Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ramesh and the night of the storm (Part 1)

A quiet holiday by the seaside? Not with Ramesh around. He sniffs out adventures like a bloodhound – and his friend just has to follow!

Ramesh and I were spending the summer holidays with my uncle at his little cottage on the east coast. My uncle had always loved the sea and, on retirement from government service, had bought and settled down in this cottage facing the Bay of Bengal.

It was a beautiful spot, certain to gladden the heart of any nature lover. However, as far as Ramesh and I were concerned, it did have one drawback: it seemed to be completely cut off from the rest of the world. The only other habitations nearby were a tiny fishing village and a big house surrounded by a tall wall. The village lost its charm after a few days of poking about and the house seemed to be occupied by some kind of a recluse and so was out of bounds. After a month’s stay we were beginning to feel a bit bored.

One evening, as dusk was falling, Ramesh and I were sitting on the beach watching some of the fishermen from the village repairing their nets. We were sitting next to a cluster of large rocks. Suddenly, from the other side of the rock, came a scraping sound and then a firm, educated voice spoke:

“We will need your boat, tonight. See that it is ready.”

There was a pause and then a second, rougher voice, spoke up. “But sir, must it be tonight?”

“Yes,” replied the first voice. “We have no choice in the matter. Why do you ask?”

“Because, sir, I don’t like the weather,” said the second voice. “It is too fine an evening. Too fine. The air is too still, and the breeze – it comes from the east. That is bad. Today the sun was a flame in the sky. That is bad. A little while ago I measured the little waves that were rocking my boat. When the weather is good, the little waves, they slap against the hull every three seconds, maybe every four. This evening? Twelve seconds, maybe even fifteen. For thirty years I have sailed up and down this stretch of coast. I know the waters here. I would be lying if I say any man knows them better. A big storm comes.”

This was followed by a minute’s silence. Then the first voice spoke up: “It is because of the storm that we are in a hurry. Tonight, the conditions will be just right. Now listen: you will meet us at the beach below the big house at midnight. The ship is due at twelve-fifteen. After delivery, you will land us back at the beach. Is that clear?”

There was a long pause. Then the second voice said unhappily: “I still don’t think we ought to risk it…” He broke off and there was the sound of a rustling of paper. When he next spoke, his tone had changed. “For that kind of money, sir, I’m ready to risk ten storms.”

“That’s settled then,” said the first voice. We heard the two men, who must have been sitting on the sand, get to their feet and slowly move away. I made as if to stand up too, but Ramesh quickly grabbed my arm and shook his head.

When Ramesh let go of my arm, I turned to him accusingly. “Why didn’t you let me have a look at those men?”

“And risk them seeing you and coming to know that they had been overheard? Don’t be silly!” said Ramesh.

He was right, of course. “But what does all this mean?” I asked.

“It means,” said Ramesh, his spectacles beginning to glint excitedly, “that we’ve stumbled into what may turn out to be the adventure of a lifetime! These holidays need not be a complete washout, after all!”

A warning bell began to ring loud and clear in my head. “Er… what are you talking about?” I asked slowly, knowing fully well what my excitable, adventure-loving, reckless friend was talking about.

Ramesh looked surprised. “Don’t you see? It’s pretty obvious that these men are planning to do something shady tonight. All we’ve got to do is spy on them when they meet at the beach below the big house at midnight and see what happens!”

My misgivings were justified. “Are you mad?” I exclaimed. “Firstly, as you yourself heard, there’s going to be a bad storm tonight. We’d be crazy to come out of the house while it’s raging. Secondly, if those men are doing anything illegal, it’s best we leave it to the police.”

“The police?” Ramesh assumed the air of a nurse talking to a mentally retarded child. “And what will we tell the police? Simply that we heard a man hiring a boat? Is that illegal? We’d look like complete fools. I think these men are up to no good, but we’d need to have some proof before we go to the police.”

But this time, I was not to be moved. “Look Ramesh,” I said, “this is not like any of our previous adventures. If these men really are doing something illegal then it must be something big – like smuggling, for instance. And you know how dangerous smugglers are! Besides,” I continued, making what I thought was a winning debating point, “what will my uncle think, if he finds us missing from our room?”

Ramesh looked at me for a long time and then seemed to give in. “All right,” he said smilingly. “Forget it.” He got to his feet. “I just got a bit carried away – that’s all. After all, there’s nothing wrong in some men taking a trip in a boat in the middle of the night, is there?”