She was leading the pack, standing right in the centre. I couldn’t see her face because the stage was far from where I stood. All the guys around me were cheering for her school. The fat boy on my left was even dancing to one of her songs. I jumped and stood on my toes. I was not willing to miss that spectacle. The girls who were dancing in the background had partnered with boys from another school. I turned around to spot a friend of mine from the partnering school. With bespectacled eyes he sat in a corner jesting at every pelvic thrust on the stage. I wasted no time in finding my way next to him. We had met at last year’s inter school mathematics quiz. He had been kind enough to leak a few of his answers last time. I needed some answers again. Although I did not expect him to be of much help but in those circumstances even the name of the girl would have been a monumental charity.
At all times I felt a connection with her. In fact I was in search for someone who would have a connection with me. The lyrics that follow this chapter have been misplaced. They deserve to be in the beginning of this book. These lyrics were the first thing I wanted to write in the book. Unfortunately I never jotted them down. Nearly all my teenage I have been humming this one tune till it finally took the form of a tangible lyric on 25th of December. The Christmas parties, I tell you! They were a jolly big affair in convents. Almost all the students from various schools in Dehradoon used to come to the annual bash. There used to be a special presentation by one of the schools as well.
Now I must confess a thing or two. I am not good at memory games. This is the reason that thenceforth I lost the track of how my life progressed. The next two chapters might not be in a chronological order. Please bear with me. This problem also arises because of the fact that I never maintained a diary for the purpose of converting it into a book one day.
On one hand the following year was full of new introductions while on the other some old friends deserted me. The first one to vanish was our Lady Penguin Patch-up. I heard that she had left Welham Girl’s school and had taken up a job in a production house in Delhi. She was also going to teach part-time at National School of Drama. So it was obvious that there would be no more musicals in Dehradoon. I was going to miss them a lot, wouldn’t you have?
How funny it is when someone comes in your life and you have to make way for them by letting someone else go. I have learnt, I think to let anyone go. In fact I have stopped crying. For a while now I have grown accustomed to being deserted, although that wasn’t the case when she entered my life… back in the spring of 2006.
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.
“Ah…hmmm… Err…” the pain was in my arms. I don’t know what part of its body pierced mine. Each drop of blood that leaked from my wounds anguished my entire circulatory system. “Ahh… God…!” my face had become wet by then. It smelt like the bear, tasted like tears and dripped like sweat. It was an awful time to realize the origin of the term ‘Bear hug’. An expression of love and affection had turned into slow poison. The affliction should have shunned my senses by then but it lasted a minute too long and a view of the beast from the inside was on offer. Before my last breaths were to leave my body I thought I might as well see what God had to offer in the name of death? So I paid attention to what was in front of my eyes. The bear was not enormous. He was just mad. And there was something in his mouth.
He was running. I was chasing him. He was jumping. I was leaping behind him. The words that came out of his mouth needed some explanation. Was this his idea of a joke? So all that time he had been rehearsing to ask me about my sister, pretending that that tree was me?
“MAY I DATE YOUR SISTER”, was that all he could come up with? Was it the lameness of the line that bothered me or its sudden appearance out of nowhere? I couldn’t pinpoint the cause of my agitation. All I could comprehend was that everyone (except me) knew that my best friend liked my sister.
Kalsh: Stop Akshay! We need to talk.
Akshay: You will have to catch me first.
Kalsh: Both of us know I am the second fastest guy here. If I chase you down, you are gone. So it’s better to stop right here right now.
Akshay: Well is your answer “yes”.
Kalsh: Yes to what?
Akshay: To my question.
Kalsh: This is it you are going down.
And I pounced on him like a tiger and he merely evaded my hand by shifting his weight to the left like a black buck.
I got up, in fact fumbled up; Forgot my shoes slippers or sandals and chased him. Had I heard it right? Had he been eyeing my cousin? The same cousin who served steaming hot tomato soup on the roof top, whenever we idled time at my uncle’s place? The same cousin who had defeated me in numerous video game battles? She is a darling. But that was not it. Was he serious? Was he infatuated? Was it love? Was he already taking her out and just wanted to inform me out of guilt? I wanted answers and I was going to get them.
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.
I wasn’t shocked. It was an invitation to the abode of Mother Nature. The only thing that raised the hair on my legs was the fact that we were going to be in a forest all by ourselves; that too in the thickest jungle in the whole of Uttaranchal without any guardian or forest guide. They had packed bundles of eatables lest Akshay would miss his spaghetti balls or French omelette. I had been to several bonfire events before it, but this was much more special. It was not planned (at least not by me). The drinks (I take only soft ones) the songs by the fire, the eerie stories and ancient legends of the jungle. It was …THWART! My entire dream sequence was brought to a halt by this monster of a bolder. We departed from the freeway towards the patchy segment which was not straight, not unidirectional and definitely not frequented.
Sahib: What did you think Kalsh? Wouldn’t I drive my own gypsy?
Kalsh: I… don’t… (I wasn’t allowed to complete)
Keshav: Wait till I give you a real stunner. We aren’t going to Missouri either.
Kalsh: Then? (I felt like a fool)
Keshav: Guys should I tell him? (He waited for the approval of the remaining four eye balls)
Sahib: Oh definitely. Who knows he might want to back out?
Kalsh: “BACK OUT!!” excuse me gentlemen. You are talking to the one and only “Kalsh Abhilash Sharma”. I am the single most daring “Man” in our school, actually in all the schools of Dehradoon. No matter what you say or do to intimidate me, I will be the first one to say yes and the last one to retreat.
Akshay: See Kalsh I will tell you. (And he moved closer to me.)
Kalsh: Come on. Give it your best shot.
Akshay: This is going to be a real off road thing, which means at the next diversion we are going to take a hidden road that will take us deep inside the forest!!! (He paused to see my expressions change)
Sahib: Don’t make a big deal out of it. I have got us booked in a deluxe tent just thirteen kilometres off the main Dehradoon-Missouri highway.