30 Oct 2009
The streets were buzzing with crowd and the deafening noise was unavoidable. The loud steps of the young, infirm steps of the old, tender steps of children, arrogant steps of cops, measured steps of the ascetic, wayward steps of the awestruck tourist, all of those crossing one another's randomly on the tarmac. Not a very hot morning it was, and they decided to stop by at a restaurant.
No sooner had they found a place to sit than the waiter loudly listed the items on the menu and waited impatiently for the order. A few words of slang from the table to the right, squeals of laughter from that to the left, and the clang of empty glasses from the one behind... noise permeated the entire surrounding. The waiter rushed to fetch and one doubted if he heard the order completely.
The tea was hot, and Murthy preferred to wait. He noticed Sid looking at the tea with focus. Maybe it brought a few memories, but it wasn't obvious to Murthy. He asked, "Dude, is something off with you?" "At times, one is off", Sid put it vaguely.
"I'm asking about you".
"At times,... one is off", Sid repeated.
"You could've informed me before coming. What if I wasn't here? As it is, it's Diwali vacation for school!" Murthy looked at Sid. "Isn't that crazy?"
"Well, I've become unpredictable, of late".
"We are too old for that, man!"
Sid responded with a shrug.
"You didn't have a plan, did you? Been quite some time since we met last. You didn't even want to check if I'm working with the same school? And you don't have return tickets!"
"Just occurred to me if I could visit the ghats and Sarnath. So I came. Checked with school... and you were there. And then there are always hotels, anyways. As for tickets, I will book it here".
"Being planned doesn't hurt, right?"
"If one is unplanned at times, I guess it's all right".
"Sailing with no direction or purpose, then? How good is that! Specially when one can afford not to?"
"There are times when one can't drive the sail. Waters are rough at places".
"That doesn't mean you would just let it go!"
"Maybe one hasn't. If one is running to catch the distant flower, he will brave the thorns on the path. It doesn't mean he is careless or hasn't planned his run to evade the thorns. On the contrary!"
Briefly, Murthy seemed to agree. "I see you have a point. Maybe you don't consider this important enough to plan. I plan, however, to go for a mobile number next year. You can do better then".
The pause in conversation was unnoticeable. It faded readily into the noise, imperceptibly. Sid almost finished drinking the tea while Murthy just began.
Murthy wouldn't be quiet for long. "Why the ghats, all of a sudden?"
"Something about them seemed to draw me".
"What? Their being old, sombre and morbid?" Murthy laughed.
"Perhaps. Resembles some old chap who has gone through the run of life. Reeks of silent wisdom".
"How about a haggard, used oldie crumbling under his own weight? Totally done in".
"Let's see. We will be there in a while", Sid smiled.
"You look low, man! You sound low, too!"
Sid knew, but he didn't think it showed. "The ride isn't always up and smooth. Sometimes, there's the decline on the hill of life".
"So you are on the decline? Where does it end?"
"It ends with the fall... The fall that levels everything... and shows you where you belong".
"So you are waiting for the fall?" Murthy finished the tea and put the empty glass down with deliberation. The contact of glass with the table was far from quiet.
"Waiting for the inevitable is redundant. For the present, it's just the decline".
"How long will the present last?"
"For now, the present is indefinite".
"Present indefinite", Murthy smiled. "Dude, tea isn't the best drink when on a decline. Like to try grass? Mescaline?" he winked. "My buddies at BHU can treat us".
"No, thanks!" Sid was amused.
"Worry not. One dip in the Ganges and the sin will be washed away", Murthy laughed. "If present is indefinite, future is tense. Present indefinite; future tense", Murthy played with words.
As they set out to the walk to the ghats, the noise followed them. Loyally. The noise of restless mankind. The noise of winter morning. The noise of ancient city. The noise of trade. The noise of the dogs fighting for a piece of bone in garbage. The noise of the pleading of beggars. The noise of the chanting of hymns. The noise of the weight of tradition. The noise of absolute faith. The noise of the suppressed dreams. The noise of the abandoned newborns. The noise of tears in the eyes of the old woman on the brink of death. The noise of brawls, of shattering failures, of loving hugs, of wily smiles, of the words unsaid, of the songs unsung, of broken hearts, of blithe spirits, of chattering minds, of noise, and of silence.
