Two Sides Of A Coin

Far away the plains could be seen through the dull haze. You couldn’t help being wonder struck at the sight before you. Standing at the edge of the cliff, you were mesmerized by the grandeur of the sight. Yes, you were at the very summit of the mountain range. On one hand, you could see the distant plains through slices of bright sunshine. If you were observant you could see the mango groves and the coconut palms, even though they were so far away. The sun blazed away and the greenery of the hills looked fresh and bright as the rays of the sun brushed past.

Yet when you turned fully around to look behind you, on the other side, you couldn’t see beyond 5oo yards. There was a kind of mist settling in and clouds were forming in the skies above. They were bordered with black and seemed to give off a warning to the picnickers, hitch hikers and assorted tourists who had flocked to the famous mountain top this festive season. Most of them restricted themselves to the main roads and were your typical city “on a weekend holiday’ types. They came in their vans or cars or crowded buses. The adventurous trekkers who sought the more difficult paths up and down the mountain were really a minority.

About a quarter of the distance to the mountain top, a group of trekkers paused to catch their breath and wait for the laggards amongst them to catch up. Four young men and women, suitably dressed in bright hiking clothes, brought up the rear of the group. They were in no hurry. They felt that those who rushed ahead were missing out on the beauty of their surroundings. The purpose of the hike, they said, was not only to get the physical exercise they often had to do without in their city, but to enjoy the wonderful sights that nature provided them to devour. They wanted to explore different routes and not stay on the beaten track.

Standing on the hillside, as he tended his herd of goats, Muthuvel watched a car roar past on the road below. They drove so recklessly he thought to himself. He knew from the village headman that many of the city people drove while drinking. This had resulted in many accidents in these hills. Only the other day, one of his goats was hit by a speeding car as it scrambled across the road. The driver had not even stopped to find out and had merely sped on.

The car seemed to have rather rough looking city slickers, he thought. As he rested by the road, he liked to place people as they passed by. Often he would dream about who they were and where they came from. At 17, there was not much more he could do when he was away from his village with the goats from morning to dusk.

The people in the village were happy on seeing the gathering of the rain clouds. They really could do with water and they felt their prayers were being answered. Their crops would get the nourishment they so badly wanted and the weather would improve after the oppressive heat, even so high above the plains. The village headman was convinced that the traffic from the city was causing the heat. The big buses carrying hundreds of tourists rumbled up and down the hills every day belching diesel fumes and adding to the heat and noise. He remembered how quiet this place used to be during his childhood. The village priest saw the opportunity of being heard. He loudly proclaimed to all who would hear him that the Gods were annoyed with them for allowing the city folk to pollute the hills with their peculiar ways, strange clothes and stranger music.

Gowri was one of the more adventurous of the hitchhikers we have seen before. At 22, she prided herself not only on her good looks but on her excellent physical shape as well. Her workouts in the gym were proving to be useful to her. She called out to her three friends as she moved away from the road in search of another path. Moving swiftly she raced ahead, determined to show the others- and the boys in particular -that she was as good if not much better than them when it came to hiking. Ten or fifteen minutes later she turned around to see where they were. She had made very good ground and already they seemed to be far behind. They didn’t even call her or ask her to wait which annoyed her somewhat. She moved on, her lips tight with determination, trying to get ahead as fast as she could.

So involved was Gowri as she strode on, looking for short cuts and clambering from one rock to another to save time that she was quite oblivious to the sudden change in the weather. Suddenly, heralded by thunder and flashes of lightning, the rains came down. Within minutes she was fully wet and decided to shelter under a clump of trees in the distance. She could see no trace of her friends and her shouts went unanswered. Her cell phone was of little use as there was no network available in these parts. It did tell her that it was close to 1.00 p.m. – which realization made her hungry and quite annoyed with the others for not being with her.

The rain came down heavily and she cursed the rain and herself for coming away from her group of friends. She was not scared having been in the hills many times but she certainly was tired, absolutely soaked and lonely. Her instincts told her that the bad weather could continue for sometime. Her best bet was to stay as close to the main road as possible. Her plans were spoilt because of the bad weather. This led her to another bout of curses for the sudden rains.

The rain found Muthuvel sheltering under a cave not far from where Gowri was. His goats were crowding around the small shelter and he sat among them, waiting for the rains to stop. There was nothing else he could do once he had made sure that all the goats were indeed there. Very few knew the area in this part of the hills as well as he did. He had known them from childhood and now he knew every nook and corner of the hills.

Sometime later he heard the sound of a car screeching to a halt in the distance. The road was not too far from where he was. He thought he heard some muffled voices in the rain. They seemed to be moving away from where he sheltered. Muthuvel’s ears were sharp. The car had indeed come to a halt as the man driving the car had seen something which interested him tremendously. As he took the car round a bend, even through the rain he saw what looked like a girl moving in the shadows under a tree. She seemed to be looking up at him. For a fleeting second he imagined she had called out to him. May be she wanted his help. May be he could give her a ride.

“What do we have there” he asked gleefully. “Someone who needs us. Let’s see what we can do. It would be good fun”. When he told his friends and pointed her out to them, they were voluble in their clamour to get to her. The others too felt this was well worth investigating. They scrambled out of the car and stumbled down the hill slope, driven more by the alcohol they had consumed than by anything else. The thought of laying their hands on easy prey excited them even more. Bellowing and grunting, they jumped out of the car and raced down the steep slope.

