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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Apples in the clouds!

To a born wanderer like me, a relaxing vacation means exploring new places, creating memories and of course to be as close to the nature as possible. Northern India has plenty of options to choose from when it comes to finding a cool, relaxed hill station to beat the summer heat. Last Monsoon season, I, along with some close friends embarked on one such weekend exploration to Himachal Pradesh and 'Narkanda' is what I discovered. It is a fabulous place situated amidst apple orchards, dense pine forests and a really pleasant climate at an altitude averaging around 9000 feet.
Getting to Narkanda is pretty easy and there are various options available depending on one's preferences. You can fly down to the Himachal Pradesh Capital Shimla and from there it is a scenic drive of about 65 kms to Narkanda or if you want to travel at your own pace, you can hit the road. That is the option that we took and we drove down from Delhi to Narkanda in about 11 hours with stoppages for meal breaks. You can also take a morning train from Delhi to Kalka and from thereon you can hop onto the toy train (a UNESCO heritage site now) to Shimla. From Shimla you can hire a taxi for Narkanda or if you want, you can take a bus too. This option is recommended only if you have plenty of time and patience as the toy train chugs at a pace of, well, a toy train :).
Road from Delhi to Shimla is in fairly good condition and the stretch after Kalka is where the hills start from. Driving becomes a bit slow after passing through Shimla, but, the beautiful scenery and the nice weather makes up for it. We left Delhi shortly before 5AM and took our early morning meal break at Murthal (about 50 kms from Delhi), a place that is really famous for its highway dhabas that serve delicious north Indian food. After replenishing our famished stomachs, we drove off on the National Highway 1. The drive was quite a breeze with the new Toll Plazas and flyovers that have come up and by 11 AM we were at Himachal Pradesh (Himalayan State) border. Rain clouds were getting ready to pour and despite being early July, the weather was pleasant enough.
Monsoon clouds promised a thundery welcome

After getting the vehicle refueled and a brief haggling (courtesy the local transport authority officials, who tried to fleece the driver on noticing that it was a tourist vehicle), we entered Himachal Pradesh via Kalka. Road became serpentine hereafter and with each turn the altitude as well as the surrounding hills started getting higher and picturesque. We stopped for a meal at a place on the NH 22 about half way between Kalka-Shimla. Looking down from the restaurant terrace, one could see the train track emerge out of a tunnel and after a brief glimpse disappear in a tunnel somewhere below the restaurant. 