At the bottom of the flight of stairs, they stood on the banks of the Ganges, flowing serenely with flowers and filth. Shortly after, an old man in saffron robes and gray hairs caught their attention. "I will just get some flowers. Wait", Murthy said and went up. "Sure", Sid replied. The old man approached Sid, looked at him for a while and smiled. Sid couldn't help reciprocate; old man and saffron was a charming combination. "Life-altering time?", the old man asked with a smile and started to walk away. Sid, caught in utter surprise, looked at the man. Sid didn't answer "Yes", but the old man seemed to know. Walking the steps up, he said "God bless!"
"Thank you", Sid replied.
As the old man walked away and Murthy started walking toward, Sid heard the noise of their steps. Noise followed noise. The noise of surprise. The noise of ascent. The noise of descent. The noise of the ardent devotees. The noise of the living. The noise of the dying. The noise of sinners. The noise of sinning. The noise of the burning pyre. The noise of priests haggling for money. The noise of wrestlers. The noise of boatsmen luring visitors. The noise of kids jumping into the waters. The noise of the click of camera buttons. The noise of the pens arranging words on empty paper. The noise of relations consigning the corpse to flames. The noise of the flowers in garlands. The noise of the presence of strangers. The noise of the absence of dear ones. The noise of the silent, unseen God. The noise of the souls seeking salvation. The noise of eagles prying for the edible remains. The noise of monkeys stealing bits of food. The noise of the ashes dissolving in waters. The noise of reason. The noise of unreason. The noise of longing. The noise of belonging. The noise of unbelonging. The noise of existence. The noise of death. The noise of life.
The noise of the beat of the heart. The noise of presence. The noise of absence.
16 Oct 2009
The land barren
Baked dry in summer heat
The solitary tree
Unseen by rain in ages
The forlorn bird
In the middle of flight
The empty nest
A home reduced to ruins
The blistering Sun
On the edge of the horizon
The cloudless sky
Gloomy in hues of dusk
The singular path
Untrodden then, now and hence
The fallen leaf
Bare to the trampling step
The red of Sun, the blue of sky
The brown of land, the green of leaf
All of them on the canvas together
And yet each of them numb and alone
Riot of color on the canvas white
But none has seen the missing hues
Save the painter, young and dreary,
Whose heart beats at uneasy pace
13 Oct 2009
The bus came to an abrupt halt. The jolt woke up the baby. She had been blissfully asleep thus far, lost in the celestial world of her innocent dreams. "Careful!", the conductor, bespectacled and in his early-fifties, shouted at the driver, who didn't seem to care. The baby was displeased. She felt as if someone has forcefully pulled curtains on the beautiful world she was dreaming of and dragged her back into this infernal chaos that the people inside and outside the bus are living in. The rude intrusion into her sleep and the inexplicable end to her dreams didn't impress her. Striving hard to open her eyes, she burst out weeping. Sikandar held her close to his chest and patted on her back to put her back to sleep. The conductor held the door open for Sikandar to get down. "The baby will be fine. Don't worry", he assured Sikandar, as he alighted. "Give her medicine on time", the conductor loudly reminded. Sikandar, with his back to the conductor, smiled, waved his hand and said, "Sure, dada!"
Sikandar had been impatiently waiting for the stop, for it started getting cloudy an hour ago. He wanted to reach Saharanpur before it rains. So, when it finally stopped, he was quite relieved. He just wanted to rush to the village. He couldn't give even a moment to turn, look back and thank the conductor properly.
The roar of thunder echoed all around. The clouds were closing in with haste. Saharanpur is still 7 miles away. It's a narrow, muddy stretch through dense forest to the village. Only carts and autos bring and take people between the bus-stop and the village. As one has to wait for hours to find an auto or cart, the young usually prefer to walk the 7 miles. Sikandar hastened his walk as the baby slowly gave in to sleep. He looked at the clouds and it was gloomy. The Sun has completely disappeared behind the dark clouds and the earth smelt of rain. It was raining at a distance, certainly not far away. He quickly assessed that he must not waste even a second if he should reach the village before it rains. For, if it rains, even walking becomes quite difficult on the road. "She is down with cold and high fever. Don't let her outdoors or she'll get weaker", Sikandar remembered the doctor's words. The baby must not get wet in rain. He must rush. He had walked on this stretch many times earlier, so he knows where and how to step and pace.
