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.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

And Then a Fine Morning

And Then a Fine Morning

This is a story I wrote while I was at Calicut some 12 years ago. It was on 18-6-2004 to be precise. While writing it I got anecdotal but as I finished it, I refused to discard it. I convinced myself that it was a story and included in my short story collection, "The Remix of Orchid". Now as I read it before posting, I feel nostalgic about Port Blair. A charming location, a quiet place, a story-teller's town!
It is my love for life that finally triumphs over all the pain and delirium. Those insipid pills, all the tormenting jabs throughout my body also do their bit, but then they are only placebos. Now, there is nothing more for me in the pharmacopeia to endure. What about the final formality? Shouldn’t I wait for the doctor’s nod before I step out? Yes, I must. The doctor and the swarm of well-wishers—they are the guardians of my health.
                        Oh no! I don’t give a damn about the stuffy formality of taking permission of the host before departing. There is life beyond the sickbed. But that is what I alone think, not the all-knowing seekers of my well-being. It is a tall order to be able to convince them. So I pray for a constitutional—my lovely little constitutional.
                        Come evening I am allowed to do as I wish but with a lot of homely hesitation. I have no over-high expectations. I do not want any busybodies to bump into me, and hunt for those trivial matters I take care to forget. I should be given my chance…and my peace. I just prefer to go alone on the tracks, along the trails that are lonely and peaceful, across the desolate bridle path that nobody frequents so often as I.
                        The sky is fine with fluffy clouds, immobile and not likely to threaten like those satisfied mongrels on the street after their sumptuous grub; with patches of overdone yellow like piles of dying leaves, redolent of poverty, neglect and jaundice; with its chiaroscuro of dark and grey, emphasizing gloom and irremediable inequality in the immediate neighbourhood. The sea is calm, already hours into its low tide phase, its golden sands more exposed, crowded and rummaged, its colour darkened under the impact of moonless sky, and I continue to walk my constitutional.

‘Good evening, Mr Basantram,’ a familiar face greets me. I feel disturbed, not only because it breaks my thought process but also for the fact that it embarrasses me. It reminds me I am getting more unsocial day by day; it confronts me with the reality that people know me by name, whereas I know them by face; it makes me suspicious of the untold intention of the officious person.

‘Good evening, Sir,’ I return the courtesy with a reluctance writ large in my tone.

                        The gentleman is undoubtedly an intelligent individual. He interprets my grumpy reticence, understands what is going on in my mind and what would I like at the moment. When we reach the first diversion beyond the Government Press, he diverts his path, takes a further turn after a few steps, then another turn, and then a third so that he is lost from my indignant view, and I continue plodding on and on, on the straight bitumen road. Marina Park of Aberdeen is now left behind with its stalls of putrid eatables and its crowd of crazy frequenters; the road can take me to Corbyn’s Cove if I stick to it till the end. It will require me a cool half an hour sauntering at this pace. I understand that and try to be brisk, covering more distance in every stride thenceforward.     
                        I go past the Murugan temple disliking the riot of colours on its exterior, the annoying wild growth around it, the well-like terrain of its location, the lack of elegance of its architecture, and above all, its conflicting ambience that makes happiness disappear as soon as it arrives. I see those exposed rocks of the seabed in the low tide, and their deformed perforated view depresses me. I see the stream with its trickles of clear water, incapable of quenching anybody’s thirst, but just enough to keep it wet, so that people continue to call it a stream and have no doubt about it. I want to go past the spot in quick strides without looking towards the Pir Baba Dargah, where people throng for picnic and have converted it into a poor man’s partying venue, and where people visit without bothering to know what that holy spot has to do with the modern day socialisation. I do not look there since a fear of getting detained by somebody semi-familiar and nagging seizes me. I succeed in avoiding them and a twitch of happiness runs through me. I want to reward myself by slowing down the pace; in normal course, I would have done that as the road assumes an upward slope.
                        Pleasant breezes come off the sea and rustle the leaves, dishevel my hair, billow my loose-fitting dress, and do many more things as they please, but do not stop unless I have inhaled to my lungs’ content. The last twitter of the evening is still heard but feebly, and the frisky insects come out in swarms but not with a vengeance since the darkness in the evening is still to set in fully. The occasional warble of frogs in proximity, the damp reek of centipedes, and the fermented odour of unspecified reptiles touching my nostrils make me feel closer to the swamp. I continue to walk and reach proximate to the Horn Bill Nest holiday resort and smell the pungent scent of some unknown garden palm in bloom. I have heard many praising the odour of that smelly palm, but its unmixed pungency forces my head into momentary giddiness. The winding upland road nears its end at the last hairpin bend, as I spot the beach—the happy beach of Corbyn’s Cove. I feel energetic and start realising a feeling that I have taken less time than ever. A car whizzes past me but I am not sad. I know I shall have seen, enjoyed, and remembered more than those unfortunate souls huddled inside the cab. 
                        I reach Corbyn’s Cove Beach and see a crowd. I am not bothered about it since I know the beach has enough room for the crowd and me. I resolve not to disturb it and I am sure it will reciprocate.
                        A group is busy having some celebrations. It has crackers, sparklers, and many such thingies capable of emitting light—each for a few moments, and only that much. Then another has to burn and light the surroundings. They will be in light till they can burn, and thereafter darkness will engulf them. But what are they doing exactly? And here at the sea beach? Only five days back they had Diwali, the festival of light. Have not they yet finished their stock? It is just possible. For many it takes longer to finish their stock and for others it is so very instant! Then those that have nothing to finish have to remain content being called as the poor.
                        What is this that I see here? The same gentleman comes back to me. He had left me to myself just half an hour back and now he comes again to me. What for? To remind me that I should do better to remember friends’ names? Or to test if I have succeeded in recalling it in the meantime? So what if I’ve not? He may think I have grown old, senile, reckless, unsociable, and eccentric or anything that makes him happy. And I do not bother.         

