The Starving Millionaire
Scary Books: Indian Ghost Stories
: S. Mukerji
This story was also in the papers. It created a sensation at the time,
now it has been almost forgotten. The story shows that black art with
all its mysteries is not a thing of the past.
This was what happened.
There was a certain rich European Contractor in the Central Provinces in
Let us call him Anderson. He used to supply stone ballas
to the Railway
Companies and had been doing this business for over a quarter of a
century. He had accumulated wealth and was a multi-millionaire and one
of the richest men in his part of the country. The district which he
made his head quarters was a large one. It was a second class military
station and there were two European regiments and one Indian regiment in
that station. Necessarily there was a number of European military
officers besides a number of civil and executive officers in that
On a certain June morning, which is a very hot month in India, an Indian
Fakir came into the compound of Mr. Anderson begging for alms. Mr.
Anderson and his wife were sitting in the verandah drinking their
morning tea. It had been a very hot night and there being no electricity
in this particular station, Mr. Anderson had to depend on the sleepy
punkha coolie. The punkha coolie on this particular night was more
sleepy than usual, and so Mr. Anderson had passed a very sleepless night
indeed. He was in a very bad temper. A whole life passed among Indian
workmen does not generally make a man good-tempered and a hot June in
the Indian plains is not particularly conducive to sweet temper either.
When this beggar came in Mr. Anderson was in a very bad mood. As the man
walked fearlessly up to the verandah Mr. Anderson's temper became worse.
He asked the beggar what he wanted. The beggar answered he wanted food.
Of course, Mr. Anderson said he had nothing to give. The beggar replied
that he would accept some money and buy the food. Mr. Anderson was not
in the habit of being contradicted. He lost his temper--abused the
beggar and ordered his servants to turn the man out. The servants
obeyed. Before his departure the beggar turned to Mr. Anderson and told
him that very soon he would know how painful it was to be hungry.
When the beggar was gone Mr. Anderson thought of his last remark and
laughed. He was a well-known rich man and a good paymaster. An order
for a L100 on a dirty slip of paper would be honoured by his banker
without hesitation. Naturally he laughed. He forgot that men had
committed suicide by drowning to avoid death from thirst. Well, there it
The bell announcing breakfast rang punctually at 10 o'clock in the
morning. Mr. Anderson joined his wife in the drawing-room and they went
to the dining-room together. The smell of eggs and bacon and coffee
greeted them and Mr. Anderson forgot all about the Indian beggar when he
took his seat. But he received a rude shock. There was a big live
caterpillar in the fish. Mr. Anderson called the servant and ordered him
to take away the fish and serve with eyes open the next time. The
servant who had been in Mr. Anderson's service a long time stared
open-mouthed. Only a minute before there was nothing but fish on the
plate. Whence came this ugly creature? Well, the plate was removed and
another put in its place for the next dish.
When the next dish came another surprise awaited everybody.
As the cover was removed it was found that the whole contents were
covered with a thin layer of sweepings. The Khansama (the servant who
serves at the table) looked at Mr. Anderson and Mr. Anderson at the
Khansama "with a wild surmise"; the cover was replaced and the dish
taken away. Nothing was said this time.
After about 5 minutes of waiting a third covered dish was brought.
When the cover was removed the contents were found mixed with stable
sweepings. The smell was horrible, the dish was at once removed.
This was about the limit.
No man can eat after that. Mr. Anderson left the table and went to his
It was the habit of Mr. Anderson to have his lunch in his office. A
Khansama used to take a tiffin basket to the office and there in his
private room Mr. Anderson ate his lunch punctually at 2 P.M. Today he
expected his tiffin early. He thought, that though he had left no
instructions himself the Khansama would have the sense to remember that
he had gone to office without breakfast. And so Mr. Anderson expected a
lunch heavier than usual and earlier too.
But it was two o'clock and the servant had not arrived. Mr. Anderson was
a man of particularly regular habits. He was very hungry. The thought
of the beggar in the morning made him angry too. He shouted to his
punkha coolie to pull harder.
It was a quarter after two and still the Khansama would not arrive. It
was probably the first time in 20 years that the fellow was late. Mr.