For a while the weather was bright and sunny and after a half an hour break we decided to drive off and to stop only at the destination. Soon we drove past Shimla and guess what, we were not able to determine which road to take as the road directions were not exactly accurate. After asking several locals, we drove on a road as told to us, but, even after a drive of half an hour, we couldn't spot a landmark that was supposed to have been seen after about five minutes on that road. Oops we had taken the wrong turn again, and we drove back to the previous point (saving grace being the beautiful green surroundings which ensured that we enjoyed getting 'lost' in the hills.
Once we took the right road, it was not difficult to reach Narkanda, though; the drive seemed to take longer than expected due to the not so good road becoming a bit more difficult due to the rains. We reached Narkanda about half past three. The very first glance of the surroundings brought two words to mind, 'beautiful' and 'desolate'. We had booked ourselves into a resort called 'Tethys' which is a fairly nice place in the mid budget (3500 rupees a night) category. We opted for the rooms in the main resort building, but, there is also an option of staying in cottages which are built a little higher on the slope housing the resort, towards the far end of the lawns. Even though, there are many other accommodations available at Narkanda, this place had an advantage in terms of the location. The rooms provided breathtaking views of the lush green hills and the valley. Rooms were clean and very comfortable, though; the place fails to score much on the room service or staff quotient. Food was ok and served in buffet style in the dining area only and one could survive if he/she didn't have a problem with eating the same dishes on consecutive days. The location of the resort is such that it has no neighborhood, but, absolutely serene and secluded forests. A narrow dust path from the resort leads to the main road which in turn connects to the outside world. After dark, there is no activity or movement outside the Resort premises and lawns and the staff doesn't encourage any venturing out/late night walks. One should remember that this secluded location also means possible unavailability of items on request and any unscheduled request for food or snacks is unlikely to be fulfilled.
On the first evening, we enjoyed sitting around the bonfire in the lawns and chatting in the pleasantly cool and thankfully dry weather. We retired early that night as the tiredness of the long drive proved to be overwhelming. I woke up very early the next morning. Though it was just about 5 am, the visibility was pretty good and I went for a stroll outside the resort lawns. The sun was still some distance from shining down on the valley and the air was soothingly cool. Dried leaves and twigs were scattered on the serpentine dust track that took one a little down into the valley below. I almost squealed with delight when my sight fell upon the first apple tree, laden with green apples (In July the apples were still some distance away from ripening for sale). As I looked around, I realized that the entire track was flanked by apple trees all around. After breathing in the unpolluted mountain air for better part of an hour, I returned to the confines of the resort. Though, I am not an early riser by any angle, I never miss the sunrise views whenever I am in the hilly region and I must say that the feel of seeing the very first rays of the sun, peeking from behind some lush green hill are always a sight to behold. The sky changes colors rapidly and then like the shining diamond of a ring, the solar disc gradually becomes visible.
After a while the entire resort started warming up to the day and we had a fairly sumptuous breakfast which I must admit tasted better than the dinner the previous night. The day’s itinerary included going to Hatu peak and roaming around the area. We decided to hire a local vehicle instead of trying to drive up the hill. The vehicle chosen was a Mahindra pickup truck which afforded the option of standing in the open back and savoring the unhindered views as the vehicle negotiated hair raising bends. By the time we started our journey, rain clouds had enveloped the entire area and it was an extremely pleasant weather, though, it robbed us of any chance of seeing the snow capped peaks of upper Himalayas which as per the claims of various websites and the resort staff, are easily visible on clear weather days. During the drive uphill, I discovered the direct relationship between fear and singing and I must say that singing is a very potent reliever when you try to overcome your fears. The bottomless free fall options that greeted us at almost every 100 feet of the uphill drive were not exactly the ideal views for the faint hearted and some people in the group preferred sitting in the cabin which did provide some feel of safety. We saw some shepherds who were out grazing flocks of sheep and the narrow road uphill was flanked by flowering shrubs, cherry and apple orchards, lush green forest patches, not to mention the clouds floating around at and below the eye levels. It was simply an incredible experience and a memory to cherish.
Singing/praying/singing we reached the peak. The actual summit was some 100 feet above where the vehicles stopped and we ran helter-skelter towards the top as soon as we got out of the vehicle. I am sure the locals would have considered us to be some crazy lunatics let lose, but, being crazy was the real fun.
The view from the Hatu peak beat all that we had seen from the resort compounds or on the way to Narkanda. As far as the eyes could see, there were lush green hills, clouds floating in the valleys below and dark grey rainclouds forming a constantly leaking canopy above us. The slopes were covered with wild flowers, pine, spruce fur and some other kind of trees. One could witness the ‘echo’ effect which is always so much fun to do in the mountains. No wonder one can live without cell phone signals as all you need to do is to yell out and the receiver would hear every word even half a mile away :P. There is an ancient Hatu Mata temple on the peak and it has quite a following among the local population (In my opinion all the accessible peaks in Himachal are topped by a temple anyhow as I find the hill people to be quite superstitious and God fearing. It also gives a mystery and story feel to the places and might be instrumental in getting more tourist traffic). People were queuing up, seeking blessings for various reasons, getting their new vehicles, children or cattle blessed or to seek curing of physical ailments, personal issues and also to seek protection from the Goddess. The old temple was a very small one built of stone, but, there was a new elaborate and quite ornate wooden structure under construction (must be operational by now as it neared completion). The wooden carvings on the upcoming temple’s pillars seemed to be a perfect mix between the lion and the Chinese dragon. We were shocked to know that the practice of animal sacrifice was common there and we refused despite the pundits asking us if we wanted to offer a sacrifice to the Goddess. We just prayed, sought blessings for us and for the animals and after spending sometime frolicking around, decided to drive down for lunch. It was pouring quite steadily and the path on our way downhill was covered in thick fog at most stretches and I must say that it was really a correct decision on our part to rely upon the local driver for this trip because the driver was absolutely aware of the track. He comfortably drove through what seemed to be a curtain at many points. We had lunch at an outlet in the Narkanda market and though the food wasn’t anything to feel great about, there were no worthy options either.
Later in the day, we went to another local ‘landmark’ as suggested by the driver, but, it turned out to be just a shallow artificial pond built on a flat clearing amidst the thickly wooded area. The setting was quite picturesque and the rain which was quite heavy by now, added a chill to the air. It was all extremely peaceful and an ideal setting for young couples/honeymooners. By the time we left this place, the rain and fog rendered it impossible to expect any further excursions. Back to the resort, we spent the remainder of the day savoring the sights from the premises, chatting up and interacting with the staff and other tourists. There is a snooker table and a small library to help kill the time while being holed up inside the premises. Around dusk the weather cleared and we were able to see some splendid light play on the hilltops surrounding us. We took a walk towards the apple orchards and had fun plucking some apples from the trees. The dust track was very slushy and difficult to tread upon, thus the darkness forced us to curtail any further walks and return to the safe indoors. We were scheduled to leave early next morning so this in effect brought to an end, our exploration of this magnificent and easily accessible place.
Overall, Narkanda comes across as a place where you can simply laze around throughout the day, enjoying the views, romance and the pleasant weather. There are no tourist crowds, no vehicular sounds, just dense green forests surrounding you. If you are a romantic couple, a writer or a poet, you would never get tired of this place. It is said that this area receives heavy snowfall in the winter (a fact that I hope to verify in the coming winter season :)).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vintage Dhoni warms India up for the World Cup

