BEYOND THE GRAVE – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
The subject of this article are two ghost stories which deal with the question of life after death. Often ghost stories are hard to believe even if one has an inclination to believe in ghosts. There are two opposing forces which confront ghost stories. One is an attitude of total scepticism and the other, one of total acceptance. Whether one disbelieves or believes, there are certain concepts that both schools of thought can accept. We are born and we die. During that space of time we observe, we communicate, we feel and we think. It is almost axiomatic that there is knowledge beyond our own perception, which has been proved by history. Our knowledge has grown over the years . The poet Carl Sandburg once wrote that death is a part of life, and thus a legitimate area to explore, even though a difficult one. Today the means of exploring it are in the hands of philosophers, theologists and parapsychologists. And it is only the parapsychologists who have endeavoured for years to find hard rational evidence which proves there is life beyond the grave. As a matter of interest a few years ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science admitted parapsychology as a subject of science and thus a discipline of science.
The following incidents did not occur in a Victorian mansion or some dark castle, but in the beautiful salubrious climes of two of the islands tea growing districts. The first incident was recorded on one of the largest tea estates in the Bandarawela district – Poonagalla Group. This large plantation had at the time of this story, an acreage of 1757 acres, and comprised eight divisions namely, Broughton, Upper and Lower Catton, Lunugalla, Udahena, Cabragalla, Poonagalla and Hockworthy. If I were writing a travelogue, I would describe Poonagalla and the surrounding tea estates as “Scenic Gold”. It is a place of jaw dropping scenic beauty with mesmerising mountain views, undulating hills – a timeless landscape with desolate valleys, beautiful wild flowers and mountain streams reflecting the blue sky. From any vantage point the country opens up to sweeping panoramas, and bathed in the golden glow of a late afternoon, the views are phenomenal and the visitor will never tire of the vistas……… Wherever the trails take you, remember to charge your camera ! However, the picture postcard scenery of these regions did not detract from the fact that at night, two plantations were plagued by eerie hauntings and disturbing manifestations.
In a previous article titled THE DARKEST HOUR I drew reference to the nocturnal presence of the spirit world and hauntings on Oliphant estate Nuwaraeliya in the form of a ghostly horse and rider who galloped across the lawn of the superintendent’s bungalow a few minutes after midnight. The following tale is not about any ‘Ghost riders in the sky’ or ghost riders on the lawn of any bungalow. This phantom rider and horse chose to make their presence felt in the bungalow of the Superintendent ! And this happened in the bungalow on Poonagalla Group. A Superintendent of times long past was passionately fond of horses, and in his free time rode his horse in the vicinity of his bungalow, and on the huge lawn around the bungalow. There is no record if his death was due to falling off his horse, but sometime after his death the terrifying spectre of his ghost was seen by some staff riding right through the passage of the bungalow ! With the passing of time this phenomenon vanished into the ether and the mists of time, and became the lore and legend of Poonagalla.
THE LADY VANISHES
The second spine chilling, heart thumping and hair raising incident occurred on a tea plantation in the Maskeliya district many years ago, and the hauntings on this estate could be traced to a tragic incident which befell the wife of a former Superintendent. For purposes of this story the Superintendent of this estate is known as “Mr.Davies”. This was not his real name. His wife Mrs.Davies was a gentle kindly soul whose passion was her garden, walking along the rambling estate trails, and on the bank of the river which flowed not far away. She was a great lover of the outdoors and was fascinated by nature. However, in the local planters club some members found her as one was reported to have said, “rather odd”. Others seemed to think that “she was not all there….” Despite this, her gentle manner endeared her to all. One afternoon she set out on one of her walks deciding to go along the river bank, but returned to the bungalow shortly after to put on a raincoat and hat due to a prevailing drizzle and some dark clouds which signified rain. Time passed, and as it was nearing late evening and she had not returned, it caused some anxiety among the bungalow staff. One of them rushed to the factory office and informed Mr.Davies “Sir, Lady went for a walk long time ago and not come back !” He did not seem to take the matter seriously, but organised a search party to locate the missing lady. Soon, not one but three search parties set out in different directions, but to no avail and they returned late at night very distraught that somebody could simply vanish on familiar territory known to everybody on the estate. A restless night passed and the search was resumed the next morning at the first sign of daybreak. The worst fears were soon realised when the body of Mrs.Davies was found about a mile downstream. There was not a single witness to testify as to how she met her death, and when the inquiry was held the cause of her death was put down to “misadventure”. A pall of gloom and darkness descended on the bungalow and the garden staff who had worked with her very closely on a daily basis, and beyond the confines of the bungalow, on the whole estate. Eccentric or not, she was the epitome of kindness and well loved by everybody.
