Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dark Night

That cold winter night. My heart still whirls with fright when I remember that sight.

I never ever believed in ghosts. Every other day I used to see reports in the newspapers about someone facing some ghastly encounters with a spirit. All that I used to do was to laugh out as loudly as possible, since I found those stories immensely hilarious. But now, when I relate one of those stories, I get shaken with fright. Because that story recounts my encounter with one.

Last Winter
It was a very chilly night, capable of making your feet stiff if you happen to go out in slippers. I had just reached Jainagar, a small village in Bihar, the place where my grandparents lived. The train which was scheduled to reach Jainagar at about 9 pm at night reached the destination station four hours late. 

I jumped off the boggy as soon as the train stopped. My appetite did no good to my condition and I wanted to run to my grandfather's place as soon as possible. The house was 50 minutes on foot or 15 minutes ride on a rickshaw. My thrift could not compete with my sagging body and I decided to look for a rickshaw.

Moving out of the railway station, my eyes wandered. Pitch darkness enveloped by a gory silence prevailed. Besides the distant dogs' howls, all I could hear was my own footsteps. There was no-one to be seen. The passengers who descended the train with me had disappeared and I was left all alone. My eyes drifted along the moonlit asphalt ahead and then, in dearth of a companion, they started following my shadow. Tall, well-built and confident happened to be the few hidden reflections that I could see.

I trudged ahead, bleary-eyed, which sought rest intermittently, while my lazy feet searched for an excuse to not take the next step. The cold wind had already numbed my cheeks and the increasing darkness had rendered it impossible for my bespectacled eyes to deduce what was ahead. The clouds also had no mercy for me because they hid the only companion, the moon, I had while walking. The darkness had ripped myself off my shadow.

Suddenly, a shimmer struck my drowsy eyes from far away. Having walked for just around ten minutes, my lazy feet suddenly found a reason to quicken. The reason well-enough to reassure me that I was not alone on the road in that dark night. The shimmer swayed with the wind and it reached me sooner than I expected. It was the tremulous light of a lantern. The lantern with its owner sitting near it - someone with bent back and a tattered blanket wrapped around himself. Beside him, there was a rickshaw and it gave my tired mind a relief of a lifetime.

"Will you go to Rajiv Nagar?" I asked, presuming him to be the rickshaw-wala.
"Yes," A hoarse voice of a grave baritone came from within that blanket. He got up with the back still bent, as though it was a hunchback, while the blanket eclipsed every aspect of his from me. He diminished the lantern's flame and handed it over to me.

I got seated, while he tightened his blanket around his entire body, not even sparing his face - which I could not even get a chance to see all the while. He set the rickshaw in motion, without uttering a word. The ghastly lull was broken by the rhythmic sound of the moving chains of the rickshaw. The clouds became benevolent and revealed the moonlight to me. I became lost adoring the beauty of the moon when suddenly the cold wind started slapping my cheeks. The rickshaw had been accelerating at an astoundingly great pace. Meanwhile, the hide and seek between me and the moon started again, making it impossible for me to even decipher what was coming ahead.

I shouted at the rickshaw-wala, "Will you please go slow!"

He didn't listen nor did he care.

"Will you go slow?" I screamed at the top of my voice. He was undeterred. The speed increased and abruptly, he took a sharp right turn, almost making me topple, when I squeaked, "Stop! Stop it!"

My yell did the job. He stopped. I was just ten minutes away from home, so I thought that it was better to rely on lazy feet than a psycho rickshaw-puller. I jumped off the rickshaw, placed the lantern on the seat with its flame fully lighted, and took out my wallet - the wallet which contained a little more than two-thousand rupees. I took out a ten rupees note in front of him, when he abruptly removed his blanket.

What beheld my sight made a series of shiver go through my body. I was experiencing an earthquake - strong enough to make me frightened every single time I happen to recall it in the future. The ten rupees note as well as my wallet fell off my shaking hand and even in that cold winter night, I became drenched in sweat.

There he  was, standing straight - at least six-feet three inches tall, with a fully withered face - as if somebody had rubbed his face with cactus, and two of his canines protruding out of his face, being as sharp as a dagger.

My appetite had become a history. My feet felt paralyzed with fear, no matter how desperately I wanted to run away from him, I could not exercise any control over my body. I looked up at his eyes. They were deep red. The sweat as well as the shiver increased over thousand times with just that sight. I just could not stare at him. I felt like running away. I moved my eyes to the ground to avoid the gruesome sight, just out of fear. What I saw hit me hard - he was wearing a shredded shoe which I found very familiar.

