"What's the matter, buddy?" Nitin asked. He sent an arm across Survesh's shoulders and peeked onto the phone screen
Survesh showed the screen to everyone as he explained us. There were a few car icons on the map running randomly. However, at the bottom of the selection list, only one cab was visible. "DriveMe has only one cab which goes all the way to 'Imagikal World'. As you guys can see, it's a four-seater."
"Well... then, why don't we just, you know... adjust a little?" I suggested. "I mean, c'mon guys. We guys travel upto eight in a four-seater. Adjusting six shouldn't be a problem."
"Dude's got a point, buddy!" Nitin backed me up. "Mayank is so skinny, he'll occupy only half of a dude's space. And Divya could sit in someone's lap," he said with a nasty smirk on his face.
"No, no, no, no, NO!" Divya declined immediately, throwing her hands in air. "No way I'm sitting in Avni's lap again. Too much embarrassing!"
"Um... the cab driver won't even allow us to do something like that. They have a sort of rule or something," Avni informed.
"We'll pay him a little extra. He'll understand, right?" Survesh tried to be optimistic. "Let's just give it a try. Vidya will sweet talk him if needed."
"Yeah, come on guys. Let's at least try it out," Vidya supported and Survesh called for the cab. He handed over the phone back to me and I started keeping an eye out for the car.
"What's the rate on 'OTS', anyway?" Avni asked as she searched it for herself.
"It's almost a thousand extra," Survesh replied and Avni halted her search midway.
The clouds in the sky were now driven away by the sun. Its rays were spreading around like an apocalyptic virus, reaching every possible corner. As I looked around to pinpoint the location where the cab was supposed to arrive, Nitin commented. "Dude! We haven't started the fun yet and we're already messed up! Can't even get the wheel's rolling."
"Yeah, but... it'll all work out, it will!" Vidya tried to cheer up. "Just focus on what all we are going to do first. We need to capture the best shots early before they get all crowded. And we also need to make sure I get captured, so we'll need to go twice or maybe in batches. But I'll still go twice...hehe!" She chuckled.
"You are right, although I wish Pratik would have made it. I even got some mounts for his 'GoPro' we would have gotten great shots with that," Survesh added.
"Hey... is GoPro even allowed in there?" Vidya asked, unsure.
"It is. It should be," Divya stated as she crossed her arms against her chest.
"Um... I doubt it," Avni objected.
"Mayank, just check it out," Survesh requested. I quickly switched the apps and Googled it. It instantly displayed an extract from the official website of Imagikal World.
"Well, I don't think so," I said as I read. "It says here that GoPro isn't allowed."
"What? You sure?" He re-questioned with a slight disbelief.
"Well, this is official stuff," I replied and read further. "It also says that selfie-sticks aren't allowed as well. Although DSLRs are allowed."
"Um...We should be fine with that," Avni said.
"Yeah. Then guess it's fine for him to not make it or else his GoPro would have been for nothing" Survesh concluded, shrugging his shoulders.
"Anyway, when is this cab going to arrive?" Avni questioned. Her awaiting gaze turned towards the road as she tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear. She impatiently tapped her heel on the road. Her lips squeezed themselves against each other as she began to hum a tune I wasn't clearly audible.
"I'm wondering the same," I added joining her gaze. I switched back to the DriveMe app and waited. I even switched on the Live Tracking system in order to allow the driver to see our real-time location, hoping that it'll help him arrive in the next moment.
Numerous bikes passed by with a few cars. Rarely any car turned towards our lane as we stared at the turn leading to the main road. We kept on looking out for white cars with yellow number plates. "Is it that one, buddy?" Nitin asked.
"No" Divya replied.
"What's that damn cab's number anyway? LATE 9999?" Nitin asked.
"It's 6338" Survesh answered and I took a look at the screen to confirm. Just as I lifted my eyes from the screen, Avni declared that the cab had arrived. I looked out towards the glossy white sedan as it slowed down smoothly in front of us and came to a halt. The black tinted windows went down as the driver revealed his face.
"Alright, just climb in and we'll handle it," Survesh order. That said, Avni opened the door of the back seat and sat on the far side near the other door. We all looked at each other's faces, waiting for someone to go in next. When none stepped in I tried to persuade Nitin, "Well... Bhate, you go in next."
