Mr. Srinivasan, (6th post, writing 101)

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I run a small cafeteria near a city Metro Station. Good Hot Food is my USP.

For the last few days I had seen this aged guy, very polite, very unassuming, a timid kind of guy. He would come just as we were getting ready to close for the night.

He would say “anything left over?” as if expecting us to get annoyed with him for holding us up. The user-friendly services, for people that I had provided, to sit and eat their food, were four brightly colored plastic tables with four chairs each, spread around an open yard. It had rained that evening. And there was no place for anyone to park themselves. The bitterly cold rain had forced everyone to seek shelter in their own cozy homes. Very few people had come in to eat though it had stopped raining.

We had decided to close early when he walked in. He ordered for his usual Rice and a vegetable curry, and a bowl of curds.

“Your business must have been very low today” he said.

“Yes Sir very much so” I said.

” I like the food you serve, you see my age does not allow me to have anything which is not freshly made. Since the time I have been eating here my health has improved” he said

“How Old are you Sir?” on cue. But actually I wanted to know. He would remind anyone of a kindly Uncle they might have.  That’s the kind of way he had, of looking at you. My heart had gone out to him.

“I am 71” he said.

“Do you live nearby?” I asked

“Yes”

“Family?” I asked

“I have a big Family, two sisters, and a younger brother” he said

“You have a wife and children sir?” I asked.

It was quite common for people with a home and family to eat at my place regularly rather than at home, either to keep their diet schedules or just to save their wives and children from waiting up for them for dinner. This city was one hell of a place for commuting, keeping schedules or just having a simple family life. Most of the people who worked for their living had a chance to be in touch with people at home only on weekends and holidays. The bane of all cities all over the world.

“I live alone” he said

I was a bit uncomfortable to ask him anything more, for I was not ready to hear the answers. Looking at his age, I guessed there were some personal tragedies involved for his single status.

He must have guessed from the look on my face, because he had an amused smile when he said,

“I am a bachelor”

My face must have cleared up visibly for he laughed.

” You must be wondering why?” He said. “I will tell you when you have more time, I can see that you are eager to run back home to your wife and kids”.

” I didn’t mean to pry sir” I said

“No no no don’t think that. I really want to tell you, because I see that you really listen, rather than just hear the sounds that people make. And I can see empathy” he said.

“Very astute” I was thinking. for I had grown genuinely fond of him without realizing it.

“You remind me of my Mother’s Uncle who helped my Dad when he was in dire straits. He allowed us to stay in his house, until my Father recovered from his financial shambles, but we ended up staying there till all of us, my brother and sisters  finished our colleges and hit out on our own. We got so attached to him. He became a sort of Guide and Mentor to us”. I said

” I feel honored to get compared to a favorite person in your life” he said.

See? that was the kind of person he was. He was a guy obviously well-off, his watch, his clothes, and the car he drove made it amply obvious, but here he was saying he was honored to be compared to a family member of small guy like me, struggling to keep, a not very profitable diner, from getting blown away to oblivion. My respect for him soared.

“The best part of it was that my grand-uncle was a confirmed bachelor too”. my wonder at it obvious.

He smiled delightedly “See? we do have a connection, you and I. How old is he?” He asked

“Passed away long back sir” i said

“I am sorry”. he said, “will you do me a favor?”Sure sir anytime” I said

” OK then quit calling me ‘ sir’, I am Srinivasan, you can call me Uncle if you want, but never by that silly British left-over” he laughed.

” You were there, during the British Rule?”. I was curious. There were very few people alive nowadays, who were actually there during those times.

“Yes”  he said  “And I was around 12 yrs old when they left”. I could detect some deep disturbance and a kind of sadness in his voice, his eyes had a far-away look in them. He shook himself out of it and said “Hey! I am keeping you from closing up, let’s chat some other time. And thank you for the lovely dinner”. He made it sound that he had actually had a four course gourmet dinner.

He paid up and walked back slowly to where he had parked his car. He seemed tired unlike when, he had walked in, as if eating a meal had exhausted him. I attributed it to the cold and late hour, combined with his age. I could see him driving off slowly and carefully as was his regular habit. But today I sensed he was much slower, and kind of preoccupied. Could anyone say that about a person looking at their driving? I was wondering, or was it something I detected in him in our talk tonight. I did not think of it anymore that day as I got busy in closing up.

Many days passed and Mr. Srinivasan would turn up for dinner and unobtrusively have his usual rice. If I was not busy in the kitchen I would personally serve him which always elicited a profusely humble ‘thank you’ from him.

Then one day it happened; though I was not open for business, I was there in the diner, to do a round of cleaning up. After a lot of scrubbing and wiping and washing and cleaning I had just plonked down with a cigarette and a cup of steaming tea when he turned up.

“I noticed that you were here even on your weekly-off day, any thing special?” he smiled.

