Thursday, February 12, 2009

LUCK by Chance

The weather was perfect for cricket, lush green outfield with the bright sun, out in the clear blue sky. It was the finals of the RV Cup, the annual inter-department college cricket tournament. ‘Mech Baayz’ & ‘Tronics 11’ were the finalists. ‘Mech Baayz’ had breezed through to the finals of the tournament as was the case every year. They had a really strong team led by a smart & inspiring captain Sandeep. Sandy, as was his byname, was the leading wicket taker in the tournament. ‘Tronics 11’ on the other hand had somehow managed it to the final stage but had a commanding crowd support thanks to their batch strength. Electronics department had 4 sections and with 80 in each, had the highest number of engineering students in the college. The striking aspect of the department was not only the boy to girl ratio which was really healthy but also the fact that it had the best looking girls. The cricket ground was totally herded and the atmosphere demanded a tight final match. There was not a single spot that was vacant and 2/3 of the crowd supported the Tronics team. Somehow everyone loved to hate the Mechanical Engineering department. ‘Tronics 11’ won the toss and elected to bat and the crowd roared. Almost everyone had painted their faces or had adorned a funny dress just to add to the festive atmosphere. But at the center of the ground, on the pitch it was a different story.
Bullish on their strategy to unsettle Sandy, the tronics team resorted to verbal duel. Sandy didn’t give a damn to it. He was supremely confident of his skills which made the contest all the more interesting. Ball in hand, he ran in to bowl the first ball. The noise from the crowd was deafening. With a quick arm action, he hurled the ball towards the stumps. The ball pitched just outside off stump, missed the edge of the bat and thudded into the wicket keepers gloves. Sandy ended his follow through right in front of the batsmen, gave him a glare and walked back to his bowling mark. The crowd booed at Sandy. The second ball slightly faster, just kissed the off stump but didn’t dislodge the bail and went to 4 byes. The crowd roared for the first runs on the board. Again, Sandy ended in front of the batsmen and gave him a meaningful stare. This time, the batsmen rather surprisingly used the “F” word. Sandy, taken aback, glared at him and returned the favor. The crowd roared. The Tronics department girls booed Sandy. As he walked back, he could see a huge gang of girls holding placards and shouting against him. “Sandy hai hai” was clearly audible. Amidst the color, noise, crowd and dust, Sandy saw a slim and cute girl enjoying the vibrant atmosphere. On the impulse, he felt different. It was as if, the noise was muted, the crowd blurred and only one girl was clearly visible. Suddenly instead of the crowd noise, Sandy was able to hear only Atif Aslam’s nasal rendition of “Pehli nazar mein kaisa jadoo kar diya”, a song from a Hindi movie. Just when he wondered what it was all about, the ball bumped on his head and he came back to the present.
The match was over in the evening and ‘Mech Baayz’ had won it easily in the end. Sandy had gone wicketless but he had batted well and had hit the winning runs. He cared little for that. All he was now worried about was to find out who the girl was. The bug had bitten him and the sweet poison had spread to every cell in his body. His head felt heavy and the only thing it thought of or could see was that girl. He tried to search for her in the crowd, even when he went on stage to receive the award, he looked around. There was no sign of her. The next few days were tough on him. Though he was quite popular in the college, he hardly found his contacts helpful. The only couple of things that he had figured out were that her name was Deeptha and she was from the Electronics Department. Finally after 10 days, the gods smiled on him.
She was in the canteen and with her friends. Sandy just bumped into them and gave a dumb grin. She looked at him with a soothing smile and said, “Hi Sandeep, wassup?” He didn’t know how to tackle it. “Well, err, hmm, you know, err, Can we meet after college?” That was the start of their rendezvous. They started to meet daily and talk for hours and had no clue as to how time flew when they were together. The evening walks, chats and juices, bus journeys, ice creams, movies and their lives suddenly seemed more beautiful and blissful. They formed a perfect pair. Sandy’s instinctive, smart and proactiveness blended perfectly with Deeptha’s laidback, cautious & planned outlook. Both of them loved being together. Before they could realize, they were through with their graduation. As luck would have it, both were placed in the same company during the placement season. During the course of time, both their parents had gotten aware of their togetherness and had given their consent. Everything was perfect and it was as if the whole universe had conspired everything and laid the road for them to drive on and be together forever. During the graduation ceremony, few common friends decided to have a big farewell party at the Hotel Quadrant.
