Maya

The great epochs of our lives come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us.

~ Nietzsche

It was a chilly December morning and like every year the fog had taken the entire north India in its fold. Days had become short and the nights extended their darkness until the crack of dawn making the sun wait patiently. Back in the early 90’s Lucknow was still a small town and during winters folks ushered themselves into warm inviting quilts early in the evening. Cracking peanuts while watching their favorite TV soap or just chatting away with family members over a cup of hot tea was the favorite past time of cozy winter evenings. The “city” had not yet taken over so the mornings too were laid back and the charm of not coming out of a warm bed was a luxury that most town folk relished.

Som, however, was not so lucky. He had a job at the only 5 star hotel in town and to make the early morning shift he had to be up and about before everyone else. He had got used to it in the last 3 years but this time the winter was unforgiving and to top it, the morning fog was making things worse. There had been times when unable to see clearly he had lost his way and his bike had wandered off the road. The otherwise ordinary ride had become an adventure for Som. It was tough but his easy going spirit had no complaints.

Som was a typical Lucknow boy from a middle class family who had been born and brought up in this Nawabi city of yore. The proverbial ‘middle class’ values of hard work and taking responsibility of the family as soon as you were out of college were deeply rooted in him. While he did not feel burdened by the thought that his two younger sisters had to be married off, he knew he must help his father to save for their marriage. His father had a government job but it was the kind that did not come with any fringe benefits, so while his father could educate his daughters, he was not in a position to compete in the demanding dowry market. Everyone in the household was conscious about money yet the family was a happy and contended lot. A good education and a loving environment at home had groomed Som to be a confident young man. The only thing where Som had a difference of opinion with his parents was their religious beliefs. Som’s mother was the quintessential “pious” lady and his father too did his bit to avoid the wrath of powers that be but Som had declared that he was an atheist as soon as he learnt that it was cells and atoms that were building blocks of life and everything around it, not some religious mumbo jumbo. As per his father it was a good sign. “In a beginners mind there are immense possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few” his father used to say quoting some Zen master.

It was Monday. As usual Som woke up by buzz of his alarm clock. After lazing around in bed for few minutes, he started the grind – he shaved, brushed and took a bath. But by the time he started making his tea he felt something strange even uncanny about the morning, as if a weird feeling was begining to grip him. He knew he had to get ready and head out. There was no reason to feel depressed but his heart felt as if it was shrinking. Something had taken over his cheerful spirit and he had no idea what it was. It must be the news he had heard about Gauri few days back, Som speculated. Today it will all be over and there was nothing he could do about it. Then he shrugged the thought and concentrated at the water boiling on the burner. A cup of strong tea with buttered toast lifted up his mood and Som was ready to begin the day. He pulled out his bike on to the road to kick start it. To his surprise, even after trying five or six times, the bike didn’t start. It could have been the cold but usually it took just a couple of extra kicks to get the engine roaring. He did not want to take off his gloves to clean the spark plug so he decided to strike once more. Thankfully, he heard the familiar knocking of the Yamaha engine this time.

The fog was dense and the neon lamps were trying hard to light up the road. The dim street lights with fog around them were like evenly interspersed blobs in the sky – a host of UFO’s guiding his way to their alien abode. On clear days Som used to love watching the star spangled sky as it disappeared giving way to the faint rays of the morning sun. Today he chose to go to the alien lands instead. He had been on the road for about twenty minutes when he hit the familiar patch next to the cremation grounds by the Gomti. Som never liked this part of his journey but today he desperately wanted to avoid it. He could have taken the longer detour but since he was getting late he had no choice. As he took a sharp right turn towards the Gomti he resolved to focus on the road so as to avoid the funeral pyres which always caught his attention. It didn’t scare him but it made him think about the fleeting nature of life, about death and about the futility of it all. It wasn’t an inspiring thought to begin the day so he just wanted to avoid it. Once he discussed it with his dad and he came up with something called Shamshan Vairagya. Som had promptly discarded it as spiritual bunkum.

The headlight of his motorcycle tried hard to pierce through the darkness and the fog, but all it could afford was a visibility of less that 5-6 feet. Som wanted to raise the accelerator so he could get past the Shamshan quickly but he was cautious of bumping into something coming from the other side. As if out of nowhere, he saw an outline of a figure approaching him. As it got closer he was able to make out that it was a Sadhu- one of the many mystics who roam the Indian landscape. What was the Sadhu doing here at this time? Was he even real? Even as these thoughts gushed through his mind, the Sadhu began to wave for him to stop. With the fog and the light from the pyres forming a background, the form in front of him appeared magical.

Som wanted to avoid this sudden rendezvous but now it was too late. He would have to stop or he would have run over the man in front of him unless his bike got past through the figure as in ghost movies. Som put on the brakes and stopped. He noticed that the mystic was a lanky man with a long face and deep set eyes. He was wearing light ochre cloth that was wrapped around his upper body and a dhoti to go with it. He did not exactly have a beard but a stubble of a few days. His head was shaved and a few short hair had begun to grow on the sides and at the back of the head. But what really impressed Som was his face – it was lustrous and shining. His eyes had a twinkle that could not be missed and his forehead looked majestic with the Tripundra he was sporting. There was something magnetic and overpowering about him. The Sadhu was someone to whom you just couldn’t say no – not out of respect but out of sheer sense of awe. Smiling at Som, the Sadhu asked :

“Where are you heading?”

“I am going to work. To my office..”

“Work, Yes Sure.” The Sadhu smirked

Som did not know what to say. He knew what the Sadhu meant by his smile. He had himself thought about it many times. What work? Just going to a place in the morning, sitting there the whole day pressing keys, staring at the monitor and coming back listless, drained of life. Nothing to inspire and no passion to drive the energy within. He had questioned this meaningless existence many times when he was in a thoughtful mood but since no answers came he chose to roll over to the next day rather than stop in his tracks.

“Alakh Nirnajan! Drop me till the Monkey Bridge and then you can carry on to your work”. This time the disdain was quite clear. As if the Sadhu was on some great mission and Som was just another uninspired wreck who had no idea what to do with his life.

Som nodded in obeisance and raised his accelerator once he felt the back seat had been occupied. He noticed a very faint but very sweet smell fill the atmosphere. It captivated his senses as he drove on the banks of the river. He was not afraid anymore and was somewhat reassured that he had company for the next few miles of his journey.

“Don’t you feel cold Baba?”asked Som turning his face backwards a bit to make himself audible.

“Even you don’t feel it but since you believe that you do, you feel it. It’s all in the mind”

“How come you are here so early in the morning?”

“I had come to the Shamshan for offering prayers at the Kali Temple. Had some other rituals to perform too.”

