The road wound through the scrub, nothing more than a dirt track ending at a point where the water met the land. We were six boys on three scooters, Cousins and brothers, school going and of course my brother and I went to college. My cousin had just come from Mussoori and we just wanted to give him an outing that would be one of a kind. We had decided to spend the night in the open air, by the edge of the water of Lake Damdama. After getting our dinner packed from one of the food joints, we proceeded from Gurgaon. On reaching the lake, we told the guards that we would be spending the night in the open.
The first task we set ourselves was to gather dry wood, sticks to feed the fire, which we knew we would have to burn the whole night, ostensibly to keep away dangerous animals, but more specifically to give us courage because as it began to get darker, it became even more frightening; we could hardly see in the dark. Shan, my cousin from Delhi set up lighting the fire, while Hira, my cousin from Mussoori, in whose honor this outing had been planned kept looking for firewood. My younger brother heated the food and we all proceeded to have our dinner. The stars blinked in the clear sky, and the water gently lapped against the shore, and then we commenced telling each other stories, ghost stories, and soon, we saw that we would run out of fuel! So, we all set out hunting for wood, or anything that would burn, while one of my uncles, N-Gina tended the fire, another more fire-brand kind uncles, Guna lead the foray in search of fire wood! These uncles, my father’s cousins were barely elder to my younger brother and I by a few years, and they readily became part our our projects and escapades! A little later, there was a loud splash, and Shan, my cousin from Delhi exclaimed that he had fallen into the water! Guna, began scolding poor Shan, “can’t you see where you are going, you have buttons instead of eyes, ….etc.” Poor Shan replied, “but then it was so dark, and you did not give me the torch!” We all guffawed and laughed at the whole episode, while poor Shaan extracted himself from the water, which fortunately enough was not very cold!
Having gathered a huge mound of wood, we tried to turn in for the night, thin sheets and mats not affording enough padding to reduce the discomfort from the rough ground! After some time, Shaan and Hira seemed to settle for the night only a little later, Shaan shouted, “Whose that, what are you doing with my legs?” Hira replied, “ Come on I didn’t do anything"!” Thinking that this exchange warranted investigation, my younger brother, Sanges, switched on the torch, and then exclaimed, “ Shaan, keep, still, don’t move, there’s a snake crossing over your legs!” Shaan, hearing this fell silent, whimpering from time to time until the snake had crossed over! This incident cast a spell of fear in our hearts, and we then began to pile more wood on to the fire! We were all quite grown up, the youngest, Shaan being sixteen years old and the eldest, Uncle N-Gina being twenty five, and yet we were surely scared!
Finally, there was peace and once or twice I woke up only to hear the others snoring; reassured that the fire was alight and burning well, I went off to sleep. Only a few moments later, we were all abruptly awoken by a most dreadful ruckus coming towards us! Whipped out of sleep, we sat up suddenly to see four or five dogs chasing a Neel Gai, or the common Indian Antelope. The Antelope swerved, just in time on seeing us sit up, and plunged into the water of the lake with a loud splash and a commotion fit to frighten anyone! The dogs gave chase to the Neel Gai in the water for a little distance and then gave up! After this incident, there was no more sleep for us and we were certainly a miserable lot as we waited for the Sun to appear over the horizon. By day-break were thoroughly exhausted by our ordeal and the lack of sleep, gathering all our things, we mounted our scooters, and headed back home, where would all go to sleep for the whole day! The two encounters of a special kind the previous night had been more than enough for all of us! My brother, Sanges, later told us that it had been the biggest snake that he had seen the previous night, “No wonder I could fee its weight on my legs!” added Shan while we were talking about the whole incident. Both our Uncles, N-Gina, and Guna seemed to be a little disgruntled by the incident, which was natural as they could always be asked why they had allowed us to sleep under the sky in the open in a place like Damdama!
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