The Thunderbirds – This was the name that Namrata, Pooja, Kajari, Latika, Ayesha, Moni, Geetika, Ritu, Parul and Priyanka had given to their gang of 10. Everyone in St. Anna Girls’ School knew them. They were always seen together.
“Guys!!!!! The list of places for the mid-term trip has been put up on the notice board,” announced Namrata, who in her excitement had got up on a chair to grab everyone’s attention.
That did it. What had been an orderly classroom a few seconds earlier was now an empty class. The entire class had dashed off to see the announcement on the notice board.
They were screaming, yelling and piling on top of one another just to note down the names of the places they were to choose from for their mid-term trip.
Priyanka, the most enthusiastic and aggressive of the lot was their representative in that swarm. After ten minutes of struggling she finally managed to push her way out, triumphant. The rest of the gang surrounded her.
“So where should we go for the trip this time?” asked Priyanka.
“First tell us the options we have, silly!” said Kajari.
“OK! Jaipur-Udaipur, Dhanaulti, Kasauli and a trek from some place called Magra to Sehestradhara.”
“Hey, I have a great idea. We should choose the trip that most students are least interested in. We will get to enjoy more,” suggested Parul.
“That’s right,” agreed Pooja.
The next morning they checked out the number of students going to each place and finally gave in their names for the Magra-Sehestradhara trek. Besides their gang of 10, there were just eight others who had opted for it.
The day finally arrived. All of them got into the bus along with two staff members who were escorting them.
“Now this is cool! We can have the bus to ourselves,” chattered Namrata.
“Hey, I want the window seat!” shouted Priyanka in a shrill tone.
“Relax, we can all have window seats,” said Latika.
The journey from Dehradun to Mussoorie took two hours. The first day was spent in seeing the places of local interest. It was from the second day that the real fun started.
The group began its trek from a place called Magra near Mussoorie. Two mules followed them with the supplies of eatables and pots and pans. Each student was carrying her own rucksack.
From the height of the hilly paths the beauty of the valley was breathtaking. But the track was rough and narrow. Each step had to be carefully placed.
It was 9 am. They had been walking for three hours and tiredness was setting in. While the enthusiastic ones were way ahead with the guide, some of the team members who enjoyed the company of the teachers had latched on to them. ‘The thunderbirds’ were right at the back, with the mules.
“I am feeling very tired, let’s sit for two minutes,” pleaded Ayesha.
“And I am dying to pee!” said Moni.
“OK, we take a two-minute rest, decided Latika.
“But where should I go?” asked Moni.
“The rest room is this way ma’am,” said Latika pointing mockingly to a bush.
It was then that they heard a scream. It was Moni from behind the bush.
“Help! I am going to fall,” cried Moni.
Everyone rushed. She had already fallen almost 10 feet below on to a narrow ledge and was clutching on to a flimsy clump of wild grass. There was no way that they could pull her up. They had to think of something fast. All of them looked at the steep drop to the valley below and shuddered.
Down below it was all misty and dark. They could faintly see a silver line; that must be the river.
“Idea! Let’s tie our dupattas and scarves together and pull her up,” said Ritu.
They had never worked this fast before. Soon a tightly knotted rope was dangling before Moni’s nose. “Hold the rope tight and we will pull you up in no time. Everything is going to be alright,” said Geetika in a soothing tone.
Moni was whimpering with fear.
“Now let go of the grass and grab the rope,” shouted Geetika who was the strongest among all of them.
“Are you sure you will be able to pull me?” asked Moni.
“What a question! You think the nine of us can’t pull one person out of this mess? Come on, grab the rope.”
After what seemed like ages of coaxing and with a thousand prayers to the almighty, Moni let go of the clump of grass with one hand and caught the rope. Emboldened instantly, she brought the other hand as well to clutch the rope tighter than she had ever held anything. Her teeth were bared in concentration – and fear.
“Pull!!!!” shouted Geetika.
The others had fallen in line behind her and had been ready for the sudden pull they would experience toward the cliff. Geetika was right in front with Ritu, Pooja, Priyanka and Ayesha pulling away. The others stayed on the side to extend a helping hand to Moni.
Slowly Moni inched up and finally landed in the arms of her friends, exhausted. Moni hugged Geetika tightly and sobbed. Everyone patted on her back for her courageous effort.
“I swear I love our school uniform. I think there is no better uniform than the salwar-kameez. Had it not been for the dupattas God knows what would have happened,” remarked Pooja.
“Oooouuuuuchhhh! Now who is that?” shouted Geetika.
“It’s me.” said Priyanka.
“What’s the matter?”
“I just touched a bichu-buti. You know that wild plant that causes itching all over the body if you touch it!”
“Oh no, not again!” The hills came alive with the groans of The Thunderbirds.