India steam rolled the Kiwis in their final warm up game and strode into the World Cup on a confident note. The superb batting display and the ease with which the Indian team wrapped up the New Zealand chase, must have pleased their supporters immensely.
However, the performance still needs to be evaluated and analyzed. Incredible as it was, still, it wasn’t faultless because no matter what you do, there is always a scope for improvement. This holds true for the mighty Indian team too.
The most heartening aspect of today's batting display was the stroke play of MSD on his adapted home ground of CSK. He was truly at his vintage best and I haven't seen this kind of big hitting from the man ever since he donned the captain's role. This was just a warm up game, but, it gives great satisfaction to know that big hitting is not a 'lost art' for the Captain Cool.
To a great extent, I felt vindicated by the performance of our batsmen and the end result. In a recent discussion where people were talking about Sachin, Gautam and the flavor of the season aka Virat Kohli, I emphasized that this trio is extremely important, but, they don’t hold the key to India’s World Cup win. Now this statement of mine might raise a few eyebrows just as it did that time, but, it is not completely out of context. Indian batting line up traditionally consists of seven batsmen and four bowlers, two of which would be capable of hanging around and hitting a few runs. It has been the same composition since the 1999 WC because we have never had a genuine all-rounder in the team ever since Kapil, Prabhakar etc retired from international cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar is a man who needs no recommendation for his batting. He is so skillful and experienced that he can conjure up a century even when he is not in form, by merely nudging and placing the ball around and finding the odd gaps. His commitment to the game is beyond any questioning and this being his last world cup tournament, there is going to be no lack of hunger in the little master. Gautam Gambhir, though, not as experienced or innovative as the maestro, is still a very confident and in form batsman. Just like Sachin, he also has a very good command over rotating the strike and keeping the scoreboard ticking. The youngest of them all, Virat Kohli is a very confident and consistent player. He has decent technique, great commitment and in the last one year, he has been the most prolific scorer for the team India, often coming up with back to back meaningful knocks. His performances in the warm up games indicate that he is ready to set the World Cup stage on fire. Therefore, my point is that these three guys will succeed more or less on most occasions because they can manipulate and rotate the strike even if they are not at their hitting best.
The difference to India’s batting performance will be made by the other four, i.e., Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina/Pathan. All these guys are the sort of players, each of whom can make the bowlers feel like retiring when on song. Sehwag is expected to give a blistering start at the top and the others are highly destructive finishers. Therefore, the roles of Sachin, Gambhir and Virat will be more as sheet anchors who will try and see that the innings doesn’t crumble, but, the difference between 250 to 350 will have to be created by the other four. The Indian spinners are on song and on the home pitches they will always do well, but, the pace attack is dull. Zaheer is the only bowler who can be expected to do well and the others merely play the role of getting the shine off the ball for the spinners. In the two warm up games, the seamers failed to have any impact on the rival teams and it was only the spin attack that won the games. Even against a relatively weaker Kiwi side, the opening bowlers gave 70 runs in first ten overs without taking a wicket. We need a cushion for the inept bowling and a score of less than 300 will give each of our rivals a good chance of chasing it down and if we are set to chase then we should be looking forward to chasing around that much on most days.
That’s where the form and consistency of these four big hitters will make all the differenceand that was exactly the point manifested today. Though Sachin failed to get going, Virat and Gambhir contributed handsomely and two out of the three succeeding is a fair ratio. Still, India would have hardly gone upto 300 if Dhoni and Raina had failed because with Sehwag’s failure the blistering start factor was gone. They both did tremendously well and made huge difference to the end total, taking it to 360 which was way higher than the anticipated near 300 total. Pathan didn’t get much to do today, but, he had a good cameo against the Aussies. If India has to win the World Cup then this kind of performance where four-five out of the seven come up with good scores and at least one of them scoring a century, has to become a routine rather than an exception. Sachin, Virat and Gautam can set a game up, but, in my opinion the victory shall be achieved by the performances of Sehwag, Dhoni, Raina/Yuvraj/Pathan. They have got to be the match winners of the day more often than not.
Good luck to the men in blue!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(TARGET READERS : HUSBANDS ONLY)

Dear fellows, we all belong to the large and harrassed community of husbands and this blog of mine focusses on the biggest trouble that we people face.

No, it's not about perfect time management between wife and girlfriend. You know we all do it perfectly and those who fail to do so fail to live to tell their stories anyhow.

It is about the torture that we people face in the form of shopping. Based on the personal experience, I can tell you that a mere mental resolve is never going to be sufficient to escape from this torture because wives are very clever species and they always know how to get us rolling along if they want us to.

I mean how can you deny if she gives you that extra concern and tells you in a sugar coated voice that all she wants is to buy a few new shirts for you because you have been wearing the same old shirts for the last two months and you need to look dashing to the women in your office. You just close your eyes and imagine that gorgeous babe adoring your sense of dressing and you shout out "Yeah, I am going to be ready in five minutes.".

That's how it used to be with me. Thereafter, it was always the same torturous routine of trudging along with a heap of shopping bags and wondering when and where would you be allowed to park yourself and eat something. Afterall, isn't a good mall all about a good foodcourt? The end of the shopping spree used to be another heartbreaking situation for me when dear wife used to get her cutest expression, look into my eyes and say, "I am so sorry, I think I overspent? I hope you don't feel bad about it." Was there ever an option apart from, "No honey, its nothing to worry about. You have really bought me so much." Correction. "No honey, its nothing to worry about. I am sure we needed all this including this remote operated lock that you are going to fix to the refrigerator."

It all changed that one day when I actually realized that I have a brain. I know its a difficult realization considering we all got married and after marriage either a husband is dumb or has a wicked brain. I decided to use the wicked version finally. The information I am going to share with you next is worth 50 million USD if I sell it as commercial advice to all the husbands, but, today it is free here as I am playing a messiah for all husbands.

One fine day, the scene where I was conned into going for shopping was perfectly enacted. The only difference was that I was grinning, singing and sounding very enthusiastic rather than putting on the routine grim, tired and scared look. She even asked me if I was ok and gave me a confused look when I said, "I am perfectly fine and excited about our shopping excursion." I had to really tone down my enthusiasm, otherwise, she was about to give up on the shopping idea then itself. I convinced her into going out (I didn't want it to be a one time escape, but, a permanent relief you see).

First store, that to me, appeared to stock all sorts of pieces of clothes that one can possibly imagine, didn't appeal to her as she thought they didn't have enough variety of designs. (A checked shirt isn't just a checked shirt, first you have to see whether the lines are thin lines or thick lines, whether the lines are blue coloured or black coloured and whether they have a darker shade or a lighter one etc.) The next store she entered, she liked the clothes there and I was ready with strategy A. Every piece of cloth that she picked up, I quickly told her that it was not good enough, didn't suit her complexion etc. "Come on, how can you even buy this? It's so miserable. Why don't we go and try some more stores before deciding. I am sure the next one would have better clothes." I told her. She was surprized, but, agreed and we walked out of that store.

Next store, strategy B, as soon as we entered the store, I gestured to her that I need to go to the washroom urgently. She was shocked, but, had no other option than to let me go. After about 15 minutes, I resumed my duties by her side.

"Hey, how is this T-shirt? It looks cool to me." She asked me.

"Yeah, it is a fabulous one. It will just look awesome on you." I said happily.

"The problem is this one seems to be over-sized and I am not able to find one fit for me." She said.

"No problem dear, we can cut it short by cutting these extra few inches from this side and that would also give you two sets of matching hankies to go with this T-shirt. Isn't that a great idea?" I said loudly, holding the T-shirt up and cutting it through imaginary scissors. She snatched the T-shirt from me and dragged me out of the shop to escape the assorted giggles that filled the store after my brilliant statement.

