Ch1: The Silent Night
Mountains are mystical and have a divine calm to them. While the tranquil hilltops could be embracing, they could end up giving us many sleepless nights too.
May 29, 2011
“No... No... No... Aaaaaa…”
*Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.*
We heard someone run down the wooden stairs from the second floor.
Pallavi: “Oh s**t, what was that?”
We all sprang at once and held onto each other.
Sneha: “Wasn’t that Vishal’s… Oh my God…”
Her voice trembled with fear.
Before we could gather ourselves, there was a loud scream; one that was brief but a piercing cry for help, which echoed through the cold, unrelenting darkness. Our heads instantly turned toward the window. We shrieked and hugged one another so tight that we nearly suffocated each other to death.
Pallavi: “F**k… We are going to die. We are going to die.”
I could feel her body shiver.
Anya burst into tears; her moist cheeks rubbed against mine. “I don’t want to die. I want to go back home. Please take me home.” Her face sunk into my chest and nails punctured my skin.
I could feel my sweat meandering down the back of my neck. My head was rested against the wall, with Anya, Sneha, and Pallavi by my side. I wanted to cry, but I held myself back and sat there with my eyes shut so tight that my eyebrows nearly touched my cheekbones, and I bit my lower lip so hard that it started to bleed. I was scared, scared to death; and with each passing second, my breath grew heavier.
For hours that night, none of us had the courage to move an inch. We sat there on the floor in the farthest corner of the room. The lights were on, and all we could hear was silence, pin drop silence; until -
The doorbell rang.
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Ch2: Hello Manali!
The echo of silence can make you a wreck. It is so haunting that it can scare the hell out of you. Blame the urban lives we live, our ears are so accustomed to the hustle-bustle all the time that even one mute moment is enough to make us feel restless.
May 26, 2011
Sneha: “Pallu, can you pass me the napkin?”
She had just washed her face with a new face wash that she’d been bragging about all these days.
Me: “I’m going downstairs. Everyone’s waiting for us.”
Anya: “I’m ready. I’ll come along. You guys can take your own sweet time.”
Sneha and Pallavi were two beauty queens in our class. They had a habit of not stepping outside until they were convinced they were looking their best from head to toe.
This was our first college trip in two years. It took a lot of convincing for our HOD to finally organize the trip for us. While Rishikesh was our first choice, Manali was ultimately zeroed in on.
Mayank: “Where are the other two?”
Arjun: “They know they aren’t going to some beauty pageant, right?”
Vicky: “Waise, do they even own a pair of trekking shoes?”
Anya: “Looks like they do, after all.”
She looked toward Pallu and Sneha who were walking down the stairs.
We were scheduled to check into our guesthouse at 9 that morning but managed to reach Manali only at around 4 pm. They say that taking the route less traveled is an act of courage. But this certainly didn’t hold true for our bus driver, who in the wee hours, decided to explore a whole new route that he barely knew, potentially endangering the lives of 28 students and four teachers.
Anya: “Wow! This is such a beautiful place!”
Sneha: “Fresh air, cool breeze, and…” She threw a glance at Arjun.
No matter how much she’d tried not to make her feelings for him apparent, she failed miserably each time.
Pallavi: “Ahem, ahem… Want me to talk to him for you?”
Nothing gave her greater joy than the prospect of playing cupid and bring two people together, make them fall in love with each.
Pallavi: “Oh, Arjun!”
She exclaimed in a rather teasing tone.
Sneha: “Shut up, will you.”
She was clearly embarrassed.
Anya: “Guys, look. Over there.”
In the lap of green and overlooked by the majestic mountains, the river Beas flowed effortlessly through the town. The light drizzle and the faint rainbow outlining the sky accentuated the already perfect frame.
Me: “I wish I could live here all my life.”
I bent down to soak my hands in the gushing freshwater.
Me: “And never have to go back.”
Little did I know that a few hours from then, I’d soon be hoping and praying otherwise, to get back home as quickly as possible. Because, what this trip entailed for us, none of us could have remotely anticipated. Who knew, the mountains I endeared so much, would turn my biggest nightmare.
I was so lost in the beauty of the enchanting waters that I almost forgot that I was in a group. I found Anuj waving me from a distance.
Amid the sound of the gushing water in the background, there was still silence—and I could clearly hear my footsteps, my heart beat, and my breathing as I jogged my way up the road to catch up with my batchmates. The innate silence—deafening would be a little extreme to say but disturbing nonetheless—was a persistent feature of the atmosphere, and I soon felt as if it had seeped into my heart. I tried to make peace with it—and I thought I did, but not for long.
Chapter 3: Soaring Temperatures
May 27, 2011
“Theka Sharaab Deshi – English Wine Shop”
Anuj’s face lit up as soon as he spotted a wine shop approaching from quite a distance. He noticed the shop from afar, like an eagle locating its prey from high above the sky -- but it was the same guy who would not be able to guess what was written on the blackboard even if he sat on the first bench. Duh.
Sitting next to the driver in the SUV, he turned around and smirked.
Yuvraj Sir: “What, man?”
Wearing a disgruntled look, he exclaimed.
Anuj: “Nothing, sir. Nothing.”
He quickly turned back, facing the front.
Yuvraj Sir: “Now what, man?”
Every school or college has at least one faculty who is slightly on the heavier side and is snooty; only in this case, Yuvraj Sir pretended to be one.
Mayank: “Urgent, sir.”
Raising his little finger, he said.
Yuvraj Sir: “Why, man? You just went 20 minutes ago.”
Being from the South of India, he had this typical accent that was amusing to us.
Vicky: “Sir, he drank a lot of water after that. Dehydration.”
Yuvraj Sir: “Shut up. I am asking him, no? Why are you answering?”
He was visibly annoyed.
Vicky: “Sorry, sir. Sorry, sir.”
Mayank: “He is correct, sir. Gulped down an entire bottle. Dehydration due to motion sickness, sir.”
Echoing what Mayank just said, Arjun, who was sitting in the back seat, couldn’t control his laughter, and sir immediately turned around and threw a stern look at him.
Arjun: “Nothing, sir. Sorry, sir.”
The SUV halted just 20 meters ahead of the wine shop. It was already 10 minutes since Vicky and Mayank were gone. Yuvraj Sir got down from the car and saw them walking casually toward him.
Yuvraj Sir: “I saw you going to that shop, man.”
Vicky: “Which shop, sir?”
He tried to sound clueless.
Mayank: “He went to get water, sir.”
He gave Vicky a kick in his behind.
Yuvraj Sir: “Who are you fooling, man?”
Vicky: “Yes, yes… water, sir. For washing hands. Hygiene.”
Anuj: “Choli ke peeche kya hai… choli ke peeche…”
Anuj being Anuj, threw one of his classic acts by playing the song on the stereo, making direct reference to the bottle that was conveniently hid in the inner pocket of Mayank’s jacket.
Yuvraj Sir: “Shut up, man. You nonsense.”
He blasted Arjun.
Yuvraj Sir: “Get inside, you fools. We are already late because of you two.”
We were en route to Rohtang pass that morning, which is about 51 km north of Manali. While the picturesque snow clad mountains were a treat to the eyes, the entire route was a treacherous experience.
Pallavi: “Ouch. Ouch.”
Her head banged the car window.
Anya: “Careful. Just hold onto the handle.”
Sneha: “I am feeling cold. Why is it so cold?!”
I always thought of her as a drama queen.
Pallavi: “Who asked you not to carry your jacket? Now suffer.”
Sneha: “You sadistic woman! Rot in hell.”
Anya: “Here, take this shawl. It is pretty warm.”
She pulled out a beautiful Kashmiri shawl from her handbag and handed it over to her.
