The scorching sun and the dry wind had almost blistered my face. Droplets of blood formed on my chapped lips if I tried to speak. Satish, who otherwise had the enthusiasm of a fledgling poking its head everywhere, was sitting next to me with a grumpy frown.
“I am quite sure we have lost our way”, said Satish. “You have been driving for the last two hours and we haven’t come across a single dog on the street, forget humans”
“It’s too hot for dogs to be out”, I muttered. But I had started to lose confidence as well. It’s true that we had been driving around for two hours on the jeep now. We should have reached Ginadi by now. We were going really low on diesel. I was getting worried. We had better get a fill before it got dark.
The heat and the dryness were just adding on to our woes. We had one bottle of water left between us. The mirage kept playing games with us. I was almost having thoughts of turning around when I suddenly noticed a petrol pump.
“Satish… Satish, wake up Satish”, I almost kicked him.
“Huh, Wha… What happened”, he said with a start.
“Do you see the petrol pump there”, I whispered hoping to hear a yes; praying it wasn’t a hallucination.
When I didn’t hear anything I turned to look at him. He was looking at me with an almost hysterical glee, vigorously nodding his head in affirmation. I smiled, a painful bloody smile, and headed towards the pump thanking our stars.
Just as the jeep entered the petrol pump there was a loud bang and a puncture. Damn!
“This would take an hour”, said the only person who was present at the petrol pump.
“Bhaisaab, can you please tell us how far is Ginadi from here?” I asked. In return he gave me a weird dim-witted smile. I shrugged and turned to Satish. Satish was looking around and pointed to something behind the petrol pump.
I looked and saw a gate. It was quite peculiar that I had failed to notice it earlier. As we walked closer to it we noticed a sign board that said, “Pidstu me aap ka swagat hai” (Welcome to Pidstu) It seemed like a small village - a really small village.
We ventured inside. I started feeling funny in the head but I blamed it on the heat and the long journey. The place looked quite neat and planned in contrast to what we had gone through for the last two hours. There was some method amongst the madness. The roads were well maintained. The houses, though small, were built in perfect rows; they were identical, square single storied. There were well placed electricity poles and water pumps. There were tiny workshops and work-shacks. There were huge farms lush with crops. Everything seemed perfect; everything - except the people.
There were people on the farms; on the roads; on the shacks. They all seem to be working hard – very hard. But there was something very mechanical about them. The people harvesting the crop on the farm were all doing it in the same synchronised movement. The ones building the houses were working together like clockworks. The people on the street were walking in a disciplined chalked out pattern. No one was in a conversation with the other. It looked like they were being manned by some supernatural force.
The entire environment was eerie. To top that, my head was feeling lighter and funnier. I looked at Satish. He was staring at the people with his mouth wide open; his lower jaws almost touching his prosperous stomach.
“Do you see what I see”, he asked.
“You mean, these mechanical people, right?” I said feeling a bit unsure about if we were actually seeing the same thing.
“Yes, and also the tree tops that are turning flaming orange”, he said.
I looked up at the trees. They seemed normal to me; normal green leafy trees. I looked at him again and shrugged. ‘It must have been the heat that’s got on to him’, I thought.
We walked up to a man who was staring at the house to the farthest end of the road.
“Hello… err… Namaste” I said.
He turned to me and looked straight between my eyes with no expression.
“We are travellers on our way to Ginadi. Our jeep got punctured. It’s getting repaired out there at that petrol pump.” There was no reaction from the man; the same strange, cold stare.
“So this place, Pidstu, does not look too old”, I tried again. “How old is it?”
“Have you been eating lamb chops with the lambs”, he replied with a straight face.
“Wha… What?” I asked.
“The sky does not look like it will go hopping over the mountains today” He said expressionless again.
I turned towards Satish. He had a comical look on his face; the kind of look one would have if he was slapped hard on the face when he wasn’t looking, in a room full of people, and didn’t know who had slapped him.
The man suddenly uttered, “Master angry, master angry” and hurried towards the house he had been staring at.
I wasn’t feeling too great in my head too. It seemed like my energy was all getting drained off. I drank some water from one of the water pumps. We started walking towards the fields. There was a slow strange buzz in the air. As we got closer I heard the people singing a weird song as they kept harvesting.
In they come to Pidstu,
Seeing everything nice and true
Oh, but it’s all deceptive,
In real they’re Pidstu’s captive
Their mind’s in Pidstu’s possession,
They can’t take any decision
They’ll realise when it’s time to leave,
There’s nowhere to go, oh, here they’ll live
By then I realised that everyone around was singing the song; in chorus, thousands of them. They were all staring at me and Satish, blankly and singing. When I looked at Satish he was staring back at me with a moronic grin on his face.
“The elephants on the trees are asking us to join them”, he said.
“WHAT” I shouted.
“The elephants – yellow elephants - up there on the purple trees; don’t you see them?”
I shook my head in disbelief but people around us seemed to understand what Satish just said. They were all nodding in agreement. It was sinister.
For some strange reason I was having difficulty reasoning out what was happening.
“I wonder why those women there are carrying tiny backpacks with huge pink locks”, the guy next to me asked.
“September was saying… he had a date with August” I replied.
WHAT… What was I saying? What was I thinking? I wasn’t even thinking. I took a deep breath. This was bizarre, but now, I was getting scared – very scared. The song the people were singing; Satish’s lunatic reactions; my vague answers; the woolly feeling in my head; it was all making me paranoid. I was realising what was happening. This was just not right.
I understood in spite of my mind not sensing right: this place, Pidstu was a sinister land that sucked in the minds of human beings, creating a mind of its own-a mind so strong that it would trap the people inside its boundaries, make them have delusions, control their mind to an extent that it made them its slave.
I looked up and was stunned to see the trees turning orange. Satish was already one of the people. He had completely lost his mind. I had to get out of this damn place. Now – right now. I started running towards the gate – fast – faster – and faster… and… then I started flying. Oh, I am flying. Oh, this feels wonderful. Look at those trees – the purple trees of and the yellow elephants look so cute on them. They are beckoning me. I am coming, yes, I am coming. What’s that sound I hear? The air is full of it. No, the air is breathing it… It’s saying… Pidstu… Pidstu… Pidstu… Pid…Stu…Pid…Stu…Pid…Stupid…Stupid...