I am Arnab, maverick, travel enthusiast, movie buff , new cuisine and culinary taster and a vociferous reader of any subject under the sun ranging from Zen Meditation to buzziest trends in Hollywood and Bollywood to Artificial Intelligence and alien life .Experiencing new places and meeting new people are what I like to do when I am not working on my professional assignments . I am reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @arnabdasgupta75.
“Bye Abhi” – said Kavita from behind, followed by other “ See you tomorrow” and “ party, this weekend “ from the crowd as Abhinabh known in friends and colleague circles in the shorter version of Abhi got out of Residency Hotel. It was mid week of May, hot, humid and sultry with hardly a single leaf of the surrounding trees of Powai moving, making the humidity unbearable.
Abhi looked at his watch. It was 10: 30 pm. “These office parties”… he muttered. It was Annual Reward and Recognition Day of his office and the party was hosted to award the top performers of the last financial year of which Abhi happened to receive the “Achiever of the Year “award. Even though his mood was quite upbeat, but Abhi actually detested parties. He was never a party animal and he usually spends his weekends watching movies alone or catches up with his very closely bound limited circle of friends or colleagues. But he is not an introvert, nobody can say that; it’s only he is just very particular with whom he spends quality time with and he would rather be immersed in catching up with his readings from his collection of books than hanging out at a loud pub with a flashy, flamboyant gang.
Abhi lit a cigarette, he badly needed one …the bitter taste of whiskey was making him feel a bit cringy. The peer pressure to raise a toast and then “thoda aur le (take some more) “that follows post that makes him feel uncomfortable. He has always been a beer guzzler, occasionally taking tequila shots, the throat burning sensation of which, he genuinely loved. But today before he could go for his beer Himanshu came up with the whiskey and affirmatively declared “Aaj to Johny Walker banta hain (You deserve to drink a Johny Walker today)” with the entire crowd cheering and raising their respective glasses.
Abhi looked around. The road was quite empty and he badly wanted to crash on his bed.
“Should have asked Himanshu to drop me till Malad”, he thought. Now how the hell he is supposed to go? He wondered. His own car, being in service station since one week, rickshaw was his only solace since the last 7 days. He saw a beaming light coming his way.
“Rickshaw” he yelled as loud as he could.
It was a rickshaw which came to a screeching halt before him like a knight in shining armour about to rescue a damsel in distress. “Kandivali, Thakur Village, Jaldi chalo (Hurry up)” Abhi said. As the vehicle was about to take a U-turn, Abhi said “Through Aarey Colony, we will reach faster” The auto guy looked a bit hesitant and paused for a moment, as if thinking something .. “ Chalo..” Abhi said as loudly and firmly as he could feeling irritated that what is there to think about what possible route to take in a city which never sleeps and as it is he would be paying night charges.
“Ok Saab” said the guy, putting up the meter, as the vehicle started to move slowly accelerating speed. Soon, they reached the pole gate of the entry to the colony. There was a havildar sitting in his chowky, casually rubbing the khaini in his palm, looked up and gave them a casual look as they entered the broad road of the colony.
The driver picked up his speed as if he was in more hurry than Abhi. Abhi liked that. He looked at his face through the rearview mirror. Possibly Abhi was his last passenger for the day before he hands of the vehicle to the driver for the night. He looked in his 60s with grey hair and a big moustache. But he was muttering something, Abhi felt. It looked like as if he is chanting something very fast.
“Not my business,” Abhi thought as he started to look out of the rickshaw towards the engulfing darkness of the surrounding forest area. There have been recent reports of leopards coming down at night. If such an incident occurs, Abhi wondered, what is he going to do??
The vehicle continued to gain more speed and Abhi felt relieved as the gush of wind swept across his face. It was pitch dark outside and the only visible light was the beaming headlight of the auto and occasional front lights of closed shops. The solitude prevalent in the air, the effect of the continuous chiaroscuro, as the auto continued to glide across the broad road, made the ambience enigmatic yet a lurking mystery about to unravel.
Abhi felt a sudden dip in the temperature. “Might rain”, he thought, which is quite likely given the rising humidity and temperature in the last few days. The auto guy is still silent, not a single word from his mouth. Abhi gave a quick glance at his face. The murmur seemed to have stopped. “Poor guy must be tired and eager to get home fast,” Abhi thought.
