Two Days of Winter : Day 1 #the monkey God

A long walk up the hill…💕

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With laboured breaths, I dragged myself on this never ending slope, secretly working on the probability of reaching the peak on my own legs. They said if you mumbled Hanuman’s hymns, the ascent became smooth. But stubborn as I was, I chose to do it without any supernatural help. Plus, I believed Hanuman has better jobs to do than push people’s ass up the hill. I mean I could picture him having his brunch, sweet red berries on his plates, and suddenly the doorbell rings and millions of SOS calls trying to get through. If I were God, I’d probably resign soon and get myself a nice planet where I could fix my chair with supernatural cement and watch torrential rains over dense forests.

This junior behind me swore he could feel a heart attack creeping up his chest. I told him it was just gas and asked him to keep moving.

“I’d collapse. I had an operation a few months ago. “He pleaded. I chose not to believe him.

“Don’t lose heart, boy. Once you reach there, you’ll be reborn. ”

Let’s rewind to the moment we went to the temple, from where we watched the hills and the houses, planning honeymoons.

“If there were no condoms in this world and a couple lived in Shimla, at what rate do you think the population would escalate? “I quizzed.

Acting thoughtful….

“I just want to have a machine gun and shoot down those tiny people walking on the road. “Said the Military man, thus spoiling my erotic thought.

We took photos and then branched off into two groups, one behind healthy male teachers, the other behind diabetic female teachers. We went to Mall road, and Mr. Gabbar asked us to get over with the shopping quickly. We went in an elegant clothes store, where women with rosy cheeks sold swanky shawls.

“How much for this? “I picked one from the counter that had Pashmina written on a plate above. I could buy it for maa.

“Twenty Six thousand rupees only sir! “She said coolly, as if she were selling Kismi bars. The shawl dropped from my hand. People’s stare oscillated dramatically from my face to her face. I could hear Ekta Kapoor background music. Dhoom tana na na na….

“Ermmm…what’s the lowest price? ”

“Thirteen thousand for this one. “She showed me the dullest piece of clothing ever manufactured.

‘Does it come with superpowers? ‘I wanted to ask. But I just said hmm, and turned away, as if I was a ghost and nobody could see me. If I had twenty thousand rupees, I’d start a business in clothes rather than purchase a shawl.

We then moved on to the main street, and the guide told us that we could get to Jakhoo and watch the sunset. One of the teachers revolted against going on foot, so we left him and walked ahead. It was agoddamn race against time.

None of the girls came with us. They got a cab and Mr. Gabbar cited security reasons and sat with them while we the bravehearts walked on the slope, fighting gravity.

Saying that the walk was a backbreaking exercise would be a severe understatement. The muscles in my legs stiffened like cement. My heart pounded like those cheap DJ speakers they put on small scale marriages. I was gasping for breath. I was kind of convinced I’d not make it to the temple.

But I did it. I was the last guy to reach there. It baffled them. I mean I’m a fat guy, nobody expects me to climb mountains and stuffs. Mr Gabbar patted my back.
The girls were already there, without a hint of sweat on their brows, clicking selfies at the base of the sky-high statue of the monkey God. As we sat for a group selfie, one of the monkeys stole a girl’s specs. We had to give him a whole pack of roasted grams to get the soecs back. Monkeys are shrewd, I tell you.

Clicked on the way….

We had missed the sunset, but the last smear of red was still there. We clicked photos and left the temple. Since gravity was now working downwards, girls and Mr. Gabbar joined us this time. Somebody dropped the idea of a bonfire, so we started collecting dead branches with some vigour.

I’d never felt so excited before, I must tell you. I mean who dreams of picking twigs in a foreign land. We got the flashlights and searched in the bushes. It was scary but exhilarating.

As I left Jakhoo, I made a secret vow to some day, get here with my…..alright, maybe I am too desperate. But when you have a beautiful experience, you add it to your bucket list.

to be contd….

Two Days of Winter : Day 1 #get, set, go….

getting ready for the adventure….

