My eyes adjusted to the darkness as I entered the tunnel. I paused to allow my senses to get comfortable with the dampness in the air and continued walking.
That tunnel was a forgotten hole the mountain abandoned by government, time and residents of villages scattered around that region of the Sahiyadris. No parallel rails made for trains escaped out of it, now that I was watching it from the inside. This tunnel was made for cars, perhaps built in early 60’s, but the road that connected this tunnel to the nearest village had disappeared under a landslide. The tar on the road had surrendered to the atrocities of harsh weather and the uglier under-skin of the ground had begun to rudely peek and snarl. And then, there were potholes, hundreds of them.
It was in one of these potholes that my foot got stuck and I found myself almost flat on the uneven wet ground. I guess my palms were scraped and I guess a warm stream of blood had broken free from my knee. I could only guess, because I was enveloped by near 100% darkness. I cursed myself for wearing shorts. My spectacles fell down on the ground and a hook of panic embedded itself deeply in my brain. I moved my hands and felt the ground with my palms in search for my glasses and I found them. I wore my spectacles and waited flat on the ground. I was waiting for my body to respond with that shocking split-bone fracture pain, but thankfully, there was none. My palms, where the skin had scraped off burned hot as I rested them flat and prepared to get up. I managed to sit cross legged and had begun to regain strength, when I heard her voice.
A sharp, shrill but happy cry followed by innocent giggles echoed against the tunnel walls.
I sat up and looked. Towards the light, at the other side of the tunnel, a young woman wearing a bottle-green, traditional Maharashtrian 9-yard saree was gesturing me to join her. I was ruthlessly amused. Surely, it was a prank by some art school kids who would often some to this side of the country for sketching in a natural environment.
The Sun made her glass bangles shine. Their soft cling-clangs were in tune with some familiar melody. I got up and started walking towards her. In a few moments I was about to realize how real she was, that it wasn’t a prank.
I realized two things in that moment. First of all, that she wasn’t speaking English. It was old forgotten rural dialect of Marathi. And secondly, she wasn’t speaking at all. Her lips weren’t moving, yet her words I could hear. Inside me.
“Yea na lavkar!”
I started running towards the light. My bleeding knee screamed back at me. I stumbled and crashed to the ground as I exited the tunnel at the other end. Pins of sudden light brought temporary blindness with them. I had to consume a few moments to regain my sense of awareness. I searched around for that girl. She was such a familiar sight it was. I was surprised at how quickly I was drawn to her, as if I had walked down from the hill to the road, to the tunnel in search of her voice. I didn’t find her, but her innocent laughter didn’t stop. It mocked me and it was so familiar. I was almost sure that I had heard that laughter before.
“Arrey, yea na?”
I heard her again and then I saw her at the other side of the tunnel.
“Hoy, mhya aalo!” (yes, I’ll be there) I screamed in that old forgotten rural dialect of Marathi and surprised myself. I didn’t know that language. I started running back into the tunnel, towards the other side, towards the light.
Image credit: http://mapio.net/a/7270958/