The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Lost Birds

I'm happy to find sparrows [गौरैया] in Shimla and they remind me of my childhood days. They have disappeared from almost everywhere except a few lucky places. Shimla is one such place. At Ooty I had also discovered them. People offer theories to explain the phenomenon. Installation of cell phone towers is cited as one among the prominent causes behind such disappearance. I don't know how far it is a fact. Sparrows had started vanishing even before the introduction of cell phones. I had earlier written such a nostalgic piece, in prose, published in this blog [link]. Here in Shimla, I have even started observing these birds like an ornithologist. Ha! Ha! My observation is that here there are far too many female sparrows, more than the male members.[I may be corrected]. Even about myna, I find here their peculiar behavioural pattern. They move alone whereas we find them in pairs elsewhere. Anyway, disappearance of birds is definitely a painful phenomenon. This can never be overstated.
The Lost Birds

The birds that bothered me in my childhood
Crapping on my books or chirping close
 Now where have they all gone hiding?
And are they lost for ever for me?

They are gone with the green 

perhaps to recur one day in my dreams
And my longings will take me there 

when everybody else is deep asleep!

Cool breeze is still blowing
to utter those words of sibilant whispers
His nest is ready and the spring is back

And the sweet bird will be back here.

A. N. Nanda


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Millennium Blog

Here's a story from my old book "The Remix of Orchid" I thought to share with my blog readers. There're requests from friends to get a copy of that book, but unfortunately I've none to spare. Well, this is the best I can do for the present to comply such request--by publishing some stories on my blog. I'd shared another story from the same book in this blog. Thank you and happy reading.

The Millennium Blog

                        It pains me to reflect that such a hard-earned experience of mine fails to command the belief of my audience. I have no photograph to substantiate my version since I am not an underwater photographer. My only witness is Kelly, the professional diver from Denmark, with whom I was paired to dive at Barracuda City off Havelock Island. She lives in her country, just one e-mail away, and I am sure if I ask her, she will definitely stand up for me. It will entail a little expense, say for an overseas call or for a video conference; but then is there any guarantee that, after all the travails, people will start believing my version? Most probably not. They think all divers are alike, and even more so if one is testifying for his or her buddy. They are prone to this excusably little vice of their own called bragging.
                        Now I am at my wits’ end; I have nothing else to offer in support of my credibility except my recollections. Aha! I can do something about it, something really interesting. I am going to blog down everything that happened to me on that momentous day. All for my fellow netizens. Let the surface-bound people read it as a short story or reject it as a big brag—I do not bother. 
                        It was December 31, 1999. The world was waiting with terrifying jitters to see what kind of a digital catastrophe the new millennium would bring with it in the shape of Y2K bug. But I had no concern about that lousy hoax. I was, on the other hand, stirred by an overwhelming desire to spend time underwater when the clock struck midnight and the civilisation of Homo sapiens stepped into the new millennium, the twenty-first century. I had reached Havelock a day before, just to fix everything in advance and make my wish a reality. Reaching there, I discovered some kind of a minor gap in communication, and all those who had reconfirmed their schedules had long since been paired. I was the only diver spare. In that case, I was sure to be sent as the third partner with any of the already formed diving duos, and, going by whatever experience I had at my command as a recreational diver, I was anticipating a dull type of profile ahead.
                        However, the matter settled when Kelly arrived precisely on the thirty-first. I was inevitably paired with her. Don’t they say he who laughs the last laughs the best?
                        Kelly was indeed a very nice girl to dive with. She was beautiful and she knew her trade well. In fact, she was on a first track and she expected to reach her professional grade in a matter of another two years or so. She had already secured her Advanced Open Water certification and accomplished cool 35 to 40 dives at various sites, all at depths well in excess of 100 feet. She had already collected a respectable collection of artifacts from a wreck site and had made a small fortune out of that. She had met hammerhead sharks, barracudas a couple of occasions during her dives. Apart from the traditional gears, she had gained proficiency in using close-circuit regulators, high-end electronically controlled rebreathers as well as various types of dive computers. She possessed a slim diver’s body and exuded confidence that made me comfortable with her in matter of minutes.
                        Compared to Kelly, I was only a recreational diver, though, as I ascertained from her, I had entered the field at least three years earlier than she had done. I also had got my certification of open water diving, but did not sincerely pursue it to upgrade my skill. To be frank, I had not tried any diving for the last two years in a row and was little apprehensive about going straight away for a prodigiously challenging profile. My familiarity with scuba-gears was only functional. I was comfortable with both wetsuit and their dry versions, understood both the cardinal and numerical indications in a diver’s compass, had no difficulty in operating both back-buoyancy and wing-style buoyancy controls, and could handle with ease almost all nitrox-compatible gears. But when it came to sophisticated high-end electronically controlled sensors and monitors or their elaborate warning systems, I honestly drew blank. Otherwise, I was strong on my fundamentals, and never allowed complacency or anxiety to rule me in my dives.
                        Kelly liked my confidence; she had her way to find out that. Even she had a few words of appreciation for the kind of surface-bound practice I was going through.

‘I know it works, Mr. Falkon. Nowadays very few divers practise that way though,’ Kelly had initial difficulty in pronouncing my name, Falguni, and settled for a convenient nickname for me. I liked the name and had none to object.

‘Well, you may join me in the practice if you’ve finished checking your gears.’ It was my idea to spend an hour or so with Kelly acquainting myself with her style of underwater communication.

                        Kelly was somewhat delayed and I went ahead with what I was doing. For the whole of the forenoon, I was simply refreshing my skill. I walked around the open field near our camp while looking mostly at my compass. It was an exercise that would have looked funny to others, but as a routine it was perfectly normal. It built up my confidence and I was able to reach my starting point, just by following the compass.
                        By then Kelly had joined. I talked to her at length how we should be making our night dive smooth and enjoyable. Safe and flawless. We agreed to check our gauge at twenty feet, take a compass course depending on the dive master’s briefing and try to maintain a maximum gap of ten to fifteen feet for the sake of effecting better communication. It was only at that point I came to know that the particular diving-site was called as Barracuda City just like that, and it was more famous for hard corals and reef fishes and turtles than for great barracudas. It was only a matter of fluke that one would come across a school of barracudas. Finally we agreed that there was still a chance, as the dive would continue at night and barracudas are the nocturnal fish-eaters.
                        Our first dive started at two o’ clock in the afternoon. Well, to start with a day dive was exactly what I needed, for I was a diver who was pathetically out of touch. This time the site was Light House. Kelly was first to don her gear and plunge, and I was a minute late, but as per our dive planning, we met at a depth of twenty feet and checked each other’s gear and gauge. The visibility was extremely good, the water was warm, say in the range of eighty degree Fahrenheit plus, and it promised to be a very enjoyable dive in every sense of the term. The corals were bewitching as usual; but I found something positively special this time in their colourful varieties and their eye-catching contrast. Fishes were everywhere; we saw clown fish, angelfish, parrotfish, squirrelfish, batfish, starfish, sea cucumbers and many others that I could not readily identify. We were so mesmerised that both of us forgot to take a sketch on our underwater notepad when we came across a kind of out-of-this-world fish, say a rainbow fish!
                        Our appetite was literally whetted. We wanted to see something special, experience something unprecedented and started to demand more and more from the sea at that depth. Precisely, we felt that we were missing on pelagians and wished some of them would appear by a fluke.
                        And a wish at that depth was not to go futile! We could not believe our eyes; there were two majestic manta rays at a short distance. Honestly, Kelly was the first to sight them and she was soon to signal me towards them. I was simply flabbergasted at the sight. I saw a few sucking fish stuck on their pectoral fins and the mammoth creatures were cool and unperturbed. We looked at each other and then Kelly signalled okay by raising her thumb. I reciprocated. Then the mantas came very close and it was almost irresistible to consider swimming with them in parallel. We did that. After swimming a distance of fifty feet or so, we thought not to take further risk by what appeared to us a blind chase. I suggested Kelly a stop and she agreed to it readily.
                        But better moments were in store for us. In a matter of couple of minutes, one of the manta duo came back and passed over Kelly. I saw her stroking the bottom of the over-12-foot long enormous pelagian, her gloves removed. The other followed it, but this time over my head. I just went on imitating Kelly. We were careful not to touch their tails or wing tips and tickle them to fright. And soon we were accepted as friends by those two devils (there was nothing devilish about them except their pairs of forward-pointing lobes on either side of their heads; they merely feed on planktons!). Lo and behold, they began to follow us, dancing on their way in their jovial-most twists and rhythms. The thought of riding mantas flashed across our mind, but it would have disturbed the rapport that we established so easily with the pelagic duo. Besides, we feared the behemoths would thrash their wings out of panic and harm us. Hence, we remained content enjoying our acceptability; we thought we were the unoffending parts of the marine environment.
                        When we realised that we were overstaying, we had long started getting low on air. It was well below the one-third mark. The safe limit should have been to spend altogether one-third for diving both ways and another third at the bottom, and that would have left us with one-third to meet the unforeseen contingencies. Moreover, following principles of safe diving, we were to make our slow ascent and a compulsory halt at fifteen feet depth for decompression. Quickly we began preparing our ascent back to the boat. So understood our friendly mantas, perhaps. We simultaneously bade goodbye to each other—mantas turned and reverted to their course and we, the two satisfied souls, took our slow ascent.
                        On the surface we became garrulous. We had so much to share, and we hoped that ours would be the most interesting report of all. It actually happened that way. Except that a pair had sighted a turtle from a distance, none had anything more than corals and fishes to report. Making due allowance to their narrative skills, most of them were interesting only to themselves; they all faded before ours, for we had literally ridden manta rays!
                        We were eagerly expecting more in our night dive. That was my principal schedule. But as a dive schedule, it was not a sought-after one and we were soon to realise this, finding just one more pair ready for it. Kelly wondered if there were any special reasons for that and I reminded her about the date of the year. That the night was a special one and that the time was just appropriate to stay surface-bound and close to aqua vitae were my hints. Wine being thicker than brine, who could have elected to do otherwise for the night? But one thing was sure: we were mighty determined to make it. For we were divers at heart!
