Sunday, October 15, 2006

The curious incident of the witching gale

It was a day in June. College was out for summer and I was beating the sweltering heat at home at 7.30 pm. It was one of those days when you feel locked in your own personal web of boredom and lethargy where you would jump at a suggestion from the devil for a romp around town.

The call came, it was James. The suggestion was to meet Kreisler at Sea Rock, Bandstand as he needed to deliver a note to one of the premium hotels employees. On any other day, I would have passed the inane messenger boy baton to a lesser mortal, but I knew James would have done the same, had it been another day. The escape plan seemed the only option so I got dressed and left home.

A little about Sea Rock. Sea Rock as the name suggests was a 5 star hotel set at Bandstand, gazing out onto the Arabian sea surrounded by a rocky waterfront at the western tip of Bandra. The name has changed now and the hotel has been razed but ten years ago when this incident took place, the hotel was a landmark and still remains to be, even in its absence. Bandstand though, was nothing more than rocks that led into the ocean and at its northernmost tip was a fort built by Shivaji. The fort was in an advanced stage of depredation and ruin. What it safely sheltered were prostitutes, drug peddlers and amorous couples. Not the best place for 15 year olds but as usual it was not an opinion that adolescents share. A tarred road led vehicles to Sea Rock after which a dusty path wound on to end at the dilapilated mouth of the fort.

I got on my BSA Mach 1. For those who do not know, the BSA Mach 1, with its fancy credentials is a bicycle. We were too young to drive. I met James and Kreisler on hill road and we proceeded at a leisurely pace to the hotel. It took us fifteen minutes to reach, from the time we met. Kreisler asked us to wait, as he went in, James and I wheeled our bikes onto the dusty road leading to the Fort until we reached the mouth. There wasn’t a breeze as we had expected. The spot we were at, allowed a beautiful view of the coast. Engaged in conversation that bordered on teenage crushes and college pratter we were joined by Kreisler a little later.

We were ready to leave. I threw a fleeting glance at the Fort. And it was then that I saw her. I could only see her upper torso, her face, swallowed in what was the matted remains of white hair. She peered down at us crouched behind a wall, two storeys high, a portion of which had collapsed centuries ago. I was startled and couldn’t help but bring the attention of the others to the innocuous and seemingly harmless figure on the fort. "Hey", said James, “Shivaji lives”. I broke into one of my typical guffaws. What happened next, left me gaping at the sight…it was a cross between astonishment and a laugh, swiftly silenced. The figure had stood up, her arms raised above her head. Her arms seemed to end at her elbows…she seemed to be wearing a garb that looked like a Sari and she was moving sideways, her eyes riveted on us. There was not a sound that she made. But she was moving, towards us.

I still fail to understand how could any normal human being move sideways, in the manner that she did. It looked like she was walking sideways but her torso and head was facing us which meant that she was moving sideways with her feet pointing in our direction. But her movement was seamless…there wasn’t the typical bobbing of head that happens when we walk. It seemed like she was gliding.

For a second, which seemed like an eternity, we stood transfixed. Watching her move towards us. She was two storeys up, on the upper sections of the fort and she was moving down the steps of the fort, that led straight to us. James spoke then, in a hoarse whisper, that sounded like “Run”. I did not need any more encouragement.

We sprang on our cycles and dug our feet into our pedals. And we suddenly realized…we were the only ones at Bandstand. There was not a soul in sight. The area was deserted. The hotel loomed to our left, but with no guards at the gate…there did not seem to be a light at a window. It was dark…I wouldn’t have guessed at that moment, that the time was 8.00pm. And its then we heard the shriek.

It was not a high pitched, piercing screech. It was a low guttural sound, that sounded more like the hoarse moan of an animal in distress. And then it hit us. A wind, as strong and powerful that it pushed us back into our seats. We almost fell forward, as our cycles slowed down abruptly and our pedals refused to budge. Moments of surprise gave way to intense fear and an overwhelming desire to escape.