Sneha: “Thanks, my love!”
She kissed Anya on her cheek. And from the reaction on her face, I could tell Anya wasn’t really comfortable with the PDA. I wasn’t too. I mean, yuck! Why would anyone do that?
Our car was moving at a moderate speed. I was completely immersed in the view that was sprinting past us. Breathtaking would be an understatement. From the foothills, the road leading us to Rohtang looked very much like a ribbon that was draped around a Christmas tree. Mystic!
As we approached Marhi, our final milestone before we reached our destination, we got stuck in a traffic jam. Anuj, wearing his yellow tinted shades, walked up to our car.
Me: “What happened?”
Anuj: “Massive jam.”
Pallavi: “Was there an accident or something? These roads are anyway dangerous. Will we be stuck here all day? Oh God.”
She was the most curious and inquisitive of us all. The most hyper too.
Car driver: “No, madam. They must have closed the road due to bad weather. Look there.”
We could see mist covering the hilltop.
Sneha: “I will freeze to death. Somebody give me a jacket! Anuj… pleeeease…”
Oh, that puppy face of hers!
Anuj: “Umm… Let me go get Mayank for you. I’m sure he will be willing to offer you his!”
We exchanged mischievous smiles without making it apparent to Sneha. She’d kill us otherwise.
The winds had started to get stronger and so chilly that it could turn a hot steamy cup of coffee cold within a jiffy.
Anya: “What happened? Sneha... look at me.”
She immediately took her hand in hers and started rubbing it to warm her up.
Me: “I’ll go get ma’am.”
I rushed out of the car.
An air of panic took over as Sneha turned pale; her teeth chattered and body shivered in cold.
Chapter 4: Marhi to Rohtang
The winds were rough, the temperature was near freezing. The overcast sky wasn’t helping our situation either. Was this a sign of something bad to come?
May 27, 2011
Chandini Ma’am: “Move, move…”
Anya: “Her temperature is soaring, ma’am.”
Sneha’s health was getting worse.
Pallavi: “I did tell her to carry a jacket.”
Chandini Ma’am: “Nothing can be done about it now. Just help me wrap these shawls around her. Girls these days…”
Me: “I’ve got paracetamol with me.”
Chandini Ma’am: “That will help. Did she have any breakfast in the morning?”
Pallavi: “No, ma’am. Just a couple of biscuits.”
Anya: “She said she’d get motion sickness if she had a heavy breakfast.”
All of us were really worried.
Car driver: “You can probably take her to one of the cafés here. They may have a blanket or two or even some charcoal.”
Mayank came running with the other guys.
Mayank: “What happened?”
Me: “She is shivering and running high temperature.”
The guys carried Sneha to the ‘Snow View Dhaba’ that wasn’t too far. We warmed her with blankets, fed her some Maggi, and gave her a paracetamol.
Mayank came and sat next to her. And I chose to excuse myself.
Me: “I’ll just be back.”
When I came back from my short break, I still found Mayank and Sneha cooing.
Mayank: “How are you feeling now?”
Sneha: “Much better. Thanks for the jacket.”
Mayank: “Are you still feeling cold? Because if you are, I have something that can warm you up!”
The classic Old Monk bottle was peeping out from his jacket. Mayank’s facial expression cracked her up.
Sneha: “How did you manage that? Wasn’t sir with you guys in the car?”
She asked in a feeble voice.
He winked at her. Damn, Mayank was a clown.
While Mayank watched her as she took a nap, the rest of us were relishing some tea in cups so tiny that seemed to have been stolen from a dollhouse kitchen set!
Arjun: “There you go, girls! Anya, this is yours.”
Anya: “Thank you.”
Arjun: “Naina, this is for you.”
Me: “Someone’s practicing chivalry. Nice. Thanks!”
Anya: “The tea is cold.”
Me: “Oye, careful… Oops…”
Pallavi: “What the…?”
She said in disbelief as she pulled back her hair, looking down at her overcoat.
Pallavi: “You are so dead, Arjun.”
Arjun had accidentally spilled tea on Pallavi. Walking backwards, with hands raised, he cried innocence.
Pallavi: “I swear to God, I’m going to burry you right here before we leave.” Grinding her teeth, she warned him.
Arjun: “I’m sorry, chota bheem.”
Offering his handkerchief, he ran away.
Pallavi: “Idiot. I’m so not going to leave you, Arjun.”
An hour later, the jam finally cleared. The sky was blue and the winds subdued. We could hear the engines roar one by one.
Mitali Ma’am: “Everyone start moving back to your cars.”
She was everyone’s favorite faculty.
Yuvraj Sir: “You heard madam. Come on, come on, move faster.”
Apparently, sir’s favorite too.
Vicky: “Mushy fatty trying to impress madam.”
Arjun: “Midlife crisis, bro. I can picture you in his place 25 years down the line.”
Mayank: “Sniffing Vicks instead of...”
Yuvraj Sir: “Why men, you’ll are still standing here? Go, go. Didn’t you hear madam?”
Anuj: “Sir, waiting for you. After you.”
Yuvraj Sir: “Hmm…”
We all wondered if he ever realized he was being made fun of at every step?
I held Sneha’s hand, and we slowly maneuvered our way to our SUV. I was just about to open the door of the back seat and help her get in when somebody made a sleazy pass at us.
“Baby ji, kehte ho toh bahon main utha k andar bitha jaun?” (If you say, I can come lift you in my arms and place you inside the car.)
A weird looking man, sitting in the driver’s seat of the car next to ours, made a pass at us. I remained silent until Sneha sat inside the car.
Me:“Kehte ho toh tumhari sahi jagah dikhadun?” (I can show you your place, if you insist.) I said, looking toward the army personnel on duty.
Pallavi: “Let him go, Naina.”
She discouraged me from dragging this any further.
Anya: “Moron. Good that you gave it back to him.”
Me: “Bloody loser.”
Rohtang pass was a 30-minute drive from Marhi. A large stretch of the road was bottom-pinching, narrow and slippery, with a deep trench on our side of the two-way road. We managed to dodge many a risky situations on our way. There were times when we had to either halt or move at snail’s pace if and when there were blind turns or traffic coming from the opposite side.
Pallavi: “So here we are finally!”
She said, stretching her long, slender arms.
Snow coats and rubber boots that were rented from a store nearby were distributed to all of us. Damn, those shoes were pretty darn uncomfortable.
As we hustled-bustled to get ourselves into those winter gears, in a speck of moment, I found myself thinking something wasn’t right… Behind the mystical and inviting environs of this land, there was something not welcoming, not inviting.
Many times I had this thought and many times I had dismissed it as a product of my doubting Thomas mind, but the thought lingered, no matter how much I wanted to shake it off.
Anya: “I so wish Sneha could enjoy the snow with us.”
Sneha was staying back in the car and Mitali Ma’am was with her.
Me: “I know, right? But she’d have been a pain in the a**.”
Anya: “Ha ha ha, ya! She would have made sure none of us returned dry.”
Me: “I want to try skiing. I’m not going back without trying it.”
Anya: “I think I’ll skip.”
Me: “Pallu want to come with me?”
Pallavi: “Yes! I know what to do.”
Chapter 5: Snow!
May 27, 2011
Pallavi had something going on in her head and Anya and I were trying to figure that out. She climbed up the slope with all her might, picking up snow and pressing it into a ball. We could see someone standing with his arms on his waist. We could not make out who it was, because he had his back facing us. What came next, made us roll over the snow, laughing!
Pallavi charged towards this man with all her might and when she achieved the required proximity, she threw her long arms around him and smashed the snowball onto his face from the back.
