When I walk, when I sit and when I get up from a deep sleep, the hopes that we have woven together are still with me. They, like shadows cast by sun and moon, walk silently along. That scene, which always reminds us of the picture postcards that we had seen in school days perfect in everything but for the absence of people, is one of the places where we need to take our shadows to dwell forever and ever. I have not forgotten that awakening touch of grass blades laden with the morning dew, I have not forgotten the fragrance of those flowers veiled in a golden mist and I have not forgotten of the reminders that linger all over the wafting breeze. I promise, one day, some day we are all are going to be in that picture. But haven’t we told each other that we do not like crowded places? Then let us sit with erasures like some school children who never get their pictures right, and rub off the people one by one, till only we remain. Let rains fall on that picture and let sun shine over it. Let all those colours fade gradually, brining the game of seasons play around it. Let all the colours of the world fade and turn the universe into a grey, still we would remain there like memories frozen in ash. In stirring memories of stones there will be a bamboo thicket and a little cottage near it. Inside, with light of sun turning an ethereal white as it passes through the curtains of dreams, I would sit at an oak table and write all those stories of invisible people who have been muted for ages. There at my left, you will guide me through the lines with your colours and music. Let the future keep this picture framed on one of its shelves.
(old man on a cycle- illustration only)
An Old Man on a Cycle
I was walking lost in thought and with a book in hand and a sigh in mind. I did not know where to turn so I kept on walking till I earned some sense of direction. The road was abuzz with the noises of speeding automobiles. I was remembering the lines of Bob Marley, “My Feet is my only carriage, so I have got to push on through.” An old man overtook me on the footpath and he was on a rickety bicycle. A small red bundle was clipped on to the carrier and he was pedalling awkwardly. His close cropped hairs were completely white and he was wearing a traditional dhoti. Suddenly a car took a turn to the left, knocking the man on the cycle off the track. I rushed forward to hold the old man but he had landed safely as the hit was not so fast. He struggled himself up and my helping hand was not his wish. I picked up the cycle and put it back on its stand. But the man went to the car. Impending was a fight going by the city’s grace. Surprising everyone, the wasteful onlookers, he with his staggering legs walked up to the car, folded his hands and apologized!! In the car, I could see an old family, man driving, woman sitting and someone else in the backseat, astonished by the old man’s act. Was it fear, was it humility or was it wisdom that prompted the man to apologize? I did not know but I too was shocked. The people inside the car too folded their hands in humility for where else could have they got such response for that erroneous driving? I walked out of that little commotion and the old man climbed on the cycle again and rode past me and the disgrace that he had just faced and overcome.
My mind was full of those images that Prof.B.N.Goswami had shown as he was giving the second Ram Kinkar Baij Memorial lecture at India Habitat Centre. Erudite and stately, Goswami led the audience through the surprises of ancient artists. And it would take a few days for anyone in good senses to come out of that aesthetic impact. Ruminating over the points he told I walked alone the station a kilometre away. The footpath and the service roads along were lined with silent cars waiting for their owners to come back after the weekend engagements. Tired drivers slept off in the cars keeping the windows panes down for when the masters came, the car would not stink of the menial breath, sighs, sorrows and bad dreams of the drivers. Night was cold, rain was somewhere there waiting to fall, breeze heralded the arrival of something ominous. Like a Dostoevsky character I walked all huddled up but suddenly felt something small and round and dark following me all along. Startled I looked on my left where I felt the presence and found a strange little boy as if he had just landed in a strange shore from his abode. He did not look up me but with his hurrying footsteps he was not overtaking me but was keeping pace with my stride. I knew in a flash that he was frightened by the yellow light from the lamp posts that intensified the darkness of night. Compassion flooded inside me and I asked the little boy where he was going all alone at night. He told me in clear voice that he was going to Nizamudeen Darga. Who are you going to meet there, my child, I asked. My father, instantly came the reply. He was wearing dirty clothes and was sucking a misshapen something; it must be a candy, I thought. What were you doing here at the junction, I asked him. I was with my mother, he said. His mother must be either selling some toys or flowers at the traffic signal or must be simply begging. The boy kept his pace up with mine and I slowed down. What is your name, my child, I asked him. Tathiya, came the reply. My cultural conditioning made me ask him, what, Shoukat? No, Tathiya, he corrected me. I did not make out the head or tail of that name. Do you go to school? He did not give an answer to that. He was hardly two and half feet tall and I had to really bend to speak to him. How old are you, I asked. “Ten,” said he with a lot of confidence. But, my child, you do not look like a ten year old, I said. “Then I must be five,” he said without changing his face or pace. I was astonished. I took out my purse and gave him a ten rupee note, which he instantly took and pocketed. I knew that he was prone to begging and getting money from strangers. Or he knew money matters. While he was catching up with me, he did not ask me for anything. Generally street kids beg the moment they see somebody vulnerable or not feeling comfortable with their own splurging. This boy was a silent traveller with me. He just wanted to come along because he was afraid of darkness. I had to take a right turn to the station and he had to go further ahead. I stood there and asked him whether he would go alone or should I go with him. He said he would go alone. I made him to look either side of the road and cross it and reach the other edge o the footpath. He ran into the darkness and vanished. Suddenly I found myself raining down, standing alone at the gate of a metro station deserted by people and presences.