A Chain of Events

I couldn’t recognize him at first glance. Who gives a second glance to a dope laden junkie in a seedy coffee shop anyway? I noticed something he had placed on his table though. It was a worn out photograph. I knew a guy who had cause to be passionate about a certain childhood photograph. Contradicting my thought process, I glanced again at the junkie. I allowed my eyes to rest on him long enough to identify his features.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was him – Bala! Bala, the engineering student who used to be my roommate a couple of years ago and as any other engineering student the guy had a set plan for the rest of his life. I remember him having a job offer from at least one big name every week in his last semester. The same guy was now wearing ragged clothes that obviously didn’t fit him, had a beard as shaggy as a crow’s nest and eyes that were sunken deep into their sockets. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was working as a freelancer at that time in Madras. I had a regular flow of writing work. It was mostly for the local newsletters and was invariably insignificant interviews of local bigwigs. It was enough to get me some steady income. My major source of income however was the house I lived in. I owned it, passed on to me by my late Uncle, and had a steady procession of paying guests – all bachelors – paying me a token rent and generally paying for everything else.

Yet, my personal life was a big void. With a much elder sister as the only living relative and no friends of any sort, the roommates became my one big relationship. Bala was a great roommate. I developed a kind of rapport that made me even protective of him. I admired him for his penchant for cleanliness and his car which I could borrow from time to time. He was a full time student and his tuition fees were taken care of by parents who had planned for it a long time ago. We bonded well and he became my best friend yet. Those were good times.

During his last semester, Bala forced a change into our regular schedule.

“Would you mind having another room mate?”, he threw a poser.

“Male or female?” I grinned.

“Sorry to disappoint you buddy, it’s a guy called Giri”, and in a more serious tone he added, “He wouldn’t be contributing monetarily though, at least not immediately. I am even prepared to move if his coming here is not okay with you.”

I thought it over. Bala’s anxious face forced the decision in the end. I did make the routine inquires though.

“How long have you known him?”, I asked him.

“All my life!” he said.

“That is enough credibility for me.”, I assured him, “He is most welcome!”

I actually felt less assured than those words. I am usually very wary of new people but I didn’t want to disappoint Bala.

My anxiety was further enhanced when Bala brought home Giri! Giri was a far cry from normalcy. He looked extremely undernourished. For some reason Bala didn’t bother to introduce him in face which I found to be odd. That really piqued me. as I fancied myself to be an emotional benefactor to Bala. This new person with whom he had his own private world was a looming puzzle. Giri, on the other hand refused to be a challenge in the overbearing friend department.

It was clear to me that he had issues. He was shy beyond reason – a champion among introverts if ever there was one. He had just landed a job in Madras after a long struggle and had no place to stay. He had written to Bala, who consulted me and offered him temporary lodgings. I’d heard of Giri before from Bala. In his school days, Bala, always the benevolent, had taken the meek Giri under his wings. Giri had lost his father, a Brahmin priest, at a very young age. That didn’t stop him from being extremely pious himself. In fact it was whispered among the locals in Bala’s town that he was some kind of a seer.

I was told that Giri kept most of his thoughts to himself and his talents never got the frenzied fan following usually reserved for people of his caliber. Bala however saw him only as a friend in need of compassion and refused to believe his supposedly divine powers.

“Hello!” I said to Giri.

“Hi!” replied Giri to the wall behind me.


“Doesn’t he bother you?”, I asked Bala.

“Who?” he asked with that pleasant manner of his.

“Who?”, I couldn’t think of anyone else the past few days and he was asking who. “Giri, that’s who”.

“What do you mean?”, he asked me. “Bala, that guy is living off you and he doesn’t seem to mind it. Every time you give him some simple job to do around the house, he hides himself behind God and other rituals. Personally, I don’t have anything to do with him, but I don’t know man… I mean… doesn’t he bother you?”.

I stopped talking as Bala left the room ending that discussion right there. My thoughts, however, persisted. I was convinced that Bala was being used. Yet he refused to see reason.

