The real world is sometimes so real that at times it can get galling and suffocating. Going to school, sitting through 8 hours of classes, coming home, playing for an hour, then studies, then 9.00 pm DD serial and finally sleep. Again next morning you get up and go through the same routine. The only relief comes from books, where exciting things happen and the characters do things that you have always wanted to do but have never been able to. Some are content to live their fantasies in the books and then get back to the real world. But then there are others who want to make the fiction the reality of their lives. During my school days, I was of the second kind.
At that time my favorite books were the 3 investigator series and I had 2 friends who were passionate about the series as well. Our friendship started with discussion of the books but clearly that was not enough. Then one day, we heard some rumors about an abandoned construction site near the school premises where some fishy activities were supposed to be going on. We decided to go and check out the place. It was a large construction site – possibly an apartment complex or a mall. Most of the structure had already been completed. So we had a proper structure with walls and rooms. This place totally captured our imagination. There seemed to be a complex network of rooms and one could easily lose oneself – it almost seemed like a maze. The lighting was poor and it seemed kind of dark and mysterious – just the place to find crime.
Immediately our detective club was launched. Sachin, Siddharth and I were 3 like the 3 investigators. Siddharth was plump and considered himself the smartest of the gang. So he anointed himself Jupiter Jones. Sachin was bespectacled and studious - so he was the natural choice for Bob Andrews. So by default only Pete Crenshaw remained for me. I was not really of athletic build. Nor did I like the idea of being the brawn rather than the brain. But then we could not have 2 Jupiter Jones in the team. So as a good team player, I decided to don the only mantle that remained untaken.
From the moment we discovered this place, we could not keep our minds in the classes at all. We took every opportunity to run out of the school back gate and enter the construction premises. For some reason the construction had stopped completely. Strangely except a sole watchman, there was no one else guarding the site and we could easily give him the slip. For the next couple of months all the lunch breaks were spent at this place. At times we even skipped classes to escape to our favorite haunt. We began to concoct theories of smuggling activities happening here or maybe gun running. We even speculated that this could be the secret headquarters of the Bangalore underworld. We would investigate room by room and we began to mark our presence with colored chalk pieces. Since question marks were already taken by the original 3 investigators, we chose crooked arrows which also were not really original. It was the symbol used by a criminal gang in Hardy Boys series. I sold off some of the stamps from my collection to get money to buy some detective equipment – a flash light, a lens for examining fingerprints and a rope. While my friends had pocket money, my parents did not believe in spoiling children by giving them money. So whenever I needed money, I had to resort to spiriting out from home my coins, stamps, books and play items to sell to the more privileged kids with pocket money.
Some of our classmates had begun to notice our mysterious disappearances and began to ask questions. That made us even more excited. We decided to anoint one of the especially curious classmates, who seemed to be constantly poking his nose into our affairs as Skinny Norris, the bête noire of the three investigators. It was fun looking smug and important in the class and closely guarding our secrets while classmates were trying to pry it off us. But then we also needed the case to progress beyond just exploring the site. We soon had our adversary – an international criminal who called himself the ‘Dark Crusader’. After we had zeroed in on the criminal, we began to find strange scraps of paper lying around initialed DC. He was slowly coming to life!
One fine day Siddharth caught me alone after class and suggested sending a warning note to Sachin’s home to drop the case purportedly from the Dark Crusader. He mentioned the example of a book by Enid Blyton – ‘The Mystery that Never was’ where some boys try to cook up a mystery for their friend and suddenly the mystery turns real. So he hinted if we try to cook up a mystery for Sachin, maybe it would become real. I was never the one for half measures. So I decided to send a warning note to Siddharth ’s home as well. The next couple of days both of them had a mysterious expression on their faces but neither of them mentioned anything about receiving the notes I had sent.
Some three days later, I had an unexpected visitor during the lunch break: my mother! She was looking very agitated. She held an envelope in her hand. “Do you know anything about this?”
I examined the note. It said – “Leave this house at once. Or you will face death; death while the clock ticks.” It was signed DC. Mother had become really flustered and wanted to report to the police. We had had a bitter dispute with our neighbor during the construction of their house. Mother wondered if they had something to do with this note. She had called up father at office to discuss the next steps with him. But the melodrama of the words gave them a hint of a suspicion that it could be my prank. So they wanted to check with me once before going to the police.
I very much wanted to believe in the Dark Crusader. But the lines were from the Hardy Boys book Siddharth was currently reading. And the envelope was a ‘Central Bank of India’ envelope. That was where Siddharth’s dad worked. So it was clear who had sent it. I could not let my mother go to the police. That would mean serious trouble. So I told my mother my suspicion.
I thought she would drop it at that. But unfortunately she had been working herself up over the note since morning and she was in a dark mood. She was not going to spare the miscreant. So she went straight to the class teacher and complained. When the teacher took him to task, out came the note sent by me. With adults getting involved the whole thing took an unpleasant spin and left a bitter taste in the end that strained our friendship. I was evicted from the club and the erstwhile Skinny Norris became the new Pete Crenshaw. I became my own Jupiter and found a new Bob and Pete. But the new ones had not even read ‘Three Investigators’ book and I found them singularly unimaginative. For some days, our two groups tried spying on each other and shadowing whenever the other group left the school premises. But then there was nothing to spy on. The old spark was no longer there and the whole thing slowly fizzled out. The mystery that never was became a friendship that never was.
Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/discopalace/6858790665/?rb=1