“Oh, they have a temple of Kali here?”

“Yes there is a very old temple, a small one, it’s next to the bigger Shiva temple. There is gender discrimination here also.” The Sadhu laughed with a childish innocence.

Som was surprised by the Sadhu’s accent and impeccable English.

“Who are you? If you don’t mind me asking where did you learn such good English? We are not used to Sadhus speaking English. The pujari who comes to my home recites mantras in Sanskrit but I can bet that he understands their meaning no more than I do. I mean You don’t look like our panditji

“Because I am not. I am a Aghori. And as far as the English is concerned you can say that I am a well educated Aghori. I used to teach Physics at BHU before I took diksha.”

Som was shocked. He felt goosebumps and a bit of churning in his stomach. His mind activated the fight or flight response as his blood rushed to his heart and adrenaline started pumping in his veins. A mild sweat broke out and he could feel the moisture in his gloves. He had heard about the Aghoris on a trip to Varanasi.  He had been told that they practiced the occult by virtually living with the dead.They lived on the cremation grounds away from the civilization and hunted for freshly burnt or buried bodies so they can use them for their rituals. They were a cult for whom something as offensive as eating the human flesh was not out of bounds.

“My name is Muktanand.  And there is no need to be afraid of me.”

There was a soothing calmness in the Sadhu’s voice. It reassured Som a little bit. He wondered if the Sadhu could read minds.

“I am not afraid but when you hear things that are otherwise taboo in the society you get a little disturbed.”said Som trying to keep his voice steady.

“I can understand that. So what all have you heard?” Muktanand asked Som.

“Oh I have heard a lot of things. I have seen a few videos on the youtube as well. For instance I read somewhere that the Aghoris practiced meditation sitting on dead bodies. Isn’t that eerie? I mean how could the mind be steady like that? ”

“Well to be honest its true but it’s done only to realize the impermanent nature of life. We all know that we will die one day but do you think about it every day, each passing minute. The truth is that most people even though they see people around them dying  every day have this notion that it won’t happen to them, ever.The Aghori attempts to break that conditioning with a single stroke. Our path is a- ghor meaning not very difficult or a path that is faster, almost like a short cut.”

“What about the other practices of drinking from the skull, living off the cremation grounds, smearing ash all over the body and so on. It doesn’t look like you do all these things.”

“Ha ha. You are right. I don’t do all these things. But let me tell you that it’s not that I have never ever performed these rituals. They serve a purpose and for me that purpose is over.”

“That is an interesting point. What is the purpose to all this? I mean you had a good life.”

“Everyone has their own definition of a good life and mine was perhaps a bit different from yours. As far as the purpose is concerned I wanted to have the darshan of my Isht – Ma Taara.”

“Who is Ma Taara?”

“Out of the ten Mahavidyas or manifestations of Shakti, Taara is the second. Tara is a form of Durga . As per bhagwat, She is the one who created 1st Seed from which the entire universe took birth in the form of Lord Narayana. In your language you can think of her as the primordial energy from which everything is born”

“So did you see her? How was the experience?” Som was driving quite slowly now. He wanted the carry on the conversation.

“Yes she did grant me her darshan after years and years of practicing meditation and rituals. You know why so many mind bending rituals and such rigor of meditation is required if one wants the Goddess to manifest before oneself?”

“Ya because otherwise everyone will start seeking the darshan. Its like climbing the Mount Everest. Isn’t it ?

“That’s a very simple way of putting it. But it is also true that anyone who wishes to have darshan of the Goddess can have it. The problem is this – if she manifests herself before you will you be able to take it? Let alone the cosmic energy, the physical form is such that one can lose all their bearings and go mad. Imagine someone with blue skin wearing nothing but tiger skin appears before you. She has a garland of severed human heads around her belly with fresh blood dripping from them. Her tongue is lolling out and blood is oozing from her mouth. Just close your eyes and think about it for a second”

“Just imagining such a sight makes me shudder in fear. It is quite disgusting actually if you think about it. But I know what you are talking about.”

“That’s the trick our mind plays with us. This is good. This is bad. This is beautiful. This is ugly. The conditioning of the mind has to go. The only thing that remains is the unrelenting desire to become one with the supreme. There should not be an iota of any feeling or desire left. That is why it is essential to train under a Guru. Someone who can tell the do’s and the dont’s. You know what the biggest danger is?”

“What? There are even more dangers than this.”

“Well, it is said that when the Goddess gives you her darshan, your mind must be absolutely pure. There are two main threats – one of course is fear and the other is sexual desire as the Goddess is very beautiful and she is hardly hiding anything. If any one of these overcome your mind then not only will the Goddess disappear but you will go mad for the rest of your life. Many Aghoris who were not ready have died during the process.”

To say that Som’s head was spinning is an understatement. He was least prepared for this encounter when he started from his home today morning. It was supposed to be just another day. To read about such things or to see them in videos is different but to have a first-hand experience is another.

By this time they had reached the monkey bridge and Som stopped the bike for Muktanand to get down. The Sadhu was smiling and his face looked radiant in the first rays of Sun which were now coming up from behind the shroud of dense fog.

“You are a good human being Som. There is a lot of sanchit karma from your past lives. Not everyone thinks the way you do” the Sadhu had an earnest expression on his face.

And before Som could ask how he knew his name, the Sadhu added.

“I want you to give up this dreary existence. I want you to seek the highest goal. For this I must give you a glimpse of the reality – the supreme truth. You must know that it is not by some accident that we have met today.”

He stretched his arms out and gestured Som to hold them. As Som held his hands he murmured a mantra under his breath. He looked deep into Som’s eyes and said.

“I am going to do Shaktipat or transference of energy from my mind to your mind. Make sure that your mind is free from any desire or emotions. If you have any longing within you, it will certainly come true but you will never be able to get to the higher plain where I want you to be. I want you to take a deep breath and free your mind completely now.”

The next 30 seconds or so were perhaps a glimpse into Nirvana for Som. He felt so complete, as if he has been freed from all his limitations. Like a ball of energy he was floating in the air and even the form of his body did not offer any limitations.

When Muktanand let his hands go Som felt a bit dizzy but he was consumed with a blissful feeling he had never known. By the time he regained full control the Sadhu had already left him. Som saw him walking down the bridge towards the dry river bed. Som waited for him to disappear. He was going towards the direction of an ashram which was on an island in the river.

On the way to his office Som drove his bike as if in a trance – ecstatic and complete within himself. Within the next 10 minutes he was parking his bike. It was a usual day at the back office of the Hotel where he worked. Before starting work he grabbed a cup of coffee and checked the attendance register to see if Gauri had come in. It was her engagement today and there was little chance that she would show up but it was a habit Som had picked up over all these years. He was surprised to see her initials next to her name on the register.

