“The dead tell no tales unless you give them an ear...”
Now that they were inside the cemetery, they were surprised at the number of graves of the ‘Royle’ family, which outnumbered all others buried there. Kamli was the first to speak out as they read Elizabeth Ann Royle’s epitaph: “As I am so shall you be, so be ready to follow me” seemed ominous, a kind of warning given to wayfarers who dared venture into the graveyard. This was felt especially by Kamli and he uttered the worst fears of all four of them.
“Rehan, let’s go from here. This is not a good place!”
“Shut up, Kamli! These are just words. What harm can words do?” Though Arihant sounded confident, he was a little scared too which though, wasn’t obvious in his voice or even manner.
“No, let us stay and read the others since we are here already. You can stay for my sake, can’t you, Kamli?” Hearing Madhuri call Kamlesh by his nickname surprised both Kanya and Arihant. So Madhuri and Kamli had moved on from becoming mere friends, they were at least close pals now, or so it seemed.
“For you Madhuri?”
“Yes, for me...I have never done something this exciting and so many things have occurred in just one night that I would want to stay here a little longer, to read a few more gravestones.”
“Yes, alright...we stay!”
“Great! Let’s read the others then; I can hardly wait.” Kanya seemed an adventurous lass and Arihant couldn’t help but smile at his thought that she was that...a lass. He knew that this word was used only with cowgirls by the cowboys in the west, but it applied here. So that’s how he started thinking of here after that moment.
A Lass who didn’t know where she was leading all of them in the name of adventure, in the name of suspense and in the name of novelty. For it was novel, being in a cemetery in the dead of night with two boys. For a girl, there couldn’t be anything more adventurous or novel.
“Hey, look at this one!” Madhuri was the ever inquisitive, ever curious girl who hadn’t shown these facets of her being in her job at Convergys. Kamli loved this change in her, for it was a change from her dull office persona. He felt affection for Madhuri and he had started calling her ‘Maad...ri’ stressing on the ‘ri’ syllable of her name. She seemed to like that and smiled whenever he called her that. What she showed them though surprised all of them. This was no Royle, it was a Scott; a Mr. Anderson Scott, on whose grave was written...
‘He had a ready ear for all our troubles and a helping shoulder to our ire’
“These lines are so poetic, all of them, they seem to come up with one masterpiece after another.” Arihant, who was a voracious reader himself, seemed impressed and it was not like him to be impressed that soon.
“Yes, they are Rehan, but can we rest for a while? I am tired and I believe we all are.”
“Yes, yes let’s rest”
As they were looking out at where they could rest without disturbing the gravestones, they saw a pillar at the centre of the cemetery, or what looked like the centre; a white pillar encircled by three steps. That seemed perfect for some rest and they went there and sat down, the girls on one step and the boys on the other two.
“This sure is eerie, Rehan...I will remember this night forever.” Kanya was suitably impressed with Rehan, or so it seemed, that he was the one who had come up with what now seemed like a brilliant idea.
“So will I, Kanya; so will I”
“Let’s play a game” Madhuri seemed full of surprises, all of a sudden.
“Ok! What game?” Kamli, the ever curious one...
“You strangle me and I pretend to die and then I strangle you.” Strange as this seemed to all of them, its irony made it appropriate for what better game than to play out the act of death in a cemetery.
“Alright!” Kamli wanted to sound brave and he did at that moment.
“Are you sure, Kamli?” Rehan was a tad doubtful.
“Yes, I am sure. Maad...ri can we start?”
“Yes!” That was the last word that they hear Madhuri speak...
Kamlesh started softly enough. He put his hands around Madhuri’s throat and started strangling her with all the pressure he could muster without breaking her tiny neck. Madhuri smiled for a very long time before her smile vanished. Then her eyes closed and her head swayed backward on its own. Kamli kept giving pressure and didn’t stop until Rehan intervened...
“Stop, Kamli! You are actually gonna kill her!”
At Rehan’s voice Kamlesh shuddered. It was like he had come out of a trance and he looked around as if to get the bearings of the place he was in.
“I...I forgot where I was” Kamlesh sounded scared.
“You were strangling Madhuri, remember?” Kanya was smiling for it was a joke and she believed Kamli was just playacting.
Then their eyes fell on Madhuri. She was lying down on the step, her head at a weird angle and her eyes were closed.
“Madhuri! Hey, Madhuri!” Kanya called out, still believing it was a game. Perhaps a game that had gone too far...
“Madhuri...!” Arihant joined in and he felt what was the start of panic building up in his body.
Kamlesh was silent and almost on the verge of tears.
“What have I done? What have I done? Please...help.” He would break down any moment.
“Wait! Wait! I have an idea.” Rehan sounded confident.
“Call her that...what did you call her a moment earlier? Some name you had given her...”
“...Oh Maad...ri...” Kamlesh spoke with as much confidence as he could muster. But what Arihant heard was care, compassion, and a lot of love. All of these were in that voice and Arihant realised then that Kamlesh, his friend, loved Madhuri. Perhaps the first love of his life. It seemed like divine irony that here she was as Kamlesh called her name, in a cemetery, amongst the dead, almost dead...