I hastily rubbed the pink deo soap on my naked chest as my ears caught vague chitchat in the bedroom. The lather from the three rupee sachet of Pantene dripped into my eyes and stung them blind. This is when people get murdered in Hitchcock’s movies. I squinted through the white foam to place the soap on its wrapper, which was glowing with a white woman in a pink nighty, her sparkling teeth exposed in a seductive smile. It was a women’s soap, and a women’s shampoo, but I swear I had no choice. I had pleaded with the shopkeeper to look for a pack of Wildstone or something; I even pointed at a few shady corners where such things could be hidden, but she gave me a flat no, and chided me for gender discrimination.

“There’s no such thing as a women’s soap. “She said.

Then, she stuck me random candies because she did not have change.

“Is it over yet? “Popatlal knocked the door twice and then said something which made the rest of them dissolve into laughter. From their laughs, I could figure out our HOD, who’d returned for some reason, only that this time with her were Mr. Gabbar, Little Man and Mrs. Fatty. All the teachers and four of my friends, laughing in our room while I painted soap all over my body.

“Just a minute! “I shouted.

I came out after fifteen minutes. No I wasn’t masturbating; I was waiting for the teachers to buzz off. Moreover, the water was so pungent with chlorine, you could not manufacture sexy thoughts. Shimla had tremendous scarcity of water, and I had not yet met any pahadi girl with bewitching eyes. This trip wasn’t turning out to be magical. Hmm..

We had half-baked and burnt Rotis, vegetable pieces swimming in oil, stale salads and lemon pickles for lunch. If you cooked the same dish in a royal kitchen, the emperor would have you guillotined on the charges of poisoning. But monarchy is a past now. So we appreciated the food when the staff appeared with a jar of water on his own, and asked with a goofiness you only witness on the face of Spike the Bulldog if we liked the food.

We sniffed the water to check for chlorine. There was none, so we believed it was for ingestion, and gulped it.

Neta went busy fiddling with the remote again. He was trying to figure out the purpose of various buttons stuck across its abdomen. The tv was a sleek pane with tentacles protruding out of its body, and it silently perched on the stand, reflecting our idleness on its 50 inch black screen.

I lay flat on the bed, my arms and legs stretched in perfect resemblance to the Greek symbol of pi. I heard the birds chirp. Gossips from the floor below wafted up. In the distance, vehicles zoomed at alternate moments. If only you went any further, you could here silence, whispering to your soul the melodies of eternal happiness.
We had to get ready for another lag, so they did not let me engage in any more subconscious adventures. I wore the blue shirt, a brand new pair of kook n keech shoes (which sucked) and squeezed a handful of hairgel to make my head look like a porcupine’s coat.

“Ah! It looks like someone wrecked the cuckoo’s nest. “They said, and then claiming to be great hairstylists with diplomas bundled up in their almirahs, they jumped over me, clutched my hands and played with my hair one after the other. At the end of it, I looked like an interesting combination of Naruto and Gangadhar. And the gel was so fucking good I had to do another round of shampoo to get a normal hairstyle again.

We then went down and waited for the girls to appear.

Oh My God! Curls and layers and fringes and what not! Artificial blush on cheeks, bright lipsticks, mascara and oh fuck me in the eyes already.

I did not get a boner. In fact, I was more shocked than seduced. I mean they looked more like models than someone you could give oral pleasure to. I mean ughh…too much make up. Not that I hated them, but I’d definitely ask them to wash the lipstick before we could kiss.

We moved towards Mall road, and soon, got divided into two groups – the lazy asses behind the lady teachers, while the active and adventurous ones, behind Mr. Gabbar.

A rare picture of me flaunting my shirt with the aesthetic appeal of a cocumber…

Two Days of Winter : Day 1 #the Hotel

We reached the hotel…yaayyyy.

Shimla, from the balcony of a hotel at a high terrace, is the sublime fantasy of a romantic. As I leaned on its rusty rails, whose paint had begun to fall off, my eyes swam through the bewitching landscape and stopped at a light brown monkey scratching his groin with one hand as he held a sinewy branch with the other. A few others enthusiastically jumped from roof to roof, perhaps training for a forthcoming athletic event. Tiny houses peeped from behind the trees. Sleek cars zoomed by jogging mules on the road below. Despite sharp curves and high speed, nobody honked. Sun was a pleasant yellow orb of joy, floating in an azure sky, while a gentle breeze hummed along, and all the pines broke into a song. Ah! How I wish it was my honeymoon and I could watch sunlight dripping from my wife’s eyelashes and serenade her corny poems from my immortal collection!

