CHAPTER 1: FRIENDS FOREVER
Generally, the new moon nights are too dark and gloomy. And on this ominous new moon night, the deserted highway and the howling wind magnified the aspect of its ghostliness, as Pritam and Prem are driving to Borgaon in Maharashtra, India. They are heading for that village in order to participate in a birthday celebration and an all-boys night party afterwards.
Prem and Pritam are natives of Aksa village, which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Borgaon. They have known each other from their childhood. However, their familiarity developed into a full-blown friendship, during their high school days. In high school, they formed a gang of five thick friends, along with Pradeep, Jagadeep, and Parag. After high school and college, now they are busy coping with their respective professions. Presently, Prem works as an accountant at a national bank in the nearby town. Jagadeep and Parag are software engineers in Delhi; and Pradeep works with a reputed pharmaceutical firm in Pune. But Pritam stayed back in Aksa village looking after his ancestral flour mill and grocery store. All are in their mid-twenties and happily unmarried!
It is to take part in Pradeep’s birthday celebration that they are driving to Borgaon.
Prem (with urgency): Halt the bike, my bladder is going to burst…
Pritam (in a fiery tone): Please wait for five more minutes. There is a cemetery ahead. Let us go beyond that…
Prem (irritated): Cemetery is on the other side. I will pee this side. You just park the bloody bike, or else I will have to piss on you …
They are about to approach a patch of road conquered by pits and potholes.
Pritam (requesting): Just hold on for two more minutes. Let us get past this patch of rough road and, with it, the cemetery, too.
Prem (irritated and furious): Your superstitions are gonna make my bladder burst out in this road which is full of pits and potholes… and it will force me to do some Kegel exercise.
Pritam (chuckles): Hahaha that will benefit you when you woo a girl to bed.
Grunting, and closing his eyes in displeasure, Prem makes noises to control his emotions and asks Pritam to fuck off!
Prem is relieving himself behind the bushes as Pritam waits for him on the roadside. Owing to the new moon, it is pitch dark and Pritam, being fainthearted, is overpowered by a spooky sensation. And shouts out: “Where are you? I am all alone here and frightened to the core.”
Other than the echo striking back, there is no word from Prem. This further ruffles Pritam’s suppressed emotions of fear. Mounting the motorbike on its side-stand, he gets down and cautiously starts walking towards the bushes.
Unknown to them, some stray wild dogs are lurking in and surrounding them.
Pritam (walking very cautiously and slowly): Prem, you there?
(Expecting an answer, he pauses for a few seconds) At least speak up, buddy… These spooky sounds and this darkness… They are terrifying me.
Still there is no response, and the wild dogs are fast approaching.
Pritam walks towards the bushes with great anticipation, when all of a sudden Prem comes out of the bushes, scaring the shit out of Pritam.
Pritam shrieks out: Yaaaay…
Prem (shouting back): At least let me pee in peace.
Pritam (with a sigh): You scared the hell out of me. (Gesturing urgency) Let’s get out of here.
The growling wild dogs are closing in and ready to pounce on them. Fortunately, in the last minute, Pritam jumps on the pedal and they drive off in fraction of a second.
Dejected at their failed attempt, the wild dogs start snarling and staring at one another. The cue of someone approaching, tames them unusually. And they fall in line. A very old man, walking sluggishly with the support of a long wooden stick (lathi), approaches. The wild dogs disburse and disappear behind the bushes as the old man continues to walk ahead on the deserted highway.
Going against the tough image of a wild dog trainer, his bearing is that of a weak and fragile being. With the support of his lathi, he walked firmly but with calculated steps. His attire comprised of a loose dhoti, a jabba worn under the woolen sweater, a muffler and a colloquial set of shoes called moji. A heavy silver anklet clung onto his right leg. His beard and moustache hid some of the unwanted wrinkles on his face, but the hair follicles on his head couldn’t match up with his age and withered away. Brooding brown eyes, thick eyebrows, protruded nose and stuck-out ears gave him a striking personality; but the tobacco stained teeth made his smile very disgusting.