The long-lost friend
Saturday, 21 October 2017
Pawan has witnessed the changing times. He has been through several social and cultural transformations. Amid all the advancement, sometimes he feel he lost his old self far behind. Now, his son has taken an unexpected path and Pawan is trying his best to track his footprints and get a glimpse of his older self.
The long-lost friend
“C’mon Pawan, you can’t possibly think this is possible,” Pawan’s brother-in-law, Madan, leered at him.
Pawan didn’t say anything. Slowly, he closed his eyes, his grip tightening on the gun’s trigger. The noise around was distracting, he admitted. But then, the hustle and bustle were as much as it should be in an old school fair like this. However, it was nothing new to Pawan, even though it had been decades since he attended such a fair.
“Concentrate,” Pawan thought to himself, his eyes still closed, his fingers firmly keeping the gun straight. A few slides passed through his memory; when he used to shoot at guavas with his catapult and when he used to practice shooting in the NCC range. His friends and other schoolmates didn’t use to call him a ‘sharp shooter’ for nothing.
Gradually, he opened his eyes and stared deeply into the burning wick of the candle that was dangling from the thread from the distance. Its flame was directionless and irregular, or at least it seemed so, but not to Pawan.
Before he even pulled the trigger, he knew that the shrapnel from the toy gun was going to blow the dangling candle out.
That is exactly what happened.
There was an uninterrupted silence for a while. It seemed that the entire fair was numb for a moment witnessing what just had happened. Pawan looked at his brother-in-law, who was staring with his mouth wide open at the blown candle, which was still dangling from the thread.
Pawan looked at his 10-year-old son Pavitr and his 9-year-old daughter, Rohini, who were staring at the candle too with similar expressions. However, unlike Madan’s disbelieve, they were rather in awe.
Pawan couldn’t help smiling; the same reaction from the audience, which he had been receiving for decades now.
Though he felt things have changed.
He knew things have changed.
While exiting the fair, passing through the rides and laughter of children, the pandemonium at various food and toy stalls, Pawan couldn’t help thinking of his past, an era gone long ago and which sometime felt like another lifetime.
When it came to action, Pawan was always a hyperactive kid. Whether it was the playground or school, Pawan always felt a surge of adrenaline from quite a young age.
He used to climb the numerous guava and mango trees in his home’s backyard in minutes and when his father used to return from office, he used to climb down and rush inside the home with the equal speed.
Similarly, he was good at studies, more than often better than the rest of his classmates, especially when it came to science and maths.
Pawan spent his childhood in several towns. As his father was a state government official, he was habitual of living in Victorian era quarters that often used to have huge garden compounds with numerous trees and creatures, including snakes.
Pawan belonged to a time when technology was yet to become an integral part of the society and digital advancements were still a thing of future. Being the smallest kid in the family, Pawan was the most beloved member and his father often complained to his mother about his daredevilry being the outcome of excess of love. However, his complaints were always used to be half hearted.
"Arre galti se tukka lag gaya aur kya," Madan was still refusing to believe what he witnessed from his own eyes as he desperately tried to point it out to his wife and Pawan's wife.
“Tukka kya laga,” Pawan’s sister protested, “He has been doing it since a kid, it’s nothing new to him.”
“Even though I was not expecting it after such a long time,” she looked at Pawan, “It has been years.”
Their conversation brought back Pawan to the present. He looked around himself. A cold breeze swept through his face from nowhere, as if it came from a distant place, where he was still a carefree kid, full of ambitions and with a fire constantly burning inside his belly. He tried to look at the direction of the breeze, but it was all dark, engulfed in the grayish clouds. He sighed.
It has been a long journey, Pawan said to himself, a really long one.
If school was the birth of Pawan’s passion, college only fueled it with his determination to be one of the best in his field; chemistry and biology. He was popular, he was liked by his professors and batch-mates and even though Pawan never admitted it to himself, he had a suspicion a few girls used to eye him with a rather adoring expression, almost lovingly.
However, it was a tough journey from home to college, and Pawan was more than determined to make the most out of it.
