Sipping his coffee on a cool September morning, sitting on his 14th floor apartment in Gurgaon, Ashwin John was reading the newspaper as usual. Ashwin loved the morning sun in the summers. As every day, he was skimming the headlines, skipping through a page or two.
“What is wrong in this world” he muttered to himself. Each day the newspapers either had very biased and useless news pieces or reports about criminals committing ghastly crimes and running free.
His mother was now immune to his everyday rants about the world. She smiled and called from the kitchen, “what would you like to have for breakfast?”
“Just bread toast mama”, Ashwin replied while slamming the newspaper with frustration. One day I’ll break this old school nonsense these people keep publishing, he said to himself.
Ashwin John was born in a very different household. His mom was a Hindu Punjabi and his dad was Christian-Keralite. Although he had spent most of his life in Delhi, Ashwin simply loved the fact that he was a “mixed-breed”, as he would call himself. He simply loved to explore every part of each culture he was indirectly related to. His curiosity started from a little idle of Lord Shiva that he saw on the roadside beside a mandir, “why was milk poured over it instead of a poor kid’s mouth mama”, he would ask his mom. Once on a Sunday sermon he asked his dad, “why do we waste so many candles in the church dad, it is already well lit”. His parents were always glad when he asked such questions, and never ever got angry when simply asked anything loudly in public. His curiosity would never end.
At a very young age he had developed a habit of questioning everything he learns, and his parents helped him with these questions. “One must always question everything that is told to them and you do this well my son”, his dad had once said when Ashwin asked why they never got irritated.
But this wasn’t the case with everyone! His teachers used to be so annoyed with him that many-a-times, they would avoid meeting his eye during a class, fearing his endless ramble of questions. He had wanted to become a crime journalist ever since he was a kid. Whenever incidents as small as a notebook being misplaced happened, Ashwin would rush to the classroom or staff room or library, wherever it happened, to investigate the matter.
In hope to full fill his lifelong dream, after completing his graduation in journalism, Ashwin got a job at a reputed online news and entertainment channel. He never had any second thoughts about his career, his goal was set. But there was one problem. Fambuzz was nothing like his desires.
Ashwin wanted to go for big-shot murder stories, robberies and scams, but his boss had something else in store for him. He always gave him assignments that were not of his interests. On Monday the previous week, as soon as Ashwin arrived at his office, Chetan, his boss summoned him.
“Do you know about this Green Elephant Challenge?”, Chetan asked.
“Umm no! What the hell is that?”
“You don’t know!?! It’s a new thing man, haven’t you heard of it? It’s all over social media. People are going crazy about it”
“Umm okay, maybe they are. But I haven’t heard of it I’m more interested in crime stories you see.”
Ashwin said the last lines with a special emphasis to remind Chetan of his interests. Chetan just rolled his eyes, he knew how much Ashwin loved crime news. But he couldn’t help him. He never really got the permission to run Ashwin’s stories on their channel, even though he had promised Ashwin he would.
“You have to write about it”, Chetan said firmly.
Ashwin couldn’t understand at first. He was used to writing about real people, famous personalities doing their bit at the greater good. But he was not really ready to write about some stupid social media trend.
“What!? Why? Don’t you have someone else for this stupidity?”, Ashwin asked curtly his anxiety clearly visible. His boss was more like a friend. Both of them had spent years talking about how they wanted to become the best journalists in the world. Ashwin was very comfortable in his presence, and did not really care about the professional hierarchy that they shared. Now, Chetan was giving him this assignment, testing his patience. Ashwin controlled his urge to kill him. Chetan smirked.
“Look Ashwin, I know what you want. But this is will be interesting for you. No one really knows about this and you will be the sole investigator. The young crowd is going crazy over it. The crazy part is, whoever does this challenge never tells what they did or what happened. They have a strict code of “crazy conduct”. It is exactly like uncovering a crime!”, Chetan exclaimed with excitement.
Seeing Ashwin’s thoughtful face, Chetan continued, “Remember that guy? Rohan Malhotra, who is now an actor in Malaysia. I think he did that challenge”
“Oh yes you are right, I heard that.”
“He disappeared after this challenge and then re-emerged suddenly famous,” Chetan recalled.
Ashwin could see that Chetan was excited with millions of thoughts running in his mind, when he spoke asked again, “So would you do it then?”
“Alright fine. I’ll do it.” This must be some sort of cult activity, Ashwin said to himself. He had to find out what was going on.
After finishing his coffee, Ashwin, finally prepared for the task in hand. He was prepared to do proper justice to the work he was supposed to do. “You will have to write a proper series of articles. We will call it “The grass ain’t greener on the elephant side”, Chetan had told him, a name Ashwin found really imprudent.
But he had decided that one must actually experience a thing to write about it. According his weeklong research, one must submit a crazy-activity entry, to enter the Green Elephant Challenge. So be it, Ashwin said to himself.