“What was she thinking, that was me?”
A familiar husky voice emerged from behind us, laughing uncontrollably.
Anya and I turned around with our jaws wide open.
“If you are here, Arjun, who is that then?”
We both asked in unison and swiftly turned back, not wanting to miss the action.
The poor chap who’d lost sight with ice pack all over his face, spat the snow stuffed in his mouth.
Pallavi: “Ha! Better not mess with me again. Okay?”
The accidental victim, turned around in slow mo, and her pupils dilated.
Pallavi: “I am so sorry. I am sorry… I thought it was… I’m so sorry.”
She rushed back toward us, tripping, slipping, and gliding down the snow. All night that day, she could neither sit nor lie down. Her soar bum wouldn’t let her to.
We laughed uncontrollably.
Me: “So this what you were planning to do?”
I tried to gasp some air.
Arjun fell on his knees clutching his stomach and crying out of amusement. Pallavi was embarrassed. Her face turned red with rage and irritation.
Anya: “It’s okay Pallavi. Happens.”
As sweet as she is, she leaned towards her, placed her hand on her left shoulder and tried to console her. Did she succeed?
Pallavi: “I’ll see each one of you. Just wait and watch. Arjun, you especially.”
“But what did we do?” Anya and I were confused as she walked away, disgruntled.
Arjun: “Oh Pallu, stop attacking strangers for God’s sake!”
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the beauty of Rohtang. Everyone seemed happy -- running around and playing in the snow. But something seemed amiss for me. A feeling of emptiness gripped me. Anya had gone off to check on Pallavi. I looked for the guys, but they were nowhere around. I am pretty sure that, with their hyperbolic nature, they must have gone to explore the deeper realms of the place.
I then found myself a spot far away from the group and quietly sat on a heap of snow and soaked myself in the serenity of nature. The sun kissed mountains, the cotton-candy like clouds, strands of waterfalls merging into a stream, and the steep slopes that could leave someone gasping for air -- the majestic view that stood in front of me was ethereal.
From where I sat, it was fascinating to witness two absolutely contrasting sides of the world. While one side rendered purity and spoke a tale of the untouched beauty of nature, the other was a compendium of man’s selfish needs and actions.
I was lost in my thoughts when I felt a sensation near my right ear; a slight tingling. I could hear someone’s breath.
Chapter 6: The News
Even the mildest of pranks, set against the backdrop of towering mountains, can scare the wits out of you. It was Anuj who silently crept behind me, tingled my ear, and breathed like the T-rex in Jurassic Park. I leaped out of my skin. And he soon received a good deal of my beating, in the form of some huge slaps in the back. Apparently, he had come looking for me, tracing my tracks. Once the shock subsided and my heartbeat became stable, we headed back to the guest house.
Anuj: “Why were you sitting there alone?”
He asked as we made our way through the parking lot.
Me: “Just like that… How was the exploration?”
Anuj: “Fun. You should have joined us!”
Me: “You guys just disappeared.”
Anuj: “Next adventure, not without you.”
As much as I’d want to hang out with these guys, I mostly couldn’t. Partly because they were an overzealous bunch of people and I don’t quite match-up. Also, I knew what hobnobbing with the gang on this trip would entail, considering the highly orthodox set up that we were bound in. I really didn’t want any drama.
The sleep bug had bitten all of us as our cab meandered down the hairpin bends to the main town. I generally slept light, so I woke up as soon as I sensed that the car had come to a halt. All of us were looking like zombies. We had to literally drag ourselves to our rooms and retire. We slept for a good two hours before Mitali Ma’am came knocking at the door and woke us up from our slumber. She asked us to get ready and gather in the lobby in the next half an hour.
Pallavi: “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
Me: “I think we should let her rest.”
Sneha: “The headache’s bad. Damn. There goes my trip.”
She covered her face with her hands in regret.
Anya: “I’ll stay back with you.”
Anya was such a softy. Always forthcoming, helping and caring.
Sneha: “No, no, you should go. You don’t have to sacrifice your trip for me.”
Me: “Anya, are you sure?”
Anya: “Yes. Moreover, I’ve been to Manali twice before. So I am not missing out on anything new.”
Pallavi: “Want us to get anything for you guys?”
Sneha: “I wanted to gift dad a Kullu cap. Can you please get one for me?”
Me: “Sure! Anything else?”
Anya: “Nope. Maybe some nice, steamy momos on your way back?”
Pallavi: “Take care, bum?”
Like every other hill station, Manali too had a mall road and a market place that could be easily accessed from any part of the town. It was at a walking distance from where we were staying.
He called out to me sincerely.
Mayank: “I need your help.”
Standing in one of the shops, looking all clueless, he requested.
Me: “Tell me. What kind of colors does aunty wear? Light, dark?”
Mayank: “Umm, I was actually looking something for erm…”
Me: “Sneha? Ooooooh… I see. I’m sorry.”
I burst into laughter. His face turned as pink as a rose. Can you imagine a tall, lean guy with an impressive face like his, blushing?
Vicky: “What are you doing here? We’ve been looking for you. We’ve got a plan.”
He interrupted, poking his face out of nowhere.
Me: “What’s the plan?”
Vicky whispered something into my ears.
Me: “No, no... Not interested. You guys go ahead. No matter how much I hate shopping, I would still prefer it over your stupid plan.”
Mayank and Vicky smirked and high-fived each other.
Mayank: “Naina, please choose something that you think she’ll like… please.”
And before I could say anything, he thrust a 500-rupee note in my hand.
Mayank: “Remember, Naina… no ifs, no buts, only Jatt.”
He delivered the dialogue so earnestly, that I was caught dumbfounded for a moment.
Me: “Such a drama you are, Mayank. Sneha and you are perfect for each other.”
Mayank: “Only you get me, Naina. I love you.”
Vicky: “Have fun, Naina.”
Me: “Ya, whatever.”
Meanwhile, Pallavi was on her own, buying and picking up stuff from every other shop. I really had no patience to shop with her. Moreover, we weren’t even that close friends either. She was too over the top for me. So I went my own way, trying the local cuisine, talking to the natives, and clicking pictures.
Back in the guest house, as Anya later told me, things had gotten a little boring. She was awash about how Sneha had tried to strike a conversation with her.
Sneha: “Ma’am, can we go stroll in the backyard?”
Mitali Ma’am had stayed back with Sneha, and Anya, as she too had taken ill. The guesthouse we were staying at had its backyard facing the river and overlooking the Himalayas.
“Why didn’t Arjun come to see me?”
This thought was killing Sneha.
Anya: “What? Did you say something?”
Sneha: “No. Can I ask you something, Anya?”
Anya: “Ya, sure!”
Sneha: “What went wrong between you and Anuj? I mean, all through the first year, you guys were like, the couple.”
After a long pause, Anya shifted her focus from the river to the mountains.
Anya: “I think we just rushed into the relationship.”
Sneha: “Did he do someth….?”
Anya: “No, no. He’s a really nice guy, but I guess we weren’t really compatible.”
She looked toward Sneha.
Anya: “You still like Arjun, don’t you?”
Sneha chose to ignore the question.
Back in the market, I was sitting at the roundabout, waiting for the rest of the class to congregate when I heard someone call out to me. I looked around and spotted Pallavi running toward me. She looked distraught and disturbed; I could sense something was wrong.
Pallavi: “The news…”
She fell to her knees and wept uncontrollably.
Me: “What happened? Tell me. What happened?”
I hugged her.
Chapter 7: Hallucinating?
It’s just weird. One moment, everything is in order. You are happy and going through life. And the next moment, you are gone; leaving behind people, even remotely connected to you, distraught and disarrayed
Pallavi was inconsolable. She was consumed in guilt. She continually blamed herself for what had occurred. It wasn’t easy for me to assuage her trauma.