At the next store, she again started asking me about the clothes and when she asked me about a particular Kurta, I replied "I love red." I got a mild slap and a glare because she was holding a green kurta and she had followed the trail led by my eyes to locate the red kurta which was a couple of counters away.

Another store, she started selecting some slogan T-shirts and I said loudly, "Why do you think people write slogans on their clothes? I guess these people wanted to become writers or maybe they wanted to go to college. However, lack of funds prevented them from doing so and now they are displaying their skills by writing on the clothes. What a shame this is to the society?" Again I was hauled out of the store and faced the following question.

"Are you doing all this deliberately? I want you to stop acting funny and help me in my shopping." She told me.

"What? What have I done? I am loving it here. Let's go to that store which displays flat 50% off." I pointed innocently to another store and was very happy to see my strategy working.

"Honey, I am feeling a little tired. I will sit here while you select some clothes. I will give my opinion when you try the selected pieces." I said to her and unsuspectingly she walked away towards the counters leaving me on the bench near the trial rooms.

After a few minutes, she was back and I was laughing when she looked at me.

"What are you laughing at?" She asked me.

"No, nothing at all." I pretended to suppress my grin.

"Tell me now." She sat next to me and stared at my face.

"Do you see that pretty sales girl there. She is very funny and you know she seems to be in love with that guy on that counter....." I started my fictitious gossip which was cut short by her.

"I thought you needed some rest and didn't know that you were busy looking at girls and trying to overhear their conversations. We are getting out of here right now." She stormed out of the store almost dragging me as I said to her "Ok, I promise not to look at that sales girl, but, please buy something." She paused for a second and looked at me, only to find my eyes following the footsteps of another pretty girl.

"We are going to the departmental store over there to buy some household stuff and then we will go home. You can order a pizza or something, but, I won't let you dine at the foodcourt." She gave her next order.

A few minutes later, the following conversation took place in the departmental store.

"Honey, why is every article in this store second hand sales item? Even the vegetables are stale and fruits are rotten." I asked her innocently and loudly enough for the sales boy to hear.

"No Sir, all this is fresh stock and we never sell used stuff here." He tried to explain.

"Oh come on, I know its your job to sell this stuff, but, you can't fool me. You really have a great sense of humour, still, how can you even call this room freshner to be of good quality?" I picked up a can as I spoke to him.

"That's a deodorant and not a room freshner." He said gritting his teeth.

"Here you go again. You call this a deodorant and it smells worse than a mosquito spray!! If this is the quality of your stuff then how do you expect good customers to buy this? People must be really dumb to buy any of these." I said loudly and the words had a good impact on the few people gathered around that counter, on the sales guy and the best impact on my wife who dragged me out again.

"I am never ever going to take you to shopping again. No matter how much you plead." She said later at home.

I feel sorry for the sales boy and all the staff members of the stores that I visited, but, I have been enjoying my freedom gleefully.

THE RED RUCKSACK

‘To grab it or to stay clear of it’ was the question that had played on Mohan’s mind for almost an hour before he hurriedly walked across the lane and picked up the red rucksack, which had been lying in an ignored corner near the Municipal dustbin.

Had it not been a day as rainy, damp and freezing cold, chances were that the bag could have been picked up by any of the numerous beggars lining the street, from near the dustbin, right upto the stairs of the Kali Temple. But, today, nobody dared the freezing weather, apart from Mohan, who couldn’t stay at home..because he didn’t have a home.

He looked around and then rushed into the waterlogged backlane, where he could put the bag on the window sill of the dilapidated house and check out its contents. The window sill of the long abandoned house was in fact the night shelter for him ever since he was 8.

‘God, I wish there is some warm clothing in this bag’ he had a silent prayer on his lips as his near numb fingers fumbled with the bag’s zipper.

In the near darkness, he felt the touch of paper and was immediately disheartened.

‘Damn, seems like some rascal has filled waste papers into this rucksack and purposely thrown it near the dustbin’. It suddenly made sense to him until his mind reasoned again.

‘Who would be stupid enough to fill waste paper in an expensive new rucksack?’

After five minutes, his fingers were trembling faster or maybe his heart was trying to pound out of his chest. He had just realized that the fistful of papers was nothing, but, a handful of crispy new 1000 rupee notes.

His head was spinning as he realized that the entire rucksack, was filled with such notes.

The rain that seeped through his ragged clothing and froze him right down to his bones ensured that he didn’t mistake it for a dream.

Suddenly, there were a million possibilities.

‘Damn! So much money! I can buy everything that I want and probably live in a small cottage of my own’

And then there crept up a billion fears.

‘Whose money is this? Will they come back for it and snatch it away from me? Will I be caught by the cops and wrongly jailed as a thief?’

Night had set in and the wind was howling. The splattering sheets of rain were no longer felt by him, he was lost in a world of his own.

It was difficult to really figure out, but, several hours had rushed by when he allayed the fears and resolved.

‘I don’t know whose money this is, but, it is God’s gift to me and I will use it to better my life. I will live like a human being now and marry and..I shall no longer be kicked by the cops and chased by the dogs.’

A little distance down the main street, barely about 50 paces from where Mohan had picked up the rucksack, was parked a Maroon Maruti Swift. The driver took out his cell phone and dialled a number.

“Yes Sir, he took the bag, just as we had wanted him to. He is still in the backlane with it. Poor soul is probably too stunned with the sudden fortune which God has blessed him with!” The words were punctuated by a hearty laugh.

“Yes sir, he is very much in our view and grip. Don’t worry, he won’t slip out of the net. Let’s just hope he acts as per plan and acts quickly.” He said and disconnected the call.

He looked around the street. His watch indicated that it was almost midnight and there couldn’t have been a soul on that rain lashed Shimla street at that hour. There was a black car, probably an old Honda City was parked another hundred yards down the road, but, there was no sign of activity anywhere in the visual reach.

