Which one is the truth…?

Ridhesh and Meghna have always been the travelling types. Any travel was an opportunity for them to move out of the program codes on their computer screens and into the real world. Both had graduated together from NIT with BTech with majors in Computer Science. Making conversations with people they meet and living the customs of where ever they visited was something they revelled. They travelled with thier reluctant teen aged daughter Ridhima.

This year the trip was to the Kanaul. A sleepy hill Station, little known on the tourist circuits, but well known on the religious tourism searches. Ridhesh had visited this town as a kid with his parents. It was somehow a nostalgic trip too.

The temple of Godess Kali was the major tourist attraction, apart from the natural beauty of the hills. The temple was tucked in midst of an array of shops selling items from audio CDs to toys. The livelyhood of the town survived on the grace of the goddess. The temple diety was known for its myths and power. The folklores were in plenty which describes the various miraculous feats of the goddess, both benovalent and ferocious.

As Ridhesh and Meghna emerged from the temple after offering thier prayers, they found Ridhima sitting in the steps across the street. Ridhima who had decided to give the temple a skip. Aarti bells were still ringing as the setting sun turned the sky into a fiery red glow. It resembelled the tilak from the Kali temple.

Ridhesh flicked open his DSLR camera to capture the beauty of the sunset contrasted by the hussle of the market place. The third click satisfied him. He noticed Ridhima Siting on the roadside steps flipping stories on Instagram. In the moving mass of the tourist she was an another contrast. Ridhesh changed his lens and altered the exposure settings to capture his Daughter in a candid frame. The first click was blurred, the second spoiled by an overfilled polyethylene carry bag of an enthusiastic photo bombing tourist. Third chance is rare and the laws of statistics were not flouted this time. Ridhima noticed her father’s irritating habit in time to hide her face.

“C’mon Ridhima, be a sport”, implored Ridhesh. ‘You will remember this moments through these pictures.”

“Dad, please!!”, protested Ridhima, “I don’t want you to post them on our family group. And, I hate it when everyone would comment on what I wear.”

“Where’s Mom?“ enquired Ridhima.

Ridhesh saw Meghna checking trinkets at the street vendor’s cart. Cheap fashion jewellery shared the space on the cart with prayer beads and holy head scarfs. The spiritual and the material, combining in a philosophical way. Meghna, in a pang of guilt dropped the trinket and picked the holy head scarf.

Meghna looked up to see where the father and daughter duo were. She saw them walking up to her quarrelling on how to click pictures. Ridhima was telling Ridhesh, just having an SLR does not make one a photographer.

She had a smile on her face as the father and daughter reached her. She piosly wrapped the scarf on her head.

“Now what?“, asked Ridhesh.

” Lets checkout some shops”, said Ridhima suggestively. Although the statement was vague, but her eyes and intentions were fixed on a Souvenir shop. And that is where the three of them headed. One resolutely and the other two in decreasing order of enthusiasm.

They had to navigate through a rush of humanity gathered around a free food stall distributing ‘prasad’ or the ‘Divine food’. Divotees thronged to get the Divine blessing on the auspicious dark night of the Goddess Kali. As the custom and belief goes, the food being distributed is first offered to the goddess, who blesses the meal and then the same food is distributed to the divotees. This was also the night when the sacrifices were performed. Although the custom was on a decline but it still was being practiced in the recesses of the homes and societies.

As they reached the shop, Meghna got busy exploring the pieces from seemingly some ancient times. At least the dust and the stacking of the artifacts gave it the ancient look. Wonderful pieces of wood carving ranging from gods to animals and guarding demons adouned the busy walls of the shops. The counter was filled with old bracelets, utencils, knives, etc.

At first glance it seemed there was no one in the shop. The old lady owner of the shop almost blended with old artifact. It seemed as if after staying for so long in midst of the timeless artifacts, she seemed to become one.

She smiled a weary smile. She had seen many customers who would loiter, click pictures and move on. Ridhesh tried to strike a conversation, but the response were monosyllabic.

The shop was not too small in comparison with other match box like shops on the street. However, the crowded artifacts made it look dingy and cramped. The door on the rear was partially hidden by the life size statue of goddess kali. The blood red tongue was in striking contrast with the deep blue body. The statue was a piece of art, except the smear crack near the eyes. Possibly the reason for the statue remain unsold.

Ridhima was visibly not enjoying the experience. Ridhesh was trying to make conversation with the lady at the counter, in his usual style, however with not much of progress.