“Saab look”, first time, Abhi heard the driver’s voice. He sounded a bit nervous and perplexed. Abhi looked up, but could not make up anything up ahead in the distance in the darkness. There were no street lights on and the headlight did not travel that far to make out anything that might be of worth looking. Abhi felt a bit alert. He had heard of dacoities in remote, barren highways. Although there have been no recent crimes in Aarey Colony which came in media, still he has quite a valuable possessions with his- laptop, his I phone which he just bought last month, official papers, credit and debit cards and most importantly the gold-plated trophy he is carrying.
Slowly his eyes got adjusted to the darkness and he could see, although a rough outline, of a silhouette standing about 150 metres ahead under a tree. Abhi looked up curiously and focused sharply on the figure. It was a girl, turning her head right and left probably looking for a drop.
The auto driver now has slowed down his speed and he is also looking with deep introspection trying to figure out what to do. As the distance between the auto and the figure, Abhi could clearly make it out it was a girl. She was now looking at their vehicle as it slowly came approaching her.
A lot of thoughts came gushing into Abhi’s mind. Possibly the girl is in some kind of trouble and needs help or some baddy has dumped her in the middle of this isolated road after robbing her or maybe she is a victim of a heinous crime which one sees in news headlines these days. But he felt a bit anxious too; he has heard these are traps through which armed robbers lure innocent passersby making them stop while they come down to carry out their looting process.
“Kya Karoo Saab? (What should I do Sir?)” Abhi’s driver asked. Abhi pondered for a while, then told the driver
Slow down a bit before her but don’t shut off your engine, let’s try to understand what is going on here”
Now they are barely feet away from her. Abhi could see her clearly now. She was a girl in her mid twenties, with quite fair complexion but had a frail frame as if she is under lots of stress in recent times. She was wearing a white top with a green floral long skirt but her head was covered in a scarf with long strands of loose hair falling on her face. She had an appeal in herself and looked like one who can be seen apart in a crowd. But what intrigued Abhi was her eyes, the eyes seemed to carry the strength of her entire lean, fragile structure. It was very protruding, immense and sharp as if she can speak a lot of words through her eyes only. And, as a matter of fact, it seemed to Abhi that those eyes wanted to say something.
It took 3 seconds for Abhi to decide to check out what this girl is doing here at such an odd hour. Her eyes did not give the message of an accomplice of a highway robber gang but that of someone who needs a patient hearing and maybe a drop somewhere.
“Ruko unke paas (Stop near her.)” – Abhi sharply said to the driver . He felt a strange mix of excitement, curiosity, anxiety and a little goosebumps rising up from his stomach.
The auto stopped before the girl but the driver kept the engine on.
Abhi leaned half of his body out and said as politely as he could “Yes Madame Is there any way I may help you? Are you in some kind of a problem?”
The girl didn’t answer anything. She was looking at Abhi intensely with those invasive eyes. The eyes glowed sharply as she looked at Abhi deeply and glaringly, as if she wants to get inside Abhi’s mind, his entire body. Abhi felt a bit edgy and uncomfortable. 2-3 minutes went past which seemed like 2 hours, after which the eyes came back to a relaxing state with the fiery intensity coming down and she said something in a hushed tone which was barely audible.
“Excuse me”, Abhi exclaimed!!! She came a bit closer and said almost in a whisper “ Can you kindly drop me a little bit ahead up there “ ?
The driver, who was watching this with a grim face and was apparently not enjoying the proceedings, now intervened. It was clear he wanted to investigate what was going on here at this hour!!! “Ikde, kaay kartaat madam yaa veli? (Madam, what are you doing over here at this hour?)” He asked demandingly to the girl.
She gave a frowning look at the driver and mumbled something, the voice this time sounding a bit hoarse as if she has got a sore throat. Then she gave out a small cough, cleared her voice and said in a hushed up tone but audible this time “ The rickshaw I was travelling broke down and the driver has gone to get help “ . Then she turned round and pointed her fingers towards the large banyan tree she was standing beneath .Both Abhi and the driver looked towards the tree and saw an old shabby looking auto parked at the sideway with half of its body immersed in the tall bushes and weeds of a marshland which lay behind the tree . The auto looked rusty with worn out body paint and absolutely not in working shape. “ No wonder, this garbage has broken down in the middle of this jungle making life miserable for this young lady “ – Abhi thought .
The chivalrous knight in Abhi swung in action. “Sure, he said, get in… I will drop you wherever it’s convenient for you or even at your home maybe. Where do you stay? “
Silence loomed again; the girl was thinking something … “A little bit ahead, about another 20 minutes from here “she replied still in a whispering tone. She was sitting with her legs folded, head down and her palms covering half of her face.
