Why Did You Do It?
Mukund and Chenthil were very good friends from childhood. They grew up together in a village near Tiruchirappalli. They came together to Chennai for higher studies. After post-graduation, both of them got jobs in Mumbai through campus recruitment. They settled in Mumbai.
Though they were close fiends, there were many differences between them. Mukund would not mind about telling lies. Chenthil would not utter a lie, even as a matter of joke.
Mukund was playful, outgoing and would spend too much. Chenthil was somewhat reserved, reticent and thrifty. Mukund would mingle with crowd, form superficial relationships and would not mind occasionally offending others. Chenthil was very slow but steady in forming friendships; would never offend others' feelings; and, if he ever unknowingly caused any inconvenience to others, he would go to them and profusely apologize.
Sometimes, because of such basic differences, arguments would arise between them. Mukund would usually make fun of Chenthil's behavior and cut jokes. Chenthil would try to prove Mukund wrong but mostly realizing its futility would give up and change the subject. Maybe, they were attracted because of such differences; their friendship was always stable. Most of the times, both of them were moderators for each other. In the company of Mukund, Chenthil used to become relatively more fun loving; Likewise, Chenthil's company would make Mukund somewhat temperate.
Both the friends used to go out on excursions on holidays. On a Friday evening, they decided to go to Pune and come back on Monday morning. There is a good express highway connecting both the cities. If one starts from Pune early in the morning, he can attend office in Bombay. They reached Pune on Friday night and stayed in a decent lodge. They had a nice time in Pune visiting some of the places of interest on Saturday and Sunday morning.
Sunday morning Mukund came up with a new idea. He said that they might leave after eating and go to Lonavala, a tourist spot on the way to Mumbai; they could leave early in the morning from Lonavala for Mumbai. Chenthil was initially against it. He did not believe in unplanned trips. He said, "After all we can visit Lonavala next week straight from Mumbai. There are many places to visit there and it may take time. Moreover we may find it difficult to find a decent place to stay for the night.” A Mukund said, "These things are not problems at all. Are we girls to be afraid of such things? We may have a nice time there and somehow reach Mumbai in time." Chenthil did not argue much and agreed to the change in program.
They reached Lonavala. The place was charming with salubrious climate. With the waterfalls, hillocks, greenery and so on, the place was immensely pleasant. They visited the Bhushi Dam and Sakhar Pathar, and Nagphani.
Nagphani is known also as Dukes Nose. The friends had to walk a long distance. First, they went to Khandala. It is a beautiful valley. The river Ulhas made the whole scene enchanting. The friends spent about three hours there, even without realizing the passage of time. From there they walked to Khopoli Water Electricity Center and then to Nagphani. Here a rock is penetrated oddly into the hill. Hence, it has the name Dukes Nose.
Several miles of walk had made the friends very tired. In every place, Mukund had overstayed and now they had to walk a long distance. Darkness set in earlier than they expected. The place, which seemed so charming a few minutes back, suddenly became lonely and threatening. It was then they realized that they were not sure of the route also. They started walking fast, hoping that they were on the right path. Under these circumstances, the time simply flies. When they noticed that the time was already 9 p.m. and that they were not even sure of the correct route to Lonavala, they became nervous.
No human being was at sight. To their consternation, they realized that there was no cottage or house nearby. There was no vehicle movement at sight. It became clear to them they had got into much trouble. They thought that they had walked in the wrong direction for long. The sounds of nocturnal animals were on the rise. On all directions, they were able to see vaguely, only thorny bushes and giant-sized rocks and trees. The path they were following became more and more invisible. Groping in darkness, catching hold of each other's hand, Mukund and Chenthil were moving aimlessly, without having any other alternative.
They had no idea how long they were walking. In the darkness, they could not even consult their watches. Anytime, any animal might pounce upon them and tear them to pieces. Mukund felt sorry for not having listened to the advice of his friend. Chenthil, as was his wont, started uttering prayers. Mukund, who would have made fun of him under normal circumstances, was walking silently.
