I woke up to the sound of the chirping of the sparrows that were sitting on the outstretched bay window. It took a while for me to realize that I was not in the hostel and to get my bearings. I didn’t remember when sleep had conquered me, but surely it was not before an hour after midnight. The daylight was peeking into the room through the gaps in the window curtains whenever they waved. I looked at my wristwatch that was lying by the side of my pillow. It was a few minutes more than six in the morning.
I could know from her even breathing that Vani was fast asleep. She was on the cot whereas I was lying on the floor with only a pillow. On the teapoy was the empty bottle of rum that I had finished after my second attempt with Vani. When I saw that her nightgown had slipped upwards and her fair skinned thick thighs were visible, there was rush of blood in my crotch. Vani stirred, as if she’d felt my gaze on her thighs and lied on her side, now facing away from me. A fleeting desire to climb the cot came to my mind but I dismissed it quickly.
My mind drifted to the Mohan and Nirupama. What must they be doing now? So, after all, Mohan had failed to return the previous night. Why didn’t he? Had he lied to me? I couldn’t figure out. If it had been Nirupama in lieu of Vani, my evening would have been altogether different, I thought. But now I was not very sure. Was something wrong with me? I felt asking myself this question. No, it couldn’t be due to anything wrong with me. It was the stress, the guilt, the terror of committing myself to a future that I didn’t envisage for myself, the fear of being found out by my parents, or by law enforcers, the nervousness arising out of the whole situation, the result of too much drinking and the odour that put me off, I tried to console myself. Yes, the odour had been a huge put off, her body odour. Everyone has his or her own odour, caused by the perspiration and it is supposed to act like an aphrodisiac. Only in my case it had acted otherwise. But I myself was not convinced of all these arguments in support of…Vani stirred again, and I didn’t like to face her. I closed my eyes and acted as if I was asleep. I could hear her going into the bath.
We headed for Jog Falls after eating some insipid breakfast ordered into the room at about half past nine. Mohan and Nirupama had come to our room and both looked elated. This was nothing short of honeymoon to them. I didn’t get any opportunity to ask Mohan why he’d forgotten to return to my room the previous night. He seemed to have totally forgotten about having promised me something like that.
The bus was overcrowded with tourists. Only the girls got seats and Mohan and I had to travel standing in the jam-packed bus. I couldn’t have a view through the window, nor was there any fresh air to enliven me. On the top of it I had to suffer the pokes, jabs, shoves, and even the stale breath of the passengers standing with me. It was unpleasant like hell, the journey; the only redeeming feature was that it was to last no longer than an hour.
It was a great relief to get out of the bus, but the view of the falls was so breathtakingly magnificent that I forgot all about the bus and the unpleasantness of the ride. We’d alighted at the viewpoint located in Shimoga district, presenting the full view of the highest plunge waterfall in India. The river Sharavati plunges from the height of 824 feet, forming four falls known as Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani, creating grandest natural beauty and rich scenery. The sky was covered with gray clouds and there was no sign of sun. The air was misty and it rained intermittently, though the rain was more like a fog, sometimes the spraying of cold droplets of water that couldn’t soak you, but gave you a soft cold touch that was soothing and titillating at the same time. The lush green valley, the cool breezes, the fog, the glorious view, the joy and laughter pervading all around was romantic, to say the least.
This being the time when the river Sharavati was fully augmented, tourists and excursionists all over the country had thronged to enjoy the sublime elegance of the water falls and we had a tough time reaching the main platform constructed for viewing, piercing the concourse. There were college going teens, school children, young couples, elderly persons, all creating a raucous cacophony, but all were no doubt too happy to contain their joy.
Still I was too self-conscious to be oblivious of the stares, some amusing, some envious and some disapproving, some wrathful even. I found that Vani was clasping my right arm with both her hands and was clinging to me like a lover. A group of young boys whistled and hooted as we passed by them. Another guy from yet another group shouted, “Leave him alone lady, he won’t get lost!” Some schoolgirls eating snacks in a large group glared at Vani enviously and some even beamed at me. It was all so discomforting and embarrassing, innervating even, that every now and then I tried to break free of Vani’s grip. However, she seemed to be enjoying every bit of the attention, and the more I tried to free myself, the tighter her grip became.