The silence was broken by the loud arrival of the husband of the lady. The old man was pot bellied with scraggy unkempt hair. These imperfection were out shadowed by the loud exuberance. He moved in carrying the ‘prasad’, which was no mean achievement considering the hungry line of devotees, eagarly queuing up to gain the divine grace.

He filled the space with himself and his enthusiastic hospitality. He offered the ‘prasad’, which was essentially ‘Purees’ a kind of an Indian bread, Gram Dal curry and ‘Halwa’ – a sweet preparation seeped in clarified butter. The dishes were placed on a plate and bowl made of dried leaves. Old man had balanced the plates and bowls while navigating his ample presence through the crowd. His exuberant announcements of the his achievement was indeed credible. The possession was a consequence of vigorous strife among the dense mass of devotees. He handed his prized possession to Ridhesh.

Ridhesh was visibly embarrassed and feeling guilty of accepting the Holy meal which wasn’t initially meant for him, irrespective of the play of destiny. He was also starkly aware of the reluctant moan by the lady, who must have many times witnessed this infructuos hospitality. She sighed and started stacking back the artifacts on the counter with a sense of resignation, shared by Ridhesh as he was left holding the plates and bowls.

The old man looked at Ridhima and smiled. The return smile moved no urther than the lips.

“Little Doll!!, you must surely have the Halwa” instructed the old man to the visibly irritated Ridhima.

Before she could react, the old man had turned to his wife, and affiably rebuked his wife to leave the counter and make sure the ‘little doll’ was looked after.

“Baldev’s Mother” called the old man identifying his wife as a relation and not a person, “this ‘little doll’ is your responsibility. Look how famished she looks. Soon you shall have your own little grand daughter.”

With words assuring Ridhesh that he would be back with more prasad, he exited the shop in the the same abruptness as he had entered.

Ridhesh looked towards the old lady behind the counter. She was looking at his daughter, taking the instructions of her husband far too seriously. She turned and looked at Ridhesh and her lips smiled. The gaze lingered on Ridhesh a fraction longer. Silent was awkward.

to be continued…

आज फिर से

आज. क्यूँ ऐसा लगा
तुमसे दोस्ती कर लें….
…. जान पहचान हुए
अर्सा हो गया

यह चेहरा
कुछ अपना सा लगा…
… आँखों में आंखें डाले
अर्सा हो गया

हाथ थामा है अब
तो गर्माहट का अह्सास हुआ…
… ठंड में नर्म धूप का लुफ्त लिए
अर्सा हो गया

आज जब बैठे
तो सदियों के किस्से याद आये…
… फुर्सत कि दोपहर चुरा कर सोना
अर्सा हो गया

तुमसे आज फिर मुलाकात हुई
अछा सा लगा…
… नए दोस्त बनाए
अर्सा हो गया

आज क्यूँ ऐसा लगा
तुमसे दोस्ती कर लें…
… रिश्ता हमारा हुए
अर्सा हो गया

The supreme sacrifice

The ticker scrolled out the news. It moved in an endless loop accommodating the criptic mention of the Army Jawan Killed among the many more other news, in its limited loop cycle. The news anchor smartly read out the essential details in keeping with the constraint of time of the bulletin. The names, the incident, the politics summarised the news with stark principle of brevity.

His shining shoes were worn ankle length. The laces were neatly pulled over the loops and the knot tied at the top. His attention was preoccupied, to notice the political slug fight on the news channel. He was careful to be immaculately turned out. He wore the camouflage jacket and adjusted his medals proudly as they gleamed on his chest. He wore the cap, adjusted the badge and was ready to go. He was going to lift the heaviest load today. He was to carry his martyred buddy. The pictures on the TV screen barely identified the person. The visuals were blurred to avoid discomfort to the viewers.

There was no slouch as he joined the parade. He alligned himself with other five, designated to be the pall bearers of the mortal remains. He like the rest, was there by choice. He had lost a part of him, as did rest the boys of the unit.

As the wooden coffin was lifted and placed on the shoulder, the edges pressed excruciating on the skin. The hurt was far more graver in his heart. He was the closest to the brave martyr, therefore possiblly he felt the load of his friend’s mortal remains, heavier.

He alligned his steps with the rest of the pall bearers in the soldierly conduct. The face stern and expressionless. The trickle of the tear which managed to escape his stony eyes, merged inconspicuously with beads of sweat. The buggle sounded the last post and the gathering raised their hand to salute the brave heart. As the mortal remains moved on, on its last journey, the gathering erupted with the resounding cry of JAI HIND.