Hotel Quadrant was one of the top notch quality hotels in the city known for its unique ambience, quality of food and lodging, its ability to attract quite a few foreign nationals and of course its price. A huge party hall was reserved for the day and it was decided that 60 batch mates would be there at around half past 5 in the evening. Deeptha and 4 other friends had decided to meet at the hotel well before the start of the party to decide on the party games that they were going to conduct and to generally check if everything was ok. Sandy had decided to give Deeps, as he fondly called her, a surprise gift and so had decided to go to a nearby shopping mall to check out some watches. Deeps, soon after finishing her lunch went over to the Quadrant and met her friends at the lobby. The party hall was at the third floor and with the help of the receptionist, they found out that the lift was at the end of the corridor. As they moved ahead, they found that the red carpeted corridor opened out to a huge circular wall with a staircase that spiraled upwards on the right and on the left hung some beautiful paintings and as they continued to move ahead, they could hear the clock strike 3 times behind them.
The party hall was a huge one, more than big to accommodate 60 people. The hall was spectacularly modeled into a road side dhaba, with tarmac in the center and on either side of it lay charpoys scattered, on the walls were a few famous movie posters and bonnets of Lorries and with the hotel staff dressed in typical Punjabi attire, the hall was aptly named “Oye Punjabi”. Deeps and her friends sat on a nearby charpoy and started to plan out the event. Meanwhile, Sandy was checking out a few watches in the mall. It was more than an hour and he was yet to find the right one which also fitted into his budget. Sick of the lack of options in the mall, he decided to go to another shop across the road. He jogged across the road and was about to enter into the Titan show room when he heard a huge noise behind him near the mall. Entering inside, he turned across to see what it was through the glass door. Out of nowhere, 3 youths dressed in casuals entered the mall and opened fire at the innocent civilians. Another person, at the entrance started to throw grenades in random direction. Soon, the security at the Titan showroom entered inside and pulled the shutter down, locking everyone inside. Everyone inside the showroom was shocked, speechless and motionless for a while. All they heard was sounds of bullets across the road.
The showroom manager dialed his mobile to talk to the nearby Police station. “Sir, This is Sriram calling from Titan Show..….No, listen…...What?......Here also, we hear…...There is…..What?....Terrorist attack?!.....Do you know…..Where else?....Ok…Ok, Thanks.” He then turned around, looked at everyone and said “I had called the local Police Station and they say that there has been a terrorist attack in the city. Since the last half an hour, there have been bombs and attacks going on at various places in the city and it seems 2 major hotels in the city have been held hostage. The police advised me to stay put and not move or let any of you out of this closed door, until the situation is under control”. Suddenly the room felt hotter, sweat started trickling down everyone’s faces and no one knew what to do. Someone switched on the TV in the room to listen to the local news channel. Under the “Breaking news” footer on the screen, scrolled “Terrorist attack in the city. Hostage drama at Hotel Quadrant & Hotel Windsor. Shootouts at Narayana Hospital, Epsilon Mall & Omega Mall”. Sandy immediately took out his mobile and called Deeps to know where she was. To his horror he found out that Deeps was in the hotel, had little idea of what was happening and apparently someone had locked them all inside! Sandy communicated the situation to her and asked her to lock the hall from inside and stay there till the situation gets better.
Still uneasy, Sandy sat on the showroom floor and continued to watch the TV. One news channel over the other kept on bombarding the viewers of the horror that was transpiring across the city. The situation was only getting worse. 4 heavily armed terrorists occupied each of the hotels and were on a shooting spree and no one had a clue as to where they were in the hotel. The Security forces had taken over and cross firing had started and it looked as if there was no end to it. Helpless, Sandy watched the whole thing in horror. Couple of hours and still he could hear gunfire exchanged. “Oh! God, why did this happen? Why can’t everyone live and let live peacefully? What will anybody achieve by all these? Are we going to be locked up like this forever? What about Deeps? Why did she volunteer to organize anything?” There was no end for all these in his mind. He called Deeps every 10 minutes to know what was happening and to let her know about the situation as she had no source of any kind of information. He wanted to race across to the Hotel and get her home but deep down he knew he could not. Couple of hours more and the gunfire near the showroom had died down. On the TV it showed that things were under control near the mall but there was no confirmation from a reliable source. Many tried to contact the Police but the whole network was jammed. Still inside, nobody wanted to take any kind of risk. The showroom manager and few others distributed few biscuits and bottles of water. But shaken with affright, nothing much was going down the throat.
