ONCE IN A LIFETIME

Once In A Lifetime (Day 1)

Once In a lifetime: We were just preparing for our examinations when there was a loud crackle of lightning. The rain that followed looked like Mother Nature’s wrath, full on mode without the slightest hint of remorse on us.

The sky had grown inky black, the wind bellowed in the shivering night air.

I stood up from my study table and looked outside, huge droplets of rain pelted in the streets down below.

I stayed in the hostel with two of my friends, window facing outside, getting a beautiful view of the airport in the distant Chennai skyline. The water made a silvery outline along the beautiful contours of modern architecture.

 


 

This had continued for quite some time now. Three days of continuous rains and the streets had slowly begun to flood.

I sat down back at my desk after having dinner from my mess hall and tried to concentrate on the printed material that danced on my arm thick textbook.

“Just one more chapter to go.” I thought incredulously.

“Time sure does really fly.”

As we put on our concentration on the book, one of my friends spoke out quietly in a repudiating tone.

“Dude, what is all this?”

“What is it?” I spoke out, without looking up at him.

He looked like he had recently been out of a spooked out castle as he stared at the brightly lit mobile screen.

“It says … it says that our exams are being cancelled.” He finished off the sentence stammering with a disbelieving tone.

My head snapped up to look up at him, I looked at him.

News like this always tend to get my attention, well, who wouldn’t?

Nope, he was dead serious.

“Our exams had never got cancelled even once, once it got cancelled due to the death of Dr Kalam, May he rest in peace, but other than that I don’t think there should be any such postponing of examinations, that does not seem to be the nature of our college.” said my other friend twirling a pen between his fingers, a slight frown curved upon his face, making a judgemental look on his face

“Nope, not this time. I am dead serious, look at this.”

He showed the message to him, he squinted his eyes trying to make out the petite clear thin writings on the mobile screen.

“No use seems pretty bogus to me. Let it be. Finish up the chapter and then we can all discuss together.”

“You are right I know that all this seems to be legit, it even holds the signature of the Controller of Examinations. Seems pretty legit to me.” so saying he pulls his hands back to inspect at all over again.

Then there was an impatient knock on the door, the knocking continued till my roommate opened up. That was the door of destiny that I had been waiting for and true to my relief our examinations got cancelled due to heavy showers and now they were desperately trying to evacuate the hostel as soon as possible.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 2)

My friends had booked tickets almost immediately which left me with another friend of mine. The entire nine storied building was all empty now, like an abandoned ship with no one just two unfortunate souls trapped with its vestibules, it was just the two of us now.

So this friend of mine moved in along with me. You would never imagine how excited I was.

I had purchased supplies that would be needed by the two of us. Biscuits, cake, juice, snickers … completely stocked. All that remained now was to wait, wait for the beautiful sunny day to arrive, little did I realise how fateful that day would turn out to be.

Rumble and thunder crashed forth and rain poured onto the streets and the howling of the wind was shrill and angry. It the second day of the month of December and it seemed that Chennai was not ready to let go of me, not right now. There was no electricity right from the evening itself. My phone was in battery saver mode and my laptop was in low battery.

I gazed upon the ashy grey clouds that were now just a few feet away. All of my hopes were clouded, not a single ray of sunlight could pierce through the dark shade that had begun to form inside of me.

This friend of mine stood beside me and spoke to me with conviction.

“It will be better if we start off now itself, God knows how long it would take us to reach the airport. If you want you can stay right here and take your sweet time to…”

I cut him off right in the middle and said, “I am coming with you.”


Once In A Lifetime (Day 3)

It was still 8:00 a.m. in the morning. I hadn’t dared to take a heartfelt look outside because I knew how utterly disappointed I would become. I switched on my cell phone and called my dad. I told him of my plan. He had no problem with my decision so I decided to tag him. There was no power and room looked forlorn.

I threw in a few clothes on my haversack and a few dirty ones, toiletries on a medium handbag. And as for my laptop bag, it contained my laptop, charger, important documents, my ticket, identity card (both Government issued and the one issued to me by the university).

I deliberately wore my half shirt and a track pant and slipped on my sandal shoes instead of putting on something decent. I knew that there was water everywhere, so why take chances, right?  I had a pair of clean jeans, a shirt, an undershirt, a pair of socks and my canvas shoes wrapped around in a plastic bag, thinking that I would change the second I reach the airport.