I looked up again. In a moment, all my fear was vanquished. Without wasting a moment, I kicked the most vulnerable part of his body.

He fell on the ground, crying aloud and I continued kicking him hard.

"Who are you? Tell me or I'll call the police!" I punched his face. His mask fell off.

"Saheb, it's me, Suresh - Sita-amma's son. Remember, she was the maid at your grandma's place? I didn't know it was you Saheb until I removed my blanket. If I knew it was you, I would have never frightened you," The human inside that ghost spoke up. I was perplexed.

"Suresh! What has happened to you? Why are you doing these things? Are you in your senses?" I whined.

"Saheb, it's not me but my circumstances!" Suresh said.

"Stop giving excuses. You cannot blame the circumstances for your crime."

"Saheb, I won't say a thing. You just come to my home with me," he pleaded with his hand folded.

I didn't resist, out of pity perhaps. I collected all my stuff which had fallen down and despite being hungry, I decided to give him a shot and boarded his rickshaw. He drove me across the village, through a forest, to another village. This time he drove at a much faster pace, while my heart as well as cheek remained  indifferent to the surroundings, being lost in what I'd just encountered. My thoughts came to a standstill just when another lantern came in my purview. The speeding rickshaw halted at a hut outside the dimly lit hut.

"Saheb, let us extinguish this lamp, it will save some me oil for tomorrow. We've another one inside my house," Suresh extinguished it and asked me to wait outside for two minutes till he prepared everyone at home to receive a guest at such an ungodly hour.

"Have you got some money? Tomorrow, we've to go to the doctor for Amma's cataract operation," I overheard a feminine voice speaking with concern.

"Sorry, I could not bring any money. I had this strange..."

"How will we manage then? You're so couldn't even frighten anyone on the way...what's the use of these masks which I keep making for you everyday. Look at these children, they have not eaten anything tonight...if it goes on like this, they will die of hunger..." She didn't allow him to speak.

"We can discuss about it later. Will you listen to me?" Suresh rebuked.

Their conversation continued.

I peeped in through the window. What beheld my sight made a series of shiver go through my body. I was experiencing an earthquake - strong enough to make me frightened every single time I'll recall it in the future. There she was, standing straight, with her right skinny hand resting on her protruding belly. The dimly lit house was smaller than my washroom. It encompassed six malnourished children who rested on a thin mat, all covered in one long bedsheet, one undernourished pregnant lady with hands as thin as pencils, and a blind old lady who people lovingly called Sita-amma with the erstwhile ghost standing helpless in front of his god.

"Just look at him. His bones are .... oh my god! Babu, babu....!" Suresh's wife cried and started slapping the cheeks of their smallest child, who seemed more like a black skeleton in the shimmering light.

"What? What happened?" Sita-amma and Suresh screamed simultaneously.

"Babu is not breathing! Babu...babu...." She kept slapping her child until her hand felt that it was too late. The child was on her lap now, while she tried to wail with her choked throat, but alas, she could not. A minute later, groans, screams and cries seethed through that cold dark night while the moon stood as a mute spectator to what was going on. The lull, however, was broken by the ghastly outcry of pain.

I shuddered deep within. My appetite had become a history. Suddenly, my wallet fell off my shaking body near their door and my feet started moving away from that hut. I could not withstand that sight. It was dreadful.

Even in that dark winter night, I became drenched, this time not in sweat but in tears. I was terrified, as never before. Even the moon had no answer to what I'd just seen. After all, I had seen a ghost! The ghost of poverty...

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Bet

30th June, 2009
Scene 1
'Ding dong! Tunn...tunn...tunn...' The sound struck Shrey's ears. It was the Royal Cathedral's bell that just told him that it was three o' clock in the afternoon.

He was at the Buchannan Bus Station, Glasgow and had a bus to catch at 3.40 pm for Edinburgh. Punctuality was in his genes. He reached the bus station an hour before the bus was going to leave. He hoped to find someone, after all, two of his friends Rohit and Farhan were also going along with him to Edinburgh.

Even after cross-checking his bag for the necessary goods more than a dozen times, he kept checking the stuff inside from time to time. He had everything in there, right from shaving kit, clothes, laptop, chargers to foodstuff packed as neatly as a newly-wed bride's room, just one thing was missing - the bus ticket. He was not worried though, since he delegated that responsibility to Rohit a week ago and gave him 30 pounds in total to book tickets for whole of the journey.

Scene 2 - The Bet
3.10 pm. He kept his bag on the ground and suddenly, somebody tapped his shoulders. It was Rohit.