Anderson sent his _chaprasi_ (peon) to look for the Khansama at about
half past two. A couple of minutes after the _chaprasi's_ departure, Mr.
Atkins, the Collector of the district, was announced (A Collector is
generally a District Magistrate also, and in the Central Provinces he is
called the Deputy Commissioner). He is one of the principal officers in
the district. In this particular district of which I am speaking there
were two principal government officers. The Divisional Judge was the
head of the Civil Administration as well as the person who tried the
murderers and all other big offenders who deserved more than seven years
imprisonment. He was a Bengal Brahman. Mr. Atkins was the Collector or
rather the Deputy Commissioner. He was the executive head of the
district. He was also the District Magistrate. Mr. Atkins came in and
thus explained a sad accident which Mr. Anderson's _Khansama_ had met
"As I was passing along the road in my motor car, your man came in the
way and was knocked down. The man is hurt but not badly. He had been
carrying a tiffin basket which was also knocked down, as a matter of
course; and the car having passed over it everything the basket
contained in the shape of china was smashed up. The man has been taken
to the hospital by myself in an unconscious condition, but the doctor
says there is nothing very serious, and he will be all right in a couple
Now Mr. Atkins was a great friend of Mr. Anderson. They had known each
other ever since Mr. Atkins's arrival in India as a young member of the
Civil Service. That was over 20 years ago. He had at first been in that
district for over 7 years as an Assistant Commissioner and this time he
was there for over 3 years as a Deputy Commissioner. But Mr. Anderson
was very hungry. The story of Mr. Atkins had given him the second shock
since the morning. He, therefore, used language which no gentleman
should have done; and with great vehemence threatened to prosecute Mr.
Atkins for rash driving, etc.
Mr. Atkins was a very good-natured man. He knew the temper of Mr.
Anderson; but he had never been Anderson so angry before. He therefore
beat a hasty retreat, wondering whether Anderson had not gone mad. He
would not have told anybody what happened in Anderson's offices if he
had known the starving condition of the millionaire, but as it happened
he repeated the fine language that Anderson had used, in the club that
same evening. Everybody who heard his story opined at he time that
Anderson was clearly off his head.
Mr. Anderson and his wife were expected at the club, but they did not
When Mr. Atkins went home he got a letter from Anderson in which the
latter had apologised for what he had said in the office that afternoon.
In the letter there was a sentence which was rather enigmatic:
"If you know what I am suffering from, Atkins, you will be sorry for me,
not angry with me--I pray to God you may not suffer such--." The letter
had evidently been written in great haste and had not been revised. Mr.
Atkins did not quite understand the matter; and he intended to look up
Anderson the first thing next morning. Mr. Atkins thought that Anderson
had lost some of his money. He knew that Anderson never speculated.
Still he might have suffered a heavy loss in one of his contracts. He
telephoned to Mr. Anderson at his house, but was informed by one of the
servants that the master had gone out in his motor car at six in the
evening and was not back till then.
Now let us see what happened to Mr. Anderson after he had left his
office at about four in the afternoon.
He went home and expected some tea, but no tea arrived, though it was
six. The Khansama was in the hospital; the cook was called and he humbly
offered the following explanation: "As soon as Hazoor (Your Honour) came
back I ordered the khidmatgar (the cook's assistant) to put the kettle
on the fire. (This is the ordinary duty of the khidmatgar). There was a
bright coal fire in the stove, and the khidmatgar put the kettle upon
it. The kettle should have boiled within five minutes, but it did not;
your humble servant went to investigate the cause and found that there
was no water in the kettle. We put in some, but the kettle had in the
meantime become nearly red-hot. As soon as it came into contact with the
cold water it burst like a bomb. Fortunately nobody was hurt. There
was, of course, a saucepan to heat some water in, but the cold water had
got into the stove and extinguished it." It would be another half an
hour before tea was ready, he added. Mr. Anderson now realised that it
was not the fault of the servants but the curse of the Indian Fakir. So
with a sad smile he ordered his motor car and thought that he and his
wife had better try the Railway refreshment rooms. When his chauffeur
was going to start the engine Mr. Anderson expected that there would be
a backfire and the chauffeur would have a dislocated wrist. But there
was no accident. The engine started as smoothly as it had never done
before. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson went to the Railway refreshment rooms.
