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Satish was a late latif. Reaching late on almost every occasion. Be it a birthday, a dinner party or even a wedding function. Satish could never make it in time.

On birthdays, he had never been a witness to actual cake cutting. For dinner parties, Satish always reached to scrap out the vessels to fill his plate. On wedding celebrations, Satish invariably used to be the last one to greet the newlyweds. That was Satish. Otherwise, pleasant, soft-spoken, caring, lovable personality, somehow, he could not keep up his appointments.

That day, the office colleagues planned out for a short trip to a place some 200kms away, to enjoy the long week-end.

The lunch-time gathering, got converted into brain storming for the itinerary for the three days long trip to Tadoba, the tiger sanctuary. A team of around 15 personnel, interested in the wild life, listed their names. A mini bus was organized to accommodate all the participants to enjoy the fun of travelling together.

Friday night they planned to start at 10:30. They decided that after the office gets over, everyone would go home, finish dinner and meet at the bus station at Five Gardens in Dadar. The meeting time was fixed at 10:15. Everyone was told to reach on time, so that the travelling schedule could be maintained. The organizer further added, “ Please pay attention. Our road to Tadoba goes through two forest areas. One extremely dense area is near Wada that is around 100 kms from here. As it is a ghat section, a lot of twists and turns make it mandatory to drive at slow speeds. Besides, this being a summer season, all the greenery in that area is conspicuously absent. So, we are going to miss the thrills of a dense forest.

Each one agreed and swore to keep time. But all eyes turned towards Satish. They wanted enthusiastic, energetic, bubbling Satish should fall in line. He also nodded with enthusiasm and promised to be at Five Gardens at sharp 10:15.

On Friday, at night, most of members gathered at Five Gardens in Dadar. As the given dead line was approaching, the remaining members hurriedly joined the group. The air-conditioned mini bus arrived at the decided spot in time. Every one made himself comfortable in the bus by adjusting the room provided for the luggage. At 10:15 the organizer noted that all were present except Satish.

“As expected Satish is not present at the pre-decided time. We are going to start at 10:30 irrespective of joining by Satish. This is height of irresponsible behaviour. Let us hope he arrives before 10:30. Another bus carrying other group of people going for Tadoba Sanctuary is also planned to leave by 10:30. We are going to start at the same time.”

There was an uneasy whisper among some members.

“I will call him and find out why he is late.” Saying this he was trying to contact him. After a few attempts, he got the connection.

“What happened Satish? Why have you not reached Dadar yet?”

“I have already started. I am in the train for last 30 minutes. Some problem here and the train service is halted. As soon as it starts, in 15 minutes I should be there. I am sorry.” Satish said.

“Ok. Come fast. We are waiting for you. But we can not wait much longer.” The member warned him.

“See. I told you. He must have had some problem. If trains are not running, what can he do? As soon as the train starts, he will be here in 15 minutes.” One sympathizer for Satish said.

At sharp 10:30 the organizer announced, “we are starting now.  We need to keep timing.”
“No. No. Please listen to me. Satish is the most loved member of the group. We want him to be with us. Even if we get late, we can pick it up by reducing few halts we have planned. We want him to be with us.” Another member ascertained.

“See, I am not of the opinion that Satish should not join us. But there has to be some discipline. If we go out of our schedule, we will have problem at Tadoba.” The organizer made his point.

“I understand. But this is not office that we have to keep minute to minute timing. We will wait till Satish joins us. We will adjust the time by some other means. But we want Satish with us.” Another member put forth his argument.

“More over, he is just two stations away. Let us hope the line gets clear soon and then we will move.” Third member said.

“Ok. As you wish.” The organizer gave up.

The other bus started at 10:30 sharp and left for Tadoba.

All the members of this group were waiting anxiously for Satish to arrive.

The clock was ticking and the anxiety among the members was increasing.

It was 11:30 that Satish boarded the bus.

“I am extremely sorry friends that my train was stuck up just two stations before Dadar. It had halted at such a place that I could not jump down and come on to the road to hire a taxi. My million apologies and many thanks for waiting for me.” Satish expressed his remorse.

“Can we start now?” the organizer asked the group.

“Yes please. We can start now.” One member conceded.

And the bus started.

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief that though a bit late, they were on the way to Tadoba.

After a drive of nearly three quarter of an hour they were at the foot hills of the forest.

And suddenly the forest guards stopped the bus. After a screeching halt, the bus was taken on side. A forest guard entered the bus. “Sorry friends. There was  a sudden wild fire in the ghats. Due to dry leaves and dry trees, it caught up into a big fire in a sizeable area. Unfortunately, a car with 4 persons and a mini bus with 15 on board were trapped in the blaze and both turned into ashes. We have stopped the traffic from both sides till the fire is completely doused by fire brigade. It will take some more time to clear the traffic.”

Hearing this everybody from the bus was shocked. They all were speechless. They were lost in thoughts. If they were not delayed, they also would have had the same fate for their bus too.

What a narrow escape!

All the members decided to help the fire brigade to handle the bodies. The organizer had known the driver. A few of the members, including Satish walked down till the spot of accident. The mini bus was completely charred. They identified the driver and tried to trace the addresses of the  members of the bus. The three ambulances arrived at the spot and carried the bodies of the victims to the hospital that was some 40 kms away. The information provided by the driver was very useful in identification of the victims.

The members returned to their bus. The mood was turned gloomy. They decided to return home instead of proceeding to the sanctuary at Tadoba.

This time all the members were grateful to Satish for being late.

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