                        The ultimate evening of the outgoing millennium languorously approached the island of solitude. Soon it was dark and we realised that we were only a few hours from our cherished nocturnal jaunt. In due course our boat took us to the site at about quarter-past-eleven and anchored there with its lights on. The sea was choppy, but it was not rough. The water was a bit colder than it was during the day, but it was not chilly—maybe 78 degree Fahrenheit or so. I was in doubt as to if we would get a glimpse of something different and memorable. My query provoked Kelly into a quick one-liner: ‘At sea one can be sure of one thing—that is salt water, and anything more than that may come as a bonus.’ I understood the spirit; she urged me to be optimistic and I tried to summon every bit of sangfroid in me for the occasion.
                        We donned our gears quickly and took our plunge. We were silent and overly expectant. Our excitement slowly gave way to some kind of quiet contentment. As we descended underwater, everything appeared dark, and it was literally a tall order to expect our dive lights to vividly illuminate the surroundings. They were doing a good job by emitting a few bold beams alright, but there was nothing they could reflect. By and by we reached a depth of sixty feet. Slowly the corals became visible, offering us a view of their hidden magnificence, their fuzzy texture, and their life-activities in action. The reef came closer into the flashing range of our dive lights as we went slowly down the depth. The red spots that appeared from a distance became increasingly clearer; we could see the dazzling eyes of shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans. I spotted a whole lot of parrotfish that had chosen to snooze inside their mucous cocoons and steered clear of them. I knew if I disturbed them they would come out of their cocoons and would not be able to build new ones during the rest of the night. They would fall prey to their predators, almost defenceless. 
                        Kelly spotted another reef nearby and gave a rapid side-to-side torch signal implying her proposal to go over there. Before I could consider her proposal, I spotted a protruding hard coral rock that she was about to crash. I cautioned her and she managed to avoid that by her reflex. Then as per her idea, we swam to the nearby reef further fifteen feet below. While viewing the nocturnal grandeur underwater with our intense concentration, we progressed very slowly and unobtrusively.
                        At a distance of less than twenty feet from me, I found something shinning. As I went a bit closer—or maybe as the object came a bit closer—I realised that the one I was going to face was a formidable fish. I found its eyes inquisitive, its body slender, and its snout long and projected. Its majestic upper body had blue-grey dark bars, and its tail was wide and ‘V’-shaped. I could see its flat razor-sharp teeth, especially the long ones in the rows right under the nose, shinning ferociously and sending shudders into my heart. The six-foot long aggressive predator was swaggering and giving a villainous look. I began to feel disorientated.
                        It was about the time Kelly spotted the fish too. In fact she spotted a school of them, swarming at a distance with full force and zest. She knew she was before a school of great barracudas, even bigger than the ones she had seen in her earlier dives. But this was a night dive and at a depth of seventy-five feet, and it was the time for those famished nocturnal creatures to stalk around and fill their tummy. They were ready for the job, their snaggle-teeth were pointed and itching, and if all the parrotfish had cleverly hid themselves inside their nightly cocoons, then the barracudas were not to remain hungry all night. They might justifiably attack us, the adventurous duo underwater.   
                        Kelly gave a hand signal flashing her torch onto her hand. I understood it—she had sensed the danger and suggested that we should retract. I confirmed the signal by agreeing to her proposed move. In the meantime we saw the barracudas rushing towards us. I realised the reason; we were holding a gleaming object and barracudas strike anything that gleams. I put the torch against my body to hide the source of light so as to reduce our chance of getting chased. I was not for turning it out because I feared its bulb might blow out when I turned it on again. But the tips of caution did not occur to my buddy. She was perhaps for a quick action then—or maybe for a too quick reaction—and she just turned her torch out. Then when she sussed her mistake, she tried to turn it on again. But alas, the light was not same again; it had blown out its bulb. Kelly used her feeble backup torch; but eventually she came closer to me to share my light. We headed towards our boat waving a signal to the shoal of fish, something that occurred simultaneously to both of us: bye…bye…barracuda.  
                        When we were at half the depth doing our slow ascent of thirty feet per minute, it was still fifteen minutes to twelve. There we stayed for no longer than one minute. With a drift of current ominously active, we could not halt there any longer only to be swept away. Thereafter as we stopped at 15-metre depth, we took our decompression halt there for two minutes. So the whole of our ascent did not take more than six minutes. It was still nine minutes to twelve.
                        And then we were out of depth. The air, which was for everybody to breathe, came to us. It was stale and it continued to reek of the old millennium.
                        My great idea of doing things my way eventually came to nothing. I had made all the preparations to achieve that distinction coming to such an out-of-the-way place called Havelock Island. Even there was an invitation from an enthusiastic nature-lovers’ group to accompany them to Katchal Islands and witness the millennium’s first sunrise, but I had spurned that. People from all over the world had gone to that island to spend their New Year’s Day with a difference. If my scheme had been through, it would have outshone their record in uniqueness and style. But I could not. And the spoilsports called barracudas were to blame.
                        But Kelly was happy. She was happy because she managed to accomplish two solid dives, both of them memorable for a myriad of reasons. She was happy because she enriched her experience, diving at some less known yet prodigiously more rewarding diving sites of the east. She was happy because she managed to come back safe from an imminently bloody encounter with a school of great barracudas. Finally she was happy because she had discovered a friendly and understanding buddy in me. Oh yes, she bestowed her undying gratitude upon me for guiding her back to safety when her diving torch blew out! She was gracefully generous and I was moved by her touch and gesture—they were so ardent and so pure! I had unconsciously made a friendship for a life. 

Calicut/ 13-07-2004
A N Nanda

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

छोटू और शंकी

छोटू और शंकी
                इस घर में मुझे कोई प्यार नहीं करता, सब लोग डाँटते ही रहते हैं। क्या छोटा होना बुरी बात है? मैं अगर खेलने चला गया तो मेरी भूल, खेलते-खेलते दोस्त के यहाँ अटक गया तो भी भूल। टी. वी. पर कार्टून देखता तो मम्मी चिल्लाने लगती हैं। कॉमिक्स पढ़ूँ तो डाँट सुनकर उसे अधूरा छोड़ना पड़ता। चाकलेट खाने से दाँत ख़राब होते हैं। बिल्ली को छूने से बीमारी होने का डर रहता है। मुझे समझ में नहीं आता, आख़िर ये लोग चाहते क्या!
                मेरे दोस्त जीत को देखिए और देखिए उसके मम्मी-डैडी को। कितने अच्छे हैं वे लोग। जीत बिल्कुल डाँट नहीं खाता। उसके पास सारे खिलौने हैं--तरह-तरह की कारें, तरह-तरह की बंदूकें। उसके पास ऐसे खिलौने हैं कि सिर्फ़ दो मिनट में वह एक घर बना सकता है, फिर घर तोड़कर पुल बना सकता है। उसके पास ट्रेन-गाड़ी भी है और वह अपने-आप चलती है--छुकछुक, छुकछुक....। जीत जब भी अपने पिताजी से कुछ माँगता है, उसे मिल जाता है। और जीत की मम्मी? वे तो बहुत प्यारी हैं। जब भी मैं जाता, वे मुझे बहुत सारी चीज़ें खाने को देतीं---केक, पेस्ट्री, थाम्सप। मैं जब कभी उनके घर में कंप्यूटर से खेलना चाहता हूँ, वे कभी मना नहीं करतीं। जीत का कुत्ता ब्रुनो भी अच्छा है। वह सबको देखकर भौंकता, पर मुझे देखकर दुलार से दुम हिलाता है।
                काश, मुझे जीत के मम्मी-डैडी जैसे मम्मी-डैडी मिलते!
                आज मुझे पिताजी से बहुत डाँट मिली। आख़िर मेरा क्या दोष है? दोष यही कि मैंने अपनी टिफ़िन की डब्बी खो दी। न जाने वह कहाँ खो गई। डब्बी में तो कुछ रहता नहीं---सब दिन वही पराठे और आलू की भुजिया। पिछले तीन साल से, यानी कि जब से मैंने स्कूल जाना शुरू किया तब से, वही चीज़ें रहती हैं उस डब्बी में। मैंने तो कब का उसे खाना छोड़ दिया। हालाँकि यह बात मम्मी नहीं जानती है। पहले-पहल मैं डब्बी को बग़ैर खोले घर वापस लाया करता था, पर डाँट पड़ने लगी। मेरी गलती सिर्फ़ इतनी कि मुझे पराठे अच्छे नहीं लगते और इसलिए इन्हें लौटा लाया करता था। फिर नगरपालिका वाले कुत्तों को पकड़ कर शहर से दूर हमारे स्कूल के आस-पास छोड़ गए। कुत्तों में से दो तो हमारे स्कूल आते हैं और अब ये दोनों बड़े शौक़ से मेरे पराठे खा जाते हैं। सच में, उन दोनों को कोई आपत्ति नहीं। जब ये बड़े इत्मिनान से दुम हिलाकर पराठे खा लेते हैं तो मैं उनको क्यों न खिलाऊँ? आज पता नहीं डब्बी कहाँ छूट गई और इसलिए पिताजी ने मुझे फटकारा। सिर्फ़ इतना ही नहीं, मुझे दंड भी मिला---आज मुझे शाम का खाना रात दस बजे ही मिलेगा। पिताजी चाहते हैं कि मैं भूख से तड़पूँ, तब जाकर मुझे पता चलेगा कि टिफ़िन-डब्बे को कैसे सँभाल कर रखना होता है।