Sneha: “Is everything okay?”
She removed the blanket and got off the bed as soon as she saw Pallavi and I enter the room.
Anya: “What happened?”
Pallavi’s gutted state worried them both.
Sneha: “Is somebody going to tell me anything at all?”
Anya knelt in front of her and took her hand in hers.
Anya: “It’s okay, Pallu. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Sneha: “Where’s the rest of the class? Didn’t you guys come with them?”
Me: “No. She was crying. I informed ma’am and brought her back.”
Sneha: “Look at me, Pallu. Can you please tell what happened? Did anyone play a dirty prank again? Tell me. They’ll have it from me. I promise.”
Pallavi: “He died.”
She wept profusely.
Me: “The guy she’d accidentally took for Arjun.”
Sneha: “That guy you were talking about, Anya?”
Her head low, she nodded.
Sneha: “Oh God. That’s terrible. But how did he…?
Pallavi: “I… I…”
Sneha: “You did not do anything. You did not kill him, Pallu. It was an accident and you had nothing to do with it.”
I could deeply empathize with Pallavi. It’s been over five years since my grandma’s passing, and till date, I hold it against me that I had an argument with her just a few hours before she died. While it wasn’t what caused her death, I still felt the burden of causing her misery before she passed on.
As we sat in the room quiet, we heard familiar, husky voices emerging from the floor beneath us, and footsteps making their way to the second floor. The guys were back.
Anuj: “That was the best weed I’d ever smoked.”
The guys entered their room.
Mayank: “I’m going to propose Sneha tonight.”
Vicky: “She likes this fellow. Don’t be an idiot.”
He said pointing at Arjun.
Arjun: “Bro, you are my bro, okay? She is all yours.”
Everyone was high. The weed was taking effect, so was the bro code.
Anuj: “Arjun bro, girls are not objects. Please do not objectify them. They are not things that can be passed on as yours or mine.”
Vicky: “That’s exactly what Naina would say. Anuj, what’s up, bro?”
Mayank: “Oooooh, is there something I do not know, Anuj bro?”
Arjun pounced on Anuj.
Anuj: “Sheh, no guys. She is a good girl, okay. None of us are going to fool around her.”
Arjun: “You like her.”
Vicky: “Arjun bro is right.”
Anuj: “No, bro. She is intelligent and has a very strong personality. I have a lot of respect for her. Nothing beyond that.”
Arjun: “I am with you, bro.”
Vicky: “We all are with you, bro.”
Mayank: “I really like Sneha, bros.”
By dinner time, everyone was back in the guesthouse. Needless to say, exhausted. Generally, food becomes the biggest trip spoiler. But luckily, we were served some really scrumptious meals throughout our stay and none of our stomachs growled in pain.
Sneha: “Come; let’s go have dinner, Pallu.”
Lying on the bed, Pallavi pretended as if she’d already gone to sleep.
Anya: “I think we should let her sleep. We’ll get something packed for her in case she feels hungry at night.”
Me: “I’ve got some snacks in my bag, Pallu. You can grab something if you don’t feel like coming downstairs.”
I covered her tall figure with a quilt.
We were walking down the stairs when Arjun bumped into me.
Arjun: “Nains, you don’t know what you missed.”
The guys considered me one of them and trusted me; the only people I considered friends in the entire batch were them. I was more comfortable in their company than the others.
Me: “The guy Pallavi mistook for you, died in a car crash.”
Arjun: “What? How do you know?”
Me: “Pallavi happened to see his photo being flashed on the TV.”
Arjun: “Holly crap.”
He said in disbelief.
Anuj: “Guys, did you know, it snowed in Rohtang in the evening after we left?”
He seemed disappointed as he walked toward us.
Vicky: “Noooo, broooo. Damn.”
Both of them joined us.
Mayank: “Tough luck, guys. One minute silence please.”
Arjun: “For the departed soul.”
Anuj: “Who died?”
We were all seated around a table and a strange silence enveloped the scene.
Anuj: “Naina… can yo…”
Before he could finish his sentence, we heard someone scream.
Sneha: “Pallavi.” She left her plate unfinished, pushed back her chair and rushed upstairs with Anya.
Sulekha Ma’am: “Did you hear something?
Yuvraj Sir: “No, ma’am”
Mitali Ma’am: “Hmm.”
Chandini Ma’am: “One of these boys must be up with some prank, I’m sure.”
Anuj: “Naina, go upstairs. I’ll keep the faculty and the rest distracted. Arjun go with her.”
I nodded and rushed to the room. I found Pallavi sitting on the bed as if she had just been woken up by a dreadful nightmare. Her hair was messed up and she was sweating like a pig.
Me: “What happened?”
I almost screamed.
Chapter 8: “One Missing”
Fear of the unseen and the fear of the unknown are often a topic of ridicule for most skeptics and non-believers. Pallavi was one of them. But that day, all it took was one eerie encounter that altered her belief system for life. She kept insisting that “he” was in the room and that she felt like someone was trying to touch her and harm her. But obviously, none of us bought that.
Arjun: “Look, there. It was just a spider.”
The eight legged tiny creature seemed like it was running for life. Looking at Pallavi, anybody could have creeped out; no offence.
May 28, 2011
Every night, all rooms on the first floor, occupied by the girls, were locked from the outside. Our faculty argued that it was for our own safety. It wasn’t so much for the faculty’s mindset that baffled me but how comfortable and okay the majority of girls were with such treatment meted out to them. That is not all; there was more to the ludicrous absurdity. The intercoms in our rooms were disconnected, too. On being asked, the guesthouse manager informed us that he had received clear instructions from the faculty. I mean, what the hell?
Chandini Ma’am: “Get up, girls. Get ready and be there in the dining hall by 8.”
Me: “Good morning, ma’am.”
I said, half asleep.
A visit to the famous Hidimba temple and the Naggar castle were on the itinerary for the day. But more than that, what really got me excited was the prospect of trying out an adventure sport. Would it be river crossing or river rafting?Well, that was, however, left to the mercy of the rain gods.
Arjun: “How is Pallavi?”
Sneha: “She is okay.”
Arjun: “The guys are playing Frisbee in the backyard. Want to join?”
He met us in the dining hall.
“I was bloody unwell too. Not once did he ask me how I was. Idiot.”
Sneha said in disgust.
Sneha: “I’m sorry. What?”
Arjun: “We are playing Frisbee. Want to join?”
Sneha: “No, you guys carry on. I’ll check on Pallavi.”
I love sports, and any chance of playing one, I would not let go.
Vicky: “What a throw, what a throw, Naina! Mind-blowing.”
He seemed really impressed.
Mayank: “Guys, we really need to buck up, yaar. Where is Arjun, our champ?”
Arjun: “Sorry, bro. You aren’t going to like this.”
He said, walking toward the gang.
Mayank: “Don’t tell me you said something to Sneha. I’ll kill you.”
Arjun: “You said you were going to propose to her last night. Since you didn’t, I did.”
Mayank charged at him.
Vicky: “Ha ha ha, ass****.”
Arjun: “Don’t worry; I did it on your behalf, man.”
Me: “Arjun. When are you going to stop taking Minku’s case? What has he done to you?”
Everyone took his case. Poor guy.
Our visit to the Naggar castle that day was a highlight with people reminiscing and reprising scenes from the 2007 hit fill Jab We Met, which was partly shot there.
Pallavi was pretty silent throughout. For somebody who could not do without posing and clicking pictures at the drop of a hat, it was sad to see her in that state, elusive and lost. She refused to participate in any activity. We made sure we were there for her all the time.
