“And then there were none” – the title of the Agatha Christie crime thriller perfectly captured my thoughts at seeing people run from the an impending dust storm, one evening. The scene around me was probably worth capturing with a camera, but the inertia was too strong for even nature to disturb, so I content myself with just the pun. The world had been forced out of autopilot a short while ago by a swirling cloud of dust which had now blocked my view of the horizon. At this unfortunate turn of events, I just said, “Oh, forgot about these,” with an unsurprising nonchalance. It was well deserved poetic justice that I found myself at the eye of the storm a few minutes later.
A news report from Pilani in the summer, is inevitably, either about the searing temperatures or the blinding dust storms. This was all I expected when I decided to call this place, an inconsequential town somewhere along the Rajasthan-Haryana border, home nearly two years ago. Hailing from Mumbai, I have never been a close neighbor to sun or frost, but the BITS tag and male bravado told me I could brave this without breaking a sweat. Well, I was wrong (obviously, you know where this story is heading).
The night after the storm found me on my bed, in a small hostel room, miserably failing in an attempt to get some sleep. Sitting up in bed, I wonder if opening the window of the room will remedy my suffering. My imagination took me to the English countryside, where windows open in the summer to let in the warm scent of honeysuckle. However, the rasping sound of a bee’s wings clattering against the window pane breaks the reverie and pushes such wild ideas into the deepest recesses of my mind. The musty smell of the room, due to dust from the sandstorm the previous evening, takes me back to the attic of my grandparent’s humble village house where I spent many a hot, lazy afternoon. But, oh, what to do with a night that rivals the afternoon in temperature? To escape this wave of painful olfactory nostalgia, I step out into the corridor, being sure to close the door, lest a Columbus among insects decides to colonize my room’s tube light.
Walking towards the travesty of a water cooler, bearing the melancholy look of one who is looking for an electrical fault with wet hands, I am hardly optimistic for a refreshing drink. The hot spray of water down my gullet only serves to compound my restlessness. Resignedly and rather aimlessly I head for a stroll to the nearest eatery. It is true, food more than time is the great healer. After a meal equal in taste to the importance of this night, I traipse back to my room. Plopping myself on the bed, I hear a raucous hoot pierce the air. This baboon esque cry only complements the wide variety of insects to complete the scene of spending a night in a rainforest. A power cut is in progress. Now, I realize that I can’t look to the fan to provide a creaking lullaby (if not cold air), while I bore myself to sleep one sheep at a time.
Half an hour passes, with no change in my predicament. Suddenly, the world quietens down. Even the neighborhood baboons seem to have torn their vocal cords. While this sudden eerie silence would unsettle many a person, it brings, for me, a strange sense of solace. I now realize that I am not alone in wishing for a simple midsummer night’s dream.