Monday, July 15, 2013

Bounce : Chapter 04

Seeing Kumar return filled us up with some newborn hope. He was wearing an expressionless face, sort of still reeling from the shock of the whole debacle. He beckoned me and Yetoo to a corner of the hall. We got up and walked to him, wondering what new piece of explosive information he was going to bombard us with.

“I've asked a few people to lend us some money. It’ll be arranged in sometime and then we can leave from here. We would use it as a bail-out”, said Kumar.

“We owe these guys in lakhs Kumar, not hundreds. They won’t let us go till we’ve paid every single penny we owe them,” I shouted.

“I know that. But let’s give it a shot. I’m sure even they’ve come to understand that we don’t have that much money to repay them. Even they will try to milk out as much money as possible”, said Kumar.

“He has a point”, added Yetoo.

“Fine. Let’s go talk to Pankaj”, I said.

Pankaj was sitting in the coffee lounge, his tie loosened, sleeves rolled up. There were 3 empty cups of coffee lying on the table, an ash-tray with half a dozen cigarette butts in it. He was putting the butt of the last smoked cigarette in the ash-tray when we found him there.

“Come my kings and have a seat!” mocked Pankaj.

We looked at each other, sighed and sat down at the table. He ordered coffee for us and lit up another cigarette. Kumar joined him in the smoking as me and Yetoo sat there staring at our steaming cups.

“Pankaj ji, I’ve got in touch with a few people and we will have some money arranged in a couple of hours” said Kumar.

Pankaj’s face suddenly brightened up. “That’s excellent news! How much money are we talking about?” asked Pankaj.

“I think about 50-60 thousand rupees” said Kumar.

“Not bad! And I presume you’ll have the rest of the money arranged by morning” exclaimed Pankaj.

We exchanged anxious looks. We hadn’t thought about the rest of the money! We thought that this would be the end of it. We thought that the hotel’s management would accept the fact that these guys were simply not rich enough to arrange for more than half a lakh rupees.

“This is all I can arrange for now Pankaj ji. Give me 2-3 days’ time and I’ll arrange the rest of the money too” said Kumar.

“I don’t know if my manager would agree Kumar. But let me talk to him” said Pankaj, the glow clearly fading from his face.

We sipped our coffee silently for the next few minutes. No one exchanged a single word. It was Pankaj who finally broke the silence. He started laughing, not a good hearted laugh, but a cynical one. The one that makes you feel a bit more terrified.

“You guys have screwed me royally, you know that right?” asked Pankaj. “If only I would’ve followed all the rules and gone by the book, I might not have been in this situation.”

His words hit us hard. He wasn’t imposing an accusation but merely stating the facts. If he had gone by the book, indeed things wouldn’t have turned out this way. He finished the cigarette, rolled down his sleeve, put the tie back in its place and walked away. We finished our coffee and went back to join the rest of the guys out in the hall.

Pankaj returned after a few minutes and told us that his manager had agreed to accept this “token” and would let us leave. There was just one catch: Kumar would have to stay back. I looked from Kumar to Yetoo. Were the Gods finally paying attention to our feeble prayers?

“What good would it do to you if I stay here? Let all these guys go. And let me also go. I’ll be able to arrange the money if I am out!” said Kumar. There was a note of panic in his voice.

I excused myself to go to the washroom and motioned Yetoo to follow me. We both walked away from Kumar and Pankaj towards the washroom. Inside the washroom, Yetoo and I unanimously agreed that what Pankaj’s manager was asking for was the best thing to do. It was sort of a win-win situation. We all get to go home, and they can keep the main culprit, Kumar, behind.

Though it may seem shallow of us to think this way, we were considering the safety of the rest of the guys much more than that of Kumar. And to be honest, I don’t feel we did anything wrong. I am glad that we made that decision that fateful night. We both walked back to the hall to find Kumar and Pankaj still in conversation.

When we reached them, it was Kumar who spoke up first. “I’ve decided to stay back. You guys can leave with the rest of these guys. I’ll try arranging for money from in here.”

We both were surprised to hear what Kumar was saying. In that moment, I could not decide if I should respect this man for taking such a noble decision or feel that this is what he truly deserved.

“Ok. That’s settled then. The moment the money arrives, all but Kumar can go” concluded Pankaj.