                मेरे दोस्त जीत के साथ उसके मम्मी-डैडी ऐसा बर्ताव कतई नहीं करते। उसे तो खाने के लिए रोज़ नई-नई चीज़ें मिलती हैं। कभी उसे केक मिलती तो कभी उसके डब्बे में ढोकले होते हैं, कभी समोसे, तो कभी हलवा। चाकलेट की बात तो पूछिए मत---ये तो हमेशा उसके पास रहते हैं। इसके बारे में तो सबको पता है, टीचरजी को भी। कभी-कभार जीत ने अपने डब्बे से मुझे ढोकला खिलाया है। कहता है कि ये उसे अच्छे नहीं लगते हैं, पर ये तो मुझे सचमुच टेस्टी-टेस्टी लगे! इस प्रकार और चीज़ें भी कितनी अच्छी लगतीं! ये सब कभी मेरी मम्मी की अक़्ल में नहीं आता है। पराठे को छोड़कर और कुछ डब्बे में रखने का नाम ही नहीं लेती। हमेशा कहती है कि वह अकेली है और तीन-तीन बच्चों का काम नहीं कर पाती। ऐसे ही कहती है वह। फिर मदद के लिए पिताजी को कहकर और एक मम्मी क्यों नहीं लाती?
                आज मैं होमवर्क नहीं करूँगा। नहीं करूँगा, नहीं करूँगा, कतई नहीं करूँगा। मुझे  शाम का खाना क्यों नहीं मिला, इसलिए नहीं करूँगा। टेबुल याद करके जाना है, अगर यह नहीं करूँ तो कल टीचरजी मेरी पिटाई करेंगी। ख़ैर, होने दीजिए पिटाई, मैं इसके लिए बिल्कुल तैयार हूँ। भूखे पेट क्या काम करना ज़रूरी है? जिसको खाना नहीं मिलता, वह स्कूल नहीं जाता, पढ़ाई नहीं करता। दाई मुन्नीबाई का बेटा राम्बा भी तो मेरी ही उम्र का है, पर वह स्कूल नहीं जाता। एक बार मम्मी बोल रही थी कि राम्बा के घर खाने-पीने की क़िल्लत है। सो वह स्कूल नहीं जाता है। आज मेरा खाना बंद कर दिया गया। पता नहीं कब रात के दस बजेंगे और कब मुझे रोटी मिलेगी। अगर मैंने आज रात खाना नहीं खाया तो क्या सचमुच कल मुझे स्कूल जाना नहीं पड़ेगा? पता नहीं....पिताजी नहीं मानेंगे। मुन्नीबाई के घर राम्बा के लिए खाना नहीं, सो वह स्कूल नहीं जाता, बस्ती के और बच्चों के साथ मिलकर खेलता रहता है। आज शाम मुझे खाना नहीं मिला, फिर भी मुझे कल स्कूल जाना पड़ेगा। राम्बा कितना ख़ुश है। जीत भी ख़ुश है, राम्बा भी ख़ुश है---सारे बच्चे ख़ुश हैं, सिर्फ़ मुझे छोड़कर।
                अगर मेरा अपना भी एक कुत्ता होता तो कितना अच्छा होता! मैं उसका नाम रखता ट्रिनो और उसे मैं हमेशा अपने साथ रखता। वह मेरी मदद करता, मेरे साथ खेलने जाता, मेरा बस्ता ला देता, भाग-भाग कर मेरा बॉल ला देता, साथ-साथ दौड़ता, हम दोनों पार्क घूमने जाते। अभी जो मैं भूखे पेट तड़प रहा हूँ, अगर मेरे साथ मेरा ट्रिनो होता, क्या वह मेरी मदद नहीं करता? वह तो सीधे रसोई में घुसकर मेरे लिए कम से कम दो बिस्कुट तो ला ही देता! वाह! कितना मज़ा आता!
                बड़ी मुशकिल से मैंने शंकी को अपने घर लाया था। शंकी एक अच्छी क़िस्म की बिल्ली थी, जो किसी से लड़ती नहीं थी। हमेशा अपने शरीर को साफ़ रखने हेतु चाटती रहती थी। उसकी सफ़ाई तो देखते ही बनती, बिल्कुल शंख जैसी। वह इतनी ईमानदार थी कि सामने दूध की कटोरी कोई खुला छोड़ जाए, फिर भी वह उस तरफ़ नज़र तक नहीं घुमाती। जब तक खाने की चीज़ें रखकर शंकी का नाम लेकर पुकारा नहीं जाता, वह उसे नहीं खाती थी। वह चूहा मारती थी, पर उसे मेरे सिवाय किसी ने नहीं सराहा। उल्टे उसे जब देखो पिटाई मिलती थी। तो भला, फिर क्यों रहती शंकी हमारे साथ? एक दिन वह चली गई, फिर लौटकर नहीं आई। एक मैं ही हूँ, जो डाँट सुनकर, पिटाई खाकर भी यहाँ पड़ा हूँ। क्या करूँ, कहाँ जाऊँ, मैं बिल्कुल लाचार हूँ।
