Dedicated to somebody. An long known yet lot unknown somebody.....
If someone had asked me what I was doing, I would have been absolutely blank for an answer. Luckily, no one did. In fact, had I seen someone doing what I was doing, I would've pitied that man for the state he was in – mentally handicapped.
I was trying to count the tiny sparkling grains of sand on that seashore. The sands.....of time.
The evening sun was still hot. Strictly speaking, was it the evening sun..? No, rather I'd call it the late afternoon sun. A boy and girl, a furlong away, in their very pristine and kiddish form were as ever building castles on sand. “Innocence,” I pondered, “is as blissful a quantity as ignorance.”
I stared at the horizon on the west. The mating of the blue line of the ocean waters with the clear blue skyline. The fusion of two substances in its purest form. It seemed as if the water, beyond the point, fell off a cliff dragging along with it, the bright blue sky.
Bright blue sky. We used to call it sky blue. In fact, whenever the school reopened after the long-on-paper-yet-short-on-ground summer vacations, we used to flaunt our new uniforms and bags in school. I always used to get that bright white shirts and sky blue shorts from the Kumar's Emporium, on the Nayagam Streets along the banks of mellifluous flowing Kabini. The uncleji with a jerry-laden topi on his head, omnipresent at Kumar's billing counter, always used to give me two packets of Poppins and a chilled bottle of Fanta. Although my dad seldom allowed us in family to use soft drinks, he was always a different self when we went shopping at Kumar's twice a year – once at school reopening time, to buy those lovely brand new uniforms for me and my sister and another during Diwali, for buying new attire for entire family. And my sister always used to cry that she wanted “that” ghagra choli, although it always turned out that the one she liked was always a size bigger than her. And those sessions in which my Appa would coax her to “adjust” with a Ghee Dosa and filter kaapi at Venki's and a candy bar after that. And boy, didn't we love the smell of the hot filter kaapi at Venki's... anything I'd give to go there for that Ghee Dosa and Venki's kaapi.
Aaah..kaapi. It all changed when the small town guy me got admitted to the college in town around 60 km and two bus routes away. For someone whose world revolved around Mudaliar Street where my house was located, the St. George's high school where I completed my schooling, the local avatar of “Times Square” Nayagam Street and the Kabini river, life ceased to be as slow and simple as it once used to be as I was sucked into the charms and pace of town life. Che Guevara and Karl Marx became people I worshipped although their communist ideologies scathingly decried idolatry references. You would rather splash concentrated sulphuric acid over a mug of water bare handed than to buy a “Made in USA/UK/Germany” merchandise.
But all that was teens – the psychology of youth, as I explained to myself later. I will never know how or when but it so happened that all the enmity against all those multi nationals in the world and the “corrupt ideology” of capitalism deserted me in favour of adulation in an equal or probably an exceeding measure. Branded clothes seldom got off my torso as the metamorphosis by the time I reached my final year in college took me through short bursts of mental turmoil.
Looking back, it was the final year in college, when I really imbibed the depth of the term metamorphosis. A black and white story, out of the blue, turned vibrantly colourful. There was this somebody who I met (rather, I'd like to believe I was destined to meet) The meeting was ever etched in my memory – a strange and unique one at that. She a fresher into college, I found her struggling to convince the canteen bhaiyya that she was short by 1 rupee and 4 annas and that she would pay up the next day. Somehow, I nudged in and offered the missing amount. There was nothing abnormal about the cute “Thank You” that followed up that incident. It was casual meetings here-and-there in the campus subsequently, lit up by either side with gentle smiles. If I were to pin point what made me ask her for a cup of coffee sometime after a month, I'd have had to brood for the answer but the fact still remained. The smiles persisted, the only difference being that we were smiling across the table, two cups of coffee that emptied over an hour ago separating us, yet the smiles no less blossom.
The small conferences across the canteen table over cups of coffee slowly made way to short, and eventually longer “walks to remember” circumventing the college campus. Rumours spread across the campus, as with my class. After all, they were bound to talk what they talked when they saw what they saw. There were times when I despised the whole world for going on speculating the way it did without caring for my explanation, although if some intellectual ever had the sense to do so, I honestly didn't possess a solid answer to counter. I didn't know. I didn't want to know. And I didn't know if she knew.
But the better part was she didn't care. And her resilience taught me too. To take it in my stride. A very simple question from her put an end to all the turmoil in my mind, “If those people who spread that rumour mean nothing to you, why should you be bothered by what they speak?” There was no objective answer to this question, yet this question managed to answer all the questions raging in my mind.
