Alumni15 mins 266 15 mins 266
Pradeep answered the phone on the second ring.
“Hello? Where are you, Pradeep? Have you packed your bag yet? We should all leave in less than three hours time from now? I am leaving in an hours time for airport.” Came the irritating voice of Jagan.
“Jagan? Yaar, I just have to send couple of emails and update a link for my customer. Once done, I will be ready to leave. Yes. The bag is fully packed. By the way, should I bring my car to airport? who will drive? It is decided or not?” Spoke Pradeep in an exciting tone.
Why not? It is 10 years since they all left the Engineering college that all the four close friends are meeting; well, not just meeting, but have planned to make every second of their meeting count and have a whale of time.
Jagan just nodded his head and kept the phone down with a quizzical look on his face. Why is Pradeep talking as if some one else is arranging the trip? He was late for his flight, so he kept the thought on the back burner and left to airport.
By the time all the four friends, Pradeep, Jagan, Vasu and Nilesh got in to the car, it was late evening; Nilesh had to pick the two of his friends, Jagan who came from Mumbai and and Vasu from Delhi, from Bangalore Airport.
Nilesh lived in Mysore, less than three hours drive from Bangalore but in the last 10 years, he couldn’t meet Pradeep who stayed in Bangalore.
The journey, nearly 4 hours that lay ahead of them looked too small; though all of them volunteered to drive, Nilesh was very possessive of his car and never allowed any one to touch it.
Three of the four friends were married and each one had told a different reason for their visit to their college.
While Pradeep was the most honest of them all; he told his wife, Ragini that after 10 years, all the friends who were otherwise in touch with each other only on phone, would be spending time in their old hang out.
Pradeep was dying to find out what reasons his other two friends have given to their family but was not allowed to speak that point, as yet.
The three friends, barring Nilesh who concentrated on the driving and just listened to conversation, interjecting every now and then with a sentence of two, were busy updating others about themselves.
Pradeep ran his own software company and operated more or less from home. He did have an office and had about a dozen or so people working with hm. He had made a name for himself in the field and had built his own palatial house in Bangalore. His wife Ragini, an engineer herself, assisted him in business.
Vasudevan, Vasu for friends worked for a multinational firm at as A V P and had a flat in posh area in Delhi while. He was the most secretive of them all; he informed his friends of his marriage after one year!
Jagan ran his family business, built by his father in Mumbai, trading in shares – a far cry from his engineering degree.
Nilesh owned a manufacturing unit specializing in spares for airplanes and was difficult to get to talk even on phone as constantly travelled all over the world.
All the four friends were more less of the same age, and had children except Niesh who thought that marriage as hinderance to dream of building a World class company and had remained a bachelor.
They stopped on the high way hotel and drank tea.
Conversation turned towards their last few months of college and when Vasu brought the subject of their last few months in college, all three stood up and looked hard at Vasu. Pradeep looked with wide eyes at Vasu and started shaking. Vasu realised his mistake of breaking the oath they had taken while saying good bye to one another on the convocation day.
There was a heavy silence in the car too even as they sped on the highway.
None of them knew who should begin the conversation.
Finally, it was Nilesh who took his eyes of the road, turned towards his friends sitting in the back seat and spoke.
“Common guys. We all have assembled after a gap of a decade to enjoy and to have a good time. Let’s not get in to any controversial area that spoils our mood. Ok?”
Vasu took a cue and spoke. “Ok. In that case, Nilesh, tell me are you still dating that girl whom you befriended in college or found a new one? We were all expecting that you would call us and inform us that you are getting married.”
Nilesh laughed out loudly. “Yes, I am still in relationship with Yamini, if you really want to know. But marriage? No way yar; I have a long way to go before I reach my goal of becoming a billionaire.”
“You really don’t know what you are missing, without family, Nilesh?, spoke Pradeep.