Back on his seat he switched on the HP desktop. He had a picture of Mount Kailasa as the screen saver. He was used to seeing that picture everyday but today he noticed that the mountain resembled a Yogi sitting steadfast in lotus position. The mountain was an image of strength, a symbol of great character, an abode of Lord Shiva himself. He thought about the Sadhu. He was reminded of his eyes, of his confident gait, his fit and muscular body, his calm face, his soothing voice and his gentle and innocent smile, like that of a child. Som wanted to be like him. And why not? He had been blessed to follow the divine path.

Just then Gauri walked in. She was looking stunning in the silk Sari. Maroon always used to suit her. Her big eyes spoke in a thousand ways. Her long hair were tied casually at the back and she was laughing as she talked. Som’s heart missed a beat like it always did. Once again he told himself that she was the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. There was no point in all this he thought and restrained himself by focusing on the picture of Mansarover. He had chosen a different life now.

Gauri started walking towards Som. She must be coming over to invite me for the event in the evening he guessed. But her look was not that of a friendly colleague. Her demeanor was firm and her gaze was fixed at Som. She was taking strong firm steps even though she moved gently like she always did. She came to his desk and stood there. There was silence for a few seconds, then she said “ Som I have broken up with Manu. The engagement today is cancelled.” She waited for him to respond then blurted out “Are you going to say something? Or will you just keep looking at me?” Som gently stood up and placed his hand on top of Gauri’s “What’s there to say. You know it.” They had no idea for how long they kept holding each other’s hands as tears trickled down Gauri’s cheeks. In that extended moment of time a thought crossed Som’s mind – had he traded his chance of eternal bliss for momentary happiness. Did he secretly wish for Gauri when Muktanand held his hand?

He could not recall and He did not care..

 

 

 

The Rainbow

Rainbow over coastline, Haena Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.

Chasing his corporate dream Nishant had literally been living out of a suitcase for the last couple of years. His air miles had kept pace with his rise in the company but now it had started to take a toll on him. He remembered the day when he was straight out of college and had gone to see off his uncle at Bangalore’s old  airport. Watching the plane take off  he had thought “Will I ever be able to fly and see the world?” His wish was granted and how.

Nishant traveled constantly, like a zombie on auto pilot, he got a signal for another meeting from his secretary and started from point A to point B whether it was Paris or Portland it did not matter. At home, his wife and 4 year old daughter had given up on him, getting used to living life in his absence. They had created a world of their own and Nishant was not sure if he was part of it or not.

Today, Nishant was flying from Bangalore to Chicago on Lufthansa which was his company’s preferred Airline partner. He entered the airport and encountered a familiar scene. All around him was a maze of people – Techies, corporate executives, family’s going back after vacation, old folks on wheel chairs travelling all the way to show themselves to their grandkids. He was so used to it that from the look on their face and the way they dressed he could tell who was a first time traveller or a typical IT guy going onsite or a business man raring to get that big dollar deal. But what he always found amusing was that people wore overcoats meant for freezing temperatures from Bangalore itself! His wife had told him that her friends did it so they could save space in their suitcase. Thinking of his wife he recalled how things had changed between them over time. In the beginning Aditi used to pack his bags and his daughter would make “come back soon” cards for him with her crayons. Both of them always came down to see him off and waived till they lost sight of him. Now he woke up by the alarm on his cell phone, got ready and left his home quietly so he does not disturb anyone. They slept in separate rooms for this reason or that’s what they told each other. The truth that both of them knew was that they had lost that loving feeling.

The Luftahansa counter was at the far end and he waded through the commotion to reach the comfort zone of his business class check in counter. It was another thing that  Nishant knew that the welcoming smiles were as fake as his own. Battling sleep the only thing he was looking forward to were shots of Talisker to help put him to slumber.

Just then something caught his eye.

The frilled white top and faded jeans stood out amongst the black and grey formals. Curious, he changed his posture to have a closer look. His guess was right. She was a young girl in her early twenties. Even he was not that old Nishant thought. Just 34 – and a young achiever! He smiled at himself and thought – old habits die hard. To avoid getting distracted he started to look at the billboards around on the walls of the terminal building. Most were bright and beautiful with a promise of a happy family life. Nishant resolved he would not look at the girl again.

But the more we try to get away from something, the more it charms us towards itself. Nishant found himself stealing glances overlooking how indecent it would seem if someone finds out. She was at the counter now and the clerk was issuing her boarding pass.”Chalo it is over….you go your way baby I go mine” Nishant mused as he pulled out his passport from his laptop case.

At the lounge he gulped a few drinks and sat down to read as there was still time. He loved reading. It offered a journey into another world, a world he had always longed for but had never found. A world of stories,of characters,of far off places in mountains or next to the beaches. He had picked up a book of stories by Premchand from the Airport book shop . Nishant loved Premchand from the time he was a student. To him, Premchand knew the human condition like no one else. His stories though set in rural India had emotions and relationships so well thought out that one could relate to them no matter where they came from and who they were. His characters were so real that one felt as if they had met this person sometime. If he didn’t fall asleep, he planned to finish the book by the time he reached US.

The mechanical voice of the lounge executive announced that the Flight to Frankfurt was ready for boarding. Nishant grabbed his laptop case and started walking towards the gate. It was 1:45 am already and He was looking forward to a good sleep. “Guten Abend” he said to the hostess and took the left turn towards business class seating. Dumping his belongings in the hatchet above he ensconced himself in seat 2 C and asked the stewardess for a glass of water. The whiskey had made his throat dry and to avoid jet lag he wanted to make sure was hydrated. He took out his book from the laptop case and put in the pocket in front of his seat.

Nishant took off his shoes and pulled back his seat to relax. It would take a while for the plane to be airborne so he thought of finishing the story he was reading in the lounge. As he moved forward to take out the book, he was distracted by a sweet fragrance. He looked up and could not believe his eyes.

It was her – the girl whom he had seen at the check in counter!

Nishant had a strange feeling. He didn’t know how to react or if he should react at all? He hoped his eagerness did not show up on his face. Nishant realized that the girl was not only beautiful but there was something that was pulling him to her – like a magnet. Her big brown eyes, her long straight hair, her flawless complexion somewhere on the darker side and her figure that made her absolutely desirable. Attraction is not about someone being perfect – it’s about someone being just right for you. Each of us has an idea of beauty, almost like a frame waiting for that perfect picture. Only if you are lucky you come across a face which so exquisitely matches your imagination. A whole lifetime can pass before such a miracle happens and sometimes even that is not enough. Nishant was witnessing one such miracle.

She was on seat 2 D.