Mohan woke with a start. It was still pitch dark and he immediately groped for the rucksack lying next to him on that window sill.

Once he felt the warmth that crispy hard cash generates, his spirits soared again.

‘It was all true and all his for the taking.’

His next main concern was the safety of his new found wealth and to spend it without being suspected for theft.

He gave the bag a roll in the muddy water and managed to tear holes into it at different points, so as to make it look extremely dirty and worn out. A brand new expensive bag in the posession of a vagabond like him was bound to land him in trouble, but, not now.

In the darkness itself, he started his trek toward the deep jungle, some nooks and corners of which were known only to animals and him and saner, busier people never cared to venture in those parts.

By the time he reached his destination, it was almost noon. Though, there was absolutely no chance, still he looked around to ensure that nobody had seen or followed him.

He entered the small circular hideout that was created by a natural arrangement of some rocks and which was capable of giving shelter to a couple of people if it rained or snowed.

He emptied the contents of the bag and found that it created a nice little heap of crisp 500 and 1000 denomination currency notes.

He filled his pocket with a few of the 500 ones and after stuffing the money back into the bag, he hid it safely at the base of one of the rocks, from where only he could have procured it.

Next morning he bought some clothes and a pair of shoes from the Lakkar Bazaar. He had the money, but, not yet the guts to go into a fancy showroom at ‘The Mall’ so he settled for the small roadside shops at the Lakkar Bazaar.

A few days rolled by and time had emboldened him, he purchased a small cottage in a village near Kufri and with the help of Daya, a man in his mid 30s, whom Mohan had employed as his domestic help, he had fitted the house with all the amenities.

Soon, a good portion of the newly found fortune was taken out from under the stone and spent on creating a life that Mohan had only dreamt of till then.

Wearing a blue Nike (flea market) jogging suit and a pair of locally made sports shoes, Mohan was streaking downhill towards the Glenn. Though, most of Shimla was deserted at that early an hour, the road was even lonelier once he crossed the Vidhan Sabha. All he could hear was the sound of hundreds of shrieking monkeys, chirping of birds and the sound of some heavy vehicles zipping through the NH 22 some distance away.

After a strenuous downhill run of about 30 minutes, he paused for breath. The curve in the road has led him towards the back of the hill, a side where it was even darker than above because the rising sun’s rays would reach there the last. Suddenly he became conscious of company as he noticed a shadow swiftly moving from one thicket to another. He couldn’t really make out an outline, but, he was sure that some living being was behind a thick Pine tree, five feet away from him.

It was really strange and a chill ran through his spine. For a moment,he wondered if some wild animal was stalking him, but, then he assured himself that there were no dangerous wild animals in Shimla’s vicinity. It could only be some monkey,langoor or a human being. The last, though, was still a scarier option as he hadn’t noticed anyone following him and if someone was really following him, why would he hide behind a tree unless..

He stared hard at the pine tree, heart throbbing and mind panicking a bit and waited for the next move from the shadow.

His suspense didn’t last long.

A large hand grabbed his collar and he was thrown violently on the road.

After a painful thud, he turned around and found two tall and really mean looking men staring at him with a nasty look on their faces.

Before he could utter a word, the shadow sprang out from behind the tree and acquired the shape of a slightly better looking man, though the nasty expression was shared by him too.

“Where is the money? What have you done with my money?” He yelled at Mohan.

“What money?” Mohan could barely say it before a hard kick to his guts made him double up with pain.

“You &^E*&! Don’t even try to act smart. It is much better for you to sing the truth and sing it faster. Interrogation is not something I love, but, if I interrogate you, you’ll hate it.” The man bent down and whispered to Mohan before slapping him hard.

“Please, I didn’t steal it. I swear, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Mohan pleaded knowing that he would get badly roughed up if he tried to argue.

“But, you spent it nonetheless, knowing very well that it was not your money.” Another slap followed.

“I am sorry. There is no fault of mine. Please let me go!” Mohan sobbed.

“Let you go? Let you go after you have swindled my money? Let you go without recovering it?” A kick to the temple followed.

“What do you want now?” Pain made Mohan growl.

“The money. All of it and right now.” One of the taller men bent down and hauled Mohan up by his collar.

“I can return whatever Is left. I don’t have much with me. I am sorry.” Mohan looked at his tormentors, expecting another nasty beating.

“Hmmm..I have ways and methods of extracting my money.” The interrogator circled Mohan and whispered down his neck.

“What will you do?” Mohan asked shakily. He was pale white and sweating profusely. There was some blood oozing out of his left ear, where one of the kicks had connected.

“I am a doctor. I can’t recover my lost cash, but, I will make you pay for it by using the damned body that you spent my money on.” His interrogator’s face was red with rage.

“I don’t get you.” Mohan was about to faint with fear.

“I will take one of these eyes and a kidney out of you. That will teach you a lesson and suffice for the money that you squandered.” The man said as he slammed a punch to Mohan’s stomach, making him scream in pain.

“No..Please don’t’ do that. I will become useless. I will work hard and pay the rest of your money too.” Mohan fell down to his feet and pleaded.

“You were always useless anyhow. I can’t wait for years to get what I can obtain in 24 hours.” The man turned around, signalling the two other guys to carry Mohan with them.

Around the bend in the road, the maroon Maruti Swift was waiting and a gagged Mohan, who was now packed inside a sack was thrown in at the backseat. He felt the car zipping away.

After the Maroon Swift went out of sight, a guy emerged out of a thicket, a few yards away.

“They have taken him. Task over to Team two now.” He spoke to someone on his cellphone.

Mohan found himself to be lying in pitch darkness, though the warmth of the surroundings made him realize that he was indoors.

“Oh God! What have I done to deserve this? Please if you wish then take this wretched money away, but, don’t let them maim me. I am happy the way I am.” He prayed silently.

A few minutes had gone by when the door opened, bringing in a beam of sharp light that made Mohan uncomfortable and then the men, who entered the room turned on some more lights.