Mr.Davies stoic as ever, got on with managing the estate, and life continued as before although there was a great void in the lives of the bungalow staff. But strange occurrences seemed to signify that Mrs.Davies had not left this earth after all ! It all began one morning when a workman came to attend to some repairs on the bungalow roof. Bear in mind that this was in broad daylight and this particular day was one when the sun shone brightly, the birds twittered merrily in the trees and the garden was a riot of colour with the flowers in full bloom. Placing a long ladder so that he could get to the roof, the workman climbed up very slowly and cautiously. And this was when the serenity of the morning was pierced by a terrifying shriek let out by the workman who nearly jumped out of his skin ! He hurried down the ladder and was a complete wreck. The garden labourer hearing his screams rushed up and asked him what was wrong. The workman’s reply alarmed him. He said that while climbing the ladder and nearing the top of the roof he was horrified to see – to quote his words – “A white lady wearing a raincoat and hat, standing on the roof looking down……..” When Mr.Davies came home for lunch he was appraised of this incident by the bungalow appu, the head cook) but even though he listened to the latter very intently, he discarded the entire incident as ‘nonsense’, ‘panic’ ‘ ‘paranoia’ ‘ and ‘a vivid and overactive imagination’, and did not wish to hear anymore ! Mr.Davies was a pragmatic man. Practical ideas and results were in his makeup. Anything that appeared dubious and “airy fairy” to his mind, he discarded out of sight !
On his brawny shoulders rested the responsibility of managing this plantation which had its daily crop of problems. Supernatural manifestations were the last thing he wanted to deal with !!! But as suddenly as they had occurred, all supernatural activity ceased and in time these incidents were confined to the realm of memory although in the minds of the estate folk, the fact that the Superintendents bungalow was haunted became firmly entrenched. After a few months Mr.Davies was transferred and every Superintendent who came after him became acquainted with the strange happenings that had taken place, thanks to the bungalow staff, especially the ‘Appu’ who prided himself on breaking the news to them.
One particular Superintendent who took charge of the estate many years later was a total skeptic in all matters supernatural. When he took charge and the Appu told him that the bungalow had the reputation of being “haunted”, he passed it off as a bad joke !!!…..He had more pressing issues to attend to, specially having to deal with the Union Leaders on this vast plantation whom he reckoned could be tougher than any ghosts ! Compared to them, he reckoned “ghosts” were benign ! Until, one evening when he entertained a visitor to dinner. At dinner, the second servant entered the dining room and told him “there is a white lady at the back door asking to come in….” The Superintendent was engaged in an interesting conversation with his guest, and not paying the servant much attention told the servant almost absent mindedly “Ask her to come in “. After some time, remembering what the servant told him, he called the servant and asked him where the visitor was. To his surprise he was told that when he returned to tell the lady to enter, he was astonished to find nobody at the door.
ENTER THE MOTHER IN LAW
A few weeks later, another lady who played a prominent part in this tale, enters the story. She was the Superintendent’s mother in law who was on holiday from England. She had no idea that this was going to be a holiday which she would remember for years to come ! It did not take very long for the Superintendent to realize that all was not what it appeared to be. He noticed that each morning at breakfast, the lady seemed exhausted and distressed – not the typical reaction for one on holiday, after a nights sleep in a comfortable estate bungalow ready to enjoy a hearty breakfast. On asking her if she was feeling unwell, her answer literally knocked him off his socks and froze the blood in his veins ! She told him her sleep was interrupted at night by the sound of heavy breathing emanating from the empty bed in her room ! At first she tried to ignore it but as the breathing became more pronounced it terrified her, and she lay awake in fright till dawn. The superintendent, a calm cool and collected gentleman who did not believe in anything other than what he saw around him now underwent a 360 degree turn, coming to grips with the fact that there are more things in life than a basic human existence. His mother in law was an honest simple lady with sound integrity. He asked her a simple question and she answered truthfully and was not inclined to exaggerate. It was this matter of fact simplicity which alarmed him. Then something else gave him much food for thought. Prior to her arrival he and his wife had agreed that they would never mention anything about “ghosts” to their visitor. The last thing they intended was to spoil her holiday. Besides, she did not speak a word of Tamil, and none of the bungalow staff would have dared to even give her a hint about the nocturnal shenanigans.
He concluded that his mother in law was experiencing something very eerie which had no rational explanation……… He and his wife immediately arranged for the lady to be transferred to the master bedroom so that she would not be alone at night, but this bizarre experience had now impacted negatively on the holiday she was looking forward to. She cut short her holiday and returned to England.
The German poet, statesman, scientist and playwright, Wolfgang Von Goethe alluding to this very subject once wrote “The thought of death leaves me in perfect peace, for I have a firm conviction that our being is a spirit of indestructible nature. It works on from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun. Although the sun seems to set to our mortal eyes, it really shines on perpetually”. The BHAGAWAD GITA , the 700 verse Hindu script in Sanskrit which is part of the Hindu epic THE MAHABHARATA. in unequivocal terms emphasizes that life continues as can be seen from the following lines :
“There never was a time when I did not exist or you…..nor will there be any future in which we shall cease to be….”
I wish to record my sincere thanks and deep appreciation to two correspondents who helped me write this article due to their invaluable assistance, so readily forthcoming at all times. Norman Thompson a college mate of mine and friend from childhood has always helped me with information regarding the geography of the tea estates. He is an authority on this subject and an ex planter. Osmund Perera a correspondent and friend in Perth furnished me with the material for these articles, Without his input there would have been no story, leave alone the ghosts ! To both these gentlemen, I owe a debt of gratitude. They make the world a better place for me.