“Nothing Uncle i was just doing a bit of spring cleaning, can’t afford unhygienic conditions to prevail” I said.

“This is why I eat here” he said beaming his approval.

I offered him some tea and we got to talking and before long he was telling me his story.

“You expressed curiosity about the times when the British were here in India no? In a way it is connected to why I remained a bachelor. Well I became aware of them when I was 8 yrs’ old. Until then I had not known that my Father was a Freedom Fighter. I remember that night. The Police barged into our house and arrested my Father. His trial ended quickly and he was thrown into the dreaded Andaman island’s cellular jail. Our house, bank accounts, and all and every bit of property that we possessed was confiscated. We became untouchables among our friends and relatives. I don’t blame anyone; for Govt. retaliation was swift and terrible. We moved away to a different town and my mother worked hard as a domestic help to keep us alive. Within a year of over-work and semi-starvation; which finally resulted in tuberculosis, my Mother died. I had no time to even grieve her death. Both my sisters were polio afflicted and could not move without being carried. My brother was hardly 5 yrs old. My one and only task was to find some means of feeding all of us. I would go every day in search of work, any work, to get a few ‘paisas’ to buy something to eat. Sometimes I would find work and sometimes I had to beg  for food. On the night we got our Independence there was great celebration all around us. A group of people celebrating found the  four of us huddled under a Railway bridge which was our home. Urging us to celebrate our “Freedom” they showered on us a few Rupees. I wanted so much to shout at them about what my Father had sacrificed to achieve this day.  I did not, instead, I just gathered the 4 rupees that lay scattered on the ground. The next morning I went and bought a good meal for my siblings and a push-cart for myself, and a few vegetables from the market. That was the start of my journey into the world of business. All my life I have worked hard to educate my siblings. I worked hard  not to have them feel the absence of my Dad and Mom. Gradually I earned enough to get prosthetic support for both my sisters and also give a sizable Dowry and got them married. My brother finished college and joined me in my business. My Father they said had died in a failed attempt to escape from the terrible “Kala Paani” cellular jail of the Andaman. My relatives claimed all our ancestral property declaring that they were his next of kin and there were no other claimants. I came to know of it much later. I bought all of it including the house from where my Father had been arrested. I am staying there now. I never found the time to get married and start my own family.”

I just sat there stunned after he had finished, for a very long time. He too was immersed in his own reminiscences, reliving lost memories once again, I could see it in his eyes after the moisture from my eyes had cleared. But i could see no rancor nor any trace of bitterness in them. Here was a man who had accepted the shit life had doled out to him and won.

“Did you not try to get the help that the Indian Govt. was giving out to the families of Freedom Fighters?” I asked

He looked at me with those kindly tired eyes. I remember thinking “Whatever made me think that this was a timid man?”. I saw the quiet steel in them.

” That would mean that I was selling my Father’s sacrifices for my worldly comforts, wouldn’t it Vije?. I wouldn’t insult his honor so badly”. he said.

This was the true blood that had fought for OUR FREEDOM. Now I know what the Struggle for Freedom involved and what kind of people had done it.

I saw then in a flash ; all the Martyrs right there ; in him.

And I also learnt that day what it was to revere a Man.

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My Daughter (The 5th challenge)

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                                            I remember like it was yesterday, the doctors brought you out of the delivery room, dumped the bundle that was you, in my arms and said “take care of your daughter”. Your Mom had to be taken care of for you were born of a ‘C’ Section operation. I wouldn’t attempt to recall the feelings that drowned me in their intensity. I would not have the words for it. Before I knew it, you were out of my arms cycling away to school. Before long you were sharing very feminine things only with your Mom. I did not want you growing up so fast.

                                            And now I see you a young Woman of your own young strong beautiful world, confident and strong enough to reach out when I might stumble. I have hoped to leave you a better world and a better place in the world. Only you, will know in the Long Run, if I have been successful.

                                           I have never stopped being in wonder of the Miracle that your Mom performed in bringing you to me. You have been the beacon and you will carry our torch forward.

Just That One; not three! (3rd post, for writing 101)

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  It was the summer of 1974 and I was in my teens. We; in this small hometown had discovered HIPPIEDOM! “Viva ‘la Goa!!” The world was descending in Goa! New thought, New Morals, New Way of Life! New Highs, new lows too. It way don’t cut your hair, don’t wash your jeans, don’t booze but trip on weed, read Ayn Rand, argue Marxism, Capitalism, don’t attend classes in college (but we somehow managed to attend the exams and get through. The boycott stopped just short of Exams). It was one Hell of a headlong Trip. You see I was staying in my Grandpa’s farmhouse in an old rambling huge tiled ‘bungalow’ as the English were fond of calling during the ‘Raj’ days, and it was only a mere 60 miles, and we were there on whatever weekends we could manage to get hold of some dough (those were the times when ‘money’ became ‘dough’ ‘lolly’ ‘loot’ ‘bread’….) for the petrol ( my bike with judicious addition of back market kerosene would give me a mileage of around 12 miles on a liter with 2 pillions. It was affordable enough.) and more importantly for the weed in the “Hippie Flea Markets”.

