Sunday, October 2, 2011
A Different Gift for 2nd October
He sits alone in the corner of his small room. He feels like a caged animal. ‘A caged tiger,’ he thinks. Then he smiles.
I understand the meaning of that smile. I have been with him for a long time now. When people look at him through the wire meshed door he gives them a benevolent smile. These days he does not go anywhere. This place is enough for him; this place fills him with memories of Kasturba, Mira, Abha, Manu and many more soft presences.
He simply sits at his old residence in Sabarmati. Occasionally he touches his charkha but the moment he touches it he pulls his hands back as if he were touching a piece of ember. There a few paces away from this ashram at the Gujarat Vidya Peeth students and teachers still do the ritual of charkha.
“I don’t know,” he tells me. “I don’t know why they still do it. Look along this river Sabarmati. Both the banks have been taken over by the government. Now the river has got concrete frills. They tell me, the people could come and sit here in the evening, contemplate on the flowing water. Great idea, right,” he smiles at me again.
I too smile at him. “But Sabarmati is not Change Chan river in Korea,” he continues. Change Chan was pushed under the ground and later it was brought back and they made river front walks and gardens along the length of it. Here, river front development, I am sure is a hogwash. It is going to claim the riverbed for the corporate houses and rich ones.”
Old people will always sits on the places kindly allotted to them by the people who have power and health on their side. So all these benches along the streets of Gujarat. Old people sit there and watch the setting sun and in their sagging flesh they carry memories like termites.
I remind him of Narendra Modi’s fasting. He smiles again. “It is always good if somebody fasts. But not those people who go to bed without food every day without an end. Fasting is meant for those who eat every day, three times. I fasted because I could afford to fast. I wanted to kick at the conscience of those who could eat and I could call out to those who did not find anything to eat at all. So it worked. Now it seems to have become a fashion.”
But what about Narendra Modi’s refusal to accept a prayer cap by a Muslim? He smiles again. “Oh..I thought I saw that in television. See now I have a mobile phone too,” he fishes out one and shows it to me. “I listen to FM Radio in it whenever I am sleepless. You know, after nine o clock at night they play good old songs without commercial breaks. I enjoy those songs.” He seems to be in a different mood so I prod on.
“Political farce; a kind of role playing. It all started by my beloved Nehru. He traveled all over. Danced and wore people’s outfit. Unfortunately he was just wearing it on his body, not on his mind. Today everyone does it. But then when someone puts the real symbol on you, you get frightened.”
They say these roads, this prosperity and so on have consolidated his space here. And he is tipped to be the next prime minister, I ask him. He again smiles.
“Roads. I am an old man. I don’t want roads. Young people want roads. Old people’s road ends in cemeteries. I heard a story yesterday. Someone came asking for Kabir. Someone said, go to cremation grounds. If someone is still talking philosophy after coming out of the gates of the place, he is Kabir. Old people are Kabirs. They just want sunsets and breeze.”
And what about the young people and their aspirations?
“I told you no?” he looks at his watch. “Oh..no ..this too has become a habit. I am not going anywhere. Still I look at this watch. Yes, young people need roads. But look at these cities in this state. None cares the other. Death rides on two wheelers and four wheelers. Villages are divided by eight line highways. So they cross the roads from wrong directions and get killed. Death is an unrecorded entity when it comes to the graph of progress.”
He gets up. Like Haroun Al Rashid, he too uses disguise to venture out. He does not fear a mobbing that had been quite used to. But these days he does not want to be identified on the road.
“The other day you asked me about these disguises. I hate to wear too many clothes. But this shepherd’s one suits me best. I like it. If I go out in my loin clothes they would recognize me. They would show me reverence; a kind of reverence and awe that you show if you see a museum item on the road. I have seen people like me behaving like me, even dressing up like me. I tend to tell them, don’t. But then I think that I should keep quite.”
I eat a plate of mutton kebab while he sits next to me, clutching on his walking stick. The dingy narrow alley reeks in the aroma of spices and burning animal flesh. The muslim men in the shops seem to be familiar with his presence. “Baba…kem cho?” someone calls out.
“Maja ma,” he replies with a smile. “I am good. I am always good,” he mutters to himself.
Doesn’t he feel the perennial disgust in this alley where people eat meat? “No no no…I have overcome that also,” he tells me. “I don’t eat. But I don’t have any problem if others eat. It is Karma. If I believe in Gita, I should not be fanatic the way I used to be.”
Tomorrow is your birthday, I tell him. “I want to gift you something, Bapu. What would you like to have from me?” I ask.
He looks at me. He pats my back. I feel his touch.
“Take me to the NID campus,” he tells me.
I raise my eyebrows as if those were meant to be two huge questions.
“Yes, I want to see garba; the dance of abundance and pleasure. The dance of love. I love to see young people showing the true spirit of love through graceful movements. Garba is a way of praying to the nature and its bounty. I want to forget myself and float in the rhythm of those moving bodies. Take me..”
I hold his hands. We walk. And in a distance, through the thicket of bamboos we could hear the drums inviting the young and the beautiful to the ground.