Nishant requested for another glass as he gulped the one brought by the hostess. Soon the plane took off changed its course to move northwest. Nishant wanted to roll up his sleeves but he felt as if his every move was under a scanner. He remembered he had felt the same when he had fallen in love the first time. “Take out your Premchand and read. A book in Hindi won’t spoil your impression” He chided himself but his hands did not follow his brain. He closed his eyes and sat quietly. Half an hour had passed and he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes and found that she was reading the In-flight magazine. By her watch it was 2:30 AM. Her hair was falling over her hands tempting Nishant to touch her but he figured out that she was a bit afar. “Damn business class ! Why do they have the seats so far from each other?” he thought and pulled away instead. He tried to sleep but it won’t come. Normally, he would have been dreaming by now. But his dream was sitting next to him so how could he sleep.

To end the dilemma he pressed the button and called the hostess. “Do you have Lemon tea?” he asked.

“Yes Sir, we do have.Do you care to have one sir?”

“Yes please, and please get sugar separately” Nishant cursed himself for not remembering that they always did. This was the business class of a premier airline not the student canteen of Lucknow University.

“Lemon tea and low sugar. You are such a fraud!” his inner voice mocked him.

“OK – I do like Red Label boiled 5 times with 3 spoons of sugar because it keeps me alert. I wish to sleep now and Lemon tea will help ” Nishant argued.

A fresh thought came to his mind. One should always try and make friends with fellow passengers and how can you do that unless you start a conversation. Nishant mused and opened his eyes to look over his shoulder. She was asleep. The magazine was lying flat on her chest. Did he expect that she would be awake and looking for someone to talk to at 3:30 in the morning?” Nishant realized his stupidity but felt relieved as he won’t have to put up the show anymore. He felt at peace with himself. Finally, alcohol did the job and he drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up it was 9:30 by his watch. He never set his watch to foreign time zones, it made him feel connected to his home. He wanted to stretch but he didn’t. She was still sleeping and he did not want to wake her up. Also, this way he could look at her without getting noticed. Soon the plane would land and he would never see her again. Why didn’t he talk to her? He could have at least asked what she did or where was she going? What was her name? Who knows they could have become friends. The plane started its descent into Frankfurt. As the moment of truth approached his heart began to sink.

At about 10:00 AM the plane landed at Frankfurt airport. It was cloudy and it looked like it had rained earlier through the night. Everything was clean and fresh. The plane began to taxi.

Nishant felt as if someone was looking at him. He turned around and saw that she was eyeing him. She smiled. He smiled back.

“Can I show you something?” She said.

Nishant was out of his wits. “Ya sure” He nodded.

“What a beautiful rainbow” She said pointing out of the window.

Nishant bent a little towards her to get a clearer view. He could smell her. It was Davidoff Cool Water.

“Actually, I wanted to speak to you the whole night” she said as Nishant pulled himself back.

“I saw Premchand’s book in your seat pocket. It’s quite rare to get people who love Hindi literature in Bangalore. From my school days I really like his work. His characters are so real and his grip on human emotions is better than any other writer. A true master he is” She added.

Nishant didn’t know what to say and blurted taking the book out of the seat pocket      “You mean this book?” She nodded with a twinkle in her eyes.

“But you looked so serious and busy with yourself. I just didn’t want to disturb. In fact, if you would not have smiled back I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow”.

They had a few minutes to chat and she told that she was on her way to Los Angeles. She had won a scholarship to pursue a degree in management and as a special gift her father had bought her business class tickets. Nishant introduced himself and she said she would want to become like him one day.

They went together to Baggage claim area and bid good bye. Nishant turned away to catch his next flight to Chicago. He could see her going up the escalator. Her words were still echoing in his ears:

“If you had not smiled back, I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow.”

 

Harmony ride..

