Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Stephan C. Hmar 27/12/2012

It was a young night in early June. Above the glare of street lights and skyscrapers, the city of Mumbai was enveloped by hovering monsoon clouds. Rain was imminent.

Meteorological Department reports a week earlier that the south-west monsoon has showered on the Andaman Sea and proceeds towards Kerela and is expected to onset over Mumbai in a week. Going by the prediction, the onset of monsoon should start the following day.

          Monsoon downpour in Mumbai often brings two things --- a mystic season and floods--- which can reduce to a disastrous showdown. It will bring greenery to places but which can play havoc of devastating floods. One moment can change for good; the same moment can change for worse. So, like other years, the locals here were yet again set to meet the immutable heavenly force, something to cheer and worry for, piteously to the same degree.

The locals on the streets around Kalina Masjid were busier than any other dusk. Beneath the huge white marbled dome and two soaring minarets of the Masjid, the commotion of people and vehicles were endless and nonstop. It was the preparation for the monsoon. Some unfashionably bargained on the vendors selling umbrellas and rain-coats. On the other side of the road, the wine keeper lit his agarbati and gave obeisance to the hanging frames of Durga, Hanuman, Buddha, Sai Baba, Mecca and Jesus Christ asking them for better business during monsoon, while his customers waited eagerly for their brands, to wash down in their throats, the memory of the last dry winter. Bhel and chai wallas too, were busy, for the first time in the year, inspecting their awning roofs. Meanwhile, some people walked down the street towards homes with rolled tin sheets on their heads, while some were riding their two-wheelers with bundle of blue polythene sheets tied on the back seats. From any direction to every direction, vehicles, men and women came out and went in. It was a torrent of humans, vehicles, rickshaws and cycles.

Not far from these rush of movements, towards a small alley that diverted to a small room, Shyam woke up from his sleep and switched on the TV with the toe of his right leg. Heads of presenter on his television asserts the need of hygiene; that accumulated rain waters could brings dengue, malaria and other related diseases. They informed mumbaikars to clean drainages and check any possible water-loggings in and around the house and prevent breeding of mosquitoes in stagnant waters. 

His face showed a washed-out feeling. He was not exactly concerned with the dengue or malaria. He was worried of his arthritis and the severity of how rain could do to his swelling joints. He then pill off a pain-reliever from the strip and reached for his water bottle. As expected, his mobile buzzed. He received a message.

gari 9 baji mein ane wala hain. Masjid ke samne

He looked at the clock on his mobile. 8:05 PM. He sighted “Hmm! I still have another 55 minutes”. He sat back and looked around his tiny rented room. Two big steel almirahs stood near the wall occupying one-fifth of the room. Adjacent to them, another wooden almirah, covered with black mica stood occupying one-fourth of the remaining space. Two small ceiling fans revolved in unisons, producing the same irritating noise in unisons. And then there was an old refrigerator, so old that it looked like the oldest model of any Indian-made refrigerator. He hated everything about this room, particularly the steel almirahs and the refrigerator; they were kept here by the owner as the memory of his long gone father. But the truth is he didn’t have no other place to keep, which he, in turn, cunningly used them for raising the room rent time and again.

Shyam was working in a BPO somewhere in Malad. His worked night shift--- from 10 PM till 6 AM every next day. Now, after working for almost 6 months, he seemed accustomed with the nature of the work. He would sleep from around 11 in the morning and would wake up around 8 in the night. Tonight, he has been awake for almost 30 minutes into the 8 hours stretch he would have to stay awake at BPO. He felt the pain and stiffness of his neck and spines. He said to his mind, “This is from your arthritis. Young man!! Try to endure it”. He popped the pain-reliever and gulped down water from the water bottle, flawless as any inherent instinct.  He then stood in front of the mirror and tried to straighten his stooped figure. After no successful attempts, he said to himself, “Thank God! You make me short!”

Shyam hates waking up from sleep. For him, there is no blissful time like deep sleep. When he sleeps, he feels no pains, no worries and his whole world with its entirety is forgotten. His soul vaporizes between his sickly and paining joints and wanders off in freedom. His soul has the command to choose and it chooses to visits time he longed the most---where lives were fond, bones were flexible, and the heart-beats were God’s masterpiece. But, around 8 PM, he must wake up.  And then the pains will come back to him like cascade waters rushing back into a sea. This will take him back into his world of pains he is suffering for a decade now.  The stark reality of knowing that this waking up is going to put him back into his hopeless world of pains he learn to endure is the hardest thing to term with. He is annoyed by the fact of his life of which everything he does and dream is curtailed by his relentless pain. Yet he cannot do anything about it save a mere bearer.

