Even after being in Pilani for three and a half years, pursuing what many call academics, I have realised one thing. That Pilani still can, and does surprise you at the smallest of opportunities it gets.

 It is uncanny and I've been noticing it right since my first semester here, back in 2009.

Why this sudden outburst of realisation, you ask? Not sudden; I just said it; it's been happening for quite sometime now, and well, the latest of these incidents has made me throw my lethargy to the cold outside and muster all courage to key in this post.

So this tale begins on a cold, very cold evening outside New Delhi railway station. Needless to say, Delhi had been experiencing its coldest weather in over 40 years, and my gang of friends and I had just reached Delhi in the Sealdah Rajdhani Express at around 8 PM. The scheduled time of the arrival had been 10 in the morning, but following the strict decrees laid down by the standards of the great Indian Stretchable Time, we had reached a good 10 hours late.

We had had a cab booked from before, and following a rather circuitous route from one end of the station to the other, we finally found ourselves in the rather spacious Xylo that had been waiting for us. We were extremely hungry; the food that we had been served in the train had comprised of rice that was more insipid than white crayon and dal that came agonisingly close to camel piss in form and colour. So we quickly managed to get ourselves some food to last us the remaining leg of the expedition into Rajasthan, wolfed it down and laid back in the nice comfy seats to doze through the rest of the journey.

Alas. That was never to be.

Though, I admit, I did have my share of sleep, for reasons that I shall elucidate later, the journey was probably the most fearsome journey of my life. And yes, I've been on long drives throughout the length and breadth of India.

The original plan was for the three Pilani-bound cabs to move together, like some convoy. We were all expecting some fog, and we figured moving together would actually help us in case something went wrong.

Everything seemed to go fine, till a rogue of a Delhi traffic police constable stopped our cab to check the driver's documents. They were in order alright, but the policeman, not used to letting off a driver without a transaction of a wad of notes, decided to get in the car, and take his own sweet time before letting us go.

And that was it; we had lost the other two cabs. But our driver happened to know the route to Pilani and decided to speed up to catch up with the others.

And a second alas. That was never to be, either.

For what lay ahead of us, just outside the suburbs of Delhi, was fog. And fog, quite unlike what any of us had ever seen before. I had been in thick fog before, but not the sort of fog where visibility fell to a complete zero. Like you hear in tales of polar explorers. The fog was so dense and so thick, that we couldn't see the end of our car's bonnet from inside the car, and as the car trudged on, it was akin to driving into a solid white wall which kept disappearing as we moved ahead.

Yes, it was scary. Particularly so, when trucks coming in the other direction loomed up suddenly in front of you, their yellow lights shining into your eyes from out of nowhere. To be honest, it reminded me of the scene from Titanic just before the ship struck the iceberg. And as I thought of the same, my mind went through a million things that could go wrong and land us in a fine soup then.

this was what the windscreen was like. No photoshopping, mind you.
After sometime, when conditions of zero visibility seemed to be the order of the day, and we seemed to going on, driving into a white wall, without knowing what secrets lurked behind it, we realised that maybe, that wasn't the right thing to do. Because, we still had over 200 kilometers to cover and the pace at which we were going meant we would end up in Pilani, only by morning.

Driving became so difficult that the guys sitting in the window seats had to peer out into the fog and keep directing the driver to go right or left, depending on how close to the edge of the road the car had strayed. But then suddenly, with a violent jolt and the sound of metal hitting stone, our car ground to a halt. Yes, we had crashed. And into a divider. And this was when the driver decided that no, it would be unwise to proceed and that we should spend the rest of the night stationary, in the car.

We were ourselves unsure of what to do. We had registration the next day at our college, and yes, skipping registration wasn't a big thing - you could always register late - what we wondered was whether it would be any wise to expect the fog to clear in the morning as the driver claimed it would. Also, staying the whole night in the middle of the nowhere beside a national highway didn't really appeal to most of us.

At this point, one of us had the idea of firing up Google Maps on his phone and as the maps loaded through the limited bandwidth that Airtel 2G gives us, we realised with a sickening gulp that we weren't where we had supposed us to be. In other words, we had gotten lost.

I checked for driving directions to Pilani from wherever we are, but unfortunately, no transit routes seemed to be available for the godforsaken region we were in, so all we ended up doing was pinching in and out the smartphone screen hoping to find a place which we could relate to.

And yes, in the end we certainly did, and then requested the driver to follow the directions that we were telling him to drive in. And steadily and slowly, we landed upon the section of the highway which we hoped was correct. All this while, we were going at less than 20 kilometers an hour, driving into the wall of fog that hadn't thinned even one bit, guided by the window-sitters and their occasional hollering of "left" and "right". And amid monstrous trucks that appeared suddenly in front of us, and passed by like disinterested killing machines.

That was when, by a miraculous stroke of luck we could see, just ahead of our car, and what we saw were white lines on the road. That was it. We could safely speed up now as long as the white lines remained in sight and follow them till the end of whatever this journey had evolved to become.

A few phone calls later we managed to contact the groups in the other cabs who were tens of miles ahead of us by now. They were good folks and they decided to wait and we exchanged our GPS locations using WhatsApp. Um, that didn't help much, but we did find them eventually and the convoy was reunited. We continued on what was hopefully the last leg of our journey and this was when yours truly dozed off.

When I was awakened we had reached Pilani, and our cab was tearing through the empty streets towards our campus, which we finally reached at 6 in the morning.

The epic climax of the trip was yet to come however, as we unloaded the luggage from the top of our cab.

And that was the presence of ice; pure, clear, transparent, frosty ice that had developed on our bags and suitcases.

Something, that none of us had ever seen, or heard of in Pilani.

And that, my dear bored readers, is why Pilani surprised me. Yet again. That day.