                          We always hung around together. The three of us. All of us having crossed all of 14, walking on the beach in Anjuna a small village over run with small coconut thatched shops selling all kinds of stuff from cigarettes, the local fenny, (a cashew fruit distill,  carries a lethal punch,) to weed and chillums and Hashish. It was warm, and there was this evening sea breeze, a 1 deg increase in the temp. would have made us sweat but at the pace we were on the sand it  was caress, a were stoned out of our minds. There were a lot of couples and singles and small groups like us walking in the same direction. And some of them were without shirts and tops and we were virgins and…………. it was heaven! We were together all three of us but using the word ‘hung’ together would be so inappropriate we were all not at all hanging lol.

 It was crazy but it was incredibly beautiful, the setting sun had lit up the sand and the sea in a ruddy glow. We could hear the Surf breaking gently a long distance away coming towards us; the volume increasing and roaring away fading fast intermingled with other surfs breaking along the long beach.

   “It’s the Doppler effect” I said

” What is?” Roop the Stylo, the self styled Thinker of the group, said.

” Sound seems to appear faster than at the rate it goes away when the object producing the sound passes you” I said

“Duh?” said Roop

“Is it important ? ” Carly asked. The third guy in our group.

Like I said we were stoned.

Now the third guy in our group was a Goan and the primary reason we were walking towards a Moonlight Party on the Beach. This was where Hippies (including us-self styled though)were gathering to Live Freely, Love Freely, Share Freely, Live the night in Anarchy,  and as far as the three of us were concerned ogle freely at the innumerable sizes, colors and nationalities of Butt Naked Breasts! bouncing around on the beach. There was a Stage at the end of the beach where the cliffs rose. And there was Music playing and then we were dancing and it was night and we were sharing hash and weed in long big chillums and we were LOST.

                 And then it was playing:-

” Sticking around on a piece of ground in your home town,

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way ……….

……………………………………….

                                             And then you find ten years have got behind you

                                            No one told you when to run

                                            You missed the starting Gun………………”

I am sure a lot of you must have heard this. Pink Floyd Album “Dark Side Of The Moon”

and it was Morning. And we were SOBER. We had been scared Shitless with those words.

                                         The Sun was at the horizon the water was shimmering gold! and still. As if ocean was holding it’s breath in a gasp of sheer wonder before letting go in glee in the beautiful Morning. We raced towards the water tearing off our tees and our shorts and dove into the warm waters as Naked as just -born babes. the water took me in, I felt all the fears and worries of all my life of 14 yrs of my just budding adult hood; which was furiously finding relief in the hidden depths of the warm water; everything just squirting away. The Breakers started with my hooted relief, washing me, pumping into me vigorous LIFE, with the strength of it’s immensity. And at that moment I guess, my childhood fell away. Washed away into the vastness of the Sea.

                                    We were heading back. Back, home, to our small quaint town, nestled among the Mango plantations. Slow moving life but I was filled with HOPE and VIGOR and a HAPPY PICTURE of the Future.

I knew when to Run. Someone had told me when to run.

That was one song, that was enough, to Last Me A Life time.

Did I really!!!

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                                  I could hear the tires beating their roll on the wet asphalt. It had a hypnotic lull to it. I was not sleepy but I was not totally awake too.I was in a kinda semi wakefulness. I glanced at my companion. Though I did not remember how he got to be inside my car; it felt quite natural he was there and I was talking to him, I recall, I was asking,

” What do you mean at a more cellular level?” or something like that for he was answering me,

” I meant feel what you see around you and know; I mean really know that the life you feel at your core, the                                              place where you know, that you ‘live’, are so intertwined with what you see around you that you are living                                              because; those things going past outside are the cause and sustenance of your being alive on this planet.                                              Imagine something without all that “.

                                 I could  smell the air coming in through the window.It was wet mud and grass and the sickly sweet smelling dead- wood and maybe dead insects and animals. Sometimes a whiff of a strong smelling fruit, or wild flower or even a thick cluster of teak or bamboo.The sunlight was shooting down between clouds filtered and lighting up water in the moisture laden air, the colors in that light appeared neon, like as if they were glowing themselves. Each meter on road brought new smells sounds and sights some good some bad some terrible and some heavenly.

                               What had the old guy in the next seat said? without the trees, the grass, the rain, the sunlight, the smells, the growing things, the living things, the dying things, I could see; and it sent a shiver of fear down my entire body. I turned to speak to him and he was not there.