As it got darker, lightning wouldn't stop. The forest stood in utter quiet. If it rains now, it will pour from the skies. There's nothing to stop by and take shelter at. Suddenly, Sikandar was possessed with apprehension. He thought, for a moment, if it was wiser to go back to the bus-stop and wait till it stops raining. But where would he wait? The barren road aside, it was just shrubs and bushes. Not any better than this stretch. He walked on. Faster. A blinding streak of lightning ran through the sky in front of him, and it appeared as if the clouds were being torn apart. A tender rain droplet fell on his forehead. And with it vanished the last remnant of his wish that it should not rain. Now he must find trees for shelter. He knows the route thoroughly and the nearest one was still a good distance away. Not being one with a faint heart, he was hopeful that the huge tree will protect him and, more importantly, the baby from rain. If it rains through the tree too, he will, he hoped, hide in the groove of the trunk. But all the trees that he knows have full trunks. But reality made little sense now. He relied on his ingenious self - he would disregard all the cold facts and wish for even the most impossible of heroic rescue deeds by compassionate saviours, even if they come in the form of trees. Better yet, he hoped he will find a tiny brick structure, laid overnight by strangers, with a roof. He could put the baby there. Or, how about a divine turnaround - the clouds suddenly going shallow and cannot rain? It wasn't raining yet, so he could still play with hope. For some more time. Just.
With every drop of rain, however, hope dwindled. He must, if he must, believe only in miracles now. The baby was sleeping, and hasn't felt the rain yet. Shortly, however, she will. Sikandar held the baby closer. He has walked a good distance off the road but the village was still far away. When he left for the town that morning, it was bright and sunny. It didn't occur to him if it might rain. He cursed himself. But it was more out of helplessness, for he couldn't have foreseen anyways. Nevertheless, he cursed himself. He felt he should have anticipated, however impossible it was to. He heard the faint sound of rain. It was approaching him. He must run. Inevitability looked straight in his eye. That he failed to foresee didn't appear an accident now; it appeared like a downright mistake, instead. He must pay for it now. But must the innocent baby pay for it, too? Sikandar was anrgy. Rain pelted against the still foliage, and it'll reach him in a few seconds and drench them both. He looked up at the skies. Angrily. That he was always dismissive of God didn't bother him. He prayed. He prayed that the rain should stop soon. If the baby gets drenched and stays wet for a long time, it could be fatal. She is his life and he must save her.
The sky roared loud and rain caught him. Millions of gallons pouring incessantly from above. The baby woke up with a shiver. Startled, she looked at Sikandar. He looked lovingly into her eyes. His anger dissolved, resolve surfaced, but her glance had a thousand questions. One question, repeated a thousand times, rather. "Will you save me, papa?" she seemed to ask. Tears rushed into his eyes, but he stopped. How could he tell her she means everything to him and that he will do everything to save her! He caressed her face, held her closer, and said, "It will be all right, darling". Did she understand? He thought she did. Maybe she indeed did. Or maybe she didn't. Certainly, however, she didn't feel secure in his arms anymore. At what moment did the loving embrace turn into a lethal stranglehold? But what could she do? She doesn't know how to save herself. She was utterly vulnerable, wholly at the mercy of this fatherly character and the elements, earthly and divine. It could've rained an hour earlier or an hour later, but it chose, to his misfortune, this precise hour. He wondered why, for that was all he could do.
The relentless rain resolute to get her, the clouds that cheered without shame, the vast forest that slipped into slumber, the Sun that forgot His might and hid behind the clouds, and this hapless man's insecure embrace - her life was bare. The cold rain water soaked her clothes and skin, and she could not keep her eyes open. Crying aloud, she held Sikandar's collar more firmly. Her shrieks dissolved in the din of rain and her tears were awashed by the callous drops that pelted against her tender face. She did all she could - she cried with all her heart, totally ignorant of what was at stake.
Sikandar did all he could, too. He held the baby with utmost care. If he was desperate to reach the village before it started raining, if he hurried on a rugged stretch, if he wished for the impossible rescue acts, if he scanned everything he could see for anything that promised shelter, it was for the baby. Yet it was the bottomline that mattered, and the bottomline was that he was helpless. At the end, the measure would be this - whether he saved the baby or not.
As it rained heavier and skies became darker, it proved more tough for Sikandar to spot any signs of shelter. With the water on the ground already sinking his feet, even walking became a testing task. The baby continued to cry and he didn't know how to calm her. Six months ago when he spotted this baby abandoned in garbage, when she looked into his eyes for the first time, when he held her in his arms, she became his life. She was a few months old and he was twenty-four. "You are not an orphan anymore, darling. You are my daughter", he told her, unable to contain his delight. She looked at him. She understood she was precious. She smiled in sheer joy. "She is my most precious", Sikandar announced to the village. They thought he went crazy, but it didn't matter to him. He named her, according as his guru's suggestion, Aarushi. His days hence would begin with her glance. "I will never abandon her", he told himself. And yet, as he held her close and ran toward the village in rain at that moment, everything was being put to test. Was she being chosen to be perpetually abandoned or was he being driven to abandon her? He didn't know.