8:45 PM. Shyam walked out from his room and walked towards Kalina Masjid. The first monsoon breeze touched his face. He was picking his steps carefully so that he would not bump into people or vehicles. He walked pass the pan dukan, clustered by people waiting for their evening dose of paan. He walked pass the butcher’s shop, the road-side evening ice-cream trolley. In the meantime, he heard chanting about Allah through loud speakers from the masjid.

His friend Salman Khan saw him on the way. Shyam called him Salman because he tried to act and behave like the real Salman: dresses, hairstyles, walks, talks, etc. Salman cried, “Hey! Tu! Kiu aisa chalta hai. Try to walk straight like this”, he stick out his chest, more like salman than the real him. Shyam just smiled, but beneath the smiles, he cried. He asked himself why people could be so healthy while he is not. With a gust, he felt a few more steps towards masjid were heavier. He was just discouraged, to live. He was dragged into the world of meaninglessness. He could sense every second of the way and his pains were more severe.

And at last, he stood near the fencing of the masjid.

People hurried up and down. Lights from headlights, honking, chattering, and shouting are every where. Shyam wearily waited for the pick-up car, with folded papers in his hand.

His mobile read 9:00 sharp. The pick-up car was still not coming.

He darted his stiff neck here and there to indulge in anything worth watching. Behind where he stood were unattended crushed stones and pebbles probably kept by BMC or local contractors or Implementing Officers or whatever?  On them slept peacefully, a man. Shyam was taken aback by the sight of the man. It was quite a contrast to the distressing scene on the street. His attention was just captured by the man.

The man pillowed his left hand, slept with his face down, his right hand on the waist. Oddly he was snoring deeply. He wrapped around a dhoti which, under the street light above him, could be dictated as of green and white stripes. He had long, unkempt hairs and thick beards on his neck, chin and cheeks and his whole physique revealed a man of quite a big stature, any small man could envy. Shyam could not take his eyes away from the peaceful scene this man enjoyed.

Shyam got a missed call. He checked the number and looked around. A milky-white Indica car was standing 3 meters away. He approached and boarded the car.  As usual, Varsha sat on the front, left of the driver. On the back seat sat the three of them, Shyam, Anket and Mitesh.  As the car moved away towards the highway, his three friends were discussing of the coming surprise test and how to look for a better Job. Shyam was silent all the way.

He was thinking of that man in dhoti. “Monsoon is coming. And it is going to last 4 months, until September. What is the hell with that guy? What will he be in the rain?”

How could a man, filthy as a stray dog could be so captivating to Shyam. Even Shyam was surprised. Could someone tell Shyam that it’s not the filthiness that impresses him but of the peace and painless life he enjoys?

The next morning, after the hectic work, Shyam was dropped by a car near the masjid, the same place where he was picked up, yesterday night. He got down the car with difficulties, closed the door, and said “Thank you” to the driver. The driver indicated his agreement with a nod and drove away. Shyam looked for the man in dhoti.

He was there, sitting on his home---the pebbled stones, resting his two big arms on his knees. There were no signs of discontentment and pains on his face. His hairs and long beards are obvious and unattended. He looked at the early commuters of the street and then with a smile, looked up the sky. He didn’t seem to have much need for them. They didn’t seem to need him either as their minds are full with wants and desires.

Anything above the surface of this earth should be trusted. Anything, not embedded on this surface is genuine. Oh yes! Anything high up in the skies is trustworthy. And so, it is not wrong to say satellites are also like mini-gods; their predictions of the monsoon turned true.

That afternoon, a gusts of winds, mixed with the mystic, flickering droplets started to pour. In no time, the tar roads shone wet and shiny like a freshly polished shoes. Commuters rushed for covers. Exactly after 15 minutes in the rain, the roads of Mumbai looked deserted. Autos are scarce, and few town buses and other public transports ply with closed windows and doors, not bothering to stop at their usual stops.

