On the National Highway No 52

We got all jammed in a car; it was white Innova, one of us along with the driver at the front, four in the middle, and two at the back. We were all unknown to each other. It was noon but the road was deserted, we were in the Salampur of district Sitagargh. It was National Highway no 52. Weather was hot, and except for a few trucks or one or two more cars, we did not see any other vehicle passed. Stretched tall trees and bushes at both sides were providing enough shade on the road.  We were on my way to Mughli, a very old town inhabited by 60,000 farmers.

I had taken a bus from Delhi at 9:30 am, there were 30 passengers in it, including both young and old, some with their family and children while some single like me.  It was normal as usual; I sat quietly inside the bus, and our ticket conductor checked our tickets. He was a young slim boy, with a light brown shirt, round face with a beard, but his eyes appeared wicked, half black and half-light grey. Instead of showing any anger or frustration, he was acting calmly but sternly.

When he reached my seat, I felt sudden strangeness, but when I handed him my ticket, I accidentally touched his arm, and suddenly felt shock waves, I jerked back, looked at other passengers; they appeared to be all normal. It was weird but was it only my feeling?

 Salampur is midway from Delhi to Mughli where our bus had halted to allow us to have our lunch. It was a deserted area except inside the dhaba, which had a couple of cars on the parking lot. The dhaba was giving an authentic look, thatched roof and yellow walls but very neat.  The outside area had a green cover; bushes covered the side of the path that took us inside, from where the smell of the authentic food filled our nostrils.

It had a capacity of around 150, but at that time only 40 were occupied.  A cashier was sitting at the right corner just behind the main entrance. He was a young man, with twitched eyebrows, and parrot type nose. With two teeth slightly bigger than the rest appears to be bulging out, his appearance was quite absurd.

When the waiter reached my table, I ordered a Tandori roti with mixed vegetables. The food was delicious and enough for the two people to fill the stomach. I knew thereon why people prefer Dhaba to restaurants.  

Beside my table, another couple was sitting. Their eyes were towards me, I could make out they were looking at me as I was alone. A lady travelling alone is still a strange thing.  But I was there sitting in a dhaba of a national highway and that too without any companion.  If I had been in an airplane or train, one or the other passenger would have shown courtesy to sit with me, but this was the bus journey.  They continue to gaze me, as I had done something odd.

Just opposite, a man with nasty looks had audacious knavery in him. He was beating the desk with fingers, and as my eyes flashed on him, he twitched his eyebrows. I ignored all and continue to enjoy my lunch as the food was tasty.

But soon after I paid my bill and stepped outside, I saw three men rushing towards me. I recognized, they were my fellow passengers. It was quite shocking as it was time for the bus to move, why they are coming back? My all hell broke loose as one of the men with deep breaths told us, “Bus will not move, as its engine has failed.” 

What I shrieked? I rushed towards the conductor, but he was busy talking on the phone. And the driver had bent his sterile body towards the engine as if a police chief is making a failed attempt to find the clue.  After a few attempts, I could divert the conductor’s attention towards me, meanwhile, other passengers had also gathered, some scratching their head while others wiping sweat. The conductor was appearing like a ghost, with thorns on the head, who had come with the evil intention.

The conductor then made an unexpected announcement, “Our attempts have failed, the engine will not start now, if we take the bus to the workshop, it would take the whole day, so I insist you wait for half an hour, and you will get taxis.”  He said this with such a profound attitude, that we had to succumb over to this overture. After tackling the monetary part, we were also handed our luggage one by one.

Fortunately, I got a place on the first Innova; there were at least two of these white supercharged vehicles, as saviors appeared to our rescue.

This was how I landed in Innova, scuttled between the strangers, and looking quite awkward. But thanks to the diver’s conscious mind and his discreteness, I was given a middle seat with two ladies with me. Three young-looking men confined themselves at the back, while one at the front along with the driver. Towards my right was a young slim girl wearing jeans and top and towards my left was a lady in Sari with baby in her lap. I had to occupy the middle seat. The driver was a middle-aged man with sharp eyes, but well dressed. He was polite and tried to make passengers comfortable with this sweet gesture.

 We heaved a sigh of relief when Innova roared and took speed. I was feeling exhausted, so closed my eyes, and drooled I.  But suddenly I got a pat on my arm, as my head landed on the shoulder of the lady sitting towards my right.  This sudden intrusion woke me up. I apologized and again drooled only to next times find my hand over the thigh of the girl. I felt she slowly picked my arm and kept it back on my stomach.  After a few minutes of squabbling here and there, I rose with a jerk.

