Chuck promptly christened him Sanjay.
"Because he has appeared to us as the spirit of the park" he explained.
Sanjay strolled along with us without affecting to know any of us personally. Indeed, he would keep going off on tangents, investigating interesting smells and the occasional posterior of such fellow members of his species as would cross his path from time to time but his allegiance was unmistakable. We felt like the UPA government getting issue based outside support from a small regional party. Just as inexplicably, after a little while Sanjay vanished. Looking around, we found he had decided to tag alongside another group of people walking in the opposite direction.
"Definitely small-regional-party-with-issue-based-outside-support", concluded Mohan, and we all silently nodded our heads
The road had now become an incline. My age began to show in the shortening of my breath.
"Damn" I thought "What if it turns out I'm having a heart attack?" and tried, unsuccessfully, to look nonchalant.
"Why are you looking like a dying duck?" asked Harshal.
"I -er -I was wondering if er- I was having a heart attack"
Harshal luckily was quick on the uptake "Oh the breathlessness? Don't worry, everyone's winded".
I was reassured. But this is an old failing of mine, this paranoia. I once went, with three other friends, to a high altitude lake in Sikkim called Guru Dongmar. I had read that it was at an altitude of some 16500 feet and was quickly consumed by a conviction that I would die of altitude mountain sickness. Two of my companions were dismissive
"Dude, we are DRIVING there. Not walking. You wont have any altitude giltitude sickness" averred one of them.
But the third chap was a man after my own heart. He did his own internet research and came to conclusions similar to mine.
"Boss, we need an oxygen cylinder. Your dad is a doctor, no? As him where we can get one"
The parent was puzzled "You cant carry an oxygen cylinder to Sikkim from Bombay. Have you any idea how much one weighs? Look for one locally"
The local Sikkimese were equally non-cooperative. The mountaineering supplies shop we went to told us that the cylinders were all in his go-down and he would be damned if he would go down to his go down and open it just because a couple of weirdos wanted to go somewhere, especially since the mountaineering season hadn't begun yet, or words to that effect.
And what luck we didn't find a cylinder! When we went to GuruDongmar lake, it was full of septuagenarian aunties and uncles happily strolling about and cracking jokes. Perfect doofuses we would have looked, a couple of mid-forties guys staggering around with a whacking great oxygen cylinder.
Anyway, coming back to the res, after a longish climb, with the old heart thumping along in allegretto tempo, we reached the caves. A small stall stood near the entrance and when it was noticed that the said stall was selling soft drinks, a beeline was immediately made for it. Presently, everyone had slaked their thirsts and we decided, spontaneously, to climb up to the top of the hill.
"You can see the Tulsi Lake from there" said Divya.
The only dissenting note was from Srikeit who had had enough of all this climbing geeimbing and decided to sit in silent satyagraha. We left him there and carried on to the said spot, observed the said lake Tulsi, I showed off my knowledge of forestry by pointing out to a random tree and declaring it to be sterculia urens, and returned to base. On the return journey, mercifully, even the diehard commandos in our group agreed to take the bus back.
I returned home and rounded my eight km walk to the nearest round number and told the missus I had walked ten kilometers. She looked at me with skepticism but I think my demeanor must have been sufficiently beat, because she did not challenge it.
All in all, a day well spent