I was lost in my wife’s eyelashes when my mother gave me a buzz. It was a video call. I gave my room a Sherlocky glance. Neta was changing into his (girlfriend’s) favorite clothes and the Military Man had already slipped inside the bathroom. I turned to the other side, with Shimla in the background, and slid the green icon.

“Oh my God! “Said my mother. Her mouth fell open while she blinked and gazed like a child on her first visit to a zoo. Within that tiny 2.5″×4.5” screen, my entire family was bunched together, like grapes on a fruit stand, gaping at me (the background) with unparalleled awe. We are a poor family who spend vacations collecting daily coupons and buzzing our village relatives to ask if they have any surplus mangoes left in their bagaans.

“This is amaazziiinnnggg! “She gave a squeal. My father just smiled. That’s not the maximum attainable curve on his face, but you have to tell a really nice joke to draw out more emotions. My brother was staring fixatedly, as if trying to calculate the velocity of leaping monkeys behind me.
“Hello aunty!”Neta gave a cheerful shout from the back. Hiding my hand from the camera, I flipped him a birdie.

“Hello beta! You should come home!. “My mother said. I was sure she did not mean it because Neta is a hardcore non-vegetarian while my mother believes that all the problems in this world can be solved if people simply turn to vegetarianism. Hunger, terrorism, AIDS – everything can vanish just by changing the contents of your plate.

“Wow! You’re having the time of your life. I wonder what you’ll be bringing for your mother from Shimla. “She said after soaking in the view from the balcony.

What do you bring for your mother from Shimla? A pahadi daughter-in-law? Or something simpler she could flaunt to her neighbors? Like shawls and stuffs?

“Raveeeeeeeeshhh…..”came a girly voice, and through the corner of my eyes, I saw her dash like a tracer bullet.

It was Manika.

FUCK!

I gave her a glare that could make kids permanently scopophobic. Mummy – I performed an award-winning dumb charades to make her understand, and when she finally got it, her cheeks got rosy; she bit her tongue and scurried like a mouse.

“Is there a girl in the tour? ”

Around 25, I wanted to say. But you don’t disclose such stuffs to your mother.

“It was mam. She teaches us Mughal History. “I assured her.

“The one with a giant bindi? “My mother said, talking about our HOD. If they two ever had a conversation, it would end up with a blank cheque and an offer from Vince McMahon to join WWE divas.

“Yes. Listen, I’ve to go. Freshen up. See you later. “I made a leap towards the end of our conversation. She agreed and asked me to stay away from pahadi girls.

“They have pretty eyes but that is because they are witches. Bye. ”

I would tell you the truth – old and ugly witches, they scare the bejesus out of me; but give me horny and hot ones, like Melisandre, and I would not mind getting boiled in a pot the next day.

“So, you seem to like it! “Came HOD’s solid voice, and I turned to find her smiling at me, the large bindi on her forehead with black lines around them, as if it was the symbol of some secret satanic cult.

“Yes mam. “I said, not really pleased but neither too sad.

She entered the room without an invite and crashed in our sofa. She started talking to Neta who was euphoric as hell.

The door opened and Military Man came out, wearing a faded white underwear that already was in the process of natural decomposition. It was like that great scene from Hera Pheri where Baburao’s dhoti is absent from his hairy hindlimbs. HOD saw him and turned her head away in shock. Military Man stood gobsmacked, as if a part of a frozen video frame. There was an awkward silence, like the one right before the big bang.

The Military Man trotted back and HOD resumed the conversation like everything was hunky dory.

She left after Neta told her a few stories about chicken and revealed to her some of our personal secrets, in return for some of the funny stories from previous college trips. Neta is such a bitch!

I gave a sigh of relief and fell on the fluffy bed like a piece of wood.

“30 minutes to have lunch and get ready. “Screamed the leader.

How I wished I could break out of this body and float like a leaf, and slowly descend to the lonely cottage amid that inviting wild forest, where a fireplace will crackle and a pahadi girl with bewitching eyes would wait for me…

“Take a shit before the tank runs out of water. “Neta dropped wise words as he fiddled with the tv remote.

