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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
night progresses and with it deepens my sleep.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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.