It all started with a dream - I was arguing with Neeraj about who is a better driver. In his typical style, he kept saying that he would never make a mistake and I found it hard to refute! My only point was that I was more experienced with the four wheel and then he challenged me for a race - me in a car and he with a bike. Thats when I woke up! An uneasy feeling gripped me when I remembered that I had dreamt about Neeraj even on the previous day - he was watching me driving from the passenger seat and giving me comments like ... take a li'l more to right so that u can overtake as soon as the bus passes ... and ... move to 3rd gear when u have to slow down so that u can get gud pickup soon after ... was enjoying the rush of adrenalin and stepping more on to the gas pedal, when I woke up.
I remembered Neeraj's house at Pongadu ... our stay there, the pond, the 'Ayyappa' temple, the vast paddy fields and the river ... his Amma's warmth and affection ... its been a while since I'd been there. Infact its been a while I even thought about Neeraj or his parents. I was having a relaxed time for almost a week now, at my home town on a vaccation. May be ... its the similarities between my ancestral house and Neeraj's house @ Pongadu ... that I suddenly dreamt about him.
For the remaining few days I just could not get him and his house out of my head ... so much so that I decided to drive via Pongadu during the return journey to my workplace @ Vandiyuru. Amma welcomed me with the same warmth and affection she had always shown. She enquired about my health and was a little concerned if my leg was alright. She sounded worried when I told her that I am planning to drive to Vandiyuru in the evening ... that too alone.
Achan changed the topic right then and enquired about how things are at my end ... work ... marriage plans and I finally mentioned dreaming about Neeraj. He acceded to my thoughts that the dreams may have been due to the similarities of the surroundings and my sub conscience picking on this. He went on with the subject and even told me that things like changing the bed position ... etc may actually result in dreams. Then I remembered re-arranging the room a little bit and moving the bed towards the window and had dreamt about Neeraj on the same day. Achan said that Neeraj used to keep the bed close to the window and it may have been the case when I visited ... which infact was right!
While leaving, Amma again asked me to take care and drive carefuly. I assured her that "I will" and "I've been driving up and down quite often". Suddenly, her eyes filled up and with a tinge of sadness she recalled that Neeraj used to say the same: "He would say that he was the best driver .. and see what happened. One mistake ... and we ended up staying alone here! Do u remember how many times I warned u two from going there in that bike?". Saying this, she almost burst in to tears. I promised her that they are never alone and said to myself that I'll visit them more often. When I was leaving their compound, she reminded me again about being careful ... and I assured her that I will be careful.
My return journey was via the same roads we took that day .. during our bike trip. Neeraj started off with a whirlwind drive ... taking only about 40 minutes to reach the beginning of the ghat roads at Malamedu. We had a close shave at a bridge passing between two jeeps and he insisted that he had seen the jeep and had overtaken in spite of it! He also insisted that he will drive up the ghats, 'since I was not experienced enough'. I protested a lot and he finally handed over the bike to me almost towards the end of the ghats. Post the ghats, I did have a point to prove and reached the Melkadu wildlife sanctuary limits in about half an hour and continued at the same pace even on the narrow roads inside the sanctuary.
The roads inside the Melkadu sanctuary was newly laid and wider by now. I found it much more comfortable, especially in the four wheeler. Last time, the road was very narrow and in some places non-existent. I slightly got out of the road, in to the gravel once in a sharp turn, when Neeraj warned me to be careful and I said I did it purposefully to get a wider curvature. Minutes later ... at a sharper S-curve ... in to the gravel ... skidding and crashing into a tree ...
I lost my conscious as soon as it happened ... and was later told that I was saved, with just a fracture in the leg, due to the helmet and a car passing by, which took me to the nearby hospital and alerted our families. People had already assumed that it was Neeraj who was riding ... coz its only Neeraj who could drive this fast and rash! I could never tell the truth to anyone and never again drove a bike!
It was not easy to recognize the spot, where the disaster happened, but I eventually did. Stopped there and looked out for my friend ... apologised ... for my rashness, immaturity to try and match his skills, his life and most importantly for his disgrace .... he was indeed a very good driver who could drive very fast and still not make any mistakes ... the one mistake which is now attributed to him by everybody else was actually mine!