A young man got down from an auto rickshaw with a small travelling bag in his hands. He entered his house through the iron gate on which letter 'H' was designed, crossed the cemented area of the front portion of the big compound to climb the stairs. He saw through the window an old man busy spreading the playing cards. He stood for a second smiling, greeted the old man by touching his feet and could not keep the good news. He had received an appointment letter for a teaching job, far away from home. The old man while playing Patience, engrossed, unexpectedly was shocked out of his momentary oblivion. His face, the toothless face had a host of flowers all over it. They smiled profusely, breaking the silence of an interminable winter. They spread the message in fragranced speech. The house was filled with the glow of candles on the day of the festival of lights; some hearts were filled with the gloom of envy too to see the old man rejoicing in his flesh and blood.
The day was the festival of lights. The wedding day of the sky and the earth was proponed. There was haste. The days were limited. Goddess Durga took up the responsibility of the wedlock and blessed the sky and the earth. For, she was incarnated from the coalescing of different cosmic powers, which got concentrated in the form of synergy emanating from Shiva's third eye. She was immersed into the river to be one with the bed of the river and go up into the ether with the scorching heat of summer. Again she comes through the showers of rain. She is the power, the energy, the mother earth, the one who has been patiently preserving the honor of those who are the victims of the demons from within and without.
After marriage the journey continued and the newly-wedded couple crossed the ocean and the mountains and reached a heaven where the winter was pink and the summer was often filled with the rainbow in the sky. It was a small world untouched by the progress of the day. The day had only one sun and the television had a single channel, no cell phones only those phones which were connected with a wire to the land making people sit and relax and converse. But modernity had already started sending messages of change which was to be done with the help of technology and with this change the change in the human beings was inevitable. Slowly the place grew with wide roads, shining vehicles, colleges, hospitals, banks and markets. But still the weekly markets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays were keeping the tradition of buying and selling of the past and the present for the present of the future. That was how the majority of the rural population was surviving. For them, the newly wedded couple, the Baba’s shop for vegetables and the flour mill of the old-man-with-the-beard with his old wife was the next door and the chicken shop and the medicine shop in front of the hospital were in a row beside the supermarket of Dost uncle and the post office was there at a walking distance which brought messages from home. A pleasant weather, nice people, hard work and satisfaction characterized the lives of the expatriates. There was no complacency in any of the spheres of their activities. But there was insecurity of job from within and without. The students of the University respected teachers as if they were the students from the Vedic times. In their behavior was reflected the culture of the place; give everything to your guest, even life, if situation demanded so. Be a slave to the teacher who taught you even one letter of the alphabet. They believed.
The small boy sitting idly after selling roasted peanuts near the western gate of the RepublicanHospital had been watching the man every day. The boy guessed the man to be a teacher from his look and the way locked his fingers on the handle of the briefcase. The teacher went to college with the attendance sheets, the timetable of classes, the teaching material, and the groundwork in the mind to teach those who have been denied of education were there with him. One of his students from this famed happy land who was doing PhD in the land of diversity and unity wrote on the Facebook, “For him knowledge began in perplexity and teaching was an initiation.” It was a challenging task. Like the couplets of Kabir those who took them literally could not get into the heart of the meaning. The man enjoyed teaching; a noble profession. He remade himself by teaching amid the applause of the desert flowers, showers of rain and the green hills. Petrodollars did not make him complacent, he moved on and on, like an ant, single-mindedly without thinking too much of money. Money was important too.