James sprung up on his cycle, hunched his shoulders and used his weight to push the pedals to the floor. ‘Get out of here….we have to get out”, he screamed. I could hardly hear him above the sound. The sound of the wind, in my ears, pounded my senses, I could hardly breathe. I followed suit, punched my Mach I pedals, the slim tyres wobbled as my grip was unsteady and for a brief moment refused to budge.
For a second, I felt helpless…of being caught in a dream…of being reduced to a weak shimmering form. I dared not look behind, because I did not have the courage to face what I may behold. And then the Mach I surged in front. That was all the momentum I needed.

With the strength of a man possessed, I cycled after James. I did not know whether Kreisler followed but I knew if I stopped I would not be able to get moving again. The gale screeched in my ears. We were past the Hotel, and we hit the street…our faces twisted with the effort and the overwhelming thoughts of the supernatural. And then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped.

We were thrown back into our seats…as if an invisible hand clutching us, had let go. We did not bother to wait, to recoup, to reconsider, to converse. I dug deep into my handlebars and raced away behind james. We must have cycled for approximately five minutes before we passed Bandstand and reached Mount Carmels church, that announced the beginning of Hill Road. It was then that I realized….Kreisler was not with us.

“James”, I shouted…”Kreisler!”. He hit his brakes leaving a thin line of rubber as his tyres screeched to a halt. “I thought, he was with you”, he said.

“Well, he isn’t”. I got a look at his face for the first time. His eyes large, face pale and his breathing shallow.
“$5A#, we got to go back".

“I’m not going back there”, said James. Emphatic as it sounded…I agreed with all my heart.

“Whats with you’ll guys”, said a familiar voice. We looked back, over our shoulders, to see Kreisler, his rotund frame propped on his seemingly tiny cycle, round the bend in the road and ride into view. “You’ll could have waited”..

“Didn’t you feel the gale?” I asked. He did not seem to be talking coherently, if he believed he could propose the ridiculous suggestion of ‘waiting’.

"What gale?" asked Kreisler nonchalantly.

“You mean, you didn’t feel it?”, asked James. “You didn’t see her?”

“Feel what, See whom?”, asked Kreisler.

It has been 10 years since that day. I do know, after repeated conversations that Kreisler did not see whom we were pointing at, on that fateful day, nor did he feel the debilitating gale. I also believe that he saw us spring on our cycles and head off…and he followed us. Two varied experiences at a similar location…but with two varied states of consciousness.

One, which epitomized the actions of James and me, was filled with dread, fear and a vision of the unnatural. One, which symbolized Kreisler was of abject ignorance.

Was it just fear that made our feet heavy. Or was it an unexplained, supernatural force? That…I shall never know.


Blogger Dog's Best Friend said...

That's pretty spooky it true? Or atleast semi-true?
Nothing like that ever happens to me ....

Mon Oct 23, 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

So is this fiction as your profile says, or non-fiction?

Wed Oct 25, 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger IndianArchie said...

I never knew Maharashtra was in Indonesia, as it says in your profile. Interesting. Do you think the tsunami caused that change?

Thu Oct 26, 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger James Barnett said...

Hey this is James...It's true..I wish it were not...but it's true. peddling out of there was like moving against an invisible barrier, which finally broke loose. -geeze...what a night. - James Barnett

Fri Nov 10, 01:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amusing!! and amazing write up aksh... keep it up

Sat Nov 11, 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous ashi said...

This is so amazing.never knew my kid brother could write so well. hahahahahaha call it sibling rivalry that made me not want to belive u r creative ;-) the cynical me refuses to belive its true but i am at a loss of words at ur writing style, i laughed so much at the shivaji joke, james i tell u.... u know the funniest thing bout this is that both the spooked guys are pisceans. ;-)) luv u

Mon Nov 27, 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger soulstirringexperiences said...

Interesting ...could visualize most of it well. I love the intensity of each moment that u built in ur story ...Good to know u have a talent for story telling ...should have guessed it ...u go blah blah blah all the time .. ha ha ha . Just kidding !! Good show, keep it up !


Wed Nov 29, 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Delnaaz said...

A flattering tongue, a writers hand , and a tasteful mind, Such rare combinations where else could we find? Great going Akshay... Loved reading the write-up and waiting for more to come. Never knew you write so well. Cheers!

Mon Jan 29, 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Monu Joy said...

Great write up....this inspired me to write about my own experiance...

Tue Mar 13, 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Wed Jan 06, 11:04:00 AM  

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