After a couple of seconds, he could see around without squirming.

The interrogator was there with another three people, who were wearing coats similar to the ones that doctors use. The other two taller men, stood near the door, blocking the exit.

Suddenly he became conscious that he was not lying on a bed, but, was loosely tied to an operation table with overhead lights and the room had a large refrigerator and many other machines of various kinds.

“Hello Mohan, we have come to operate you. In another two hours, you will be a free man. Now all you need to do is to sign some papers.” His interrogator, whose actual name was Dr Rajat Mehta, took out a stack of papers from a nearby drawer.

“I don’t know how to sign.” Mohan mumbled.

“Damn..Well, we will have to take your thumb impressions then.” Dr Rajat said to Mohan.

“Please have mercy! Don’t do this to me. God will give you lots of wealth.” Mohan started weeping as he spoke.

“Just relax. Think of all the good things that you enjoyed with my money while we take the refund from you.” Dr Rajat opened another drawer and the bunch of doctors got busy in selecting their surgical equipment, which appeared to be murder weapons to Mohan.

He flailed his arms, yelled and struggled with his bonds, but, there was no escape.

They pulled the sheet covering his body down to his waist and started making markings on his stomach.

He cried incessantly.

One of them pressed a strongly scented towel on his nose. He felt cold steel touch his stomach as darkness engulfed him from all sides.

‘He is ready’. The man who had administered the sedatives announced to the others.

They all looked at each other, smiled briefly and got ready to perform their heinous operation.

Just as the first incision was about to be made, there was a violent thump on the door.

One of the duo guarding the door called out as the others froze in their spots at this unexpected arrival.

“Who is it?” The man asked loudly.

“It’s me. Nurse Rashmi. I have something very important and urgent to tell Dr Rajat.” A feminine voice answered from outside.

The guy looked at Dr Rajat, who after pondering for a second, signaled him to let her in.

However, as soon as the door was unlatched and the handle turned to open it, it was flung open by the extreme force from outside, sending the man holding the door handle smashing into the refrigerator.

Half a dozen strong looking men filled in the room alongwith a shivering nurse.

There was a gun placed on her temple and the man who wielded the gun was a smartly dressed young man.

“You are under arrest Doctor Rajat. Your game is over.” The youngman flashed his police id card as he signaled his fellows to point their guns at the group huddled around the operation table.

“Oh no!” One of the doctors slumped to the ground with his hands covering his face.

“Hey, let us go or else I will slit this man’s throat.” Dr Rajat put a surgical blade to the throat of unconscious Mohan.

“You won’t do that Doctor. Till now you are charged with posessing a fake doctor’s degree and human organ trafficking, but, if you do what you said, you all will be charged with a murder and I swear on God that I will pump all these bullets into your skull, before arresting your fellows for the murder.” Inspector Sunil, as the young man was known, replied calmly.

“Rajat, have you gone crazy? Don’t attempt such a thing.” Saying this the other three pounced on him, trying to snatch the surgical blade away.

A violent scuffle followed which was brought to a halt by a nasty shriek and a stream of blood jetting out of Doctor Rajat’s throat. The surgical blade which was in his left hand, was embedded deep into his throat now.

His dead figure crashed onto the squeaky clean white tiled floor which rapidly acquired the shade of red as the other doctors watched in horror.

“Bastard, met his just end from his own hands.” Inspector Sunil said with a frown on his face and then asked his team to arrest the remaining criminals and to send the dead body for postmortem.

Next afternoon, Inspector Sunil met Mohan in his cottage.

“Nice little place that you have set up, eh?” He remarked as he looked around.

“I hate this place now. It’s blood money that I used to buy all this stuff.” Mohan had a look of contempt on his face.

“Its not your fault. You didn’t commit any crime and if you still feel bad about it, you can donate the same amount from the prize money that you will be getting soon.” Inspector Sunil smiled.

“Prize money?” Mohan was shocked.

“Yes, this guy Rajat Mehta was not a doctor, but, a much wanted criminal, who had killed several people in Singapore before fleeing to India and setting up this organ racket. There is a prize of one crore rupees on his head.” Sunil looked at Mohan’s face and noticed changing expressions as Mohan grasped the news.

“But, you arrested him so the money belongs to you.” Mohan asked.

“Yes, it does, but, we wanted to nab him red handedly and for that we needed a prospective victim. We shadowed each move of his and had to wait until he tried to play his trick on you. It was his standard modus operandi. He used to lure homeless people by this money bag trick and then took out their organs for sale. The poor victims never spoke due to the fear of being charged with theft of money etc. Therefore, me and my team are gladly willing to share one fourth of the prize money with you. You are our main man.” Inspector Sunil patted Mohan’s back as he got up.

“I will be back next week with your cheque.” The cop smiled and left the place.

That evening, sunset didn’t mean the end of the day to Mohan, but, the start of a party that would go on lifelong.

© Wizardprince., all rights reserved.

Dreams clean bowled

(Reproduction of a story originally uploaded on www.wizardprince.sulekha.com on 18th Oct 2007).

“India is in big trouble. Sachin Tendulkar is out now for 97 and India still needs 200 runs to win in 20 overs. New man Dhruv Sharma walks in, its his first match and let us hope he saves India from further troubles” the voice on the microphone boomed through the stadium as Dhruv Sharma walked onto the field. He looked around the field to see any gaps which he could hit through and he immediately noticed that there was no one at square leg boundary. He took his stance and Mitchell Johnson started running in. He bowled a short and fast delivery and Dhruv was ready for it, he rocked onto his backfoot and swung the bat for a mighty heave over square leg. The bowler looked shell-shocked as the umpire raised both his arms up in the air. The entire stadium erupted in cheers. “Dhruv, Dhruv, Dhruv” he could only hear his name all around. Suddenly a splash of water made him jump out of his bed. In a very harsh manner, Dhruv realized that he had been day-dreaming.

