Press wins its freedom from ghostly squatter: Tim McGirk, armed with rose petals, ghee and incense, attends an exorcism close to home in New Delhi

IT WAS only because the bartender threatened to quit at the Delhi Foreign Correspondents Club that we decided to get rid of the ghost. These weren't the kind of spirits that the bartender, Rohil Malik, had in mind when he accepted the job.

There are plenty of better places, atmospheric old forts and Mogul mausoleums, for a ghost to haunt than the bungalow on AB-19 Mathura Road. It is an ordinary two-storey house with a lawn, built for the upper-middle echelon of Indian civil servants, on a noisy boulevard connecting Old and New Delhi. The bungalow was vacant until the foreign press turned it into a clubhouse six months ago and put in a bar, a dartboard, a few potted palms and rattan chairs. Nobody had bothered to ask why the place had been empty for so long.

Rohil was alone one evening, closing the bar. The lights were out, and he was moving a gas cylinder when he says he was grabbed from behind. 'It felt like someone was pulling me. I put my hands back to knock him away, but there was nobody. Then I saw the ghost, from the side, as he turned away from me. He had long, white hair and a beard.' Was he scared? 'I am also a Brahmin, and I have mantras to chant against ghosts,' he replied.

After that, the ghost came out of the closet. A nightwatchman, napping inside the clubhouse, woke up with the terrible weight of the ghost on his chest. 'It was big and powerful. It tried to pull my legs off,' said Shakeel, the guard. We weren't sure whose leg was being pulled: the guard's or ours. Another watchman was pelted with stones. Lights flicked on, and shut windows blew open.

Inevitably, the ghost was the butt of many dumb jokes among the correspondents. One proposal was to make him a founder member. Other hacks suggested teaching him how to make a decent Bloody Mary or write stories to deadline. But the staff, who had to remain at the house long after the reporters staggered back to their bureaux, were less amused.

Kiran Kapur, the club manager, warned: 'The staff will all quit unless we do a puja to get rid of the ghost.' So a puja was ordered by the club president, Chris Thomas of the Times. This led to a long discussion about exorcism. Someone opined that we must first decipher the ghost's caste. An upper-caste Brahmin ghost, it appears, would require a more elaborate exorcism than a lowly Untouchable, who could be banished with a few sharp spells.

Exorcisms must be quite common in Delhi, because any number of Hindu pundits were willing to do the job, cheap. The exorcism cost 101 rupees (pounds 2.40). The priest, Kudip Samash, showed up with a fire dish under his arm and a paperback full of exorcism recipes involving lots of ghee, incense, sugar, camphor, and wood from a mango tree. The British press was represented at the exorcism by the Independent, the Times, the Guardian and the Daily Express. The pundit made us cover our heads; some pulled out handkerchiefs and one reporter made do with a tennis-racket cover. We asked the pundit why a ghost would want to haunt the club. 'Someone died an unnatural death in this house. A hanging, a suicide. Or maybe someone was murdered,' he replied, tossing the camphor on to the sacred fire.

As far as we knew, our bungalow had been inhabited by a long line of boring Indian civil servants, though we later learnt that not long before, a Nepali cook had been burnt to death - perhaps by his wife. 'Everybody needs a place to stay, even ghosts,' explained the pundit. 'This house should never have been left empty for so long.' At his instruction, we sprinkled rose petals in the four directions, and tossed ghee and sawdust on to the fire while he chanted mantras from his paperback. A coconut was smashed on the threshold, and we followed the pundit around the house, tossing petals in the air to shoo the ghost out. There were no whooshes of icy air or rattling of chains, nothing.

We wandered on to the lawn, and the pundit wrapped a banana, some sugar candy and sweets in a black satin cloth and handed it to the club's cook. The pundit was thoughtfully preparing a picnic lunch for the ghost. We watched the cook take the food outside the clubhouse gate. The pundit's words stayed with me. 'Everybody needs a place to go, even ghosts.' I wondered where the ghost would go. 'Wherever the food is left,' the pundit replied. I rather suspect that the cook heaved the ghost's picnic into a neighbour's garden.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project