Alright then, I dragged my luggage from the eighth floor to the ground floor. Lift did not work as the power was out.

I heaved a sigh of relief.

I had almost 25 kilograms of things with me and carrying them from the eighth floor to the ground floor was no joke. My back muscles were searing with an unpleasant hotness due to the sudden stretch of muscles after reaching the ground level. A small crowd of students had already accumulated inside the management office try to obtain an out pass. I kept my luggage down and issued the same.

Water had almost reached the stairs that connected the ground floor to the base of the hostel that we were in. I put on my laptop bag on my shoulder so that lap covered the front of my chest and I flung the small bag and the haversack on each of my shoulders. I groaned under the weight. It had been some time since I had stretched myself.

So, the two of us followed the path that led us to the heart of the campus. The water level was already covered our foot and had just crossed our knees.

Carrying the entire weight over my shoulder was an ordeal and let alone wading through the murky water was another completely different thing.

And since I was wearing a pair of slippers, each step that I took, I had to time it right so that the base of my slip could cut through the dark brown waters.

And there is a basketball court just about the centre which was constructed on a base of concrete and brick about a two feet thick. As we struggled through, desperate to reach for some higher grounds, this time I was really shocked.

The water level was just over a few inches above the concrete setting of the court. We somehow hauled our bodies on to the court. We placed our bags on a dry patch that we found at the centre of the court and waited, caressing our heavy, now reddening sore hands.

I looked on ahead, and my eyes literally popped out of my sockets. There were a few first-year students who were on crossing the main gate of our college. The water level was now up to waist level. And for a few of them, it even touched the stomach as they desperately tried to carry their luggage without dropping them in the water.

This was the time when I cursed the rains, true exams my exams got postponed but that did not ever include the fact that my plans of leaving for semester break, would be spoiled due to such heavy rains.

Now determined more than ever, I pulled myself up, rolled up my trousers as far it was possible, pulled up my luggage once again, step into the waters once again. As expected the waters reached my knees and I struggled on forward.

I reached the gate.

The next step I took shocked me as I had forgotten about the low lying area that was near our gate. And since the water could not move anywhere, it practically got deposited right there, making it go deeper.

I had to be careful now, a wrong step, a little stumble or even a twist in my legs or even a sudden break in the momentum that I had been trying to maintain it for so long, gravity would ruin everything. Mostly I was scared for my laptop bag that hung in front of my chest.

No way I was going to fall down with my laptop bag. Never.

With a strong determined straight face, I cut through the water. The excessive water now made me feel very uncomfortable as it slowly reached the pelvic region.

Still keeping the unpleasantness at bay, I moved on forward.

After about thirty seconds of struggling, I finally reached an uphill area that connected to the main road, I was so glad.

I quickened my pace and for some reason, the ground beneath my left foot felt a lot gritty than I had previously felt, I stopped for a second and moved my left foot around to understand what it was.

Why did it feel so?

I was missing one of my slippers, my left foot was bare. This realisation made me feel the grit, sand concrete layer below my foot left more well defined but somewhat dulled as it was submerged under water for so long.

I looked around desperately to place my missing footwear. I did not want to be barefoot. It was too embarrassing. I turned my head and stared hard into the water imagining myself tear through the dark waters, I would see it somewhere lying around. And as usual, I could not see it anywhere.

I looked around now more desperate than ever, I felt around with my legs this time, trying to come up with something, something that felt like a sandal.

**PLOP**

This was the exact sound it made when ‘something’ resurfaced a few feet away from me. I looked at it. It was my grey sandal that was now slowly floating away by the minor disturbances that were created in the water. I moved forward so relieved to see it once again. I never that I would be this alleviated. I made my way slowly towards it and when I was within reach, tried to grab it.

On the other hand, I had completely ignored the excessive weight that I had on my shoulders and bent ever slightly to reach it.

My haversack pulled me to the right side to the better of my judgement and I quickly shifted my weigh to my left side to balance it out. I guess it was too much and something pulled me pulled me back to the grim waters.

I panicked.

I freaked out.

In the nick of time, I moved my right leg behind so that it would take the weight.

