The day ended exactly like the way it had started. Seven of us huddling in darkness.
Atleast, we all remembered to carry torches. Except Guru, since he was already on a path of enlightenment to his professor’s house. Bonda carried a pen torch that was enough to light up a button hole. Neil had a torch with some stock of Eveready batteries that were purchased by his grandfather during independence. I carried one that never failed to switch off at the right moment. Jeeva was the only one who had a massive torch that brought some dignity to this trek. Bobby had a decent one as well. And Aslam’s torch had conked in the rain.
So, we switched on our torches and entered into an argument that was long due. Jeeva flashed the torch at Bonda and yelled. Bonda yelled back flashing his pen torch on Bobby’s eye, rather pupil. Bobby punched Bonda on his chest. Aslam intervened, and calmed Bobby down. And turned to Bonda and gave him a punch from his side, that was twice Bobby’s might. Guru quickly slipped into a dark corner to remain inconspicuous. I kept fiddling with my torch to get it working before I picked my victim. This torch pointing game went on for quite some time, till everyone had finished flashing blames on each other. Soon, we realised that we were wasting precious energy on this pointless argument. So, we switched off our torches and continued with this fight in darkness picking an approximate blind spot, and hurling abuses at it.
Bobby blamed Bonda for forgetting his bag.
Bonda blamed Bobby for his selfish long drawn photography breaks.
Guru concluded that this was a stupid idea to begin with.
Neil turned philosophical and blamed destiny.
I blamed my shitty luck.
Aslam blamed everyone.
And Jeeva blamed his brainlessness for being a part of this shameful gang.
The only bright spot that remained was the deadlinelessness of the situation. We had already screwed up. We could think of nothing better to do, than remain in our positions and scream at each other. Which we did till the sounds of the jungle started getting louder. Strange sounds from every corner merged into an eerie cacophony humbling this petty scrap. We started feeling the wetness in our underwears. Now and then a cold wind would tingle some forgotten body part. And we started coming to terms that we have to move our asses, if we still want to keep them.
There was a brief silence that made everyone believe that someone around was developing a plan.
I heard the rumbling of a plastic cover. I was trying to decipher this familiar sound. It was Jeeva who was rummaging his bag to pull out some boiled eggs. This idea seemed great to our blank heads.
Soon, everyone attacked the packet like Darwin’s salivating dogs. The eggs that were planned out for next 2 days disappeared in 2 minutes. My hunger humped my ego aside, and I dived right in. Ok, I admit that boiled eggs never tasted so tasty before.
Neil used this replenished energy for giving a small motivational speech, in a feeble defeated voice “We can do it guys come on. We’ve covered half the distance. Let’s finish it off guys. This is the test of life. We will not give up. Let’s go…..” or some such nonsense.
Nobody budged. And Neil quickly returned to the eggs that were fast disappearing.
We had just flung ourselves on a cluster of bushes on the left of the railtrack. There wasn’t even space for squatting. We just leaned on them with our bags on the back, sinking into it gradually, deforming ourselves to stand in peculiar poses, stuffing our faces with egg. It was thorny and we were bruised all over, but we were learning to vulnerably succumb to it.
A whooshing sound that could have nothing but a snake, instantly kicked us all back into track.
Jeeva fished out a rope from somewhere and said “Ok. I’ll lead. The rest tie this rope around your waist and follow.” We got into our positions behind this self-appointed torch bearer. The balance trustable torches were assigned to every alternate member in the queue. And we were back on this eternal journey to nowhere.
What was worse was that, earlier we could atleast stop to see things around, but now the vision was strictly restricted to that ring of torchlight on those monotonous railings. We held our torches, tightened the rope on our waists, and relied on a mysterious force to pull us along. And walked like immune donkeys on semi-effective anaesthesia.
To keep himself going, Bonda strung together names of all his favorite gods and composed a meaningless prayer with a lifeless tune. And we all marched to this irritating chant.
Nobody had a perfect idea of how much we had covered, and how far we still had to go. After a few steps Bonda felt that we had walked over 5 kilometers, and Jeeva vouched that it was not more than 500 meters. We had to find methods to keep our bodies disengaged from the mind. And fool it to keep it going.
“I think I’ll die”
“Mummy Daddy ki pasand. Bhaiyaa Bhabi ki pasand.”
“Vicco turmeric nahin cosmetic….”
“Tip tip barsa paani…I am your papa johnny”
“Humse kya bhool hui jo ye sazaa humko mili…..”
“HARE aknanaihipaiop RAMA askdnakne KRISHNA bmxncvnhsef ALLAH aihdaisc JESUS aksdkahad NAAM bhjmkbfasld HAI uabsdouasfas SHAHENSHAH”
“Twinkle twinkle little star…”
“FUCK YOU ALL”
We garbled anything that came to our mind to continue this journey in a state of mindlessness. I guess we were slowly turning mad. We walked mentally spell-checking our epitaphs, weighing our chances in heaven and picturising the various reactions of people when they get to know the news.
Suddenly Jeeva stopped and took off his jeans and strung it on his shoulders. The wet jeans had ruptured his skin. Jeeva resembled a ragpicker in this get up. Jeans on his neck, an oversized bag on his back, a dripping underwear on his bottom, and a piece of sleeping mat on one of his shoes. But at that moment even Russel Peters couldn’t have made us laugh. Seeing him, we realised that we all suffered from the same condition. Our thighs were severely wounded, and the idea of exposing it to the cold wind, seemed blissful. In a moment we all stripped down to our undies, and ungeared ourselves to complete the rest of this torment. Neil however took a little more time to aptly undress for this occasion, still managing to find his own style statement in the hour of desperation. He tied back his hair. And buckled his belt over his long shirt. Flung his jean on the neck, and casually tossed back one half over his shoulder, to make it seem like an impromptu stole. And ramp walked like he was in a show that had ‘Spartacus’ as the theme.
Bobby carefully scrutinized his thighs to find any traces of blood, so that he could repeat his fainting act more convincingly this time. Fortunately, the leeches and his denims were kinder to the rest of us.
And after this brief makeover, we resumed that painful parade in our liberated uniform.
Now and then, we would wait for Jeeva to replace his shredded sole with a fresh cutting of the sleeping mat. Eventually he had no more mat to cut, and slowly moved on to sizing down every other mat that he could lay his hands on. We walked with alternating interruptions of Jeeva’s sole changing pit-stops and Guru’s squeals, everytime he spotted a twig that resembled a snake.
For sometime, Neil kept us engaged with some story of a fashion show that he had participated in. The story was disjointed and meaningless, but noone bothered to clarify. To everyone around, it was only a reassurance that we were still a part of this world. We were still alive. We could still hear. We were still walking. It was just comforting to hear a human voice around, to assure us of our existence.
We subjected ourselves to this unique test where on one end, Neil’s humdrum was putting us to sleep, and on the other the rope that was tugging us on our waists refused to let us slip into his lullaby.
We endured this torture for about six hours, and in the dying minute of our lives, we suddenly spotted salvation. Jeeva flashed the beam on a railway board that read “Yedakumeri”.
(Oh yes!! This has a part 4. I tried my level best to edit out as much as I could, but I couldn’t. I have too many stories to tell. Not because they are worthy of narration, but just for the sheer pleasure that I’m still bloody alive to tell it.)
To be contd…..