A Face in the Crowd
”Molly-di, isn’t your phone no. 3354578?,” he asked.
Really his gift at recalling incidents, birthdays and phone numbers of people he knew or came in contact with amazed me. People call me a brilliant student, but when he rattles off facts and figures, with uncanny accuracy, I envy him his talent. He led a simple life. Not for him the routine existence that we endure or put up with.
His mother was his source of inspiration and constant companion. His father, an illustrious figure, died a few years back. Since then he and his mother were the only occupants of the house, and they shared the joys and sorrows, faced the ups and downs of life together. They had visitors throughout the day. Chandan-mamu, Anuva-pisi, Gablu-da and several other relatives dropped in frequently, inquiring about their health and making them feel wanted. That was a great solace to them.
Ah! I didn’t tell you his name. People call him Rana, I call him Rana-da. Rana-da had a habit of getting up early. After brushing, he would sit down with the morning newspaper and a cup of tea. He regularly read The Statesman in the morning. It was a routine rarely broken. I don’t know whether his comprehension of the contents of the newspaper was total, but he could recall the major news items without much difficulty.
“Rana, don’t waste your entire day reading papers. Help me in filling up the buckets in our bathroom,” his mother would generally interrupt. He would do what he has been told and on completion, he would rest for a while. Then he would sip another cup of tea. He would drink it in one sip and leave the house. His destination was the adjacent by-lane next to his house. A number of small boys could be seen playing cricket, football or kabaddi regularly. Most of these boys were school drop-outs; the rest had never been to school. Some of them had played truant.
Rana-da was quite popular there. All the boys knew him, and enjoyed chatting with him. Their conversation covered a gamut of issues touching sports, films, music; rarely ever politics. After whiling away an hour or two in this way, he would return home around noon.
His afternoon routine would include bathing, lunch, gossip with his mother and then a nap. He would get up in the evening, have tea, circle his neighbourhood to keep himself abreast of the changes taking place and exchanging greetings with almost everyone he knew, and returning home late in the evening. Watching television and talking with visitors who invariably turned up by the dozens would fill the time till dinner. He would take dinner and retire for the day. That was his normal daily routine.
Many people call Rana-da insane. On many occasions, he behaves strangely. He would hurl things around in all directions, break cups and dishes and do all sorts of crazy things. Perhaps it was just in anger, because his rage would soon melt down and he would be normal again. Good things don’t last for ever. Soon, tragedy struck. His mother fell ill. Slowly but gradually, she grew weak and bed-ridden. “God is calling me,” she would tell her son. At this, Rana-da would remain silent and tenderly tried to comfort her. After fighting valiantly with her ailment for two years, she eventually succumbed. She passed away leaving Rana-da all alone.
Not exactly. Rana-da has an elder brother. He tried to take Rana-da along with him to live in his mansion after the demise of their mother. But Rana-da was adamant. “I will not leave our ancestral house. My mother is still living in this house with me,” he told his brother. At these statements of his, people became doubly sure that he had indeed lost his sanity.
Years passed. Gradually, Rana-da recuperated. But, adversity struck again. One day while returning after his morning adda sessions, he met with an accident. Two youths, who were riding a motor-cycle, rammed him from the rear and he hit the road instantly. He was severely wounded. Blood flowed profusely from the wounds. A crowd gathered almost instantly. Some people who knew him immediately carried Rana-da to the hospital. Thank God, he survived!!
I went to pay Rana-da a visit in the hospital. Doctor had advised not to speak and strain himself. When Rana-da saw me, he gave me a big smile. I noticed that Rana-da’s elder brother and his wife were also present there. After a while, I had picked up a conversation with the wife of Rana-da’s brother. She was a very affable lady. During the course of our conversation, she told me several facts about Rana-da I didn’t knew.
Said she, “Rana was a perfect normal child. He was an extremely brilliant student. He had a good academic record. When he was doing his Ph.D in physics, he had a confrontation with his guide. His guide exploited him to the hilt. Rana-da worked hard and produced remarkable results, but his guide got those work published in his name. Moreover, his guide was delaying his Ph.D. Gradually, it began to affect Rana-da, and when even after ten years there seemed no way he could get his Doctorate, he stopped pursuing his degree and left studies completely. Soon, he began losing his mental balance. He found solace in his mother, and the supposedly spoilt and drop-out school kids with whom he plays in the morning everyday.”
After I returned home, I kept on pondering how a brilliant career was thus spoilt, and that my own Rana-da certainly doesn’t deserve the life he is leading now. Rana-da was released from the hospital, but his life continues to remain the same. He still lives alone in his ancestral house wallowing in the memories of his mother, and playing with the kids all of whom love him very dearly.
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