The sacrifice of the brave soldier was not in vain. His passion and love for the country had multiplied in the ignited passion, in the hearts of his brothers in arms. The coffin had turned lighter. It seemed as if, the slain martyr lived on, in the heart and spirit of every gathered soldier.

The gathering dispersed. They went on to do their job. Not what they are paid for, but what they are meant for…To shed their last drop of blood for the country.

What I missed this morning

It’s another day.

The grind of the day commences as seconds turn into minutes. The timings are forced by habit. Each moment optimised to maximise comfort and safe living. Safety was built through certainty, by sticking to the practiced routine.

This day was no different. The countdown began as I pulled the car out of the garage. The gears of the life were put in motion. There wasn’t any change possible from the set routine. It was familiar and safe. The start and travel time were synchronised with the time to reach destination with programmed precision.

The traffic light turned red at an unfortunate coincidence of space and time. An aberration from the planned scenario was not a welcome occurance. The countdown of 100 seconds to the next green window, emphasised the deformation of the perfect plan. The stress of not maintaining the imaginary milestones was rising.

The gulmohar trees had turned flaming red. The morning sun reflecting the colour for every observant eye. The spectacle was missed in the revving of the engine as the countdown moved to the single digit. As the numbers flashed, keeping in time with the final three counts, the waiting mass pulsated with anticipation.

With practised ease and tenacity, I broke through the mass of slow-starters to surge on the free road ahead. The clock had to be chased for normalcy to be restored. With eyes on the moving hands of the clock, the accelerator pedal was stamped to the floor.

The speed turned the pedestrians on the side of the road into a blur. However, today as the car slowed down to negotiate an unforgivingly steep speed breaker, the blur crystallised to reveal a walking human figure. The familiarity trap snapped close as the coordinated glance made the eyes meet. Brief though it was, the impression was complete. The hurry in the steps of the nameless human figure belied the anxiety related to the consequential financial loss due to the biometric attendance.

I knew he was one of the employees at my office. He was one of the many nameless faces in the organisation, we fail to notice. The nameless face whose per-functionary greetings are met with preoccupied mumble. The form became smaller in the rear view mirror, but remained in the conscience.

Reason could not resolve the dilemma of stopping or ignoring. The rational mind felt that ‘stopping now’ was not a reasonable option. The difficulty of a U-turn was cited as an argument to defend the recommended ‘ignore’ option. The conflict within grew in a crescendo. The reason may not have been rational, but turned out to be more compulsive. The flashing indicators of the car, indicated my intent of turning around. The decision contrary to the rational, was made.

The rest happened without actual occurrence of the exaggerated scenerios of the worrying mind. I pulled over and asked the nameless being to hop in. The disbelief and happiness of the unexpected help, created an unrecognisable expression, as he gratefully moved in.

The initial awkward silence was broken by me to ask some regular conversational start lines. Where are you staying? Who all in family?….And as the conversation moved on, he revealed his life. The responsibility of the aging parents, smaller dependant siblings and the pressure of unfulfilled expectation seemed like the usual story. However, the reality struck me with realisation that, it may be the usual story, but it was his story, real… in flesh and bones. He was living it, not reading about it. The boundaries of hierarchy, status and social identities were temporarily subsumed, as we shared each other’s life.

We arrived at our destination just in time. The hierarchy and the status rushed in to state the reality, bringing in the anxieties and rush. He rushed to press his thumb on the programmed intelligence on the red pad of the biometric gadget. He was in time. The money was saved. More importantly, one of the many small aspirations, survived its possible compromising death.

Today in the ‘ticks’ of the time and the ‘rush’ of the clock, I was aware of a unique story that ran parallel to my selfish story. Today the parallel lines that were kept apart by the social separators, travelled together for a brief but profound, time and distance.

I forgot to ask him his name as he merged into the multitudes of the mass, losing his identity in the social class. But then, what’s in the name!!! I had touched a life and for some brief moment we were one life.

It was another day. I noticed the flaming red flowers of the Gulmohor tree. They were the rays of the Sun.

Who Cares… Who’s Real?

We heard Laila o Laila
play on the FM.
As the drums
did the rolls
Me and my daughter
play our ‘guess who’ game.

“Do you know…
Who is the drummer?”,
I ask.
“I don’t know”,
she says
“It’s ‘Amjad Khan’
I answer, to score a point.

But she says
that’s only in the movie
Who was the Real drummer?
I said…
Who cares!!!
… Who’s Real??