Alright! Alright! Next time I come to Shimla, it’ll be with a girl.

Two Days of Winter : Day 1 #the last lap

Sunrise….

 

“5 minutes to go! “Mr. Gabbar announced after stretching his back at about 9. “Grab your bags. ”

I looked around drowsily. The zombies around me had finally collapsed. The couple was zonked out, snug together – the boy’s head glued on the girl’s shoulder at a weird angle. Somebody had put a kurkure in his half-open mouth, which I’d have plugged out had I been a kind man.

I was sick of filming the curvy paths and the deep lush green valley. There was no snow because we forgot to click that option while booking the hotel. Anyway, no matter how lovely the scenery, after a while, you start missing the comfort of your fluffy mattress, the privacy of your small room, the choking groans of your fan which your landlord swore on his mother he’d repair in the evening. You rot away for months and the fan still whimpers like a granny’s fart; but there’s a peculiar relief in the realisation that nobody can hurt you within that territory. The familiarity sustains you – take that away, and life becomes a minesweeper.

They woke up. Well, it seemed like they were only pretending to be asleep. But their faces were all tired and swollen.
In the back, a girl gagged loud enough to throw airplanes off the radar, and it produced a domino effect, and people started either gagging or complaining of nausea. Mr. Gabbar took out his magic pill – the orange candy – and got it distributed through volunteers. Of course, the volunteers got to keep the remainders with them. Since, one of the volunteers was Popatlal, I got an extra candy.

“Don’t look out. Look straight. “Mr. Gabbar suggested.

“Why, sir? “I quizzed.

“Your head starts spinning. We are going round and round. It’s necessary to look ahead. ”

I swear to God I’d looked out at the windy paths all the morning and nothing had happened, but the moment I heard Mr. Gabbar’s explanation, I began feeling dizzy.

“Sir, why don’t they honk here? “Mishra asked. The conversation began with the definition of sound and went on till I passed out. Later they would tell me how Neta puked after he had enough of their enlightening dialogue regarding the effect of wave on the rocks of Shimla.

We reached the bus stop two hours later, because the driver had forgotten that they didn’t allow buses through that way and so he had to go back and cover the distance of 3 kms in 26 kms. I could not feel my legs when I leapt out of the bus. Our bags were kept in a van, and we were told to follow a lanky guy who was a local. The Military Man lead the parade, sometimes even passing the lanky man, and we followed like Hamelin’s rats, avoiding death as the cars zoomed by, allowing us a narrow space, on the other side of which was an alluring death miles below.

We reached the old hotel, which was nothing like Bhatt camp’s opulent horror houses. It was a four-storey establishment in the need of repair.

We went in to take the keys, and Neta was quick to grab a bunch from Mam.

“Distribute it. “She said.

Neta nodded and ran upstairs. There he found the room with a balcony, which offered the most panoramic view of Shimla, plonked our luggage there, and threw the keys at the crowd behind. The Military Man, Neta and I had seized the best room of the hotel already, and now all I needed was a nice commode with a bidet.

The view…

To be contd…

Two Days of Winter : Day 1 #the toilet

Another struggle on the fore…

The first thing I saw when my eyes opened was our conductor collapsing like a dead pine. DJ RonCruz was quick to react, and he grabbed the semi-dead man by his collar before he could roll all the way down through the door and experience a really cool freefall into the valley. Yes we were in the pass again. On my left was the rocky mountain and on my right were the terraces. The terraces reminded me of Boticelli’s Mappa dell’Inferno, only that these were not grotesque. There were resplendent houses with sloping roofs, sometimes only two at a level. Surrounded by coniferous trees and monkeys and birds, these cottages could anytime pass off as one of the best honeymoon spots in the world. I didn’t waste any time and began picturing my honeymoon with this hot Arabian diva I’d seen on YouTube the other day.

It turned out that the conductor was just sleepy from the overdose, and he suffered minor trauma which could be cured by two rounds of Iodex massage. Everybody went back to being crazy once DJ RonCruz resumed playing sexist but popular and upbeat songs. Girls looked like plastic surgeries gone bad and boys looked as usual- ugly and gross. Back in the stern, a feeble cry was demanding the bus be halted instantly for a piss break or somebody might jump, but it was suppressed by the mind blowing music and ceaseless cheers. And ten minutes later, the guy actually jumped.

