The Temple In The Fog
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
Cigar smoke eddied in the air as we sat back, replete with supper, and sipped at our
brandy. The fire burned brightly in the grate, filling the room with a cheerful
flickering glow. Outside the curtained windows, pea-soup fog rolled through the
"What shall we talk about?" I asked. "The world situation?"
Graeme-Phipps grimaced. "Not that old chestnut again. I’m
tired of talk of the situation in China and the Turkish question. You’d think
the papers had nothing else to print."
"Well, it is the nineteenth century," Robinson
pointed out. "The papers do have to compete with each other for sales. So they
print only what they think will sell – all of ‘em."
"I’m still sick of it," Graeme-Phipps said, puffing
morosely at his cigar. "You’d think somewhere in Queen Victoria’s Empire there
would be something else to talk about."
A brief silence fell. A coal broke in the grate with a shower
"Someone ought to tell a story," Hobbledehoy-Hicks said.
"Perfect weather for it, don’t you know."
"We’ve all heard each other’s stories, a hundred times," I
"Well, there’s Richards," Robinson said, nodding towards our
guest, who had hardly opened his mouth all evening. "He’s just returned from
our Indian possessions, didn’t you, Richards? You’d know a story or
The man called Richards stirred. "I know a couple, I
suppose," he said. "But they’re really very boring. It’s not nearly as
interesting a place as you would think from all the penny dreadfuls, you know.
There aren’t really any fakirs who can sleep on spikes, I’ve never seen a
Thuggee highwayman in all my years there, and the Indian rope trick doesn’t
"Well, you must have seen something,"
Hobbledehoy-Hicks urged. "Come on, old man, we’re all relying on you."
"Well," Richards said, "now that you mention it, there was
something very curious that happened, just a little bit before I came back...I
don’t know if it’s worth talking about though."
"Come on," Graeme-Phipps urged, as eager as a puppy. "Tell
"It’s just that you probably won’t believe it." Richards
coughed discreetly. "I could scarcely believe it myself."
"Is it a ghost story?" Robinson asked. "I hear India’s full
"Of course it’s not a ghost story," Richards said. "There
are no such things as ghosts. You need to remember that. There are no such
things as ghosts."
We exchanged looks. "Well..." Hobbledehoy-Hicks said, "you
might as well tell your story, and then we can talk about that."
last year, (Richards said) I was posted by the Viceroy’s office in
Calcutta as tax collector to Korangustan. It’s only a tiny place now, but had
once been a considerable city, the capital of a kingdom. There were half buried
temples and ruined forts in the surrounding hills, and in the winter you could
sun yourself on the crumbled walls of the old town, which still poked here and
there from the jungle.
I arrived on my horse, on a morning in early winter, when
the fog lay so thick on the ground that it was hard to see where we were going
and the sun was only a faint glow overhead. As I neared the town, I stopped to
ask at a potter’s kiln by the roadside if I were on the right path to the dak
bungalow where I was to put up.
Once the potter, a middle aged native, had got over his
surprise at my fluent Hindustani, he pointed along a path that wound away
through the forest. "Go along this, sahib, and you’ll pass the old clock tower.
Turn left at it and you’ll reach the dak before noon."
I saw that there seemed to be a narrow path that went in a much
straighter line through the jungle, and turned my horse towards it. At this,
though, the potter reacted with alarm.
"No, sahib," he yelped. "Please do not go that way."
"Why not?" I asked.
[ Continue to page 2 ]