This leaf, so complete in itself,
Is only part of the tree,
And this tree, so complete in itself,
Is only part of the forest
And the forest runs down from the hill to the sea,
And the sea, so complete in itself,
Rests like a raindrop
In the hand of God.
Vishnu realized that he was standing by himself while reading these lines of Ruskin Bond. He used to move between four rooms of his apartment as if they were compartments of a long-distance train. Time stood still in this still-moving train, his compartment with four balconies overlooking the hills covered with green magic carpets. September nights in Yemen were the nights of festivities because of Ramadan – Ibb, the beautiful city; the rainbow of the hills - standing under a cascade of glitter, enjoying the honking of vehicles mixed with raving noise of the engines of cars and motorbikes, and the movement of people going towards shopping centers - moved the wheels of Time faster with her hidden rainbow hands. The moon quivered with a mixed feeling of joy and despair when she peered down on the earth and mistook the night for a day, and then she looked behind the mountain to ascertain whether the sun was there. He was there, waiting, as usual, in profound solitude, sitting on a big mound of flint stones. He was waiting for the darkest period of the night to come so that he could begin the ceremonial spark. Dawn was waiting too, for drawing together the colors of her first light from that darkest period of the night, and then to spread out her golden wings.
Vishnu thought of spending the night in search of Vasundhara’s photos for the cover of her book. Her new novel with a title which was one of the names of Kali, the black mother goddess, was coming out soon with her dedication: “For my Father, with love and regards”. He thought that the following lines would be a better dedication for her father or for any father, for a father is an oxymoron of life expressing life’s renewal through birth of death; an extended metaphor, whose meaning is inherited like a land inherits monuments from the past and therefore it is difficult to express its story through a plain narrative; through a few lines written by the scribes of archaeological department for the visitors who were not able to read between the lines of a dull piece of information engraved on a vanishing moss-covered stone. Then he thought that she should have better modified her dedication as
“To my father who
…moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height.”
Flipping through the folds of an old album he found three photos of Vasundhara in three different poses, belonging to three different time periods: standing on a hill, sitting at the desk in the writing pose, in a park, in a yellow sari, wearing the shawl of her worthy mother, walking between the rows of grass – smiling - he marked them at the back: 3, 2,1. In the order of preference. In all three photos, she looked beautiful and graceful. She had to choose the one she thought the best. She has inherited the height of gracious idealism from her father and the sharpness of creative energy from her mother. She looked proud, sensitive, upright, singing. She has been busy creating, filaments of words measuring the unknown depths, dark, unseen, which are needed to be seen, shown and expressed. Blessed like the moon she has always been beautiful and serene - soothing, sacrificing, silent, eclipsed, and unruffled.
The three photographs were mailed in the evening with a letter:
I hope you might find these useful. Send the photograph that you think the most suitable with the manuscript of the novel to the publisher.
I am alright and doing well. How is our daughter Anjali? How is her progress at school? I am listening to her voice in the cassettes recorded by you – Om Bhoor Bhuvah Svah Tatsavitur Varenyam... , O Creator of the Universe! We meditate upon thy supreme splendour…. The voice of a sincere and dedicated teacher. I miss you both a lot. Her things are scattered all over reminding me of her presence – her small slippers and shoes, toys, talking bears, pens, bike, and clothes - they make me feel that she should have been here. But it would have been selfishness. You understand it better. There would be vacation soon, some fifteen days. The vacation without you and Anjali will be days yawning - and the nights will be the vast space of silence and longing - lying on the bed, I twinkle like the stars. When I feel cold I draw the blanket of memories up and hibernate in the present of the past, for the time being.
I watched the CDs of Chak De, Guru, Being Cyrus, Loha, Badh, 16 December, Naqab, and Partner. Some of them are good movies. Watching movies everyday was like an addiction as boredom drove people to opium. I go for a walk everyday. Long-distance strolls give me new ideas. For days, I did not have any company except for one day when someone invited me to dinner to his house. After that nothing happened, nobody comes, nobody goes, but I can’t say it’s awful except in the evenings when I have the frightful burden of having nothing to do. So I go out for a walk- long distance spiritual walks humming these lines of Guillaume Apollinaire:
Come night, strike hour
Days go, I endure.
In fact, it’s not awful. Loneliness is inexhaustible in its proclivity for generating the vastness of time. Like the lonely clock on the wall it gives a sense of time and make us alert for its flow and rush. Like the photographs kept on the side table and in the cabinets of a cupboard it gives happiness and again, I would say, enables one for a journey into the abyss of time otherwise it is not possible to gauge its depth, and - its oceanic span.