The bus screeched to a halt. Everybody went quiet.

“He jumped! He jumped!” shouted the third year guys from the stern side.

Girls look kind of cute when they are gobsmacked. You might view this as a sexist statement, but I swear I have observed this. And science backs it too, because your eyes expand when you’re surprised, and big eyes are beautiful. Applying deductive reasoning to the two statements, we get that girls look beautiful when they are surprised.

Anyways, the guy was alright. He said he’d jumped from vehicles before. Once he even jumped from Brahmputra Mail and rolled like red carpet for a few feet and then got up alright.

“When I stood on my feet and brushed off the dust from my shirt, people gazed at me wondrously, as if I were the incarnation of a divine being. They clapped and whistled, and I knew I was invincible. “He elaborated. He also shared with us some techniques to jump off a moving vehicle, and talked about how he was thinking of contacting Guinness World Records for the highest number of safest exits from running trains. It is a talent, in the same way being able to pass snakes through your nostrils is.

Mr. Gabbar did not scold him much, because he could understand the motivation – the insuppressible urge to pee, which can make men move mountains.
Girls began demanding a pee break as well. These little struggles for equality worth being mentioned, because these tiny pixels would, over time, grow into a vivid mosaic. The problem with girls demanding a pee break, though, is you’ve to find a proper toilet, which the government of India has failed to build in sufficient quantities over 70 years because Muslims used up all the marbles and all the good architects migrated to Dubai to construct tall towers. It’s not government’s fault if you see it that way.

The bus did not stop for another hour. And when it did, all we could find was a dilapidated toilet with enough holes on the door to use it as a makeshift sieve for filtering tea at community gatherings. And the toilet policy was such that you had to have breakfast at the owner’s little joint in order to be able to use that shabby cabin.
So we ordered around 50 chais and got them hot in small papercups. The taste was awful, similar to railway food. Junior girls had brought fancy noodles, packed at home, and it triggered a riot when they opened the box. People shoved forks in each other’s nostrils to keep them away, and dug their hands in the little tiffin box that could feed not more than two pigeons. In not more than one blink of eye, the noodles were sliding down people’s small intestines for further digestion. We got plenty of photos clicked and Neta insisted I capture his shoes clearly. He had to send his photographs to his long-distance girlfriend, who is not much into him, if you ask me, or him.

The selfie sisters, after having relieved themselves, took twenty four million selfies and when their storage space ran out, chased this iPhone guy for a free photoshoot.

“For 3 years they never gave a fuck about me, and now they want my iPhone. Bitches! “The iPhone guy secretly told us later.

Once everybody came out and a head count was done, DJ RonCruz sat back at his place and resumed the music. And such vampires my friends were, they, once again broke into unstoppable mad dance.

Two Days of Winter : Night 1 #the restaurant

The Drama Queen smiled at me again, as if I was the cutest thing ever, and I felt my red antenna rise in alarm….

I woke up to the dazzling phosphenes whirling in front of me in an graceful tango. As I opened my eyes, I could see a giant LED signboard on my left. MANNAT. It was a posh restaurant, with a chain of candy shops on one side and a cafeteria on the other. The people around seemed to belong to a certain level of social hierarchy. The air was suddenly grim with sophistication. People started filing out to take in some fresh air, chai and food. Also, they must have desperately needed to pee. I was too exhausted to get up, as I usually am in a journey, so I decided to move my neck to the other side and fall dead as a log.

“Are you staying in, beta? “Mr. Gabbar asked.

“Yeah. Yes, sir. “I quicky bolted back to consciousness.

“Good. Watch my bag. “He said. He had a red American Tourister casual backpack and inside it was all the fund we’d be using up in the trip. It was a tough job, like babysitting, only that money doesn’t make noisy wails.

