Sugarcane Juice

He was new to the city. Not that anybody ever becomes a veteran of the city. For no matter how old you get at living in the city, the city always springs something new at you.

His parents had named him Nayan and so he went by that name just like most of us who go by the names given by our parents. In some cultures like Nayan’s, names are supposed to have penetrating meanings and symbolize some aspect of the person carrying that name, although it is nearly impossible to find a person who means his name. If you ever find one be sure to take a lesson or two from that person in finding the meaning in name and realizing the same meaning in the person.

Nayan surely did not know what he symbolized. He had not yet come to mean what he was named. Nayan means eyes and he could see, just that the view was too narrow. He could show but not yet the whole. One can only show what one can see. Rest is all not in existence.

This was his first week in this big city of Mumbai. He was so sure that he had grown up now. For seventeen years he had been thinking he could handle anything. Life was simple. He had been living in the bliss of ignorance. Money meant the change from the errands he had to run and was allowed to use as pocket money. Love meant something in the movies that happens between the hero and the heroine. Job meant something his dad went to. There were many other things that still did not exist. But that was in Chaipur, his hometown. Here, in the city, he was an infant again. Only now he did not have the luxury of not remembering the emotions he was going through. Whatever happened had started having a profound impact. Each impact would shatter something and strengthen something. He would sometimes realize what just got shattered. But it was hard to fathom what just got strengthened. Only time would tell. But he did not yet know that. Now there was nobody to hold his hands in case he fell. He kept telling himself to be strong. He kept telling himself that he is grown up now. Maybe that would help, although he was not so sure how. He had his work cut out. Be sincere, hard working, pay attention in the lectures and do the homework well. That was the only thing that mattered to him. Beyond that he had no inkling of what was in store. He was studying for an important exam, one of those exams that make or break your career. Make or break your life.

He was coming back from coaching class. And the weather today was hot and humid. Just like another sweaty summer day. He started calculating if he could afford to have a glass of sweet and icy sugarcane juice. He had already ordered before he could finish his calculation. Flies were buzzing around the crushed sugarcane but the juice looked irresistibly inviting. With just the touch of lemon and ginger, it was perfect on such a hot, humid day. Nayan ordered a half a glass of sugarcane juice. Why have a full glass if only half refreshes you as much.

He fell back to the activity of observing the street as usual. The street outside was the usual busy street of the city on a hot afternoon. The road had just filled up with taxis carrying passengers who had just got off the trains at the nearby railway station. Coolies in their red uniform and Gandhi cap were accosting the passengers to get some business. So were the taxi drivers in their white uniform that hid their sometimes not so white intentions of fleecing the passengers. And there were the travel agent touts shouting on top of each other, the destinations their buses were headed to. The street was full of cacophony of “Pune, Pune, Pune, Pune ….Kolhapur, Kolhapur, Satara, Satara …” Most of the buses seemed to be headed for Pune. The street side chai waala, bhel waala, sandwich waala and vada pav waala in their dirty vests and shirts were busy serving their hungry and thirsty customers. The smell of hot and spicy chutneys mingled with the stench of the open gutter. It was strong enough to overcome it and make everybody ignore the stench. The street was full of colors and smell and tired sweating people rushing to get on with their work. The passengers streaming from the railway station looked tired and eager to get to wherever they were headed for. The taxi drivers looked nonchalant as ever as though nothing that happened could ever have any effect on them. Their job was just to drive this taxi and take it wherever.

He finished gazing at the street outside and his eyes wandered over to the table right next to him. A dirty young man with an angocha around his neck sat with a dirty young boy, in front of their half glasses of sugarcane juice. They had the smell of people who have just got off the train mixed with the smell of mustard oil which folks getting off the trains from north India typically had. He wondered why everybody who came in a long distance train from north India smelled that way.

“Don’t worry, alright?” he overheard the man tell the boy, “I’ll soon find a job and a place to stay. This city seems big and unfriendly but I’ll find something.”

Nayan guessed that they were brothers because the man looked too young to be the kid’s father. They seemed like they had just got off some train from the north and were one of the thousands of immigrants who came to this city with a dream in their eye and hunger in their belly.

The man continued, “I am sure a job should be easy to find here. It is such a big city with so many shops and people.” The boy seemed to care less. He was enjoying his sugarcane juice. He looked lost amidst the crowd and din of the city. With only his brother’s face familiar to him. So many strange faces. The city seemed big but not friendly at all. And most of all it looked like a strange place with strange people who couldn’t care less. “Maybe I can ask this sugarcane juice vendor if I can sell the juice at the station. I am sure he won’t mind. I’ll take a bunch of glasses of sugar cane juice and sell it to the thirsty passengers at the station. I will just take a rupee extra for myself for each glass. The rest I will give it to the shopkeeper. See getting a job is not that hard. In a few hours we can make enough money for a meal tonight.”
The man went on explaining to the kid who still did not seem interested in what his brother was saying. The man looked desperate to figure out some way to make a living. Nayan saw him go to the shopkeeper and talk with him. The shopkeeper asked him bluntly, “Do you have money to pay for these two half glasses of sugarcane?”

“Oh sure I have it. That’s not a problem. I can pay for that but could you let me sell your sugarcane juice at the station. I will take the glasses there whenever a train comes and bring back the glasses and the money as soon as I finish selling.”

“Alright,” said the shopkeeper “Pay up for your juice and go find some other job for yourself. I am not running a charity here. I have got my own business to take care of. Hurry up and stop wasting my time, please.”

The man tried a few more arguments in vain. He was wondering how the shopkeeper did not agree to such a simple idea. He had nothing to lose. He would only make some more money for him. The shopkeeper grew impatient , “Just pay for your sugarcane juice and get lost brother. I have got business to do here.”

The young man ran out of arguments. He went from optimism to dejection before Nayan could even finish his sugarcane juice. He paid for his two half glasses of sugarcane juice. His younger brother still could not figure out what was the big deal behind his brother's arguments.

There is always a time that comes in one’s life, when one finds out, that, life is not what one has been assuming it to be. Things are not always the way they look. People are not what they seem. A new light falls on something that has always been there in front of ones eyes. And one feels it was better the way it was before, even though it was a lie. One goes through that moment of revelation and comes out as a new person. This was such a moment for Nayan. He saw the struggle and desperation he had never seen before. He sat there feeling a mixture of sadness, helplessness and some other feelings which he could not figure out. For a moment he wondered if he could do something. Send these guys to Chaipur which he was sure would be more friendly to them or call up his uncle to see if he could arrange for a job for them. They disappeared into the bustling city before he could complete his thoughts. He gulped down the last sip of his sugarcane juice. The street outside was hot and bitter. The sugarcane juice was still cooling and sweet.  


More by :  Aditya Pandit

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