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The branches of the krishnachura swayed in the gentle April breeze. The leaves rustled to the soft rhythm of nature and reached out to whisper sweet nothings to the scarlet flowers. The latter reciprocated the amorous gesture and did a joyous jig of their own. The exuberant flora formed a dense canopy over the three-storey mansion as if they had sworn to protect the dying structure from unseen forces until their last breath. An army of moss ran amok over the ramshackle building, smothering it in various hues of green. 

A chill ran down Jeremy’s spine. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, this mansion had been home to his great-grandparents, Catherine and Edwin Burton. Running a hand over his blonde hair, he took a couple of steps and paused. His blue eyes widened as they fell on the louvred windows on the first floor. Under the feeble sunset, they looked like inky caverns out to ensnare nosy intruders. His eyes resumed their downward journey until they rested on the arched verandah. Two chipped figurines of angels rested on its keystone as witnesses to the ravages of time. Jeremy could discern a benign smile hovering over their splintered lips. 

Of their own accord, his feet began to take soft strides forward. The dead leaves crunched under his dust-ridden sneakers. Somewhere a frog croaked, yearning for a mate’s love. The cawing of the crows receded into the distance, as the cloak of the night wrapped itself around the City of Joy.


Catherine ran a gloved hand over her bonnet and adjusted its brim to shield her from the scorching rays of the harsh Indian sun. Red flowers from the royal poinciana tree lay strewn before her as if welcoming her into their fold. She raised the hemline of her overskirt, taking utmost care not to expose her fair and slim calves. The heels of her laced ankle-length boots pierced through the delicate petals of the krishnachura, as the locals called them.

She paused in front of the arched verandah. A faint blush rushed to her cheeks as Edwin wrapped his hands around her waist from behind, kissing her nape, sending tiny currents of ecstasy through her body. He then took her hand in his and led her inside the mansion. The two angels with their wings spread out, sculpted to perfection on the keystone, welcomed the new bride of Edwin Burton.


Jeremy gave the door a nudge. The rusty hinges creaked, startling the family of geckos. The Englishman muttered a curse under his breath, as the reptiles scurried away. A musty stench hit his nostrils as he crossed the threshold of his ancestral mansion. He took out a handkerchief from the pocket of his cargo pants and covered his nose. Cobwebs hung from the high ceilings, causing him to sneeze. He blew his nose into his handkerchief. Suddenly, the air turned frosty. Rains started to pelt the roof, creating a cacophonous chorus of melodies. He tightened the leather jacket around him.

Click-tap! Click-tap! Click-tap! Click-tap! Click-tap!

Jeremy perked up his ears. He tiptoed towards the staircase and looked up. He could feel his knees turn to jelly, as he clutched at the bannister for support. Not a single sound emerged from his throat. It was as if someone had pressed a revolver against his throbbing temple. 

With confident strides, the old man descended the stairs. He wore a grimy dhoti and a shirt which had more holes than Swiss cheese. A tuft of matted silvery grey hair hung from his gaunt lower jaw. The bloodstained shawl dangled from his right shoulder, threatening to give way at the slightest opportunity. His brown eyes bore into Jeremy’s. He smiled, revealing chipped blackened teeth.

“So, you have come!” his baritone voice reverberated in the Burton Mansion. He brought his scrawny hands together in the traditional Indian form of greeting. 

“My name is Bipin Pahari.” 


Catherine poured the aromatic Darjeeling tea into the porcelain teacup and stirred the brew with a silver spoon. She then brought the cup to her dainty lips and sipped the liquid. Her taste buds tingled with delight, as the beverage worked its magic on her. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. With Edwin away in Bombay on some official work, she was alone in Calcutta. Her days were spent playing the piano and walking in the beautiful garden of Burton Mansion. She stifled a yawn and kept the cup back on the table, humming a tune.

She got up and ambled to the bookshelf. Picking up a paperback, she returned to her place by the window. It was then she froze. 

The man had a wiry build. He stood at the gate, talking with the doorman. Every muscle on his supple torso rippled as he gestured with his hands. Suddenly he looked up. Catherine’s heart twisted itself into a thousand knots. 


“Who are you? What are you doing in my mansion?” Jeremy glared at Bipin Pahari.

The old man chuckled. “Burton Mansion belongs to your ancestors.”

“You haven’t answered my questions! By the way, I am a Burton too,” Jeremy retorted. “As for your name, it doesn’t ring a bell. You are not a celebrity.” Fury trickled from his words like sap from a rubber tree.

“I am an ordinary man.”

“May I know then what is an ordinary man like you doing in Edward Mansion?”

“Your queries will be answered in due course of time,” Bipin Pahari moved past Jeremy and trudged to the hall. “I am a wanderer. I tell tales of love and valour.” He paused and turned back. “Do you know the love story of Catherin Burton?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “She is my great-grandmother, Mr Pahari. The love she had for her husband Edwin is the stuff legends are made of.”

Pahari’s cackles reverberated in the mansion. “I meant her passionate affair with a native Indian.”


