The rural track was dust laden and bumpy. The vehicle I was driving was designed for roads such as this one, but it appeared to be operating at its optimum limits. I heaved a sigh of relief as my destination hove into view. The dak bungalow was shrouded by an ancient growth of ficus trees interspersed by an odd pipal. The building itself was a typical example of old British Indian architecture. The square block-like structure with a deep verandah running around it, a detached kitchen, servant quarters and a building that had perhaps served as a stable, completed the picture. The compound was large, with unkempt lawns, overgrown shrubbery composed of hibiscus, oleander and jasmine.

The old caretaker greeted me with a familiarity born from my previous visits and I was glad to see the gnarled old face adorned by a pair of the most mischievous eyes I had ever encountered. I was soon sitting in an old and much repaired long chair on the brick paved drive, while Karam Din updated me on the events of the past few months. I must have dozed off because, when I looked around it was getting dark and my friend had disappeared into the kitchen, hopefully to prepare my evening meal – green pea pulao and chicken curry.

Dinner consumed, I noticed that good old Karam was lurking around the dining room as if he had something on his mind. I was proved right, as no sooner did I call him that he was squatting by my chair in a conspiratorial manner. A memsahib’s spirit had taken over the dak bungalow since my last visit and it was unsafe for me to spend the night there, he whispered. A closer look at his wizened face revealed genuine fear and concern for my safety. I told him that I had been brought up in a house, where inexplicable things occurred on a daily basis and that I would be fine.

I passed an uneventful night except for the frenzied barking of some stray dogs that woke me up on two occasions and I once thought that I had heard scratching outside the main door.

I had nothing much to do the next day as the rest of my party was due by the evening. Not willing to sit idle, I decided to explore the compound and asked another old relic, the ‘mali’ to accompany me. The reason for the neglected grounds now became apparent as the man refused to oblige me on the plea that the shrubbery was haunted and he was scared of venturing too close to it.

As I picked my way through the ‘jungle’, a strange heaviness and melancholy began to appear in the atmosphere. My discomfort turned to amazed curiosity, when I realized that the feeling became almost overpowering on approaching a dense wall of hibiscus and receded when I walked away from it. I called Karam Din and narrated the incident only to see stark fear in his eyes. There was an old grave in the bushes, he said and I would be a fool to even attempt exploring the spot.

Thirty minutes later I was once more standing amongst the shrubs with the air pressing upon me, generating an overpowering sense of despair with a granite slab half covered by dirt and decaying leaves, at my feet. Margaret was just four, when she was claimed by the dreaded cholera. She was laid to rest the same day by her grieving parents, who were staying in the rest house, during a canal building project in 1904.

I retreated from the spot and returned with a pail of water and a broom. As I washed and cleaned the little grave, I felt as if a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. I laid some hibiscus flowers on the slab and said a small prayer for the departed soul. In a palpable flash, the gloom and despair disappeared as if a soul had finally found peace.

Readers can still see little Margaret’s last resting place in one corner of the Canal Rest House near Kamalia and the more discerning and sensitive ones may perhaps see a small girl in a day frock happily playing amongst the red hibiscus bushes.