“In that case, you don’t know what you guys are missing by being single! Its absolute freedom my dear… freedom. Ask yourself? How much of convincing you guys did at home to be away for just two days? That too, after ten long years? Common guys, stop lecturing and get prepared to have a blast.” Spoke Nilesh.
The car wound its way on the hillock and friends started chatting as if they were still students and not grown up men.
Finally, when car halted in front of college campus, it was past mid-night.
It was Jagan who spoke first.
“Let’s go to our regular adda in the attic. Anyway, college campus, except for that lazy security guard, will be completely empty as the semesters are yet to begin.”
“Are you assuming that old guard is still there? May be he is dead by now. He was more than 50 years of age when we were studying.” Spoke Nilesh.
“Let ‘find out. It would be fun if he can recognize us all.” Chided Pradeep.
They all walked noiselessly and circled the main gate, went from the back gate and peered inside the security guard room.
They were not disappointed.
The same old security person who they all referred to as Mamu, was, as they thought, sleeping blissfully.
They tip toed and went to the less guarded small gate, which was always kept open for emergencies and climbed the steel staircase leading to the attic.
The attic, was almost exactly as it was ten years ago. In their final year, it was Jagan who stumbled up the forbidden place; no student ever went there. College authorities always kept it locked and stored all unwanted things.
It was perfect place for drinking for the young college students who were always short of money to go to big restaurant in the city. One of them went by borrowed cycle and brought liquor during the weekend and hid it in the attic and they assembled late at night and partied till lights broke out.
Nilesh, lowered the large bag he carried from the car and opened the liquor and glasses and some snacks to eat.
For the next hour or so, they all spoke about the college days while drowning the drinks one after the other.
They drank so much that none of them could even stand up properly.
Finally, there was just one bottle left.
Nilesh took it in his hand, raised it and said, we should all drink this last bottle as a toast to our friend Pradeep for arranging a wonderful get together after a decade.”
Nilesh could not stand; he sat on the overturned soft drink crate and spoke, lifting the bottle as toast; “Here to our loving friend Pradeep for making this happen. By the way, Pradeep, are we going to spend whole night here or have you booked a hotel room for us. At least by day-break we should all leave from here else, we will be caught. We all need to sleep at least for few hours, right?
Pradeep looked at Nilesh quizzically.
“Why are you asking me? We are all here because it was your idea is it not, Nilesh.
“Wait? What do you mean my idea? I never thought of this meeting in the first place. I am here because of your mail and subsequent call. Don’t tell me you are not behind this.” Chided Nilesh laughingly.
Pradeep sat down on the floor and looked at Vasu and spoke in a low voice.
“Vasu? It was you who sent me the mail in the first place, is it not? Why are you silent?”
The lines on Vasu’s forehead deepened. “No. Absolutely not. I thought, it was Jagan’s idea.
Jagan jumped from his seat – an old broken chair, and spoke, rather loudly.
“What is this? Some kind of a joke? I too got a mail from Pradeep and so, I forwarded it to you thinking that you may not have received it.
Pradeep stood up involuntarily and stared at all the three friends; others too, slowly stood up and stared at one another, disbelief writ largely on their face.
Finally, it was Pradeep who spoke in a low voice, barely audible; “If none of us arranged for us to come together on this trip, who did?”
“I did.” came the booming voice from behind and all them, startled, looked behind.
A police inspector in full uniform wielding his stick stood there.
He was almost 6 feet tall with a beard and thick moustache. He wore dark glasses but one could see piercing sharp green eyes behind that brown glasses.
“Pradeep, Jagan, Vasu and of course, Nilesh, yes, I know all of you, perhaps, much more than any body else in this world. As expected, I knew all of you will be shocked!
Do sit down all of you, I have lots of things to ask and tell.”
The booming metallic voice made all the four friends sit in a hurry. None of them took eyes off the man who was walking slowly towards them.
The police inspector sat down on one of the crates he pulled from the rubble, looked at the four friends and spoke once again.
