Excerpt from Dancing with Demons

Four years later

Thunder. Rain. Lightning. Mumbai was under siege again. A ring-like space lit with halogens. A parking lot in an abandoned, half constructed mall just outside the city. Rough-looking men sat around under blue tarpaulin sheds. Drinking, snorting, rolling joints, smoking up. Money was changing hands. A man went around collecting it. Madan was biting his nails nervously. He did that before every underground fight he put Karan into.

Madan was a has-been fighter, a mediocore one at that.

He was Karan's only support system during the darkness. Effervescent, incorrigible, garrulous and most importantly-forever around. Just the kind of friend Karan needed… on most days. On other days, he was a jackass who put Karan in harm's way for a few thousand bucks. Tonight was the few thousand bucks kind of night.

The monsoon rain looked spectacular under the incandescent gaze of the halogens. The makeshift ring looked surreal, as if the Gods were about to fight in it. It was unintentional of course. The idea was to watch two wet and bloody fighters beat the life out of each other for a few thousand rupees. Primal.

A burly man emerged from a van followed by Karan.

Four years had taken their toll. Karan was a ravaged version of himself. Disheveled, sunken eyes, scars from previous fights visible, his eyes wise beyond his twenty-eight years, wise like a man who'd seen rock bottom.

Jerry would've been heartbroken, if Jerry had ever looked back. He hadn't. Jerry had walked away from the Sawant debacle, severing all ties with his protégé. Shutting all doors on his favourite student.

Karan looked at Madan and immediately understood. The bets had been placed on him and he had to win this one. Karan turned to look at his opponent.

A drunken thug fired a round in the air from his country-made pistol and commanded the two fighters,''Naach chamiya.'' Someone grabbed the pistol from his hand. The fool had shot himself in the foot on a previous occasion.

The hoodlums roared and grunted as Karan and the muscleman went at each other.

Not too far away, a Volvo passenger bus was slicing through the rain. Lightning revealed the face of a beautiful girl. She was Sonia. No older than twenty-seven years, a slim face and large expressive eyes. Very expressive. The kind of eyes that needed to be hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses to remain inscrutable. Black rimmed spectacles sat clumsily over the bridge of her sharp, chiselled nose. Sonia was wearing a short, faded Kurta over a pair of old jeans, her thick hair piled into an unkempt bun. It almost seemed like Sonia was attempting to hide behind a cloak of ordinariness. Despite the drab clothes and disheveled hair, you could tell she was beautiful.

Sonia sat silently at the window, looking thunder in the eye, her calm exterior concealing dark secrets…desperately hoping that both she and her secrets would disappear in Mumbai's cacophony and chaos, never to surface again. She hoped Mumbai would become the kind of friend she could trust her darkness to and know that the abyss would never betray her and never remind her of it either. Never. Ever.

She hoped she had left it all behind. The pain, the memories, the five long years spent in a daze. Surprisingly, life hadn't broken her. It had just made her stronger, given her the ability to protect herself from her own vulnerabilities. Her core fragile and tender. Like Karan, she was a beautiful misfit. Starting over excited her, as did escaping. Life had thrown her an unexpected chance and she had grabbed it with both hands, gratefully, greedily. Her childlike emotional core saved her from her own darkness. If she could, she would've sat on top of the bus, taking in the rain, letting it wash away her pain. She would've liked to have lightning find her, course through her vein..she would've liked to electrocute it back.

But right now she needed to make that call to a certain Madan Bhalla.

Madan didn't take Sonia's call. He was too busy watching Karan and the fighter throw each other around.

Thunder struck hard.

It was some night. Thunder and lightning playing, chasing one another like two furtive, carefree lovers, oblivious to the havoc they were wrecking. Sonia put her hand out of the window as the bus started to hurtle down the highway. A sliver of lightning fell on the trees just ahead of them, setting a large bush of fire. Then thunder roared again. Sonia looked out fascinated, while the other passengers gasped, mostly in fright.

Perhaps this was an appropriate setting for what was to follow…two tumultuous lives on a head-on collision course.

( See interview: Boxing the ghosts of the past)