Sample Chapters


Pattern #23
It is the evening of 23rd February. Verma is working late, preparing the accounts
statement of Garwhal Rifles. He never realises it is getting late in the night. Later, when
he does realise, he finds he is alone in the office. It is 23 minutes past 11 p.m. He starts
for home.
There was a difference of 23 rupees in the books. He worked relentlessly tracking
expenses across vouchers till he found the mistake. He backtracked the whole calculation
and is now happy with the outcome. The sheets finally tallied. He hates leaving things for
How was he to know what it means? He did not connect the early omen. Usually, his
mind sees a pattern where none exist, but today is different. He is tired. His mind fails to
see the bold threads of logic. Tonight, he misses reading the pattern. He wants to get
home and rest.
He looks up, and then it strikes him.
It takes him a total of 23 minutes to reach home. It is 23 minutes to 23 hrs. The street
lights on both sides of his way home are in multiple of 23. He sees the pattern and knows
the only way to escape is to break it.
It is winter. By the time he crosses the parade ground,1 past the kindergarten school and
reaches the main bazaar, shops are already shutting for the day. His pattern of months is
broken, and a new pattern is ready to be understood.
Verma stops, it takes him time to find the matchbox. He cups his hand to protect the
matchstick from the wind and finally manages to light his cigarette with the third match.
He takes the first drag and feels a bit relaxed.
He is already feeling better. He thinks, he has finally broken the pattern. He plans to stop
at Thapliyal’s shop to buy more cigarettes. He sings in his nasal tone. He sees the
headlights of an army convoy on the distant hill. The number craze kicks in with an urge
to count the number of trucks. He does not attempt to count, he knows from the first
glance they will be 23. They have to be. He is not willing to be trapped. He will tonight
break the magic pattern of 23 steps, 23-minutes.
He works his way through the almost deserted bazaar. He goes down the slope. He smiles
at the Barbershop signboard with a hand-painted portrait of Amitabh Bachchan. He sees
the closed grocery shop and reminds himself to buy rice the next day.
Finally, he reaches the steps. Just 23 steps and he will be home.
He thinks of the bottles of Pelican beer he has managed to get from the army canteen. He
dreams of taking out the chilled bottles and sitting on the veranda2 leisurely siping them.
The bottle of Old Monk, he will keep for another day.
The image of beer is a welcome thought. He decides to move fast as the chilled beer is
waiting for him.
It is then that he senses someone. He turns and sees no one. Whatever it is, is in the
shadows. He is not worried. Lansdowne is not Bareilly; there is hardly any crime. But, he
is cautious. He is not willing to take any chance. He increases his pace. He feels the
unknown keeping pace with him.
He stops at the top of the steps.
He is now nervous and worried. He misses seeing the unknown merge into the shadows
under the dim streetlight.
With every step, his belief of someone walking with him gets amplified. He stops for a
moment and hears his heartbeat. Sweat beads find their way down his big forehead. The
feeling is slowly getting on his nerves. The real fear is materialising, slowly taking shape.
He remembers the pattern. He knows the rules are clear. You follow the pattern or break
the pattern. The choice is always yours. When you break it, naturally, a new pattern
emerges, and there is no guarantee of what it could be.
The wheel is set in motion.
To break the pattern, Verma decides to skip a few steps. Just enough to change the count.
He starts counting loudly as he jumps from one step to another.
One, 2, and 3… the board ‘Paudi Niwas’, Sadar Bazar’ is getting bigger. 9, 10. Just one
more to go… 11. He stops to get his breath back and looks down. There are still some
steps left. He focuses his torch and begins counting them. One, 2, 3… 18, 19…20-.
He is where he started. The point where he felt someone is with him. The point where
fear started dominating. It can not be true he tells himself. It defies logic.
Counting is his second nature. How is this possible?
Even if he has only taken one step and not 11, there can not be 23 steps between him and
‘Paudi Niwas’ 23A/32 Sadar Bazaar on the night of 23rd February.
The logical voice within him questions him. He must have imagined climbing down the
steps, like the way he counts sheep to sleep. It is different as he sleeps before the tenth
sheep hit the barrier.
This is different. He controls himself and starts again. This time he is cautious.
1, 2… his voice softly echoes in the deep silence of hills. 8-9… evidently, he is reaching
somewhere…. He stops to check his progress. Has he won the battle?
There is relief written all over his face. Sweat glands have been working overtime. His
terrycot3 shirt is wet with sweat, sticking to his hairy back. His heart is beating faster than
He takes time to calm down. He looks towards Paudi Niwas.
He is still there, where he should not be.
Right at the top of the steps.
There are precisely 23 steps waiting for him to bridge the gap.
The gate to ‘Paudi Niwas’ ‘23 Sadar Bazar’ is no nearer.
He wants to turn back, walk through the alley, get into the bazaar, stand in the middle of
it and shout at the peak of his voice. Twenty-three. He turns around and sees there are
steps leading up. Steps leading up from the top of the stairs. It does not make sense. But
the truth is, he is at the top of the steps and at the same time he is at the bottom of the
A quick glance and a visual calculation prove his fear; there are 23 steps. He is right in
the middle of the steps. 23 steps going up and 23 going down. He knows he is in bigger
