Sahib dropped Akshay and me at my uncle’s place. Upon ringing the door bell we were greeted by my sister. She sprang her arms around me. Pecked me on the cheeks and shrieked, “I knew this would work out.” All my attention was sidetracked from the pain and the accident. She was the most benign member of my extended family. My sweet little sister (we are of the same age, but it’s always the brother who feels bigger and conscientious.) Her dark brown hair waved with a gush of air that freed my tensed nerves. The freckles on her face were not a result of age, but a sign of fret and relief on holding her dearest brother tightly after such a long time. Her eyes, a shade darker than mine, were shut. She only opened those almond contoured eyes to look at Akshay. We had never had any sibling rivalry. We owed this to the fact that my uncle treated me as the son he always wanted and my cousin was overwhelmed by the distinction of being the only girl in the whole of Dehradoon who could address me as “Brother”, without offending me.
Our foremost priority was to get you treated so we made our way to the forest inspector’s hut. There I had to lift you on my shoulders all the way to the emergency room.
Kalsh: Ah… that explains the blood stains on your shirt.
Akshay: Yes right, now shut up and listen. Although the ranger was nowhere to be found but luckily there was a nurse in the hut. She cleaned your wounds. A kindhearted lady who made sure that you did not die of septic.
“We cannot thank her enough.” Keshav and Sahib chimed in unison.There were tears in their eyes. Akshay ignored them and continued:
But you see she was not a specialist doctor. Her stitching skills were not perfect. Although she tried her level best but she couldn’t stop the bleeding. We tried ice, water, and bandage but to no avail. So to cut the long story short, you bled for one whole night. She also contacted the ranger.
Sahib: He wanted to interview all of us but I made sure that he did not disturb your sleep.
Akshya: Will you two stop interrupting. (Sahib pretended he was looking at the road.) So where was I?
Kalsh: The forest official…
Akshay: Yeah, yes hmm…
I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. It was probably several hours later that I woke up. We were going back to Dehradoon. The misadventure had killed our enthusiasm. Sahib was driving. Keshav was sitting next to him and Akshay had fallen asleep by my side.
I tried in vain to get up from my quiescent position on the back seat. My effort ended up interrupting Akshay’s dream.
Akshay: Is it still paining?
Kalsh: Nah… in fact I am enjoying it now.
Akshay: Very funny. Now see, this is important. Take this ointment and apply it on the wounds. (He gave me a tube.)
Kalsh: Great (I snatched it from his hand). Now tell me everything that happened since I fainted.
Akshay: Rest for now. It’s not time yet. You have been through a lot.
Keshav: Tell him about the covenant. (He jumped out of his seat.)
Kalsh: About the what? I didn’t know we had a covenant in place, especially when Sahib stepped on me. (I got up.)
Akshay: Hey calm down you two. It’s not that simple.
Kalsh: Then tell me how complicated it is? I am all ears.
Akshay: Should we? (He asked Sahib and Keshav)
Sahib: We have to tell him eventually. Better sooner than later.
Keshav: Everything suits me as long as I am not the one narrating.
Akshay: Alright then, gentlemen brace yourselves.
My mother on the left, sobbing; my brother giving her assurance of my well being; a fruit basket on the right; and handful of well wishers from school on either side- this is what I had wanted to see upon opening my eyes. That was not to be. To my shock I saw two uniforms. One was a green shade of khaki and the other a starched white. I tried focusing but to no effect, their faces were not recognizable.
Keshav: He is awake! (I recognized the voice)
White Uniform: Let me see. Hmm I can’t measure the mental trauma, otherwise he looks fine. Let me just clean the wounds.
Akshay: Thank god! You are alright.
With divine intervention I was finally able to see. The person in white was actually a nurse. Unfortunately my sensory abilities had not returned completely. I had been searching for an expression of motherly kindness on her face. But all I could make out was a nose. Or shall I say I was interested only in the nose. This was a nose which degraded my life to catastrophic depths. It was a nose without nostrils, a rather annoying site.
The man in khaki turned out to be a forest official. He asked my friends a few questions.
Forest Official: Shall I interrogate him? (Pointing towards me, he asked the nurse.)
Nurse: Only if you must. Although let me tell you that he is not in his senses completely.
The protracted journey of the jeep had come to an end. I knew my best friend Akshay had fought a bear to rescue me. Surviving the night with all the bleeding and unattended wounds on the contours of my rib cage was a subject of petite discussion. More confident than ever on my decision I opened my eyes. Akshay, who was sitting next to me, looked back at me. He was tired by the night’s misadventures. He pressed my hand against his and winked his eyes reassuringly.