                घर में हम लोग तीन बच्चे हैं---मैं, मेरी बड़ी बहन, और सबसे बड़ा भाई। मैं सबसे छोटा हूँ। भैया को आजकल मार नहीं पड़ती, क्योंकि वह इम्तहान में ढेर सारे अंक लाता है। दीदी लड़की है और उसे कोई नहीं डाँटता, कभी भी उसकी पिटाई नहीं होती। मम्मी बोलती है, दीदी की एक दिन शादी होगी और वह घर से चली जाएगी। बिल्कुल शंकी जैसी। इसलिए उसे कोई नहीं डाँटता। अच्छी बात है। मुझे भी ऐसी छूट मिलनी चाहिए। भैया जैसे अंक मैं कहाँ से लाऊँ? देने वाले तो मुझे नहीं देते, कंजूस कहीं के। पता नहीं, पिताजी क्यों इतने सारे अंक चाहते हैं। अंक क्या चाकलेट है कि ढेर सारे अंक होने पर पिताजी उसे चबाएँगे। अरे नहीं, पिताजी को मीठी चीज़ पसंद नहीं, शायद इसलिए वे ढेर सारे अंक माँगते हैं।
                जो भी हो, अपने घर में मुझे कोई प्यार नहीं करता। अब तक दस नहीं बजे हैं, फिर भी....अगर ये लोग मुझे प्यार करते तो क्या खाना नहीं ला देते? भैया एक बिस्कुट लाकर मुझे दे देता तो क्या पकड़ा जाता? वह तो अंक लाता है और पिताजी उस पर ख़ुश हैं। पकड़े जाने पर भी पिताजी उसे माफ़ कर देते। फिर भी वह ऐसा कुछ नहीं करता है। और दीदी? वह क्यों डरती है? अगर मेरे लिए बिस्कुट लाते-लाते वह पकड़ी भी जाएगी, तो क्या होगा? अरे हाँ, उसे तो फिर शादी नहीं मिलेगी, सो वह घर से बाहर नहीं जा पाएगी। वह क्या शंकी है कि जब मन किया, घर छोड़कर चली जाएगी! इस घर में रहने से बेहतर है बाहर चला जाना। सच में, दीदी अपनी शादी को बचाने की ख़ातिर मुझे बिस्कुट देने की भूल नहीं कर रही है। ठीक है, मुझे कोई बिस्कुट-फिस्कुट नहीं चाहिए, पर दीदी को शादी मिलनी चाहिए।
                क्या ऐसा नहीं हो सकता है---जीत की मम्मी मुझे इतना लाड़-प्यार करती हैं, फिर वे मुझे क्यों अपने घर पर रहने नहीं देतीं? शायद, इसलिए रहने नहीं देतीं कि मैंने रहने के लिए कहा ही नहीं। अगर मैं कहूँगा तो रहूँगा। वे तो बल्कि ख़ुश हो जाएँगी। मेरे लिए जीत के रूम में एक और खाट लगा देंगी, पढ़ने के लिए टेबुल और खेलने के लिए ढेर सारे नए खिलौने ला देंगी। फिर वे मेरे लिए साइकिल भी ख़रीद देंगी। मुझे लाल साइकिल चाहिए, जीत जैसी साइकिल के दोनों बग़ल दो छोटे-छोटे चक्के फ़ालतू रहने चाहिए। ऐसा होने पर साइकिल चलाते वक्त गिरने का डर नहीं रहेगा। फिर मेरे लिए नए ड्रेस, नए जूते भी आएँगे। जीत को कार में बिठाकर स्कूल छोड़ने उसके डैडी जाते हैं। फिर मैं जब वहाँ चला जाऊँगा तो मैं भी कार में बैठकर जीत के साथ स्कूल जाऊँगा।