After Giri’s arrival, I hardly spent any time at home. I was traveling with a theatre troupe as their PR person all across South India. When I came back, I found the two old cohorts back to a routine which Bala had mentioned about them having in high school. Giri’s workplace was close to Bala’s college. They traveled together all the time. They never got tired of talking about their times at their old school and their town folk. Both of them were strict vegetarians and shared a common interest in most other things. In fact, sometimes I found myself missing the laid back debates I used to enjoy with Bala. Around this time I got a regular job with a weekly magazine doing a city round up of cultural events. I didn’t notice anything amiss until much later.

Despite their obvious companionship, Bala and Giri had one major bone of contention. Bala refused to believe in Giri’s divine abilities. In fact, he chided Giri’s elaborate rituals every morning. Bala was born into a family of engineers. To him logic preceded divinity. Given his over-protective nature, he couldn’t tolerate Giri’s “blind” religious beliefs.

The daily teasing underlined Giri’s prayer sessions. Initially Giri didn’t seem to mind it. But during the month of November, an auspicious month, Giri’s chanting was loud and resonating and took place in the evening on a daily basis. This particular month was also the time of Bala’s mid-semester examinations. Bala wanted some silence one particular evening. Giri seemed to be really fervent in his rendition that very day. It was a clash of either person’s most beloved subject. The debate ran well into the night – Prayer and Studies long forgotten. It left both of them bitter and on uneven terms for quite some time. I couldn’t help being a mute spectator having no contribution to offer whatsoever in either subject.

An interesting turn of events took place. Giri started advising me on stuff. I took his advice because his predictions unfortunately came out true. “Call your sister!” He said to me out of the blue. I hadn’t called her for quite some time and decided to make a phone call anyway. It turned out that she had just suffered a mild stroke.

I rushed to be by her side. She recovered in a few weeks time. I returned with a sense of awe over Giri. He didn’t seem to be even aware of this new fan of his. Bala took extra pain in pointing to the genetic defects in my family. Almost everyone over thirty had some form of cardiac problem. “Don’t go around and start making a God out of that bloke!” he lamented. I didn’t argue with him and couldn’t take Giri’s side readily. My sister did mention that she has sent me a mail a month back detailing her deteriorating health. That mail never reached me and I could only blame the postal system. Did Giri intercept that mail? I wondered.

Life was however returning to normalcy. Giri brought an audio cassette of a religious discourse. He made it a point to listen to it in the wee hours of the morning everyday. Surprisingly Bala didn’t seem to mind it that much. One Saturday morning however Giri started the cassette player with the cassette and instead of the voice of the Shloka exponent the latest rap song resounded across the room. Giri went red with rage but Bala was laughing very hard to even notice it. I think it was after this event that they dropped all speaking terms between them.

Giri never rode with Bala in his car after that. Bala spent more hours in the college library than at home. They were drifting apart. I was an emotional cripple in more ways than one. I did not find it in me to bring about a truce between the two.

“How about having one of those long drives that we used to have?” I was egging Bala back towards better days. I wanted him to get back to that time when emotional turmoil was never in the agenda. I could see that he was warming to the idea.

“Yeah” he sighed. I could do with something like that”. Giri was hovering in the background.

“Bala, I just had a vision. During this trip, make sure that you drive the car all the time. You could be in grave danger if you don’t”.

There was silence for a few seconds. Then Bala started hollering loud peals of laughter. Giri hung his head and left the room.

“Where did you catch this sick nut?” I bellowed. To prove a point Bala left for the trip asking me to drive his car. Our first destination was the firing range in the nearby hills.

It was a narrow trail with barely enough space for one vehicle. I was a frequent visitor to these parts and drove the car at a speed far from normal. Bala was recalling the “Rap music” incident and I couldn’t stop laughing. A bit sober, Bala added, “However, I do plan to make up with that bloke when we get back. We go back a long way man.” At this precise moment, I lost my concentration at the wheel. A near blind turn came along. The road suddenly went in a near-perpendicular curve but the car kept going straight at 90 mph. And to our utter horror the brakes failed.

Bala’s first reaction was to clutch to the sides of his seat and his eyes were closed even more tightly. The first bump forced him to open his eyes and he was no longer sitting in his seat. He was on the side of the driver’s seat and was now holding to the gear box. I was meanwhile trying to stop the car – hoping wildly that we would meet some flat terrain soon enough. My foot was now pressed firmly on the brake but I couldn’t get past Bala to reach the emergency brake or the gear box. The car was still traveling downhill. The thought “What am I doing…” just kept repeating in my head. I was trying to push Bala away from the gear box. He clutched his seatbelt and tried to lift himself away from me. He was not even seated now… just hanging and holding on to his seatbelt. I had tried to shut down the car by all possible means.