“I asked you to take care of the shop and you are dozing like an idiot?” his father shouted at him.

“Father, I do not like this shopkeeper’s job. I want to play cricket and become as big a star as Sachin is.” He replied in an annoyed voice.

“Sachin, you want to be like Sachin? It will be better for you son, if you stop fooling around with vagabonds and start attending the shop. Atleast you would be able to earn a living. This cricket is not for us people.” His father retorted.
“I will prove you wrong one day. You will see that you would not be able to even get close to the stadium when I will play for India.” Dhruv ran away shouting.
Dhruv was the captain of his school cricket team and he was highly appreciated by all his teachers for his excellent batting and fielding. He used to open the batting and was single handedly responsible for leading his school team to the state inter school cricket tournament that year. At fourteen, many people predicted him to be a future Indian star batsman.
He once again batted excellently in the finals and scored an unbeaten hundred to help his team win the trophy. The chief guest for the prize distribution was Rohan Karmakar, a famous former test batsman of India. When Dhruv went on the stage to receive his man of the series trophy, he was warmly appreciated by Rohan for his batting and he gave his card to Dhruv asking him to meet him at his cricket coaching center in Mumbai.
Dhruv’s father was happy at seeing the trophy but the idea of his only son going to Mumbai to a cricket coaching center was still not acceptable to him. He clearly refused to accompany Dhruv or to finance his trip to Mumbai. However, his mother supported his passion and she believed that her son would be able to become a successful cricketer one day. She secretly sold some of her jewelry and gave Dhruv 10000 rupees to go to Mumbai.
Emboldened by his mother’s support and his passion for the game, Dhruv reached Mumbai. A man from Karmakar’s cricket center was at the railway station to receive Dhruv. He took Dhruv to the Karmakar cricket center, located just outside Mumbai Dhruv was impressed on seeing the lush green cricket field and the practice nets. There were dozens of boys of his age practicing various aspects of the game. Mr. Karmakar was in his office, which was a large airconditioned room adorned by several trophies.
“Welcome, future Sachin Tendulkar” he rose from his seat to greet Dhruv.
“You have got a beautiful cricket ground, sir.” Dhruv said in a tone of admiration.
“Oh, its just a humble effort from my side. I just want to give a chance to the future stars like you to achieve success and play for India, just the way I did.” Karmakar smiled as he patted Dhruv’s shoulder.
Dhruv felt as if his dreams would materialize now.
Over the next one month, Dhruv stayed at the Karmakar cricket center hostel and played several matches against various club teams in Mumbai. He scored lots of runs and was appreciated by all his team mates. Karmakar became very fond of him and he always said that Dhruv was going to make it big very soon. Dhruv wrote to his father about his performances and how Mr. Karmakar thought so highly of him.
His father was still apprehensive about his son taking up cricket as a full time profession. Dhruv told Karmakar about his father’s reluctance and Karmakar said that he would personally speak to Dhruv’s father. Dhruv was very happy and he was sure that his father would definitely agree to Karmakar. Next day Dhruv and Karmakar reached Dhruv’s village. People thronged Dhruv’s home to meet Karmakar, afterall he was a superstar of yesteryears.
“Mr. Sharma, you should see the way your son bats. He has got all the shots in the world and he faces even the fastest bowlers with utmost ease. He is a real talent and if you back him at this point of time, then he is really going to make you world famous in the times to come.” Karmakar said to Dhruv’s father.
“But Mr. Karmakar, it requires a lot of money and resources. I am a smalltime trader and its going to be very difficult for me to pay for all his training and other expenses.” Dhruv’s father said.
“Mr. Sharma, think of it in the business terms only. You buy goods after investing all your capital and you make profits when the goods are sold. Just think of the kind of money that the cricketers earn nowadays. Match fees for one match itself exceed lakhs of rupees besides the sponsorships, advertisements and other prizes that a cricketer gets. It’s a huge amount of money.” Karmakar reasoned with him.
“Yes, but that is only if the cricketer is successful and plays for India. The street cricketers do not get all that Mr. Karmakar.” Dhurv’s father seemed to be running out of any logic for his defiance.

“Trust my words Mr. Sharma. I have seen enough cricket and cricketers and have groomed many current players from my school itself. I can identify a prodigy when I see one. Your investment in your son and your trust in his capabilities is going to make him the number one batsman of the world in the years to come.” Karmakar said in almost a tone resembling a magician trying to hypnotize a spectator.

“Ok. So I am willing to support him. Tell me what do I have to do and how much it will cost?” Dhruv’s father made a decision.

“Fantastic. You have made the right choice Mr. Sharma. I plan to send Dhruv for attending advance cricket coaching at the Western AustraliaCricketAcademy. Its run by an Australian player who is a very good friend of mine. Once Dhruv receives training for three months in Australia, I will ensure him a place in the Ranaji trophy team for Mumbai as soon as he comes back. After that its only a matter of a season or two and he will be batting right alongside all the stars that you see on television. It will cost you a total of about rupees 15 lakhs only.” Karmakar beamed.

“I will do anything for him since you are supporting him, sir”. Dhruv’s father seemed worried but determined.

“Ok then, you pay me the money and I will make arrangements for his early departure to Australia.” Karmakar said.

Dhruv’s father found it very difficult to arrange the amount. He sold his shop and borrowed another five lakh rupees by mortgaging his house. Karmakar assured him that its would be less than a year and Dhruv will earn much more than this and also make his father world famous. He received the payment and left for Mumbai for arrangements. However, even after a month passed, there was no response from his side. Dhruv and his father went to Mumbai to meet Mr. Karmakar. However, they were whisked away by the security guards at the gates of his bungalow and he did not meet them even after two days. The phone number that Karmakar had given to Dhruv was no longer working. The dejected duo kept trying everything they could to meet him and after running out of money, they returned home one week later. A few days later, the local police inspector came to Dhruv’s house and threatened his father to stop following Karmakar and warned him of dire consequences. The moneylenders started pressurizing him for repayment and his father became completely disheartened and took to bed. He did not survive long and the responsibility of a widowed mother and two young sisters fell on Dhruv’s shoulders.

