adventure, College, description, travel

Footwear, Kitchen and Ropes 

Somewhere in the middle of the 30 feet descent, I walked backwards, araam se, like I do every once in a while. Only I was hanging on a rope. My legs stood firm like they had never been – for once they decided to listen to me. But only a few minutes ago, they had been quite an oxymoron – on vibrate mode.

Outbound Training Programme it was called, and true to its name, it was outside bounds. From rock climbing and rappelling, to crawling under rocks, it was as exciting as it was scary – one slip of the foot, and you could end up in an AC room for a decided amount of time – in a hospital.

The climb left me quite breathless – I don’t even bother to climb stairs. Sheeet, how it made me wish I had climbed all those floors in my apartment. The beauty of the place — right in the lap of nature – was that if you stayed still, everything around you came alive. Everything that you had assumed to be still, is not so anymore.

But at the top, everything around me was still, except for my own body, with my heart gasping for breath. So loudly that I could hear it everywhere– including my arms and legs. Here, one of the instructors divided the eight teams into two large ones: Spartans and Warriors. After a few breathing exercises, and a few games out there, we decided to return.

Games ©NM

Now if anybody ever thought that climbing down was easier, I urge you to think again. The hill, combined with the Earth’ gravitational force, has only and only one aim in their lives – to pull you down; literally. At one point, we had to slide down a bit. How I wish they had actually made a semi cylindrical depression, with bars to hold on to. But this was more of strategic sliding. You had to slowly almost sit and crawl, sitting in the tiny craters so as to not slip. But unfortunately, my body weight easily pulled me down, and if those two guys had not been standing at the end of it, I am sure I would have effortlessly made it to my destination in lightning speed.

This was followed by walking on a slope — through it. The only thing around were bundles of lemon grass; comfortably rooted, sitting like fountains, laughing at us while we struggled to get a grip. And right after this, was a big rock – and we were to go under it. I began contemplating whether I will fit in there at all. Finally I did manage to fit in — barely. I crawled out of it as fast as I could, during which I wondered if anybody would know if something or somebody had died in there. Once out, one of my teammates apologised for having scrapped my bag a little – the only two girls in our seven member team decided they wanted to carry their bags; and we all took turns carrying them (only two bags were allowed per team). That poor guy did not realise I was too happy that we all had managed to get out of that tiny cave in one piece.

In spite of having such co-operative and supportive classmates, as well instructors, I had been carrying all this while the one most uncooperative thing with me — or rather I should say wearing them: my shoes. The soulless creature’s soles were coming off. Sadly, irrespective of whether the footwear I am wearing belongs to me or not, they are most rebellious – this definitely was not the first time this had happened.

Three years ago, in the last year of schooling, I was on a study tour with my class. A hosteller at that time, for some reason that I don’t remember now, I ended up borrowing somebody’s chappal. We had stopped somewhere near a beach, in the nattucha veil (burning hot afternoon). The chappal decided to die on me; and since the only support in it had fallen apart, I had no option but to walk barefoot. On the sand. Till the bus.

At a point in the descent, he asked us to stand with fellow Spartans and Warriors. He then asked us to find our way back to the kitchen. A beta version of human GPS managed to find another stone underpass. Thankfully, it was more spacious than the previous one. It did not really matter to me, as long as it took me to the kitchen.

The kitchen. (http://gurufreddyacademy.org)

After a satisfying meal, we all chatted for a while. None of us really had any idea what they had planned for us. All I wanted was a nice spot under a tree and a good nap. An instrumental version of the All India Radio whistled away, while we relaxed. And then two instructors, went into a room for equipment. Equipment??

I dragged myself, following others to another part of the campus, where military and police recruits trained. While others ran and jumped through the first obstacle, which looked like stepping stones on land, I preferred walking through it. Then there was one where slabs of stone projected off a wall: you had to climb through a side and get down the other. I don’t really recall how, but I managed to climb up, after which I was stuck. The instructor suggested I watch somebody else do it, and I agreed. I called out to a girl and warned her that I was already up there — hence it was not a good idea to climb up. I did manage to turn around and keep my foot on one of the projections, but after that I could not see anything except for the huge slab I was holding on to. I climbed down a little, and then jumped. The instructor said I was lucky to not have been hurt by a pointy slab.

It seemed wiser for me to simply stare at the rest of the obstacle course, while a few others tried some out. From there, we were taken to the cliff, or rather a 30 feet rock, where the Spartans were climbing down, with ropes and harnesses. Warriors had barely begun, when it started raining, and we were asked to return. I walked around in my Sherlock Holmes raincoat, even though the rain stopped the moment I had put it on. I had to consider the effort I had taken to put it on. Five minutes later, we were called back, as the weather seemed to have improved.