There they were informed that no tea was available. A dead rat had been
found under one of the tables in the first class refreshment room, and
as plague cases had been reported earlier in the week, the station
master had ordered the rooms to be closed till they had been thoroughly
disinfected. The whole staff of waiters with all the preserved meat and
oilman's stores had been sent by special train to the next station so
that the railway passengers might not be inconvenienced. The next
station was eight miles off and there was no road for a motor car.
"I had expected as much" said Mr. Anderson bitterly, as he left the
"I would go to Captain Fraser and beg for some dinner. He is the only
man who has got a family here and will be able to accommodate us" said
he to his wife, and so off they started for a five mile run to the
Cantonments. There was some trouble with the car on the way and they
were detained for about an hour, and it was actually 8-30 in the evening
when the Andersons reached Captain Fraser's place. Why, instead of going
home from the Railway Station, Mr. Anderson went to Captain Fraser's
place he himself could not tell.
When the Andersons reached Captain Fraser's place at half past eight in
the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fraser had not come back from the club. But
they were expected every minute. It was in fact nine when the Captain
and his wife turned up in a Hackney Carriage. They were surprised to see
the Andersons. They had heard the story told by Atkins at the club.
Anderson gave them his version. Of course, Captain Fraser asked them to
stay to dinner. He said "I am very sorry I am late, but it could not be
helped. When returning from the club my horse was alarmed at something.
The coachman lost control and there was a disaster. But, thank God,
nobody is seriously hurt."
Their carriage had, however, been so badly damaged that they had to get
a hackney carriage to bring them home.
In India, specially in June, they are not particular about the dress. So
Captain Fraser said they would sit down to dinner at once and, at a
quarter after nine they all went in to dine. The Khansama stared at the
uninvited guests. He knew that something had gone wrong with Anderson
The soup was the first thing brought in and the trouble began as soon as
it came. Captain Fraser's Khansama was an old hand at his business, but
somehow he made a mess of things. He got so nervous about what he
himself could not explain that he upset a full plate of soup that he had
brought for Mr. Anderson not exactly on his head, but on his left ear.
Well the reader would understand the situation. There was a plateful of
hot soup on Mr. Anderson's left ear. The soup should have got cold,
because it had waited long for the Captain's return from the club, but
the cook had very prudently warmed it up again and it had become very
warm indeed. Mr. Anderson shouted and the Khansama let go the plate. It
fell on the table in front of Mr. Anderson on its edge and rolled on.
Next to Mr. Anderson was Mrs. Fraser, and there was a glass of
iced-water in front of her. The rolling soup plate upset the glass, and
the water and the glass and the plate all came down on Mrs. Fraser's
lap, the iced-water making her wet through and through. She was putting
on a muslin gown. She had to go and change. Mrs. Anderson at this point
got up and said that they would not spoil the Frasers' dinner by their
presence. She said that the curse of the Indian Fakir was on them and if
they stayed the Frasers would have to go without dinner. Naturally she
anticipated that some further difficulty would arise there when the next
dish was brought in. The Frasers protested loudly but she dragged Mr.
Anderson away. She had forgotten that she had had her lunch and her
husband had not.
While going in their motor car from Mr. Fraser's house to their own they
had to pass a bazaar on the way. In the bazar there was a sweetmeat
shop. Mr. Anderson, whose condition could be better imagined than
described asked his chauffeur to stop at the sweetmeat shop. It was a
native shop with a fat native proprietor sitting without any covering
upon his body on a low stool. As soon as he saw Mr. Anderson and his
wife he rushed out of his shop with joined palms to enquire what the
gentleman wanted. Mr. Anderson was evidently very popular with the
native tradesmen and shop-keepers.
This shop-keeper had special reason to know Mr. Anderson, as it was the
latter's custom to give a dinner to all his native workmen on Her
Majesty's birthday, and this particular sweetmeat vendor used to get the
contract for the catering. The birthday used to be observed in India on
the 24th May and it was hardly a fortnight that this man had received a
cheque for a pretty large amount from Mr. Anderson, for having supplied
Mr. Anderson's native workmen with sweets.
