So the clock had struck ten, and the mood had just set-in.
In another half hour, the atmosphere transformed from industrious grilling to general merriment. The music shifted from smooth jazz to popular dance beats. Kebab platters were replaced by a drink (juice, of course) in each hand. Sweat was the only constant, but the source was dance instead of the barbeque. And light banter evolved into cheers that validated absurd dance moves! It only took us another thirty minutes to burn off the extra calories that we had gained in the past couple of hours… or so we thought.
It was only much later that I understood the economics of calorie intake and burn. Apparently, half an hour of dancing is only a little more than a spirited warm-up.
In between the five-minute break that ensued, when some of us (mostly me) replenished our lungs, the toddler’s father whipped out a massive telescope. Unlike the cheap ones installed at minor-league hill stations, this was a legitimate professional rig!
It could have been a 3D-printed replica for all I know, but just like a good hammer, it felt heavy in the hand. So I was convinced of its professional status!
We all took turns peering at the ink-blue canvas speckled with white glitter, but honestly, I didn’t see squat! Blame it on my poor eyesight, lack of astronomical know-how, or unwillingness to let go of my seat in the grass, but I was the only one who did not see whatever others referred to as Orion’s belt! But, of course, I nodded and went along with the charade!
Honestly, it’s simple. Go last and repeat the most frequent comment. Works every single time!
Personally, I don’t see the great thing about identifying every damn star in the sky anyway. I like LOOKING at it. Sure! I like making up my own shapes and curves in the sky. Because, who wouldn’t?
But if you ask me to plot Orion’s belt in the sky, I’d just go – “Meh! Would Orion know the number of holes in MY belt?”
So after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at spotting the constellation that everyone was going gaga over, I spitted out my well-rehearsed two lines and set down in my seat at the far end of the fire.
Remnants of the firewood were still crackling in the soft winter breeze. Nocturnal birds resumed activity as soon as our music was turned down, and I could hear the distinct chatter of cicadas to my left or was it to my right? No, left… definitely left.
I enjoyed those ten minutes of solitude, before the astronomical gang, as I prefer to call them, broke off one by one and perched themselves in convenient spots around the camp-fire. One of the couples, tired from the gliding activity, had already retired to their tent, calling it a good 2018.
I don’t blame them. One additional hour wouldn’t have sprinkled fairy dust on the 8759 hours that had already gone by!
The rest of us continued to sip on our juice and started talking. We talked about the day, the trial-and-error on the barbeque, the plans for better kebabs, how we should have stocked up more water, and how that did not matter, considering our proximity to the lake! And then the conversations split into smaller groups. We continued to talk about day-to-day life, plans for 2019, plans beyond 2019, and everything in between. It was a good thirty minutes. The clock struck 11.30 pm.
How do I know?
Well, Jugal just shot his arms into the air at an alarming speed, and shouted out to the heavens, “Happy New Year!”
I looked at my phone – 11.30 pm. Well, someone’s had too much juice!
“Jugal, it is not 12 yet.”“It’s not?”“Nope.”“Cool. I’m gonna pee in the lake!” “Yeah! Why not! Good plan”
Seeing him make his way out of the camp to the edge of the small clearing where we had established ourselves, was nothing short of a cheap action thriller. There were fumbles, tumbles, and a whole lot of senseless word jumbles. So, Surf and I decided to hoist him using his hoodie, while he did his business. Not a pretty picture!
A guy taking a piss in the wind, while being held by two other guys in a weird cantilever arrangement! Luckily, the wind was blowing down the lake…
That little antic had jolted the group from their temporary coma and pumped a fresh breath of life into the party. I was mildly amused at the fact that our group was going through the usual tropes of an NYE party, only much before midnight!
But one thing was certain – all of us kept track of the time then onwards!
Just about five minutes before midnight, a couple of us suddenly recollected the ‘sparkling juice’ that we had bought at the supermarket to mark this very occasion! Sparkling juice is like Appy Fizz, only served in a fancy bottle. So, while most of us looked for the bottle that was probably stashed away in one of the tents, I settled down in one of the camping chairs and began to yawn!
Suddenly, I heard this loud POP next to me!
And in the next second, I was drenched in cold, fizzy, sweet, sickly, sparkling juice! Apparently, the person who had managed to locate the bottle, was Jugal, the guy who had announced 2019 thirty minutes before its time!
And what’s more, he had popped it open a good two minutes before midnight! History did repeat itself.
But as imperfect as it was, 2019 had finally arrived. There were hugs, kisses, handshakes, and cheers! A bunch of frantic dancing and jumping followed, for no good reason. All this sudden activity gave me a head rush, so I went down flat on the grass, looked up at the sky, and noticed a star wink back at me. And that was when I heard the voice –
Good job buddy.! That was a great year. Now, close your eyes and let the sky embrace you…Happy 2019!
And that brings us to the end of this story and the final reason why I love camping so much –
The thrill of experiencing something different, even on the often trodden paths.
This camping site was not new to my friends, and yet this would prove to be one of the fondest outings that they’d remember for a long time!
This wasn’t my first night out with them either, but I’ve never felt closer to them than that night by the lake!
What if I hadn’t gone camping?
There was a 90% chance that I’d still have hung out with the same group. We would have consumed food that was cooked with a lot more finesse, and probably not run the risk of food poisoning! But there are a few things that I WOULD have missed –
A chance to discover albeit spooky, but beautiful location
An opportunity to meet people who were completely outside the perimeter of my usual social construct
The primitive experience of cooking meat and veggies over a fire that did not appear at the flick of a switch
Probably the once-in-my-life event of handling a real telescope by the lake, irrespective of my thick-headedness in astronomy
I could go on. But we did agree at the beginning – this post was always about the story. The title was just an afterthought, right?
But, if I HAD to synthesize my feelings from a camping experience, it’d probably be this –