Chandini Ma’am: “Guys, we are heading to Hidimba temple, get into the bus. Hurry up.”
Pallu, Anya, and Sneha entered the bus first. I was in no hurry. I remained along with boys until the others got inside.
Me: “Where is Vicky?”
Arjun: “Must be somewhere fooling around with Divya.”
Me: “What? When did that happen?”
I was completely taken by surprise.
Anuj: “Just last night.”
Me: “Tell me about it!”
I demanded to know, as we entered the bus.
Mayank: “Pallu, Sneha, Anya, come to the back. Arjun’s got some really interesting scoop for all of us today!”
He flickered his eyebrows in excitement.
Me: “Pallu, come. Let’s sit with the guys.”
We took our seats in the second last row.
Sneha: “Don’t get me waiting now, Arjun.”
Anya: “Is this about Vicky?”
Arjun: “Damn, she knows it already, and I thought this was exclusive.”
Sneha: “What? Why do I never know anything?”
Anuj glanced at Anya; there were no words spoken between them.
Mayank: “Not to worry, bro; we are all ears.”
Me: “Break the suspense now, please.”
Arjun: “So the thing is…”
Yuvraj Sir: “Where is Vicky?”
And he had to be interrupted.
Anuj: “He must be coming, sir.”
Arjun: “Nature’s call.”
These guys had no clue where Vicky was, but they made sure to have each other’s back, like always.
Sulekha Ma’am: “One of you go find him and bring him. We are getting late.”
Mayank: “I’ll go.” He instantly got up.
Mayank: “And ya remember, I use Airtel, so even if I get lost here, you’d be able to connect with me.”
Anuj: “What an idea, sir ji!”
Me: “Mad fellow.”
It had been 15 minutes since Mayank had gone looking for Vicky. Everyone grew anxious, especially the faculty.
Yuvraj Sir: “Where are these boys?”
Arjun: “I’m calling them, sir.”
Yuvraj Sir: “Quickly.”
Anuj: “Nains, just see if Divya is around?”
I stood up and scanned through the bus.
Me: “She’s there, sitting right in the front.”
Anuj: “Where the hell is Vicky then?”
His voice bore a mixture of apprehension and irritation.
Arjun: “Saala, phone unreachable.”
Sneha: “Did you try Vivek’s number, too?”
Arjun: “His phone is switched off.”
Me: “Oh, crap.”
Chapter 9: “Someone Goes Missing”
When it comes to child-rearing, Indian parents exhibit two classic behaviors the moment things are a little off the norm: worrying and panicking. They would get all worked up if their child doesn’t answer the phone within two rings. And, panic sets in when the kid fails to reach home by the usual 7:30 pm. Falling behind that “standard” entry time by even a couple of minutes usually results in a filibuster - no less dreaded than the ones in the US Congressional debates.
I admit, I too get anxious if I do not find my phone by my side when I wake up in the morning. But what was about to unfold amidst the tranquility of the mountains, brought me out in a cold sweat.
May 28, 2011
Mayank: “There you are.”
Vicky was caught off guard.
Mayank: “Everyone’s been waiting for you, bro, and you are here collecting pebbles from this God forsaken spooky place!”
Vicky: “Everyone’s gone?”
Mayank: “Ya. But why are you collecting these stones, Vicky?”
Vicky: “Nothing. Just souvenirs to take back home.”
Mayank: “Weirdo. Chal, let’s get back before the entire class comes looking for us.”
Vicky: “Ha ha ha, or leave us behind.”
Half the class was out standing on the road as Mayank and Vivek returned. The faculty was anxious and contemplating on what to do to find the “missing” when these two emerged.
Chandini Ma’am: “How could you guys be so irresponsible?”
She burst out at them in anger.
Vicky: “Sorry, ma’am.”
Mayank: “But… what did I do?”
Yuraj Sir: “Don’t back answer, Mayank.”
Mayank: “But, sir…”
Sulekha Ma’am: “Shut up.”
We all giggled looking at the plight of poor Mayank.
Mitali Ma’am: “Let’s not waste anymore time. Everyone. Keep moving in.”
The atmosphere eased and one by one took their seats inside the bus.
Arjun: “Where the hell were you? I thought you were with… ahem.”
He walked up to Vicky.
Anuj: “But Divya was in the bus? Then where did you go?”
He was really curious to know.
Mayank: “This moron was collecting pebbles.”
Our trip to the famous Hidimba temple was cut short to just 15 minutes, and we headed straight to the clubhouse, which was 2.3 km away.
Located amidst greenery, the clubhouse stood majestically with its red roof. It was a recreational center that had a large variety of indoor games, including snooker. So you know where the guys headed to straight! I was tempted to go with them too, but I decided against it and walked aimlessly with Anya, Sneha, and Pallavi around the property. In the half an hour we were together, we barely spoke a word.
Mitali Ma’am: “Girls, please gather everyone at the main entrance. We are heading for river crossing.”
Me: “I so wish it was rafting. Damn! I hate rains.”
Anya: “Me too! What about you Sneha? Rafting or crossing- what would you have preferred?”
Sneha: “Crossing is just fine.”
She seemed almost indifferent.
I sometimes wondered - why was I even friends with her? Hanging out with Sneha was more of a burden than pleasure. Neither do our interests match, nor do our temperaments. Anya was the only saving grace in the group for me.
Me: “Pallavi, what about you?”
We looked around.
Me: “Pallavi? Wasn’t she with us a minute ago?”
Anya: “Where did she go?”
Pallavi hadn’t spoken a word since morning. She seemed distressed and disturbed by the news, still. We were already very concerned about her. And now her disappearance terrified us.
Sneha: “Oh God. What do we do now?”
I was s**t scared myself. My mind was filled with all kinds of fears. What if she was in some trouble? What if something had happened to her? What if…I knew we couldn’t stand there doing nothing.
Me: “Sneha, I’ll go this side and you guys go that side.”
The entire class had already congregated at the main entrance, and Pallavi was nowhere to be found. A sense of panic gripped us all.
Anuj: “What are you guys doing here? And where is Pallu… and Naina?”
Anya stood there still, not knowing what to say.
Anuj: “Oh God. Anya you join the others outside and if ma’am asks you something, just tell her that they are in the washroom.”
Anya: “Alright. Do you want me to send Vicky or Mayank?”
Anuj: “Nope. I’ll take care of this.”
Sneha and Anuj split up and started looking for Pallavi in different directions, while I continued searching for her near at the rear part of the club.
Me: “Pallavi? Is that you?”
I could hear my voice echo as I slowly walked to the farthest corner of the corridor. There was no response.
I could hear the sound of the running tap from a distance. It was coming from the ladies’ washroom on my right. Its stopper was deployed, and the door was wide open. I thought I saw someone’s shadow standing there.
“Pallavi is with the rest of the group outside.” A deep husky voice said.
I turned around in haste, scared. I placed my hand on my chest to calm myself down.
Me: “Are you mad? You scared the s**t out of me.”
Chapter 10: 'The Adventure Continues'
In our youth, adrenalin keeps us on our toes. When we are young, we are more curious, hyper, carefree—and most of all—we take decisions without weighing in on the consequences. We do not factor in the possible outcomes of our actions. For a moment’s high, we end up regretting our choices for a lifetime.
May 28, 2011
Sneha: “Enough of adventure for the day. First Vicky goes missing and then Pallavi, and then the damn river crossing. It just beats the s**t out of me.”
Anya: “But it was fun!”
Me: “At least, we’ll have some really interesting stories to tell 10 years down the line.”
Anya: “So true.”
Sneha: “Ya, whatever. Pallu, are you going to take long?”