“That sounds good to me. Who’s bringing the money Kumar?” I asked.

“Gujar is on his way. He’ll be here in half an hour I think” said Kumar and walked away to the smoking area. He dragged his feet, looking at the floor and definitely contemplating his future. We let him be with himself and walked back to the hall.

“I hope Gujar arrives soon. I can’t wait to get out of this place!” I exclaimed.

“Are we doing the right thing letting Kumar stay alone here?” asked Yetoo.

“Look brother, this is his mess. It was stupid and generous of us to stay along with him through the night, but I don’t want to be noble and sacrifice my life for his mistakes” I said.

“I know. I get your point, but he is our friend. But even I don’t think we can do anything more than this” said Yetoo.

“Good. And anyways, it’s your birthday today! I want a party!” I said.

“Haha! I don’t think you need any more parties after this night!” said Yetoo.

“Oh yes! I definitely don’t want any more parties! Just getting out of here alive is good enough for me” I said and we both started laughing.

The sky outside was turning to a shade of light blue and birds had started chirping when Gujar arrived on his bike. He had a wrapped packet with him, which he handed to Kumar. He smiled at us and took off. Pankaj, who was standing behind Kumar, took the package and ripped it open. Bundles of notes fell into his hands and he started counting them. I woke up all the guys and told them that we were finally going home. They immediately woke up and walked up to where Kumar and Pankaj were standing.

“This seems ok. You guys can go. Kumar, you need to come with me” said Pankaj as he walked away towards the reception.

The stewards, who had been barring our way till now, let us pass. Yetoo and I waited till all of our friends had mounted their bikes and left from the hotel premises. Finally, we walked back to where Yetoo had parked the bike. We hopped onto it and started driving out of the hotel. I glanced back at the reception to find Kumar looking at us leave. A mixed feeling of guilt and happiness passed me as we turned the corner and were finally out of the main gate. We were free, finally!

Bounce was an event that changed our lives, our relations and our ability to trust people. I spent the next few weeks in a constant fear of being abducted by men in Maruti van. It sounds stupid now, but it was a high possibility back then. I barely stepped out of the hostel room and would not go anywhere alone. It took a trip with cousins to calm my nerves and put the event behind me. We all took our time to move on from the event that had almost completely thrown our lives off-track.

As for Kumar, the hotel authorities let him go later that afternoon. He paid them a couple more thousand rupees and then finally ran away to his native place. I haven’t spoken to him since that fateful night.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bounce : Chapter 03

We rushed to the banquet hall to find that the audio systems were already set. The light guy had also arrived sometime back and was shouting orders at his workers.

Even though I didn't think it could get worse, at that precise moment, I knew we were in deep shit. 

Kumar was the one who had screwed things royally. And to add to it, he was now becoming cynical. At some point, I might have thought that he would have a nervous breakdown. Luckily, nothing of that sort happened.

Yetoo beckoned me and Dev outside the hall. We started discussing what should be our next plan be and what we would tell people if they actually did turn up for the show. We all agreed that it was too late to cancel anything now and we would eventually have to cough up the money whether we went ahead with the show now or decided to cancel it.

The sun had already set down and we were barely an hour away from the commencement of the show. We started calling up people from our college and hostels, even acquaintances that we might have met only once. The next half an hour went making short but frantic calls to people and bribing them with free food and beer. We were gonna pay for this party, so might as well let a few people fill up their tummies.  

And shortly afterwards, people did start arriving. Some dressed up properly for a party, some straight out of their beds for free food. We didn't mind. Our minds were too occupied with other thoughts. Almost everybody from our hostel turned up. We ushered them inside and urged them to start feasting. 

I kept checking the hall every 10-15 minutes to make sure that everybody was having a good time. The people inside were dancing and probably having a good time. In a hall meant for at least 500 people, there were barely 40 people dancing. It was a disaster but at least these people were having a good time. Not to mention, they were completely oblivious to our present situation. All this while, Kumar contributed in a big way by keeping his mouth shut and smoking rapidly. The tension did seem to get to his head now. Good for him!