“But in 20 minutes we will not be crossing over the colony, “ Abhi replied feeling confused . “ It’s absolutely ok for me to drop you at your home, your family must be worried. Trust me” Abhi said in an assuring tone.
“Thank you”, the girl said “but i have some work here “. Abhi looked at her with a puzzled face .Then looked at his watch. It showed 11:30 pm. What work can the girl possibly have here at this hour???
The auto kept progressing; the driver has increased speed again possibly this time putting his feet with all his strength on the accelerator. The atmosphere was getting murkier with every passing moment. He thought for a moment and decided let’s get this clear.
He gave a quick glance at the girl. She was still sitting in the same position with her head down and palm covering the face. Occasional lights falling on her face from a few dimly lit lamp posts showed strains of fatigue and worry and restlessness. Abhi thought she might be an introvert and travelling with a random guy in the middle of Aarey colony at 11:30 pm will make any girl feel uncomfortable. He decided to break the ice and make the air a bit light. Maybe a little bit of interaction will make her feel comfortable and also will clear the curiosity that is constantly itching on his mind.
“What is your name “? He asked as politely as he could. “ Mansi” she replied almost in a monosyllable , in a flat voice. “Hi Mansi , I am Abhi , Abhinabh Singhal . “ She nodded acknowledging his reply. “What do you do Mansi ? “ Abhi continued, keeping the conversation alive. “She removed her palms from her face “I …. am working ‘she said and swiftly turned her face away and started looking outside .
“ Oh, I see, so you must have been returning from office and then your auto broke down “- Abhi said , sounding a bit relieved that now some explanation is emerging of her presence in that location at such a late hour .
But still, what work she had over here at this time and her reluctance to being dropped at her residence is still puzzling.
Abhi started to think how that intriguing question can be asked skilfully without upsetting her. “But Mansi, “he continued, “Don’t you think it will be a better idea to do that work you have here tomorrow morning at day light and go home now? You might not get another rickshaw from here for your residence “
She looked towards him with a passive face now. Her jaws tightened a bit and the eyes started glowing intensely in the same manner when Abhi saw her first.
“Our old maid stays here and she is not keeping well. She has no one to look after her . I have brought some medicine for her which I need to deliver it to her. “She said very fast but in a very cold voice. It was clear she was not enjoying the conversation much and preferred to be left alone.
But curiosity kills the cat. Abhi, now has reached that edge where he just need to know how she planned to reach her home. Is she planning to stay with her maid in this jungle? And does someone stay in this remote location? He poked his head outside and tried to look at both sides. He could not see anything that remotely looked like a house.
He started pursuing once again relentlessly. “But where does she stay here ? I didn’t know anyone staying in this part. This is all jungle here “Mansi , looked outside and pointed her index finger outside “ Down there in one of the cottages “
“Oh, I see. Fine, I can accompany you and after you deliver the medicine I can drop you home or at least on the main road. I am feeling a bit concerned about leaving you here. It’s almost midnight.”
She didn’t reply anything. She was looking at the front, her body leaning forward as to look closely through the front glass of the auto for some known landmark.
“STOP here “she shrieked, which almost sounded like a groan but whether it was out of glee or pain, Abhi could not make out. The driver stopped immediately. It seemed he was also relieved to get rid of her.
The girl turned towards Abhi now. For the first time, he could make out her face properly. She looked young, pretty and beautiful with thin lips and her eyes looked misty now. She whispered once again but this time very gently “Can I request you something?” she looked at Abhi hopefully.
“Sure”, Abhi said in complete puzzled and confused state.
“I have lost my phone and yet to buy a new one. Vimla has no one to look for her; I need to spend the night with her making sure she is alright. “She paused a little, catching her breath. “Can you please call my mother and tell her that I will be home tomorrow morning?”
“Not a problem at all, your mother’s no please “ Abhi said in a reassuring tone. He has given up in his pursuit to take Mansi safely back home. She is not only introvert, but seemed quite stubborn in her decisions too. Anyway, thats the best help he can do at this moment. Probably , he may convince her mother to come down here at this location and take both Vimla and Mansi back with her in their residence or might arrange for a doctor .
“9826470940, Mrs Aarti Jain … my mother “she quickly said.
“Are you sure, you will spend the night here. Maybe I can arrange for taking Vimla to a doctor or at your residence or even to a hospital “Abhi tried to stop this childish act for one last time.