Pallu: “No. Give me a minute.”
She said from inside the bathroom.
Pallavi sounded a little better. I really hoped that nothing went wrong during the DJ night. I was tired of the constant lows that this trip was throwing at us.
Vicky: “Oye hoye, Minku is looking cute today!”
Mayank: “Burn, you bitch. I am looking smoking hot.”
Arjun: “Sneha is going to be all over you tonight.”
Anuj: “You bet. Minku, here, catch.”
Mayank: “Thanks, bro. Are you gifting this perfume to me?”
Anuj: “In your dreams.”
The sun had set, the bonfire was lit, and the music was gathering beats. It was party time! The river flowed gently as everyone slowly gathered in the courtyard, all looking the best versions of themselves, or so we all would like to believe. I felt like I was underdressed, but hatt, who cares.
Sneha: “What was Krittika even thinking?
Surprisingly, Pallavi broke out in laughter.
Pallavi: “I mean, ya. Who decks up like a Christmas tree?”
She quipped, suddenly breaking her relentless silence and indifference. Overwhelmed at the sign of Pallavi coming back to her normal state, Anya and Sneha instantly locked into a hug with her.
Anya: “It is so good to see you back, Pallu.”
Sneha: “Ya. I so missed you.”
I smiled, looking at them bonding.
Me: “Someone’s looking cute today!”
Mayank gave me an ‘I’ll kill you’ look.
Vicky: “See, I was right.”
Anuj: “Stop it, guys. It’s a big day for him! We all need to be a little supportive.”
Adjusting his collar, Mayank said, “Thanks, bro.”
Anuj and I happened to make an eye contact and exchanged a smile. There certainly was something really attractive about him. Wonder why Anya and he broke up. Was I developing feelings for him? Yes? No? Na, I don’t think so. Maybe…? I think it was just the whole setup and atmosphere around us that was bringing these ideas to my mind.
Sneha: “Is there something brewing up between the two?”
She whispered into Anya’s ears.
A sense of awkwardness enveloped Anya’s face.
Anuj: “Go, Minku…Oops, sorry… Mayanka, go.”
I gave him a thumbs up! And just when Mayank headed in Sneha’s direction, the lights went off, and everybody started booing.
Vicky: “It’s a sign, bro.”
Yuvraj Sir: “Boys and girls, there’s no need to make such much noise. It might take a few minutes for the power to be restored, so please, everyone, head back to the guesthouse.”
I went with the girls. The guys stayed back, cooking up some new scheme. God knows what they were up to now. We all sat at the staircase and occupied the wooden floors at the first floor. In no time, we were all singing and playing stupid games, like truth or dare. I detested such games. What’s the fun after all? These activities only fuel gossip, nothing else. I mean, what is the whole point? I didn’t need a dare to display my courage; I am the courage!
Anuj: “Do you want to come to our room upstairs?”
He appeared out of nowhere and whispered into my ear.
What was he implying?
Anuj quickly apprised me of the plan.
Me: “Are you guys f***ing out of your minds? Seriously, are you crazy?”
Chapter 11: The Path of Misadventure
The biggest mistake we often commit is to not trust our first instinct. When our conscience tells us to follow intuition, there’s another voice that advises against it. The constant duel is the mother of all dangerous decisions and missteps, which we could have otherwise avoided had we learned to deal with self-doubt and listen to the better part of the brain.
May 28, 2011
Arjun: “Bro, I don’t think we should do this.”
Vivek: “Chill, bro. I am an expert at this.”
Mayank: “Now I understand why you vanished all of a sudden to collect these pebbles? Damn. Saala taantrik. This is going to be fun. Why don’t we call Vishal and Prem too?”
Vivek: “Oh yes. And Prem can guard the door from the outside.”
Mayank: “I’ll go get them.”
Arjun: “I am still not convinced guys.”
Vivek: “Bro, you trust me?”
Arjun: “No, not with this at least.”
Anuj: “Bro, you are free to go.”
Arjun: “I hate you for this. Bloody, if I die, I’ll haunt you all for the rest of your lives.”
The power was restored, and the music filled the air again; this time with some popular Punjabi tracks. There’s something really infectious about their beats. Especially, the sound of the “dhol” – this is one heck of an instrument that gets everyone break into a dance. That’s the effect it generally had on me, too. But, it wasn’t the case that day. My mind was preoccupied with all kinds of menacing thoughts.
Mitali Ma’am: “Where are Anuj and his gang?”
Me: “Umm… they’ve gone to their room, ma’am. They’ll be here anytime now.”
I lied. I know they were gone for long.
Anya: “You know what these guys are up to, don’t you?”
I nodded in affirmation.
Pallavi: “Why aren’t you people dancing?”
Anya and I exchanged glances. Pallavi’s behavior was strange. Only this morning was she all quiet and zoned out, but look at her now, all chirpy and playful!
Sneha: “Do you see Arjun anywhere?”
Me: “He’s still upstairs.”
Anya: “Naina, you got to tell us. What are they doing up there? Because, something is fishy.”
Sneha: “Anya is right. They are like the life of any party and for them to not be here right now, is fishy.”
Me: “Our favorite number! Ohoo…”
I tried to divert the topic.
Their absence was quite apparent, and it did not go unnoticed. There was no way that Anuj or Mayank would ever miss a dance party.
Mitali Ma’am: “Sir, I still can’t find Anuj and the gang here.”
It’d been more than 40 minutes since she’d last inquired about them.
Yuvraj Sir: “Ma’am, they will be coming. Don’t worry.”
Kritika: “Sir, ma’am, you have to dance. Please come.”
We couldn’t help but notice the smile on Yuvraj sir’s face, and no, it wasn’t because he was innately a shy person.
Me: “Damn, Anuj should have been here. He would have got the DJ to play ‘Oh meri chandini…’”
Sneha looked at Anya and smirked.
Anya: “Ha ha, you bet!”
Sneha: “Poor tan tan (Yuvraj sir), just look at him… Ha ha. Naina, I don’t want to see you in his place 10 years from now. Bloody, find someone already!”
I couldn’t hear a word she said amidst all the hooting and the music.
Sneha: “I said, *blah* *blah* *blah* *blah*…”
Me: “What the hell are you saying?”
And just when I was trying to understand what she was trying to say, my eyes fell on something that scared the hell out of me. What I saw had me dread of the worst - the end. The guys are in trouble. I started to palpitate.
A high pitch scream sent chills down my spine.
Chapter 12: A Brush with the Paranormal
It was a full moon night. They say paranormal activities peak on new moon days. They call it the golden opportunity for ghosts to cause maximum distress to man. I always doubted such beliefs and chucked them off as myths and superstitions. Skeptic until convinced otherwise, you know. Was that the night my views changed?
May 28, 2018
My mind was playing tricks. I looked around; everyone was still dancing and having a good time. The scream was just a figment of my imagination. But I was still spooked. The silhouette hadn’t moved. I no longer could hold myself back.
Me: “Guys, I have to tell you something.”
Sneha: “I knew something was wrong.”
Anya: “Tell us, Naina. What is it? What are these guys up to?”
Me: “They are in their room.”
Sneha: “We know that. But doing what?”
Pallavi was dancing and did not care what we were talking.
Me: “Anuj had asked me if I’d like to join them.”
Anya: “In what?”
I started sweating.
Sneha: “Speak up, Naina.”
Me: “Join them in calling a spirit. And I think something’s gone wrong.”
Sneha: “Bulls**t. There is no such thing as spirits.”
Anya: “What makes you feel that something’s gone wrong?”
Me: “Look there.”
Sneha: “Holy shit.”