Heights of cracking jokes. ©NM

I sat down, looking at others climb down, and another who stood at the bottom to help them. Though, I was extremely tempted to try it, I did not trust my shoes at all. My classmates encouraged me to try it out nevertheless, and one of the instructors (who was sitting with us) reassured me the shoes were not a problem. Since the shoe was still in one piece – somewhat, I decided to go ahead anyways. One of my other classmates, also changed her decision: she decided to give it a try.

I knew that walking down backwards was not the challenge, it was to begin smoothly from the edge of the cliff. And that was the only thing that worried me. I collected the harness and gloves, and climbed up. Here, I almost lost my way— which I had suspected I would — but managed to climb up. It was then that I realised that it was less spacious than it seemed from down there. Three of us were waiting for our turn, two instructors were giving a fourth instructions, and there was another who clicked pictures.

I tried to stand still, so I would not tumble down. Looking around, or looking down was not a good idea, because this cliff was on top of a highly elevated landmass. As I waited for my turn, one of my classmates started thinking out loud, “What if I leave this hand?” I begged him to shut up. As he climbed two steps down, he paused to ask, “Are you not clicking pictures?” The other girl decided to go back, but nevertheless she did not move. And then, one of the instructors told her, “There is only one way down from here.”

I was initially standing so still, that I could barely move. I walked towards the edge, and one of the instructors spoke to me in Malayalam, while the other tightened the straps of the harness. For the first time, my knees were dancing — even though I didn’t ask them to. As if to show one last sign of rebellion, my shoelace came apart. I thought it could go die, I was not going to tie it.

Just hanging in there. ©NM

I managed to begin smoothly, holding on to the ropes real tight. As I climbed down, I felt as if I were riding my office chair in reverse, back home – which I do when I am too lazy to get up and open my door.

 

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adventure

The Fifth

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It was a pleasant evening, and the Sinha family had gone out for a picnic nearby. At the park, five year old Arun spotted a Ben Ten watch, and fell in love with it instantly. He ran to his parents, who were sitting under a tree a few metres away.

“Mumma, I want that! I want that!” he cried out.

“Ok ok, I’m coming. Let me just organize this thing and I’ll be there”, replied Mrs. Sinha.

“Aw Maaaa….. Make it fast”, said Aditya, restless.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Sinha was finally happy with the way she had set things up. Yet, she was irritated with her husband, as he had brought his work with him – she could still hear him screaming over the phone.

“Arun?” she called out.

“ARUN!”

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Inspector Avni Kumar spotted a couple filing an FIR as she entered the police station. The woman was weeping, her face pale and her eyes swollen. Since what she was saying was not coherent, her husband did the most of the talking. But when she realised why they were there, she paused – their son had gone missing earlier that day.

Every time she heard about a kid going missing – her heart would stop beating for a second. Her heart would feel so heavy, and she would get transported to her past – a past deep buried within her. A past that changed her life forever.

Seven year old Aditya had made sure no one had spotted him enter the kitchen. He slowly walked into the kitchen, and stretched out to reach the cookie jar. He had almost caught hold of it, when someone else’s hand brought the jar down. For a second, he froze. He let out a sigh of relief as he saw his sister, standing right beside him, grinning.

“Oh! Avi di, It was you. You scared me”, he said.

“Aha! Eating up all the cookies by yourself huh? “, she teased him.

“Avni! Aditya! Where are you? Come on… or we’ll be late for the wedding” called out their mother.

Both of them stuffed their mouths and ran out. Their mother locked the door as they got into the car.

“Stealing cookies again?”, she scolded them.

The only thing the brother-sister duo liked about weddings was the food they got to eat.  Especially the dessert.

“Aww… Please please please… could you get me one more ice cream”, Aditya pleaded his sister.

“Ok ok…. But this is the last one”, warned his sister.

“Wait here, ok? I’ll be right back.” said Avni.

She went to the person serving ice cream, made a puppy face and managed to get one more scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was the third time she was doing this, but it was Aditya’s favourite. But when she returned with her ice cream, she couldn’t find him anywhere. She called out his name, but he was nowhere. Tears streaming down her eyes, she ran to her parents.

That was the last time Aditya’s family ever saw him. They searched for him, informed the police station and also advertised in newspapers. But all in vain. They never got him back – and that is when Avni decided who she will become when she grows up.

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Arun was waiting for his mom to finish her work, so that he could buy that watch. He couldn’t just wait to buy it. So he stood near to the guy selling them, and waited for his mother, who was busy, a few metres away. A man, neatly dressed, approached him and smiled at him.

“I see you have been admiring the watches. But then this guy doesn’t have much selection. There is a shop nearby, the shopkeeper is my friend. If you want I can get you a good deal. Your mom looks busy, we can return by the time your mom finishes her work.” the man said.

At this, Arun stared at the watch in front of him, trying to decide what to do.

“He has a larger collection, way better than this cheap stuff”, the man said.

At this, Arun finally decided to go check out the shop.

“Alright” he said.

“Come on”, said the stranger, and caught Arun’s hand. As they walked away, Arun turned around and caught a glimpse of his mother setting things up and his father on the phone.