harmony-ride
It was still dark when they started – the plan was to catch the first rays of the morning sun as they headed east and upwards into the mountains. Som was riding at the back and he was the first one to catch the ochre shape as it emerged from its hiding. He cried in excitement – Dad look the Sun is coming up! Parth turned his head and took off his wayfarers to have a casual look. It was nothing new for him as he had been riding in these Mountains and valleys for many years now. But yes this time it was different. He could feel the warmth as his 12 year old son hugged him from behind. He had never felt it before. Not even in the glow of the fireplace at his Ram Nagar home. Som went to school in Somerset, where he lived with his mother. He’d come over for vacations to be with his father, whom he’d known only through photographs and Skype calls.Shivani always felt that he was too young to be by himself and that Parth was too careless to take care of their son. She had relented to Som’s constant badgering this time.
Parth had gone to pick up Som from New Delhi and Som had been visibly thrilled through out their 8 hour car journey. As soon as Som arrived at Parth’ their home in Ram Nagar near Naini Tal he was fascinated by the beautiful Kawasaki Ninja parked in the yard. Som asked Parth “ This was the bike you sent in the picture.Wow ! It certainly didn’t look this amazing. The hunter green looks so awesome. You are a rockstar Dad”
Parth wasn’t flattered – “I also liked it a lot so I bought it. It was way over my budget though”
Som said “ You are talking like mom now.Even she said something about you having no sense of money when she saw the picture. But who cares? Look at this beauty.Dad can we go like on a long ride on this?”
Parth was busy preparing the fish he had caught on the Kali river just the previous day. While he cared little about the source of other meats, when it came to fish, he cooked only what he caught himself.. He believed that having this simple rule allowed him to go to the river, spend some time by himself and feel how cavemen would have felt before becoming civilized. He believed that fishing was meditative and it gave him peace. A glint of excitement lit up Parth’s eyes – “Ya sure we can go but not too far.” Som had other plans. He said “Dad I have heard about this amazing bike ride through the Spiti Valley. I have seen Youtube videos and it looks like you are on some another planet. I know you have been there. I saw your pictures and I think you were somewhere near Kaza when you had Skyped me. Can we please go to Spiti valley? Parth grinned and mumbled – Like father like son.
“Did you say something Dad”Som had heard him.
“Nothing.Your Mom is gonna kill me if she finds out”.
“Come on Dad how will she know if we don’t tell her about it”
“So you want me to cheat her?”
“As if you never have !”
Both of them went silent. Had Shivani told Som about his affair with Linda, Parth thought. He suddenly felt his energy sap out of him and the muscles in his stomach tighten.He did not know how to respond. The whole sordid episode became alive in his memory. Shivani was a strong and educated woman focused to build a career in banking and finance. Her work was important to her and she never cared about putting in those extra hours. Linda, like so many other girls in the past had made their interest in Parth clear. It would have remained a clandestine affair had Parth not got involved emotionally involved. Looking back Parth blamed Shivani for not being his anchor but more than that he blamed himself for drifting away. Parth felt a sharp tinge through his heart. He wanted to hug Som that very moment. He remembered the time when he and Shivani had got Som from the hospital. He was so tiny he could barely open his eyes and whenever he did Parth used to say – look he is smiling at me. Som was just 2 years old then. Parth still didn’t know what got over him. He knew Linda for many years before they decided to go in for a partnership. Being in export business he needed someone who could look at the US side of operations and Linda had proved to be the perfect fit. It’s true that he and Shivani were not getting along but hating someone could never be the reason for falling in love with another. His feelings for Linda were not born out of love he has thought many times but out of rejection and hate from Shivani. In his hear he knew that Shivani would never forgive him but if she ever did he would gladly walk back into her secure arms. He lived by himself in this secluded mountain and he wondered sometimes if it was more of a punishment than a lifestyle choice as his friends labeled it.
After a while he got up from his seat and as he walked down the hall towards the kitchen he stopped for a while in front of Som.
Ruffling his hair he said – “That was not funny Pal”
Som looked up. His eyes met Parth’s and he did not know where to look next.
“I am Sorry Dad. I didn’t mean to hurt you”
“It’s OK. Neither did I.” Both of them smiled.
Finally, they had decided to be honourable men and had called Shivani for her permission. It’s difficult to imagine what went through Shivani’s mind. Usually she was very possessive of Som but perhaps she thought that it would be good for Som to bond with his father. She knew the pain he had gone through seeing all his friends with their fathers. She knew what Som had missed out – playing chess, football games, school functions, Diwali & Christmas ; sometimes just a bicycle ride together after Sunday breakfast.
They had been riding for almost six hours now. Having started from Shimla early in the morning, Reckong Peo was their first stop en route to Kaza. The ride to Reckong was 8.5 hours and they were progressing well. At this pace they would have reached their destination easily before Sunset. It was October and the chill in the air gave a cue of the harsh Himalayan winters ahead. So far it had been quite a scenic ride accentuated by wisps of crisp and fresh mountain air. As sunlight filtered through the Cedar and Silver Oaks, one could see blue snow capped peaks at a distance. The 1500 cc-300 BHP Ninja engine thundered beneath them. Som imagined they were Samurai’s riding a dragon. Parth thought they were the great Himalayan scenery. In the great Universal design the observer and the object had become one. Parth had often told his friends about his life on the road – it is this feeling of freedom about a bike ride – you can never get that feeling in a closed enclosure of a car. Adventure and comfort are different thing and more often than not they don’t go together. Parth took a deep breath and felt grateful. To whom he didn’t know, nor did he care. This was his ‘happy to be alive’ moment. The Beas river was a constant companion for most part of their Journey and it twisted and turned every time with the road. Both Parth and Som were silent. First, the rumble of Kawasaki engine coupled with the wind would have made them inaudible but more importantly they were too immersed in the beauty all around and within them.
Parth turned around and checked with Som “How is it going buddy?
”So far so good dad, so far so good.” Som repeated to make sure his dad heard him.
Parth carried on “I guess the bike may need some rest. We have been driving for more than six hours now.”
Som continued the conversation “more than the bike I need food and may be a leak somewhere. They say you can piss anywhere in India but it looks too nice and clean here for me to spoil it”
Parth got a bit irritated “ Ha Ha Modiji’s Swach Bharat Abhiyan!.He is such a drama queen. We will pee where we want to and ask him to go take a flying fuck! Ooops, sorry for the F word. I am so sorry.”
Som was laughing now “Dad you seriously think I don’t know that word. Those blokes in my school use it all the time just to show how cool they are. What numpty phonies eh”
Parth was slowing down now. He was looking for some roadside Tea Stall or a small restaurant to stop. After some 10-15 minutes they found a small place. It looked neat and cozy and the owner was a lean man with decaying teeth, unkempt hair, crumpled skin,deep set eyes and a innocent smile. He was wearing a light Blue shirt and Khaki trousers and had a muffler around his neck. The shack was named as The Army Hotel and had a soldiers picture on the sign board offering salute. Adjacent to the road was the front of the establishment which had a few Plastic chairs and a table next to which was the cooking and billing counter. Going by the number of seats it was obvious that the place was sparsely visited and would not be having more than 10 customers a day, mostly travellers who stopped on their way like Parth and Som. Once they got fresh Parth ordered some tea for both of them. Their hunger was building up so he picked Parle G cookies from the counter.
Parth offered the biscuit packet to Som after taking a few for himself. He dipped a biscuit in his tea and as he was going to put it in his mouth he saw Som looking at him. He was smiling.
“You know Dad, I am rebuked all the time by Mom for doing that. I don’t understand what’s the big deal? They are going to mix up in the stomach anyways so why not dip and have some fun.” Parth had a loving look in his eyes.
“Now you know what happened between me and your Mom. I think it was mostly my fault but then I also believe that we were two very different people nice and not so nice in our own way.” Parth was beginning to get nostalgic, thoughtful. He pulled out a hip flask from his back pocket and took a sip.
Som asked him “Is that Beer ?”
Parth chuckled “my friend you never drink beer from a hip flask. It’s rum – dark Indian rum.”
Som wanted to know more “Oh I know. Isn’t it the one that’s totally Yuck. Which one are you having ?”
“Oh it’s Buddha Padri.” Parth answered knowing well that his angrez son won’t have a clue. He added “Its Old Monk. Buddha Padri is the translation in Hindi. Just something from my University days.It used to be a code word then.” He took 4-5 quick sips as Som finished both cups of tea on the table.
Parth stood up and enquired “ Kya Khila rahe ho dost? What is your name my friend?”
The stall owner still smiling looked a bit confused now “Sahib idhar khaane ka nahin hai, bas Chai milega.”
Parth enquired “ English samajhte ho ? hamare chote Sahab ko Hindi nahin aati” The stall owner nodded and said “I was with Colonel Saab for many years as his orderly. My Sahib was very strict. He spoke only in English – Colonel Srinivasan. He was the one who taught me English. He said it’s only with English Indian’s can become decent gentlemen”
“Saala Madrasi snob!” Parth mumbled so only Som could hear it. He was immediately corrected “That’s racism Dad.” Parth was feeling the warmth in his body now. He gestured raising his hand “ Aye Aye Captain.”
Parth walked up to the counter.
“Bahadur, do you have something to cook, some masala wasala ? I can cook a wonderful chicken curry for the three of us.” “Hai Na Sahib. I have a pressure cooker, Mustard Oil, Garlic, Onion, Masala everything. What else do you want? My name is Jung Bahadur.”
“I could see that – Army Hotel of Jung Bahadur. You know we should all go to war and just kill and eat each other” Parth jeered. Having lost his father in the 1971 conflict, He hated war and its glorification.
Poor Bahadur was beginning to imagine himself inside the pressure cooker when Som Joined “Dad you can’t be serious. Are you going to cook here?”
“Yes why not. There is time to every purpose but to a purpose there is no time. “
“Wow! Dad cooking chicken on a roadside dhaba in the Himalayas. It would make some story. I will take pictures and put them on instagram. How cool will be that?” Som was excited at this sudden adventure.
Parth had lit up a cigarette and both he and Bahadur were deciding on the dish of the day. The choices were limited so they zeroed down on rice and egg curry. Within minutes all three of them had taken up their roles – Som was doing the dishes, Parth was washing the rice and Bahadur was chopping Onions.
On the Deodar tree next to the stall a Mynah sang loudly. She wanted to let Shivani know how happy she was.

