Please welcome my multi-talented author friend, Damyanti Biswas, as she shares this chilling true story of one of India’s mysterious places.
Delhi is a sprawling modern metropolis, and its urban jungle of steel and glass looks unlikely to be haunted, but as I discovered while conducting research for my debut literary crime novel, the city has pockets of the past, and its share of the unexplained.
I’ll speak of one such place in Delhi, its bloody history and crime-filled recent past, and the ghostly urban legends that surround it.
Since the crime spree in You Beneath Your Skin involved rape, I was keen to ferret out a place where such a crime had occurred and Khooni Darwaza seemed like a suitably chilling place.
Khooni Darwaza means Bloodied Door, or Murderous Door, or A Door Where Murder has Occurred, depending on who you ask. It is not just a door but a fortress-like structure about a 50 feet high, with three staircases leading to different levels.
It is situated on the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg–a very busy cosmopolitan street. One cold Delhi afternoon I drove past and stopped at a nearby tea stall to soak in the atmosphere. The building looked like any other historical remnant in Delhi, old, dilapidated. But this site was locked from all sides.
A medical student had been gang-raped there in 2002. She had been dragged in there by three men at 2.30 pm, within a few feet of a busy road, and a major police station less than a quarter mile away.
Like any self-respecting writer, I decided to waste a few hours researching this setting, which was completely irrelevant to my plot. I discovered that the building was erected in the 16th century, and was often used to display the heads of criminals beheaded under the rule of law.
I got talking to the tea-stall owner, who told me that the place rose in infamy when Mughal Emperor Jahangir (whose son built the famed Taj Mahal) got dissenters executed at the Khooni Darwaza and let their heads rot on poles. This apparently set somewhat of a tradition, because his grandson, Mughal Emperror Aurangazeb, got his own brother executed and displayed on the same ramparts.
During the rebellion of 1857, when Indians turned against their colonial masters, the British continued this macabre heritage and shot down three of the last Mughal princes at Khooni Darwaza, displaying their remains as a warning.
More slaughter followed at this venue in 1947, during the widespread riots that took over when India was declared an independent nation.
According to locals, the place has a reputation. But of course. The walls are said to show red stains every once in a while. Blood from the deceased–the countless who lost their lives here, and are apparently unwilling to leave. Despite the place being sealed against the public, there are stories of the ghostly princes who were murdered here doing the rounds—locals say there are whispers and screams. At night, the place has an eerie air about it—I saw this for myself as I left—a looming, menacing shadow despite being so close to habitation.
The spooky evening spent near Khooni Darwaza stayed with me and trickled into some descriptions of New Delhi:
“Drawing her scarf closer about her neck, Anjali stepped out of Kusum’s jeep at the Safdarjung mortuary. The sooty air made her cough, the chill about her face like the touch of a spiteful ghost—light, yet unmistakeable in its malign intent. It was far colder where she was headed.”
You Beneath Your Skin has no paranormal elements, but the mood of the book is smoggy, mysterious and dark, and it has benefited from my irrelevant research for authenticity and local color.
Author proceeds from the book are going to Project Why and Stop Acid Attacks.
What haunted places exist in the cities, towns or villages you live in? Would you like to share some of the stories?
In You Beneath Your Skin, Damyanti uses the framework of a crime thriller, and conjures in this book an authentic portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption. A woman from Delhi’s upper classes suffers an acid attack. This case is investigated amid the backdrop of a crime spree. Unclad bodies of slum women are found stuffed in trash bags, their faces disfigured with acid.
It is a whodunit, but also a whydunit—not just who has committed the crime, but why? It raises questions: how much do you know about those closest to you? To what extent would you go to protect the ones you love? And most importantly, what would you do if something you deeply cherished was taken away from you?
You can get your own copy of You Beneath Your Skin outside of India HERE.
In India, it is available from Simon & Schuster HERE.
Add it to your Goodreads list HERE.
About the Author
Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with India’s underprivileged children as part of Project WHY, a charity that promotes educational and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine.
You can connect with Damyanti on her blog and Twitter.
P.S. If you’re in Winnipeg and love a great ghost story, please join me for Haunting the Library this Saturday, October 26th. More details here. – J.H.
Shame it’s closed to the public. I’m sure a lot of people would want to explore the place and look for the bloodied walls.
Yes, I agree, Alex. the crimes that were committed there were horrific, even the recent-most ones. There’s something within all of us that is fascinated by the morbid.
There are several places in Rochester, NY that are haunted including a couple I’ve been to such as the George Eastman Museum, a local park, and an old theatre. None of these are as creepy as the Bloodied Door. And doing research for atmosphere is a perk of being a writer, hardly a waste of time!
I spend altogether too much time on research–it does slide into procrastination.
Local stories, legends, and haunts are always fascinating. We have a bar where people have felt a presence, or seen ghostly images. Your book sounds great. Congrats on the publication!
Yes, local legends are usually such good stories. Thanks–the book seems to be doing well so far.
Chilling! I believe you can feel things like that, the history of a place has a presence all its own.
And totally not irrelevant research. You never know what will strike when. Writers need to be ready and you were. 🙂
It was a place with a lot of atmosphere. Let’s hope i can some day set a story at Khooni Darwaza.
That is macabre and how horrible for that woman to be gang raped..simply disgusting. i can well imagine a place like this being haunted. I live very near Niagara On The Lake which is supposed to be the most haunted town in Canada. I find the spookiness fun to investigate and read about.
It is indeed a sad place.
And the scariest bit is that they’re everywhere.
What fascinating history! I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of structures absorbing the energy/karma of its inhabitants. I live in the U.S. in Illinois. Our state is chock full of haunted places and famous ghosts, many connected to the civil war/slavery and the Roaring Twenties.
Yes remnants of energy can affect a place with a violent history. Haunted buildings and other places can make for fascinating study.
I don’t think any research is ever in vain, as even your taking in the atmosphere and learning about Khooni Darwaza, created scenes in your book to be influenced by that experience. I can imagine research can go on forever, though.
Since I’ve been to New Delhi (in summer), I’m trying to imagine it being cold there… 🙂 Your book sounds fascinating, Damyanti and the more I read and learn about it, the more multi-layered it seems. I hope you’re not haunted by it!
I am haunted by it, but have learned to live with that.
Yes Delhi can be quite cold, going down to about 34 degrees F in winter.
An earlier title for this book was Delhi winter, because the events mostly occur in one Delhi winter.
So far the book has found fans across the spectrum— I thought it was only women 30-80, but apparently men and women of all ages are affected by it. Shows how little I know about my target audience.
It reminds me of when we visited Holyrood Palace in Scotland – you could still see the blood stains on the floor where Mary’s servant was killed. It was very eerie.
That sounds very scary indeed, Diane.
* Adds Holyrood Palace to her Scottish itinerary *
That’s interesting how that area seems to attract death.
Yes. I would scoff at it, but in the face of overwhelming evidence, can’t.
Grats on the release, Damyanti! That sounds like a bloody place with lots of gory history. Glad it could provide some inspiration and atmosphere for something good like a book!
Thanks for the kind wishes, Loni. If you check out the book, you would find traces of the eerie in places–mostly inspired by my evening at Khooni Darwaza.
Diana Gabaldon once gave a talk called, “I’ve done my research, and now you’re going to pay. ” It was a warning against dumping all one’s research into a novel.
So I’m glad you did the research, and you were wise enough not to add it where it would not improve the story.
Yes, the story is the story and research is research. Sometimes it is better to discard the research in the interests of the story.