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                कल मैंने खाया नहीं, ऐसे ही सो गया। अब सुबह हो गयी है लेकिन भूख नहीं, क्योंकि कल रात मैंने ख़ूब खाया...सपने में। कचौड़ी, गुलाब जामुन, जलेबी, हलवा---सचमुच जीत की मम्मी ने मेरे मनपसंद खाने बनाए थे। जैसे मैंने उनको सुनाया कि स्कूल से आने के बाद मैं बिल्कुल भूखा हूँ और टिफ़िन की डब्बी गुम हो जाने पर मेरा खाना बंद कर दिया गया है, वे तुरंत रसोई में चली गर्इं। इतनी सारी चीज़ें बनाने लगीं कि पूछो मत। मैं खाते-खाते बेदम हो गया। खाने की टेबुल के पास वे खुद बैठी थीं---वे खाती नहीं थीं, बल्कि देखती थीं कि मैं क्या-क्या पसंद करता हूँ। वे मेरे प्लेट में परोसती गर्इं और मैं खाता गया। बस, तबियत भर गयी।
                फिर खाने के बाद जीत और मैं, दोनों मिलकर खेलने गए। जीत के घर के सामने काफ़ी बड़ा बग़ीचा है और बग़ीचे में माली पानी पटा रहा था। जैसे मैंने माली अंकल से पानी का पाइप पकड़ने के लिए माँगा, उन्होंने ख़ुशी से मुझे दे दिया। वाह! बड़ा मज़ा आया। पानी पटाते-पटाते मैंने जीत को भिंगो दिया, फिर जीत ने मुझे। फिर हम दोनों घर लौटे। जीत की मम्मी ने हमें तौलिया लाकर दिया और हम दोनों कपड़े बदले। इसके लिए जीत की मम्मी ने हमें थोड़ा भी नहीं डाँटा। अगर मेरी मम्मी होती तो कितना डाँटती! फिर जाकर पिताजी से शिकायत करती, इसके लिए भी पिटाई होती।
                खेलने के बाद मैं घर चला आया। सोचता था कि जीत की मम्मी से बोल दूँ कि वे मुझे अपने ही घर पर रहने दें। पता नहीं क्यों मैं बोल नहीं पाया। अगर बोल देता तो आज सुबह मैं यहाँ नहीं, बल्कि वहाँ होता। थोड़ी-सी हिम्मत जुटा लेनी चाहिए थी। रोज़-रोज़ ऐसी फटकार सुनने से तो बच जाता! लाड़-प्यार पाने के लिए मैं नालायक इतना-सा काम नहीं कर पाया! मुझे पूरा-पूरा विश्वास है, मैं जब कपड़ा बदल कर घर लौट रहा था, जीत की मम्मी भी चाहती थीं कि मैं उनके यहाँ रुक जाऊँ। आने के समय उनकी आँखों से ऐसा ही आभास मिल रहा था। शायद वे इसलिए रुक गर्इं कि मैं उनकी बात नहीं मानूँगा, उनकी बात टाल दूँगा। जीत की मम्मी सचमुच भोली हैं---इतनी-सी बात समझ नहीं पा रही हैं कि उनके जिगर का टुकड़ा उनके पास लौटने के लिए कितना बेताब है! काश, उन्होंने थोड़ी-सी हिम्मत कर मुझसे पूछ लिया होता तो....। मैं तो उनके यहाँ रहने के लिए व्याकुल हूँ, वे भी मुझे साथ रखने के लिए उत्सुक हैं। फिर दोनों में से कोई भी मुँह खोलकर इस बात को बोलने की हिम्मत नहीं कर रहा है।
                जैसे भी हो, आज मैं जाऊँगा, और जीत की मम्मी से अपने मन की बात बोल दूँगा। कल रात सपने में बोल नहीं पाया, पर हक़ीक़त में बोलने में मुझे कोई हिचक नहीं। 
                                  *         *         *         *                 
                "आंटीजी, मैं आज से आप के यहाँ रहूँगा, घर नहीं जाऊँगा। आप मुझे रखेंगी न आंटी?'' मैंने जीत की मम्मी से बेरोकटोक पूछ डाला। मैं जानता था कि सीधी बात से ही काम बनने वाला है।
                "अरे, क्या यह पूछने वाली बात है? पगला कहीं का,'' आंटीजी ने ऐसे ही टोका और मैं उनके कहने के आशय को बिल्कुल समझ गया। मैं यह भी जानता था कि आंटीजी मुझे बिल्कुल मना नहीं करेंगी।