Pedro

It was my second day in Lisbon. I had to be back for some urgent work and it was such a shame. I had always wanted to visit Portugal and the reason was not exactly tourism. Vasco de Gama with his curious name and all the tales of his exploration was an object of fascination during my school days. I had always wondered why would someone risk their life and steer into the unknown for the sake gathering riches. It had to be something bigger an adventurous spirit, a wanderers curse, destiny or who knows even Gods own will. I had always imagined Portuguese as industrious folks who were willing to cross the mighty oceans on ships they built with their toil, their grit and with their bare hands. This myth was broken when I visited Goa I found the people there quite chilled and laid back – they won’t even go to Panjim from Palolem unless they were pushed into it. Perhaps all the riches that De Gama hoarded had made them lazy. The question that how on earth did Vasco De Gama brave the mighty oceans in his quest for making a fortune remained and may be the answers that I was looking for in Goa were waiting for me in Lisbon. It was some five hundred years ago but I could still get some clue if not through human endeavor then by divine intervention.
I was packing my stuff when the phone rang. It was Anant, my 12 year old son.
“Hi Dad”
“Hey buddy. How are you doing? Tell me what you want.”
“That’s not fair. I was missing you.”
“C’mon out with it. Are you done with your football and friends? Dad I was missing you.”I mocked.
“OK listen. You know there is a football final today between Portugal and France. How about getting me a Ronaldinho jersey from there? It will be so cool.”
“See I told you it had to be some gift for you. I will get it but remember the last time I got you a Manchester United one it cost me a bomb.”
“C’mon Dad it was a fake. You know it”
“No it wasn’t a fake. It was of dubious origin that’s all. You want the jersey or not”
“Ok whatever. Just get something that looks original. I don’t want my friends to think that you are a cheapo”
“Let me come back and I will tell you what a cheapo is. Bye” Both of us laughed and I kept the phone down.
I changed into Jeans and a linen shirt and carelessly stashed away my suit into the suitcase. I had hardly anything to pack so I was in the lobby for the check out. The clerk at the counter was a lively good looking girl, possibly in her 20’s. She had big bright yes and long black hair which she had streaked with shades of light gold. I thought she would have easily passed off as an Indian if you saw her somewhere in Mumbai or Delhi. I gave my credit card and room keys and checked if there were any cabs available for a drop to the airport. The Oitavos resort was in Cascai just outside Lisbon and was located in a somewhat secluded spot next to the beach.
She asked me “What time is your flight?”
“It’s at 9 in the evening”
“But then isn’t it too early? It’s just 2 in the afternoon now. What will you do at the airport?” She said smiling.
“Good Question” I said wanting to match her friendliness.
“May I suggest something if you don’t mind?” She said.
“Ya sure.I am always open to ideas especially when they come from pretty ladies” I said trying to flirt.
She had finished the checkout process by now and handed over my card and invoice to me with a mischievous grin on her face.
“Well, have you been to Lisbon before?” I said no and added that having to go back without seeing the city was such a disappointment.
“Let me check if I can arrange something for you. I will try if the same cab which drops you to the airport can give you a short city tour. Hope you don’t mind paying a bit extra as it will not be a regular airport cab”
“I am fine as long as I have enough money to go back to India. I trust you”
She made a few calls after that. It seemed to me that she was not able to get the right deal. I didn’t mind it at all as I was in no hurry. It was a pleasure watching her make an animated conversation in Portuguese, negotiating on my behalf. As a man you never want to let go of a legitimate reason to stare at a beautiful sight so I started enjoying my few minutes of ignoble behavior. Finally she kept the phone down and addressed me” Your cab will be here in the next one hour or before that. It’s not an airport cab but a Private city Taxi.”
“Thank you so much. By the way does the driver speak in English?” I asked. She gave me a are-you-crazy look and confirmed “Of course, Yes. Your driver will also be your guide”. “I am sorry Miss.” I said and smiled back telling her to let me once the car is there. Meanwhile I will grab a quick lunch at the restaurant, I thought. All I could eat was boiled Potato and Rice so it had to be quick anyways.
After about 45 minutes the bell boy came to me. I was catching up on social media making use of the free wi-fi in the hotel. He said the Cab has arrived so I put my laptop in the bag and walked out after him.
“This is your cab Sir and he is your driver” the bell boy said gesturing towards a decade old Mercedes Benz which was an old but in good condition. The driver jumped out of the car. He was a bulky man, not fat but over weight just like me. He would have been in his early 50’s and with his gold framed specs and grey hair looked more like a University professor than a cab driver. He was immaculately dressed for a cabbie – wearing a dark grey trouser and a crisp white shirt. Wrinkles were beginning to show on his white skin and they got highlighted when he gave a wide grin before introducing himself ” Hello Sir. I am Pedro. Your driver for today” Instinctively I held out my hand for a handshake and he grabbed it with both his hands shaking it vigorously, the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes made the welcome genuine and heartfelt. I had a feeling that we will have a good time togeher.
As the Merc swivelled around the corner of the street and came on the main road the vast blue ocean next to the road greeted us. It was a gorgeous sight. Having arrived at night I was half asleep when I came in so I had no idea about the road being next to the sea. Sensing my excitement, Pedro switched his role to a tourist guide ” Sir, we are in Cascais which is like a town outside Lisbon. I will be taking the longer route as it is more scenic and you can see a few things on the way. This road we are on will run next to the sea right up to Lisbon which is about 20 Km or half an hour away. Do you wish to see anything special? “He had turned back slightly to address me. “Honestly I don’t know much and I am not sure what I would like to see but if possible I would like to see the tomb of Vasco d’ Gama.”
I told him.
” Sure we will go to see the tomb of Vasco D’Gama. You are from India. Right?
“Yes I am. And have always been fascinated about this great explorer. We were taught about him in our school books. I think he was an amazingly brave man to have dared to cross the ocean to explore an unknown land. And that too with such basic equipment hundreds of years ago”
“You are right.Da Gama led two of the Portuguese armadas to India, the first and the fourth. The latter was the largest and departed for India four years after his return from the first one. Vasco da Gama remains a leading figure in the history of Portuguese exploration. You would not know that the Portuguese national epic, Os Lusiadas, was written in his honor. Because of him for a 100 years Portugal had supremacy over the sea route from the African Cape. The English, French and the Dutch could catch up much later. If you ask me Sir, Vasco D Gama is considered our national hero. Never has Portugal been at the top of world economy as it was during D Gama’s time. It’s said that in his first voyage he got back with riches that amounted to 60 times the cost of the voyage. Can you imagine that?”
“Wow Pedro. You know so much. I rightly thought that you were a professor when I saw you the first time” I joked.
Pedro seemed a bit embarrassed” It’s nothing like that. Actually, I wanted to study world history when I was young but I had to leave my studies at 18 after my father passed away. Being the eldest I had to take care of the family. Sir, with such a great history, I feel sad that Portugal is a very small country today which no one cares about. If we did not have a bit of Textiles and Tourism we would have perished.I feel bad about it”.
“Coming from India, I totally understand how you feel. Ours too is a great country but it does not have its rightful place in the world thanks to our politicians and corrupt officials. But Yes there is hope and thing seem to be changing for better.”
I tried to offer some consolation.
“It’s different for India. You have a big population and lot of Industry. Portugal is very small, we struggle for our identity now. By God’s grace we have reached the football finals and today is the big match. If Portugal wins at least we can create an impact in the world news. It will really be a moment of glory for my people. This match is like everything to us today”.
I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of national pride and glory in someone who drove a cab for a living.
“I will pray that Portugal wins.” I said.
“Amen. That’s so kind of you” Pedro seemed to be relived and back in his spirits now.
The drive from Cascais to Lisbon was beautiful. The road meandered parallel to the sea on one side and the houses and streets on the other. The similarity to Goan architecture was striking in many of the buildings. Lisbon was full of tourists and looking at them Pedro suggested:
“Sir, I think you must come to Lisbon next time with your family”
“Yes, even I was thinking about it. There are so many people here and they seem to be having a good time”
“Actually, Lisbon is much cheaper than other European destinations and one could enjoy a lot for less money. It’s a different thing that we Portuguese revel in sadness” Pedro said rather thoughtfully.
“How do you mean? Revel in sadness?”
“It’s kind of difficult to understand for outsiders. We actually have a word for this joyful sadness. It’s called Saudade. No other language has a word quite like this so I can’t even translate it for you.”
“I know what you mean. In Goa they have a word similar to this. It’s called Susagade and means chill out. You guys have a way of coming up with unique words” I said smiling.
“Saudade is a longing, an ache for a person or place or experience that once brought great pleasure. It is akin to nostalgia but, unlike nostalgia, one can feel saudade for something that’s never happened, and likely never will. At the heart of saudade lies a laid back sense of absence, of loss.I think our country has become a good example for it.” Pedro mocked.