"No, the honor is all yours, bro." He pushed me in instead and defeated against his force, I climbed in and sat beside Avni. The cream coloured leather seats were way comfortable than actually standing out there. The interiors were composed of a slightly darker shade than of the seats and the air conditioner was doing a fine job against the summer heat.
Although, just then the driver noticed that we were more than the cab's capacity. "Sorry but five won't be able to sit in. This is just a four-seater." 'One, yeah we know that. Two, is it just my ears or did he actually ended up counting us wrong? Or wait..., did he just dare to count me and Divya as half-half due to our physique? Because if he did, then dude... that was rude!"
"That's right, but... come on Uncle, adjust a little," Survesh requested as he bowed and peeped his head in through the backseat's door. The driver turned around and looked at him through the gap between the front two seats, his face as fixated as stone.
"Sorry, I can't. I'm just not allowed to," He replied with an innocent looking smile.
"Come on, please. We'll all adjust it," Survesh pleaded.
"I just can't. The policy doesn't allow me to. Besides, there are Tolls Stations on the route. They won't allow us to pass that way and will demand a fine above all."
"We'll pay that fine, whatever it is," Survesh offered, but the Driver was stubborn as a wild horse.
"No, its... it's just not allowed. Even the car won't take that much load on the long route. It would have been a different story if it was somewhere in the city but it's not." He started making excuses.
"Oh, come on! What are you saying? Don't try to fool us. We own the same car and we travel with eight people in it all the way out to the countryside."
"That's..." Finally, the driver began to go speechless.
Vidya grabbed the opportunity and peep in through the front seat window. Flapping her eyes a little, she said in the most innocent voice she could, "Pretty please... Don't worry, we'll just get off and walk at the points wherever the Toll Stations are. It'll be fine! Trust me!"
The guy looked almost convinced but still wasn't just ready to give in. "Sorry... I can't! You guys will have to cancel this cab and call for a bigger one like an SUV," the Driver tried to pursue.
"We already tried that. The app shows only one cab available and it's this one. There isn't any other cab except four-seater," Survesh explained the problem.
"Then... you'll just have to get two different cabs, I suppose," the Driver suggested. We all looked at each other's faces, some murmuring his words in an undertone.
"No, no. We can't! It will just destroy the whole point of the trip," Survesh declared, reading our faces.
"Look I understand but, I just can't allow more than the vehicle is allowed to. My hands are tied," The Driver declared and the discussion concluded.
"Alright, fine." Survesh gestured us to get out of the car and I and Avni followed. Within the next minute, the Driver turned around the car and was gone.
"Well, any bright ideas?" I asked.
"Alright, guess we don't have any option but to go for OTS..." Survesh declared with disappointment. He looked at Avni and she nodded as she pulled out her phone. She opened the OTS app and typed the address. A few seconds later, the list of available cabs popped on the screen.
"Um... no luck here either," She announced. "They too have only a four-seater going there."
"Now what?" Divya said out loud for everyone, grinding her teeth so had in annoyance that it seemed like her braces might just break off.
"Hey... can't we take a rickshaw or something?" Vidya suggested.
"Um... actually! I mean, whenever we have to go to Pune, I and my family mostly take a rickshaw," Avni added.
"Come on, girls. This isn't some nearby city we're talking about. Imagikal World is like seventy kilometers away from here. No damn rickshaw's going o scoop up that far!" Nitin countered.
"Yeah, no rickshaw will go that far," Survesh agreed. Folding his hands, he began to scratch his clean-shaven chin, trying to come up with a solution.
"Well... I don't think so," I objected. "There are some rickshaws near Chinchwad Station which go all the way to Mumbai, which obviously way further."
"But... they cost just as bigger fortune too, so I don't think it's a good idea." I completed.
"He's right," Divya added, "Won't even be comfortable for that price. Bad idea!"
"Screw everything, we should go by bus or train? I'm even used to traveling to Lonavala by train and it's just thirty KM more from there. What say?" Nitin suggested, snapping his fingers.
