Failures and Losers avoid school reunions. But this time I decided to go. Sucheta would be there. She had rung up from New York. And of course Anand was also coming with her. Maybe that’s the real reason I wanted to go.
It was fifteen years since we passed out from school and the reunion was a grand affair in the best hotel at this picturesque ‘queen’ of hill stations on the slopes of the Himalayas where our school was located. For ours was an elite and famous boarding school, distinguished more for its snob appeal than for its academic excellence. ‘Bookworm’ was an exception. He had topped the board exams and had become a distinguished scientist, always inventing something mysterious and experimenting something esoteric.
“Hi, Bookworm!” I said genuinely happy to see him.
“Moushumi, my name is Doctor Pratap Joshi. Not Bookworm”, he said angrily, “I am a Professor.”
“Professor Bookworm!” I teased him.
“That’s better,” he said.
“And what are you inventing nowadays?” I asked.
“I’m researching in the frontiers of Psycho-cybernetics.”
“Stop the mumbo jumbo, Bookworm. Tell me in simple language. Who are you and what do you do?”
“Okay. I am a neurologist. A psychiatrist. A psychologist. And I also hold a doctorate in Electrical Engineering. Currently I am researching in mind-transference,” Bookworm said proudly.
“Mind-transference?” I asked confused.
“You have seen star-trek haven’t you?”
“There they transfer persons in space. H G Wells’ time machine transferred entire persons in time,” he said.
“And you?” I asked.
“I can put your mind into someone else’s body and vice-versa – someone else’s brain into your body!”
“It sound spooky to me. Is it ESP? Some kind of occult stuff? ”
“Not at all,” Bookworm said, “Nothing supernatural, esoteric or mystical. It’s a purely scientific technique. I’ve developed a pilot system for trials. The machine is upstairs in my hotel room. Why don’t you give it a try?”
A strange thought crossed my mind as I surveyed the room. My eyes rested on Anand. His height and his magnificent beard made him look so prominent in the crowd. He looked a decisive, hot-blooded and dangerous man, but he also looked vulnerable. Even now, he wore a lonely and rather perplexed expression, as though he were at the party but not a member of it. And beside him stood his wife Sucheta radiating the natural pride of possession that any woman feels when she has the ownership and company of a man that other women desire.
I reminisced. There were four of us who grew up together. In school and in college. Anand, Mohan, Sucheta and I. Inseparable friends. All of us loved each other.
I had the first choice since both Anand and Mohan were desperately in love with me and both had proposed to me. I opted for Mohan, leaving Anand for Sucheta. Then I kept tormenting myself living with Mohan but longing for Anand, wondering if I had made the wrong choice, repenting, trying to imagine what my life would have been like if I had married Anand instead of Mohan.
I looked at Anand, and then at Bookworm. Serendipity! Yes. I felt the adrenalin rush. This was my chance to find out what life would have been like if I had married Anand; and I was going to risk it.
I waved out to Sucheta and five minutes later both of us were lying side by side on the double-bed in Bookworm’s hotel room. There was a mesh of wires with electrode-transducers connected to our heads (like an EEG), a laptop-like special computer and a briefcase-size electronic device which Bookworm described as the ‘Electrophoresis Signal Processor’.
“Good,” Bookworm said, “both your brainwave frequencies are in ‘beta’ state around 15 hertz. I’ll give you both a high frequency burst to momentarily raise your brain-states to ‘K-Complex’ and instantaneously commence the electrophoresis.”
Looking at me, he said, “Moushumi, you will be Sucheta as far as the outside world is concerned. So when you wake up, go straight to Anand. Let’s see if he suspects.” And then to Sucheta he said, “Sucheta, you go straight to Mohan. He will think you are Moushumi.”
“It’s dangerous. I’m scared,” Sucheta said.
“Come on, Sucheta. Be a sport. It’s just for fun,” I said.
“It’s not fun. We’re doing this experiment to validate my research – in vivo – to see if the concept of mind-transference it works. Just for half-an-hour,” Bookworm said, “then both of you come back and I’ll reverse the process, and you can leave as your own total selves – your same mind in your own same body.”
I closed my eyes in trepidation wondering whether I was doing the right thing. Suddenly I felt my brain go blank and then there were vivid flashes in a void.
Half an hour later, when I was in seventh heaven gliding in Anand’s strong arms, enjoying the dance, Bookworm suddenly appeared by my side, tugged my arm and said with urgency in his voice, “It’s time. Let’s go, Moushumi.”
“Moushumi? Why are you calling her Moushumi?” an incredulous Anand asked Bookworm.
“She is Moushumi,” Bookworm said pointing at me.
“Are you drunk or stoned or something?” Anand snapped angrily. “Can’t you see she’s Sucheta, my wife? Moushumi must be with her husband Mohan. I last saw them having a drink near the bar.”
Instinctively we all turned and looked towards the bar. No sign of them. I hurriedly scanned the room. They had disappeared.
Bookworm was in a state of panic, “Anand. Try to understand. Your wife Sucheta has gone away with Mohan. And this here in front of you is Moushumi – Mohan’s wife. This is only Sucheta’s body. Inside it’s Moushumi’s brain – her self. Moushumi’s mind is in Sucheta’s body. My in vivo experiment was successful – it’s validated – the mind-transference!”
“Mind-transference? Stop talking nonsense!” Anand shouted angrily at Bookworm and taking my arm he said to me, “Come on Sucheta. Let’s go. Bookworm has gone crazy. And it’s getting late. We’ll drive straight down to Delhi. I’ve got a busy day tomorrow before we catch our flight back home.”
As we walked through the parking lot towards the luxury limousine Anand had hired for his visit I noticed that ‘our’ car was missing. It was cold and I glanced at ‘our’ small cottage on the hill slope for the last time. ‘They’ were probably cuddling up in ‘our’ bedroom by now.
I thought I was smart, but it was Sucheta who played the double game. For me it was only a half-hour experiment, but Sucheta had upped the ante and turned the tables on me. Will Mohan find out? And Anand? Will this mind-transference last forever? I shiver with trepidation. And what will happen then?
I don’t know. But from now on it’s going to be a tightrope walk. Every moment I’ll have to be on my toes. I’m excited. And a bit scared too. It’s going to dangerous fun. Now I will really know what life would have been like if had I married Anand instead of Mohan.
And soon I shall know whether I made the right choice. And then, maybe, I’ll tell you about it.
Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve