Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Bet - A Short Story

The flare of the match stick lit up the dark room. Vivek lit the candle cursing the electricity board for the zillionth time. “What do we do now? How do we watch the remaining movies? ,” whined Shalini. “Well guys, I just called the electricity department and they say our transformer is gone, that means no power till morning” quipped Nalini. “Why don’t we go out?” said Gail and four pairs of eyes turned towards me. “Whats the POA (Plan of Action) Sid?” I looked at them, Vivek, the Konkani from Kerala, Gail from Mumbai, Shalini from all over India (her dad was in the army) and Nalini the “Telugu” who had lived all her life in Gujarat. We had first met in our first term in MBA.The girls were in HR and Vivek and I were from Marketing. We met through common friends and realized that we shared the same interests and hated the same people in college and lo we were the best of pals. I was the motor mouth of the group, the guy who had a word (actually many) to say about anything and everything and hence nick named Sid (after the fast talking weasel in the movie Ice age).As four pairs of eyes stared expectantly at me I said “Why don’t we all go to B&C?”
Bottles and Chimneys (B&C) is a famous pub in Hyderabad and one of our favorite haunts. We were seated in those lounge sofas that are like open Venus flytraps and you keep sinking in. I put a cigarette to my lips and a blue flame shot from my golden lighter as I clicked its round ivory “button”. The lighter was a prized possession. It was gift from my uncle. It was German made and my Uncle had boasted that it was the finest piece of German technology. The lighter was rectangular in shape, gold coated. It had an ivory button shaped knob at a corner and a small nozzle. The lighter was a marvel of German technology because it always lit up on one click. My uncle had said that the only time it needed two clicks was when the butane got over.
The girls gave me disgusted looks as I puffed away.Shalini said something about passive smoking, someone about lung cancer but Nalini hit me where it hurt most. She said “You only smoke because you have that lousy lighter”.
“Don’t call that lighter lousy” I retorted, my voice rising, partly due to the loud music and partly due to the tequila dissolving in my blood stream “It’s a marvel of German technology, always lights up on the first click.”
“Really? Would you bet on it?” said a voice and we whirled round. There was a man in his mid forties. He had unkempt hair and stubble. He was short and had a gray shawl wrapped around him. He looked like any other man on the street but for his eyes. His eyes were thin slits almost reptilian and were blood shot. “Would you bet on it?” he asked again.
Before I knew it I blurted out “Of course old man but whats the bet?” He looked at us and drew out a duffel bag and laid out two bundles of neatly stapled 500 rupee notes.
“If you can light that lighter of yours ten times in succession I will pay you 1 lakh rupees”
“And what if I am not able to?”
He paused and said “If you are not able to, you will have to give me your right hand my friend.”
The girls did an “AAh”, Vivek stood up and I felt a queasy sensation in my stomach. “Don’t do it Sid” pleaded Nalini, “Don’t be a fool Srikant”said Vivek.
“So sissy you man enough to take the bet!!” said the man in the gray shawl.
I looked at him and then at the money and then my friends. I took a long puff at my cigarette, not knowing at that time that it would be my last and said “I will do it man, my lighter has never failed me and it will never fail me”. The bet was on.
The blue flame darted immediately at my click. “One” said Vivek, the man in the gray shawl stood emotionless, his slits piercing into me like two Mongolian daggers. Two, three, four, my “precious” kept my faith but at “five” things started to happen. I noticed that the music had died down and there was a considerable crowd around us .The man suddenly took out a clamp from his bag and laid it out on the table.
“Six” said someone, the man removed an axe and laid it on the table. The sight of the axe sent a murmur through the crowd and I felt a drop of sweat trickle down my spine. “Seven” and the man started sharpening the axe on a small grinding stone. My shirt was damp with sweat. There was pin drop silence in the pub, even the bar tenders had joined the crowd. “Eight”, I looked at the girls they had turned a shade paler. The man though started murmuring “I will get a hand, I will get a hand” and stared at my right hand and said “What a lovely hand I love you my hand”. My fingers trembled; my heart was pounding like a piston of an F1 car. “Nine”, Beads of sweat were all over my forehead. The man started smiling, singing and was getting all agitated like a kid about to get his candy. The entire pub was under the spell of a nervous tension. I brought my finger to the ivory button, the man was practicing his axe swing, I closed my eyes felt my finger touch the ivory button.
What happened next was a blur, suddenly there was a lot of shouting and screaming and before I could press the button I was knocked down and by the time I got up I could see cops all around. The man in the gray shawl was held by two constables, he was writhing like a captured snake and kept shouting” I have a bet to win I have to have his hand .The tenth time the lighter has to be lit the tenth time” the constables dragged him away. The inspector told us that he was a psychopath who had escaped from the mental asylum. He had j robbed a jewellery shop and had cut off the owner’s right hand. The police left after asking afew questions and reprimanded me for the bet.
We sat down and Nalini said “That was a narrow escape Sid” I looked at her in mock bravado and said “Come on! I would have won the bet and won the money, the cops ruined it all.” I pulled out a cigarette and clicked the ivory button,” Click, click, click!” The lighter didn’t light up.
The lighter never ever did work after that “tenth” time., I don’t know why and I never bothered to find out but I did quit smoking cause whenever I put a cigarette between my lips I always remember the Bet and how I was one click away from losing my right hand.


Rani Sowmya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rani Sowmya said...

Hey! This description sounds incredulous.. But all is well that ends well.


Nishit (Remember Me !!) said...

I'm just curious ... what was the brand of the German lighter.

And normally you would never have made it to 10 clicks in a row in that situation. At home or when u were alone it's possible 9/10 times.

Its more of nervousness and anxiety on the part of the human that causes the blunder rather than the instrument itself.

krishnan said...

well...too much for german technology

U know what... if the guy had offered me a million $$$ and told me to run one of the applications that we develop, for 10 minutes, without giving an error--I wouldn't have accepted the bet(my right hand is too precious and I have so much confidence on the applications that we develop :-) )

and I liked the comparison of a Lounge sofa with a Venus Flytrap

Anonymous said...

the location is changing far too often man...:)

Anonymous said...

have'nt lost your touch, now have you???

pushkar said...

dude somene made short fiom based on ur story. a guy from mumbai called nikhil sharda. he is on FB. r u aware of that. anyway ..congratulations..u sud contact the mumbai producers now!