Alright, that was not exactly why I wanted to stay inside. Watching over a bag full of cash required hawk-like focus, and I was only slightly more alive than a dead limb of a tortoise. Anyway, duty was duty – as Military Man had taught me – so I stared at the bag like Arjun had stared at the fish and wondered how much money it had and what would it take for me to steal it. Not that I’m a thief, but at such points of acute thoughtlessness, you do get such imaginative ideas. That apart, everything has a price. I’ve heard people say love has no price, but that’s not true. Give me enough money and I’d buy two bags of love for all of humanity.

I was jolted out of my idle reflections by a break in. It was a well known gang – the Mad Trio – which was travelling with us and had gotten out with everybody else. Now they were back to steal lunch boxes. These three people were infamous for such felonies. There was another secret informer in their gang, who coordinated from inside the Mannat, giving them updates regarding the situation there. They saw me, and this girl – miss Drama Queen – smiled at me the smile you’d witness only in toothpaste ads. I’ve never believed her smiles because she is a shady girl. She uses her beauty and cuteness to blind people and get her job done. Like those bimbos who work as distraction tools in Vin Deisal heist movies.

“Do you have Manika’s Moong dal ki kachodi? “She asked, her voice saccharine.

“No. I don’t. “I said. “But in case you find some, drop one for me. I’ll keep quiet. ”

People, I love Manika as a friend, and she’s caring and kind, but everything has a price. And kachodis are precious enough to put people on mute. I’d probably make a very bad civil servant, to tell you the truth.
The Drama Queen smiled at me again, as if I was the cutest thing ever, and I felt my red antenna rise in alarm. She’s trying to bewitch you, be careful.

“Sure. “She said.

“Oh hey! Here’s something. “I heard Gola squeal. In his hand was a Black Dog Centenary which he’d fished out of a senior’s bag. Kalakaar went forward and observed it from fourteen different angles.
“Black Dog it is! “He professed.

“I don’t think you should leave your fingerprints there. “I said, not sure anymore whether I was on a college trip or a crime syndicate expedition.

They frisked a few more bags and found nothing. They called their informer to get some info out of Manika. The informer called back two minutes later and said she was taking selfies with teachers and hence, it was kind of risky.

“Don’t tell anyone you saw us. “The Drama Queen said. She was hot, and that she was evil made her even hotter, but she lacked assets. I gently nodded and looked out the window, telling myself it wasn’t sexist to point out a pair of missing boobs. I mean I could develop feelings for the Drama Queen, or Manika, but thing is that I am not interested. Plus, I like boobs – how is that even demeaning? Girls too have weird criteria.

They alighted after a short wait, while I wondered if it’s bad to like boobs.

In a while, Neta dropped back in and said he would take up my job from here and I could go out and freshen up. Suddenly, I felt an urge to pee. You feel that when somebody mentions it.

The restaurant was flooded with the light of extravagence. The people were rich, so were the waiters. I found the alley to the toilet and went inside the fancy establishment. It shone like the marble of the heavens. Only that the tissue papers lying around were smeared with shit which were now dry like pastels. I peed carefully and flushed the yellow piss. I might be diabetic – a thought crossed my head.

Outside, I met Popatlal and the rest of our gang sharing the dining table with the teachers, and it seemed all hunky dory. The breeze was moving like a shrewd serpent, carefully dodging me. But there was an unending darkness, and a comfort lay in the imagination that if I walk close enough, I could dissolve into the black ether.

The crowd rushed back in soon. Manika looked at me lovingly, which was a weird act because I am not that great a person.

“Thanks for keeping it safe. “She said.

“Keeping safe what? “I asked, my eyebrows pulled together like a bowstring.

Moong dal ki Kachodi. “She whispered as she pointed at my bag. I gingerly opened the compartment and to my disbelief, there it was, a box full of Kachodis!

“Don’t open it. The rats shall smell. “She said. “Don’t eat it all. Sharing is caring. “She said.

See, if Manika had bigger assets and had she been as evil as she was sweet, I’d have definitely asked her out.

Anyways, Mr. Gabbar asked me if everything was okay, and I nodded like a cool secret agent. He plugged in his earphones and slumped into a sprawl, and as the bus moved forward, I took an antinausea pill and wished the drudgery was over soon.

