Tuesday, August 15, 2006

THE BET - A story by Sachin Tewari !

[Author's recommendation: Take a printout of this story as it is pretty long for reading online.
This semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional story is arguably my best work till date. Since it reflects my teen years and also has a blissful tale of my cultural background and my people, I have tried to maintain its ethnic flavor by keeping the local dialect/colloqial lingo intact. Please do not hesitate to add your comments.]


The bet just happened. I guess it was the outcome of heated argument, boiling teenage spirit and mere
superiority complex.

Well, before going into the gravity of the situation, let me, yours truly, introduce the memorable
characters of this autobiographical epic.

Dil Bahadur whom everyone called Braveheart, inspired not by the Scottish hero but by mere literary
translation, and I were the best of buddies. We were born and brought up in the same ol’ village of Peliok
in Sikkim. This place is a haven of oranges and avocados, and when it is harvest time, one suddenly
finds that there are numerous employment opportunities for the unskilled people, understandably for the
post of ‘Chowkidars’, to ward off kleptomaniacs, from the much awaited prized possession of the
Horticulture Department.

That was Peliok, our very own hamlet.

Braveheart and I were practically of the same age, just stepping into the renaissance of human life. And
during the winter holidays, when I used to return to my place, after my annual examinations, it was
reunion time for us, the two virtually inseparable pals.

With the recently learnt scientific formulas like the famous E=MC2 etched in memory , taught by the
ever agile and juvenile subject teacher, who insisted on her students being epitomes of “Who , When and
Why”, what would stop young Einstein from asking even his 6th grade dropout friend , whether he knew
about the theory of the rectilinear propagation of light. And to demonstrate wonders like the calculated
design of the pin hole camera, he really proclaimed himself as Einstein in the making.

Braveheart on the other hand would teach him Guerilla Warfare. Guerilla Warfare? Eh!!

Well , to make small daggers and knifes by beating the malleable nails , making secret hideouts in trees
to keep the ‘weapons’ ,smoking cigarettes made up of tea leaves, tying tufts of grass together serving as
traps for unsuspecting trespassers and ‘spies’, and relishing delights like roasted grasshoppers and crabs
(yikes !). He told me that this was the lifestyle of the warriors in the Great Wars and in the event of a war,
well, we were prepared!

Don’t believe if I say that there were no children of the same age around but it was just that we were the
bosses. However in every chronicle there ought to be villains and in that circle, the kingdom where we
ruled, there was a girl, Mirhana who never respected the supreme power of our stronghold.She used to
study in a convent school in Kalimpong ,which was my neighboring school and being educated in such a
school where “ O my , chyya my “ were the colloquial lingo , it was not very difficult for us to nickname
her “Baathi”-meaning ‘over smart’ .She led the bandwagon of a group of girls calling themselves “The
Strawberries” who never called us “Bosses”.

During the winters, when it became unbearably cold around, the whole band of teenagers used to meet
together in places like the back seats of vehicles and talk about various things, burying our hatchet for
the moment. And in one of the secret meetings of the group, certainly not like the secret meetings that the
Cabinet Committee of Security holds, in the event of a terrorist strikes (Terrorism was a local issue
then!), the topic of ghosts and wandering spirits suddenly cropped up. Each one shared his or her own
ideas with the others listening with gleaming, inquisitive eyes, weaving his own fantasy of the spirits.
Finally , it was the turn of Mirhana .She began telling weird stories of the ghosts of Convent ,nuns to be
precise ,” …footsteps in the wooden corridors as the old clock struck midnight, foxes howling ,piano
playing all by itself……blah..blah…!”.

Though we had already become spiny scared but we had to make her influence over the group lessen
and above all, the bosses were not supposed to fear anything.

Enough is enough, we had it. That was it. “These stories are passed by the old nuns to make naughty
girls sleep “, we rebuffed her.” These stories must have been made up by a horror movie fanatic, who
made the soup after being so much influenced by the mask and the make up of the ghosts and lastly
glorified by the special effects ….you know what I mean, spot boys moving around with lightning
devices and artificial showers ,and inexpressible sound effects”.

Everyone laughed.

