To hell and back – Part 3

The day ended exactly like the way it had started. Seven of us huddling in darkness.

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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. 

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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’m fainting”

“I think I’ll die”

“Aojboaffvapsda”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh”

“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.

a-night-of-batsSuddenly 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…..

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To hell and back – Part 2

We waited for the sun to dawn upon us along with a few ideas. The setting that seemed spooky all this while, turned harmless in daytime. It was just an ordinary road in the middle of trees. Even the background score changed appropriately from frogs/ crickets to birds chirping. Probably, the overpopulated trees were stopping the sun rays from creeping in. At a distance was a little hut. An ideal setting that could allow this stuck-up screenplay to progress.

The dwellers there predicted that the bus must have proceeded to Shravanabelagola. Guru and me were nominated to hunt the missing bag, while the rest volunteered to look after the luggage in the meantime. Bonda was spared from the effort for the fear of his stupidity repeating itself.

Before we could debate this decision, they bundled us off on this brief pilgrimage, shoving us into the only bus that cared to stop.

We knew that we had to keep this very purposeful. We had a deadline to meet. To make it back before 1pm, as the trek to Yedakumeri was at least 5 hours. 

All this effort was not because we were concerned about Bonda’s bag. It was just that the damn bag carried the stove and a few essential utensils.

Soon Guru and me reached Shravanabelagola. While every other visitor there was seeking salvation, we cheaply seeked ‘Bonda’s bag’. With blinkers on, we passed by the most exciting part of temple visits. Stalls with interesting wares that reduced the heaviness of the religion to cool fashionable paraphernalia like bracelets, pendants, scarves, bags and other adaptable mediums. 

We resisted any temptation to take a detour and catch a glimpse of the gigantic Mahaveer statue that we had only seen as a pixelated picture in flimsy ‘What to see in Karnataka’ booklets. It was frustrating but we had little time to ponder on the idiocy of this visit. 

The conductors at the bus stand said that the buses usually went for a body wash at a nearby lake. We murmured a little prayer for finding the bag, to the top of mind lord at that moment, Mahaveer. We were surrounded with devotees who walked around in bunches with eyes closed singing long bhajans that probably justified the length of their wishlists. And hoped that that ours’ would be easier for the lord to sanction in comparison.

And surprisingly the excitement of this episode ended with no further surprises.  The bus was at the lake. The bag was in the bus. 

But, I wish my prayers were more generic than specific to finding Bonda’s bag. 

I was horrified on my return. I saw Jeeva sitting on a parapet, munching on a boiled egg, which was only a sample piece from the black aluminium vessel beside him that contained the balance 23 eggs in their new form.

“The swine had boiled all my eggs!!”

All those hours I had spent packing them, was reduced to this unimaginative dish in one stroke.

Jeeva beamed with pride on his stupendous idea. He cooly revealed the thinking behind this brainwave “I just thought that these were easier to carry. So I got the lady at the hut to boil them for us.”  

I wish he had atleast spared one of them, for me to smash it on his head. This trek suddenly had lost all purpose. The special omelette pan that I had purchased, poked me on my back mockingly through Bonda’s bag that was hanging on my shoulders. My dreams of sitting in the middle of the forest and listening to the sound of the batter sizzling on a pan, now stared at me in the shape of a boiled egg. 

And to aggravate me further Bobby had set up his camera on a tripod to take a shot of this prize winning recipe. And Neil and Bonda gulped an egg and posed adding the touristy touch to it, that must have invited some rubbish caption underneath later “Boiled eggs under the boiling sun”.

Aslam dismissed my desires with a sarcastic remark in chaste Shivajinagar urdu, that never failed to puncture the gas out of bloated sentiments  “Chod re, uski maa, Bangalore jaake main tumhe omelette banake khilatoon chal.” and murmured to himself “Uski maa, kya kya plan banaate ba sab, jungle mein omelette kethe….”

 

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A narrow path lead us to the track that headed towards Yedakumeri.

Though a friend who’d been here earlier had given us a detailed picture, it still seemed very different from what we had imagined it to be. 

One look and we knew that this was going to be a rather unusual trek. It was a rail track that broke through the hills. A narrow path that had thick bushes and trees on one side, and a giddy fall on the other.

The only way to trek was to walk in a single file.

So we had to carefully position our feet on the railings, look down and walk. And we could either choose to walk or enjoy the scenery. Never both at the same time. So everytime someone felt that he was passing by a beautiful sight, he had to shout out “STOP’, and then look, or the guy behind would could end up bumping into him and knocking him down. And to add to the drama, like most tracks in ghat sections, it passed through stinky tunnels and dizzying heights.

Further special effects were added by the rain gods. It started to drizzle. The kind that never increases or stops. Sprinkling mildly but continuously, slowly inducting us to the savagery we were getting into without a clue. 

