In the late '60s, I accompanied a group of students on a study tour to Abohar Farm. The tour provided me the opportunity to visit my native village nearby. The bus started late and by the time we reached our destination, it was late in the winter evening.
During those days, there was no metalled road connecting the village to the town. Cycling was the only means of transport on a kutcha path along the canal. I hired a cycle from a known shop and excitedly started the 10-km journey on a familiar path, hoping to be home before darkness.
By the time I was halfway through, it was pitch dark. Suddenly, my mind started playing tricks. The familiar path became unfriendly with branches, sarkanda bushes and other objects alongside the path assuming different shapes, mimicking the unknown illusive. A slight movement in the bush and distant hoot of an owl sent a chill down the spine. I pedalled harder and began reciting a prayer. It was then that I realised the strength of God's name in obviating the fear factor.
However, the worst was yet to come. As I crossed a bridge, I thought I saw the rhythmic rise of flames in the middle of the path ahead. I froze wondering what was going on. I concluded that it was a ghostly dance on the moonless night. I continued cycling ahead for I had already covered more than half the distance to the village. Going back in the dark seemed a worse idea.
I began hearing muffled voices followed by a discernible laughter of the invisible. With legs trembling, I reached the spot only to find that the inevitable had never happened. To my relief, the ghosts were none other than two farmers sitting around a fire. The two were on duty to check a breach, if any, in the irrigation channel emanating from the canal to their fields. Since it was a cold, dark night, they had decided to take a break and keep themselves warm by setting some 'sarkanda' stalks on fire in the middle of the path.
Seeing me cycling at an odd hour, one of them asked, "Oye mundea, ais wele kider nu? (Hey boy, where are you headed for at this hour?)". I mumbled something in a miffed tone and sped ahead.
With regained confidence, I ultimately reached my sleepy village of Rukanpura. After repeated thumping on the gate, my father came out and was aghast to find me standing there at an unearthly hour. Though everybody at home was happy to see me, till date I have not forgotten the rebuke I got for having attempted a foolhardy journey alone in the dark.