She began arguing by telling us that if we believed in gods, we ought to believe in ghosts. But we replied
promptly by telling her that gods and ghosts were not complementary, her theory itself was wrong, it
were the gods and the devils which were co-existent and not ghosts. Again she questioned us about the
famous ghosts that villagers used to talk about –The flame ghosts who supposedly were seen coming
from all directions in the distant hill meet at a certain place and disappear. Young Einstein went on to
explain that this was just the misinterpretation of a logical scientific explanation. The flame was due to
the phosphoresces that the misty trees used to emit. And with the blowing winds acting as catalysts , it
got the effect of the fire-fly, and thus the blame, once more on the non-existent wandering spirits.
Finally desperate she threw up her last ace, “So why don’t you boys prove yourself .All you have to do
is lay a red rose in front of the statue of Jesus by midnight .Then we, “The Strawberries “ would admit
that ghosts do not exist and above all, in return you shall find us calling you “Bosses”.

I promptly said it was allright. Braveheart never befriended me in any of the decisions that I took and so
it was time to fix up the date so that the bet could be carried out. We reached to the conclusion that
Saturday night would be the ideal one. Everyone would be so busy engrossed in Sharda didi, my father’s
first cousin’s wedding that we could easily slip away to the endeavor. So, with all present there agreeing
to remain silent about the bet, the meeting came to an end.

The statue of Jesus was on top of the hill overlooking the great burial grounds where thousands, through
ages were lying in absolute repose. Huge bamboo groves surrounded it. A little way up , there was this
famous 18th century masterpiece, the Gothic Church ,whom everyone lovingly called the Bell church
owing to its huge bell .The sound of the bell was audible ,even in the village which was about fifteen
minutes walk downwards, and for years it was the official alarm of the village . A further way up the hill,
one could see the ruins of the palace of the great Lepcha kings.

The famous Australian Nobel laureate, Peter Scotch*, had described the palace in his award winning book “Impeccable” as thus,

The ruins of the palace standing atop in free spirit,
Looks down upon the hill, the woods and the settlement below,
Once mighty and strong, now, all alone,
against tides of fury and ice..whisphers in pure delight “.

My grandfather had told me of the legacy of the great Lepcha kings whom people through times
immemorial, believed were the messengers of the Gods. It so happened that Hangkura Singda, a god was
found trying to steal the Miksu , the scepter of the God of the Gods, Markimpa . So he was banished
from heaven a-la Lucifer, however as he had managed to just get a touch of the scepter, he had attained
the powers equi-par to that of Markimpa. And after that ,he went on a carnage to destroy all that was
godlike or had the touch of goodness. Finally, the kings had no other alternative but to seek advice from
the creator of the Universe and Knowledge, Khobrang Labtrang .After two years of vigorous yajna,
Khobrang appeared before them and told them that the only way to destroy Singda was to built palaces
in the eight villages, Kho,Mam,Kavi, Sumpa,Lastom,Ghurmpa,Tang, and Peliok.The Octal projections
and the aura would overpower Singda. So finally, Singda was destroyed on the 8th night after the
appearance of the first moon of Autumn. Till now we celebrate this day, my grandfather added, as
“Lasol”, the victory day.

Of the palaces, The ruins of the palace in Peliok was the last one remaining , the rest all were
unexplainably destroyed in the great quake of 1969, my grandfather had remarked.
When the D-Day finally arrived, we prepared ourselves with the necessary equipments to protect
ourselves from wild animals,snakes, robbers, and in case..ghosts…Nah! We put on our jeans that was
well tucked inside our Wellington boots.And in the little spider-bag that I carried, we had torches ,
candles, matchbox and the most trusted weapon of the Gorkhas, the Kukri, and last but not the least, the
emblem of our successful mission, a single red rose. Finally, I am letting out a secret, there was a small
‘Hanuman-Chalisa’ in our shirt’s pocket.

Sharda didi’s house was five minutes walk from my place. And that day, it had become the buzz-center
of the village. Nepali Hindu weddings are a delight to be part of, and if it is being held in the village,
then you can’t afford to miss it out.It is three days of fun and enjoyment for people of all ages.
The place is decorated with crepe papers ,balloons, and plenty of pine leaves. As you enter the wedding
place , you can see that there is a semi rectangular gate made of bamboos and pine trees with a placard
bearing the welcoming insignia. Looking around you will find the wedding altar , smoldered with cow-
dung , tulsi and incense sticks.
In the village, people from all works of life assemble there , busy with their own tasks.