‘Good evening, Mr Basantram,’ the familiar face greets me. I feel helpless and respond.

‘What are these people doing here?’ I ask the familiar gentleman because I have to talk now, perhaps somewhat more than required, to hide my uncertainties.

‘Maybe some Marwari festival—I don’t know,’ the gentleman quips. His answer does not seem convincing to me. Rather, it confuses.

                        We start to return. Darkness emphasises that we are late. We walk quickly, and then I trail. The gentleman waits for me to catch up and I do so before I can decide to do otherwise. But I feel embarrassed and further slow down my pace. The gentleman waits furthermore and allows me to catch up. Then I sit on a side rock, inhale oxygen, and contemplate how to get away from him. The gentleman does his part of thinking and strives to take me along. We sit on the rock to listen to our breath and do not talk since I do not welcome talking, or maybe I am afraid of him. Maybe I have nothing to talk.
                        We resume our walk and I walk shoulder to shoulder. I observe en route the same thing I had done an hour before, but now they appear hazy, except the fireflies that glow to defy the mighty darkness in their way. I hear chirp of crickets that they do hiding themselves unlike the fireflies for which a lot of self-publicity is needed for living as though they will die without them. Then I turn to left at the first branching of the road, and do it silently while the semi-familiar gentleman keeps straight and trudges ahead.
                        Finally I am home and all are happy to see me back. I do everything perfectly, for I know it as routine. Sometimes I do not have to think—a towel hangs from its rail near the washbasin, so I use it after a wash; the familiar sofa is vacant and tidy, so I sit there; a steaming cup of tea comes before me, so I grab it and slurp it to finish. Everybody makes me happy because they want me to recover soon and have no more fits of delirium to disturb them through the dead of night. Port Blair is a place with dearth of experts—you have a chest specialist to treat your heart because heart resides in chest; you have an electrician to repair your electronic gadgets because ‘electronics’ and ‘electricity’ sound alike. I go across to them, stand there till they smile, and I smile them back and come back to my familiar sofa. Now children are encouraged, murmur starts and gains in pitch and frequency, and happiness reigns.
                        I try to think about the semi-familiar man. It interests me no longer. It is now more comforting to think of wife, children, and pet. I feel the delight of lightness that makes me relish food served, enjoy the vagueness of matters raised, discussed and swept aside, stand the involuntary twitch and whine of the pet, or the resonance of television soaps from the neighbour.
                  And then I go to sleep. Everybody says I should have plenty of sleep to convalesce, but I think I need, more than anything else, an assurance that things would not be as bad as before. Now I have started getting it but slowly, like the movement of a hermit crab that chooses to withdraw and lie still on slight threat of insecurity and resumes its crawl long long thereafter with renewed cautiousness and repeated self-assurance. I devour pills, the bitter insipid pills, and everybody says that I should have plenty of pills to recover, but I feel I need, more than anything else, a silence and a complete silence like the one a frog likes to enjoy itself in its hibernation in wintry days. I cover my body with a blanket, the fluffy smooth blanket, and everybody says that I should sleep covering my whole body to keep myself warm and recuperate, but I feel I need a solid hard sheet on my aching body like a tortoise to keep itself warm under its hard shell that no mosquito ever ventures to prick and inject malaria. And finally I go to sleep.
                        I should sleep my beauty sleep, now that I am tired after a long walk after a long gap. I am advised praying God before sleeping and I do not see anything wrong in doing that. And I pray god, the one who has given me happiness unexpected, always, and in abundance, the one who does not mind if I fail to remember, supplicate and praise, the one who is happy if I pray for others, allow Him to do as He thinks good and do not nag for more and more. I begin my soporific spell with a yawn at first, a steady tranquilisation thereafter, and a satisfying snore at the end.
                        The night progresses and with it deepens my sleep.
                        Now is the time to close the account for the night. I dream and in my dream find the same semi-familiar man. But he is no longer a disgusting interruption, or an unsolicited meddler; rather he is an affectionately munificent soul who can be welcomed to every quarter. He is with a load on his head, offering his wares for sale—the fresh vegetables. Yummy…Yummy, they are bitter gourds! The bitter gourd that I like the most is the stuff on sale and that too, at a ludicrously depressed price. I can buy his whole basketful if I want, just in exchange of a loving stroke. I do not hesitate and give a gentle stroke and then the affectionate man morphs himself into another more familiar and more lovable appearance, an old man I had not seen for years. Oh yes, he is my father who is before me in his emaciated bony appearance, with his toothless smile, and age-defying air. I feel so good that I stir on the bed and catch the attention of my wife. And then I narrate the entire theme to her.