Even though in the later life things didn’t turn as he was expecting it to be, his knack of following anything passionately that he pursued bore fruits and he achieved great many success.
He was happy, and satisfied and why he shouldn’t be? His wife loved him immeasurably and always stood by his side in the most difficult of his times, he was financially and emotionally well settled and he had two kids whom he loved a lot.
He was happy.
Except for those short duration of time when he was not so sure, not so certain.
Sometimes he felt that with advent of life, he lost himself in the crowd way back long ago.
He still remembered that one time when as a kid he was in a fair with his parents, he lost them in the crowd and was horrified at the thought of losing them forever. Just when he was starting to panic out, someone suddenly grabbed his hand. “Kaha dhyan rehta hai,” his father scolded him. Pawan was so much relieved that he was unable to say anything. He just hopped behind his father, smiling.
Now, at the age of 45, Pawan sometimes felt as lost as he was back then.
However, his father was not there to hold his hand anymore.
He was on his own.
Lost in these thoughts, Pawan realised that before he knew it, he was no more the youngest kid of the family loved by everyone and had grown into an adult burdened with all kinds of responsibilities.
Loss was nothing new to Pawan. He had lost people with advent of time; people who were closest to him, people with whom he had some of the most precious memories of his life. He had seen them bidding goodbye untimely and when he least expected it. Pain and suffering were something that Pawan had learnt how to master and channel into a positive energy.
At NCC, Pawan was taught a lot of life values and discipline lessons that always helped him to tackle various difficulties throughout his life. in a nutshell, even if Pawan felt that he had lost his true self somewhere far behind, he had made peace with it, had gracefully accepted his present and was satisfied with it.
Except for that one thing.
Recently, Pawan had started to feel that he was not being able to understand his son properly. Pavitr was a good kid. Though he was an average student in school, Pawan had noticed certain distinctive traits in him.
As the family moved towards the parking lot outside the fair where their car was, Pawan looked at his son, who was busy examining his new toy; an action figure. In the distant, the numerous decorative lights on various rides and makeshift stalls were blinking rhythmically as if they were also contemplating on their life in that fair.
When Pavitr was born, like any exhilarating father, Pawan had also thought of a lot of things for his son, he also had several expectations.
Unfortunately, it seemed none of them were actually working the way he wanted them to be.
Lately, Pawan had noticed Pavitr was reading fiction stories a lot. He had shown not much interest in science and maths ever. Also, Pavitr was nowhere near as physically active as Pawan was. True, he used to go out and play with other kids, but that was something he was not really keen about.
Even though Pawan didn’t want to admit it, sometimes he felt a mild disappointment and got worried about his son’s future. His daughter, on the other hand, was quite a studious student and was doing pretty well in school including science and maths; the two subjects that Pawan always thought were the core of any kind of professional life afterwards and which he thought were crucial for higher education.
However, there was a certain calmness about Pavitr, that always used to reassure Pawan in an unexplainable way, as if nothing could ever go wrong.
“Papa, you know Spider-Man was created in 1962 and since then it has been one of the most popular superhero ever,” Pavitr chimed happily, caressing his action figure.
Pawan didn’t say anything. He just smiled and put his hand on his son’s head.
“He is so innocent,” Pawan said to himself, “and vulnerable,” a voice came from far corner of his mind. Pawan tried to shrug it off.
While entering the car, Pawan had no idea how in a few years Pavitr will declare his absolute disinterest in science or maths and would ask for pursuing a line of education that was completely unfamiliar to Pawan.
“Interior designing has a very promising career Papa,” Pavitr insisted, “There are numerous job scopes.”
“Arre, but how well you can be able to earn, decorating other’s homes?” Pawan said, trying his best to suppress his anger, “Is that even a job? Isn’t it done by architects?”
They had a bit of argument, which was very rare, as Pavitr hardly ever refused Pawan over anything.
That night, while lying on his bed, Pawan stared at the ceiling fan. he felt exactly the same way, 25 years ago, when he had decided to go for a course in a faraway city against his father will. He remembered how everyone in the home was sad, including his elder brother and sister. His mother was in tears and was sad to such an extent that she was unable to say anything.