Anya: “Wasn’t this guesthouse abandoned?”
I was bloody scared.
Sneha: “Maybe someone’s come to check on their belongings. Not a big deal.”
Anya: “But that guy hasn’t moved an inch.”
Me: “F**k. He’s been standing in that position for the past 10 minutes.”
Sneha: “You guys have lost it.”
Anya: “And Anuj’s room is right opposite.”
Sneha: “What nonsense.”
Pallavi: “Why aren’t you guys dancing?”
All kinds of horrific thoughts were crossing our minds. Anya and I held hands and started chanting Hanuman Chalisa. My mother always told me to chant the mantras if I ever felt scared. It would pacify and calm me down.
Half an hour later, we saw Anuj emerged from the guesthouse and walked toward the bonfire. Behind him was Mayank, who wore a hoodie and his hands tucked inside the pockets. Arjun, Vishal, and Vivek followed them.
Sneha: “Look, the guys are here.”
Anya: “And they do not look okay.”
Frightened and concerned, she exclaimed.
Me: “I am telling you something’s wrong.”
Anya: “Should we go talk to them?”
Just as she said this, I ran toward Mayank as fast as I could and pushed him away from the bonfire.
Me: “Are you out of your mind? What were you doing?”
Anuj: “What happened?”
Mayank quietly turned around and went and sat on the ground with his back against the wall.
Me: “What did you guys do? I’d warned you.”
Anuj: “Calm down. It’s fine.”
He held me by my shoulders.
Me: “I don’t believe you.”
Anya: “Is everything alright? What’s wrong with Mayank?”
Me: “Tell me the truth, Anuj. What happened? Something did go wrong, right?”
Sneha: “What’s wrong with you guys? And why is Arjun behaving so weirdly?”
Arjun was sitting on the fence, staring at the river.
Vicky: “F**k. I’ll go take care of him.”
Anuj: “We screwed it up.”
Anya: “But what did you guys do?”
Sneha: “What’s going on?”
Anuj: “Okay. We did call a spirit. Vicky and I had done this before, but we never had an experience like this.”
Sneha: “What the f**k. I don’t believe in this crap.”
Me: “Mayank didn’t, too. But look at him now.”
I had goose bumps all over my body. My hands started to shiver like leaves in a heavy wind.
Anya: “Anuj would you please tell us what happened?”
45 Minutes Ago
Mayank: “This is going to be fun.”
Arjun: “This is a mistake, I am telling you guys.”
Vicky: “Chill, bros.”
They all sat in a circle, holding each other’s hands. Vivek had made a circular enclosure around them with the pebbles he had collected. A coin was placed at the centre and chits with 26 letters were placed around it.
Vicky: “Now listen carefully, people.”
Mayank: “I will not listen carefully.”
Vicky: “Shut up and listen. Now nobody stands up or leaves this enclosure no matter what happens.”
Mayank: “But what if I had to pee?”
Anuj: “Go now if you have to or else we’ll make you pee in your pants.”
Arjun: “If I die today, I’ll make sure I take you all to hell with me.”
Vicky: “This isn’t a joke, guys. Do not remove your finger from the coin until I say so.”
Mayank: “Yes, boss!”
Pissed off at his antics, Anuj gave him a stare.
Mayank: “Who are we calling?”
Arjun: “Please call somebody we know. I am sure he/she will not harm us.”
Vicky: “I wanted to talk to my dad.”
Arjun: “Are you sure, bro?”
Anuj: “I don’t think that is a good idea. Vicky, it’ll be emotionally draining, and it’ll be too much to handle.”
Mayank: “Why don’t we call somebody unknown? A hot female ghost, perhaps?”
Arjun hit him on his head.
Vicky: “Let’s begin and find out who is around.”
Anuj: “We close our eyes in 3, 2, 1...”
Vicky: “Is any spirit around in here, watching us? We’d like to talk to you.”
There was pin drop silence in the room.
Vicky: “If you are around us, please give us an indication.”
Just then, the two windowpanes in the room started shaking and everyone opened their eyes. Mayank lost his composure. Arjun pursed his lips.
Vicky: “Thank you. Can we please know your name?”
The coin slowly started moving.
Vicky: “S. Chris, we’d like to ask you some questions. Would you like to answer them for us?”
The coin quickly moved toward the letters Y, E, and S.
Vicky: “Is my dad okay wherever he is?”
Vicky looked at Anuj.
Anuj: “What is his name?”
Arjun: “Is this right, Vicky?”
Mayank: “Anuj, don’t bulls**t us. You knew his dad’s name, didn’t you?”
Anuj: “Are you mad? Go ahead and ask something I don’t know.”
Mayank: “What is my grandmother’s name?”
S - A - N - T - O - S - H – nobody would have known her name in that room except for Mayank, and he was left stunned. He started to cry.
Anuj: “Mayank, control yourself. It’s okay.”
Vishal: “When am I going to die?”
These were the first words that came out of his mouth in half an hour and everyone looked toward him instantly. All of a sudden, the coin went out of control and started to move in all directions. Mayank couldn’t stop weeping.
Vicky: “You shouldn’t have asked that question, Vishal. Damn, I forget to tell you this.”
Anuj: “Mayank, stop crying, will you?”
Mayank: “Bloody, I am not able to control myself.”
Vicky: “We are sorry, Chris. If my friend’s question offended you in any way, please forgive us.”
But it looked like the spirit was in no mood to give in. The coin was still moving haphazardly at lightning speed.
Arjun: “We all are going to die tonight.”
Anuj: “Stop f**king saying that. Vicky, do something, goddamn it.”
Suddenly there was big thump on the door.
Mitali Ma’am: “What are you guys doing inside there, Anuj?”
Vicky: “What the f**k. Where the hell is Prem? Now I cannot stop this thing.”
Anuj: “You will have to do something. Chris, if you are hearing me, please leave us. We are sorry.”
Arjun and Vishal left each other’s hands and broke out from the circle. They ran straight out of the room breaking the safety net.
Chapter 13: The Silent Night
May 29, 2016
A drop of sweat trickled down my cheek as I sat against the wall with my arms wrapped around my knees. My body was stiff and cold. I was tired of all the weeping and fearing for life. While the girls managed to slip into deep sleep, I couldn’t rest. The scream that sounded like Vishal’s, kept playing in my head on loop. The sound of the footsteps that rushed down the stairs just an hour ago, haunted me. I felt suffocated.
Me: “Sneha… I’m scared. I can’t sleep.”
There was absolutely no response. I tapped on Anya’s shoulder, who shrugged off and ignored my cry.
The quiet was now eating me up. Even the slightest bit of sound freaked me out. Sleep evaded me completely. I was too scared to even blink my eyes, let alone look left or right. Every second that night seemed like a lifetime.
*Snap* I heard something fall in the bathroom.
I instantly clung on to Sneha, holding her tight while she remained oblivious of the eerie sound. It was 3:45 am and the clock was ticking slower than ever. Sharing the mattress with four other girls, I was sweating like a pig. My heartbeat was racing.
All night I prayed; prayed the night to succumb to the break of dawn. Just then, I felt like I saw a shadow pass by the curtains. I literally stopped breathing for a few seconds. I wished in that moment that I was dead. If this was my state, I wouldn’t be able to fathom what the guys, whose room was right above ours’, must be going through.
It was five in the morning, and the sunrise was still an hour away. My bladder was about to burst; I had to pee urgently. But who had the courage? My legs were shaky and my hands were cramped, but I knew I had no option but to gather myself and stand up.
The bathroom door stared at me like it was waiting for me to make a move so that it could suck me into the dark, like a black hole would. “Just look straight. Everything will be okay.” I told myself.
