This happened during the third semester of my MBA. Thanks to one of our visiting professors having skipped a few of his lectures due to other engagements, we had to attend an 8-hour lecture of his, just one of as many such lectures as it took for him to complete the exam syllabus at this last minute. However, that morning, I and my friends arrived at the institute only to be told that the professor had cancelled the lecture. Wondering what to do after travelling more than 30 kms by a shuttle train to the institute (as the next shuttle train would only be at 6 pm), we decided on impulse to take a trip to the well-known Kharghar waterfalls, in Kharghar, a Navi Mumbai suburb a few stations away from Panvel, where my institute is based.
It was not the most sensible idea to start with, as it was the monsoon season, and the stream flowing from the waterfall would have swollen in volume and might even be dangerous. But we threw caution to the winds and happily boarded the suburban local from Panvel to Kharghar, and later, the autorickshaws that ferried us from Kharghar station to the falls. There was a long and muddy pathway leading from an entrance gate, where the rickshaws had to stop, and we had to make our way afoot on this path towards the falls. The soil was slippery and slimy and we trod gingerly, as we didn’t want our clothes to get dirty, by falling on the pasty dirt. Somehow, holding each other, we walked towards the falls, which appeared suddenly as we rounded a bend. We could already hear the heavy gushing noise of a large amount of water falling hard on rocks, and as we walked down the muddy path, we saw what was supposed to be a stream but had swelled into a small brown river and was roaring past heavily, carrying branches, garbage, and other debris along at tremendous speed. This should have warned us, but we walked along lithely until we reached the falls.
The waterfalls presented an awesome sight. On both sides of it were large rocks, and people were climbing up these to reach the top of the falls! We stood surprised for a few moments, then decided to follow these daredevils. In the company of peers, even the timid man becomes a hero, as he doesn’t wish to lose face in front of his friends. I’m sure all of us felt this as we unhesitatingly walked on towards the base rocks, which we started climbing, in our bravado, even trying not to hold any rocks for support and climbing just using our natural balance. The first few of these rocks were manageable, but as we climbed higher, the rocks felt more slippery, not to mention the spray from the falls whipping our faces and stinging our eyes. There was a moment, near the top, where the water flow was thin enough that I actually managed to jump from a rock on one side to the one on the other, with the falls flowing in between. This was an act that only the foolishly brave would attempt, for if my foot had slipped on the rock towards which I was jumping or I’d missed that rock, I’d fallen a good distance down and experienced several fractures or perhaps died of a broken neck or skull fracture from hitting my head on one of the rocks below. But that wasn’t the last foolishly brave thing I did that day.
We finally landed on a ledge near the top and breathed a sigh of relief as we edged away from the falls. Looking up, I saw more huge rocks at higher elevations, and on the largest of these, which was at the very top, three guys sat around coolly swilling beers from plastic cups. I had to admire their bravado, seeing as how dangerous this climb had seemed when completely sober, and how the climb down didn’t exactly seem easy either.
After taking in the sights from this height for a while, we decided to climb down and gingerly (this time taking support of each object that helped) stepped downwards among the rocks. We slipped a couple of places on the slimy stone surfaces but thankfully managed to grab on to each other or other rocks, branches, etc., and in time, we’d returned to the base of the falls. Feeling elated with this adventure, my friend called out, ‘Who wants to wade across the stream?’, for wading across the stream was a direct shortcut to the entrance of the pathway that led to the falls, as otherwise we’d have to walk some distance on the slippery mud path to reach the gate. Once again, without hesitation or thinking, I immediately said, ‘I’ll come with you!’, and even as the others smirked at our foolish enthusiasm, I followed him to the bank of the stream and stepped in after him. Immediately, I felt the force of the current and I was not able to put my foot down after lifting it up to take another step, as the rush of the flooding stream unbalanced me and it seemed like I was going to fall sideways. As I panicked and wildly tried to regain my balance, three guys who were wading across the stream in the opposite direction, parallel to us, saw me, and one of them shouted to my friend, ‘Hold him or he’s going to be swept away!’ My friend turned and caught my wrist in the nick of time and steadied me, and we both crossed the stream without further incident.
In keeping with the apathetic Indian sense of ‘humour’, our other friends laughed at me and my escapade like it was an amusing incident instead of wondering how bad it would have turned out if my friend hadn’t caught me in time. We walked back to the gate and hailed another rickshaw and were soon in the local train going towards Panvel. In the train, I thanked my friend for saving my life, and he made light of it. Soon we were back in Panvel, and as most of us dispersed back to their respective homes taking their various routes, another friend from Kalwa suggested, ‘Why don’t we pass some time here until the shuttle comes?’ There was still about a couple of hours until the shuttle was due, and my friend had already thought out what we should do in the meantime. He led the way to a bar, one frequented regularly by students from my institute, to the extent that the bar owner knew which division we were from without seeing any ID, and we settled down for some relaxing drinks.
Now I’d never been a drinker, and this was a first. But after the day’s adventures, I felt raring to go and willing to attempt anything without hesitation. We each ordered a tall glass of beer and later, a couple of pints of vodka, with peanuts and roast papad for snacks. Needless to say, the drinks tasted horrible and I somehow gulped them down, all the while acting and feeling completely sober, like I was immune to their intoxicating effects. Soon it was time to leave for the station and I and my friend walked along. It was only while we started to climb the flight of stairs at the main entrance that I began to feel a bit woozy and wobbled slightly. My friend, who had so far admired my apparent sobriety, now smiled and teased me, ‘you are high, aren’t you?’ I smiled and said no, and walked in a straight line to the platform where the shuttle train arrived on schedule.
In the train, as dusk gathered outside and the crowd increased inside as each station en route passed by, we talked about our day-to-day lives, things that young adults like us gladly talk about, like girlfriends, money, career, etc. Initially, as the train was passing through tunnels and the sound of the train increased to a din due to the enclosed space, we were shouting at each other to be heard, but I soon began noticing that even when we were not in tunnels and the outside noise was not so high, I was still talking very loudly, which is very unlike me. Not to mention excitedly, enthusiastically, like the things we were discussing were of the foremost importance in our lives. I noticed the people around us glancing in our direction, but I continued my high-pitched yapping nonetheless. That’s when I realized I was truly drunk and feeling drunker by the minute.
After the train stopped at Diva Junction, my friend and I parted ways, and I waited for the local to reach the next station, my home, Dombivli. In the local train, I realized that I was very much in danger of lurching like a drunk or tripping over someone, and I fought with all my willpower to control myself, lest I be manhandled or abused by fellow commuters. My chest felt heavy and I wondered whether I was going to puke, but that was something I was not going to let happen. So clenching my teeth and my fists, I waited for Dombivli station to arrive, and after alighting, walked fast but somewhat unsteadily home. When I rang the doorbell, and my folks opened the door, I announced that I didn’t want dinner and was going to bed as I wasn’t feeling well. They were concerned, but I brushed aside their questions and went to the bedroom, locked the door from within and was asleep within minutes without even having changed my clothes. The next morning, I experienced my first hangover but acted like it was due to my illness. Soon, I was back to normal, with that awesome day remaining a clear memory, which is why I’m able to narrate it so completely today.
The next morning, while travelling back to my institute with friends in the shuttle train, a friend read out from a regional language local paper that five people had been swept away the previous day in the flooded stream flowing from the Kharghar waterfalls and had been drowned at sea. My heart came into my mouth for a moment as I truly realized the horror of what would have happened to me as well. I thanked God and my friend again for my lucky escape, and proceeded on with yet another ordinary day.