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India's cake loving British 'ghost'
By Amarnath Tewary
Gaya, Bihar




Locals believe the 'English ghost' is happy with tea and cakes (Pics: Prashant Ravi)

Owen Tomkinson was a British soldier who died of cholera in the northern Indian state of Bihar in 1906.

Nothing unusual about that, but people of Ekbalnagar in Gaya town where Mr Tomkinson is buried, believe that his ghost stops residents and passers-by and demands tea and cake.

So much so that to placate the dead soldier's ghost, they offer tea, biscuits and home-baked cakes at Mr Owen's grave at a two-acre burial ground, where he lies buried with hundreds of other Britons who died in the area.

Most of the graves are of children, aged between three months to eight years, and who died between 1833 and 1877.

Mr Tomkinson was among the last people to have been buried here - 'In loving memory of Owen, The dearly loved husband of Annie Tomkinson who died at Gaya (sic) on 19 September 1906, aged at 47 years', reads the epitaph.

'Hogwash'

But 100 years after his death, locals of this Muslim-dominated neighbourhood still say that the "angrez bhoot" (English ghost) is a restless soul who can be only pacified with tea and cakes.

Gaya is rife with stories about how Mr Tomkinson's ghost "stops people" and "asks for tea and cakes".

"When darkness falls, the English ghost appears. He is dressed in a very English suit and boots. He stands in the middle of the road demanding tea and biscuit," says local school teacher Mohammad Zamiuddin.

Mehmood Ali, caretaker of the 'European' graveyard where the Englishman lies buried, is not sure of Mr Tomkinson's ghost, but says there is a "ghost in the area who likes tea and biscuits" .

"I have never met the English ghost. But I believe there must be some restless soul roaming around the area with his penchant of tea and biscuit," he says.

Sexagenarian Mohammad Basir says he had an encounter with the ghost some five years ago early one morning.

"He stopped me but after shaking my hand became invisible," says Mohammed Basir, a small time businessman.

There are even stories of how the ghost was "tamed" by a local resident few years ago by "chaining" it to a pillar in the graveyard.

"He tied him with some divine chains and fixed him to iron pillars near the grave," says resident Mohammed Zamiuddin.

But Mr Tomkinson's spirit was free again after the chain was stolen from the graveyard, says caretaker, Mohammed Ali.


Locals say the ghost was once 'tamed' by a resident

The oldest English resident of Gaya town, Arthur Wakefield, is appalled by the ghost stories surrounding Mr Tomkinson.

"This story about his ghost demanding tea and biscuits is just hogwash and part of the local superstition," he says.

But residents of Ekbalnagar - the most backward neighbourhood in Gaya town - still keep queuing up at Mr Tomkinson's grave to offer tea and cakes.

Faiyaz Ahmed, a local resident, says it is a small price to pay to keep the Englishman's ghost happy.

"He is quite unlike other ghosts. He is harmless. Even if you do not serve tea and biscuit, he leaves you if you promise to get it any other day," he says.

news.bbc.co.uk