As we entered the city our first stop was The Belem Tower. Pedro told me that it was built in 1500 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland. It is a monument to Portugal’s age of adventure. Pedro was very considerate and dropped me at a point where I have to walk the least. What surprised me was that as soon as he parked the card he jumped out of it and came back to open the door for me. This was something totally unexpected. I was reminded of the Taxi drivers of New York and the cabbies of London who would throw you out if you wasted a minute! I got down and spent some time looking at the monument imagining the ships sailing out, the sailors praying to Our Lady of safe home coming and that how a sailor would have felt going out into the unknown some 500 years ago. I took off my shoes and let the Ocean wash my feet. I had a strange feeling that the same water stretched out to Calicut where D Gama and his crew landed . There were some small shops selling knick knacks. Among them was an old lady selling mulled wine in cups. I bought one and sipped it on my way back to the car. By this time Pedro had already parked at a different spot so it was easy for us to get out of the place. We didn’t have much time and this little gesture saved us a few precious minutes.
“So what next Mr. Pedro?”
“We will now go to Jeronimos Monastery. It is a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the age of Discovery.Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success. Vasco da Gama’s tomb is placed inside by the entrance, as is the tomb of poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads in which he glorifies the triumphs of Da Gama and his compatriots. I think you will really like it.”
Pedro drove quickly but with precision as if he knew the angle of each bend of the road, even the pace of traffic as it approached us. He was deftly quick but unhurried. Pedro had told me that he has been driving on Lisbon streets for past 20 years. I could see that in his driving.
The monastery was really quite impressive. After seeing the tomb of Vasco D Gama I took a short tour of the place to get a glimpse of its superb architecture.
The cloisters were magnificent, each column minutely carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs bringing the spirit of sea adventures to life. There was also the entrance to the former refectory that had beautifully reticulated vaulting and tile decoration on the walls depicting the story of Joseph. The church interior was spread out with octagonal piers richly decorated with statuettes,outside was a garden consisting of hedges cut in the shape of various municipal coats of arms of Portugal.
I had taken enough pictures to boast of my audience with the great Vasco Da Gama who changed the history of the world through his spirit of adventure. I came out and could not see Pedro. The parking space was a bit far so I had taken Pedro’s phone number. As the phone began to ring I saw Pedro approaching and waiving his hand so I could spot him. Once again he stopped and jumped out of car to open the door for me. I told him it was absolutely not required. He said it was his duty to make sure his guest is comfortable. I knew He was not going to give up easily.
“Are you hungry Sir. We have the famous pastry shop Pastéis de Belém close by. It is not to be missed when you are in Lisbon”. Pedro asked me.
With all the walking around I had built up an appetite and we decided to make Pastéis de Belém our next stop. It was a typical pastry shop in the city center. I was intimidated by the que in front of it but Pedro who had walked after me sensed my apprehension. “It won’t take long. They are very fast. Most people go for their famous egg Tarts and coffee for the take away. The seating place is inside where they spend more time and even the service is a bit leisurely.”
He was right. Our turn came in not more than five minutes. The que was well organized and was being served by several counters inside the shop. The counter clerks as well as the customers knew exactly what they weredoing and everything moved with clock-work precision. I bought two servings of egg tart and coffee, one for me and one for Pedro. We took our packets of food in one hand and coffee in the other and walked back towards the parking lot. The tarts were Oven fresh and made a great combination with coffee. I checked with Pedro about his family and told him about mine. We chit chatted about how different yet similar it is to grow up in Bangalore and Lisbon. The more I talked with Pedro the more I appreciated his knowledge of various subjects, his clarity of thought and his polite manner of putting his view point across. When we saw the statue of General Albuquerque, for example, at the Central Square, Pedro was quick to add after his description of the great conqueror that coming from India I may have a different view. Had he not been forced to discontinue his education he would have made a great teacher. Life had dealt him a bad hand and here he was trying to make the best of it.
We were ready to go once more and Pedro informed me that he will now take me to the Alfama neighborhood which represented the oldest part of Lisbon. We will be driving through to the highest point in the city and would start heading towards the airport on our way down.
“Pedro I need to buy a football jersey for my son. He is a big fan of Ronaldinho and will be supporting your team today”
“Really Sir ! I thought that France was the favorite team.”
“No he is supporting Portugal as I am travelling to Lisbon. He supports Manchester United otherwise.”
“Isn’t it amazing how sports unites and also divides us at the same time?”
“Ha ha you should have been a philosopher too. But I think sports unites us more than it divides us because one sports man knows how hard he has to work to reach the top. He respects his opponent and knows that either of them could win. Can we say the same thing for politics?”
“Just before we enter Alfama there is a showroom of Adidas. We can stop there and buy the jersey.”
“No I don’t want to spend a fortune. My champ won’t bother about them once the world cup is over.”
“Ok then I know where we will get a copy. Do you know I was born here?”.
“Oh that’s great. Let’s start our age of discovery then”
The Alfama neighbourhood was quite a step back in time. A village within a city, it comprised narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds. Pedro drove through the zig zag alley ways like a true local. I imagined him playing in these streets as a kid, hanging out with his friends as a teenager, cycling up and down the slopes with little care in the world. Pedro took me to the shop which was on the way but tucked away a little in one of the narrow alleys. He said it belonged to his childhood friend. The shop had a variety of T shirts in all shapes and sizes. They were also selling ceramic wares along with some other curios, gifts and keepsakes. The shopkeeper was very polite and gave me a good discount on the shelf price. Having got the jersey We drove up to the highest point in the city. But time when the car stopped I jumped out and pretended to open the door for Pedro. He laughed and said “I like doing that. It’s my duty” I said “No its not. And even if you think it is I am not used to such majestic treatment. Just like you I am a working man who deserves no special treatment” Pedro smiled back at me and we started walking up to the view point. There were a number of tourists but the place was not crowded. There was enough place for us to stand and have an uninterrupted view of Lisbon city. The red roofed building many of them with painted domes looked magical in the setting Sun. At a distant I could see the ships sailing by in the Ocean and the Tagus river. It was quite windy and a TV crew was struggling to set up their shot. It was amusing to see how they moved their equipment from one spot to the other to avoid the gust. I asked Pedro to click a few pictures of me. He turned out to be a great photographer and I had several perfect shots of myself with Lisbon in the background. I asked Pedro for a picture together to which he readily obliged. We stood behind the iron grill with padlocks for some time just absorbing the serenity of the moment. There is something about the time when the sun is just about to come up and when it is just about to go down – time just seems to stop as night hands over the baton of creation to day and vice versa. It is in this change that the message of infinite continuity hides somewhere. We can hear the hum of life clearly at these times only if we are still enough in our actions, in our thoughts.
The ride to the airport was uneventful .Lisbon is a small airport and there was not much traffic on the way. Pedro was his usual courteous self and put my bag on the trolley so I can carry it without a hassle. I told him how thoroughly I had enjoyed his company and that I will always remember him when I think of this trip to Portugal. I tried to thank Pedro with a small tip but he refused saying that I was more of a friend than a customer. I couldn’t agree more and we bid farewell.
I arrived in Bangalore a little after midnight. As I pulled my bag out of the lift I heard a loud roar coming from my apartment. I was greeted by a band of boys dressed in French and Portugal T shirts. The French had just missed scoring a goal and the Portuguese supporters were ecstatic. The atmosphere in the living room was electrifying and resembled a stadium. However, I was too tired to enjoy the game and went to sleep.
I woke up next morning and life started as usual. I had to catch up on a few things, make a phone call to my parents, update my colleagues about the meeting, stack up groceries and so on. My son was still sleeping. Around noon when he finally woke up he came to me and asked
“Dad did you get my Ronaldinho Jersey?”
“Yes I did and you will be glad to know that it’s the latest design. The picture you sent me was from last year. What I have for you is the latest and the greatest. By the way who won the match – France or Portugal?” I asked.
“Portugal won the world cup by 1-0 and it was so awesome. Imagine I will wear this Ronaldinho Jersey coming straight from Portugal. I will certainly score many goals in the evening game today” His imagination was running wild.
I was reminded of Pedro and how both of us had prayed for Portugal’s win just yesterday. I checked my phone if I still had his number. It was there in the last dialed list and instinctively I pressed the call button. After a few rings a voice answered at the other end – “Hello”
I knew it was Pedro. “Hi, it’s me calling from India. Portugal won!!”
I will have to become a writer to describe the happiness in Pedro’s voice.
“Oh my dear Lord. You remembered me. I am sure it’s your prayers which have been answered. I can’t tell you how happy I am. Thank you so much”
“I wanted to share your joy. I knew how important it was for you and I did sincerely pray that this happens. I am so happy for you and your people”.
I kept the phone down and pondered for a while. Whenever I think of Portugal or football or Vasco D Gama or buying a fake football Jersey Pedro will get exhumed just like Da Gama who was originally buried at Fort Kochi.