The enormous cloud of dust and what looked like a crack to the side window made the task of locating a flat terrain difficult. Eventually, the car did seem to slow down and finally with a heavy crunch emanating from the hood it stood still. Bala, on impact, fell back on top of me. Then, still tied by the seatbelt, propelled up, managed to open his door. Without unclipping the belt, he wriggled out of it and levered himself on top of the car and sat on its side. He then turned to see what I was doing but lost his balance, slid across the side of the car, over the gas tank, rear tires and fell to the ground. Now all he could see was smoke. I moved up hill and to my right all the while trying to maintain my balance and just as the smoke cleared I bumped into Bala. Instinctively, the two of us ran uphill.

We’d hardly reached the road when the car actually blew up. The sound was short but deafening. And it slowly echoed off the hills. Bala felt a stinging pain in his thighs and now knew that they were burns and not just bruises. He had actually slid through fire when he fell out of the car. I was relatively unhurt. Not a soul crossed the road as the two of us just stood there gazing at the burning car. The smoke cleared eventually and it was visible that the car had been held from falling off the cliff by a bunch of what could only be called as thick shrubs. Some of the shrubs were still burning.

Bala was in a real dark mood. That was understandable. He wanted to vent all his anger on Giri. The godman had gone to his home town for the weekend. The insurance people analyzed the accident and suggested that there could have been some tampering with the brake lines in the car. They were not sure. Bala got this idea into his head that it was all Giri’s doing. Did Giri cross the line to prove his supernatural prowess? Did the means to stage an accident precede the prophecy in Giri’s mind? Bala saw this as an attempt on Giri’s part to stage a prophecy.

On his return from his hometown, Giri went straight to his office. Bala who was fuming like a volcano burst into Giri’s office and gave him the kind of tongue lashing that would wither any bloom. Giri all the more embarrassed in front of his colleagues never got a chance to talk back. Later that evening his protests that he had nothing to do with the accident fell on deaf ears. He started packing his bags. Bala personally threw them out. It was a nasty end to their relationship.

“You should have listened to me in the first place”, asserted Giri.

“I’ll get back to you, if that’s the last thing I do!” replied Bala.

In the coming days, Bala felt remorse and felt he had acted in haste. His anger was still there. His mental conflict in overcoming his ego and apologizing to Giri was very evident. He was faltering in his studies. His behavior on the whole took a downside turn. His whole demeanor was that of a listless person. He was desperate for a closure but was not sure how.

Around this time Giri’s boss started getting crank calls over his godman-like behavior. That and Giri’s own faltering performance finally made him lose his job. I got the whiff of the news that Giri had become a sort of recluse and that he had eventually forsaken all his possessions. He joined a charity mission and moved to North India.

Giri’s mother visited us even when Bala was packing his bags, having dropped out of college. She stood there in the doorway – no words were spoken from either side. Even I felt a chill run down my spine. I could only imagine what was going through Bala’s mind. She stood there for something like fifteen minutes. She dropped an old faded photograph and left without a word.

It was a photograph of two kids – arms over shoulders – without a care about either the present or the future. I tried reasoning with Bala and gently persuaded him to complete his studies. He seemed to take it amiably but that was the last that I saw of him until of course today.

I couldn’t bring myself to go near him. I left the place with thoughts on what had happened and what could have been prevented. We used to have great times together. He was well set to become an engineer. I had my first real friend. Giri should have never come into our lives. He took away my friendship. I would have done anything to bring Bala back to his old self. Anything. That’s exactly what I did or at least tried to do.

The two idiots were busy blaming each other that they didn’t even stop to think that there was a third person in the house. Anybody could record on audio cassettes, anybody could make crank calls and anybody could have tampered with the brakes. Jealousy does strange things to the best of people and anybody who knows me knows that I am a jealous freak.


  1. Anonymous2:12 AM

    why the same old story? No doubt again it interests me a lot.NCR NPR maths formula apply to good stories you have read.

  2. Ha...
    Agreed. This was re-broadcast for a new reason though. :)