I sighed.

I did not fall down.

I had to get my sandals. I moved my leg up trying hard to balance my weight along the flow of the water level.

Somehow I was successful in entwining the big toe of my right foot around one of the straps of my slipper and pulled it down, slipped on my barefoot.

A sudden surge of confidence brimming inside me, I had to be careful now.

I crossed the water body and set my foot on the stone pavement.

God, I was beyond happy.

It had started to drizzle once again and I had to find shelter somewhere. There was a shop with an extended shade on the roof.

My friend and I sought shelter below it for some time. We waited and started to decide our next course of action. We were too tired to think of anything more.

We sat down on our luggage and looked around. People were rushing around, tearing through the countless puddles of water that had now started to accumulate. There were juniors and seniors, all their bags packed, dabbing the screens of their cell phones, futile attempts to get a signal. I knew they were desperate attempts.

This is what exactly happens when your mind I severely pissed. Judgement is severely impaired, you make bad decisions that is what exactly happened to us.

We were so desperate to reach the airport that we asked around. And apparently, my friend told me that there was a way to reach airport but we had to take an auto to the DLF building nearby and then from there we could hitch a share auto and reach the auto.

It was difficult for us to even hire an auto as it would not move through the lot of water. But eventually one agreed to do so. He charged us with a whopping amount of 300 bucks. That was too much as it would just take a seven to eight minutes to reach by foot still we were in no position to renegotiate, we moved on. It just took the auto a mere three minutes and we had not even reached the designated area when he slowed his vehicle and asked us to get down as he would not go any further. He told us to follow the U-bend road that followed and told us to cross it.

Both of us paid the amount and moved on to cross the reach the main road. There were a group of people who stopped us midway and told us there was absolutely no way we could cross the main road. The road had a water level up to chest level. So it was impossible.

We looked at the herd of people who were walking in a file and were headed towards the road. We have decided to ignore him and follow the herd that was headed that way.

There was a group of men who caught up with us. They looked like students and approached us.

They asked us where we were trying to go. He told us that it would be nearly impossible to go through that way. Water had reached our necks and there was no way we could cross the road without keeping all our luggage dry and moreover all flights had already been cancelled.

Soon it had started to drizzle once more and we decided to wait for some more time before we continue.

We waited.

People poured into the streets with raincoats and jackets, carrying their young siblings to someplace safe, dogs malnutritioned, all of them trying to find some way safe.

But then we decided to move back. People were coming back once again and there was absolutely no way either of us had any strength left in us to go and see the condition up there and then end up cursing ourselves. There was absolutely no way.

We headed back, asked for directions from the local people and finally made it back to our college and resumed our old place where we had initially stayed. Below the shelter of the closed shop.

We stayed on for a few hours, the truth was that we too exhausted to even think of anything else. We just wanted some magic carpet magically materialise from the air and carry us home.

We were too tired to think anything.

The two of us took turns in having a bread omelette, one of keeping an eye on our luggage.

That could have been the longest day of my life, a feeling that had surpassed beyond helplessness.

It was almost 3:00 p.m. now and what looked like eight juniors were speaking furiously and cursing each other in Hindi. All of them had packed bag packs and suitcases.

Surely they were arguing about the way they would reach the airport. There was no use interfering with them.

Let them come to a conclusion and then I would try to speak to them.” I said to myself.

Soon they were speaking in an understanding tone as though they had come to a logical solution.

I enquired spoke to them, where they were going, how they would go.

Apparently, they were planning to book a traveller and then go to the airport. One of them was a south Indian and he did most of the speaking to the drivers and cutting out outrageous deals.

I knew that the boy was helpless.

He was not to blame. These people were going full out with everything they had against the customers, taking full advantage of the rains.

After what looked like negotiations, he settled for five hundred buckets per head. We paid him the required amount and then we started off.

For the first time, that day I actually felt pretty confident, confident enough to reach the airport.

The vehicle started off and looked at the streets outside. It was a mess.

No wonder why there was no prepaid taxi service available. The water would have swallowed the vehicles.

We purred through the road, taking little channels and tunnels once in a while, the splashing of water eminent. There was a lot of twisting and turning. Traffic police had been appointed everywhere almost on all posts and corners. We moved around.