Quite opposite to these bewildering scene of the city, unknown farmers and livestock, dwelling in the outskirts of Mumbai suburb thanked gods for answering their prayers. It was an auspicious start of the month. Cows and horses smelled the first scent of mud mixed with the smell of rains. Everyone, men and beast, feel that the year ahead will bring good fortunes. And this timely arrival of monsoon was the sign.

The downpour was heavy. It disrupts many people in Mumbai. An aspiring actor residing in the PG in Kalina has to rush towards the closest roof. He was planning to go to Juhu and drink the sea water and shout “I will be the king of this City” just as the story of SRK goes. Beside him, another young man was holding his thin bag to his chest. Inside the bag was his script for Bollywood film. He feared that he would not submit in time.

Shyam was also there beneath the stingily protruding roof of a dukan, waiting for his pick-up vehicle. The man in dhoti was also sitting on the opposite side of the road, beneath a canvas roof, wetting his hands with the droplets of rains that fell from the edges. He was having a relieved smile when he did that.

Rains would not stop for months and the skies would look hazy and bleak. Sometimes it would rain the whole night. By morning it would stop. At other time, it would rain for few hours, stop for few hours and would rain again. Newspapers talked of the flooded train tracks, delayed trains, over-flowed rivers, drainages and nullahs. They also talked of people falling into manholes or sandwiched by uprooted falling trees.

For Shyam, too, rains are more of menaces than comforts. The wet earth and airs brought more congestion to his chests. He felt more like million of needles pierced all over his spines.  In the swarm of his pains, he felt a feverish sickness. His intake of pain relievers has to increase to cope with his work. But worse than these pains, he did not see the man in dhoti any more. But he did not stop thinking about him. Who will take care of him in these rains? What will he eats? Every time when he passed he would searched for him. But he was no more. Sometimes, when the rain stopped, he would walk up to the stones where he used to sleep. He would see the indentations created on the stone chips by his big body.

For four months, Mumbai was gripped by rains. For four month, Mumbai life was in confusion. And under the turmoil, Shyam lost his friend, the man in dhoti.

October came. And with it, a fresh sunlight, not annoyed by clouds or rains, came. Life started to race up again as usual.

Shyam also felt relieved, but was torn by the meaninglessness of Kalina without his man in dhoti. Sometimes life is more uninteresting when you are tangled by things you cannot do anything about it. It is worthless to know you can love something yet not having any authority over them. Some sight is so peaceful, so harmonious and so deep-rooted that you would like to see it forever. But, like the swiftness of a samurai, it just disappeared. Shyam felt he just missed him.

Time passed by and the intensity of his longing for the man increased. He would often go and checked the stone-chips. He wanted to ask passer-by if they had seen the man. But he did not do that as it would seem so irrelevant.

And then one early morning, at last, Shyam went up to the stone-chips. He sat on the stones exactly where the man used to sit, beside the indentations. The sun was still not out but early autumn breeze are neatly felt. The cheerful sparrows swing, to and fro, between their roofed nests in the building holes. Early risers and newspaper wallas are already caught up in the loop for the day.

Reservedly, Shyam sat there and thought shabbily, “Perhaps, he is dead. Perhaps dogs and crows feast on his carcass somewhere near the river or deep in the drains”. He thought.

And then he looked up towards the skies, just as how his man in dhoti did. Then a delightful thought came to him. “Perhaps, he must be somewhere, in another part of Mumbai, resting himself on better stone-chips, with cleaner dhoti, freshened by the last monsoon rains”. Then with a reflex, he shouted out. ‘He is alive…alive...somewhere. He is there to teach serendipity and meanings’.

People walking gave a condescendence look at Shyam and hurried away. But he still sat there with contentment and happy face. Deep inside, he was measuring the certainity and also the uncertainity his disease hold for him. Tomorrow and beyond, they may bring something less worse or more worse. With them he cannot know where he will be, how he will enjoy or how he will cry. His life has been like a life on the stone pebbles and the only answer is not to worry. Not to worry at all. And to drag his pains all along until they kill him. But until they kill him, they ought to make him stronger, at least in some way.

He thought those thought and he felt he won some battle.

He walked around on the mount of pebbles. His pains didn't lessen a bit. But he felt them friendlier. And he smiled, not bothered by anything.

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