We are told to assemble in front of the clock tower at New Market around midnight. I reach there to find several others enthusiastic participants like me, who have signed up to explore the spookier side of our city via a midnight walk titled ‘Ghost Walk.’ The walk essentially meanders around imperial Calcutta and was started in 2015 by Anthony Khatchaturian, an Armenian whose lineage can be traced back to none other than Johannes Carapiet Galstaun.
Whilst waiting for the others, I steal a chat with Anthony who obliges with interesting trivia about his community and their contribution to the city of joy. “I’m a proud Armenian and related to Galstaun on my father’s side,” begins Anthony. “Galstaun was born in Calcutta and wasn’t very highly educated. He was a short man of slight built and somebody suggested that he should try jockeying. He did and turned out to be a real winner of a jockey. Galstaun then turned to breeding horses and made quite a fortune. At one point of time, the joke was that he had more horses than the British cavalry!”
If you’re wondering why we should bother about Galstaun and his breeding of horses today, take a good look at Queen’s Mansion the next time you’re on Park Street. This grand building was once called Galstaun Mansions and was built by none other than J.C. Gaulstan in 1920. “Galstaun had in fact borrowed Rs.40,000 from his friend Arathoon Stephen to build it. The building out to be marvellous and Arathoon on his part decided he must give a befitting reply to his friend. Arathoon then went on to purchase a boarding house on Chowringhee and turned it into a hotel. That in fact is what we today know as The Oberoi Grand,” reveals Anthony. “But why do we then know Galstaun Mansions as Queen’s Mansins today?” I ask. Anthony shares that the edifice was renamed after Queen Elizabeth II. “I am however, trying to get the building to re-adopt its original name,” he reveals.
Over the next few minutes, Anthony shares how The Nizam Palace was lost by Galstaun to the Nizam of Hyderabad over a game of cards and how Galstaun continued to leave his stamp on the city, by purchasing land, including most of what we today know as Ballygunje. “Queen’s Park, as we know it today, was then called Galstaun Park and the only building from that time preserved to date in that area is the residence of the Chief Justice, next to CC&FC,” says Anthony.
I could go on sponging the tales, but the group has assembled and Anthony ensures me that the walk will be no less interesting than the trivia he has been sharing. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and soon enough, about 20 walkers of varied ages begin their midnight escapade on foot.
Over the next three to four hours, we go around New Market circling Chaplin Square and Futnani Chambers, moving towards S.N. Banerjee Road, The Metropolitan Building and Esplanade, via Dalhousie past the High Court area to finally end the walk in front of Writer’s Building. It’s almost hard to recognize the city by night; its quiet, broken only by barking street dogs who tail us everywhere we go. Once or twice, a cop or two look at us with some distrust but Anthony is now a somewhat known face to the cops. Even in his broken Bengali, he manages to win their trust and we trudge further. “It’s quite a full circle for me, from serving as an officer of The Scotland Yard in England for several years to now reassuring the cops here myself,” the ex-cop smiles.
By the end of the walk, we don’t really see any ghosts but hear several interesting stories, many of which stay with me. We learn how Sir Stuart Hogg, the man behind New Market is sometimes seen to be walking past its corridors. It is said, that he had plans for New Market which he couldn’t achieve and therefore walks around the market chasing his incomplete dream. Another sighting that many shopkeepers have had during the daytime near the clock tower is that of three Anglo-Indian women, who were murdered in New Market. They are seen to roam around the market place together.
The top floor of the once grand Statesman House is known to be walked around by an Englishman in a three-piece formal suit. He keeps himself busy, by opening filing cabinets, smoking his pipe and reading. He doesn’t really disturb anybody except for working on his typewriters. Very often, the scribes working in the late night shift have heard the clicking of his typewriter!
The eeriest point of our walk turns out to be The Calcutta High Court. As we gather around, Anthony tells us about its Room No. 13, which is considered unlucky not just for its number, but also because that particular room has had the most number of ‘hang to death’ orders passed. Even the brave hearts stay away from that room! Just as he is completing the story, a gentle drizzle begins to fall and we scamper for shelter. The bustling High Court area acquires a golden glow as its streets glisten under the rain and we soak in the stories, with a few stray dogs and the cops on night duty for company.
Though we don’t walk as far as The Race Course, Anthony tells us that in the middle of the night, people have seen a white stud racing around it and that the spirit of Warren Hastings, India’s first Governor-General is known to haunt The National Library, once his residence.
By the end of our Ghost Walk, the stillness of the night along with a chance to re look at the grand old buildings of Calcutta at a leisurely pace, coupled with Anthony Khatchaturian’s charming story telling has ensured almost the impossible: hardly any of us have obsessed with our mobile phones for selfies or innumerable clicks. Instead, pun intended, we’ve truly soaked in the spirit of the walk!
We are told to assemble in front of the clock tower at New Market around midnight. I reach there to find several others enthusiastic participants like me, who have signed up to explore the spookier side of our city via a midnight walk titled ‘Ghost Walk.’ The walk essentially meanders around imperial Calcutta and
What to read next