In the din of the night a motorcade roared south. Two pilot outriders, comprising a scooter and a motorbike, both reeling under the combined enthusiasm of their rider-pillion duos and doubling up as much as our reconnaissance vehicles as our outward probes into the ethereal freedom that we thought lay ahead, followed closely by a rather noisy, diesel powered Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that carried as many as ten of us packed in at least a five-is-to-three ratio of actual vs recommended carrying capacity. Adrenalin running super high in every vein, a hot, muggy day gradually giving way to a breezy, invigorating night, the usual traffic mess of sub-urban Bhopal gingerly receding to open up to the clear highway roads we so looked forward to, this dark, beckoning night was already living up to it’s promise of exotic thrill. But what was perhaps most intriguing about this group of youngsters zooming off into oblivion was a cumulative ignorance about exactly where they were headed to. It didn’t really matter to any one of them that the mad dash into the jungles of the south was in reality, a journey largely devoid of an exact destination. What did matter to one and all was that they had collaboratively flocked to run away from a situation and that running away had brought them all so very close together – almost under overpowering compulsions of subconscious forces not many of them had experienced or handled so far. My own exhilaration riding a crest, of course, I was in control of the lead motorbike and had not eased the throttle back from its max position for quite some time now.
I clearly remember we were roughly into the 4th week of our PFM program. The initial euphoria of having joined a glossy looking course in a dream of an institute, installed so lavishly atop a green hill had been mercilessly eroded by a series of vapid lectures, delivered through long, dreary afternoons and ruthlessly elementary food served day in and out in our humdrum students’ mess. However, the most toxic of all elements that affected our psyches, as freshly inducted students, was the imposition of unwarranted hostel discipline that often took the form of elaborately drafted, obnoxiously legal-sounding notices hung up randomly on our notice boards. Those lists of do’s and don’t s, mostly based on recent incidents of our indulgence into fun and frolic that got reported verbatim to the faculty, hit us exactly where it hurt the most. Our batch has gone down the history of IIFM as one of the most rebellious ones that the institute may have handled and as someone who habitually contributed most to the storm, I can trace much of our pugnacious behaviour back to some of these notices that had incited us so intensely in those initial days. So this particularly tasteless week ending on a Friday afternoon, vexed, deflated students walking back to the hostel from another tedious lecture and a fresh notice on the wall with a new set of do’s and don’t s constituted precisely the ingredients needed for triggering off a psychological explosion. One of the don’t s in that list explicitly barred us from venturing out of the campus in groups. This diktat had probably just been stuck it in there as a “general cover” but what the author of the notice hadn’t realized was that entry, solely by itself, would convert into a recipe for an organized, categorical coup against this farcical concept of hostel discipline for “fully responsible, self-respecting” post-graduate students. In the most spontaneous planning session I have ever been party to, a meticulous criminal scheme was meticulously hatched. We would all dig into our allowances, if need be beg, borrow or steal, would hire a SUV, fill up the guts of the scooter and the motorbike we had with fuel and simply drive off to the south where we knew were some of the most enchanting forests of the area. That very evening! For the whole weekend and, of course, without informing anyone who represented any form of authority, whatsoever.
To this day I remain awed by the brilliance, dexterity and sheer speed at which the plan was executed. Backpacks, essential groceries, cameras, bedrolls, essential first-aid kits (including crepe bandages), flashlights, some self-defence equipment like sticks and kitchen knives etc all started rolling out from those hostel rooms into our common open areas where we, partners in crime, stood and planned as a collaborative group. A sub-committee was quickly dispatched to the IIFM foothills to secure a hired SUV and another to good-old madhuram to fetch critical expedition essentials like flasks of tea, samosas etc. As many as fourteen of us, yawning and frowning till a few hours back with no definite plans for the weekend and yet at about nine in the evening we were all yelling in a sonorous chorus as the SUV sputtered into life and whizzed off on that narrow road leading away from the foothill.
We didn’t want to stop. It was not as if stopping would kill the adventure or, for that matter bring that horrible hostel discipline back into our lives. Somehow we felt we would lose each other if we did stop. The coup seemed to have wielded a magic wand, spinning off forces of amazing cohesion that had amalgamated us into an inseparable group of like-minded Tintins. It was this new-found sense of bonding that had engulfed us all to the extent that in our conscious minds even the thrill of the unfolding adventure felt secondary. That we belonged to this amazing team of heroes and the realization that starkly similar factors had been troubling us all for the past few weeks became our prime mental assets. The promises that our upcoming adventure held for us was perhaps more of an icing on the cake at that point in time and I am sure each one of us, to this date, will acknowledge that contours of whatever memory we still retain of the trip have more to do with the unadulterated team spirit all of us so perceptible felt than with what we managed or did not manage to do in the forests over that weekend.
The rest, as they say, is history. We took a few breaks on our way to nowhere, more to pass around and share those bottles of holy water we had managed to pick up on the way or to release stuff back to mother nature after the fluids had completed their journeys through our circulatory and nervous systems. Very late in the evening and just before we deliberately lost contact with civilization, we took a rather elongated break at a desolate village on the outskirts of Delawadi forests where, through a show of some of the entrepreneurship that we thought we had been picking up of late, we got a butcher to collaborate with a restaurant owner and got them to prepare loads of deliciously fried chicken for us. That being the last worldly item we could buy from non-forest economies, with a SUV-full of super-excited men and women and four innovative conquers on a couple of two-wheelers, we drove right into the heart of the forest. A huge man-made “machaan” that we spotted in one of the densest stretches of the forest, spread alongside a rather deeply cut river, seemed like the perfect place to spend the night. It was here that we soaked in the rest of the liquor we had been saving and devoured those tons of mouth-watering fried chicken. We laughed, we cried, we sang, we fought, we made up and we danced. We danced like there would be no tomorrow. The two guitarists in our team rose gracefully to the occasion and played some popular songs on demand. Yes, fourteen of us, in the middle of nowhere, boisterously ripping our way through the darkness and silence of a deadly jungle night. Till a scorching, late-morning sun mercilessly gnawed through the group’s hangover-induced stupor, triggering a generic retreat back into our SUV and a unanimous desire to roll down the hill, beginning the long journey back home. Though we had resolved to stay away from the hostel for the whole of the weekend, I guess each one of us found it rather convenient to lay the blame on sheer exhaustion and vote for returning. But we did have loads of fun on our way back – taking much more than a reasonable number of breaks at highway dhabas, pulling each others’ legs, singing, dancing, stalling and laughing as we gradually reduced the number of kilometers back to IIFM.
Quite predictably, within the next week, all fourteen of us were showered with show-cause letters from the IIFM faculty, demanding explanations for the recent display of freak behaviour, so unbecoming of management students. But what none of the faculty had realized was that by then, a self-healing, resilient team with shameless “herd immunity” had already been built. It was utterly amusing that all of us responded to those letters with exactly matching lines of superfluous explanation but the matter was not perused further. However, the sentiments that Delawadi had aroused, lingered in my psyche for the rest of my life. I can’t explain how I had ended up missing such an experience during my engineering college days or during the few years of professional life I had spent before I joined IIFM. Maybe some experiences are destined to influence you at times pre-determined by destiny and quite possibly, destiny even chooses to simply ignore a number of less fortunate people. But for those who do get touched, the effects are compelling. If you are lucky enough to be a chosen one, in this very world and in this very lifetime you will bump into circumstances and teams that will completely engulf you, leaving no option but to voluntarily get hypnotized and dance to their magical tunes, in sheer enchantment. Delawadi and that awesome group of fourteen was one such combination.