“I waited a long time to make sure that all of you are present in the, what should I say,” he removed his cap and scratched his head, before speaking. “scene of crime. Yes that word is appropriate to describe this attic of the college where you guys studied your engineering course and of course, committed the crime for which, you escaped without getting caught.”
All the four friends stood up in shock!
“Sit down” came the booming voice and they all stumbled to sit down.
Inspector stood up and walked to Pradeep who was shaking and keeping his hands on his shoulder, spoke. “Tell me Pradeep, did you ever thought, even for one day, that you should have come clean by going to police? You were instrumental in creating the plan, ten years ago to date, to be precise. Yes, it is exactly the same date and month, ten years ago that you guys left your friend to die and escaped.”
Pradeep stood and so did others. This time, inspector did not tell them to sit.
Instead he walked to Nilesh and standing directly in front of him, looked in to his eyes even as Nilesh lowered his head. Without speaking the inspector walked and did the same thing with two others.
All four friends stood there with their head down and breathing fast.
“I know you committed the crime. But I am, as they say, curious to know the details of what actually happened. I have collected enough evidence to prosecute all the four of you. But, I am perplexed; why did you guys leave your friend to bleed and die? You could have saved him by taking him to the hospital.
Don’t look surprised. I have collected every bit of information on what happened on that night ten years ago where your close friend, Pratap died.”
Pradeep fell to floor with a thud. He was the weakest of them all and had high blood pressure. All the three friends rushed towards him and Nilesh took water bottle and slowly fed Pradeep while Inspector watched without speaking.
It took a while for the friends to make Pradeep feel normal again. They whispered to each other and inspector shouted at them once again.
“stop that nonsense; speak to me if you have anything to say.”
Finally, it was Nilesh, who, took a swipe from water bottle, cleared his throat and spoke, in a voice barely audible.
“Sir, with due respect. We did not harm Pratap…..it was….” His voice stopped and wiping his face from his hands, he spoke. “an accident.
Like today, we all were drunk and Pratap had drank more; he could barely stand. There was a large ladder lying “ Nilesh looked around to find the ladder still there, broken. He pointed his hands towards ladder and spoke. “Sir. That’s the ladder I think. It is completely broken now. Then also it was not very stable. Pratap, despite we begging him to stop, climbed the ladder all the way to top….. nearly 20 feet or so and then…” he stopped and started crying.
All four friends moved closer and sat down on the floor. Pradeep kept his hands on Nilesh shoulder and held him tight.
“Liar…” shouted Inspector.
“Don’t tell me that all of you just stood there and Pratap climbed the ladder on his own and fell? It was you, Pradeep who instigated Pratap to climb knowing fully well that the ladder was broken.
All of you conspired and killed Pratap.”
There was a dead silence in the attic.
None of the friends had the courage to lift up their head and look at inspector.
Inspector, took his stick and hit a crate making an awful sound creating more panic amongst the friends.
The startled friends looked up with fear, as inspector walked towards them.
“I have also found out that you guys mixed something in the drink that Pratap drank. That’s why he couldn’t balance and fell down. Is it not?”
Pradeep stood up; he was shaking and in a voice barely audible spoke.
“Sir, Pratap was very much a close friend to all of us. We did not kill him. He fell down. We…. Sorry I only brought the liquor that day. We didn’t mix anything. It is true that we…. Got panicked when we saw blood oozing from Pratap’s head. We feared that he was dead.
We…. “ Pradeep halted and was joined by Jagan. “Sir, Pradeep is saying the truth. It was the last day and next day we were all supposed to leave college for ever. We didn’t know what to do as we all got job offers in campus recruitment and feared that we….. will go to jail.”
“indeed,” booming voice of inspector reverberated. “You will still go jail now. What did you guys discuss on that night? Was it you, Vasu? I think it was you who proposed to bury the body. Yes or no?”
Vasu, who was silent till now could hardly believe what he heard.