By now it was pouring and the ground was slushy with the rain as it flowed down the slope. It was virtually like a river as thunderstorms in these parts of the tropics can be very fierce. The thick vegetation made it difficult to move around. To make matters worse, Gowri could hardly see anything ahead of her because of the thick curtain of rain. She knew that sooner or later she had to move away and look for a place which might provide her with more shelter. Her decision to move was right- the direction she took was wrong. Within ten minutes, she was horrified to see three men scrambling down the slope, towards her. Their shouts made it clear that the last thought on their minds was to rescue her.

She turned around and ran into the rain which was coming down even stronger from this direction. Not daring to look back she sprinted away, stumbling in the wet slush and falling a few times as she couldn’t see where she was going. Never had she seen such rain. It came down with such force that visibility was severely restricted. She had no idea where she was heading. It was instinct that made her run- and the fear of what would happen if those louts got their hands on her.

The three men were wild with excitement and angry as they saw their prey seeming to lose herself in the haze that accompanied the heavy rain. They mumbled and cursed as they moved on- each one of them was half drunk already and the sight of the girl- looking forlorn and lost in the rain- had given them something to look forward to. A flash of lightning and a roll of thunder made them shiver as they lurched on peering in the direction they had last seen the girl racing off. One man slipped and in falling rolled down a slope. His scream as he went head long down the slope was enough to make Gowri’s blood curl as she raced away in the distance. The fall happened in a fraction of a minute. One moment he was lumbering along. The next-he wasn’t there.

The second man tried to save his friend but fell himself as he lunged after him. The third man was in a quandary. He wanted to run after the girl but his friends were yelling abuses at him from where they had fallen. He gave up the chase and turned to help his friends. One of them was now lying further down the hill- clearly his leg was broken from the way he held it and howled in pain. The second was cradling his arm as he had fallen on it as he slipped on the slushy ground. The two causalities in a matter of minutes did more to clear the alcohol soaked brain of the third man more than anything else.

The signs and sounds of pursuit seemed to die away as Gowri panted hard after going down one more slope. Her body ached from the fierce strain it had been subjected to as she dashed from her old shelter. The panic on seeing the men stumbling after her, the howling winds and the weird atmosphere created by the rain and the wet ground was enough to make anyone gasp for breath. She knew fully well what would happen if those men got a chance to lay their hands on her. She simply had to put as much distance as possible between them and her at any cost. Rushing forward she failed to see the low hanging branch of a big tree and fell stunned to the ground.

She didn’t know how long she lay there. She vaguely remembered that the pursuing men may reach there any time. There didn’t seem to be much she could do about it anyway. And, there was no respite from the rain. She was soaked to the bone. Water flowed down from the top of her head, soaking her long hair which clung to her back in wet strands.

In the midst of the monotonous drumming of the falling rain, she though she heard a clinking of a bell. Was she imaging things, she wondered? What kind of bell would ring in this remote place and in such heavy rain? She strained her ears. Yes, there it was again. A tinkling of a bell, although slightly muffled by the noise of the incessant rain. In addition, there was a sound of someone pushing and shoving something. Were there people close by? Was the noise she heard from some animal she couldn’t make out?

” Hello” she shouted. “Is there anybody there?” not quite expecting to get an answer. Her voice was somewhat feeble as she was really tired. She had shouted out many times during the time she was lost. One part of her told her that there must be someone out there but another cautioned her. What if the sound came from another of those men? Were they encircling her? Could there have been more of them? She had seen three but there could well be more.

A little further down the hill, Muthuvel, came out of the cave on hearing a scream. Was someone calling out? Was there someone in trouble? He pushed aside the goats that pushed against each other to get back into the cave- the bells around their necks tinkling from time to time. He heard the voice again. It seemed to come from somewhere close by. It was the voice of a girl. He did not understand the language she spoke, but he did understand the language of fear.

Making up his mind, he climbed up the hill- his strong legs making short work of the steep slopes and rocky edges. There she was a ghost like figure in the distance. Her once bright blue top and faded jeans was plastered against her body due to the rain and mud. She was slumped on the ground. On reaching her, he was scared for a moment. Who was this and why was she not moving? She looked like one of those film stars whose posters he had seen in his village. Gingerly he touched her forehead. She moaned. She was alive and this encouraged him to attempt to lift her off the ground.

With a nearly superhuman strength she did not know she was capable of, Gowri flayed her hands in the air. She felt she must at least fight back to the maximum extent she could. She had no idea that the person holding her was not an assailant- but her rescuer. The flaying hands caught Muthuvel on the side of his head. He moved his face away and immediately let go of her. She promptly fell back on the ground. In his native tongue, he said in a soft voice: “I am here to help you. You are fortunate I was close by. Otherwise they might not have found you till tomorrow –if not later”.

Being dropped back to the ground, brought Gowri back to her senses. She realized that the boy who stood before her looking anxious and puzzled was trying to be of assistance. His face and low tones told her that he could not be one of those who had chased her. She allowed him to lift her again and carry her gently to his cave.

On seeing Muthuvel approach the goats pushed against him and their bells tinkled as they jostled each other. Gowri had heard that sound before. She opened her eyes and was relieved to find that she was out of danger. Being with a village yokel and some smelly goats may not have been her first choice for a holiday- but she was safe and this was bliss. Later that evening as the dusk fell, the rain gradually stopped. Muthuvel helped Gowri stumble along leaning on him. He knew all the short cuts and it seemed to be fairly soon that they reached his village. The headman said a policeman had come in the rain in the late afternoon, enquiring if anyone had seen a girl who was reported missing.

There was but one thought in Gowri’s mind. The rain had got her completely lost but the same rain had saved her from her pursuers - and a fate that she considered worse than death. The rain was, in a sense, two sides of a coin.


Tag der Veröffentlichung: 03.10.2009

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