For the modern Dronacharya too money was his chief disciple. Next came his wish to dominate to protect the source of money as his colonial cousins did secure their stay and enjoyed their discourses on the Book to create their hegemony. Dronacharya didn’t teach Eklavya. Eklavya got inspiration from his image by making him his guru. But his guru took the thumb from his dumb worshipper as a gift for training him from far in the art of archery. The disciple in him honored the words of the guru. The guru was dishonored by his prejudice in the pages of history. His pride was supreme soaring like a hawk and always roosting about killing his prey. His own security was restive on the rock of herd-instinct, which was more important than the honor of others. The modern Dronas; post-colonial, shrewd, feudal, imposing, lovers of gossip with a reserve, keen on dispassionately tracking the movement of the Other, suffering from Lord-Indra-Syndrome – someone else's attempt at self-improvement made Indra feel insecure. Like Indra they loved to dally with the drug of self-praise. His informers gave him enough information about the teacher to be wary of and be the warrior in the dark. One night when the teacher was asleep after the day’s hard work his thumb was severed from his palm with which he could hold his pen, in the nick of time when he was having a dream of the future harvest. The field was destroyed by the wolves. Their howl hunted and haunted him. The pleasant dream was turned into a nightmare. The heaven became a hell and there was no exit. But this came much later. And later than this came the love, the admiration, the praise, the wisdom separated from those moments of involvement, separated by the Red Sea of time’s vast expanse, detached, unselfish, undemanding, impersonal flow of kindness and concern that was slowly turning the winter into a summer of satisfaction. They said, when one door was closed God opened myriad doors, if you tried, retried, and searched, your prayers would be answered. Tagore had affirmed poetically, night’s darkness would burst with the bag of gold with the dawn. Meanwhile the dewdrops sitting on the tiny leaves of the shrubs near the foot of the God’ Hill wanted to narrate their experience of watching the man and the moment.
A young man and a woman used to walk in the evenings in the only street of the city, the Rainbow of the Hills, a name the man liked for the city for its beauty and green splendor spread around soothing to the heart and mind. For a man away from home who was staying in a foreign land it was important to mind his own business and understand his limitations. The people who come from the outside world, their existence was like the temporariness of our tiny lives. When the sun smiled at us we hid ourselves in the clouds above. Our original home was in the clouds, the givers of rain. Our limitations were metaphorically termed as pearls. Limitations are also a kind of strength. This world seemed to be full of limitations. As the Bedouin proverb says, in the book of life every page has two sides. And the two sides have multiple meanings depending on the multiple dimensions of life as the infinite images of a person standing between the two mirrors in a barber’s shop, with which the city was so full of. And the next important shop was the supermarket with A to Z of your needs, from potato to power-driven vacuum cleaners. And the next to this were the gold shops, beautiful, pale and resplendent and all that glittered was gold. The young man and the young woman went out and came back with the bags of bread, beans and books. The man would reappear after twelve hours and the woman after twenty-four when the sun and the moon and the stars would come on the horizon to pay us their homage; the sun with his warmth and the moon with her cool quietude and the stars with their magical luminosity.
The boy who sold roasted peanuts could not understand the darkness that surrounded the God's Hill every morning.
Time moved with its own pace, the young man, who was a middle-aged young man now in his hard work and zest for life, left the valley with calm resignation with the young woman and a little daughter. They settled near the sea in the suburb of the bay of hope. The route of commerce and income so crucial to move into the society and the world, so important for education, growth and happiness after the KFC and Hamburgers satisfied the hunger of the soul which changed itself to be satisfied with fast food and education after the GATT. After the new avatars of human beings came to be seen with brandishing gadgets and branded stuff life was so easy to live with difficulties. Nokia and Facebook connected people with Apple and Blackberry in both of their hands. And the revelation came through comments, years later, after the heavy snowfall of the winter when the dews and dunes were covered with a wintry distance. Messages after messages came breaking the ice and the silence of years began to thaw.
The unknown voices along with the voices of the dewdrops resounded in the valley intermittently appearing on the Facebook:
I cried happiness when I saw u on F/B I'm so glad to see u again I don't care online or offline I am proud of you as a Prof , a father, anyway your son has graduated from the University… I travelled to the US to let my dream come true.
Everywhere I walked with your picture saved in my heart and in my memory .Every time I see an Indian student in my college, I remember you.
I hope I see u once again my doctor,
How are you Prof.? Wishing everything is ok with you and your family. Really it is a kind of "filial ingratitude" when we are not in touch with the man of the greatest contribution to our success, but we are sure that your noble sense of forgiveness is beyond our sins.
Ahmed Shawqi the prince of Arabic poets in the 20th century said, "Stand up for the teacher! Give him full respect. A teacher is merely a Prophet." Here, I would like to express the fullest respect and gratitude for each and every single letter you uttered teaching us.
And there was a bloom on the other side of God’s Hill out of the gloom of centuries.