"Hmm... Mayank, check the train route from here," Survesh ordered and I quickly went to Google Maps. Meanwhile, he checked the OTS app on Avni's phone for cabs from Lonavala, "How much kilometers is it from Lonavala, to be exact?"
I checked and replied, "Twenty-seven."
"Hmm... twenty-seven, huh..." he murmured. "It says fourteen rupees per kilometer so what's fourteen into twenty-seven. Open calculator!"
I began calculating in my mind, "twenty-five...fourteen...two-fifty...hundred...something around four-hundred, I guess."
Survesh joined me as he moved his finger in air as if noting down numbers in mid-air, "Two-seventy and twenty-seven into four...eight... seven...three-seventy-eight! That will be awesome! On top of that, it says it will be staying right there. So, we won't even need to worry for return. This will be perfect!"
"Yay! It's settled! We'll go by train," Vidya gave the final word.
"Let's roll out to the Akurdi Railway station," Nitin stated.
"This way, we'll take a rickshaw," Divya called out and we quickly followed her to the turn joining to the main road. Two rikshaws were standing idle there by a paper stand.
"Akurdi Railway Station," Divya told the man sitting in one of those rickshaws and he gestured the girls to get in. Just as we guys approached, he again gestured us to head for another rickshaw.
"Guess, even he won't take six in one go," I sighed.
"No time to argue," Survesh kept up with the spirit. Without any further words, the girls climbed into that rickshaw and we guys raced to the one standing in front of it.
"Brother, Akurdi Rail... huh?" Nitin began but his words faded midway as he noticed that there was no driver in that black and yellow three-wheeler.
"Damnit! Where's this driver now?" Survesh exclaimed as he began to reach his limit of patience. Just then the rickshaw which the girl boarded passed by us. That old driver slowed down near the turn and called out his friend who was busy dozing.
Sitting all reclined on the seat near the paper stand, the man yawned and nodded. He woke up his eyes and his stubble beard gave a tiresome vibe. That lousy driver walked in casually and sat on his seat. We three quickly sat in and at last even just a little, but the journey began.
Just then, Survesh realized, "Damnit! Avni's phone is still with me."
"Don't worry," I tried to calm him down a little. "Not like she needs it at the moment. Besides, Vidya Divya have their phones. So, no issue if we need to call them for any reason."
"Alright, just hold this. Let me keep my bag behind," Survesh said as he handed over Avni's phone to me. I grabbed it along with my phone in my hands, trying my best to not let any of either fall. 'If her phone gets a crack, I'll be dead. And if mine gets a crack, it'll be suicide! Focus! Hold tight!'
Survesh pushed his bag behind in the trunk. I handed him back Avni's phone while he asked the driver. "How much is this going to cost?"
"Fifty!" The driver replied in grumpy tone with his eyes focused on the road.
"Fifty! You kidding me?" Survesh argued in an attempt to bargain. "Other rickshaws only take ten!"
"Then just go and sit in those rickshaws, you brat!" The driver burst out. 'What the heck! A minute ago, he was like he had no care in the world and now... did he just had any fight or something with his wife?'
Survesh too remained silent for a moment. Before he could speak again, I decided to close the argument right there. 'No point fighting a war we can't win!' "Well... let it be," I whispered hoping that my voice was low enough to be inaudible to the driver. "They cost ten only when it's a 'share rickshaw'. For privates', they charge upto thirty per head. Fifty's good. I'll pay. Besides..." I paused for a moment to make sure the guy wasn't staring at us through the rear-view mirror. "...this guy looks in a pretty bad mood."
'I wonder how the girls might be holding up?' Then just as if reading my mind, Nitin questioned out loud, "Survesh! Bro, you collected all of our cash, right? Do the girls even have money to pay?"
"Err..." Was all Survesh mumbled.
"Calm down. Avni has some extra cash," I assured him. "And in case if it's a direct five-hundred note, well... it won't matter. We all are heading to the same spot. We'll pay for them if we need to."
Just like that after a few more turns, the rickshaw finally came to a halt in front of the Station. Survesh allowed me to walk out first so that I could pay the driver while he could get his bag out from the rickshaw's truck. That done with a little help from Nitin, the three of us looked around to find any traces of the girls.