Sikandar spotted - or so he thought - a small tree that he believed could shield rain. He began running impatiently. A few steps later, the run was interrupted by a solid blow against his right foot. Before he could realise he had hit a massive rock, he found himself falling down. He gathered fast and turned around, still in flight. The strong blow toppled his balance and the fall was inevitable. An instant later, he fell down on his back. For an already freezing Aarushi, it was a shock enough to effect hiccups. Sikandar was too focused on her safety to feel, or even worry about, the pain. It was a relief for him that she was not injured. He didn't think much about her hiccups. He believed that once he reaches that tree she will be fine.
Holding Aarushi tight, he tried getting up. His right foot wouldn't move. Surprising Sikandar, it gave in and made him collapse. He underestimated the impact of the rock. It crushed his toes and the gash was deep. Nothing was known of the ligaments or bones, but this was clear - he couldn't walk. Lying down on his back, he tried to feel his foot. But he couldn't. It was as if the foot has been amputated. Struck with an element of dread, he raised his head to look at the foot. He found it trembling in pain and dripping blood. Meanwhile, Aarushi cried with subdued voice, marked by intermittent hiccups. Sikandar took his shirt off with haste and used it to cover Aarushi. As one after another agonising minute passed, she shivered more severely and her crying became more irregular.
The tryst with the damned moment of fate lay in the open. Everything was soaked to the soul, as if the Providence wanted to prove that water is the basic and the only element of the universe. The hunt, he felt, was over. The monster chased, caught, cornered, and rendered him helpless. It's just the final blow that remained as it enjoyed watching him suffer the last pangs of pain. Tears reached the brink of his eyes and he choked in pain. He felt Aarushi against his bare chest. If he could, he would tear his chest open and keep her inside and cover her with his bloody flesh. It was time to admit, the moment to apologise. Would she forgive? She might. She most likely would. She would, indeed. But would he forgive himself? She rested in his arms believing he is the only hope and he couldn't save her! The life of his precious, tender one lay on the edge and he was chosen to witness as a helpless invalid. Nay, he was, by a move most shrewd, chosen to execute the kill himself!
A few minutes passed and Sikandar shook with a start. Letting a loud fit of hiccup, Aarushi fell silent. An eerie chill ran through his spine. Even though she rested in his arms, he didn't feel her anymore. His heart pounded unstoppably, and his worst fear came to the fore. The monster had dealt the final blow. The decisive, fatal blow. And it laid the baby dead. Aarushi lay motionless, abandoned by life, and in utter quiet. Sikandar didn't dare to see her face. He could not. Not as yet. His strength betrayed him. He burst into tears but she wouldn't be moved. He cried aloud but she wouldn't hear. He wept and pleaded but she wouldn't wake up. Inconsolable grief would be his for life. As he lay on the ground with a broken foot, holding the dead baby in his arms, the rain fell in abandonment.
* * * * * * * * *
Sikandar stood silent and looked intently at the ground. It was at this very place that he lay in abject helplessness and let her die. It has been three years. He bent down and kissed the ground. A heavy silence fell on the forest while he was haunted by the rending glimpses of the rainy evening that shattered and reduced him to nothing. Tears blurred his eyes.
At a distance one heard the roar of thunder.
12 Oct 2009
Grain by grain
Slips the sand quick
Beneath the feet
That, jaded and adrift,
Walk to nowhere
With each step
Deeper the feet sink
Into the sand
That, eager and mean,
Yields sans care
Fervid like fire
Blows the blazing heat
From the Sun
That, fiery and aloof,
Derides the fare
Rugged and grim
Rests the stolid tread
With the grit
That, hard and biting,
Does the feet pare
The aimless path
Desert sand without pity
Spur the fetters
That, hungry and candid,
Stifle to tear
Grain by grain
Slips the sand quick
Beneath the feet
That, pale and cracked,
Walk to where?
8 Oct 2009
There's a brook that I sit by
Its waters flow in glee
They greet in rush and run past
And before I wish back, flee
They smile, they tease, they beckon
To the blue expanse of the ocean
They say they will take me
Where they can play for good
I sit, I stare, I watch
In silence, somber and unamused
At an hour beyond cheer and gloom
I only see them come and go
All is quiet in the eastern sky
The western is all but quiet
Unquiet are the birds and the woods
And quite unquiet is my heart
And at the stroke of dusk
We drift - the waters and I
The waters that never become still
And the heart that cannot be stilled