Mohan had put his arm around Nirupama’s shoulders and didn’t even care to think what would be the response of the onlookers. Even Nirupama appeared to busy in conversing with Mohan to care for the people eying them. No doubt they were enjoying every moment, and I couldn’t draw Mohan’s attention. We wandered from one viewpoint to another, which have been constructed for viewing the falls from different angles. I tried to ignore Vani’s grip and enjoy the falls enveloped in the dense cloud of mist. It looked like a river of milk that was plunging down the abyss where even the pool was not visible due to the rebounding milky waters and the vapour that clouded it. At last Mohan took a break and approached me for a cigarette.
We both lit cigarettes and the girls stood a few feet away talking to each other. This was the first time since morning that I had some free moments with Mohan. I wanted to tell him about the previous night and also ask him why he had not returned to my room. However, before I could broach the subject, he asked me if I liked to descend down to the base of the waterfall, the pool. And even before I could reply, Nirupama came to us and said, “Let us climb down”. That settled it for Mohan and I had to follow them in their wake.
We must have descended only about twenty-five feet when we realized that it was not at all going to be easy. It was dark, and fog permitted a vision of only a few feet. Above all, the steps had become too slippery due to incessant rains as well as the fog, and had been covered with a thin layer of fungi. Again it was Nirupama who decided that we better abandon this dangerous adventure and climb back.
By the time we reached the top of the valley, we were all starving. There was only on hotel and it was crowded. Being aware that we would not get something to eat till we get back to the nearest town, we waited patiently till we found a table being vacated. Again, we had to be content with the insipid food offered.
As planned earlier, we walked over the bridge to the other side of the valley to reach the American Bungalow. The bungalow is constructed on a projection rock over the edge of the valley. The bungalow itself is a wonderful sight, surrounded by well-maintained garden. From the platforms constructed there, we could have a view of the falls from above. It was as awe-inspiring as it was gorgeous. There too, we sauntered from place to place enjoying the wonderful creation of the nature.
I was under the impression that we would be returning to Dharwad that evening. But those were the days when very few buses plied between Sirsi and Jog and Mohan told me that it was not possible to do so. My mind was soon occupied with the dreary thought of another confrontation with Vani. I didn’t want to do it. I dreaded the very thought of spending another night with her. I was disappointed to learn that it was now inevitable. But deep in my heart, I also began expect that what couldn’t happen on the first night, might as well happen on the second, and that Mohan might remember his promise after all!
We could get back to the hotel around six in the evening. It was getting darker and all of us were exhausted. We wanted sufficient rest and I along with Mohan craved for drinks. However, a rude shock was awaiting us.
As soon as we walked through the entrance, the manager of the hotel called Mohan with a grim expression on his face. I knew that something was wrong. I too joined Mohan and we went to the reception counter. The manager cleared his throat and said, “Sir, after you left for Jog, the local goons had come here. They were enquiring after you.”
I was dismayed. Mohan too seemed aghast. “What do they want?” Mohan asked.
“They don’t like the hotel giving rooms to the young boys and girls. I told them that I had not given any rooms to boys accompanied by girls. They wouldn’t trust me. They said, they would be back in the evening to check.”
I wanted to ask him why couldn’t he ask for police protection, but feeling that that would have been silly, I kept my lips sealed. I was myself not in a position to ask for police protection. “But,” Mohan protested, “It is already too late. We cannot get back to our place. Where are we supposed to go now? “
“I am also helpless sir. Please try to understand our situation. They are very dangerous people”
“Can’t we go to some other hotel?” I asked him hopefully.
“No sir, there are only a couple of hotels in this town and they go to all of them.”
“So you are suggesting that we leave” Mohan said with a sigh.
The manager didn’t reply and started looking into the register. After a while he lifted his head and said, “I can give you some concession in the rates sir”
Mohan turned towards me and found me nodding. “Harsha, please go with the girls and vacate the rooms. I will settle the bill” He said almost in a whisper.
Within the next fifteen minutes, we gathered the few things that we’d left in the rooms and walked out of the hotel. Fortunately as soon as we reached the bus stand, a bus was ready to leave for Hubli.