Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Girl Who Got Away

"You know about the theory of six degrees of separation?"

He suddenly sprang that question on me when we were strolling on the Aksa beach last summer. The evening was taking its time to cool down the hot tempers of the day and the sea started receding to its depths. The colours and the quiet were slowly taking their toll on my stress-levels and I started slipping into a poetic mood. I would have launched into a philosophical discussion myself, but the Roadie beat me to it. I knew he didn't want an answer and it was just the beginning of one of his stories. And even if I answered his question, he would still say what he already had on mind. So I kept quiet and he continued.

"I met this Polish girl once in __________. That's a small town in South India. You would have heard of it. I met a lot of foreign travellers that season marking up that route on their maps, 'cause there was a special festival going on in a temple nearby. That festival came by only once in 12 years, like the Pushkar Mela. And hordes of neo-hindus from across the world came down for the event and the tourist traffic too followed them. I too went, not because I was interested in that kind of entertainment, but my travel companions for that season were going there. I thought I'll go and see what it was like. As such, I didn't have much money that year, so I travelled within India along with the budget campers and the ticket-less beggars in general compartments.

Anyway, coming back to this girl; she was a very interesting girl and different from the lot that surrounded her. Blond and pretty like most of them, but she was intelligent with ambition in life. She wanted to become a journalist and could discuss everything I knew with ease. We connected almost instantly, after she mentioned journalism. The first time I met her was in a rickety bus on a dusty road. She was with a group of girl friends from Europe and since we found out that we were going to the same place, they stuck with us for the rest of the journey. I was with a group of Russian guys myself and we soon settled down into pretty good terms with each other. I mean, the entire group of girls and guys. Not just that girl and I! Well, we were pretty comfortable with each other too. But those days, I was in love with another girl who was still deciding her stand about it. So I was... anyway, I mean, we all got a bit friendly and all that.

We reached the temple town late that night and camped on a small stretch of a river bank there. We sat down to sing some songs on the guitars and enjoy the smoke pipes that some of us fished out of our saffron kurtas. You know, the regular stuff of the flower children! We were having a pretty good time and a little later, the next bus offloaded a few more tourists, most notably two German guys in their early twenties. The Germans spotted the group having a good time and asked if they could join us. Gladly, we said. By that time we could take as many merrimakers as the buses could carry!

Did I mention that I was the only Indian in that group? Well, I was the only Indian hippie they could manage to include in the gang and I think they did that only to negotiate cheaper prices with the souvernir shops. The first thing the German guys did was to come up to me and ask 'Are you a driver?' I didn't know what to say for a moment! A driver? Where did that come from! I laughed nervously and said 'No!' One guy said 'Because, you know, there are a lot of Indian drivers in Dubai. We saw them when we were in Dubai. What taxi do you drive then?' I really didn't know what to make of it and just laughed."

The Roadie was clearly agitated at the memory of the incident and turned to me with his hands in the air. "Now, I just told you that. But you didn't believe it happened, did you? I mean, yeah it happened to me! These guys just strode up to me and asked if I was a driver because they saw lot of Indian drivers in Dubai! They were in India and had almost a billion Indians around them then and they think they are all drivers! Fantastic! Nobody would believe something like that happened!"

I smiled at his animated expression and said "What's there to not believe? They might just be joking! And may be that's their way of making friends!"

"Yes, they were only joking. I know that! But I was a bit unsettled with that kind of humour. It's not as if I was offended, but I just formed an opinion about them. I was high by then, so my emotions were a bit more elastic. But I did form an opinion about them, right then, and decided to avoid them for the rest of the trip. I can't explain why, specifically. They proved very popular with the crowd after that, cracking jokes and entertaining everyone! But I kept my distance.

Soon, they started showing a lot of attention to the Polish girl. I was a bit uneasy already with that. Again I can't explain why! Hmm... may be I can! For some reason, I had already taken her to be a good friend and seeing her so close with them didn't go down well with me. But I didn't interfere with that. She was enjoying the attention, and why wouldn't she? So I tried to ignore them as much as I could. I was still uneasy, but I didn't do anything, though I kept an eye on them with occasional side vision. One of the guys started getting slightly physical with her. And well, I couldn't do much about it, as I said. She wasn't my girl friend or something! It became very advanced after a while, and he was trying to hug her and at one stage pulled her down to the ground and got on top of her. She pushed him away laughing and got up to her feet. He was doing it all in a mocking way, and the girl was giggling all the time, so no one in the crowd was minding it. Though, a few people totally moved away from the commotion to settle into their own evening of songs and dance.