———————————————————————————–

Avni had been transferred to another city, but this case brought back that painful past, a past she had not yet overcome. She would often dream of Aditya going to college, maybe having a girlfriend. It is not easy to grow up all alone, when you know your kid brother is somewhere out there. When you know in your heart that things should have been different – but they are not. But life had something different in store for her.

And she knew what Arun’s parents were going through- she had living this horror for the past so many years. She grew up seeing her parents crying over their lost son. And so she decided, that before she leaves this city, she will find that boy. There are a lot of gangs involved in the big business of child trafficking, and she would destroy some part of it. It might not affect the well-established system at all, but this is a place to start.

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Aditya was just 2 year old, and his mom was feeding him. It was a Sunday and her dad was reading the newspaper. Avni was seven, and she had just returned home from the playground. The phone started ringing and her mom went to attend it. Avni pulled Aditya’s cheeks and played with him for a few seconds. But she was tired from all the running around and hide n seek that she felt thirsty. She went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and drank huge gulps of water. She had just kept the water back was on her way back to where Aditya was, when she heard a crash, followed by Aditya crying loudly. She ran towards – he was on the floor, a shattered jug lay near him. But what most horrifying for her was the blood flowing – from him. Her parents rushed her to the hospital. He was quite serious, and had cut his hand quite bad. He had five stitches and she could hear him cry as she waited outside.

Avni woke up suddenly – she was sweating profusely. She could still hear him crying.

She took a deep breath in and let it out. That incident had left behind a scar on his hand, below his right wrist, near his elbow. He had been real lucky that he did not cut his face.

It had been almost a week, but still, she couldn’t find the boy. She wanted to find him before something happened to him. Her phone brought her back to earth.

“Yes. Tell me”, she said briskly.

“Mm-hmm… ok”

“Ok…”

“Inform our team”

——————————————————————-

Everything had been well planned. They were waiting for their prey to walk right into their trap. They had been informed that children abducted from various parts of the state were going to be transported to a nearby state, and that Arun was one among the 25 children about to be smuggled. Over the years Avni’s hate for trafficking and traffickers has only increased. Her personal grudge catalysed the whole process. She was well aware that the traffickers would be prepared to face such encounters, but she was planned too.

It was past midnight and there were eerie shadows creeping around. Her team of sixteen officers stood scattered across the street, all in plain clothes but well-armed (Avni and her five trusted officers were in uniform). While some of them were under the streetlight, around a car pretending to be friends on a road trip, the others were hidden – including Avni. They were expecting a tour bus, with five traffickers, including the driver. They planned to shoot at the tire.

After waiting patiently for around an hour, one of the officers on lookout spotted the bus.  Another officer shot the tire (the gun had a silencer). The bus came to a screeching halt. Three of them came out from inside the bus, got down and started examining, along with the driver. The group of friends immediately became concerned citizens and went over to where the bus was.

“Hey, are you ok? What happened?” asked one officer. (In disguise)

“Yes, I-i .. I am fi-fine” stammered the driver.

“Oh looks like some high school tour. Are you all ok? That was crazy” said another

“Yes, I think your tire is punctured. Which school is this? “Asked another one

“Ummm… ya we are from the neighbouring state… and… we-ee .. We’re on our way back. Gloria Public School. “Said one of the traffickers pausing here and there.

While all this was happening, the rest of the officers were moving towards them, in the shadows. The fifth one was still inside, probably watching over the kids. He will have to come out when none of his friends turn up, thought Avni.

They grabbed the four from behind, gagged their mouths so that they would not alarm the fifth one inside. Their weapons had been confiscated. By this time, Avni boarded the bus and waited for the fifth to appear, near the driver’s seat. As the fifth one came out, one of his friends shouted out to him – as he was being tied up and gagged – “Take the bus and run”

All the officers were outside the bus and Avni was the only one in the bus. Both of them had a gun and he could have tried – to maybe push her off the bus or overpower her, and might as well have been successful in driving the bus for some distance – at least save himself. But he just stood there paralysed. He stared at Avni’s badge, which had her name on it, stupefied. Avni used this opportunity and kicked the gun out from his and pointed the gun at him. He was startled but didn’t react. Two officers immediately boarded the buses and brought him down. The guy was completely lost in thought.

As they were waiting for the van to escort the traffickers, one of them snatched an officer’s gun and tried to attack. Immediately Avni reacted and shot the guy – twice. He managed to dodge the bullet the first time but the second one hit him. The bullet that missed him hit the fifth trafficker and he too fell down. He groaned in pain. This was when she noticed a scar on his right hand, near the elbow. She knelt down to have a closer look. She could not believe her eyes.

“Av-v-avi di, you h-have always caught me red handed doing mis-chi-eeef” he stammered.

“No! No! No!  No! Noo!” she said to herself and cradled his head on her lap. He smiled at her.

“Why?”

Avni could hear the ambulance approaching.

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