The edge of the road beneath was merging with some soil and mud before remerging with the red and white pavement blocks. Bikes were parked all around the place leaving only the entrance to the station. Whatever remained was occupied by the 'Tea stop' and accompanied with sugarcane juice for the season. We stood under the shade of a tree, looking here and there but the girls weren't to be found anywhere.
"Guess they are inside already. Let's head in," I suggested. We walked in through the gaps between the railings constructed to prevent crowds rushing in and out. We entered the faded crimson colored building. The main entrance led straight towards the stairs leading to the platforms while the ticket counter was towards its left.
I noticed the girls were already standing at the counter to get the tickets. Just as we approached, they joined us and we headed to the platforms. Divya handed over the tickets to Nitin to safeguard them.
Separated by two tracks, two long platforms with tall sloping roofs formed the platforms. There wasn't much crowd at that moment, mostly school students and office workers. Some on-platform stores were just opening up while some were settled and running with customers. Panels from the roof, displaying different information while a lady spoke through the speakers near CCTV cameras on the pillars holding the roof.
The lady on the mic made an announcement about the train but I was too occupied taking in the scene that I missed some of it. "Well... which one's platform number one?" I asked listening to the announcement stating that the Lonavala train was going to arrive on platform number one.
"This one is the platform number one," Survesh informed as he spotted the huge plated hanging overhead reading: One.
"Guess it's this one then..." I concluded but Vidya opposed it.
"Nah... it's the other one. One over there," she declared and led the group over to the other side.
"You sure about that?" Survesh asked, doubting her judgment.
"Yep, sure as hundred percent." She gave him thumbs up with a wink and paced ahead.
"Well... that lady on the mic just said it's on platform number one," I tried to prove myself right as we started climbing the pedestrian crossing. The metal steps made a 'thud' each time a foot was placed on it. Before we even knew it, we all were unconsciously playing a band with or feet as we climbed up.
"Trust her a little." Avni backed up Vidya. "Trains from the direction of Mumbai arrive on platform one and those coming from Pune arrive on platform two. Um... my Dad told me once."
"What if they just switched the tracks? never bet on tech you know. If that happens we are screwed, because even I can't run fast enough to catch a train on another platform!" Nitin pointed out.
"Um... Why would they? There are just two tracks here and no complex commute occurs at this station. There's no need to change tracks," Avni countered, shrugging her bare shoulders. We started to climb downstairs from the pedestrian crossing and stepped on platform two. A few people were standing at the edge eagerly waiting for the trains arrival while some casually sat wherever they felt comfortable.
"Alright, then why would that lady announce that the train's arriving on platform one? That will be just plain misguiding," Survesh questioned in innocence.
"Just check the ticket. It'll settle the whole mess," I suggested. "Well... Where is it?"
"I gave it to Nitin," said Divya.
"Bhate, let me see the ticket." I extended my hand towards Nitin.
"I've kept them inside my bag, bro! It'll take me a whole year to pull them out," he made an excuse even though his tiny sky-blue sling bag had just one compartment.
"You serious?" I said in a monotone, narrowing my eyes behind my spectacles.
"Ughh... Just drop it guys! Trust us... It will arrive on platform two," Avni declared and the debate ended right there.
"Ye...Yes ma'am!" I murmured.
"If you say so..." Survesh said shrugging his shoulders.
Just as we reached near some seats, I, Nitin, Survesh, and Vidya grabbed them. Having no option, Avni and Divya sat on the foundation platform of a pillar right next to the seats.
"Looks like there is still ten minutes before the train arrives," Vidya announced and we all began to chat randomly among ourselves. I look around hoping to find some inspiration either for an art piece for my portfolio or for a new novel. However, most of my attention was be pulled towards the two guys standing nearby and talking about chemical compounds and law kinetics and thermodynamics as if they were having a normal conversation.
'Do all IIT aspirants talk like that? Hope Mukul hasn't got that wind. It would be really bad if he'll start talking about magnetic or gravitational laws of attractions instead of giving any actual relationship advice.' I sighed as looked back at Avni. The sunrays were gradually climbing up over her face, giving her warm beige skin an additional amber tone. She pulled out her purse and started organizing the extra money she had.
