30 Oct 2009


Posted by Oblivion in Fiction | 6:04pm

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.