1. T H E R U L E S
I love games. You do, too?
Anyway, the question was purely rhetorical, because I’m not interested whether you do or do not; this is my story and my choice rules the roost. And I want to tell you about my favourite game called Chain.
No, I didn’t make it up, and stop being so grumpy; it’s fun and by the time you finish reading, I’m sure you would want to join in.The game of Chain is exceedingly simple. All you need is a group of people who shy away from competitive tendencies, and have ample time and inclination to play this seemingly silly sport.
Without wasting your precious time, let me get down to the rules straightaway; you remember I mentioned that the participants need to be devoid of the admirable quality called competitiveness?
You do? Good.
That is because there are no winners and no losers in this lovely indoor game. Indeed, it is a wonderful equalizer, and a first-class way to pass time too. Anyway, now that you've got hold of a bunch of people who are willing to play, you can safely proceed to step two, which is turning off the lights so that it’s more or less pitch dark.
Getting interested, are we? Yes? Then do hurry up, and fix a time limit, say thirty minutes. Now, what you have to do is wander in the darkness, and when you think you’ve come across another participant, you have to say “Chain” aloud and hold the other’s hand, and the two of you would continue the process and join up with other individuals and/or groups until the time limit is up. You don’t know whose hands you’ll be holding, the sole focus is to keep the human chain growing until everyone is in, or the thirty minutes is over.
If anyone gets left out, well, hard luck.
Just before the lights are switched back on, each participant has to figure out whose hands (s)he is holding. That’s it; you finish the game, have a good laugh at the absurd guesses, and carry on with some other activity of your choice.
Now that we’re through with the technicalities, do allow me to enlighten you about the game from a participant’s perspective.
2. T H E C H A I N
The shafts of moonlight pierce the gaps left by the curtains; my friend Abhi would take one look at it and start ranting rubbish like “curious interplay of light and dark, good and evil, yin and yang”, and so on. He writes well, this fellow, and hence his imagination is always on overdrive. In my humble opinion, the crisscrossing moonlight makes the floor look like a section of a zebra crossing; nothing more, nothing less.
Varsey is a lovely little trekking place up in the western reaches of Sikkim; it affords a fine view of the Himalayas (and also plenty of colourful flowers if you happen to look closer). When the sun sets, you stop gawping at the snow-capped peaks and trudge back to the lone rest house, and then there is nothing else to gawp at, because there is no electricity. You trek up here, spend the night in your sleeping bags and fortify yourselves with your own grub, and when you’ve had your fill of the natural-beauty-and-fresh-mountain-air and crave for your internet connection so that you could post a smashing update on Facebook, you pack up and leave the place ready for the next set of obese city slickers who more or less follow the same routine.
We chose this place, the seven of us, as an outing destination, our very last from college…. you know, nostalgia, separation and all sorts of emotional schmuck. Our trekking luggage mainly consisted of blankets and alcohol, and by the time someone suggested Chain, it actually seemed a sensible proposal, since it was the most intelligent activity we could indulge in at that point of time.
So here I was, a bit woozy, padding around the zebra crossing. The silence is broken often by a sudden cry of ‘Chain’ in some other part of the house, and the time limit of thirty minutes is drawing to a close. Trust me to be devoid of partners, while every other person in the house is yanking or being yanked along.
And then I notice someone moving quietly towards the door. I rush forward, yell ‘Chain’ and grasp the hand. Innumerable bangles meet my fingers, and I recognise Rashmi.
So much for guesswork.
“Where were you?” She asks.
“Here,” I reply.
Score one for intelligent conversation.
She says nothing, merely takes me by my hand and drags me along to the next room, where we stand in the darkness waiting for the others.
“Time!” Bawls Jayesh from the adjoining bedroom.
“Here”, I call out. (In case you’re wondering, my vocabulary isn’t restricted to this particular word).
Rashmi holds my hand harder.
“You can let go now, it’s over,” I intone. (See, I told you).
“Indeed, it is.”
She giggles, and tightens her grip further.
3. T H E B R O K E N C H A I N
I try to pull my hand away in vain; she wouldn’t let go.
I give a vehement push in her direction, and my free hand meets thin air. The other hand is still being choked by something solid. She giggles again.
I lose all sense of reason; standing in the pressing darkness and confronted by something so horrifyingly inexplicable, my only recourse is to scream, which I find that I cannot. I have lost my voice, and all I can manage is a quavering call to the others.
I hear Jayesh and the rest of the group rush in; the relief in my voice is unmistakable as I yell for someone to get a light. A candle is lit, and its feeble orange glare tries to pierce the shadows unsuccessfully.
“What is it?” Abhi can sense that something is amiss.
“Rashmi, it’s Rashmi, she’s…” My voice trails away. It seems even more stupid when you try to explain the incident verbally to someone. As expected, there was nobody holding my hand, even the pressure on it is easing.
“But Rashmi’s here. She’s been part of our chain all along, what exactly…?”
I whirl around before Abhi can finish his sentence.
I find the room empty. The lighted matchstick is suspended in thin air, as if an invisible hand is holding it aloft.
Then someone says “Chain” softly, and an ever-so-slight breeze blows out the candle.