And after the good day’s work, when night arrives , it is dancing singing and drinking
all around and understandably it is not uncommon to find drunkards creating a brawl. However for the
children, it is just plenty of good food, games and somersaulting over the pile of stacked hay and
straw,piled in the shape of a temple. And before I forget to mention, people usually sleep in straw beds ,
and I guarantee you that no Curlon give you the comfort as cozy as this one.
So it was easy for us to slip away in pursuit of our mission, for we knew that the celebrations would
extend until midnight . ‘The Strawberries’ were also present in the wedding and despite their utmost try
to dissuade us , we were firm on carrying out the bet. Mirhana left no stones unturned and related to us
stories of the beautiful ladies in white always there to lure the foolish into the trap of death. She finally
warned us that we should not stop to speak to strangers , particularly the ones wrapped in shawl and with
a lantern ,for when they raise the light up , she retold, we would not be impressed to find out that they
had no face . And at that moment , all that we could do was to rebuff her and nothing more.

Finally at around eleven, we climbed upwards.A further way up, we could see our village ,our very own
hamlet, the place where we grew up, so lovely in the color of the night . The speakers had started
playing the old nepali folk song that we knew by heart.The rest of the village except for the wedding
house , looked so calm with only a few hazy lights .The atmosphere was filled with a strong tinge of
deja-vu smoke from coal ,the burning wood and the usual misty fog .Like any other night, some dogs of
the village, as always ,were barking ferociously ,at God knows what .

As we strode , the dead leaves were strewn here and there and the old horse path moaned under gravity
by the vicious force of our boots .Gradually, the music from the village was fading off much to our dismay.Our torch shone brightly
on the once saddled road, witnesses to the great happenings , of great kings and leaders down the
memory lane. By this time , we had already been singing songs, without much concern to the lyrics and
the tune.The khukhri was there in the other hand and in case of any misadventure ,we were ready to
strike in a moments notice.

Suddenly,We were taken aback by the appearance of a wily old fox, who crossed the road fastidiously and it very nearly took out the life from us and at this moment , the song from our mouth had disappeared in the vacuity of the adrenals.

The fox righteously deserves the credit for creating the initial venom of fear, …ghosts to be precise ,I admit ,in our hearts, and when the hearts
start to rule the mind, history has shown that things become a cauldron of misfortunes. By this time, we
were holding each other’s hands and in the background the wind howled and whistled among the huge
bamboo groves .The added fear of thundering storm and rain had already creeped up in my mind looking
at the overcastted sky. The silhouette of the huge iron gate of the cemetery could be seen, our goal was so
near yet, we had already begun to think , would we be able to make it?. Shaggily, we dragged ourselves
to the gate, and Braveheart hurriedly opened the latch. Creeeaaakkk…!Oh no, not again! All the
terrifying scenes of movie like The Omen virtually flashed in my mind.

What were we doing ? Why had we carried out a senseless and useless bet? I was responsible for all this.
As we meandered along the thin road that passed through the heart of the cemetery,I could distinctly
see the graves of the people I knew, Uncle Sam ,his wife Aunt Martha, Bikram da …I began to believe
that since these people were so nice to us, they would surely protect us from the others. The grey
tombstones covered with ferns, mosses, khadas, candles and the white lilies certainly looked more eerie
in the night than in the daytime. However , my thoughts were abruptly interrupted when,Braveheart
suddenly fell heads down towards a grave and all out of a sudden , a lightening striked menacingly
revealing the outline of the cemetery.And in this critical moment, the torch slipped from his hand and to
my utter surprise just blacked out.The Scene shown just before a person frantically runs the last run of
his life as in the flicks started creeping inside my head. How could all happen at a time? The
lightening , Braveheart falling , and above all, the blacking out of the torch.

With another thunder strike and lightening flash, Braveheart acted as if he had become mad. “Show
yourself ,you stubborn ass”, he said fisting his hands . Nothing happened.