Meanwhile, in the party hall in the Quadrant, a friend of Deeps could not take it any longer and wanted to scream for help. She looked around for any window or door through which everyone could escape. She could see that on the far end of the hall were the toilets and behind each bonnet fixed on the wall were couple of windows. Without second thoughts, she pulled up a bonnet, bent forward, thrust open a window and put her head outside. She could see empty balconies of adjoining rooms on the right and as she turned left, she felt a hole in her neck. Deeps screamed from inside, her friend hanging half inside and bleeding around the neck area. Terror rocked their bodies like an electric shock. They could hear footsteps outside the hall. Everyone inside didn’t know what to do. “Do they scream for help? Do they go lock themselves up in the toilet or do they face whoever it is?” were the thoughts running through everyone’s mind.
Deeps took the lead and ran towards the far end of the hall towards the toilet. Her friends followed suit. The hall narrowed to a passage which lead to 3 doors. One was the Men’s Restroom, one was for the Women’s and the third was a service room which had a board “Entry strictly for Employees only”. Couple of her friends locked themselves in the Women’s toilet, the other into the Men’s. Deeps bravely tried to open the Service room door. It was jammed! She screamed and banged the other restroom doors but found no reply. She could hear that someone was trying to open the Party hall door. She had no choice but to push the service room door open. Holding the latch, she pushed it hard. The door didn’t move an inch. She took a deep breath and summoned in all the energy she was left with and hit the door hard with her shoulders. The door swing open and she hit the wall inside.
She could see few old clothes, linen and electric wires on floor. The room was deep and she couldn’t find the light switch. She closed the door from behind and latched it tight. The room now was pitch dark. She took out her mobile and pressed the keypad to lead the way. She realized that she might run out of battery and soon kept it back into her pocket. She walked straight & slow, away from the door in the dingy room like a blind man without a stick. Ten steps and she felt the wall. She moved left with her hands on the wall. Three steps and she found another perpendicular wall. She started to move right, six steps and she felt something woody. She moved her hands hysterically to find the latch. She located the hinge, stood behind it and swing open the door and stayed behind it for a few seconds. Slowly she started to peep out and out of the blue, she heard bullet shots and she slammed the door. It took a while for her to realize that the sound was from her behind and outside the service room. Again slowly she opened the door, waited for a few seconds and peeped out to find another passage which led to another hall. She came out of the room, closed the door and with her back to the wall, she moved forward. She could see another set of toilet rooms again. It had been a while since she had used the restroom and so she leapt across to the Women’s room and to her horror she found 6 women dead on the floor with blood all over the room and with their bodies punctured with countless bullets! She felt like throwing up. She jumped across the bodies and locked herself inside one of the rooms.
She sat inside thinking as to what she needed to do. She tried calling home and Sandy but the network was busy. That was the fifth time she had tried and her battery was flashing red! She text messaged both of them explaining in brief and asked both of them not to call but instead send a message. She opened the door and as soon as she came out, she heard a mobile ring! It was not hers and so she bent over to locate the other mobile. Suddenly she heard footsteps approaching her. She fell on the floor upside down, buried her face on the floor and lay there like a dead body. She heard one person entering the room. Her body froze and she could feel her heart beat in her mouth. The stranger scanned each of the rooms in the toilet, bent over to pick up the mobile and left. “What if he was a cop or one from our armed forces?”, she thought, but was too scared to do anything. Clutching her teeth, suppressing her fear, horror and hunger, she lay there frozen. Meanwhile, Sandy at home spent the whole night awake and watching the LIVE news on TV, shocked, terrorized and angered. Once in a while, he used to get an “OK” message from Deeps and that kept him going.
It was next day noon and still there were isolated exchanges of fire going on at the 2 hotels. The messages from Deeps had stopped and Sandy was uncontrollably hysteric. His eyes swollen, he kept praying to god to get everything back to normal. Every 15 minutes, the news flashed that the situation was under control and the firing had stopped but there was no confirmed news or evidence. The ATS were checking out each floor of the hotel to ensure everything was ok. And finally after 2 hours, in an interview with a news channel, the ATS chief confirmed that the attack was over with one terrorist captured and all others shot dead. He feared that most of them caught in the hotel were dead though there were a few who were alive and they would be shifted to BG Hospital shortly. Sandy jumped out of his house, started his bike and reached BG Hospital in minutes. There was a huge crowd gathered with number of media personnel outside the hospital. He walked inside and waited anxiously. First few ambulances were for the critically injured followed by those with minor injuries and general medical attention. Five ambulances came in and there was no sign of her. In the sixth one, as the stretcher was lowered, he recognized a familiar face. It was the same face that had transfixed him during the college cricket match. He lunged forward to hold her.