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A Damsel in Distress

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

From an older blog post

“Rupi, come downstairs. NOW!”, shouted Kamal from the ground opposite my room.

“Why? What happened?”, I asked.

“Come down now! Jeet is in trouble!”, said Kamal.

“On my way!”, I said as I struggled to find my footwear.

Before I get further, a bit of a background here. Kamal and Jeet (not their real names) were hopelessly in love with each other, well at least they seemed to be at that time. Jeet’s dad caught wind of it, and he was dead against them being together. And both of them did not exactly endear themselves to the old man with their antics. Sample these behaviors:

  1. On her birthday, Jeet thought it would be a good idea to tell her dad about the cool boyfriend she had at the university. Her father, who already had served time for assault (it was rumored to be attempted murder or murder), was not very pleased, and he beat the poor girl up.

  2. As if that was not enough, Kamal decided that it would be a good idea to call Jeet up that very day and wish her a happy birthday. Only her father picked up the phone. Kamal should have kept his mouth shut, instead, he said something like he was her boyfriend and that no power in the world could stop them from being together. Let’s just say that her father was not happy, and he let it know verbally to Kamal, and with blows and kicks to his daughter. Happy Birthday Jeet!

Any sane person would think that that would be the end of that, but there is a thin line that divides guts and stupidity, and you might have figured out by now that these two had long before crossed the realm of guts. They continued to communicate, sometimes through phone (those were the days of STD and ISD booths, no mobiles), sometimes through clandestine meetings (Jeet lived at her aunt’s, Kamal was in my hostel), and yet other times by exchanging gifts and/or cards (which is what brought about this crisis).

Jeet probably needed to realize that living at her father’s place did not mean that he would not enter her room. Nor did she realize that keeping a bag under the bed was the best hiding place for the bag. And she definitely did not realize that aside from the bag, there were better places to contain gifts/cards that were testament to her boyfriend’s intimate feelings and/or wildest fantasies.

So when her father stepped into the room and happened to look at the not-so-little black bag

lying at the bottom of the floor under the not-a-very-good-place-for-hiding bed, to put it mildly, his curiosity got the better of him. And perhaps it was the influence of alcohol that converted that curiosity to rage when he looked at the contents of the bag. And if it had not been for her mother, he was all set to kill his daughter with a sickle.

They say love is blind, I think it is physically and mentally disabled. Why else would Jeet, even after her father tried to kill her, go to an STD booth and call up Kamal saying that his life was in danger? And why else would Kamal decide on traveling 125 kilometers to go and save her?

And that was what Kamal called me down for. In the bone-chilling cold of December, he wanted to ride to this quaint little village Bansian, just so that he could keep his girlfriend safe from that murderous beast of a father.

Me: “Let me see if I get this right. You want me to go with you to that village so that we can save her from her dad?”

Him: “Rupi, you are not listening! Every minute that we spend discussing here, the closer she is to death.”

Me: “But what the hell are we going to do? What if he decides to kill her? What if he already killed her? What do we do, if the entire village turns against us?”

Him: “Rupi, you are the one who says we tackle problems one step at a time. Let us take the first step. Let us reach there. THEN we will see what we need to do.”

And it went on. Suffice to say, it was pointless reasoning with him. I pushed him too hard, and he would start crying. I tried to tell him alternatives (to be frank at that moment, the alternatives were very few and very lousy), and he would go into that rhetoric of how her blood was going to be on my hands, should anything happen to her.

And so it was on that cold winter night, two guys who ideally should have been tucked up in warm quilts and blankets decided to go to this quaint little village called Bansian, two knights in shining armor to save the damsel in distress.

We left at about 10:40 pm and we were at the village by 12:30 am. No sign of life in the village, except the dogs that went after our bike, and no light in the village except the headlight of our Yamaha 350. And no warmth except that offered by the jackets and the cloaks we were wearing.

Finally, we were outside her house.

Me: “What now?”

Him: “Now we wait.”

Me: “That’s it? That is your plan?”

Him: “No, I am thinking about the plan.”

Me: “What if he killed her already?”

Him: “You say that again and I will kill you myself before I kill him.”

I was not very keen on getting killed in some remote village in Punjab, where I was not supposed to be in the first place. But I was also very reluctant at the prospect of spending the entire night in that remote village.

Me: “Okay, we know the place. Let’s come back to check in the morning.”

Him: “No way. If he is going to do anything, he will do it in the night.”

Me: “And what will we do then?”

Him: “You will do nothing, because I will have killed you, and then I go kill him.”

For some reason, I decided to give up. There was no point arguing with this man. And there is little to argue when you have undertaken a journey of 125 kilometers, just because your friend had taken hold of this crazy apprehension that his girlfriend was going to die because he sent her gifts/cards which she did not make a good effort to hide. I was there, and so it would have to be.

He spoke after about half an hour: “I love her man.”

Me: “Yeah, I figured that.”

Him: “You think I am crazy to come here in the middle of this dark, cold night, don’t you?”

Me (wanting to say – of course, you idiot!): “I am not the one to judge!”

Him: “You will understand, someday.”

Me: “Yeah well, hopefully not anytime soon.”

Him: “Listen, if you want to go back, you can. I will come in the morning by bus.”

Now there are many times in life, when something inside you tells you that you should do it, only for you to decide against it. This was one of those moments.

Me: “No, let’s see what happens.”

Him: “Thanks Rupi. I know this sounds stupid, but one day you will understand and maybe

laugh at what we did tonight.”

Me: “Laugh at it? Probably. Understand? You expect too much!”