Two Days of Winter : Night 1 #the bus

the crazy dance 😂

As the woofer roared in the background, people moshed to its peppy rhythm. The bus shook like the disco floor on a new year eve. Drenched in sweat, they jiggled crunkily and spastically, and sang along, like hammered pirates, with the number DJ RonCruz had put up on the music player using this DJ app which he had snuck from some illegal site because playstore wanted a sum not less than half the net worth of his entire village in Ghaziabad in order to allow him the premium version. DJ Ron Cruz was also a part-time camera man, who was a giant fellow and who, in his leisure, loathed his life. For some good reason, he wanted to open a momo store, but DJing was his first love. So he sat in the dingy cabin with the driver who was three pints down and the cabbaged conducter, who could bob his head even to blaring honks, and played all the viral item numbers that made girls throw themselves to the aisle and shake their melons while boys pretended to be snakes and snake charmers. Also there was a particular step where one acted like he was being shot on chest by half a dozen AK 47 gunners. Girls had nice butts, let me remind that again.

It was a frenzy – everybody was shaking like crazy. As if whitewalkers being massacred by a tag team of Terminator and Rambo. They could never make it to DID, but their zeal was unmatched. Watching us inactive, the couple ahead first exchanged their seats with us – pushing us to the second row – as they had to participate in the debauchery, after which our teacher, Mr. Gabbar exchanged his seat – sending us to the first row – as he wanted his long, spidery legs to feel comfortable.

While the whole bus went nuts with dancing, Military man monotonously described to me the history of Grand Trunk Road, built by Sher Shah Suri centuries ago. He took my silence as a nod of encouragement and delved further into the the history of National Highways, expressways, quadrilateral projects, and all that shit Nitin Gadkari would call a sex chat.

I looked out the window and tried to recall starry poems – nothing showed up on the windscreen of my memory, not even a speck of vanishing couplets. The stars glittered like grains of salt – and the moon shone in the last stage of a waxing gibbous. Its silvery glow swerved with the winding path, as if guiding us, or perhaps chasing us. I’ve heard that the lights of the night are actually spirits showing right paths to the lost souls. I am too phoney to believe that shit but there is something deeply romantic about a quiet starry night on a wavy mountain pass.

The bus was soon back to the crowded highway and it was not long before it came to a slowdown, idling in a floodlit four-lane, in a congestion you should get used to if you are in India.

“The first electronic toll plaza was set up in India in 2013. “The Military Man remarked. Before he could shove another quill in my cramped pot, I retched and poked my head out. I looked behind – there was another head out of the window. A quiet junior who too was sick and tired of all this. Average looks but curious eyes, and a finger tracing through her hair the same path over and over – she was someone who you would not fall for at the first sight but would like to. I got myself busy making her look more attractive – as if she was an amateur’s canvas and I was Leonardo da Vinci. I reconstructed every tiny detail of her face and yet left her eyes untouched, and right when I thought she’d caught me staring at her with the intent you normally reserve for your first paycheck, I burst into an unending, outstretched yawn.
By the time my cheeks receded back to let my eyes open, the head was gone. Tough luck.

The bus moved slowly, like a tortoise out on a evening stroll, and exhibited proudly the rocking crowd inside. Different people watched us differently – the guy selling omelette in a food cart smiled at us, crown-bald uncles gaped at us in dismay, the street sleepers looked at us indifferently, more often in confusion as we had disrupted their sleep.

On the sidewalk, there was a long chain of homeless people. Wrapped in their ragged shrouds, they squinted their sunken eyes at us. Some kept sleeping, while some, high on cheap liquor, watched us in great delight. They looked as impoverished as one could get. And there were hundreds – men, women and children – trying to survive a tragic irony – striving for a moment of peaceful slumber by the unending flurry of blaring commotion.

I wondered if they too looked at the sky with the same thoughts as the more privileged ones, if they too praised the luminosity of the venus, if they too compared their lovers to the moon. I don’t know, maybe at such levels of economic deprivation, the idea of love gets warped. When you have a sobbing stomach to listen to, the brain doesn’t register the groans of the heart. Poetry doesn’t survive in penury. Not in the 21st century capitalism, at least.

I told myself to think about the snow and the mountains but I have this thing that when I start thinking about something, it’s tough to get out of it. So I borrowed earphones and played Jagjit Singh on a loop, only to slowly trickle down and dissolve into a puddle of sleep.

To be contd….