                "आंटीजी, आप कितनी अच्छी हैं, मुझे कितना दुलारती हैं, पर मेरी मम्मी इतनी अच्छी नहीं। अब पता चलेगा उसको। अब से तो मैं आपके यहाँ रहूँगा,'' मैंने इस प्रकार अपनी ख़ुशी का इज़हार किया।
                "नहीं बेटे, तुम्हारी मम्मी बहुत अच्छी हैं। मुझसे भी अच्छी। मैं जानती हूँ क्योंकि वह मेरी सहेली है, जैसे तुम और जीत,'' आंटीजी ने कहा। मैं आंटीजी की इस बात को समझ नहीं पाया।
                "अगर मम्मी अच्छी है और आपकी सहेली है तो फिर कोई बात नहीं। आपके यहाँ रहने पर वह एतराज़ नहीं करेगी,'' मैंने कहा।
फिर आंटीजी ने कुछ नहीं कहा। हमेशा की तरह जीत और मैं दोनों खेल में लग गए। वहाँ आज एक इक्वारियम ख़रीदा गया था। उसके अंदर लाल, पीली कई मछलियाँ तैर रही थीं, एक दूसरे के मुँह से मुँह जोड़कर बातें कर रही थी, एक दूसरे के पीछे भाग रही थी, अंदर कहीं छिपने की कोशिश कर रही थी। लगता था, वे सब ख़ुश थीं क्योंकि उन्हें उनका नया घर मिल गया।
                खेलते-खेलते दो घंटे बीत गए। आंटीजी ने हमें बुलाया और दूध में चाकलेट मिलाकर दोनों को एक-एक ग्लास पकड़ा दिया। हम दोनों दूध पीकर फिर कार्टून देखने बैठ गए। बस, कुछ ही देर में मैंने जब खिड़की से बाहर झाँका तो दूर से हमारे घर की ओर दो जन आते हुए दिखाई पड़े। वे दोनों और कोई न थे, बल्कि वे तो मम्मी और पिताजी ही थे। तो आंटीजी ठीक ही कह रही थीं---मम्मी और आंटी दोनों सहेली हैं। मम्मी तो आंटीजी के यहाँ कभी नहीं आती, फिर आज क्यों?
                मम्मी वहाँ पहुँचते ही फ़ौरन मेरे पास आ गई और मुझे अपनी गोद में उठा लिया। पता नहीं क्यों, वह मुझे और दिनों से ज्यादा प्यार करने लगी। अब मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगने लगा, ऐसा लगा कि मैं घर में सबका दुलारा हूँ, सबसे होनहार हूँ। ऐसा लगा कि मैं मम्मी को छोड़कर कई दिनों से बाहर घूम रहा हूँ और आज रास्ते में वह मुझे अचानक मिल गई। ऐसा लगा कि घर में गर्म-गर्म पकौड़े मेरा इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं। मम्मी बोली, "जानते हो छोटू, आज कौन हमारे घर आया है?''
                मैं समझ नहीं पाया। वह कौन हो सकता है? ज़रूर मौसीजी होंगी। वही एक हैं जो मुझे हमेशा प्यार देती हैं। जब भी आतीं, झोली भरकर खिलौने, चाकलेट लाती हैं। फिर मैंने कहा, "क्या सचमुच मौसीजी आई हैं?''
                मम्मी ने कहा, "नहीं बेटे, मौसी नहीं। वह तो कल आएँगी।''
                "तो फिर कौन आया है हमारे घर में?'' मैंने अपनी उत्सुकता प्रकट की। अब मैं इस बात पर ख़ुश था कि मौसीजी कल आने वाली हैं।
                "अरे पगला, शंकी लौट आई है। वह तुम्हें खोज रही है,'' मम्मी बोली।
                "तो फिर मैं अब जाता हूँ,'' मैंने कहा।
                "तुम अपने पिताजी के साथ जाओ, मैं थोड़ी देर में आऊँगी। अभी मुझे आंटीजी से बहुत-सी बातें करनी है न।''
A N Nanda

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