Naturally he rushed out of his shop in that humble attitude. But in
doing so he upset a whole dishful of sweets, and the big dish with the
sweets went into the road-side drain. All the same the man came up and
wanted to know the pleasure of the Saheb. Mr. Anderson told him that he
was very hungry and wanted something to eat. "Certainly, Huzoor" said
the Halwai (Indian Confectioner) and fussily rushed in. He brought out
some native sweets in a "_dona_" (cup made of leaves) but as misfortune
would have it Mr. Anderson could not eat anything.
There was any amount of petroleum in the sweets. How it got in there was
a mystery. Mr. Anderson asked his chauffeur to proceed. For fear of
hurting the feeling of this kind old Halwai Mr. Anderson did not do
anything then; but scarcely had the car gone 200 yards when the "_dona_"
with its contents untouched was on the road.
Mr. Anderson reached home at about half past ten. He expected to find no
dinner at home. But he was relieved to hear from his bearer that dinner
was ready. He rushed into his bath-room, had a cold bath and within five
minutes was ready for dinner in the dining-room.
But the dinner would not come. After waiting for about 15 minutes the
bearer (butler and foot man combined) was dispatched to the kitchen to
enquire what the matter was. The cook came with a sad look upon his face
and informed him that the dinner had been ready since 8-30 as usual, but
as the Saheb had not returned he had kept the food in the kitchen and
come out leaving the kitchen-door open. Unfortunately Mr. Anderson's
dogs had finished the dinner in his absence, probably thinking that the
master was dining out. In a case like this the cook, who had been in Mr.
Anderson's service for a long time, expected to hear some hard words;
but Mr. Anderson only laughed loud and long. The cook suggested that he
should prepare another dinner, but Mr. Anderson said that it would not
be necessary that night. The chauffeur subsequently informed the cook
that the master and his wife had dined at Captain Fraser's, and finished
with sweets at Gopal Halwai's shop. This explained the master's mirth to
the cook's satisfaction.
What happened the next day to Mr. Anderson need not be told. It is too
painful and too dirty a story. The fact remains that Mr. Anderson had no
solid food the next day either. He thought he should die of starvation.
He did not know how much longer the curse was going to last, or what
else was in store for him.
On the morning of the third day the bearer came and reported that a
certain Indian Fakir had invited Mr. Anderson to go and breakfast with
him. How eagerly husband and wife went! The Fakir lived in a miserable
hut on the bank of the river. He invited the couple inside his hut and
gave them bread and water. Here was clean healthy looking bread after
all, and Mr. Anderson never counted how many loaves he ate. But he had
never eaten food with greater relish and pleasure in his life before.
After the meal the Fakir who evidently knew Mr. Anderson said: "Saheb,
you are a great man and a good man too. You are rich and you think that
riches can purchase everything. You are wrong. The Giver of all things
may turn gold into dust and gold may, by His order, lose all its
purchasing capacity. This you have seen during the last two days. You
have annoyed a man who has no gold but who has power. You think that the
Deputy Commissioner has power--but he has not. The Deputy Commissioner
gets his power from the King. The man whom you have offended got his
power from the King of Kings.
"It is His pleasure that you should leave the station. The sooner you
leave this place Saheb the better for you or you will starve. You can
stay as long as you like here--but you will eat no food outside this hut
of mine--you can try.
"You can go now and come back for your dinner when you require it--."
Mr. Anderson came back to the Fakir's cottage for his dinner, with his
wife at nine in the evening.
Early, the next morning, he left the station and never came back.
Within a month he left India for good. The hospitable gentlemen of the
station who had asked Mr. and Mrs. Anderson to have a meal with them
will never forget the occasion.
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
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
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
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
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.
Most of the people had not seen him before and not knowing who he was,
laughed. The Inspector and the constables laughed too. After the mirth
had subsided Hasan Khan was ordered to be handcuffed and removed. When
the handcuffs had been clapped on he smiled serenely and said "I order
that all the lights within half a mile of where we are standing be put
out at once." Within a couple of seconds the whole place was in
The entire Government House Compound which was a mass of fire only a
minute before was in total darkness and the street lamps had gone out
too. The only light that remained was on the street lamp-post under
which our friends were.
The commotion at the reception could be more easily imagined than
There was total darkness everywhere. The guests were treading literally
on each other's toes and the accidents that happened to the carriages
and horses were innumerable.
