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?”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ramesh and the night of the storm (Part 2)


Ramesh and his friend are spending their school holidays at an uncle's house by the sea. The boys overhear two men planning a mysterious night out at sea. Ramesh is keen to come down to the beach that night to spy on the men. His friend opposes this potentially dangerous activity - what if the men are smugglers?


For a few seconds I lay on my bed in the darkness of the bedroom, not knowing what had woken me up. Then I felt the strong breeze against my face and, raising my eyes, noticed that the window was half open. It took about half a minute for the full significance of that half-open window to strike me. Then, in one simultaneous movement, I sat up in my bed, switched on the bed-side lamp and stared unblinkingly at Ramesh’s bed a couple of feet away.

It was empty.

I have never been one of the world’s fast thinkers. Ramesh would tell you that I am not even an average thinker. But this time, I had no difficulty in arriving at the truth. Before going to sleep, I remembered having securely fastened the window in anticipation of the storm. Now, the window was open, Ramesh’s bed was empty and, a quick glance at the bed-side clock told me, it was a quarter to twelve. There could be only one explanation: my friend had gone alone to spy on those men we had overheard in the evening. The fool!

For a moment I debated about what to do and then gave up the pretence. I had no alternative but to follow Ramesh – I couldn’t let my friend, no matter how stupid he was, walk into danger alone.

I quickly changed my clothes, scribbled a brief note to my uncle and left it on the bed-side table, grabbed my torch and clambered out of the window.

As I made my way to the beach below the big house I felt the breeze strengthen, displaying all the signs of growing into a gale in the near future. In the distance, sounds of thunder could be heard and in the sky the stars were covered by clouds. I soon reached the beach. The big house itself was some distance away and screened off by a row of trees.

I found Ramesh peering over a larger boulder, his back towards me. “Ramesh!” I called out in a low whisper, not wishing to frighten the chap too much.

At first Ramesh did not hear me. He seemed intent on something happening on the beach.

“Ramesh!” I called out again, this time more loudly.

My bespectacled friend whirled around to face me and the amazement written on his face was clearly visible to me, even in the darkness. He stood rigid, gazing with open mouth. He might have been posing for a statue of Young Boy Startled By Snake In Path.

He finally found voice. “What-what-what are YOU doing here?”

“That,” I told Ramesh, tapping him on the chest with my forefingers, “is what I was intending to ask YOU.”

Ramesh was silent for few seconds. Then: “I just had to find out what was going on.”

I sighed. “Well then, I’ll have to come along with you now – to see that you don’t do anything stupid, if not anything else.” I fancied I saw a look of relief on Ramesh’s face, but it was quite dark and perhaps I was mistaken.

My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me close to the rock. “Look over there – at the far end of the beach,” he whispered into my ear. “They’ve come.”

He was right. In the distance, I could see three dim figures huddled together on the beach. Beyond them, a few yards out in to the sea, was a small fishing boat which, even in the darkness, I recognized as one of the fleet used by the fishermen of the village. A small light was glowing on the boat. As I watched, the three figures, carrying something bulky between them, moved to the edge of the beach and then started wading through the water to the boat. The darkness covered what happened next but they must have boarded the boat since, a few minutes later, it started drawing away from the beach. I watched the light on the boat for a few more minutes as it went further and further out into the sea until the darkness had swallowed both boat and light.

Beside me, Ramesh stirred. “I wonder what they were carrying,” he muttered, half to himself. He turned to me. “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens when they come back.”

I was about to protest but then realized the futility of it all. Ramesh had the eager look of a greyhound pursuing an electric hare in his eyes. Whatever I said would not prevent him from seeing this adventure to its end. Muttering dark things under my breath, I waited with an anxiety that weighed upon my spirits like a mountain.

How long we stood behind that boulder, I do not know. It seemed like a lifetime. The earlier breeze had, by now, definitely grown into a gale, and the distant thunder was not sounding all that distant anymore. Finally, when I had almost given up hope of anything happening, Ramesh nudged me excitedly.

“There they are!” he exclaimed. “They’re heading towards this beach!” He pointed excitedly at the sea. As if Ramesh’s raised arm had been a signal, the mutter of distant thunder stopped abruptly. The whole world was quiet, listening, shivering with anticipation.

Following Ramesh’s pointing finger, I started out to the sea. Yes, I could definitely see a speck of light in the distance – light, moreover, which seemed to growing larger.

“Yes,” I said. “I...”

At that moment, a number of things happened in quick succession – so fast that they created a sort of blur, like telegraph poles seen from an express train. First the sky was lit up by a jagged streak of lightening which seemed to tear the heavens into two for an instant. This was followed by a tremendous clap of thunder that sounded so loud that, for a moment, I thought the cliff had collapsed behind us. Then, the sky started pelting water at us, with such force and intensity that, for a few seconds, I could not breathe with the shock. The storm had arrived. In front of us, the sea erupted into violent motion. The distant light zigzagged crazily, suddenly disappeared, and then reappeared again a split second later. Suddenly, we heard a shout from somewhere immediately to our left. We turned to see the dark figure of a man running towards us. Then, before Ramesh and I knew what was happening, my uncle was standing before us. His face red, his eyes wild, his hair disheveled, my uncle furiously waved the note, which I had left on the bed-side table, in front of us. “What,” he shouted above the roar of the storm, “is the meaning of this?”