Suddenly they could see a dim light at about a mile. It looked like a street light. The friends mustered all their strength and started walking in the direction of the light.
Soon they had reached the place. It looked like a deserted palace. But the garden around it was well-maintained. The friends thought that in such a big house, there should be a number of persons. Though the house was somewhat isolated, they could also see smaller houses nearby. The villagers ought to have gone to sleep in the early hours of night. The area was completely dark except the dim electric light they saw in the portal of the house.
They were afraid of the dogs. Hesitatingly they neared the front gate of the house and called, "Sir, Sir". There was no reply. They could not say whether there was anybody inside the house. The dim light that attracted them some time back, now failed to encourage them. In the depressing darkness around, this single light seemed to enhance the effect of the darkness, rather than dispelling it.
Chenthil seemed to be more in control. Slowly, he opened the front gate and walked to the inner gate. Forgetting they were in a different state, he called in Tamil, 'Ayya, ayya'. His shaky voice was strange to himself. But, an inner door opened. Another light inside the house came to life. The friends heaved a sigh of relief. Both of them became dumbfounded at what they saw.
There was a beautiful woman. A fair complexioned woman, a picture of culture, maybe in her early thirties or late twenties, with long hair flowing up to her knees, looked at them, without crossing the threshold. The inner gate and a clear thirty feet stood between them. But somehow, the friends felt like having been thunderstruck. Was it her beauty? Or the other worldliness of the surroundings? There was an unmistakable sadness in her wide eyes. Dressed in white linen, she stood there more like a marble statue. The dim but direct light that was reflecting on her face, made it appear that there was nothing else but her melancholic face.
For about two minutes that seemed like an age for them, silence prevailed. It appeared she had no intention of talking.
It was Chenthil, who recovered first and spoke. "Madam, we are from Mumbai. We came here for sight seeing. Having lost our way, we are here at this hour for finding a shelter till morning. At morning, we have to rush to Mumbai."
Lady: Do you see the footpath, visible just outside the gate to your left? If you take it, within a mile, you could reach a country road. From there if you turn right and walk five miles, you would join the main road. Within a furlong in the right, there is a bus stop. You can catch a bus or lorry going towards Mumbai.
The friends had actually lost half of what she said in the melody of her voice. It appeared as though the powerful sweet sound waves lifted them up and kept them floating in the mid-space. Again, it was Chenthil who recovered fast enough.
Chenthil: Madam, we are not familiar with this area. We are very tired and could not walk at all. If you allow us to stay here, we would be gone early in the morning, following the route shown by you. Please.
Lady: I understand your position. But I am alone here in this house. I have become a widow recently. If I allow you to stay here in the night hours, there sure will be a scandal against me. You please understand my position and go away.
All along Mukund was keeping silent. The happenings seemed to have enervated him completely. But after seeing the woman, who appeared like a divine being to him, he had become normal but the obvious gloom in her face stirred inexplicable emotions in his mind. He wanted to say something but could not. He had a peculiar desire to kiss her just below her black eyes. He desired to embrace her and drive away all her despondency. He felt as though the woman's eyes were piercing his outer being and ransacking his mind. He also heard Chenthil pleading with hope.
Chenthil: Madam, I am very sorry to hear about your position. Please also understand the precarious condition we are in. If you allow us, just to lie down for sometime, in the veranda, we would go out without bothering you, very early in the morning. We have not eaten anything and it seems to us impossible to walk further without some rest.
It was clear that the woman felt sorry for the youngsters. She thought for a few seconds and then nodded her head.
Lady: Okay, I cannot drive you out in the pitch darkness at this hour. You may sleep in the veranda. I shall also give you some fruits and milk. Kindly go as early as possible in the morning. New Moon is just six days ahead and so you will have moonlight from 2 O'clock in the morning."
Silently she brought a plate with four good-sized plantain fruits, a packet of chikki (coconut-candy for which Lonavala is famous) and two cups of warm milk. She also gave two mats with pillows. When they lay down, she went inside and the inner light went off.
