Continued from Part 1 - https://theverandahclub.com/article/boys-of-def-col-a-verandah-club-exclusive-series-487
Stomping the shoes that began to soak in water, they huddled out of the gate and relief written all over their face, walked beneath the gulmohar trees that guided their way towards the gates of Defence Colony. They spoke nothing till they reached the by-lanes of their houses when they bid good night.
Aarav’s mother was waiting at the door, “Its 7.30 pm and where have you been, you are so wet and going to catch a cold, dry your hair, papa called he will be home any moment, be fast”. Aarav sighed as he went to his room. “Ding!” The bell rang and Aarav rushed to open the door, “look what I got for you, this is the guide for IIIT-JEEE exam and the application for the coaching class, sessions start next weekend,” his father said to poor Aarav who felt his world fusing in to academics, “he should have joined in the beginning of 9th standard now he has lost 6 months” his mother joined in.
They sat for dinner and Aarav enjoyed his gobi parantha with dhal and dahi as his parents discussed what other parents were planning for their kids. Aarav could not bother as he licked his fingers not leaving the butter that stuck on to his fingers. He borrowed his father’s mobile and SMSed his friends, “‘Dilip Da’s stnd 11AM morrow, dnt rply, GdNt.”
He went to bed thinking of the Qila. He woke up in the night and looked at the streetlight that filtered into his room through the netted windows and remembered the Qila. Quickly, he covered his face with the blanket and was fast asleep.
It was soon Saturday morning and his mother ensured he woke up by 9 am and had a leisurely heavy breakfast. Aarav went out, cleaned his cycle, and got ready to meet his friends. “You have left your football,” his mother said as she threw the football from the window.
He pedalled to the cycle stand and Dilip Da was chitchatting with the colony dhobi and the postman. He looked at Aarav with acknowledgement as he handed over the football and waited for his friends. Aadhi came on his bike and asked, “where are the others,” as he got down the cycle. They discussed a while about the IIIT coaching stuff and soon the conversation drifted to the unfinished stroll of the day before to the Qila. “It’s bright and nice and I think we should see the Qila today,” Aadhi voiced, as Aarav nodded in agreement and said, “we should convince the rest,” soon one by one all of them turned up and they agreed unanimously in visiting the Qila like they agreed the day before.
They left their cycles at the stand and gave the football in Dilip Da’s custody who loved heading the ball like Ronaldo. They set to walk towards the Qila and picked up an orange bar each from the ice-cream vendor on the way. The Orange bar melted in the bright sun, dripping on their shoes, and making their hands sticky. Stopping over, at the not yet open evening pani puri stall, they dipped their hands on the canopy of the stall which had collected rainwater the previous night.
Qila shone with the black streaks of dead moss looking moist and the creepers and banyan leaves washed and fresh. Gate was closed with an old-time latch, which Aadhi, leading the boys opened, and ambled inside. The sparrows chirped and lots of parrots made shrill noises, probably happy & cheerful after the previous day’s rain. Carried away, by the not so eerie ambience of the place. and giving in to temptation they drifted to the front steps of the Qila and were soon inside the front entrance.
“Eek”, “eesshh”, “oh teri” ... were the voices that filled the air as the boys’ eyes got accustomed to the rather dim or gloomy interiors which were dingy. There was a peculiar stench which they never experienced before. It smelt pungent and the air felt dense as though the oxygen had depleted. “it’s the smell of bats,” exclaimed Karthik, “I have visited the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary while in Chennai.” Manav quickly cut in, “how on earth does it matter now, we are in a dungeon of a place, and it stinks crazy.” “I felt something came near me,” screamed Hari and darted quickly hitting into his other friends, they ran in panic and soon found themselves below the staircase in the landing.
“It must have been a bat that flew around by ultrasonic wave guidance, Kapardia Sir gave this example remember last semester,” explained Manav to his other friends. Vinay played a small prank hiding and making them search and the noon sun coming in through crevices near the spiral stairs, they saw each other’s hair tangled with cobwebs.
“It’s better we have our lunch and come back with torch lights. Dhobi has a few LED lanterns which he keeps in his tuck shop, maybe we can borrow them and probably bring Dilip Da in the noon along with us,” Aarav said as they felt the place was not as bad as it was made out to be. They walked back dusting themselves and priding about the heroics they had been up to.
“2 pm we will be back here,” Aathi said as they broke for lunch. Aarav did not go home for lunch. He chose the Chole Kulcha that the cycle vendor sold near the stand. Dilip Da was sitting on his old metal chair and dosing off. Awaking each time his head fell to his chest. Aarav went up to him and engaged in a conversation about the Qila.
“Pagal hein kya,” exclaimed Dilip Da, as Aarav narrated their escapades a little while ago. But there was some amount of doubt and superiority in Dilip Da’s face, as he began to realise that the boys less than half his age had done something like this. He nodded in agreement, when Aarav asked him if he would join them to the Qila. Under the pretext of checking the electric meter board in a house nearby, Dilip Da borrowed the LED lantern from the Dhobi and keeping his nephew to manage the cycle stand, Dilip Da joined the boys in their expedition. Dilip Da prided as he said he had done a similar thing in his childhood (Really had not dared to look the side of Qila) and there was nothing new in what the boys had done, and led the pack into the gates.
Aadhi playing a prank on Dilip Da pushed him inside from his back and Dilip Da pretending to be a gallantry-self, marched and the boys followed. They switched on the lantern and found there were sculptures all over the walls, something like they saw in the Relic Hunter. They felt like Nicholas Cage who had stepped into the set of National Treasure.
“Look,” screamed Manav and his head firm upwards; this was probably the site to savour. Paintings of the Mughal Kings and their multiple beloveds who were robbed from various smaller kingdoms in the region, armies, dates of wars fought, and other such statistics adorned the high ceiling before the room leading into the stairway.
They looked in disbelief and Hari rightly pointed out, “There is more to learning history on-site than mere classroom lectures.” They stumbled upon the side of a wall which had only teeth embedded all over it. It was probably a cold reminiscent of a cruel post-war ritual that the mughal’s performed over the defeated army, plucking out all 32 teeth of the entire battalion that surrendered in defeat, cruelty was second to none for the mughals.
To be continued…
A Grandson, Husband and Father of Two, S Jaganathan, is one of the Director's of The Verandah Club. He is an avid traveller, interested in trendspotting and a firm believer in the philosophy - Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah.
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