I hung around with a few others to see what was going on. The German guy again tried to pull her down to the ground and this time, she turned to me and called out, '__________! Save me!' She was laughing ofcourse, but I sensed that she sort of meant it. Atleast I thought she meant it. So I went up to her, pulled her up on to her feet in a good natured way and took her a little distance away. The Germans were following in tow, and kept begging her for a hug all the time. She stuck with me for the rest of the evening and I felt it was my duty to protect her that day!

For the next two days, the festival processions kept us occupied and there was so much to do then, that we ignored about the whole incident and went about our celebrations. I even got a little civil with the German guys actually. They weren't bad guys, now that I think of it. Just young guys wanting to have some fun. Here in India, we spend our early twenties trying to get a job and make a career, while the westerners travel the world jumping from one big party to another and constantly on the lookout for a bit of fun with the opposite sex. That's a culture thing, and you can't blame individuals, really!

On the third night the festival was over and the pilgrims were packing off to their villages. We decided to stay back for a few more days and explore the parts for wild elephants and sandalwood smugglers. That night we had a big fire going and some liquor made an appearance, now that the festival was finished. We were having a fun time, and the German guys went back to their Polish girl routine. This time she made no effort to come to me for protection, so I stayed back, not wanting to appear... you know, as if I had a thing for that girl! I was a lot more at ease by now with her mingling around with them, because I thought I sorted out the German problem and thought the girl could take care of herself.

Very soon after that, the guys became aggressive again and started to pull her t-shirt off. I lost my cool by then and rushed to the scene, pushing one of them off his feet. The blood from the girl's face drained away and she knew there was a fight coming. The crowd suddenly fell silent and the German guys were glaring down at me. I thought the only civil thing to do was to move away from the crowd and settle it between ourselves, without disturbing the fun. So I took them some distance away and the girl stayed back. We got into an argument about the girl, and one of them asked me what is it that I had with the girl. I said, 'Nothing! She's my friend and I don't want anyone to misbehave with her the way you guys were doing! I would do the same for any other girl here! And you better start behaving with her now!' That was how I felt at that point of time, and I really meant it. I mean, I really liked this girl and all that, but I would walk up to them if it was any other girl too!

At that point, the girl walked in to the fight scene and tried to pacify things. She was looking panicked and I told her to go back. So she walked away. A minute later, one of the Germans walked after her in her direction. I tried to go behind him, but the other guy held me back and we kept arguing and even pushed each other a bit. Eventually good sense prevailed, and we said enough's enough, let's go back to the crowd now. We went back to the group. I couldn't see the girl anywhere and the German guy who went after her. My Russian friends started crowding around me and tried to put me at ease by including me in their songs. I kept looking around for the girl, but she was nowhere to be seen. And I couldn't push my friends away to start looking for her. Frankly, I wanted to shake off the image that I was behind that girl! So I remained with my friends. The other German guy too stayed with us and didn't seem particularly bothered about the absence of the pair.

After the celebrations subdued a bit, I walked away from the crowd to the girl's tent to see if she was there. I saw from a distance that the German guy's shoes were outside the tent, along with hers. There was no light inside. I came away from there and rejoined the celebrations. Next morning, I woke up early and when I crept out of my tent, I could still see the shoes outside. After a while, I woke up the guy who was sharing the tent with me and told him that I planned to hike my way back in an hour's time. He said he'll join me, so we went away from there before anyone else woke up."

The Roadie stopped there and it was a few moments before I realised that the story was over. I asked him, "Did you see the guys again?"

"No", he said.

"And what is it with the six degrees of separation theory?"

"Oh, that! I jus came across an old friend from Poland on Facebook, a guy who travelled across Peru with me. He told me that he's married now and had his wife's picture in his album. It was that Polish girl! I told him I knew her and he was surprised. He was the one who quoted the six degrees theory when I told him that."

I said, 'But that isn't what the theory is about! It says anyone you absolutely do not know, may be within six degrees of your connections!"

"Yeah, I know that," he said, "But I didn't really know the girl you know!"

After a brief pause, he said again,"I mean, I knew her for just a couple of days. Whereas I spent a lot of time with her husband, my Polish friend in Peru!"

We walked a few steps without saying a word.

"You said you were in love with another girl then, who didn't decide about you. What happened to her?", I asked eventually.

"That one? I think she's already beyond the six degrees by now!" And he let out an unusually loud laugh at his own joke.

1 comment:

  1. Is the Roadie based on a real person? In any case, I like his weird sense of humor (the half-sarcastic snorts he often ends with).

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