Everybody complains that final year in college spans on the scale of time, a value nowhere close to the actual time it should take. When life was beginning to take the path it never treaded a priori, life was, as well, beginning to approach the end. Or at least the life in college. Separation was as always hard as was inevitable. As the reel in my mind started to roll through those final days in college and that parting gift, that cute handmade greeting card of her’s which I still keep a lot priced than a lot of supposed memorabilia, I was interrupted. As ever the interruption was perennial and yet, it wielded the same power as it used to do over a decade ago in college.
“What are you dreaming? You still acting that scene in canteen, 1 rupee and 4 anna one?” Shrugging, I woke up to a sound which once upon a time I loved to hear. Once upon a time? Well, I’ll let that question remain a question. I rubbed my eyes. It took my eyes, some real adjustment to focus on the red ball that lost most of its royalness but yet maintained a visually pleasing elegance. The sun was retreating…the same red ball to rise at a place thousands of miles away, at the same time, on some eastern horizon.
“The usual. Cappuccino. Two cubes of sugar. Not stirred. I took an Espresso today. I didn’t feel the usual, needed a strong dose of coffee.” I wondered. If this radio, which always unerringly used to switch on in my presence and blare non-stop, would ever comprehend the meaning of silence. Oh yeah, she had to. After all, what bare minimum I could expect from someone who always professed her desire to explore nature, is to know silence profoundly.
“Inertia,” long back the legendary Issac Newton had observed for laymen, “is the reluctance of a body to change its current state.” I wondered if lethargy was a word that conveyed the same unpleasant meaning in a more pleasant manner. I was toying between the beauty of Newtonian physics and the structure of English language when she embarked on her usual demeanour. Module two in her algorithm went to execution as her legs came up in an aggressive pose, the target being my back as though she was assigned to execute the final penalty kick in the penalty shootout in the Italy-France Soccer World Cup finals in 2006, which Frenchman David Trezeguet shot out of target to hand Italy the soccer World Cup. Although Trezeguet, as any other Frenchman might miss, I had complete faith in the precision of some people to execute some steps with clinical precision, even if they had never in life seen a soccer ball. Thankfully, Newton had proved long before I attempted to that every action had to have an opposite reaction (equal and opposite..?? Not very sure of the former…) and that very action of hers evoked a response from me, which was to lift myself up from sand and thrust out my hand for my coffee. Filter kaapi..?? Boy, no one in the Gen X goes for filter kaapi, that is for the oldies. A Cappuccino from one of the nearby coffee shop (the Gen X equivalent of Venki’s) is the trend of the day. So there was me, with my coffee in hand and she with hers.
“Kitna old girl friends ko dekha yaar apne dream mein?” With all its sarcasm intended, I realized that some things will never change. Years of life, job, marriage, kids...nothing can alter very minute nuances of character that are bound to come out of suppression when the optimum opportunity comes along. The radio went into active mode and all this unfortunate listener could think of was when would the power to the radio be cut off. Sporting my usual smile, which seemed to recharge the radio rather than put her off, I started walking in the direction of the car park, a couple of hundred metres away. Although she didn’t like it, I don’t know why she started following me, the radio still at its peak output. The smile in me integrated into a gentle laughter. Very often, I could predict the next move or sign she would make. Not always, yet often was good enough a consistency. But I never could explain why she did so. Nor was I sure if she knew the answer to the same. And I knew, at least this time, that she was going to follow me to the parking bay.
I realized that I had reached the car park bay when I got a sharp pull on my collars from my back. I had instructed her umpteen numbers of times that I am best left alone when I get into one of those “Do Not Disturb” modes yet she keeps violating that law and keeps getting agitated reactions from me. Somethings though, never change. Rather shouldn’t. But today I was rather enjoying the non-stop chatter, the way I used to over a decade ago. The Cappuccinos replaced by ordinary coffee, the car bay replaced by the crumbling yet lively canteen. Or rather, the other way around.
“You have any intentions of getting back home or you plan to sleep the night here on the beach?” For the umpteenth time today and that raised to another comfortable umpteen times in the past few years, my chain of thoughts snapped. “Well, I guess you’ll remain stranded here if I choose to stay back and hence, I think it’s a wiser option to get back home.” I too hadn’t lost my tone completely, I observed. At least when I was speaking to her. The modulations in indentations were as crisp as it was ever.
Locating the car in the bay, we headed in its direction.
As I turned the Audi A4 onto the Express way heading east into the hassles of the city, I shot a glance through the rear view mirror at the setting sun that was just disappearing over the horizon. She sitting beside me, didn’t notice. The setting sun had seen them all...from the cups of coffee to the long walks to remember. And those long drives as well. All it didn’t see were those that mattered. The dreams of a dreamer.