Once it was decided that we were going to the Assi ghat, things moved fast. Neither me, nor Vineet had any vehicle, so all three of us piled on to Rahul’s scooter and off we went. The deserted university roads, lined by tall trees, shrouded by a light mist and made incandescent by the yellow sodium vapour lamps that dotted all the roads of the campus, looked like the roads of a ghost town. Silent, eerily silent, with the surrounding hostels and fields shrouded in a darkness that was possible only inside the BHU campus due to its tree cover, the streets were a little wet from the early winter dew. Our LML scooter growled menacingly, protesting under our combined weight, its sound resonating in the wide empty spaces, coming back to us after being reflected from the thick hostel walls, like a voice from another world.
We talked loudly, and laughed even louder – there was no one around to be disturbed by our ruckus, the campus was sleeping. The scooter sped along the empty university roads, its tyres squishing faintly on the wet roads. Soon we were driving through the Singh dwaar, the Lion gate, which serves as the main gate of the university campus.
Lanka, the commercial area just outside the gates of BHU, was silent too. Lit dimply by naked tungsten bulbs, and street lamps, the shops in the market squatted along the streets and dozed, like ghostly objects from another world. On and on our scooter sped, through familiar roads, through residential and commercial areas, towards the Assi ghat, our favourite ghat.
Parking the scooter in the side street which leads up to the ghat we walked down the ageless stone steps, talking, staring through glazed eyes, blowing smoke circles; we neared the edge of the water and sat down on the steps. The ghat was completely deserted at this unearthly hour. A few stray dogs had dug up the sand near the water’s edge, and burrowed themselves inside it to keep warm for the night. Even they were sound asleep now, oblivious to our presence on the ghats. A few homeless men, and some boatmen too, slept on the ghats, with their sheets drawn right over their heads to wards off the mosquitoes and the flies. Everyone was asleep, even the stone steps seemed asleep.
‘Lets go to the other side,’ Rahul said.
‘Yes, yes,’ Vineet repeated excitedly.
I was silent. My mind, even in this state, was sounding a word of caution.
‘Yaar,’ I began, ‘it may not be wise to do this at this time.’
‘Chicken’, came the retort from Rahul.
‘Nahi. No, there is nothing chicken in being cautious,’ I was already defensive.
‘Then let’s go,’ Rahul coerced me while Vineet wandered over to a sleeping figure and, to my horror, shook him awake.
‘Take us to that side,’ Vineet said to the person who had emerged from under the sheets, confused, and groggy.
‘Chaloge? Will you go?’, Rahul repeated.
The man, obviously a boatman (I suspected Rahul and Vineet knew this fellow and had used his services before), nodded, and said, ‘Double charge.’
‘Are haan, chalo chalo. OK, let’s go,’ Rahul said, and started moving towards the boat which will take us to the other side, to the dark nothingness which loomed ahead of us.
To be continued…..
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