A WHINING Suparna follows the three of us as we try to find a way out of the field. ‘By the way, if I were to believe you boys even for a second, how the hell did we land up here in Himachal Pradesh at the push of a button?’
‘Aman, dude, your happy place isn’t, like, a never-ending field of pot, right?’ Not like we couldn’t see the thick forest, a valley and some mountains making a landscape over the horizon.
‘Man! I’m beginning to, like, wonder why I didn’t dream of shit like that. I’m, like, beginning to doubt my existence as a stoner… Like, what worth am I man if my happy place is not a never-ending field of pot?’
‘Basically, none of you will answer me?’
‘It’s not like that, Suparna. They tend to get distracted every now and then.’ I slow down a little to walk with her. ‘We’re on a mission from God. This red button is what he gave us when we asked for an arsenal. For emergency situations, he said.’
‘You know na? That you’re sounding completely insane!’
‘I know.’ I stop and turn to squeeze her shoulders gently. ‘But I like you. I know I’ve never told you this, but I have had a crush on you forever, since the day you first handed me a booklet of Sodexho coupons in exchange for a signature in the register.’
‘I can see that.’ The heartbreaker shows no pity.
An uncomfortable confession: ‘So, I’d rather let the world be destroyed than make a fool of myself in front of you. Unfortunately, we’re in Himachal Pradesh and the world really is on its way to dissolution.’
She shakes my hands off and continues walking. I’m glad that, at least, she will now start taking this apocalypse thing seriously.
I like to look at the rest of the walk as the awkward silence between the brash young hero and the stubborn but soft-hearted young heroine from a romance story. Only a confession of love can follow this. I put on a bright sunshine smile and continue walking. The silence is still awkward.
Until we catch up with Danny and Aman, Aman seems to be dealing well with the tragic fact that his happy place is not an infinite field of pot. Their meaningless conversation keeps the tropical discomfort between Suparna and me to the minimum. We smile at some rather inane things the two say as we cross from one farm into another till we come across higher land. Barbed wire fences off the mini-cliff that we are facing. We help each other up and try to cross over through the space between the wires.
Suparna barely manages to put a leg on the other side when a gunshot booms past her. Unsurprisingly, she screams.
Danny and Aman duck. ‘F**k!’ Aman quickly starts puffing on his joint to finish it. And I scream as well. The love of my life is on the other side of the fence and I haven’t crossed yet. I crawl towards her through the barbed wire even as it tears my trousers and shirt. ‘Suparna!’
She is already lying flat on the ground. Gunshots are being fired at random. A bullet blasts into the few inches of earth between our faces and we scream again as high-speed mud particles sting our skins.
‘Aman! Is this panic situation panicky enough?’
We spread ourselves as flat as we can go on the ground and manage to grab each other’s arms and legs, like skydivers making a ring, as Aman flips open the casing to push the red button. The bullets begin to sound like beeps and the melodious Tarzan Boy sound is in the air. And reality turns 8-bit only to switch back when we’re dropped off.
We land. ‘This place looks like we’re in the same goddamn field!’
That is when Suparna starts to contribute. ‘It doesn’t look like. Literally, it is the same field.’ She waves her hands around. ‘Basically, this is the same place we fell the last time one of you pressed the button.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because my pen’s lying on the ground.’ She picks it up and dusts it. ‘It must have fallen off me when we were dropped here.’
‘Holy shit, man! I think I have only one happy place.’ Then he breaks into a grin and his jaws are grit together like when he’d had too much coffee.
‘Who were those people?’ Suparna asks.
‘They must be, like, some sorta soldiers… like caretakers of these fields and stuff.’
‘How do we get out of here now? Why doesn’t Nikhil press the button again? Maybe we’ll land in the office again.’
‘No, we won’t. Because this button takes you to your happy place, Suparna.’
‘I don’t think I should try this.’ Danny slaps some crushed bud from the centre of his sweaty palm onto the paper. ‘Because after we landed here, there is a faint chance that my happy place is an infinite field of pot.’
‘But why can’t Nikhil work again? Basically, the office is his happy place, right?’
Danny and Aman just snigger and the gunfire feels closer and louder with every bullet.