Vasu stole a glance at inspector and looked at his three friends who were shaking. He can now get away, literally with murder, thought Vasu; a thin line of smile crossing his face.
Inspector took out his gun and wielding it across the faces of terrified trio. Spoke.
“No one knows that I am here. None of you have told any one that you will be in college campus. Why not I do exactly what you guys did ten years ago? Shoot all four of you and then just leave as I came here without a trace? I know it would be difficult to prove your murder in court, so let me give justice to the dead man.”
Inspector pointed it towards the friends when, Vasu walked away holding his hands high and spoke.
“Inspector Sir. I will tell you who actually was responsible for the death of Pratap. But, one condition.”
All three friends, stood up and glared at Vasu even as Pradeep spoke in a shaking voice.
“Vasu! What the hell are you talking? Remember our pledge? We were all collectively responsible and we decided not to speak about that night ever. And now? You want to escape by pointing towards us? Shame on you. Vasu.”
Inspector looked at Vasu and then looked at the remaining three friends and walked slowly towards Vasu and spoke.
“Ok Vasu. Tell me. I will guarantee you immunity; You will become my witness and will be freed. Tell me who was it?”
Even as three friends with terrified look and gaped mouth looked at their fourth friend hoping their friend will not betray them.
Vasu, walked towards his three friends and spoke.
“ I am really sorry guys. Remember? In this world survival is more important than friendship. I don’t want to go jail. I have a small kid to take care of and old parents too. By speaking the truth if I can get pardon, then so be it.”
Jagan forgot that there was an inspector amongst them and ran towards Vasu and fell down heavily on him and started punching him.
“You stupid idiot. What the hell you are talking? You too were party to the whole incident. How can you point fingers at us and hope to escape?”
Inspector ran towards the two quarrelling friends and separated them.
Vasu dusted his dress, walked in the opposite direction where all three of his friends were standing and spoke.“Guys, this is un acceptable. How can you keep quiet while this guy was hitting me? Now, I have no option but to tell the truth.” Vasu looked at inspector and walked slowly towards him and spoke.
“Inspector, I don’t think you can prosecute any of us, because none of us are guilty.” Vasu turned towards his friend and laughed out loudly.
Perplexed from his behaviour, all three friends looked at him with a quizzical look on their faces.
“You guys are so dumb. You still didn’t get it? Oh my God.. Pradeep, Jagan and Nilesh…. We, all the four of us are free from today. We can remove the guilt from our head for ever.”
The three friends looked at Vasu questioningly.
Vasu laughed again and said.
“You idiots. This inspector is none other than our own Pratap!”
Now it was three friends turn to look at Vasu and then at inspector even as inspector removed his cap and removed his artificial moustache and glasses and smiled.
“Yes, you guys are really idiots like Vasu said. Indeed, I am Pratap your fifth friend.
The three friends walked slowly towards Pratap and went close to look at him.
Suddenly all three burst out laughing.
They hugged Pratap and looked at Vasu who was standing away with a sheepish smile on his face and it was Pradeep who went and punched Vasu dramatically and spoke.
“Stupid guy. You almost made me die from heart attack. Oh my god!
You knew all along that Pratap was alive! But, why didn’t you inform us? It was you who planned this whole affair! My god, I just cant believe this.”
Vasu spoke controlling his laughter.
“After all four us decided to leave that night, ten years ago, I just couldn’t control myself. So I went to warden and brought him to have a look at Pratap. We immediately moved him to hospital.
Guys, I felt like telling you all that our friend is alive and joined police service et all, but it was Pratap who told me to keep quiet. He suggested that we will unveil it on the tenth anniversary.”
Pratap hugged all the four friends and spoke.
“You guys have finished the bottles or anything left for me? The ladder is still there and perhaps I can try it once more.”
All the friends laughed out loudly and hugged each other.
Nilesh removed couple of bottles from the bag and dangled it in front of them with a smile and spoke.
“I have an emergency quota. But, please no ladder.”