For the friends, it was all a miracle. Just an hour back, they did not think that they could lie down safely somewhere. They thanked God and lay on the mats. Chenthil tried to recollect what the lady said about the path to the main road. He made a mental commitment to get up by 3 a.m. in the morning and to leave the place, before the villagers would get up. He told himself that they should not become a source of embarrassment to the kind lady of the house and went to sleep.
Early in the morning, it was Chenthil, who got up first. He woke up Mukund. Sound sleep for a few hours had done immense good to their body and mind. As the woman had told, there was moonlight, somewhat brightening the land. They got up, mentally conveyed thanks to their host, and started walking briskly taking the footpath mentioned by the woman.
A few months passed by.
It was a Sunday. Mukund had not yet gotten up as usual. Chenthil had finished his coffee and was going through the newspaper. A jeep came to a screeching halt in front of their house. It was a police jeep. A lawyer and another, who must be a police Inspector, got down from the jeep. Chenthil heard them enquiring the ground floor residents about him. When they informed them that Chenthil was available in the first floor, they came up.
After ascertaining that it was he whom they wanted, they asked him if on a given day a few months back, had he been to the neighborhood of Khandala and stayed there for a night. Chenthil's face became pale. The Inspector asked him if he knew the woman of the house where he stayed during the night.
Chenthil said, "Yes. But I was there only for a few hours and left early in the morning."
Inspector: Yes. We know all that. There is strong evidence for all that. You know, the lady is dead. And this is her lawyer.
They spoke to Chenthil for about five minutes and then gave him some papers.
Inspector: Okay, Chenthil, we are leaving. You cannot deny or refuse anything. She was a kindhearted person but she was in emotional turmoil. You will have to come to Lonavala tomorrow. Whatever has happened, we still hope that you would not try to evade law. Of course, you cannot do it.
Now Mukund had woken up. Understanding that there were visitors, he just sat up in his bed. He just had a glimpse of the police officer leaving. He also saw Chenthil rushing to him.
Chenthil: Mukund, I trusted you as my friend, now tell me the truth. What happened the other day, nay the other night?
Mukund: Which night?
Chenthil: Don't pretend. The other night, when we were foolishly loitering near Lonavala, what did you do?
Mukund: (Clearly Mukund had become nervous.) Why do you ask? I ... I did not do anything. You know, you only woke me up in the morning and we came back to Mumbai.
Chenthil: Mukund, for goodness’ sake, please do not test my patience. Did you go to meet her after I went to sleep? Don't bluff.
Mukund: (Now realizing that the secret has come out somehow) Yes, at that late hour, the lady had forgotten to bolt the door beyond the verandah. I had noticed it. So after you went to sleep, I went inside... and...
Chenthil: Oh, My God, and you gave her my name and address. Why? Is it right? And, you made her believe that it was I who did it to her? Is it right? How at all it occurred to you to do a thing like this? Is this the kind of friendship we have kept up all these years from our childhood?
Mukund: (Now coming to grips with the situation and understanding that something had gone seriously wrong and that Chenthil is in the soup in lieu of him) Yes. So what? You say always that you are very intelligent. Do something about it. Leave me alone. I am shifting from this place now itself. That is all between us.
Chenthil: Mukund, Is that you? Are you talking to me like this, after the friendship of all these years? I could not simply believe my ears!
Mukund: Yes, Yes, Yes. It is me and now I am ditching you. Do what you can. At least now, know that I am not as dumb as you believe. (Chenthil could not believe his eyes. Mukund was hurriedly packing his things and getting ready to leave once for all!)
Chenthil: Mukund, You have opened my eyes. Okay, get lost. Never see me again. But before leaving please know, what has happened in Lonavala.
Mukund: I DON’T CARE (Mukund was actually leaving.)
Chenthil: Okay, But still, let me just inform you,
Do you know what Chenthil informed Mukund?
The woman, who played host the other night, had died, leaving all her properties worth more than 100 crores, to Chenthil in her will.