‘I can’t do it, Suparna. Let’s just leave it at that, please!’
‘Why are you being such a coward, Nikhil? Weren’t you the one who said that the world needs to be saved?’
And with every ounce of drama that had ever bubbled inside my stomach and stayed put like resident gas, the words fly out of my mouth, like a sleepfart. ‘Because my happy place is you, Suparna, it is you!’
Silence. No, not really. Because the gunshots are still around, although it does feel like someone pushed Pause on us.
‘F**k dude! This sounds like they’re getting closer.’ Danny hisses in a frenzy.
‘Give me that button!’ Suparna snatches it away from Aman. ‘Let’s go to my happy place!’
Danny swings his foot hard and the small button box flies high up.
‘DANNY! WHAT THE F**K DID YOU DO THAT FOR?’
The thrills are running a high viral fever. I pray, thanking God for making my death as beautiful as this: stranded with the love of my life and people that I can call my best friends.
‘Will someone, like, take a look at her fingers!’
‘NOOO!’ She screams. ‘I’m not one of them! I promise…’ Switch expression to calm: ‘Basically, my hands are just dirty because of all this outdoor activity.’
Aman’s caught the button box. ‘This shit is going to hit the fan man!’
We are being cornered by pot-farming soldiers with blazing guns. The one exit strategy we’ve got will not work and the woman of my dreams is undead, maybe partially, but still…
‘We’re up what-do-you-call-it’s creek!’
We start running in the other direction.
Suparna, the one whom we can’t really trust anymore, asks, ‘Why are we running?’
‘Because that is what you do…’ There’s only so much you can say in one go when you’re running out of breath. ‘When you are being chased… By a gang of men… With guns!’
‘Oh! Is that why?’ Aman just stops running. His hands are at his waist as his chest heaves heavily.
‘Dude, why did you stop?’ Danny stops and walks back to Aman.
I hold Suparna back and stop myself.
‘Why are we, like, running man?’
‘Aman! I am freaking out with every gunshot! Can you hear it get louder?’ Another shot, this time louder than the last, goes off and I shake a little. ‘See?! They’re getting closer.’
‘Man, you’ve never seen The Blues Brothers, have you?’
‘Yes I have, but what has that got to do with this?’ Danny catches on like the other hand of a clock.
‘John Belushi believes that they are on a mission from God! And nothing ever happens to them!’
‘There you go! We are, like, on a mission from God, man! Nothing bad can happen to us! We trust people we smoke pot with, Nikhil.’
I don’t like the way they validate and punctuate each other’s theories. ‘I’m leaving.’
‘No, you’re not. How do we deal with the Suparna situation?’ Aman seems to have taken charge and I can’t stop flinching every time a stray bullet flies past us.
‘What do you propose we do while we wait for our fatal complication to go away?’
‘I don’t know man… Not, like, I am like a death escape hobbyist or shit like that… Just wait it out man… Maybe smoke some shit.’
And right on cue, Danny starts to roll. ‘Dude, if pot smoke helps the maggots out of the pizza…’ Danny works his brain while his thumbs are working with the paper. ‘What if we make her smoke up?’
‘Oh… no, no, no, no. I am not doing drugs with three boys in a strange place. I am not even sure of what’s happening, saving the world, zombies, maggots…’
‘Take it back, you stupid bitch!
‘Danny, don’t call her that…’ But no one is listening to me mumble in these trying times.
‘Take what back?’
‘You just called smoking pot “doing drugs”, like, for the second time!’ Danny says ‘doing drugs’ like a squeaky squirrel. ‘And if you want to, like, stay with us then you better smoke this.’
‘Okay then… I am gone from here.’ She starts walking, but one more gunshot and she jumps back in our direction.
‘I will stay because, basically, you boys got me into this trouble and it’s your duty to get me out of it. But believe me, I am not taking that smoke into my lungs.’ We are all going to die!
‘Well, Nikhil’s girl, you leave us no option then… Hold her down guys! We’re, like, going to perform that lifeguard kiss to revive her.’ Aman lights a joint and takes a deep drag.
‘Hey! Not mouth-to-mouth!’
‘You got a better option, loverboy?’