One evening, Dhruv lit a small fire and burnt his cricket kit.

“I resolve not to ever talk about cricket or to let anyone else in my family play cricket” he said to God as tears streamed down his cheeks.

He now works at a dhaba in Mumbai earning 3000 rupees per month and hopes to save enough money for his sisters’ marriages.

Love@call center

(Reproduction of a story originally uploaded on www.wizardprince.sulekha.com on 17th Oct 2007.


Sitting in his cab, Rahul was speaking to a friend on fone. It was his first day in the big call center. He was quite nervous and awed by the atmosphere around him as he entered the automatic turn-stills. He went to the concierge and was guided to one of the training rooms. It was a hall with rows of computers and smartly dressed people all around. He walked quickly and took a corner seat in the second last row. His friendly and soft-spoken manners soon made him befriend most of the people in the room. Days flew quickly and after 7 days of training regarding the process, voice and accent and other work related subjects, his trainer told him that he would be ‘Going live’ that afternoon.

“Going live? So soon? I have not yet mastered the process?” Rahul feebly protested.

“Oh come on Rahul, I know you are capable of doing a great job. No questions now, just take a short break and then you will be logging in” The trainer snapped in. (Little did Rahul knew, that a sales process does not really need well trained agents only but those who are live and selling).

His first day on the floor was nothing to make him feel good about his new job. He made dozens of calls, however, he only got hang ups or racial abuses. He logged out at 11 pm and soon found himself stuffed in the third row seat of a qualis for a two hour ride back home.

Lying in bed that night, he prayed to God to give him success, to give him a reason to be happy and stay at the new job.

Next day was even worse. His first full day of calling did not get him any sales and to make him feel worse, his Team Leader and Trainer were constantly breathing down his neck to make a sale. As soon as the logout happened, he wanted to go away and slump in the backseat of the qualis, but, he was directed by his Team Leader to stay on the floor for a brief Team Meet. He was unwilling but choiceless and he ambled across to the conference room. He positioned himself in a corner where he would be least visible to the process manager. Senior process members stood on the opposite side of the room. Then, the magic happened, there she was, standing in one corner looking oh so innocent! Beautiful! Perfectly dressed in a black suit that made her look fair complexion even more attractive. He looked at her spellbound, she was a real beauty with poise and the look of a dignified girl yet innocent like Alice in Wonderland. He did not even know what took place in the meeting but was just stunned by her looks. On the way back, he kept thinking about her and was jolted out of his dreams by the cab driver as he had reached his drop point.

In the bed that night, Rahul prayed to God to give him love in his life. He just wanted to have a girlfriend like that girl.

“God, she is perfect.” He requested.

Rahul was an ordinary 25 year old guy with nothing to write about his looks and he belonged to a lower middle class family, living in a rented accommodation. His father had once been a well earning businessman but it was all ruined now and they even did not own a house anymore. In short, he was not the sort of a guy who would steal hearts with his appearance, especially when the heart in question was the heart of a gorgeous, convent educated, upper middle class girl. Still he prayed to Lord Krishna (he had been praying in the same manner for the last ten years) to give him love, to bring that girl in his life.

Next afternoon, he was trying to login into his system at office when he was interrupted by his Team Leader.

“Rahul, the seating plan has changed and today onwards, you will be logging in the system next to Supriya in the first bay.” He pointed to the vacant bay next to where Rahul was sitting.

Rahul walked towards the empty bay feeling even worse because now he was going to be sitting next to a senior girl who would be arrogant and maybe pretty too. Then he saw her walk in,. He tried to hide his gaze but found her walking straight towards him.

“Hi, I am Supriya. So you are going to login here from now on?” A musical voice filled his ears.

“eh? Oh yes, Hi Supriya. My name is, I mean I am Rahul.” Rahul fumbled as if there were no words to say.

Days went by and due to Rahul’s friendly and well mannered ways, they became good friends in no time, sharing food, thoughts, breaks and soon started talking on phone for hours and hours when they were not on the floor. Rahul was madly in love with her, but she knew nothing of it. Everyone in the office used to make fun of them and soon they were branded as the couple of the process. Rahul felt very embarrassed although, in his heart, he wished that they may become a couple one day.

Then one day, he could not bear it anymore and gathered courage to speak to her about his emotions. He spent the entire day sitting next to her in the office but could not get the right moment to talk to her. He called her on phone as soon as they took their cabs on the way back, but could not say anything to her. Finally, after she disconnected the call, he sent her a message confessing his love for her. An hour went by, and he felt that he had ruined a lovely friendship and she would be very angry to him.

“Probably she would never speak to him again and may even insult him in front of the office staff’, his thoughts wandered in all directions. Suddenly the phone rang. He was scared to see her number flashing on the screen and did not attend the call because he knew that she was going to give him an earful. However, the phone kept ringing and finally, he attended the call, saying a feeble and terrified “hello”.

“I love you too, Rahul” Supriya’s musical voice rang in his ears.

“What? I mean you mean what you said? I am sorry. I thought you would be upset. It was really foolish of me to propose to you like that. You are a good girl. I do not want to lose a precious friend like you. Please do not be…..” he mumbled.

“Shut up. Just listen to me. I love you and please do not be so shy. You are as good a person as anyone else in the world. If you wanted my love, all you needed was to just say it. I am glad to have a partner like you. Now take care, sweet dreams and make sure to give me a treat tomorrow for getting a great girlfriend” She giggled and hung up.

Miracles do happen friends. Love can come anytime, anywhere and to anyone. If you love someone, then take my word, go ahead and confess your honest feelings in a proper manner. Not saying it would not get you anywhere but if you confess, you may just become lucky like Rahul. God bless all.