As good luck would have it another Police Inspector who was also on duty
and was on horse-back came up to the only light within a circle of half
a mile radius.
To him Hasan Khan said "Go and tell your Commissioner of Police that his
subordinates have ill-treated Hasan Khan and tell him that I order him
to come here at once."
Some laughed others scoffed but the Inspector on horse-back went and
within ten minutes the Commissioner of the Calcutta Police came along
with half a dozen other high officials enquiring what the trouble was
To them Hasan Khan told the story of the thrashing he had received and
pointed out the assailants. He then told the Commissioner that if those
constables and the Inspector who had ordered him to be handcuffed were
dismissed, on the spot, from Government service, the lamps would be
lighted without human assistance. To the utter surprise of everybody
present (including the high officials who had come out with the
Commissioner of Police) an order dismissing the constables and the
Inspector was passed and signed by the Commissioner in the dim light
shed by that isolated lamp; and within one second of the order the
entire compound of Government House was lighted up again, as if some one
had switched on a thousand electric lamps controlled by a single button.
Everybody who was present there enjoyed the whole thing excessively,
with the exception of the police officers who had been dismissed from
It appeared that the Commissioner of Police knew a lot about Hasan Khan
and his black art. How he had come to know of Hasan Khan's powers will
now be related.
Most of my readers have heard the name of Messrs. Hamilton and Co.,
Jewellers of Calcutta. They are the oldest and most respectable firm of
Jewellers probably in the whole of India.
One day Hasan Khan walked into their shop and asked to see some rings.
He was shown a number of rings but he particularly approved a cheap ring
set with a single ruby. The price demanded for this ring was too much
for poor honest Hasan Khan's purse, so he proposed that the Jewellers
should let him have the ring on loan for a month.
This, of course, the Jewellers refused to do and in a most
un-Englishman-like and unbusiness-like manner a young shop assistant
asked him to clear out.
He promptly walked out of the shop promising to come again the next day.
Before going out of the shop, however, he told one of the managers that
the young shop assistant had been very rude to him and would not let him
have the ring for a month.
The next day there was a slight commotion in Hamilton's shop. The ring
was missing. Of course, nobody could suspect Hasan Khan because the ring
had been seen by everybody in the shop after his departure. The police
were communicated with and were soon on the spot. They were examining
the room and the locks and recording statements when Hasan Khan walked
in with the missing ring on his finger.
He was at once arrested, charged with theft and taken to the police
station and locked up.
At about midday he was produced before the Magistrate. When he appeared
in court he was found wearing ten rings, one on each finger. He was
remanded and taken back to his cell in the jail.
The next morning when the door of his cell was opened it was found that
one of the big _almirahs_ in which some gold and silver articles were
kept in Hamilton's shop was standing in his cell. Everybody gazed at it
dumbfounded. The _almirah_ with its contents must have weighed 50
stones. How it got into the cell was beyond comprehension.
All the big officers of Government came to see the fun and asked Hasan
Khan how he had managed it.
"How did you manage to get the show-case in your drawing-room?" inquired
Hasan Khan of each officer in reply to the question.
And everybody thought that the fellow was mad. But as each officer
reached home he found that one show-case (evidently from Hamilton's
shop) with all its contents was standing in his drawing room.
The next morning Hasan Khan gave out in clear terms that unless Messrs.
Hamilton and Co. withdrew the charge against him at once they would find
their safe in which were kept the extra valuable articles, at the
bottom of the Bay of Bengal.
The Jewellers thought that prudence was the best part of valour and the
case against Hasan Khan was withdrawn and he was acquitted of all
charges and set at liberty.
Then arose the big question of compensating him for the incarceration he
had suffered; and the ring with the single ruby which he had fancied so
much and which had caused all this trouble was presented to him.
Of course, Messrs. Hamilton and Co. the Jewellers, had to spend a lot of
money in carting back the show-cases that had so mysteriously walked
away from their shop, but they were not sorry, because they could not
have advertised their ware better, and everybody was anxious to possess
something or other from among the contents of these peculiar show-cases.
It was in connection with this case that Hasan Khan became known to most
of the European Government officials of Calcutta at that time.