I look down to indicate my respect for Indian morality and modesty. ‘Well, if anyone has to perform mouth-to-mouth on her, it should be me.’
‘You wish, you loser!’ She struggles and keeps her face turned away so I can’t get at her mouth as Danny and Aman pin her down to the ground. I inhale a whole lot of smoke while my mellowing mind and body get used to the gunshots around us. They’ve almost become like the natural ambient sound of a pot field. I sit across her stomach, pinch her nose shut and blow a whole deal of smoke into her mouth. Just as I’m getting up, she kicks me hard between my legs and I crash sideways. They let her go and she trembles a little.
‘Quick! Ask her something that we can test her for.’
‘Did… you… eat canteen food… at the office… OW! F**k you, bitch!’ It feels like generations after me, in the future, my great great great great grandson is still feeling the pain in his scrotum.
She flinches just like she did at the office canteen when I had asked her the same thing, but this time she says, ‘I did!’
I barely get up. ‘Give her the joint! It’ll keep her human for a while!’ My hands are still cupping my balls.
‘For that we’ll, like, have to be alive for a while dude.’
I look up from the ground to see that the gunmen are here. ‘Bhenchodon! Idhar why? Death ke liyepraying?’
My hands quickly move away from my crotch as we are now in the company of strangers.
‘Remember man if we, like, don’t get out of this, this wasn’t a mission from God in the first place and we’re dead.’ Surrounded by a bunch of armed men, eight or 10 of them.
‘Thank you for reminding me that I could be dead, Aman.’ Aman passes the joint as all of us take in the proverbial last meal. Only a deus-ex-machina can save us now.
‘Two sexy chinky girls!’
‘No! Deus-ex-machina! It doesn’t mean two sexy chinky girls!’
‘Dude, I know what deus-ex means but look, two sexy chinky girls!’
Two girls are standing right behind the gang of men. Danny and Aman have their mouths wide open and their eyes wider. One’s wearing a schoolgirl outfit and the other’s wearing a jacket and cotton pants and flat shoes, like a female detective in a cop movie.
‘Yarre Yarre!’ The schoolgirl grins and spits out the chewing gum she’s chewing. Her sword resting on her shoulder like a club.
‘Oooh…’ Aman sniggers.
The men look away from us, except one guy who keeps the tip of his barrel right on Suparna.
The girl in pants just stands cool with her hands behind her back. When she moves, you see a spear appear from behind her.
Two gunmen pull back the tiny handles on the back of their rifles and load them, pointing the barrels in the general direction of the girls. The girls just exchange very knowing smiles.
‘Pass me the joint dude… This looks like its gonna be fun.’
WHAT HAPPENS next is straight from an anime. Bodies are sliced and bullets are broken. Guns are split and spines are cracked. This is like watching a garden sprinkler go off. Except, instead of water, we have blood. The schoolgirl’s katana goes past man and metal alike and the jacket’s spear breaks enough bones and leaves enough holes with pulsing hearts popping right out of them.
I close my eyes as my head starts spinning and my stomach hurtles into emptiness. Danny and Aman are entranced. Suparna pukes.
When the girls are done with their extremely grotesque exhibition, they flick their weapons so that every last droplet of blood sprays off the blades until they glisten while being sheathed.
‘Konichiwa, Danny-kun. Konichiwa Aman-kun.’
‘Holy pot-smoking eskimos! They, like, know our names!’
Danny empties a bellyful of smoke with a coughing fit. ‘What’s a kun?’
When one knows Danny and Aman as well as I do, it is not difficult to imagine what they’re seeing right now. They’re seeing themselves perform every position they’ve ever seen in their Asian porn DVD discography. The only words I can say are a soft ‘deus-ex-machina’. And then a loud. ‘We ARE on a f**king mission from God.’
Suparna reaches out for the spliff and starts smoking in quick drags as she slips next to me, our arms touching. I look down to see if my heart isn’t glowing like ET’s cause it sure as hell feels like it is.
(Excerpted from Jugal Mody’s debut novel Toke to be published by HarperCollins India)
JUGAL MODY believes that only comedy can save the world from its people. He has worked with the interwebs and social media for Filmfare and is now with Tehelka.Toke is his first novel.