Pawan knew he was hurting his family, but he had a very distinctive confidence that he was unable to explain, even to himself. He knew that what he was going to do, was crucial, necessary for his later life. “I won’t be able to feel whole if I don’t do this,” Pawan had said to his father.
Early in the morning when it hadn’t even dawned properly, Pawan was ready with his luggage.
Everyone in the home was asleep, except his parents. He went inside their room and touched their feet without saying anything. Just when he was about to leave, his father called him.
“Sit,” he said.
Pawan woke up next morning and went to see Pavitr, who was already up and was on his computer as usual.
“Come here,” he said, “Sit,” he motioned at Pavitr’s bed. Pavitr sat beside him.
“Are you really sure that you want to do it?” he asked Pavitr, staring into his eyes. Pawan noticed that his son’s eyes were reflecting the kind of determination that was not so unfamiliar to him. He remembered the day when he was of the same age and was about to leave for the college. Pawan had a feeling that Pavitr was as confident and determined as he was back then.
“Yes,” Pavitr said simply, looking at his father expectedly.
As Pawan was about to leave, Pavitr called him from behind.
“Papa,” he said, “Do you really know why I want to do this?”
Pawan turned and faced his son, trying to read his face.
“Because I have been in the search of myself for a long time. I think this course will help me find him, whom I lost way back long ago.”
Like a flash, the memory crossed Pawan’s mind.
Just when he was about to leave, Pawan’s father had called, “Beta, baitho idhar.” He motioned towards his wooden chair near the study table where he always used to sit while reading a book.
Pawan hesitantly sat on it.
“I know what is it,” his father said, “I know how you feel.”
Really, Pawan thought to himself.
Putting a hand on his shoulder, Pawan’s father smiled.
“We all need to find ourselves in one way or other. The journey of life is all about losing and finding. We come to this world with numerous ambitions and expectations. Sometimes they are met, sometimes they are not. In the entire journey, we keep losing our old self because it is crucial to move forward and find the ultimate purpose. However, once in a while, we need to find that old self and tag him along because if it wasn’t for him, none of us would have achieved whatever we have achieved. This is an infinite procedure and only stops when you stop breathing.
“Here is some money. If you need more, write a letter. I will send you the money order,” Pawan’s father handed him an envelope and looked at him, smiling, “Go and find yourself. All the best.”
“I know it sounds silly,” Pavitr was saying, “But I feel like I have lost a part of myself somewhere in the past, which is irreplaceable. I don’t know how or why, but I have this feeling that this course will help me find him and let me do well in my later life.”
After a momentarily pause, Pawan said, “Fill up the online form today only and make the payment. Don’t delay. And start preparing for the entrance.”
The smile on Pavitr’s face was enough to let Pawan know how happy he was.
“I won’t disappoint you, Papa,” Pavitr said.
Smiling, Pawan put his hand on his hair softly. “I know you won’t.”
Sometimes, Pawan felt that with advent of life, he lost himself in the crowd way back long ago.
However, he knew that he found his old self; he could see it reflecting through his son, smiling reassuringly at him.
Monday, 14 November 2016
The prisoned existence
Not alone, I am not alone.
Though loneliness is family now,
The endurance has worked for sure.
Nevertheless, the extent of it remains questionable.
I see happy people all around me,
Smiling and laughing and applauding life.
My brother keeps convincing me,
Such circles make you positive,
But I couldn’t help feeling the opposite,
Day and night.
At times, the defining line vanishes.
Leaving me in doubt,
With what’s real and what’s virtual.
No, not virtual,
More like a dream.
Either this society disappoints me,
Or I am not the one for it.
Whichever is the case,
I surely need to get out of it.
Run away? No sir, absolutely not.
It’s escape that is in my mind.
From all of it,
From all of them.
All the virtues of life,
Have shattered in front of my eyes.
The purpose has become purposeless,
And meaning has lost its meaning.
It’s some unknown force,
That’s driving me from behind.
Pushing and pulling,
Like a puppet,
Attached to rusty strings.
There’s a fire, an urge,
To leave, to say good bye.