I did not bother to even close the bathroom door behind me and relieved my bladder off with full force. I hit the flush in haste and as soon as I turned toward the washbasin, I freaked out. There was steam coming out of the tap. I sprinted out of the bathroom and rushed to the room’s door. “Ma’am,” I screamed my lungs out, banging the door as hard as I could. Just then, I heard someone unlock the door from the outside. I hoped it was ma’am.
Mitali Ma’am: “What happened?”
Looking at my pale face, she got a little tensed. She touched my forehead.
Mitali Ma’am: “Naina, you have high fever. Did you have temperature all night?”
I was palpitating.
Mitali Ma’am: “Come with me. I’ll give you a paracetamol.”
I followed her to her room. She pulled out a box and picked the medicine from it and walked back toward me with a glass of water.
Mitali Ma’am: “Here.”
She touched my forehead again.
Mitali Ma’am: “Strange. The fever’s gone.”
I held my hand and yes, it no longer was warm.
Mitali Ma’am: “Go sleep, Naina. I’ll come wake you up before breakfast.”
I went back to my room where Sneha, Anya, and Pallavi were sleeping like babies. They slept like nothing had happened.
“Damn. Why me?” I questioned.
We were to leave for Delhi that morning, soon after breakfast. I was perhaps the first to be in the dining hall. I just could no longer be in that room and bear the sight of the three of them getting their bit of sound sleep, which I couldn’t.
Anuj: “You seem disturbed.”
He came and sat beside me.
Me: “You are alive? I’ve had the worst night ever. Thanks to your stupidity.”
Anuj: “Don’t ask. Five of us spent the night lying on one bed.”
Me: “What happened?”
Anuj: “We couldn’t send it off. We called up Vicky’s mother, who is into astrology and all these things.”
Anuj: “We had to sprinkle urine around the bed, to keep us safe.”
Me: “F**k. And you guys did? But we heard Vishal’s scream last night. And someone running down the stairs.”
Anuj: “What bulls**it? He was with us the whole night.”
If it weren’t for Mayank then whose scream was that? Who was it that ran down the stairs? Was our mind playing tricks or was it someone, someone from the unseen world?
Final Chapter: Wounds Heal, Scars Remain
Some incidents leave a permanent scar in your life. These scars may not be visible to the naked eye but cast a deep impact on the human psyche. This was one of those life experiences. I wouldn’t know if I’d ever recover from it. Would I?
June 5, 2011
I had barely slept in the last four days. Even closing my eyes for five minutes was disturbing. All kinds of haunting visuals would start playing in my head. But I needed to sleep. My eyes hurt and my head pounded. My stomach would churn at the very thought of that dreadful night. Even chanting the Hanuman Chalisa wasn’t helping.
I was lying straight on my bed, staring at the white ceiling. The lights in my room were on. I wouldn’t dare a tryst with darkness after all that horror I’d gone through a few days ago.
I got up from the bed, removing the sheet off me. It almost felt like I heard a baby cry in pain. As I tried to calm my breathing to listen to the faint sound, it suddenly got louder, making my heart race again. The cry was coming from the back of my room. We had an empty backyard with a tiny store, where we dumped our miscellaneous items. And there was an endless piece of barren land beyond our boundary wall. As far as I knew, there were no kids in the neighborhood either.
I don’t know what on earth made me do this, but I slowly got off my bed, slipped my feet into my slippers and walked toward the window. My hands shivering and my mind burning to know what it was, I peeped through the window.
I stormed out of my room and ran toward my brother’s, which was right across the hall. I’d forgotten that he’d gone on a business trip and that meant I was all by myself on the first floor of our villa. I rushed downstairs, almost tripping, and knocked on the door of my parents’ room.
The visual of those sharp green eyes that glowed and popped out of the black silhouette, had set my pulse raising.
Both my parents panicked seeing me in the horrifying state that I was in. I was on the verge of breaking down. My legs were trembling. I immediately hugged my mother.
Dad: “Is everything alright?”
Tensed, he enquired. My mother patted my back and tried to calm me down.
Mumma: “Don’t worry, everything’s okay. Had a bad dream?”
I started weeping.
Dad: “You are such a brave child, Naina. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Both tried to console me.
Mumma: “It’s okay. Sleep in our room with us. We’ll put the folding bed here.”
She made me sit on the bed and gave me some water to drink as dad prepared my bed.
Mumma: “Tell me what happened?”
Me: “A black cat was crying in the backyard.”
Mumma: “Must be feeling some discomfort, Naina… It’s alright.”
It wasn’t. We never had cats in our locality. Never spotted one in the 10 years since we’d moved in to this place. This was unusual and my mind was convinced that this was some bad omen and that something was going to go horribly wrong.
Mumma and dad tucked me into the bed and kissed me good night. I somehow managed to quiet my thoughts and put my mind to rest. My heartbeat had slowed down and my pulse had normalized. Maybe it was my parent’s presence that made me feel secure.
Mumma: “She’s been behaving really strange ever she’s come back from the trip. Wonder what happened. This is why I did not want her to go.”
Dad: “I know, she was sitting in the balcony last evening and she got all scared when I walked up to her.”
Mumma: “She even gets all worked up when the doorbell rings. Rajan, I’m telling you, there’s something really wrong.”
I could faintly hear their conversation, but I was too tired to pay attention and slipped into a deep sleep, until it was interrupted by my phone’s vibration at around 3:34 AM.
I could barely open my eyes as I searched my pocket for the phone. I have no memory of checking it; in all likelihood, I probably just rolled over and literally slept on it.
The next morning I woke up at around 10 AM and noticed, there was nobody in the room. I grew anxious.
I called out to her.
The door bell rang and I could hear some familiar voices coming from the lobby. I slowly walked out of the room to see who it was.
Mumma: “Look, your friends are here!”
She smiled at me.
Mumma: “You guys talk and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll get something for you all.”
Me: “What are you guys doing here?”
I was surprised to see them.
Nobody spoke a word. We stood there silent, staring at each other with eyes that spoke of horror -- a horror that seemed to have just broken loose.
I immediately went back to my parents’ room and looked around for my phone. When I found it, its notification light was blinking: 17 messages and three missed calls. They were all from Pallavi.
Me: “Oh s**t.”
“He is here.”
“He’s going to kill me.”
“He’s here for me…”
And her last message was received at 3:59 AM.
I hurried out to the lobby.
Me: “Guys, we should rush to Pallavi right away.”
I was going crazy.
Anuj: “Naina. Control yourself.”
Anya hugged me tight and started crying.
Me: “Guys, she is in danger.”
I tried to push Anya away from me.
Anya: “We can’t help her anymore.”
Pallavi was found dead in her bathroom by her brother Jatin that morning. No one really knows what occurred that night. While the police suspected suicide, there was an unexplained black mark across her neck. I remember reading somewhere that those sorts of marks were generally indicative of a negative energy playing foul. I had laughed at those things as hogwash. But now, I was more inclined to believe that explanation, so was all in the gang.
Fear doesn’t fade overnight. It invades your mind, controls your body, and shudders your soul. It casts a crippling affect on every living cell in your body, so much so that even the slightest of quiver and the faintest of smells could feel threatening.
For nearly six months, I lived in constant trauma. I could barely get myself to go to the bathroom alone. I would leave the door open; unlatched. My mother slept with me and I never dared to go anywhere alone. Sneha had quit the program and gone back to Pune, where her family was put up. Anya did struggle too, but she was perhaps the bravest of us all. As for Mayank, Vishal and Arjun, they are still dealing with the aftermath. They had lost their high-spiritedness, the spunk. Nobody knew what transpired that night, except us. It shall forever remain a mystery.