It was at around 12:00 at night on a summer evening and the power was out for the past 20 minutes or so. I was up on the fourth floor terrace of my house with my I-Pod blaring music into my ears. The night breeze was a welcome relief from the stuffiness of the three floors below and I was doing my rounds on the terrace long before the power cut happened. It was my special thing, this wandering the roof in the moonlight, my way of shaking a feeble fist at what was another meaninglessly tough day spent at the office. My uncle suddenly showed up on my roof-top domain and tells me, "Kutush, there's someone in the house! Didibhai (My cousin sister) thinks she saw someone flit into the second floor"
It took a couple of seconds for the words to register. This was central Calcutta with endless rows of old, old houses: some occupied, some not; punctured by vein like streets. The roofs are therefore all an easy leap from one to the next, not very unlike the roofs of Agrabah ruled by Alladin in his shadier days. Stories of thefts in the neighbourhood I had heard aplenty about why the roof doors around here need to be doubly padlocked but it somehow never seemed to hit home. Now it did and with it the dread of living one of those stories out.
The situation was all the more disturbing because in this case, I was the "man of the house". The only other persons in the house were my uncle (almost 70), my aunt, my sister and my 6 year old nephew. I had found that fact pretty amusing until that moment. Heart in my mouth couldn't have found a more literal expression than that night. But a man has got to do what a man has got to do so down the stairs I went ever so slowly.
The power was still cut off. The flashlight in my cell phone was to date used only to pour light into my sleeping sister's eyes to disturb her but now it was my shield against the unknown. I inched my way across the house looking under every bed and in every cupboard and verandah, every milisecond expecting a shadowy figure to ambush me. The wait for the expected attack was tremendously nerve-straining and that night put paid to any misconceptions that I might have had about me being brave.
As it turned out eventually; there was nobody in my house that night and I had never appreciated it's ample size before I went out on this Hardy Boys investigation. The morning after, we found out that it was probably the elongated shadow of my 6 year old nephew who was scouting around for a glass of water at an ungodly hour (by his standards) that gave my sleepy sister in another bedroom the jitters. But my house didn't ever feel so safe after that and now when I roam the roof, I always keep a watchful eye out on the darkness of the neighbouring roofs. The calming effect of a walk in the moonlight is now permanently replaced by a buzz in the head of being constantly on vigil. Thrill is a poor substitute for peace of mind but it does have its own merits. I felt my heart thump like never before that night but walking the edge with your survival on the line is a great way to appreciate what you really have.