"Hey bro! As always you're here before me! What do you do by coming so early?" Rohit asked.
"I just have a look around. After all, there is so much to see here." Shrey said with a naughty smile.
"Aha! I see. So much to see. Now I got the reason." Rohit said.
"Leave the reasons aside, give me the change. I gave you 30 pounds for the ticket, you must have got something left?"
"Oh! Tickets...I delegated that task to Farhan. He was going to the station that day."
"Dude! I intentionally asked you to do that! How could you give it to Farhan? He's such a disorganized person, he'll pack everything up in the last hour and I am damn sure, that he'll miss the ticket." Shrey said irritably.
"You can never be so sure buddy!"

"I can always be if that guy is Farhan. He holds the record of losing his things maximum number of times. Don't you remember that he lost his wallet during the last trip to Inverness? And not to forget the two mobile-phones, of which one was worth 80 pounds. 80 pounds - have you any bloody idea what that amount means? I can feed myself for two weeks with that money. Farhan! Freaking careless and now even phone-less!" Shrey exploded his hate for the species called 'careless people' in one go.

"But still, I don't think he could be so silly as to forget taking tickets with him for the journey. I bet he won't forget. 5 pounds is my bid!"

"I too bet - that he'll definitely forget! I bet my 10 pounds rather that he'll forget the ticket and would come with his irritating smile as if it were saying - 'this was the one last time bro, from the next time there will be no mistakes.'"

"Done! I am going to be richer by 10 pounds." Rohit said.

"You're being overconfident, just wait for 10 minutes; we'll all know who gets richer!" Shrey said looking at his watch, it was 3.20 pm now, just ten minutes to go when the boarding for the bus starts.

"By the way, I suppose you'd told him about all the journey details - 3.40 bus, then Evening ride to the Holyrood Hill in Edinburgh and all. At any cost, I fear that he'll even be able to reach here on time." Shrey said in an indifferent tone.

"Yes. I explained him everything. You got to have faith."

Scene 3
The talk paused for a while when the bus came into the stance and the passengers were asked to keep their baggage in the luggage box. Rohit kept standing with his light bag tightly hugging his backbone while Shrey took his delicately-arranged heavy bag with utmost care and cautiously kept it in the luggage-box. Meanwhile, the passengers lined up in a queue for boarding. The duo with no ticket, and no clue of Farhan the-ticket-wala anywhere, exercised their ciliary muscles in the meanwhile by dilating their eye-balls to filter the-ticket-wala in the crowd around. They could not trace him.

"Damn! Now Farhan is boiling my blood!" Shrey is agitated.

"He knows about buses, much more infact, since his last mobile phone was lost in the bus only. Still there are 10 minutes to go. He'll come with the ticket. He'll not let me lose the bet." Rohit is calm and composed.

3.30 pm. The boarding started. The two sets of eyes - one being more agitated than ever before and the other having just forgotten its principle of calm-sutra; were frantically searching around the crowd. Of thousand bright-skinned people in the bus station, finding someone who was of a tanned-texture was not a difficult task, but that tanned texture to be that of Farhan seemed impossible.

"Man, this bet is not taking us anywhere. We both are losing. Losing 30 pounds each. He has even forgotten to come. You were right! That bloody careless forgot even about the journey." Rohit echoed Shrey's skepticism. Shrey's blood pressure shot in rage.

3.36 pm. The entry had started and the queue now contained just a dozen homo sapiens. There was no hint of where our hero Farhan was!

The four eyes were tired of analyzing every tanned face they observed, so the eyes went back to their original seats.

Scene 4
A minute passed, when suddenly, Rohit screamed, "Oh my gosh! He has made it. That too with the bus-ticket." Farhan was painting their retina. He was at some distance, hopping towards them with a tortoise-smile on his face and a rabbit's jump wobbling his body. He held a paper in his hand - just a paper - no luggage, no bags, nothing at all.

"Here is your 10 pounds bro! You win the bet! But that creepo had given me a nightmare in broad daylight. Losing 10 pounds feels at least better than losing 30 pounds...huh!" Shrey sounded relieved despite losing the bet and now Rohit's wallet was heavier with 10 new golden coins making victorious music as they went inside.

The Countdown
3.37 pm.
The hip-hopper jumped all through the way and greeted the duo. The duo dislodged themselves from the queue for the time being - it didn't matter them much since they were standing last in the queue.

"Hey buddies! What are you people doing here? At the bus station?" Farhan said in a cheerful tone.
"Don't pretend! Your smile isn't going to win our hearts." Shrey remarked. Farhan stood confused.
"Where is your luggage? Aren't you carrying along any bags or clothes?" Rohit said with his face taking the most bizarre form of his lifetime.