I am just bidding my time,
Smiling and being normal,
Against my will.
Brother said, time heals it up.
Maybe I am extra-terrestrial.
For me, the legendary time,
Has only deepened the wounds.
Father told me, to meditate.
I couldn’t, not that I didn’t try.
I fear the darkness,
I fear shutting my eyes,
Though it has been an old friend.
And it brought another friend,
Insomnia, into my life.
Every day, I suffer in silence.
Every day, I count my days,
Like a prisoner,
Wishing against hope,
To let go of the memories.
Brother and father think high of me,
I wish they knew,
I might have hit the rock bottom,
And couldn’t find the ladder there.
The prison has become home,
And I don’t have any more hope.
Though the flicker of good memories,
Help me to keep myself sane.
I have not given up,
But I don’t have further expectations.
Just want the peace,
That I used to have
In my mother’s lap once.
I guess, it’s too much to ask for now…
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
The moment the clock ticked 11 in the night, the jingling of the keys was heard. A few seconds later, the Doctor entered his apartment. Quietly, he removed his shoes, went to washroom and came back 10 minutes later. All the while, the ancient grandfather clock in the hall was ticking away, in slow rhythmic motion.
“And the state police is still looking for the culprit who broke into museum last night. The officers haven’t yet found what was stolen, but the investigation is going on actively,” the reporter in the television continued reading in her monotonous voice while the Doctor prepared some dinner for himself.
He entered his bedroom and placed his plate of dinner on the floor. Sitting on the bean bag, he picked up the plate, stared at it for one full minute, and before beginning, muttered to himself, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Silently chewing the same old dinner that he is having for six years now, the Doctor couldn’t help looking at the one corner of his room that he dreaded most. A picture was sitting on the wall rack; a beardless, more human-looking himself with a smiling kid and a pretty girl. The dim, yellow lights were hiding most of the kid and the girl’s face. Still, the boy’s smile and the girl’s eyes were highlighted somehow.
All of a sudden, the Doctor almost threw his plate on the floor and sprang up from the bean bag. Grabbing a bottle of whiskey and a pack of smokes from the hall table, he hurriedly made himself a drink, neat, and lit one of the cigarettes with shaking hands. Inhaling deeply, he released a thick puff of smoke. He was visibly calmed now, his hands no more shaking. However, the battle inside his head raged on.
Slowly, he returned to the bedroom with his drink and smoke and sat on the bed this time, quietly looking at the picture, while sipping from his glass. Reluctantly, his eyes were drawn to another object in the room; a calendar. “Six years, four months, three days, 22 hours,” he whispered to himself.
He heard some commotion in the adjoining apartment. “Bloody neighbours,” he muttered again as the noise increased. Suddenly, he heard loud thumps on his door. He tried to ignore it, but the thumping increased. “Go away! I’m off duty now!” he shouted, but in vain. It seemed that the visitor was determined not to leave till he saw the Doctor. Angrily, he put on his shirt, walked towards the door and opened it. “What?” he almost shouted at a scared looking teenager boy.
“Pplease ddoctor…” the boy said, stuttering, “My…my grandpa, he is not well.”
“I’m off hours now,” the Doctor said grumpily, even though he knew that moments afterwards, he will be carrying his bag and exiting his solitary apartment.
“Jus…just come for once doctor, he… he doesn’t look we…well…” the boy insisted, shaking.
“You called the ambulance?” the Doctor asked as a last effort to get rid of the boy. However, he had already picked up his bag and was wearing shoes.
“No, no… mumma is not home, so…so I called her and she told me to get yo…you.”
“Alright, alright, let’s go.”
They both entered the neighbouring apartment. Though the Doctor had been living in the building for almost six years now, he never befriended the neighbours and this was first time he was entering another apartment.
The hall strongly smelled of medicines, dust and poverty. The paint on the walls was chipped off and there was barely any furniture. The boy led him to a small, gloomy-looking room. A rickety old fan was dangling from the ceiling, spinning slowly making a lot of noise. The window panes were open, though it wouldn’t have mattered even if they were closed as all the glasses on it were either cracked or shattered. There was a dirty, spotted curtain tied to it, which was swaying slowly in the wind, giving the impression of a spirit with white robes, leaving the room.
