The boat rocked, rippling the placid waters of the river, as we piled on inside it. It was a small wooden affair, pulled by a couple of oars, and suitable only for five-six people at the most. As we sat in it, me silently and Rahul and Vineet sniggering at each other, the boat man pushed the boat from the edge of the water where it was wedged in the sand. One, two, three…..and the boat was in the water, floating, moving silently like a killer creeping up on its prey.
The boat rocked once more, a little violently this time, as the boatman jumped on to it, and adjusted his oars. A gentle splash was heard as the two oars hit the waters. Pull, pull, pull, the boatman went propelling the boat into the dark waters, creating small ripples which radiated outwards from the bow of the boat. A couple of minutes, and we were almost mid-stream. The lights of the ghats had fallen away, and darkness had started to engulf us now, mitigated only by the cold moonlight which shone from above.
Vineet and Rahul still talked, in whispers, mischief clear in their voice. I was concerned. It was not good to throw caution to the winds. And then how could we trust the boatman himself? Who was to know if he wasn’t in cahoots with the strange elements which populated these regions at night? I kicked myself mentally at agreeing to this stupid plan, but it was no use lamenting now; the die had been cast.
Soon, the eastern bank of the river approached, its sands glimmering in the moonlight, darkened at places by the water which soaked into the sand where small waves from the river lapped on to the ground. I closed my eyes, steeling myself, trying to listen to the sounds of the night over my heartbeat which resonated loudly in my ears – the gentle slapping of the oars, the ripple of the waters of the river, the small waves breaking on the bank, the fizz as the dry sands absorbed the waters, and then let it go back again when the wave receded.
Suddenly a soft thud, as the boat edged nose first into the wet sands of the opposite bank. I opened my eyes, and looked at my friends, their eyes glittering with naughtiness, and just a hint of anxiety. We were all speaking in hushed tones now. Without acknowledging that we believed in the stories that went around in the lay public, we were trying not to wake the spirits which dwelt on this bank of the river, or the aghoris who summoned them from the other world to do their bidding.
What if we should meet one? A spirit? A preta; the undead? An aghori?
These questions resonated in all our minds, I could see, as the exuberant chatter had died down, and the spirit of adventure of my friends had dampened a little.
The river bank was deserted, absolutely, and dark like hell. Only the sand glowed, and the moonlight, reflected from the waters of the river illuminated the bank for a few meters from the waters edge. And beyond that……total darkness…..and the unknown…….a shiver went up my spine…….
To be continued ……..
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