He reached Baba Kharak Singh Marg, along with his friend and colleague, Shivam. It was 12.00 hours. Ashwin stood on the road divider, Shivam placed his camera and phone at the right angle, and played the huge speaker in between the two of them. Shivam hit play, the sound of Mika Singh boomed from the speakers. Ashwin started a weird combination of pole-dance and bhangra. A crowd started gathering, Ashwin kept dancing on his oddly place stage, and cars started to stop by trying to take a glimpse of him. Shivam recorded the whole scene on Ashwin’s Instagram live. After that everything happened really quickly. They heard a policeman shouting. Shivam switched off the song, Ashwin jumped from the divider and they dashed in the opposite direction towards CP inner circle. The policeman behind them kept shouting, “Abbe kaha bhaag raha hai aa nachvaye tujhe” They ran for their lives. They hailed an auto and told him to rush as fast as he could. Shivam looked back to see the policeman halt, panting for air.
Both of them, were breathing heavily. They started laughing after realising what they had just done. But their laughter was interrupted by Ashwin’s phone. He received a text from an unknown number.
You did well. But it is not enough. Welcome to the GE Challenge.
Both of them were horrified. They had not submitted their video anywhere. It was just uploaded on Ashwin’s Instagram but his contact details were not mentioned there.
“This is wicked”, said Ashwin in a very slow tone. Shivam kept staring at his phone.
Ashwin sent Shivam off, and boarded the metro heading Gurgaon. His mind was buzzing with thoughts. He didn’t notice when he got a seat in a normally over-crowded yellow-line metro. Sitting with his head low, Ashwin thought he had made a huge mistake.
“Here have some water”, Ashwin looked up, a beautiful girl was standing in front of him, and her soft coffee eyes were watching him sympathetically, she was offering her bottle of water. He smiled slightly, and took the bottle from her and slipped some water down his throat. He instantly felt a little better. He looked up again to thank her but she had disappeared. He looked around frantically trying to find her, when his eyes reached the doorway, he saw waving back at him as the doors closed.
As he reached M.G. Road metro station, Ashwin received another text.
Ashwin John, we know all about you.
Shivers ran down his spine. They know all about him that means they would know why he wanted to participate in this challenge. His phone beeped again.
Go to MGF Metropolitan, your first challenge is scheduled there.
Ashwin turned around, looking for someone who might be watching him but found no one. He walked straight towards the mall, in front of the station. As he reached the mall entrance his phone beeped once again.
Now you do as we say. Don’t worry, we care about you. Stand in the middle of the atrium and wait.
Ashwin was scared, he had read that the challenge involved doing very unusal activities to grab attention of the people. Green Elephant Challenge was like a very immoral series of Truth & Dare except it only involved Dares!
Seems like you love dancing. Do it!
Ashwin’s phone instructed.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and the song started booming in mall, “Aayi chikani chameli…” The sound of the song was everywhere. The shoppers stopped here and there looking for the source of the sound. Ashwin shook his head, Of all the things in this world, this song? He thought. The volume of the song kept increasing as if challenging Ashwin to start dancing or something else would happen. Despite his awkwardness, he started dancing. He did all the moves he remembered, including Katrina Kaif’s signature steps. This time a huge crowd gathered around him as he danced like crazy. He was starting to lose his breath, How long do I have to dance!
Suddenly the song stopped, and a wet, slime-green liquid fell on the top of him, soaking Ashwin completely. The people gathered around him, went “Haww” in unison, and started moving away from where he stood.
Now you are officially part of the Green Elephant Challenge. Go to the Metro station again, and you will get your next set of instructions
beeped Ashwin’s phone.
When Ashwin reached the station, a huge crowd was gathered around on the first floor. As he walked towards the crowd, people started clapping and cheering. Ashwin could not understand. He was slimey green and people made way for him. In the middle of the crowd, he found someone he knew. Ashwin was furious.
Chetan was laughing like a mad-man. As Ashwin approached him with a closed fist. Chetan started laughing. “So how was the Green Elephant Challenge my dear friend”, asked Chetan smirking.
Ashwin was irritated now, “What the hell!?”, he started to say but was interrupted by Chetan, “Dude there is NO such challenge! We were all messing around with you!! HAHA! This was our plan to break your ego and also there is a surprise”, he handed Ashwin an envelope.
Shocked, Ashwin opened it,
Dear Mr Ashwin John
We would like you to inform you with great pleasure that we are starting a new division on crime news, called CrimeBuzz. We are very impressed by the crime stories that you have been writing and submitting to Mr. Chetan Ram. He has recommended your name to head the channel operations.
Congratulations! You have now been promoted as “Channel Head” for CrimeBuzz. We would be pleased to welcome you on board as soon as possible.
Ashwin smiled after reading the letter. This was just a prank by Chetan to give him this news. He punched Chetan in the stomach who couldn’t stop laughing, his colleagues clapped and cheered. Ashwin promised himself not to trust his wicked boss Chetan again. I swear I would not do something like this again, I hate you Chetan, Ashwin thought to himself, smiling.