Kalsh: Akshay I must tell you. Probably you are the only man I can trust my sister with. (These were my last words before they asked me to go back to sleep.)
He must have been very happy. That day in the forest we laid together the foundation of a very special bond. The bear was as much responsible for my decision as Akshay’s courage. However, not to my surprise though, Akshay never used my indebted life as an excuse to date my sister. His was a much purer form of love. He is still dating my sister. The couple is happy and soon they will tie the holy knot.
Besides all this thinking, my attention was also drawn towards Akshay’s uneasiness. He wasn’t enjoying the surroundings. His mood was no doubt jolly, but still I felt he was scared. Normally I would have concluded that he was cowering off the wilderness. However it seemed more complicated than that. He walked out of the tent. Now Sahib, Keshav and I were in the tent. They were trying to suppress their giggles. I was intimidated by the idea of another surprise? What was to follow? Why was only I unaware? Had they planned a trip just to target me? Had they brought guns to poach? All my worst fears spiralled round the tent and the rail of bizarre guesses came to a halt only when Keshav stood up.
My heart wanted to write about the immense beauty of the greens, but my hands were trembling with anxiety at the sight of the equally daunting woods. The jeep was covered from the top, but open in the back. We were comfortable with our luggage under the seat. A smile was noticeable on Sahib’s face. He was signalling something to Keshav, with the his squinting eyes. I had never seen him give such a smile since the fifth grade. I was clueless as to what would be coming my way. I turned towards Akshay who appeared very restless. It appeared as if he was framing sentences, probably to disclose something to me. Presumably he would soon make the announcement.
Akshay arrived at my uncle’s house with his luggage safely dumped in the hostel. Soon we were joined by Sahib and Keshav. I would love to describe them for you, but that would require a whole new book. So instead let me elaborate upon the bond that enjoined us. Coming from effluent families; residing in different parts of the country; having varied interests; speaking no less than 7 languages- we were an ambush to reckon with. Each one of us had a special talent and the entire school fraternity of Dehradoon had acknowledged the same by bestowing us with numerous accolades in the past. I actually believed that within our wolf pack we might have been four individuals but for everyone else we were one. As if we were knotted by an unspoken unseen thread of emotions, a thread that emboldened me to entrust even my life in their hands. Their wretched slippery hands.
Kalsh: Don’t remind me of ‘The Performance’ I want to forget all of it.
Lady Penguin Patch-up: Forget it? You sound like a quitter. Is the captain of this school team a quitter? Every moment of your life is memorable. Every emotion is eternally engraved upon your soul. Don’t try to forget it son, embrace it. Use it to explore the music inside you. Such incidents will repeat endlessly in your life. Like a cycle of cause and effect, action-reaction. But you are one of those rare men who have the ability to break the cycle. Your classmates mock you because they have nothing better to do. But you, you have an ocean in front of you, waiting for you to set sail. This stage is your ship, you are meant to be there and not in this obnoxious sport. (She got up) there will be no play without you, Edward. (And she left). If you don’t show up tomorrow I will cancel the event.
She left me alone in the visitors lounge. My school uniform was perfectly tugged in and it did not leave any space for discomfort. But I knew that the lady who just walked out had actually walked in on me. There are holes in all of us, some big holes and some small ones. And we are miserable at finding these holes. Our ego is too bloated to let us see clearly. Therefore God makes sure that every man has a woman who takes up the responsibility of mending him. They, ‘Patch Us Up’. And that day, Lady Penguin Patch-up made an Edward out of a Kalsh and in the process she transformed a ‘Player’ into a ‘Performer’. She made me fall in love with myself all over again. I went to practice that day and the day after that and the day…
A man is only as good as his word. It was my decision to bet. I knew the repercussions. I was overconfident. I missed. I lost the bet. That was the whole point of this conversation. I took the bag and went to sleep. The entire room was intrigued by the mystery of its contents. And inevitably all my room mates were disappointed the following morning.
A fifteen year old boy who is suppose to be all burly and uncouth. Who is trained by his seniors as their prodigy. Who is considered the definite superlative among his peers. Who is voted by his juniors as their leader. What could he be scared of?
Next morning I emptied the bag. Its contents lay on my bed. I took the volunteer application form in one hand and school principal’s reference letter in the other. Next fifteen minutes I took a journey which on any other day would have been thrilling, but today I had to make an effort to lift my feet. I was going to Welhams Girls School. As I made my way through the gate, I could hear groups of girls on either side of the path leading to the auditorium giggling. The volunteer form got me through the doors of the institution, the principal’s letter would obviously get me selected, but I knew it was sheer courage that would make it possible for me to survive the torture that awaited me.