At the rear window, a herd of sheep had blocked the road, and the shepherd was shooing them towards sideways. Sheep were moving like a white ball of flowing stream. I took out my mobile and capture the scene in my camera; the two ladies looked at me with disbelief. Slowly sheep cleared the way and our driver turned the stirring wheel towards the right and skidded past them. I waved towards the sheep and shepherd like a child.

But soon unexpected happened, suddenly a girl with jeans diverted our attention towards the roadside behind the tall mango groove. Our car was moving slowly by that time to avoid any accident. All our attention went in the other direction, we saw a strange kind of light getting reflected, it was a ball of light, as the evening had already begun and the sun had vanished. I told them nothing to worry; it could be some men with a torch. But it was a strange light, a man sitting in the front seat too noticed, and asked the driver about it. Meanwhile, the driver had applied breaks. He told us to remain quiet as there was a strange creature who throws light like this and with slight noise, it could get disturbed and can attack us.

The creature will vanish if left undisturbed, so it is better not to make any noise. We all went still like a statue. Five minutes had passed the light continues to blink.

A man in the front seat decided to get down and see what’s going on? But the driver stopped him.  Soon the light had vanished and the driver again started the car, and we heaved a sigh of relief.  The driver said this is a strange phenomenon which we had often seen but never dared to check it out, like two years back one man tried to check out? He never returned, and his dead body with strange marks was found the next day. So this is

a reason why I had told you not to utter a single word.

Several thoughts continue to perpetuate in my conscious mind, what was that creature, is it true or the driver was building the story, what if they are thieves or mischievous elements in hiding trying to scare the people, and if there are mischievous elements why the police didn’t do anything about it?  Again car jerked and stopped as in the front a tree had fallen and had blocked the road, our driver was quite a witty man, he said, “Mam, Sadak par ped so Raha hie”, means the tree is resting on the road. Girl in the jeans exclaimed, “I have to reach home instantly, and now this”, I could see she was wailing. I tried to console her; meanwhile, we all alighted from the car.

Lady with a baby too alighted as she wanted to give her child some fresh air. It was late evening, and the weather was cool.

All men rushed towards the tree to pick it up, at the same moment, we saw few other men from nowhere suddenly appeared. They were all had masked over their faces, we were so scared that we entered the car. Those uncalled for strangers started talking to the passengers. We saw that all these men had taken out something from their pocket and gave it to those men. Then in no time, all of them together picked the tree and pulled it sideways, making the road clear for us to pass. Later when the driver again started its engine, we all three together shouted, “Who were they, and what they were asking”, the driver replied, “.

These are simple villagers; they take care of this stretch of the road, as the crime rate here is on the peak. They protect the travellers, When they saw the tree had fallen, they rushed towards us. We gave them money out of curtsey and they helped us to clear the road.

“We all started laughing as to how we got so scared that we hid inside the car.” I heard the men sitting beside me had also started gossiping about the creature. Such kind of incidents keeps on happening in this part of the national highway, nothing new.  I was listening to the two gentlemen at the back, their discussion had switched over to the political situation. I smiled when one of them said, “Hamare desh mein Daulat ke pitara khulega, Modi Raj aya hei re bhai.” The second one said, “Yes Brother, “jhatke kha rahe hein hum, peeche baith kar”.

Our car has taken its speed.  Soon baby had started crying. Lady whose name was Seera, yell with dismay, “He is hungry”, she opened her bag but to the dismay the milk bottle was empty. What to do now?

There was no shop nearby; there was no option left but for the mother to give her feed. Lady requested the driver to stop the car, but he was adamant as it was not safe to stop at that road, theft and robbery had taken place on this route in the past, but the child could not be stopped. It was continuously crying, the man who was sitting at the front also insisted the driver apply the break somewhere.  He was first hesitant but when he saw the child is not stopping, he told “Okay there is another mini restaurant just one kilometer ahead, I will stop there”. 

It was very dark and there was no one around. The driver applied the break in front of a small restaurant, except for the shinning board, “Welcome Abroad”, and one light of a bulb coming from inside, there was nothing.  Now the issue was who would risk coming out of the car to get the milk from the restaurant. The whole area was so deserted that the trees were also appearing like ghosts. But after all, it was the driver, who had to venture out.