trouble than he imagines. The pattern has finally caught up with him.
Until this moment, only 23 steps were going down, and now, he has to climb 23 steps to
reach the alley or 23 steps down to reach Paudi Niwas. He feels he is part of a nightmare
he will never wake up from. Every element of the surrounding is real, he can feel it, and
there is no way to explain the steps.
He decides to walk up, soch’ Ulta soch4, and take a chance with the bizarre phenomenon.
Whatever is causing it, wants him to go down. So, maybe he can win by going the other
1, 2… 7 – 8…. Twenty-One…the opening of the alley is within reach… twenty- two… he
can see the broken green plaster in the ‘Wheel’5 wall painting. Twenty-three…if he
stretches his hand, he will be able to touch the ‘lemon’ in the advertising message. He
reaches out and touches the thick darkness in the silent dead night of Lansdowne.
They are all there, the 23 steps to freedom. Whichever way he decides to go there are 23
steps to freedom.
Logic is dead. He has lost the capability to think. There is no logic to the bizarre position
he is trapped in.
The only way out is to will his way through.
He must think differently. He cannot lose. There must be a way to fight the power of
patterns. Maybe he needs to beat the time. Perhaps, there is nothing else he can do.
He increases his pace, heart-pumping blood through the system with laboured efficiency
tiring with every step he takes. His muscles, not used to hard work, now start revolting.
Hands used to move in sync while he walks, flapping randomly.
He climbs 10 steps and stops. He has still not made any progress. The 23 steps stare at
him. He feels they are laughing. He, in fact, can hear the loud laughter.
His mind is no longer willing to believe any logic. A rational, practical Mr Verma is
forced to unlearn. There is nothing which can explain the situation. The darkness within
is finally making its presence felt.
There, he is so near the house. There are just 23 steps between him and the house. 23
steps too many.
Extra strenuous working starts affecting the already revolting body. His knees feel weak.
They are questioning the logic of an already numb brain attempting another run. His
hands are trembling with fear. His mind is telling him to stop. His body is not willing to
obey the logical command. Fear is tightening its claws around his senses.
What if this is some time warp, and he is trapped within it? What if?
Verma keeps running, climbing steps and when that does not result in success, climbing
down. It is taking him nowhere. The steps are immune to his feeling of growing
In reality (or was it so) the steps keep regenerating themselves in an endless loop. It is as
if he was on a giant wheel of steps when he goes down, the step comes down with him
but still leaving him with the same number of steps in front to reach the top.
He remembers the childhood puzzle.
Teetar Ke do aagey Teetar,
Teetar ke do peeche Teetar
Aagey Teetar, Peeche Teetar,
Bolo bolo kitney Teetar.
There are 2 Partridge ahead of the first one, and there are 2 behind. If that is true for each
Partridge, how many Partridge are there?
The only difference, in this case, is that there were 23 steps behind and 23 steps forward
and he is the only one fighting. He is like that central Partridge.
Is he walking in some circle of time? Is he the circle or is he the Partridge? Not surprising
that his mind starts discovering a new language and finds logic where none exist. 23 steps
down and 23 steps up.
Mr Verma decides to fight the battle. He is not willing to give up.
A problem exists because there exists a solution, Verma has this clarity. It is the question
of his survival. Verma continues his thrust for success. “Failure only proved you are
nearer to the success,” he shouts aloud.
Only today in the office, he had defeated a non-tallying balance sheet. He kept at it,
failing time and again until he succeeded. He will find a solution. Verma never leaves
anything half done, and then there is the beer that is losing its fizz.
Verma forgets, the human body has a limit of its own, beyond which muscles give way.
Mr Verma is no Hercules. His knees are growing weak with time. Finally, exhausted, he
falls. The body refuses to move any further. He still is in the middle of the 23 steps. He is
alert enough to break his fall on his wrist. The HMT watch stops.
It is be morning before someone finds him.
People in Lansdowne brand him an alcoholic. There is no other explanation. The broken
watch shows 23 past 12 p.m. 23 minutes past the midnight. 23 minutes into the new day.
The incident is a severe jolt to Mr Verma. He stops moving out of the house on 23rd of
every month. And he never sleeps between 11 pm (2300Hrs) and 23 past midnight. You
can see him at times watching the steps through the stained-glass window of ‘Paudi
However, things have their ways of finding solutions. He starts drinking. The teetotaller
Mr Verma finds that alcohol helps him, and he drinks just enough to get into the zone.
Not a peg more; not a peg less.

About The Author: Sanjeev Kotnala

Sanjeev Kotnala, an IIM Ahmedabad alumni, was born in 1963 at Lansdowne, Uttarakhand. He is a Brand and Marketing Advisor, coach and facilitator with more than 30 years of experience in storytelling for brands. In his blog ( titled ‘Perceptions Adulterated with Reality,’ he captures his professional experience in brand and marketing along with some interesting real-life experiences. His weekly column ‘KotMartial’ has been published every Wednesday for the last4years.

He has a strong interest in the fourth dimension, paranormal and sixth sense. He believes, ‘best stories are the ones with personal experience,’ and that no storyteller ever tells a complete tale.

He stays in Mumbai with his wife Neha, and kids Prateek and Preetica lovingly called P1 and P2.

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