It’s better to have loved and lost than not have loved at all.
It’s been four hours since I’ve been in office and I still don’t know how to approach it. Ever since Naksh and I had started working together, he has been pestering me to take a vacation. But I’ve always turned it down as we both can’t take leave from the office at the same time.
But when Naira left this morning, I felt like going on a vacation myself. Not really a vacation, more like an investigative journalism mission sort of thing. It sounds super cool in my head, like what those men in Hollywood movies do. I just have to find out more about this guy.
All I know is the nickname of his best friend and where he did his schooling from. I have to know more. I rub my hands together in excitement and mentally start packing my bags for a road trip.
I have been waiting for the right moment. I don’t want to sound like I have an agenda in mind. I don’t want to sound stupid going on a road trip to trace a dead guy’s girlfriend. Naksh has been busy staring at the screen for quite some time now. He is pretty good at the number crunching stuff and handles all the accounts for us.
“Naksh, did we make any money last month ?!!” I ask.
“Yes,” he says with a smile on his face. These days, he answers gladly whenever I ask him anything. The Keerti effect, I guess.
“So, didn’t we decide we would go on a vacation when things started to look positive ?!! I mean, I remember you saying that.” I say and there is a glint in his eyes almost immediately.
“I am not saying that I want to go. I am just saying that this is what we decided,” I add.
“Let’s go !! Like right now !!” Naksh says and sits on his table. It’s the kind of reaction I
always expect from him. He always overreacts, does something dramatic and immensely cool.
“Let’s go out. It’s been so long !! When was the last time we went out like buddies ?!!” he asks me in a bit emotional voice.
“Umm, three years ?!!” I answer trying to remember.
“More than that. You have been seeing Naira for five years !! And we haven’t gone
out since then. Just you and me,” he says.
“Just you and me ?!! Are you wooing me ?!! I am getting some bad vibes from your end.” I state.
“Whatever. Go home and pack. We’re leaving in two hours. My car. It’s CNG-fitted, so our expense on petrol won’t be that much. And think of a place.” Naksh says.
“I will,” I say.
“What’s our budget like ?!!” he asks.
“You decide. You are the accountant.” I answer.
He sets us a limit at ten thousand bucks each and extra emergency cash at five thousand per person. I don’t get into his calculations. He says — just in case his calculations go wrong, we will come back when we run out of money.
He tells me that the rule no. 1 of road trips is : you do everything on a shoestring budget and don’t spend a single rupee more than what’s required, even if it means sleeping on railway stations.
I don’t argue with him on things like these. As I said, he does things that sound cool. It comes naturally to him. Not deciding where to go while making a plan, not making a plan at all, risking a long drive on his broken-down car — cool things to do, things you only see people in movies do.
“So ?!! Two hours ?!! Your place ?!!” he asks.
“Sure,” I say and we shake hands.
“Don’t be late or I will screw you over. And you’ll be driving then.” He warns me.
“No way. I am not driving that shitty car of yours.” I reply.
“It’s not shitty. It’s a vintage. You wouldn’t understand.” He says and pulls a face.
“I don’t want to understand. Bye now. See you then,” I say and leave the office.
As I drive back home in Naira’s car, I know where we are going — Dehradun. I feel a strange sensation when I hold the diary. I will be tracing the path of a dead man, who told me his story through these pages.
I will live his life through these pages. It is exhilarating. Invasion of privacy, yes. But he is dead now !!
The thought that I will be at all the places where he has been and I will see the things he has written about is thrilling. For the first time in years, something other than Naira excites me.
I pick up the diary and flip through the pages again. I realize that by now I know exactly what’s written where. For one last time, I try to find something that would lead me directly to Anushka, or the dead guy, but I’m sure there is nothing.
I pack some essentials and a few toiletries in my laptop bag and leave my place. Over the years, I have learnt that taking too many clothes on a road trip doesn’t help. It’s better to buy ‘I Love India’ T-shirts along the way. Plus, with Naksh in the picture, you never know where you’ll end up, so it’s better to leave all your expensive clothes behind.
When I walk out of my apartment, I find Naksh already waiting for me in his death-trap car, which he’d bought six months back. I had tried to dissuade him from buying the piece of scrap that he calls a car, but he didn’t listen. It’s a 1989 Jeep with worn-out door knobs and a creaky suspension.
He has spent a fortune trying to restore the car, a fortune he could have invested in a really nice sedan. Somehow, he doesn’t give a shit. I envy people who don’t think about what others think. Caring about what others think is the biggest jail one can put oneself in.
Naksh has never cared; he is smiling in that rotten cage of metal, like he has already planned things that would eventually land us in trouble. I see no baggage and he smells of a strong deodorant. This is going to be a long trip.
“So ?!! Where to ?!!” he asks.
I pretend to think for a little while and say, “Umm Dehradun ?!!”
“Dehradun it is !!” he says and puts the car into gear. The car stutters to a start, clouds of black smoke splutter out of the rust-eaten exhaust pipe and we are off !!
He doesn’t even ask why I chose Dehradun. I don’t mind that too. I wouldn’t have had an answer and I don’t want to sound crazy. Sometimes, I am just scared how little Naksh cares about things. Not a single second thought before doing anything at all. I always feel a little old and docile in his presence. Like someone who has already lived the best days of his life.