Yet his movement from one place to another did not alleviate his pain. He wandered like a fish out of water from the coast of the Red Sea to the coast of the Mediterranean and found no peace. Aloof, staying away from society, he did his work perfectly. His worth was noticed even when he showed little of his talents. He talked less and developed a habit of laconic conversation. To the point, cautious, calm and courteous, and curt at times, he remained spirited and capable of helping others. Time witnessed the worst unexpected upheavals. Another heaven was destroyed, death for death, a new outrageous change, demolition of the old corrupt system of administration with the aid of the vested interests from within and without. And there was a fall of the mighty who ruled with the iron hand. The field was burnt and the migratory birds again took a flight in search of fresh farms and pastures. They waited for the season of fruition. Explorations were made and finally some of them got settled on the time’s flow for the time being.
It was not the calm which was the trait of small places. It was a small place full of din and bustle of the movement. Perched on a hotel building, beside a busy highway that led to the capital city, the teacher’s nest stood suspended facing the college building. It was a valley without mountains. Bovine species, machines, and electronic goods, jostled with one another to compete with life, which had become a race. In the lounge of the hotel the old television was always on. The manager, a man in his forties was watching the television program of animated cartoons of Tom and Jerry and his sudden bemused laughter was heard reverberating in his loneliness in the valley stirring the water between the banks of the river Nile. The teacher came through the transparent glass door of the hotel, greeted the manager and then started talking to the attendants who were from the faraway land called God’s own country and the golden land. His hunger was satisfied by the food served in the restaurant adjoining the hotel; beans, eggs, chicken, mixed vegetable and salad was the usual fare. The same food, the same people, the same air, the same sand dunes, the same highway and the same city far away from the hotel. Only the dates had a variety; sweet, satisfying and nourishing, the staple food of the region. So far away from his native place where inside the compound of his home once the land-lotus, bottle-brush, drooping Ashok, coconut trees and red, white and yellow Java Kusum spread out their lush luxuriance. His mind was always full of the tragic incidents of the stories that had taken place in that beautiful surrounding in the far off familiar locale in which he was unsuccessfully groping for poetic justice. There was no ray of hope, no unknotting, no unraveling of the plot. Helplessness was sitting like a raven on the ruins. Rumi’s wisdom might come against all odds to the rescue, he hoped, where there is ruin; there is hope for a treasure. True, there was a treasure unearthed from the old fort which was situated near his home as he used to hear from the toothless mouth the old man! Prophetic!
The vacation, the seven-day semester break was coming to its end. The wi-fi facility which was a special attraction for him to stay at this place which it seemed was out of humanity’s reach! To enjoy the blessedness of solitude was gone at once with the disappearance of the Internet, the ubiquitous Internet! Reading was a delight, searching and surfing was an enchantment! Suddenly, that enchantment was gone for some of them living on (the one side of) the highway. He crossed the road, reached his cabin switched on his system and he found in his Facebook photo album, the photograph of the old man engrossed in reading a book as was his wont, by referring to two dictionaries; English-English and Hindi-English on the table. The old man, the toothless old man, the old man with the paralytic right hand dreamt of a happy home. He didn’t get that but got a happy old age when servants, women of the house, grandchildren and the bricks of the pukka two-storied structure resounded obedience with his one call. His milestones of bad luck were measured by his eldest son throughout his and -- his life. The sameness of that life had not been punctured with a euphoria of an emotionally happy life in today’s world; nuclear, technologically superior, rocked with the Spring Revolution and terrorism, borderless and multicultural. His world was limited to a bed whereupon lying he could listen to his favorite BBC World News in Hindi and read the local and the global news in Hindi and English newspapers pouring over them through his thick cataract glasses. He stayed with his eldest son but was cut off from his familiar ambience, far off from the place where he was born, brought up, earned fortunes and fame, propped others to livelihood and success and witnessed the decline of his own flesh and blood. The drooping Ashok!
Ironically for all his good deeds the world turned an enemy to him, the world the old man’s son nurtured indulgently riding on the wingless Ibis of idealism, now an old man himself. His world, his siblings became perfect strangers to him. Strange were their ways, unconventional, uncompromising, shamelessly confrontational, remember to forget their past when the old man’s son struggled to make both ends meet. Except his own future which turned out to be imperfect. Now a small boy traversed his old-age-dream whose destruction was made complete by Jealousy which slowly took the shape of the gargantuan face of Greed. In the market place which grew as an offshoot of the trinity; feudalism, colonialism and imperialism, there in the hub of the familiar faces, a hidden hand knowingly took him to a dangerous path of no return. It was a familial hand, close, cunning and kleptomaniac, near in blood and more bloody.