I am enclosing a short story which I wrote out of sheer loneliness and boredom. I hope you will like it, the loneliness in it. Someone said whose name I am not able to recall, boredom gave birth to surrealism! Wonderful!
Give my hugs and kisses to Anjali. Take care of yourself.
P.S: One day I told one of my closest friends who was, as you know, also living alone without his family, that we were under house arrest. First he smiled with uncertainty trying to catch the humour and then he laughed and told it to his friends and they all laughed. One thing more, my friends said that your mother’s photograph looked just like you. More later, V.
Vishnu found two more photographs in the same old album - of his father. One in dark trousers and a cream-coloured jacket with a cream-coloured scarf with embroidered borders tied around his neck. He sat for a pose, with flowers in the background. They looked faded as if the passing hand of time had smeared some dust on them. But they looked white in a black and white photograph. The photograph was taken in Kashmir about half of a century ago. The face reflected youth and energy to see the world, to move the world was visible on the face; to make a world, with the courage to put the inherited fragments of life together, by always pursuing the ideals; sacrifice, care, support, do the best for others, neglect our own. And life made him mighty successful! He was envied by the people around him. Another photograph was there on which time has put some scratches in which he had curly, black hairs, big beautiful eyes, black eyebrows, bright forehead, thick lips, and he looked calm, generous, with fearless expression on his face. Someone when he saw it said, “Looks like the famous Egyptian actor.” Vishnu forgot to ask him the name of that Egyptian actor. What is in a name? Deeds stay behind even when one goes down. Drown the name, deface it, the deeds will float like lotus flowers; detached, protecting a sweet kernel inside. His wizened visage today is a chronicle of pain, passion, humiliation, fight, fright, falling down, going up; pages written in wrinkles, yellow ripe wrinkles. No one there is to decipher the script of a bygone era, covered with dust and darkness.
“Daddy, Happy Birthday to you! Many happy returns of the day. Wish you good health and comfortable life” Vishnu called him in the month of August, the month of his birthday, the eighth month of the calendar and an adjective for poise and self-esteem. Vishnu reflected between the pause. “76 is complete. 77 approaching”, he said when Vishnu asked him about his age.
Detached, he reflected again after the call; children are around, settled. Daughters are happily married, happy in their homes. Grandchildren are clamoring around: interests of the capital invested as they say about grandchildren in his native place. Flowers of the garden built with sweat and toil in the mornings until the sun at noon threatened. Nothing is complete, house could not become a home. Envy turned into jealousy and made him a victim of his own people. Yet he became a victor in his defeat. Their pettiness, their greed, their blindness bit by bit cloud the beauty of the buried moon and the setting sun, the hero of everyday. The sun is now in its autumn beauty: silent, sober, weary; the giver, the builder, the decreasing ball of radiant energy, the two big and beautiful eyes on a bright face.
Vishnu Hathgaokar visited his native place for one day. He met with his father, who once looked like an Egyptian actor in his young age. Silence was the reigning deity amid the formalities which rang like bells when one knocked at them while entering a temple. Krishna migrated to Dwarika with his clan from the fear of the demon. He was affronted by his own clansmen. It seems he has grown old. The same stories, from the same grapevines; narratives of self-indulgence and decadence. He, it seems, has chosen to give up incarnation. He has decided to deny life. It seems, he is weary of human being’s resolve on employing their mind and soul in the same way, in the same dull and droning way, since centuries. Soullessly. Like a PC guided by C+E your own area of interest. u r b4 th era of pc haz km 2de. But u r so gr8. i 2 m disconsol8 az u.
Vishnu wrote a letter to his father:
I reached here on time as I left this place on time. The next day was the working day. I am sorry I could not afford to stay more at home. We needed some time to settle down in the new place.
You seemed unhappy, weary, lost and neglected, like the drooping Ashoka in the compound, near the main gate. It has also its beauty and charm but no one has got the time to remove the dust from its leaves. Layer after layer of leaves hiding treasures of experience, when the stem goes up it gets thinner and thinner covered with less leaves; lighter, shining in communion with the purer ether of the heavens above. Its leaves are like the leaves of Lajawanti, after you touch them, withdrawn, but unlike their coyness and tiny timidity drooping Ashok’s tall, uprightness is majestic even when its leaves are drooping. It looked relaxed with life. I admire it. Today, every father is like you. I am sorry, I do the mistake of generalizing my point of view. But I think every father in someway is a mythic figure. He has to relive the myth of a Dadhichi, a Dronacharya, a Yayati or even a King Lear.