“Give me the rose, give me the rose “, he cried out to me and looking at his face I could not resent.He
grabbed the rose and ran off towards the statue in an insane manner. There was I alone in the middle of
the cemetery , and I had already started looking in all directions, especially behind my back. However
with each second passing like days, I too became impatient and sprinted towards the statue. My friend

seemed kneeling in front , the rose was at the feet . “Yeah!” , I cried loudly. “We did it”! My joy was cut
short when to my utter dismay, I found out that Braveheart was still kneeling. I slowly went towards
him, and called him once.No response. “Was he dead?”. Then with anxiety and helplessness
overpowering me , I grabbed him by his shoulders. Braveheart was still not moving. Then I checked his
pulse , and when I could sense none, I literally started crying . I was responsible for his death. I had
killed my own friend for I was responsible for the bet.

With the first shower hitting my cold body, I realized that I was no longer afraid of the grave and I was staring at the statue of Jesus, the tears had
wiped out the fear from my mind .My friend was dead. Then suddenly , I saw frown and he stirred .My
friend was not dead , he had just fainted. I helped him on to his feet after wiping his forehead with water
soaked handkerchief and then finally, it was time return back home.
As we neared the gate , Braveheart told me that he was allright and could walk by his own. As soon as
we passed the gate, I happened to take a final look at the cemetery now drenched to the maximum, and it
looked deadlier as the lightening striked once more.

My stride had become faster by then and in a moment, We were running as fast as possible.We had
prided our strong village legs, and we were confident that it would not fail us. Ohhh! Suddenly,my
Wellington boots gave off to the slippery red mud. I found myself falling into a trench.And without
Braveheart’s help, I would never have manage to come out.

Furthur down now , the good old village was seen, however the music had stopped and I thought it was
probably due to the fear of lightening.At this time, we were congratulating each other like victorious
warriors after a successful battle. However, it was cut short when I saw a group of people with daggers,
torches, and sticks. My father was also there .And when I saw the pale face of Mirhana ,I knew they had
found about the bet. Then I saw my father approaching towards me with a stick, I knew I had it.
Suddenly, I felt darkness encircling me and it was for the first time, I realized that I was fainting.
The next morning , when I woke up, I found myself lying in my cozy bed.The clocked showed that it
was ten fifteen .I felt my body to be bruised up and it was paining a lot .I checked my forehead and
realized that I was feverish. From the window, I could see the cowherd boy taking his flocks to graze in
the hills. The rain had stopped and the village looked like fresh spring and very immaculate. Suddenly,
the door opened ,and I saw my mum carrying milk and bread. I could not look into her eyes. I was so

Then she told me ,”How are you feeling “? I said that I was all right.

Then, drawing up the rest of the curtains she said ,” Son, you really scared us yesterday. As a matter of
fact ,you all scared the whole village.Look at the trouble you caused in the wedding house. None could
enjoy and lastly , you have landed yourself sick as well “

Two warm drops of tears fell off the corner of my eyes.

“Well, It is allright but don’t repeat it again “, she came up to me and hugged me.By then,I was crying
vehemently in her arms.

Then came Braveheart, who hugged me and said that I should get well soon. And when “The
Strawberries “ finally conceded defeat,I was feeling better already.

Then my dad came in and unlike my prior assumption, he was smiling. “Son , this is what I got from the
grave , your muddy bag and your torch. The bulb had fused. This dagger and your handkerchief was
lying near the statue but somehow I could not trace your rose”. “Must have been lost in the
thunderstorm”, he added.

I distinctly remembered the rose lying in the safe candle frame ,in front of the statue. It had to be there.
Then I turned on to Braveheart, he seemed to intercept my thoughts.
He stared at me and just nodded with a pale face.

The End

* The following character as mentioned in "THE BET" does not exist and resemblance to any person living or dead is purely co-incidental.
1. Peter Scotch and his book "Impeccable".

I Quote again!

“ I quit smoking for 3 months, and then my resistance died a hero’s death”- Sachin Tewari©

I Quote myself !

“ Whatever art thou, good and bad together. I sought you and will always will..in mind and soul forever”- Sachin Tewari©