‘But you’ve had no delirium tonight, I must say,’ my wife is happy to announce. She is convinced that I am recovering from the fits of delirium that had afflicted me for quite some time and made everybody miserable in the dead of nights.

‘Oh yes, I must tell you how I feel now. I feel so good that I can go to the kitchen and make tea for you, darling,’ I confirm her optimism.

                        She dissuades me from getting up so soon or undertaking strain in the kitchen. I agree to her suggestion. I am sure she continues to love me; rather she loves me more than ever. I have the need to live for her and I could not have died so soon.
                        The night has almost ended. It is now the time for everybody on the bed to go through the final round of twist and turn, and to slothfully invent the best possible plea to prolong his sweet sleep. The meticulous early risers will now be busy at washbasins, the sleeping chowkidars will get up from their slumber and get ready to go, handing over the responsibility of the premises they have guarded in their dream, the shipping staff at jetty will bustle around to ready themselves for sending a ship in her inter-island trip, the milk van will start its whirlwind criss-cross. All these will start in a short while and then, before we realise, the day will break with brightness.        
                        I hear something very near, just in front of my window. I strain my ear to catch it. And I catch it correctly; it is the chanting of those devotional Bhojpuri songs, sung in chorus by women coming nearer and nearer. I think I have correctly realised the context and I get up to look through my window for a confirmation before I utter a word. I recognise this; they are going to seashore to perform the rituals associated with the pious festival of Bihar, Chhath, which comes five days after Diwali. They are going to give their first offerings and worship when the Sun God shows his face on the eastern horizon. They are neatly dressed, barefooted, slow and they proceed ahead in tandem. They are men, women of all age groups. They are Biharis, and they appear happy and contented.
                        I know what the festival means to a devotee. It calls for strict abstinence, non-vegetarian diet and diurnal fasting for a couple of days before and complete fasting on the day of the observance, keeping awake all the time to catch the fixed moment of offering, and various other kinds of dos and don’ts. The ponds or river ghats, where the devotees assemble, dip, and do their worship, have to be clean and made up. Despite the initial bite of winter that follows Diwali to Bihar, nobody hesitates to go into chilled water in the early hours of Chhat morning or at sunset. They worship for material prosperity, mental peace, and elimination of enemies and for almost everything. They do not forget to pray for good health and burst the leftover crackers of Diwali.
                        And they get to the ponds with head-loads of fruits and offerings like the present group of men and women who are carrying them on their heads to the beach at Aberdeen. Aha! It is exactly like the loving old man who came sometime back in my dream and gave his head-load of bitter gourd just in exchange of a loving stroke. Yes, bitter gourd in exchange of a stroke! And I feel good, so good that now I can proceed to kitchen, and make tea for my darling wife, who has nursed me back to life.  

‘Oh yes, I know now what they’re all about. Today is Chhat, you know darling?’  I cried out of happiness. I have had occasions in the past to see people going respectful and happy on the mention of its name alone. I relive that—on this spur and automatically. 

‘God, what a terrible slip! You know, I have missed to send my offerings this year through somebody who is observing Chhat,’ she feels the pang of her conscience and starts cursing herself for her forgetfulness. I feel it is my duty to console her.

‘It’s unintentional, darling. It doesn’t make any difference. You can do that afresh next year.’ It appears my words fail to make any impact on her penitent mood.

                        I change the topic. I declare that sleeping is not going to happen any more and get up to sit on the bed. She also feels she should get up for making me some tea. She wakes up and prays God, standing and looking out of the window, with her semi-closed eyes.
                        She finishes her prayer very soon. I wonder what she should be asking God for so soon. Maybe a religious lady like her is not to ask God for anything. She knows that God has only to be thanked for everything He has given to us, and to the world at large and for allowing us to continue doing things as per the dictates of quotidian existence. The esoteric realisation of this wonderful lady is beyond my comprehension. I have so far not probed that deep to realise all those she has been confident of.
                        She goes to washbasin and then into the kitchen and does everything methodically and peacefully. Her sedulous operation inside kitchen makes me happy, as I have followed her into the kitchen in the meanwhile. I feel completely relieved and ready for the day ahead.


A. N. Nanda




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Blogger Anant Nanda said...

My friend Swaraj who has difficulty in accessing the comment space has sent his comment through facebook. It reads as follows:-
I loved the cool meandering pace. The mellowed vision with a delicate touch of the sublime. Wanted to be there with you on that island beach!

9:36 PM  

Respected Sir,
GOOD MORNING > Congratulation for new assignment.

With regards,

Yours Faithfully.

O/O The P.M.G. Dibrugarh
Assam Circle-786001

10:35 PM  

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