Dev and Yetoo stood at the entrance and explaining people why Nicks couldn't make it to the party tonight and offered them refund and even free food and drinks. A couple had arrived and barely listened to whatever these two were explaining them and didn't really mind if there was no Nick show. They just wanted to hang around and so we let them in. The next time I went back to the hall to check the condition inside, I found the couple snogging in one corner of the room. Of course they didn't mind who was playing tonight. They needed a room to snog up and they got a big kickass room.

Kumar came and told me that he was going off to his place to arrange for some money and get his phone's charger because his battery was dying. I didn't know if I should slap him or kick him. I chose to remain quiet.

Pankaj came down the main lobby and was accompanied by 6 waiters. And these waiters seemed to have more of a bouncer's built than a waiters'. Great! The last thing we needed was being beaten up by 6 feet tall waiters. Did I mention that we were in deep shit?

The music played, people danced and ate and drank and then eventually started to leave. At around 11PM, all those that were left behind were about 10 guys from my hostel, a few of them being my seniors at college. The thinning crowd made the bouncers stand guard at the main entrance and make sure none of the organisers would leave without paying.

So, as midnight neared, this was the status of the Bounce party: 13 guys were held inside the hotel premises until the main organisers paid up the money. 

Also, Kumar still hadn't returned from his house. Think he still hadn't found his charger. Or made sure he didn't find it. 

I know this is getting repetitive, but did I mention that we were in deep shit? And had now possibly sunk in a couple of more inches. 

This night was still far from getting over.

I tried Kumar's mobile number but he didn't respond. Maybe he was driving back to the hotel or chose to not answer my call. Ditto with Dev and Yetoo's attempt to get in touch with him. We huddled together to decide what we should do next when Pankaj walked into the hall. He seemed as nervous as we were.

"I've spoken to my senior and he has agreed to give you time till I get off my duty to pay the outstanding amount."

"Pankaj ji, please listen to us. We have been..", I started.

Pankaj cut in, "Please don't tell me. I'm sure you have very convincing and genuine reasons but please understand that I'm also under pressure. I know you guys aren't responsible for this fiasco but somebody needs to take blame for the damage and it can't be me! I have a pregnant wife back at home to take care of! Please understand my predicament."

This was a dead end. How could you reason with a guy who already had his plate full of things? And to top it, his wife was pregnant! I honestly didn't know if I should feel sorry for him or congratulate him on the good news.

"We are sorry Pankaj ji. Let me see what we can do", concluded Yetoo.

With a renewed assurance, Pankaj left us to our miserable state.

We sat around our hostel friends and told them what we were dealing with. There was no point in hiding things from the people who were sticking around for us in a situation like this.

"Dude, you guys are screwed!", exclaimed Shotgun.

"Totally", pitched in Chingya.

"Royally screwed", contributed Hande.

"But I really loved the Paneer-tikkas!", said Nagashetti.

Everybody turned around to look at him and started laughing. His straight-from-the-tummy comment loosened up the atmosphere a little.

"Can't you ever stop thinking about food, you hairy monster?" said Hande.

"Hey! Do I ever complain about your size-zero figure or Shotgun's gigantic height or Chingya's weird cap?" shot back Nagashetti.

"What's wrong with my cap?" asked Chingya.

"The cap's right. You just make it look bad when you wear it!" replied Nagashetti.

"Cut it out you two! We have a situation here to deal with." said Hande.

"Where is this Kumar anyway?" asked Chingya.

He hadn't showed up till now and we were fearing what would happen if he didn't turn up at all. Who would pay Pankaj the balance amount? What would happen when his duty will be over in another couple of hours? Will we be beaten up by these waiters cum bouncers or will we be made to wash dirty dishes? Or worse, sent to police station! We had no certain answers but what we did know was that this was stretching into a long long night.

I got up, walked to and sat down next to Yetoo. "Happy Birthday", I wished him.

"Is it past midnight already? I completely lost track of time in all this commotion. Thank you yaar. I just hope I can have a normal and uneventful birthday from next time onwards. If there would be another birthday at all" said Yetoo.

"Haha. Don't be so pessimistic. Inshallah you'll have many more decades more to celebrate" I said.

"Inshallah" said Yetoo.

As we started laughing on our grim fates, the door opened and in walked Kumar.

For the first time in the last 24 hours, I was glad to see his face.

(to be continued)