"By the way, who paid for the tickets and for the rikshaw among you three?" Survesh asked looking at the girls.
"I did," said Avni, lifting her purse.
"Okay, so I'll add that to your contribution and subtract it from our overall cash," Survesh said and then he turned towards me. "And you paid the fifty for our rickshaw. So, I'll add that fifty to your contribution. So that way, we must be now left with..." He opened his bag to count the collection cash but something else struck his mind. "Dammit! Divya... please tell me you have the tripod stand."
"What? No... I don't. You were supposed to keep it in your bag," she replied and Survesh face switched to 'I'm doomed!' mode.
"Dammit! Where in the hell did I keep it?" he said. His voice growing tense and filled with fear.
"Wait, wait, wait! You mean it's not in your bag?" Vidya asked as Survesh's worry turned contagious.
"No!" he screamed.
"Oh no! Did you forget it in the rickshaw?" Divya asked, jumping to her feet.
"Well, I don't think so. You only pushed your bag in the rickshaw's trunk. And I think your hands only had Avni's phone after that, right Bhate?" I said.
"Yeah, bro's right," Nitin confirmed what I said. "Even when I helped you to get your bag out, the trunk was left empty."
"Um... did you forget it at Divya's place by any chance?" Avni wondered.
"No!" Divya discarded that possibility. "I brought the tripod downstairs and then handed it over to you so you... could... keep it..." her words gradually began to fade as she remembered something. "I think... we forgot it in the parking!"
"Dad will kill me!"
"Hold on... I'll just call and confirm." Survesh pulled out Avni's phone from his pocket and called Divya's Dad. "Err... Hello, Uncle. Actually, there is this one problem. Could you just go down to the parking? I think we forgot... our tripod there." He tried to seem as calm as possible on the phone.
I wasn't able to hear what Divya's Dad said but a few ups and downs composed of bitter guilt, a bright glow lit up his face. "Oh, thank you. And we are really sorry about that," He apologized and disconnected the call, handing over the phone back to Avni. "It was right there in the parking."
Everyone let out a sigh of relief except Divya, "Dad is definitely going to kill me."
Just about then, we heard the train's whistle and everyone switched to 'Alert' mode. Survesh and I turned towards the direction and spotted the train quickly approaching. "Well, what do you know, it actually is arriving on platform two," I said.
"Maybe that announcement we heard was about the train arriving from Lonavala. Not the for the one going to Lonavala," Survesh hypothesized and I nodded in agreement, "Yeah, maybe."
"Come on, hurry you slackers!" Nitin reminded the two of us that we were supposed to board that train and not just stare at it. All of us quickly pulled on our bags, this time making sure nothing is left behind or forgotten.
As the train slowed down near the platform, multiple small crowds of people closed in near the edge of the platform. It seemed like they already knew exactly where which bogie's door will stop. Unlike them, we... were totally clueless.
Then just as the train came to a halt, people started climbing aboard and jumping out. We rushed towards a door of a bogie but realized it was way too crowded. Then were rushed towards the one next to it and just when I was about to step in, Nitin called out, "Bro, this way. That one's for the first class."
With that, I swiftly turned around and followed the gang. A second later, the departure whistle went off. Consumed by the fear to be left behind and not knowing what to do or where to go, we all hastily climbed aboard into another bogie nearest to us. Just in a few seconds after we did, the train left the platform and we all took in a breath of relief.
With all the adrenaline now starting to come down, I took a look around. We were standing in a portion of bogie which was separated from the major part by a wire mesh wall. The other side of the mesh was overcrowded by ladies.
I turned around to look at our portion and noticed it was offly vacant. The hand supports hanging from bars running across the top were swaying meaninglessly. There were mostly just men, all of them sitting with just one standing near the other entrance.
There was a guy who had a fracture in his arm. One had a forearm crutch by his side while the other one was carrying a white support cane. 'Well...why am I having this bad feeling?'
Just a second later, Avni answered my unsaid question, "Um... guys, looks like we accidentally ended up getting into the bogie which is... reserved for 'Differently-Abled'."