In place of a chubby boy who amused others with his innocence and intelligence and later who grew up into a handsome young man, there was now a skeleton, a specter, a ghost of extended family who was moving around begging for a life that could no longer be revived in him. The boy who graduated from the school with A Grade and completed Masters and was active, creative and good was destroyed by the sadists who learnt gambling in the market place and for whom life for them was a casino. Blinded by greed a person would be transformed into a demon demanding the assets which he did not create. He was playing the trump in a game of cards. Life for him was Teen Patti playing in hideouts and one day he was caught by the police in the market and was given the punishment to do pushups fifty times. Meanwhile the name of his elder brother was whispered into the ear of the police man and he was saved from humiliation. Public memory is elusive. The generation which watched with awe the old man’s son and his glorious days was dying. For the new generation seeing was believing, and what was passed was past. Now there was no time to pause and ponder, life was a race, a blind race. In this race the old man’s son was left behind. He urged others to go ahead. He lagged behind. He did not know that far away from him and from home, there was someone who was thinking of him. He knew the truth which others did not bother to know. Abhimanyu was a warrior and the son of a warrior. He was killed by his elders, by those who had vested interests, greed for power and position and property. They killed him. An innocent boy was killed. An innocent bright boy was killed. He could not die in his death. He was the image of moving death. Still they were unsatisfied. They went on conspiring, to kill even those who were not yet born.
God had no intention to remove his pain, the God of miracles. The old man’s son did not have the desire to blame Him. For many His absence presupposed His presence. Again like the eternal questions of existence, several other questions crucial to the survival of human beings came to his mind. He could have easily taken refuge in the sheltering tree of philosophy and metaphysics. But who would vouch for the demolition of the mind and body of the victim. Was the God of Responsibility blind like the God of Love? The hills, the valleys, the flowers, the trees, the rivers, the humans, the wild and the tamed and the domesticated animals, the professors of philosophy, the intermediaries of faith in God and the devils themselves had no answer. Their silence was not wisdom. Their eloquence was silver. All the glittering words were not golden.
The prey, once the chubby boy, the bright boy, the handsome young man was beyond pain and pleasure; hunger and hubris; and was now a walking phantasmagoric two-legged beast. A fantastical proclamation of the cruelty of human to human; and the victory of blindness over insight, which every human could shudder to hear and watch. Helplessly with pity, the well wishers could watch, the wolves watched with the cold chuckle of delight, gloating over their success, to see a phantom of delight who was a prized trophy, a prisoner of war parading in the streets of the market place where the country liquor shops were busy selling and buying the antidote to enigma wrapped in mysterious see-through sachets. Life was not English grammar in which past, present and future was perfect!
In his awakened stupor, in the friendly silence of the soundless moonlight amidst the roar of racing vehicles passing through the highway he often heard the drawn-out sobs of autumn’s violin. Far away from his family and homeland, he found solace in writing and reading and in his growing daughter. And like every mortal who was born before him and will be born after him, he will possibly find peace in love but positively in death. Dawn used to pass across the highway and often hovered near the window of the teacher’s suspended nest.
In the morning, the sun smiled with the rays dispelling the shade of sorrow. The teacher witnessed something unexpected that pleased him and gave him hope. On the Facebook his closest friend, a good soul put up the picture of goddess Saraswati, beside his photo and the guru was praised with obeisance. And the following lines appeared above his photo:
White as the lily, the moon and the garland of dews,
Clad in clean and spotless garments,
Hands adorned with Vina and the boon-giving stick,
Sitting on white lotus,
Always worshipped by Brahma, Vishnu and Siva,
O Goddess of Wisdom, Saraswati,
Nurture me by driving away without any trace
This illness of ignorance!
The teacher looked at the brilliant ball of energy and looked beyond the gloom of centuries; beyond the suffering of the young boy who was now a skeleton, beyond the long-drawn sobs of the autumn's violin and the evil deeds of the modern day Dronas and devils and he walked straight across the highway to reach his place of work.