Then a miracle occurred. The first thing that Madhuri uttered when she woke up was...
Kamli had never felt euphoria in his life and had always kept himself distant from the passions but what he felt at that moment was euphoria and he felt the blood going to his heart and making it whole again.
“Thank God! Oh, thank the heavens...you are alright.” It was relief flooding Kanya’s voice who had witnessed the scene unfolding in front of her eyes with horror at how things turned out. But there was something in Madhuri’s eyes, something not quite right, something not like Madhuri.
“Who are you?” As Kanya asked Madhuri this question, Rehan and Kamli looked at her as they would at a fool.
“I am me...” Madhuri’s answer surprised them further for they were expecting ‘I am Madhuri’
“What are you trying to do, Kanya?” Rehan asked her but there was relief in his voice as Madhuri had recovered.
“No, Rehan, sometimes when people get a shock they lose their memory, I was just checking.” What Kanya didn’t tell Rehan was that she was superstitious herself and they were, after all, in a cemetery of all places. She also didn’t tell Rehan that she had seen something in Madhuri’s eyes, something unlike her, unlike Madhuri.
“Who are you?” This time Rehan asked her and Kamlesh just stared at the two of them for it was lost unto him why they were asking Madhuri who she was, like she was a stranger. She was no stranger, she was his Maad...ri!
“I am me”
“Where are we?” Rehan took his questioning further.
“Here, Arihant where you will be...” Something in her tone scared Arihant. It scared Kamli too, yet he presumed that Madhuri was playing a game.
All of a sudden, Madhuri looked at Kamli and started crying. She went up to him and hugged him; “Let’s go home, Kamli”
“Yes, I agree...we had enough of this cemetery for tonight.” Kanya was all of a sudden authoritative, like the trainer that she was.
As all of them climbed the gate back to Ravi and their waiting cab. Madhuri and Kamli were holding hands and it was obvious that the two of them were now a couple. Both Kanya and Rehan looked at each other and Kanya was the first to speak;
“Well, nothing scares you, does it Rehan?”
“Why? Oh...that! Madhuri was not well, she had lost blood to her head and must have fainted. That doesn’t scare me.”
“No, not that, what she had said later.”
“There is a secret I have been meaning to tell you, Kanya. We have a Guru and in our land he is revered as a God. I believe he is always with me in all that I do, in all that I face, that is one reason, I am not easily scared, for if you have perfect faith, you will never fear. He will guide my path, so whatever made Madhuri say that I will be there, doesn’t scare me, for I have my Gurujona.”
“Does he have a name, this Guru of yours, or what do you say; your Gurujona?” She was smiling and even though Rehan knew that she was a Kannada girl from Bangalore with modern ideas, there was something in the way Arihant spoke of his Guru that made her smile.
“Sankardeva” Now Arihant smiled, as he did every time he spoke of his Gurujona.
“Is he someone who helps boys who are in trouble?” Kanya kidded.
“Hehe, yes! He does...and damsels in distress too”
“Tell me more about him, Arihant; he seems so wonderful, this Guru of yours. You seem to be in such peace whenever you speak his name.”
“I will, in time, now we have reached the cab. Ravi’s been waiting.”
“Oi Arihanta and Kanya...whata tooka you so long to come? Me be waiting here. Did you dig the gravesa?”
At that all four of them laughed out loud. The tension that the incidents in the cemetery had built up was instantly dissipated and they were now a group with even Ravi, their Chauffeur included.
“So whata did you all do there?” Ravi was genuinely inquisitive.
“We learnt about the bitterness of gone...” Arihant was the natural quip artist.
Seeing Ravi’s flummoxed face, they burst out laughing again Ravi smiled, despite himself.
“How do we pay you Ravi, for having been with us throughout the night?”
“In Indian currency, phoreigner.” They still had a few bouts of laughter left in them.
As they travelled towards MG Road, they decided to call it a night but their hunger suggested otherwise. Ravi had presumably not eaten too.
“Ravi, where can we get food now? It’s almost 3:00 am and we are hungry.” Kamli was hungry after his adventures.
“We have to go to Majestic. No food in MG Road now.” That solved the matter.
“You mean the Railway station?”
“Yesa the station”
“Let’s go there then”
The station was exactly as Kamli and Rehan remembered. This time the lights were more brilliant, giving it an ambience of daytime. They took Ravi along, who was a partner now, after their very long night. They went to the first stall they saw and it made Dosas. Masala Dosa seemed like heaven for the now very hungry group. So they ordered five Masala Dosas and two bottles of mineral water, for the thirst as they were all thirsty. That brought to an end a night that all four would remember well, as Kanya and Madhuri were dropped at their respective homes. They were all smiles.
“Thank you, Maad...ri” Kamli was smiling like there was no tomorrow to worry about. Madhuri leaned over and gave him a kiss on his cheeks. It made his smile wider. Kanya hugged Arihant and the look in her eyes spoke of some bond that they both felt at that moment. One thought troubled Arihant though...Madhuri had spoken after she had woke up from her fainting spell. She had said; “Here, Arihant where you will be...” He wondered why...