After some time he told us that he would drop all of us at the metro rail and it was not far away. It was impossible to reach the airport in this condition.

We agreed to the suggestion as none of us came up with something useful.

We showed up at the metro station and again were waited and checked our stuff as the Tamil guy ran to make reservations for the ten of us. After waiting for almost an hour he came out, his face was expressionless. I knew whatever he had to say it was not good.

The metro rail had to reach a station called the Ashok Nagar and the water level had reached the first floor. All communications were cut from that area.

SO now we were officially stranded. The two of us waited while we thought blatantly. There was no one to curse, no one to say anything and of course, there was no use in being pissed off.

Among the juniors, one of them had been an Assamese guy and fortunately for some reason, he was getting signal on his phone and there was some decent juice left on his phone. I borrowed his phone. He happily gave it to us. I spoke to my dad about the recent events, what we had been doing so far. And by this time I had already run out of money with 400 bucks still in my purse.

My dad asked me to head back to the hostel so that we could be taken care off, but no I was blunt and I obviously did not think properly, did not use my head enough. I refused to go retrace the entire way that I came through. I needed results.

The two of us ventured around and then it was finally decided that we would stay in a hotel for a day or two so that it would give us enough time to settle down and the water level to decrease.

Then the lookout for hotel started. The two of us in two different directions try to seek or even rent rooms if possible. There was not even a single room that was free for us. Nothing was left.

Upon enquiry, we learnt that all the people who were a local resident had their homes completely submerged and so they had already sought for shelter in rented rooms and cheap hotels that were available nearby which left us with an alternative to choose from a few international hotels. We did not even think of renting a room in such hotels because they would charge a fortune from us and it was no way practical.

It was already 9:00 p.m. already and the sky had grown dark again and we had to find a place to crash for the night. I was not prepared to roam the city of Chennai with my belongings hanging over my shoulder like a vagabond. True we were tired, our muscles groaned with every inch of effort I made but still, we had to go on.

As there was almost nothing left out to do and when everything had failed I realised that I should have listened to my dad sooner. We at least would have stayed safe anyway.

We asked if anyone would give us a ride back to Ramapuram. None of them was ready to go there in the dark, waterlogged area anymore but on further persuasion, he agreed to take us to our campus for an extravagant amount of 400 rupees. We had to go on with the deal. We were in no position to counter it with a price of our own.

He took us there and dropped us off nearby. We as the campus was completely waterlogged.

The two of us hauled our bags into the nearest restaurant joint which was surprisingly still open. We packed our dinner with the remaining money that I had and again waded through the black dark water that looked like slicked oil.

It took us nearly about half an hour to reach our rooms once again.

We washed our feet and arms with bottled packaged water that from one of the convenient stores. Luckily I had some spare candles, a matchbox and mosquito coils to aid us. We had the packed meal, made our beds and slept off.

A dreamless sleep it had been. We had to look for water. There was no water in the hostel and we had to clean ourselves up, brush our teeth and the most important thing was to take a dump.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 4)

Upon enquiry by the hostel authorities, we came to know that the hospital building of our hostel still had clean water in the restrooms. We took turns in helping ourselves, moved to the hospital block. The path was comparatively dry to what we had seen so far. We took our own sweet time.

We helped ourselves in the same way. We skipped lunch and in the evening we went out to stock up our larder. Got bottled water 55 rupees a bottle and the 200 ml bottles were priced around 25 rupees, got vitamin C tablets and biscuits and soft drinks. And as I expected there was not a single functional ATM within my vicinity that I could use to withdraw money. I used the remainder of my left out money to buy some more eatables and then we had a bowl of egg rice. It was all they had. Then, we headed back to our hostel and sorted things out. When it was dark there was nothing much to do other than sleep. We slept off without having anything just for the sake of conserving food and water.

This carried on for another day.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 5)

The next day, however, it was informed to us during the evening time that we had to evacuate the hostel as a dam had started to develop cracks and most people from the Ramapuram area were being shifted to someplace safe. They left us with two options. They could take us to SRM Trichy and we could then conveniently plan out our next move after reaching there or we could take a bus to Bangalore and then board a flight to our home place. But we were not sure if busses had really started to leave the Koyambedu bus stand and again it was not worth the risk with all the rumours about the dam breaking up.