Edwin kissed his wife on her lips. “Darling! I hope you are not angry with me. But duty beckons. The Prince of Wales has embarked on a tour of India, and it’s an order from Her Majesty that I should be a part of his entourage. It is my privilege, Catherine!” His chest swelled with pride.

Catherine patted his hand. “I am proud of you, love.” 

Planting a peck on her forehead, Edwin left the mansion. 

As night set in, Catherine entered her bedchamber. She blew out the candles. Sitting on the bed, she removed the pins on her hair. Freed from the shackles, her golden tresses cascaded down her slender shoulders. She ran her hand over the silken red sheets, caressing them. There was a soft knock on her door.  

“Come in,” her voice trembled.

The man strode towards Catherine and sat down beside her. He cupped her face between his hands, and his lips sought hers in a lingering kiss. In a few minutes, clothes lay strewn on the marbled floor, and the ornate bed creaked under the union of two sweaty naked bodies.   

The moonbeams trickled in through the shutters, bathing the chamber in silvery wisps of light. Catherine nestled her head on his torso, while her hand traced random designs around his navel. Crickets chirped incessantly outside. 

“If I hadn’t seen you speaking with that doorman…” she paused, as he rolled her over. She could feel the growing tumescence between his legs. 

“We wouldn’t have met,” He completed her sentence. With that, he proceeded to make love to her again, making her writhe and moan in pleasure.


“Wait a second, old man! You are implying that my great-grandmother was not happy with her husband?” Jeremy smirked. “For your kind information, the Burtons had a fantastic married life.”

“There’s always a façade behind a smiling face,” Pahari retorted.

Jeremy guffawed. “For a fleeting moment, let me agree with you. Who was her Indian lover? What happened to him? Did Edwin find out? If yes, how could he forgive his unfaithful wife? How did the affair come to light?”

“You have rattled off all the questions in one go!” Pahari chuckled. “Catherine’s paramour died soon after. He was killed.”

“Killed? By whom?” Jeremy asked.

“Catherine Burton!” Bipin Pahari replied.

“Enough! No more balderdash, I say. Leave this mansion. NOW!” Jeremy pointed his index finger towards the door. The old man stepped outside the mansion without saying a single word, and soon his retreating figure faded into the misty rains. 


Catherine leaned over to the bedside table and picked up the wine glass. Bringing it closer to the man’s lips, she tilted it gently. He sipped it, drawing Catherine closer to him. Feeling heady, he lay down on the bed.

“Amrit…” he slurred. “This nectar.”

“Hush, dear!” Catherine bent over him, placing her index finger over his lips. Her eyes glinted as the poison started to seep into him. His body shook in violent spasms, as soapy foam trickled from his mouth. He tried to get up but fell back onto the mattress. His horrified eyes bore into the Englishwoman’s.

“Goodbye, Bipin.” With that, Catherine Burton got up, wrapped a silken robe around her body, and left the bedroom. Now to dispose of the body!


Jeremy stepped inside the sprawling room on the first floor. A dusty portrait of a beautiful woman hung on the wall. Catherine indeed made heads turn with her flawless skin.

A mouse scurried down the four-poster bed and disappeared behind a table. A layer of dust had settled on the crumpled bedspread. Jeremy furrowed his brow. Why does this look like someone has been sleeping on it? He swore. Of course! Must be that Pahari. 

A sudden gust of wind announced its arrival through the open window, toppling the wine glass from the bedside table. As it broke into smithereens, the reddish liquid stained the floor. Gasping, Jeremy stepped back. 

Quaking like a leaf caught in a cyclone, Jeremy dashed out of Catherine’s bedchamber. He ran down the stairs, breathless. 

“The wine was indeed delicious,” Bipin Pahari hummed. “She could have given me a decent burial. But no. She had to bruise my body. Just to prove her innocence to her nincompoop of a husband.”

Jeremy opened his mouth to scream, but not a word emerged from his throat. Darkness swooped down upon him, and he fell to the ground, never to wake up again. The curse of the Burton Mansion struck again. Not a single Englishman had come out of the house alive. If only Jeremy had heeded the warnings of the locals.  


Catherine Burton switched off the lights. She closed her eyes, allowing the wine to work its magic on her body. Edwin had not got a whiff of her affair with Bipin. Instead, she had blamed the foolish Indian for violating her innocent body. An incensed Edwin had tipped off the watchman not to blurt out a word to anybody regarding the dead body buried amidst the krishnachura trees. Poor Bipin! He was good in bed.

Catherine pulled up the bed sheet over her body and drifted off to sleep. A shadowy figure tiptoed to the bedchamber. Bipin Pahari sat on the soft mattress. Running a hand over her golden tendrils, he whispered, “I will make sure your family members come here. Rest assured, I will not spare them, Mrs Catherine Burton.”


Bipin Pahari took out a yellowed notebook from his tattered shirt. In spidery handwriting, he scribbled on a page.

Jeremy Burton – Great-Grandson – <<Tick>>

Jeremy hadn’t married. Bipin Pahari chuckled. No member was left to further the family lineage. A beatific smile hovered over his lips, as he levitated and disappeared amidst the darkness, taking the curse along with him. 

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