Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
THE STARVING MILLIONAIRE.
This story, though it reads like a fairy tale, is nevertheless true.
All the European gentlemen of J---- knew it and if anyone of them happens to read these pages he will be able to certify that every detail is correct.
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In this connection it will not be out of place to mention some of the strange doings of the once famous Hasan Khan, the black artist of Calcutta. Fifty years ago there was not an adult in Calcutta who did not know his name and had not seen or at least heard of his marvellous feats.
I have heard any number of wonderful stories but I shall mention only two here which, though evidently not free from exaggeration, will give an idea of what the people came to regard him as capable of achieving, and also of the powers and attributes which he used to arrogate to himself.
What happened was this.
There was a big reception in Government House at Calcutta. Now a native of Calcutta of those days knew what such a reception meant.
All public roads within half a mile of Government House were closed to wheeled and fast traffic.
The large compound was decorated with lamps and Chinese Lanterns in a manner that baffled description. Thousands of these Chinese Lanterns hung from the trees and twinkled among the foliage like so many coloured fire-flies. The drives from the gates to the building had rows of these coloured lanterns on both sides; besides, there were coloured flags and Union Jacks flying from the tops of the poles, round which were coiled wreaths of flowers, and which also served to support the ropes or wires from which these lanterns were suspended.
The main building itself was illuminated with hundreds of thousands of candles or lamps and looked from a distance like a house on fire. From close quarters you could read "Long live the Queen" written in letters of fire on the parapets of the building, and could see the procession of carriages that passed up and down the drives so artistically decorated, and wonder that the spirited horses did not bolt or shy or kick over the traces when entering those lanes of fire.
There were no electric lights then in Calcutta or in any part of India, no motor cars and no rubber-tyred carriages.
On a reception night lots of people come to watch the decorations of Government House. Now-a-days Government House is illuminated with electricity; but I am told by my elders that in those days when tallow candles and tiny glass lamps were the only means of illumination the thing looked more beautiful and gorgeous.
The people who come to see the illumination pass along the road and are not allowed to stop. The law is that they must walk on and if a young child stops for more than half a minute his guardian, friend, nurse or companion is at once reminded by the policeman on duty that he or she must walk on; and these policemen of Calcutta, unlike the policemen of London, are not at all courteous in their manner or speech.
So it happened on a certain reception night that Hasan Khan the black artist went to see the decorations and while lingering on the road was rudely told by the policeman on duty to get away.
Ordinarily Hasan Khan was a man of placid disposition and polite manners. He told the policeman that he should not have been rude to a rate-payer who had only come to enjoy the glorious sight and meant no harm. He also dropped a hint that if the head of the police department knew that a subordinate of his was insulting Hasan Khan it would go hard with that subordinate.
This infuriated the policeman who blew his whistle which had the effect of bringing half a dozen other constables on the spot. They then gave poor Hasan Khan a thrashing and reported him to the Inspector on duty. As chance would have it this Inspector had not heard of Hasan Khan before. So he ordered that he should be detained in custody and charged next morning with having assaulted a public officer in the discharge of his duty.
The Inspector also received a warning but he did not listen to it. Then Hasan Khan took out a piece of paper and a pencil from his pocket and wrote down the number of each of the six or seven policemen who had taken part in beating him; and he assured everybody (a large number of persons had gathered now) present that the constables and the Inspector would be dismissed from Government service within the next one hour.