In Hindu philosophy the last act of life is withdrawal. I hope each of us in the autumn of our lives would be able to withdraw. This is like our fixed deposits in the banks: withdrawal at maturity. Our wealth - what we can give to others - hoping, in the afternoon of our autumns we will have another phase of flowering. Like the mounds of grains after the harvest, the beautiful old age; soothing, fragranced, full, brimming, fallen, overflowing dotted all over the earth, with flashes of memory like the gleams of revelation as in Zen. Like the waves breaking against the stony far-off forgotten faded days, flashes and glimpses through overcrowded corridors with arcs, ever expanding arcs, and suddenly fading away, memories come and go. Flowers fade away, memories die away, even so unlike faded flowers they can be refreshed. And, in turn, they can refresh, invigorate, energize our lives, like the old man of Hemingway who dreamt of lions on the beaches of Africa to regain his old strength to catch his dream-fish. Jibran Khalil Jibran says, “There would be change in a man’s life only by two things: death and affection.” Death is beyond our power but love is within us.
I hope you will take care of your health.
With my profound regards,
After finishing this letter Vishnu Hathgaokar felt at once relieved and depressed and somewhat bored too, he wished to sleep to forget some of the unpleasant memories which were droning inside his head like a deliberate and sluggish floating movement of some unwanted insects. Since he had been away from home for about three decades he sometimes feels guilty when he thinks of the state of affairs which are beyond his control. He wanted to sleep, to forget the unpleasant past. It was his habit to remember and recount to Vasundhara the good days of his adolescence spent there. The summer vacations spent in the savory corridors of the elephant-house with a big courtyard. He thinks that if his mind is troubled and there seems to be no ray of hope he prefers to sleep. He put his head on the pillow and drifted slowly into a dream.
He found himself young, and was having his meal together with his bothers and sisters and cousins in his maternal grandfather’s home. His mother’s sisters were there serving the food, laughing, joking. His maternal grandfather was sitting in his chair, like a Chongqing Buddha in dhoti, child-like simplicity and serenity sat always supreme on his visage, without remorse, satisfied unaccompanied by the fuss of the old age. One of his maternal uncles took them to the mango orchard nearby to show them the elephants of the local Maharaja which were there in a marriage procession. They looked mammoth-like and obstreperous but to their relief were chained to big trees. Their ivory tusks were shining in the moonlit night, their eyes looked bull-like; big, bright and sparkling. He saw that his father who looked young was walking with his grandfather. Both of them had curly hairs - profuse, black, ink-black. His grandfather with his walking stick in his hand was walking fast. Both of them were silent, reciprocating the greetings of the people on the way by waving their hands, nodding their heads. Vishnu’s mother walked past them. They did not recognize her. She went ahead. Suddenly she took the shape of an elephant; looked more affectionate and mother-like. She went ahead. She did not look back. Then she tuned into a sparrow with a red bill and went up and up and up in the sky, soaring up higher and higher until the tiny red dot had become one with the infinite blue. When he came back home he saw his mother tending an infant. She looked at him and smiled. Her right cheek was bulging, lips were red with pan. Then she went and lied down on a cot in the other room where he found his father and elder brother who were also sleeping in the corner. In his room snakes came, golden bright, surrounded him from all sides, hissing. He floated in the air to avoid their attacks. They attacked him from all sides. He didn’t know from where he got the power of flying into the air and he managed to leave them behind in that room which was like a dark abyss for them. He awoke with confidence and more energy.
The autumn sun was trying to talk to me through the curtains. He is no longer the famous curly-haired Egyptian actor. Now he is an old man: proud old man - ripe with wrinkles -a doer, an achiever, a giver, a forgiver, a hero of everyday, an exile in his own home; some nagging old wounds are there, some new pains, the old age has brought in a platter to be taken on the journey of eternity as a souvenir of apology for leaving this world; a beautiful yellow close, and the pulling out of petals from this life will begin, anytime, and the leaves …are falling, falling, falling….Everywhere touching the earth with a feather-soft fall; with impregnate silence, ready to go on a voyage of rebirth.
My cell phone was ringing. I looked at my watch. It was 8 in the morning. Ved called me to inform that he had been blessed with a daughter. I congratulated him. I had overslept. There was no rush. It was a long vacation and it had just begun. I missed the 6 o,clock Vividh Bharati news. I made my breakfast, came into my study, sat in the chair and switched on the computer and clicked on the real player for my favourite ghazal :
hazaar baar zamaana idhar se guzraa
naii naii hai magar kuchh terii rahguzar phir bhii
for keeping my consciousness detached from the mundane everyday outside world and tried to bring the story to a meaningful end.
But I found it impossible.
Image under license with Gettyimages.com