Reluctantly he skidded out, and I took out my Dupata and covered the lady giving her privacy and space to feed her baby. She looked at me with courtesy. Meanwhile one of the passenger’s who was sitting in the front opened the door to get out. Maybe he wanted to relieve; he rushed towards the restaurant searching for the toilet.

 Towards the back of the restaurant, I noticed some movement in the fields, as darkness had engulfed the whole area so the figure was not clear. I tried to show to Mary but she was asleep. I felt the figure was moving. Who could it be? I shouted at the pitch of my voice, “Hey! There is someone”? All eyes turned towards the direction where I had pointed.

A man sitting behind me, calmly told me “Do not feel scared Mam, there might be some animal? It won’t harm you. But I was shivering like anything, my hair got raised.

After hearing my voice Mary had also woke up, murmuring something in her mouth; she was reciting, “Lord Jesus, Save us.”

Soon she took heavy breaths and pointed towards the direction from where our driver was rushing with a milk bottle in his hand. We heaved a sigh of relief when he gave the bottle to the lady.

 Soon the driver took his seat, but the man who had gone to the toilet had not returned yet. We waited for him; meanwhile, women had fed her baby. Five minutes passed, ten minutes passed he did not return. Anxiousness gripped us. The two men sitting beside volunteered to go and look for him. 

To make them the space from coming out of the car, we both also have to exit. We did it rather hesitantly as we both were scared.  The two men alighted and rushed towards the restaurant.  The driver was still with us. We stood like cats couched against each other.  Certain strange voices were coming from the nearby fields, and the winds suddenly started blowing, making Shoosh! Shoosh, noises enough to raise the hair from your body.

I had heard many tales at this side of the road, of kidnappings, killings, and even stories of ghosts.

As the two men vanished inside the restaurant, we two again skulled inside the car when we saw another figure rushing towards us. He was wearing a black coat and mouth covered with a scarf; his appearance was like a dacoit of a Bollywood movie. He came to us and noticed we were scared, but opened his mouth politely, Mam “Come inside the restaurant, I am its owner, as I have prepared special dinner, you all must be hungry, other men are also inside.”

Ohhh! We cried with joy, as we both together heaved a sigh of relief. Of course, we were also feeling hungry as we had not eaten anything since morning and feeling very tired. I helped the lady with a baby to get down from the car, and we all moved towards the restaurant. Inside it was nice and cozy. Its walls were painted light pink and inner décor was traditional.

All the men were sitting at the side table lavishing meals and drinks; the waiter pointed us to sit at the other end. We all three ladies sat together, but first, we also had to go toilet. So we asked the waiter about it and requested him to accompany us. He willingly heeds to our request, and we freshen ourselves.

When we return to our table, he came to us, and in half-broken English and half Hindi asked, “Apko koi takleef to nahi hui, hope apko food enjoyable lagega.” Out of curiosity, I asked him, “Why this restaurant is so lonely, no one comes here”? He replied, “Very few come to this place Mam this is lonely area and crimes often occur here, you are lucky you are alive, many murders have happened in the past few months and police is still investigating” He further added, “now there is no risk ahead, it will be a busy road, did you order something?” Hey Raju, “come here and take the order.” 

I again asked him, I saw a figure in the fields, what is out there. The owner replied, “a watchman sometimes go there for checking, nothing to worry. We keep all precautions, as my restaurant had also been looted by dacoits in the past. And yes, there is also folklore of a ghost roaming here”. 

Yea! I exclaimed, “Please tell me about it”. Then he started narrating. “The ghost is of a young girl who had died hanging from the tree on the outskirts of the village Nadipore, why she died in this way is still a mystery. Villagers say that she was in love with a guy of another caste, and one day when the guy came to meet her, her father and other elders of the village got very angry. They mercilessly beat the boy and threw him outside the village and took the girl with them.

The boy somehow managed to escape but the girl died.  Police tried to find out, but could not find anything, and the girl’s death remained a mystery. It is said that girl was very beautiful and highly intelligent too. She would sing very beautifully, so villagers would also sometimes hear the girl’s singing voice.

I remember when we had seen the light, my ears were picking some rhyming tune, but I ignored it as rubbish or my illusion. His tale filled our eyes with tears.

We ate the food, paid our bills, and after thanking the restaurant owner, we returned to our car. We were now freshened up. Now there was no looking back, the driver had ignited the keys and our car picked up speed.

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