                                 I mean he was not there – as simple as that. Neither was I in my car driving down an asphalted jungle road. I remember the first thing was the absence of any kind of distinct smell it was just the smell of hyper-heated air. I was in the middle of a mud dune, on one of it’s crest, rather. I could see for a long distance around me.

 It  was stark. I could feel myself gulping hot dry air in an attempt to wet my throat. I realized with a jolt what he had meant by “imagine something without all that”. I felt crazy was my imagination so strong that it would physically transport me to the place I had imagined? I don’t recalling thinking of it as a dream, if dream it was. But I knew then what it would be without the abundance of the Earth. 5 cm.s of top soil and water pouring from the skies is all that stands between us and obliteration.

Veeeeeeeeeeeeee! Veejaaaaayyyyyy!” Someone was trying to wake me up from my afternoon snooze from under the Neem tree.  A lazy Sunday afternoon by the lakeside, the sun was nearing horizon. And like in my dream everything was luminescent in the orange glow of the setting sun. The breeze from the lake was warm on my skin. It was time to pack up and leave the little pocket of happiness we had created for ourselves, my wife, my son (the surly one) and my daughter (the twinkling one) for the “Sunday outing in the woods” kinda thing.

                             As I gathered our thing to put in the car I could not break of from the feeling to dread that had filled me up. It was not as if I had dreamed it, it was as if I had connected and probed inside of another being, a much more cosmic, a much larger living throbbing LIVE being and sensed the fears and the number of possible futures that might come to pass.

 I was humbled; sobered; down to deep silence, I saw my wife giving me a quizzical look. Then we were on our way back. All of us carrying our own pics of the day in our minds, but I was changed. Something bigger had connected itself to my awareness, I would never be the same again.

The River With A Bridge

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        IT was very hot; enough to fry your eggs on the bare asphalt , it was hot inside too , I was seething ; my brain was screaming in helplessness . What the hell was going on in my life ? I am past fifty and Nothing to show for it, no money , no job, a wife and two children. The children are grown up and working so is the wife, I mean working but I had serious doubts about her mental age. She did not behave like a grownup anyway. And that was the thought that had kindled the fire and I was burning up. I was not even sure, where on the road I was, coming back from an attempt to get something out of an inheritance in my native village. The bureaucratic non-sense, the deliberate delay and the sly wheedling for gratification was getting on my nerves Like ” hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” kinda thing on one side and the hell of official apathy and sheer bull-headedness , and I was on the verge of doing something drastic. No nothing like killing myself or kil
ling someone else , ( but something like leaving home and go work the small 3 acre farm that I owned bought on my own nothing inherited about it ! lol ! ) Her words kept coming back, “how long are you going to keep bumming on me and the children? Don’t you have any SHAME?”.

             SHAME ? did I hear a religious fanatic screaming here ? For that’s the ” tool ” used to control their followers by all religions. Other than the known organised religions there are some which haven’t received the saving grace of recognition. Mainly ‘Motherhood’; Womanhood: Manhood:Fatherhood: and many many many…………more……. 😦 lol,) I can hear Fathers, Mothers, Men, Women, saying “as if we are guilty of using coercive means for submission of anyone’s free will” yes we are! for all of us have : each according to our capacities and abilities (been guilty of using ) used a little emotional blackmail to change the course of someone else’s life. What I mean is how could I explain to somebody who had decided not to get explained to? it was like talking to a Geriatric who is hard of hearing and whose hearing aid battery power has conked off : I recall having screamed my guts out like in the movies, very dramatic! but shit I was completely ragged, torn, frayed at the edges, bedraggled, the picture of the real ME was a dirty used GOLLIWOG. ( I swear I felt like shit) ………

              Then I saw it, a 10 wheeler bearing down on me ; his horns blaring ; on a bright sunny hot afternoon, the hormones pumped into me like mad! It was a nano second probably but I could see it unfold, in a very slow detailed version, of play-back (my brain must have reacted at hyper-speed most probably and the recording too was hi-speed. It played back normally in slow motion and I could even still it lol ) I missed a major fuck-up by millimeters to spare ; fighting the steering wheel with all my strength ; then I was past ; onto the bridge and moments later I was past the bridge and pulling up on the grass-packed side. A path led down to the river.

             My heart was racing all my muscles were paining and throbbing ; for I had squeezed my whole body, to generate the energy. My brain had gone into a kind of sound proof room. I felt the quiet. I could actually hear my own heart beat thudding powerfully against my rib cage. I was onto to the path down to the river. I could hear everything but in a distant muted way. As I approached the water the gurgling grew sharper. The water was flowing fast on the edges fraying it; but was quiet in the central part. I remember thinking “frayed at the edges”. that brought my frayed edges into sudden focus and suddenly I was laughing. I had found my answer, I was looking at the water and at the sky and guffaw-ing belly-fulls loudly.

I had found my bridge.

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