3.38 pm
"Bag, luggage...what for?" Farhan looked puzzled.
"Stop kidding bro! I am already fed-up with you. Isn't it the ticket that you're holding in your hand?" Shrey said, a bit irritated this time.
"Yeah, it is, so?" Farhan said.
"So what? Board the bus! Give me the ticket..." Rohit said and snatched the ticket from Farhan's hand.
"What the fuck? What the heck is it?" Rohit was flabbergasted. Shrey peeped in.

3.39 pm
"What kind of joke is it? You have brought 'Angels and Demons' movie ticket out here...where is the bus's journey ticket?" Shrey asked in a tone that showed he had started losing his temper.
"Wait a minute! What date is it today?" Farhan asked. His eyes were trying to find a shelter outside his skull.
"30th June."
"Oh fuck!" Farhan exclaimed horridly. The phrase turned quite a few heads nearby.

3.40 pm
"You left the ticket at home, don't you?" Shrey charged. Farhan stared at him with a blank face.
"Damn! I lost the bet!" Rohit exclaimed before Farhan could speak a word. He handed a twenty pounds note to Shrey. Shrey looked happy though losing 30 pounds for the ticket was tickling his angry heart.
"Bet? What bet?" Farhan asked, rather to himself in a nonplussed tone.
"Damn you! How could you forget the ticket? 30 pounds in vain." Rohit screamed at Farhan. His irritation at losing the bet did a sleek task of increasing his anger every other second.
"I forgot the tickets. But I can't understand why are you people crying for 30 pounds. The money you gave me is still with me. 'I forgot the tickets' - by this phrase - I mean that I forgot to book the tickets. I'm really sorry for that! It's all my mistake..."

3.41 pm
Instead of being anguished, the faces of Rohit and Shrey lightened. A close-up smile sparked the surrounding, and they both simultaneously hugged Farhan side by side. The sudden uplift in their feelings-storehouse came from the fact that their 30 pounds was still safe and it shot their miser ego to a higher state. All the while, Farhan was a bit baffled at their reaction.

"So, what are you doing here then at the bus station?" Rohit asked being pleased with himself as well as with everybody else.
"I just came back after watching the movie 'Angels and Demons' through bus number 118 and as soon I deboarded from the bus, I saw you two standing here in the queue. So, here I am with the ticket."

Scene 5 : The Climax
"The queue for the bus! Oh shit!" Shrey exclaimed in horror. He turned to the side and all his dark-brown eyes could see was air replacing the space which Megabus occupied moments ago.

"My air-bag! Oh shit! It had my laptop." Shrey held his head in his hands and cried like a three years old child. He was busy remembering his beloved bag, about how the air bag would be enjoying the breeze between Glasgow to Edinburgh, which he was supposed to enjoy.

The Rohit-Farhan duo left no stones unturned at laughing on The Epitome of Carefulness's miraculous transformation into an object of ridicule.

"What was the bet you were talking about?" Farhan spoke intentionally to lighten Shrey's mood by changing the topic.

"Oh yeah! The bet! So, tell me Shrey who won the bet?" Rohit asked. Shrey didn't respond. He was sitting with his head resting upon his palms and his eyes concentrating on the mosaic tiles of the ground. Meanwhile, Farhan went behind Shrey to do something - something pre-planned.

"Screw you both!" Shrey screamed and just then something appeared from beneath his chair. Something which he had been missing with all his heart, which he had arranged with so much patience, something that was supposedly enjoying the breeze between Glasgow to Edinburgh. It was an air-bag with the name 'Shrey Saxena' imprinted on it and there was a paper pinned to its upper cover. Shrey jumped in joy, the joy he had never ever experienced before in his so-called organized life, and in that moment of elation he picked that special paper, which said -

Megabus - Glasgow to Edinburgh
Booking number - P8715384
Date of Journey - 30th June, 2009
Time of Journey - 4:40 pm

And in the bottom, a handwritten note saying -

"Now tell us, who won the bet?"


P.S. This one was supposed to go somewhere, but it went somewhere else, and am glad it did because it has become better than it would have been otherwise.

P.S. This is emphasizing human nature - the basic pride that we feel if we're good at something makes us underestimate every other person who is not as good as us, but the reality is every person can be as good as we are in anything if we just give them time and chance.
P.S. Here friends plan this trickery to make a situation where the most organized guy is suffering the most while the most casual guy has enjoyed the most.