The curious tale of peacocks and the cursed ‘haveli’

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn May 01, 2016

This is a story the late Sheikh Mubarak Ali - that great sage of the old walled city - narrated to me. But as it was incomplete and the ends did not meet, writing about it would have been unfair. On Friday my friend Sheero unlocked the mystery … finally.

Imagine a bizarre story of a haunted ‘haveli’ on which only peacocks roam. My weekly Sunday visits to the old walled city of Lahore invariably bring forth a tale or two, each stranger than the last. Almost 11 years ago as I turned from Bazaar Hakeeman onto Tehsil Bazaar, I stopped at the little shop of Sheikh Sahib. After a customary cup of tea, which over the years became almost a ‘compulsory’ routine, the sage said: “So you want a strange story? I will give you one that will keep you guessing for years.” He got up and stepped out of his shop. Pointing eastwards he said: “Walk along Tehsil Bazaar, take the first turn to the right, stop and look up and then knock on the door. That is where the story lies.”

So after I took my leave I went to the said place and looked up. From the rooftop on the third floor three peacocks were looking down, almost as if taunting me, with loud cries of pain. Gosh, this was scary. I knocked on the door and there was no reply. After a long wait a passerby stopped and started looking at me. He then said: “Are you crazy. This place is haunted. Anyone who lives here his children all die from a strange disease. The deaths have been terrible. See what happened to a family that owns this place.”

For a moment it made me think, but then my logical mind said to me that there is no such thing as being haunted. So I knocked at the door, each time banging harder. There was no response. The man in the street had left after shaking his head. After a minute or two an old woman passed by, stopped, and said: “No one will reply, just push the door and go in … and keep reciting the ‘kalima’”. The old woman left shaking her head. So after a few more knocks I pushed the huge wooden door and entered a house with almost all the furniture there but thickly dust-laden, almost an inch thick, as if for years no one had lived there.

As I roamed about the house, a scared uninvited guest, the peacocks were going wild on the roof, running back and forth. Suddenly a loud noise came forth as if the roof was caving in. The creak and falling bricks sound made me run for the main door. Once outside I stood there and waited. The peacocks had gone silent with a slight croaking sound as if they were mockingly laughing at me. That, then, was enough of a first visit.

It made sense to return to Sheikh Mubarak Ali, who by then had a naughty delightful look in his eyes. “Ho aye hoo” he tauntingly said and ordered me another cup of tea with the instruction to double the sugar in it. I sat down and asked about the story of the ‘Kashmirianwali haveli’. “Ah, so you have learnt that it belonged to a Kashmiri family.”

As Sheikh Sahib narrated the story and informed about the owners, my natural question was ‘who was the last of that family to live here’. “Mamma is what everyone called him. He was an agnostic and did not believe in belief or all this thing about being haunted,” is what Sheikh Sahib said. So that was all that I managed to get out of the great man who died almost four years ago.

Over time this house kept haunting my thoughts and every time I have been near Bazaar Hakeeman a visit to this place was a must stop. But never did I dare to enter. I made sure the peacocks are there, and asked about who lived there. Every time the answer is the same: “Nobody in his right mind would live there.”

Almost a year ago as we sat in a family gathering, mention was made of the late doctor who owned the place. His brothers were all highly educated and now are among the elite of Lahore. But none of them ever visits his ancestral house. In the conversation my wife mentioned “the poor unfortunate Mamma”. That alerted me and I started asking questions, with not a single satisfactory answer. It was as if some mystery had to be hidden.

On Friday as I sat chatting with my college-day buddy Sheero, who is also a Kashmiri and originally belongs to Bhati Gate, I mentioned the ‘haveli’ with peacocks. Sheero at once responded, almost unprompted: “Poor Mamma”. That set me off and my questions flew like never before. So came forth the missing link of the mystery ‘haveli’ with peacocks in Tehsil Bazaar.

Mamma refused to believe that their old house was haunted. The entire family moved out, scared of the consequences after a seer, let me add ‘allegedly’, was called who left screaming, and warning the entire ‘mohallah’ that the ‘jinn’ who possessed this ‘haveli’ had pledged to kill the offspring of anyone who lived in this place. So everyone left except Mamma and his seven sons.

The facts that follow I have personally checked from hospital records. All the seven sons of Mamma died, each after every Eid-i-Qurbani, in this ‘haveli’. It was a tragedy everyone in the walled city knows about. I checked the death record and timing from family members and each one has verified what I say.

On Saturday before writing this column I again went to the old ‘haveli’ and the peacocks still roam on the rooftops. As I watched from the ‘gali’ below they came to the ledge and as if taunting screamed. I left murmuring to myself: “Poor Mamma.”


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