There were only three objects in the room; a metal bookshelf, a rickety wooden chair and a rusty iron bed beside it, with someone laying on it, covered in thick blankets. The boy pointed towards the bed. The Doctor slowly walked to it.
There was a very old man on it, moaning, with his eyes closed tightly. The Doctor knew that the man was in pain as his brow-less forehead was contracted with numerous wrinkles. The moment the Doctor saw the old man’s face, he knew that he had counted days left.
The Doctor was about to sit on the chair when the boy suddenly said, “Not there, don’t sit on it.” The Doctor looked at the boy, but didn’t reply. Putting his bag on the floor, he approached the old man.
“Where’s your mom?” the Doctor asked touching the old man’s forehead.
“She’s not back from work yet,” the boy said, a bit calmed down but still shaking nervously.
The Doctor nodded and took out his stethoscope from the bag. After checking the old man’s chest with it, he took out his notepad and wrote some medicines. It was just a normal fever, nothing serious.
“Get these medicines, the fever should wear off till morning. And close the windows, otherwise he might catch cold,” the Doctor said, giving the prescription to the boy.
“Thanks,” the boy murmured and accompanied the Doctor to the door.
The bright sun rays felt like a blast of light as the Doctor woke up.
“Shit,” he muttered, looking at his wristwatch that he was still wearing. Getting up, he stumbled upon the empty bottle of whiskey. An overloaded ash tray was sitting on the windowsill, with several cigarette butts laying around it.
Readying up hurriedly, the Doctor left the home, forgetting to switch off the lights in the hall.
At the strike of 11 in the night, the Doctor entered his apartment and after freshening up in the washroom, he entered the kitchen to prepare some food.
“In yet another bizarre robbing incident, the office of state archive department was found broken this evening and just like the last time, the culprit hasn’t taken anything. Police and the authorities are confused regarding the intentions of the culprit,” the reporter blurted in her mechanical tone as the Doctor entered the bedroom with his dinner.
“Six years, four months, four days, 19 hours,” he said to himself as he chewed a piece of bread.
Though he likes to live alone, the most dreadful moment in the Doctor’s life is when he has to go to sleep. For years, he has trained himself to sleep as less as possible, without losing his sanity. However, after a particular hour in the night, he is not able to resist the sleep and then it happens, all over again; first, the happy laughs, the warm, comforting touch of the skin, the innocent smiles, those pretty, big eyes, and then, the fire, the shrieks, the paralysis, the inability to do something, anything, and last, the smell of burnt meat, the suffocating fumes and a captivating dizziness.
Every single day since last six years, the Doctor is having the same dream. He visited the psychiatrist, his parents, his friends…nothing worked. The dream just kept haunting him every single night.
Hence, he came out with his own device; he started to drink, and drink heavily and he began smoking too. Sometimes, when he thinks of it, he can’t stop smiling at the irony. He was known as a teetotaller among his friends…she used to be proud of him, telling her friends that how the Doctor sets a perfect example for the kid.
But it is gone now, she is gone now, the kid is gone now…and the Doctor? Well, even if he likes to think that he has no purpose left in this world anymore, there he is, as alive as any human being can ever be. So, he is just going with the flow. His hollow, empty eyes neither looking to the future nor reminiscing him of the past. He is just a dead man among the living ones, or maybe, vice versa.
The thump on the door brought him back to the present with a shock. In frenzy, he stood up hurriedly, knocking the dinner plate in the process. Cursing himself, he went to the hall and opened the door.
“Grandpa is better now. He wanted to thank you. If you are free for a while, can you please come and meet him? He is unable to walk much, so…” the boy from the other night was there.
Staring at the boy for a moment, the Doctor went inside without saying anything. In a minute, he came back.
The old man was sitting on the bed, supporting his back on the headboard.
“Really obliged to meet you my dear sir, I can’t thank you enough,” the old man greeted the Doctor in a surprisingly bold and firm voice, which the Doctor was not expecting.