She gave a faint smile “Thank you. You are a nice man. No need, I will be able to manage it alone. I am a trained nurse “
“ Fine “ Abhi said with a grim face giving up all hope to get her out of this insane decision . “ I will immediately call Mrs Jain and tell her “he said like a good Samaritan.
The auto driver started the engine again and just he was to put his hand on the gear, the girl hurriedly said “Oh, another thing!!! Could you please give mother one more message? That Akhil has cleared all his papers in CA finals. I have checked the results on the ICAI website. Tell her I am very happy for my brother “, this time she broke into a fully fledged smile and she looked enigmatic as moonlight, suddenly coming out of the clouds, fell on her.
“Sure I would “ Abhi said with a reassuring smile . “ Thank you, I need to rush. Vimla is waiting for me “and she hurriedly went down the adjoining slope beside the road and Abhi kept looking at her astonishingly as she soon vanished among the thick long bushes.
“Let’s go “!!! Abhi said, while taking out another cigarette. He is confused, puzzled, zapped, yet charmed by the entire experience which just lasted for 20 minutes barely.
As he dragged on the smoke, he muttered to himself “first things first, calling Mrs Jain.”
Abhi took out his phone. “Damn…” as the phone gave a notification of shutdown because of low battery. “ Forgot to carry the power bank today “he remembered. He cursed himself, now in such the moment where he has to make an emergency call for someone’s security, the battery had to die down.
“ Bhaiya,jaldi chalo (Driver, drive fast) ” he asked the driver impatiently . Then he thought for a moment and said to the driver “Can I use your phone? That girl’s family needs to be told that she is spending the night in that barren wilderness. Maybe they can come over and persuade her to go back with them “, hoping the driver will be kind enough to lend him his phone.
“Mere me balance nai Saab (I don’t have mobile balance) “the driver said firmly.
Abhi nodded his head in despair. They have already reached Growells Mall of Kandivali and its just another 5 minutes to his residence.
The auto entered into Thakur Complex , Abhi’s residence . Without waiting for the driver to tell him the fare amount, he brought out two 100 rupee notes and handed him and got down from the auto running towards his flat . Fortunately, the elevator was on the ground floor of his C Block. He started groping his pocket for his residence key as the elevator started going up with its manual screech, result of not being serviced for a decade.
Finally, he reached his residence, swung open the door in a jiffy, dropped his laptop bag onto the centre table and sat down on the edge of the sofa.
He started dialling Mrs Jain’s phone no.
The phone was ringing. Abhi felt his heart thumping louder, his heartbeat accelerating…
The phone was ringing.” Hello “said the voice on the other end . It was a voice of a middle aged lady, probably in her mid fifties. The voice sounded tensed and alert which was quite expected if one receives a phone call around midnight. And on top of that, her daughter having not reached home and no message from her probably has amplified her anxiety all the more.
“Mrs Jain, my name is Abhinabh . I met Mansi on my way back from office at Aarey Colony a few while back. She was about to deliver some medicine to your maid Vimla who, she told me, was not keeping well. I had asked her if I could drop her at your residence considering the barrenness of the place but she insisted that she would spend the night with Vimla and would be back home tomorrow morning. Even though, I am a third person, but I am genuinely concerned about her safety considering that place’s reputation at night. So if you could arrange to send some family member or a neighbour to bring her back and possibly Vimla too and arrange for a doctor . You must be knowing where Vimla stays . I dropped her at a point which is just 10 minutes walking distance from the exit pole of the colony .” Abhi finished his words as fast as he could sounding concerned and a bit exasperated too .
There was complete silence for 2 minutes at the other end . Then Mrs Jain replied with a rattled and grave voice ,”What kind of a nasty joke is this ?” , irritation clearly echoing from her voice . She continued ,now her voice rising “ You sound like an educated young man . Is this the way you get pleasure by hurting people with their painful experience and losses? She asked demandingly.
Abhi was confused and bewildered. He didn’t know what to say. He paused for a moment and said “Mrs Jain , I am not joking. You are much elder to me, almost like my mother. Why should I bother you at the middle of the night and try to make you feel hurt? I don’t even know you.” He paused and continued trying to bring seriousness and authenticity in his voice “I work in a senior position in a multinational organisation. It is befitting to a person of my stature to bother you with hurtful jokes at the middle of the night. Please believe me, I met your daughter just half an hour back and this is the message she asked me to convey to you “ Abhi ended emphatically .