Silence for a while. Then he spoke again: “I think I will sleep for a while”.

Me: “Whatever!”. At that moment, anything that could shut him up would do.

Him: “Wake me up in an hour, okay? Or if you hear anything.”

Me: “Just sleep dude.”

And Kamal stretched himself out on the motorcycle and went to sleep.

You can imagine what was going through my head on that cold dark night. Here I was in a situation I could have easily avoided had I decided to stick to my guns. The reason I was there was on a motorcycle, sleeping and probably dreaming about his girlfriend. And as for me, I was standing there on the street, with nothing but a wall to lean against and a full night of self-cursing ahead of me.

I decided to take a little walk, maybe I could find something I could sit on. At least that would make the going easier. This was 1993 mind you, a time when terrorism was at a high in Punjab. And there was hardly a village that was not infested with gun-toting young men, or policemen only too eager to pick up young men like me. All of a sudden, a chill ran down my spine. What if I actually died there? What would folks at home think? The police could easily put it down as an encounter killing, and my folks would be left with years of visit to the court trying to convince the judge I was innocent.

Well Rupi, I said to myself, you are here. And if you are supposed to live through this long and treacherous night, the best you could do is find a place to lie down. At least sleep would be something you would not want to deprive yourself of, even on a cold night like this in this godforsaken place.

When Einstein was asked to explain relativity to a novice, he said something like: “If you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it is two minutes; and if you sit on a hot gas stove for two minutes, you think it is two hours.” Replace the hot gas stove with a cold winter night and the latter was absolutely true for me. Time was crawling right now. It was only 1:50 am in the morning.

Never before have I been happier to see a wooden board. And never before have I ever been more inclined to believe in fate any more than I was that night. It was the perfect length and breadth for me, and it was there, innocuously leaning against a wall. It was almost as if it had been placed there for me, like an answer to my prayers for a good night’s sleep.

Moving the board was going to be a challenge, and moving it without making a noise was a near impossibility. The miracle of the human brain is that once it latches onto a solution, it also traces a path to it. The board was about six feet long and four feet wide. It was going to be impossible for me to carry it on my shoulders but if I could get my head, somewhere in the center, then maybe, just maybe, I could lift it resting on my head and with my arms as support.

Easier said than done. For a start the board would not move. Eventually, it did, after I lifted it off the ground, and using the wall it was resting on for support, I managed to get my head underneath the damn board.

Turned out that hoisting the board on my head was the easy part. Walking with the thing precariously balanced on my head and supported by my hands was a different ballgame altogether. Every step I took, the board would threaten to come off, but also meant I was getting close to where Kamal was.

It was a cold winter night, but I was perspiring by the time I reached where Kamal was sleeping, still sprawled out on the motorcycle. Gingerly I placed the board on the ground next to the motorcycle. Then I woke Kamal up. He woke up startled.

“Has he killed her?”

Me: “No dude! I have been up for over an hour. Your turn to keep watch.”

Him: “Sure! I will wake you up in an hour. Where did you get that board from?”

“Long story”, I said as I prepared to lay down on the board.

I have no recollection of what happened afterward. But I was the first one to wake up. It was about 6 in the morning, and the sun was just about to make its presence felt. I woke up Kamal, who was asleep on the same board, his head at my feet and vice versa.

“Did he kill her?”

Me: “I don’t know. I was asleep. Did he kill her while I was asleep?”

Him: “No idea. I went to sleep after you.”

Me: “Okay, let’s go find something to eat.”

We made our way through the village until we came across a tea stall. Only a person who has had a hot cup of refreshing tea after the night we went through, can appreciate the value of the tea we had that morning.

He decided to check once again at her place. Having been through so much, I could only agree. As I started the motorcycle and we made our way to her house, I was feeling a strange kind of joy. I had done every stupid thing the last night. On a cold, dark night, I rode 125 kilometers to control something I had no control on. Then, I spent the better part of that night carrying a board that could have broken my neck. And then, sharing my makeshift bed with Kamal. And all this for what?

A glimpse of Jeet bringing fodder to the cattle.

Yup! There she was. Bright as the morning, she was feeding the cattle. She was some distance away so she never got to see us.

“What now?”, I asked.

“Let’s go home.”, he said. I smiled as I put the motorcycle in gear. For once, Kamal was talking sense. He made no attempt to attract her attention as we went around the periphery of her house, nor did he say a word till we were on the road to Chandigarh.

“Rupi, not a word of this in the hostel, okay?”

Me: “Are you nuts? I don’t want to be the laughing stock there!”

And so our stakeout came to an end. Now, I am sure that you think I was nuts, and I probably was, but tell me this – what is the wackiest thing you have done and lived to tell? This was one of those moments. The look on Jeet’s face was that of shock and awe when I narrated the incident to her. She was furious at Kamal. But more so at me. She blamed me for her boyfriend having to spend a cold dark night outside her house. Never mind that if she had not made that phone call, we would not have been there in the first place.

So what happened in the end? I wish this could have a fairytale ending, but Kamal and Jeet broke up six months later. The breakup was painful, more so for Kamal as he took to alcohol in a big way. Jeet got married to some rich dude in Canada, and I have not heard from her since.

I did meet Kamal about 12 years later. He is married and has two kids. Our first topic of discussion when we were alone was about THAT night. He laughed it off as a “stupid thing to do”. Funny, it took him 12 years to realize it.

But he was right on one count though, that I would find it funny when I looked back at it.

#Anecdotes #stupidthings #DamselinDistress #Hostellife #Stories

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