Bonda had no qualms revealing his cowardice. He froze at entrance of the first tunnel. And stood there in protest, suggesting safer and better ideas to do this male bonding. We decided to overcome this gigantic obstacle on our path, by repositioning him at the end of the queue.  Soon, we discovered that it was only six of us who were trekking. We trailed back and positioned him right in the middle, so that the first three could help him overcome his fear, by leading with example. And the last three could shepherd him from behind. Bonda heaved and puffed and cribbed and cried and mumbled his way through into the first tunnel. We heard a deafening screech. At first, we thought that the railways had re-introduced the train, and then we realised that it was a thousand bats that echoed together flapping and flocking out, brushing our faces with their slimy velvety wings, in an ambience of stinking darkness. 

By the time we got out of the first tunnel, we were unified by a common emotion. But postponed any discussion of this mutual feeling to a later stage. It was 3 pm, and we still had 12  kilometers to cover within sunset.

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This sombre progression was disrupted by Bobby’s sudden attack of epilepsy, “bloo…bloo….blood” he screamed supporting himself on his tripod. Guru’s jeans were red. He rolled it up to reveal three leeches that were ballooning shapelessly in there feasting on his blood. Guru with an air of bravado, casually took out his pen knife and slashed them down one by one. And just before he could bask in the glory of this massacre, he fainted. He had just seen a snake glide past Bonda’s feet. Bonda turned around in time to see its tail slide into one of the bushes and swooned. We were barely 2 kms into the journey, and we had 3 paralyzed victims around. 

There was a moment of silence in the conscious crowd, who used this break as an opportunity to catch up with breaths they were running short of. Neil was the first to be reminded of his humanitarian duties, and rushed to help the casualties. He splashed a bottle of water on Bobby’s face, hoping that he would recover as he still had his portfolio to be completed. I placed my hand on Guru’s shoulders, which he mistook as an act of comfort, while I was actually supporting myself and panting silently. 

Bonda regained himself and announced his retreat with a parting shower of his spit, which by now failed to have its initial impact. Ya, we were use to it, but it now made little difference, as we were drenched with rain and sweat  and we could no longer differentiate between the three. 

“ffff…FFUCK MACHAAN….aapihdihar acandihaporp$%^&$^…..I’M badboaadugad ztyuioyuipiahr GOING bbbbbBACK.” garbled Bonda, stammering with fear, reducing the possibility of any comprehension that remained.

Jeeva took out a packet of salt from his bag. Applied it on his legs, and chucked it to the rest of them. “That’s for the leeches. Those who want to move ahead, smear them on your feet and get going. The rest of them can go wherever the fuck they want to. You all knew that you were coming to a trek didn’t you!! And not a stroll to a botanical park. So if you want to sissy out now, bugger off assholes. It’s frikkin 4 pm man, and we’ve got to cover 10 kms more. I’m moving on. Those who want to join me can follow, the rest can jump off this cliff for all I care.” 

And Jeeva walked away victoriously into a tunnel, chasing out a fleet of bats that echoed his sentiments.

Bonda by now had made a grand retreat to the other end, taking a momentary pause to muster courage to venture all the way back alone. He turned around to throw a parting glance to other two faint-hearted victims, giving them a final chance to realise the joy of this early freedom. 

I waited for Aslam to erupt and kick the daylights of everyone around.

And Aslam did. He flung his bag to one corner, ran all the way to Bonda. Next I heard a loud slap. And saw him being dragged back. In the same fervor he kicked Bobby’s tripod, and abused him in every language except English. Guru figured out that he was next, and picked up his bag, and got back on track before Aslam could assault him. 

Jeeva had stopped further ahead. Not to wait for us. His shoe had snapped. And he was cutting a piece of foam from his sleeping mat. He wrapped his shoe with that piece, tied it together with a string, and was back on his foot, all set to march any distance.

And soon, we were back like a herd of sheep walking at snail’s pace, moaning and groaning in a single file.

We had about 7 kms left. And Bobby suddenly stopped the entire crowd with an outburst.yedakumeri_tracks1

“I don’t care. I am not moving ahead without capturing this sunset. I didn’t come on this trip to stare at Bonda’s backside, throughout the journey. So, if you guys think that walking in a queue in the rain is a good idea of a trek, you can jolly well do so. I have a different agenda.”

He spread out his wares, and set-up his little toy, while the others patiently waited. Even Jeeva cocked up. He had to succumb to these tantrums, in the hope that this sunset snap will play its own tiny role in bringing him closer to his beloved.

Bobby brought out a hood, put it over his camera, and peeked into it, till we were convinced that he had gone off to sleep inside it. And came out of that pose, only after he had captured evidence of this nature’s marvel. But the scenery outside his lens had changed by then.

The sun had set.

It was pitch dark. We were wet. It was cold. We were famished. The surrounding was eerie. We were balancing ourselves on a rail track that had a massive fall below. The bags on our backs were soaked, and about twice their initial weight. And we had about 7 long kilometers to cover. 

Disclaimer: All pictures are from the worldwide web. I am unable to trace the owners of these pictures. I am attaching them here with due respects, credits and of course some terrifying memories.