“You look better,” the Doctor said, trying to smile.
“Again, thanks to you,” the old man grinned under his toothless lips.
As soon as the Doctor was about to sit on the chair, the old man almost shouted, “No! Not there!” Taken aback, the Doctor looked at the old man in bewilderment.
“Please forgive me for my indecency, sir. You can sit on the bed, there is plenty of space.”
The old man shifted a bit and the Doctor sat beside him.
“How are you feeling now?” the Doctor asked.
“I’m fine, at least for now.”
“Where’s your daughter-in-law? Is she still at work?”
“I guess so, but she should be here anytime now.”
“And your son?”
The old man looked outside the window for a while and without answering the Doctor’s question, said, “I’m sorry that I acted rude.”
“It’s fine, I didn’t mind,” the Doctor said, avoiding any awkwardness.
“Well, there’s a story,” the old man said. After a brief pause, he continued, smiling, “There is always a story, isn’t there?”
“I am all ears,” the Doctor replied. In a weird way, he actually felt good about sitting beside an old man and listening to his story instead of going to bed. This way, he will get a few hours more to avoid that ever-haunting dream.
“You must be wondering, why I didn’t let you sit on the chair,” the old man said, shifting under his blankets, “Actually, the thing is, till recently, I used to be an atheist, since as long as I remember, I never believed in any god, or for that matters, any supernatural entity that controls the human beings.”
The old man paused again. The doctor was looking outside the window; he could see the tiny lights blinking and moving in the distance, and a river, reflecting the moonlight.
“Then I got the news from my doctor that I was not going to live for many days,” the old man continued, “That’s when it all started to change.”
“My grandson got this chair for the visitors. However, one day, all of a sudden, I don’t know why or how, I felt like, I need something, or someone, to help me with the pain, which can ease the suffering, make me feel like I am not alone.”
“That was the day I decided to worship this chair.”
This broke the string of thoughts in the Doctor’s head. Flabbergasted, he looked at the old man, who was keenly watching the chair with a soothing expression on his face.
“That’s when things became better. I know I will be leaving soon, but this chair, it will be there for me, forever, in this life and the one after that. It is my god now.”
The old man was exhausted with all the talking. Breathing heavily, he closed his eyes.
The Doctor waited for a few minutes.
“It will be alright, don’t worry,” he patted the old man’s arm. When he didn’t reply, the Doctor got up and left.
“I don’t know what happened! He was fine! All of a sudden, he started to gag and now…and now…he…he is not moving! Please…please hurry up!” the boy was crying.
The Doctor immediately picked up his bag and rushed to the next apartment.
“What exactly happened?” he tried to ask, but the boy was weeping uncontrollably.
The Doctor almost ran to old man’s room. “Damn family,” he muttered angrily, “Where the heck are this boy’s parents always.”
Entering the room, the Doctor rushed to the old man, when suddenly, a bizarre sight almost gave him a seizure.
The old man’s head was resting on the chair, as if someone had dragged him half to it from the bed. However, it was not just that; his head was not resting on the chair exactly, it was hovering a few inches above of it.
With his eyes closed, the old man was smiling pleasantly. The Doctor slowly approached him. Checking his nerves, he found that the old man was dead for sure. He tried to lift his head and put it on the bed, but he was unable to do so. Tired of making efforts, he asked the boy, “Where are your parents? Have you called them?”
The boy was standing near the door, sobbing.
“They won’t come, they never come,” he said, his whole body shaking.
“What do you mean they won’t…” the Doctor looked angrily at the boy.
The boy was staring at him and the Doctor looked into his eyes.
“Is he with his god?” The boy asked, with a deep voice.
The Doctor was unable to move, it was as if someone had clamped him tightly. However, the moment passed. As soon as he came back to his senses, the Doctor grabbed his bag and ran out of the house.
He entered his apartment, packed all the necessary stuff and left it in frenzy.
He even forgot to pack the picture with the girl and the kid.
He had no idea where he was going, what he was doing and how he was doing it.
All he knew was, that he needed to get away from that apartment, that old man, that boy…
And most importantly, that chair.