An hour passes by and he still doesn’t ask why I picked the place. Maybe he bought that I’d picked a place at random. As we leave the city behind and reach the outskirts, a sense of calm prevails.
It feels great to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and driving in the pleasant
breeze. Now I get why people go on vacations. Within an hour of leaving work behind, I already feel rejuvenated. I am sure Naksh feels the same because he has been looking at me from time to time and smiling.
We make our first stop after driving continuously for three hours. I still haven’t touched the steering wheel and I don’t want to. I just don’t trust his car. It looks like a contraption to kill people really slowly and painfully.
“Crazy, huh ?!!” he says as he orders mammoth quantities of food for himself.
“What ?!!” I ask, my mouth already watering just listening the name of dishes.
“This trip. Finally you have managed to come out of your girlfriend’s lap and into the real world.” He jokes.
We share a muted laugh. It’s like we are back to our college days. Only that our topics of discussion in college used to hover around girls and random stuff, while just yesterday I found myself discussing the Indian foreign policy with him. Growing up is a painful process.
“Naira is the reason for the vacation, isn’t it ?!!” he asks.
“Are you crazy ?!! Well. Okay, just a little bit,” I say and look at the car parked at a distance. My bag is still there. I feel a little insecure. There are no locks on his car and I don’t want to lose the diary.
“You’re paranoid, Karthik. Can’t you live just one day without her ?!!” Naksh asks.
“It’s not that,” I say and stuff a slice of carrot in my mouth to end the conversation.
I try not to eat much, but the food is so delectable that I end up eating a lot. My stomach growls as we walk back to the car. The sun is about to set and the roads are getting deserted. A few taxis and a few trucks here and there. I’m a little worried as his car makes threatening noises every once in a while. Sometime later, I doze off.
“Get up !!” Naksh barks into my ear and I get up startled.
“Huh ?!!” I ask.
“We have reached,” he says.
“Already ?!!” I ask. It doesn’t look like I’ve been sleeping for long. I look around. It’s a deserted place with just one stand-alone motel.
“No, the car broke down,” he says, his face smeared in grease and oil. Obviously. The car broke down.
“Shit. Now what ?!!” I say. I am not shocked. I had prepared myself for it. I just hope it blows up after we leave and we have to hire a new car.
Naksh tells me that he has talked to the motel owner and he’ll arrange for a mechanic early next morning. And for the night we’ll have to stay there. I make a face but I’m not bothered. I desperately need a bed to crash into.
“Tomorrow, 8 a.m.,” the old man at the reception says and hands over the keys. We go up the rickety stairs of the old motel and reach our room.
Everything is falling apart—the stairs, the doors, the walls. It’s a motel where truck drivers spend their nights and hence it’s at a bare minimum. We enter the room. It stinks of sweat and alcohol. I don’t mind, though. I am too tired to care. Soon, we are both snoring in that filthy room.
In the middle of the night, my slumber is broken by the sound of a few steps outside our door. The sound becomes fainter but I can’t sleep any more. I have had too much sleep already. I get up, walk around the room and I realize that I have gotten used to the stink
and the filth.
I call up Naira.
“Reached ?!!” I ask.
“Just now,” she says.
“Where are you ?!! Reached Dehradun ?!!” she asks.
“Not yet. Naksh’s car broke down, so we are staying in a very filthy motel for the night. I
miss you. I wish you were here. It would have been fun.” I say forlornly.
“Eeeks !! In that filthy motel ?!!” she says, teasing me.
“Yeah. Yeah.” I say, smiling a little already.
“Kidding, Karthik. I would’ve loved to be there !!” she says.
“Next time, it’s just you and me ?!! What say ?!!” She asks further.
“How can I ever say no to that ?!!” I answer.
She giggles on the other side of the phone. I’m sure she’s tired so I ask her to go to sleep and disconnect the call. It’s been quite some time that Naira and I have gone out together.
I look out from the window, reminisce about all the good times I have had with Naira and think about whatever is going to come. I have a smile on my face. Being loved and wanted is the most amazing feeling in the world, it’s like a whole new experience. No matter how far we try to run away from it, it only gets you closer. As they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than not have loved at all.
Even today, if Naira walks out on me for some reason, I would only smile for whatever she has made me feel over the years in my heart
It’s been three hours and Naksh is still sleeping. I run out of things to do to prevent myself from getting bored. Naksh and I had decided that we wouldn’t bring laptops along, so I have nothing to do.
I can’t wait to reach Dehradun. I pick up the diary. I read it for the fifth time, cover to cover. This would make a great story, I tell myself and go back to sleep.
Precap : Dehradun. VK’s Best Friend. An unexpected person joining the boys.
By far one of the longest chapter that I have written. I wanted to write their first base of the journey in a single shot and therefore I didn’t break it down. Hope you all didn’t get bored reading it.
Well I also wanted to state that Naksh’s character over here is more of the chilled out and fun guy as I was bored with Naksh always been more mature and taking care of Karthik. So it would be sort of a role reversal in this FF.
Do comment. Keep smiling. Keep watching Yrkkh !!