So the two of us left for Trichy. There were two buses in total which were being plied to our journey to Trichy. It was an eight-hour journey in total. We started off at around 9:40 p.m. and reached the Trichy campus by 5:30 a.m.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 6)

The place was completely unscathed by the fury of excessive rains and winds that had taken a serious toll on Chennai, aside from occasional drizzles. Anyway, it was a breath of fresh air for me. The campus was huge, located on the outskirts, electricity, water and food were in abundance. My cell phone had been running on a 5% battery for the past three days and for the first time I had never been so elated to see the periodic flutter of the plug on the white cell phone battery insignia. We were given marble-tiled rooms and attached restrooms. There were wooden beds for all of us. We had nothing to complain about. We made our beds using as many bed sheets we could and our shirts and pants were a substitute for pillows.

I slept for the first time, comfortable and a lot secured than before now. It reminded of my home and wanted to disappear beneath the sheets so bad and then suddenly wake up in my bed, thinking all of this to be a big bad test that had gone all wrong. How cruel those intentions could have been.

I called up my mom and dad and told him that we were safe now. I could hear the relief in their voices. It was too clear.

That very night my father had booked a bus to Bangalore online and sent me the confirmation message. The bus was scheduled to depart at 11:00 p.m. and so we started off fairly early at 8:00 p.m.

We boarded the bus.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 7)

The bus reached Bangalore at 6:00 a.m. The winter chills had definitely caught up with me and as usual, tonsillitis had taken the better off me.

The two of us crashed at my cousin brother’s place. It was heaven I tell you. The deep slumber that I had succumbed to is beyond elucidation.

I had the most hearty breakfast and lunch I could ever have and had a terrific hot bath.

For the first time, I felt truly secure now. I lazed around, had good food, rest myself that was nothing more I could ever ask for. I had everything.

My father had booked tickets for me and my friend in the Yashwantpur – Howrah superfast express that was scheduled to leave at 7:35 p.m. But unfortunately, my friend had booked a flight from Bangalore to Guwahati that halted in Delhi. So this time I was on my own and hence I started off another journey that would probably be worse or so I thought. My brother assured me that this would be absolutely nothing. I would enjoy my way.

Anyway, I was satisfied enough because I knew that there nothing that I could not have handled then, I pulled through something that I never imagined.

I was not concerned about the sleeper class as at that time, I could hope to book only a sleeper class ticket. So I was mentally prepared for it.

At times I even thought of being marooned out there and that very thought gave me the creeps.

There was actually nothing out there that could stop have stopped me right there, a perfect design by the universe, the severe impact on human nature, in such a way that we people, when push comes to shove we might just pull through almost anything imaginable and accomplish something that we never thought was possible.

But the real problem was that it was a 38-hour journey. I was happy that most of the people were friendly with me and they were quite unlike the usual bickering and the crying their hearts out that is normally observed in sleeper classes. Truth be told I really enjoyed.

The different people that got on board without any reservation, the hard life that so many people lived, everything was another lesson for me.

A day and a half passed by as quickly, like the train eating away miles as it brought me closer to Howrah. Although I had one thought on my mind. I had to reach Howrah on time. I had to catch a flight on the same day that scheduled to depart at the usual 12:35 flight to Dibrugarh by Indigo that I always travelled. I reached the Howrah station at 7:30, an hour delay than the usual reporting time.


Once In A Lifetime (Day 8)

I reached the airport at 8:00 a.m. and had a lot of free time. I looked around bought myself a good book and a sandwich to aid my hungry stomach.

I reached Dibrugarh on 8th December finally reached home at 3:45 p.m.

As I slept in the warmth of several blankets and pillows, I wondered what would have happened if I had really followed my dad’s advice and would have stayed in the hostel.

This question had been bugging me a lot.

True, I would not have had to face the ordeal and might have come out with clean hands but what I had experienced throughout the entire week, no one could ever pertain to the unique series of circumstances that I had to encounter and for that I am glad. I saw what really happens by my own eyes and for the people who had experienced big losses, my condolences are with them and I hope they have been able to come out of it as a changed person as I did.

An experience that is sufficient for an entire lifetime, once in a lifetime.

Also, do check out another mystical experience!

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