of the town, where little Margaret now rests in peace. n The writer is a freelance columnist.