There was again silence looming at the other end. Then Mrs Jain said, this time her voice has softened down “Did you actually meet Mansi in Aarey Colony? Tonight? “
Yes!!! Very much and so did the auto driver who brought me home “Abhi replied assertively.
Again silence prevailed … “Mrs Jain, are you there? “ Abhi enquired. He is absolultely puzzled by the way events are progressing in the last 1 and a half hours.
“Yes “said Mrs Jain in a sobbing voice and then she broke down into tears.
Abhi was baffled by her sudden breakdown. “What happened Mrs Jain? “He asked curiosity and confusion exuding from his voice. His instincts were saying something was drastically wrong.
Mrs Jain had regained his composure, took a deep breath which Abhi could hear and started speaking very slowly and in a defeated tone.
“Mansi was my daughter who was killed in an accident around 3 years back in the same spot where you mentioned you had dropped her. I believe you now, beta. Today, the 14th of May is the day she left all of us. She was coming from the hospital where she used to work as an intern after completing her nursing training. Her auto was hit by a speeding car which had a brake failure. The driver of the auto and the car which hit them survived with multiple injuries but she succumbed on the way to hospital. She was very caring in nature and was very attached to all the patients she attended at her workplace. Usually, she used to come back home by 7:30 pm but that night our old maid Vimla , who has seen Mansi grow up from her childhood, was seriously ill with malaria . When Mansi heard after she returned home, she immediately rushed to get medicine for Vimla and told us that she will be back in a while after delivering the medicine and taking Vimla to the doctor . When I told her to take someone with her she mentioned of Bhallav chacha who was an auto driver in our locality and used to take Mansi daily to her workplace.”
Mrs Jain, paused for a few moments trying to catch some breathes and regain her composure more. Then she continued,” We were worried when we did not get any message from her till 9 pm. Then we got a message from a gentleman who was passing by the accident spot after half an hour after the incident had happened. He saw the car which had rammed into the auto completely, damaging and deforming its posterior, and all the 3 persons lying unconscious with blood all over the place. He had called the ambulance and informed the local cops near the chowky , and then we got to know from the police . When we rushed to the hospital, she was already declared brought dead.
“And..” she became quiet for a second ,”Vimla also passed away two days in malaria after that.” She ended sounding lost and grief stricken as the old wounds which might have partially healed with the passage of time, seemed to have come back with renewed pain and gloom.
Abhi felt aghasted. He could feel the pain of a mother who has lost her daughter at the same time he was astounded by the fact that he has not only seen but had talked with Mansi’s spirit. He couldn’t think of any words to console the aggrieved mother and he was feeling that it was he who had to give the message to her about her deceased daughter’s spirit.
His voice trembled as he tried to muster up all his strength and said “Mrs Jain, I am sorry about your loss. The entire incident had personally shaken me. But I would like to tell you something which Mansi wanted you to know “
“What is it? How did she look like? Is she alright wherever she is now? “Mrs Jain asked very eagerly .
“She is absolutely alright Mrs Jain. Infact, I think she made her appearance just to give this special message to you that your son and her brother Akhil has cleared CA finals and she is very happy for her brother “
“But Akhil’s results were about to appear in the last week of May!!! “ Mrs Jain exclaimed with utter surprise.
“ Maybe where she is now, she can see the future Auntie “ Abhi said with a sigh now feeling more attached to this desolate mother and wanted to lighten some of her pain in whatever way he could.
Mrs Jain continued. She had gained normalcy now in her voice,” She was very affectionate towards Akhil and both the brother and sister were inseparable.” Her voice going down the memory lane.
“Yes Auntie, that’s why probably she came down from her current, abode to give you the good news in advance. She knew how anxious Akhil might be about the results.” Abhi said in a comforting voice.
“Please visit our residence someday Beta. You have seen her and we would be able to feel the presence of her aura through you. I would thank her in my mind and put a new garland in her photo tomorrow morning. May she stays happy in God’s heavenly abode “
“Of course Auntie, I will visit you this weekend only.” Abhi said affirmatively mentally marking the weekend in his calendar. Office treats can wait; this is a greater cause, he felt.
“Bye Auntie, you take care of yourself and convey my congratulations to Akhil “he said respectfully and ended the conversation.
As he sat with his legs stretched in his sofa, he thought about the entire incident and remembered the famous adage of Mark Twain “Truth is stranger than fiction “.
(Based on a true story as narrated to the author by an auto driver while travelling on the same route as described in the story)
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