Authors Note : This pulp fiction masala story has been inspired by real incidences that happened several years ago. I can assure you that you will be surprised if you knew which parts are real!
The story is dedicated to all the *fictional* characters that inspired the story.
‘We have called all the police stations … ‘, the police officer wearing crisp Khaki uniform said with a straight face.
'Each and every station that falls along National Highway 56 between Varanasi and Lucknow, but no one has heard anything about your two friends.'
The two teenagers he was addressing looked at him blankly. The big eyed girl sat down on steps of the police station and started sobbing. The chubby boy wearing a bright red shirt sat down next to the girl, visibly shaken.
'Don’t worry. They are alright ...', The boy said unconvincingly, looking longingly at the lit up entrance of Lucknow’s Chaarbagh railway station .
It had been more than ten hours since their missing friends were supposed to meet them there.
It had all started with a wager.
'The trains in India are so unpredictable ! ', Bunty had declared as they waited on the platform number one of Varanasi Junction.
The college had just closed for Holi and he was in the railway station with his roommate Sonu to see off their classmates Ashu and Anita who were going back to their hometown Lucknow for the four day vacation. He and Sonu had decided to stay back in the hostel and experience the Banarasi Holi. The colors, the Bhaang and infamous Kavi Sammelan that was held at the ghaats where “no bars held” lewd, humorous poems were recited to a cheering male audience laughing ecstatically at the expletives laden punch lines.
'So damn unpredictable' , Sonu had chipped in rolling his eyes, feigning an English accent, as Ashu and Anita laughed. Kashi Vishwanath Express that covered the journey between Varanasi and Lucknow in six hours, was running three hours late.
'It is more predictable than your ... bike', Anita had said casually. It was only last week when Bunty and Anita had skid on the road. Anita was riding pillion on the famous florescent blue bike , on their way to Sarnath for a college picnic. 'There was oil on the road', Bunty had tried to explain nursing his bruises as he had helped the disoriented girl get back on her feet.
The bait had been cast. Bunty took a drag at the wills navy cut cigarette that he casually held between his fingers. 'How about we race you to Lucknow?', he had said without blinking his eye. 'We will be there at the Charbaagh Railway station to receive you - much before your train reaches there'
“We?”, Sonu shifted uncomfortably on is feet, not too happy to be volunteered into the wager.
“Lucknow is 400 kilometers away – its not a joke, yaar”, Ashu sounded a bit concerned as he tucked his bright red shirt into his denim jeans.
Ab Bol diya to dheek lenge!”, Bunty looked at Sonu and smiled. “, he then looked at Anita . “And if we reach there before you, we are going to stay at your place”
Anita had a reasonably liberal family, but having male college classmates stay with the family was a totally different ballgame. But she smiled and extended her hand.
The wager was on!
Bunty was driving the Florescent Blue Yamaha wearing his weathered black hemet. Sonu was sitting pillion, crouching behind, trying to keep the wind out of his eyes.
‘You have some cash?’, Bunty asked over the rush of the wind, opening the helmet visor slightly.
“Fifty rupees “ , Sonu replied – reassured by the fact that the amount would be enough to buy enough gas to cover at almost half of their journey, “You do have more, right?” Bunty nodded - he had a rich dad.
It was late March, but the weather had already warmed up and it felt like summer as they breezed past wheat and sugarcane fields. They passed Jaunpur, next town in about an hour.
‘Man, we are doing good’, Bunty heaved, taking off his helmet.They had stopped at one of the roadside dhabas just outside the town. The dhaba served food and snacks, primarily to the truck drivers plowing on the highway.
‘We are quarter of the way there ‘, said Sonu stretching out on a jute cot. They ordered for tea and sat on the jute cot sipping the milky, syrupy liquid out of a greasy glass.
Just across from the quadrangle was the highway. An old man riding a bicycle, tried to cut across the road. He had almost made it, when a speeding motor bike, with an apparently distracted driver, grazed the real wheel of the bicycle throwing the elderly man off . The motor bike wobbled and fell down a few yards down the road.
Bunty and Sonu rushed to the accident site. They picked up the old man, who could walk with their support. The man had managed to survive the accident with a few minor scratches. His bicycle was not as lucky, it lay twisted and out of shape beside the road.
A small crowd was bashing up the motorcycle driver. Even as they started walking up to help him, they saw a few more passerbies, stopping beside the crowd, joining in the bashing.
‘These rich bastards think the road is their father’s property!’
‘Hitting an old man, what does he think he is?’,There were slaps and kicks flying around.
A skinny man passing by in his bicycle stopped, put his bicycle on it’s stand and got inside the crowd. He slapped the driver on his face twice before getting out of the crowd, back to his bicycle and rode off as if nothing had happened !
Sonu ran towards the crowd and wrestled his way in.‘Stop it – He will die!’ he shouted. The crowd dispersed as quickly as it had converged - leaving a dazed and disoriented driver sitting beside the road.
Sonu and Bunty helped the man to the jute cot where the old man was sitting.
The man, had also survived the accident with minor scratches. His face however, was bruised from the slaps and punches of several unknown passersby. He thanked the two friends and offered money to the old man – enough to buy a replacement bicycle.
‘It is time to go !’, Sonu said getting up.
‘Lucknow, here we come ..’ , Bunty reflected upon his mental road map as the motor bike breezed through the road. They had hardly driven for half an hour when there was a loud hissing sound and the bike wobbled.
‘Looks like a flat tire’, Bunty exclaimed.
‘What will we do?, Sonu murmured, as they stood on the empty road that twisted and turned right into the horizon.
Bunty and Sonu took turns to push the bike along the road for what seemed like eternity under the hot sun, when finally a fram tractor passed them. The Tractor which had a hay filled trailer attached to it, stopped a few meters ahead of them.
‘Can you help us fix the flat tire’, Bunty asked the driver expectantly.
The cheerful guy on the wheels smiled. ‘No Saab , but I can drop you to the repair shop.’
Their eyes beamed with surprise as the driver and his helper, both six feet tall, effortlessly picked up the heavy bike and put it on the trailer – on top of the hay !
‘One of you sit in the back and make sure that the bike does not slip and fall on the road’, he suggested politely. Bunty volunteered. Sitting on the pile of hay, he anchored himself on the side of the trailer, holding the bike with the other hand.
The Tractor made its way, painfully slowly, to the next town. After about an hour, the tractor pulled into a road side repair shop. The driver and his helper unloaded the bike with equal ease.
‘Please take this’, Bunty pulled out ten rupees from his wallet which was stuffed with crisp hundred rupee notes. His dad was a rich man and he was never short of cash.
‘No Saab .. my pleasure’, the driver said in English.
‘Saab , please be careful in this area. There is a kidnapping gang active in this area …. don’t show that much cash in public’, he said pointing at the wallet.
‘If you have problem, please call me - myself Ranjit Singh’, he said smiling as he slipped a business card into Bunty's hand.
To be continued ...