Things were happening too fast for me. Helplessly, I turned to Ramesh for support. Ramesh, too, seemed to have been caught off-balance by my uncle’s sudden appearance. But he immediately recovered. Grabbing my uncle’s arm, he pointed to the light in the sea. “There are smugglers out there!” he announced dramatically.

My uncle stared at the light and then at Ramesh. “Is this a joke?”

Ramesh looked at uncle, his face flushed with excitement. “No, sir,” he said, “no joke. It’s like this...” And then, while we stood in the middle of that desolate, windswept beach, the rain pouring down in torrents all around us, the sky set ablaze by frequent flashes of lightening and huge, foam-flecked waves crashing to the ground barely a few yards away from us, Ramesh explained how we came to be there. After he had finished, my uncle once more stared at the light in the sea.

“Well,” he said, “you…” and then he suddenly stiffened. “That light!” he exclaimed. “It’s heading straight for some dangerous rocks! If they don’t change course immediately, they’ll crash!” He stared at the light for a few seconds and then exclaimed. “They seem to have lost their bearings!” He suddenly raised his right hand and there was a torch in it. He pointed it at the distant boat and began to flash it on and off.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ramesh and the night of the storm (Part 3)


Ramesh and his friend are spending their school holiday's at an uncle's house by the sea. The boys overhear two men planning a mysterious night out at sea. They come down to the beach, ignoring the signs of an impending storm, to spy on the men. The uncle discovers the boys missing from his house and catches them in the beach. He is shocked to learn that the boys think they have stumbled upon a gang of smugglers. Worse, they see that the strange boat carrying the mysterious men is about to crash into some rocks!


I watched the distant light breathlessly. Was it responding to uncle’s signal? For a moment, I wasn’t sure. Then, the light seemed to waver uncertainly, and, a little later, it began to grow larger and larger. Yes, the boat seemed to have changed direction, apparantly in response to uncle's flashing torch, and was now heading straight for the beach!

My uncle turned to Ramesh. “Have you got a torch?” he shouted, barely managing to be heard above the din caused by the rain and the storm-tossed waves.

“Yes!” shouted back Ramesh.

“Then do as I’ve been doing! I will run to the village for help.”

The next fifteen minutes or so on that beach were a nightmare. The rain lashed mercilessly down on us, stinging our unprotected faces and hands. One after the other, huge waves threw themselves onto the beach, with such force and fury that Ramesh and I were compelled to step back a few paces. When Ramesh’s arm grew tired from holding up the torch, I took over. As the boat responded to our guiding signal, the light grew larger and larger as it approached the beach, and soon the dim outlines of the vessel could be made out. And all the time, the question kept going round my head: when would Uncle return?

Uncle returned in the nick of time – and with him were four or five other men, fishermen from the village. When the group of men appeared on the beach the boat was about fifty feet away from land. Suddenly a huge wave appeared behind the boat and literally threw it towards us! Before the boat could recover, another giant wave crashed down on it, engulfing it completely!

I heard uncle give a shout and then, in a flurry of arms and legs, all the men rushed into the foaming water. For a few minutes all was confusion. Then a sudden brilliant flash of lightning in the sky illuminated the whole dramatic scene for an instant with a glare as if from a thousand floodlights. In the glare I saw the fishermen carry out of the seething waves and onto the beach, three limp figures. They were carefully laid down on the sand.

One of the three figures tried to sit up. Uncle shone his torch on the face of this man – and then gave a sudden exclamation. Stepping forward, he said: “Your face looks very familiar! Aren’t you Professor Kedar Kumar Sharma, the famous meteorologist?”

The man looked up. “Yes,” he said weakly and I recognized the voice Ramesh and I had heard talking to the fisherman behind the cluster of rocks that evening. The man managed a smile. “And, but for you, I would now have been the late Prof. Kedar Kumar Sharma…”

The confusion was soon cleared. The house on the cliff was really a special weather station whose primary task was the study of cyclones and other storms which frequently plagued the east coast. Attached to this station was a ship which patrolled the Bay of Bengal to study cyclones at their source. An important instrument in the ship had suddenly broken down and the scientists aboard needed a replacement immediately if they were to study the storm which they knew would hit the coast that night. They had informed the weather station of the problem by radio. It was to deliver the replacement that Prof. Sharma and his companions had set out on their night trip in the tiny fishing boat.

A couple of days later, as a mark of gratitude for our part in the rescue, Ramesh and I were given a conducted tour of the weather station. For a scientifically-minded chap like Ramesh, this was more exciting than catching a thousand smugglers. In due course, both of us received a gift from the Government. I would like to tell you about it, but Ramesh has asked me not to. He prefers to regard it as A Secret Of Great Scientific Importance!