T Shirts……..

T Shirts…..

 The first time I heard the word(s) T shirt was back in the 70’s when I was in standard 1. One of my classmates had migrated from the US and he wore this strange colorful vest on top of his knickers scandalizing all of us. When we asked him what was he wearing he said that it was a T shirt ,Me and my friends wondered why they called it a T shirt and not A shirt or B shirt. Finally our US pal clarified that it was a shirt that he wore in the morning when his Dad was having his tea so it was called a Tea Shirt. His simple explanation satisfied our curiosity at that time.

Many years later I figured out that a T shirt essentially meant crew neck T shirts which without the collars looked like a T so they got their name accordingly.

My fascination with the T shirts continued and though it might be difficult to digest for you now, very few people wore T shirts in India till the late 80’s. I remember that when my father travelled to Europe and theUSin the late 70’s and early 80’s we were the only kids to have T shirts. Everyone else was pretty much dressed in the good old shirts with characteristic 2 pockets and funny Dog collars. Our colorful T shirts with their bright colors and catchy prints were the envy of every eye that was set upon them. So much so that one day one of my friends Mom dropped in to ask if she could buy a couple of my T shirts as her son was not having his food ! Unfortunately my mom did not capitalize on the opportunity and gave one new T shirt to her from my closet causing great discomfort to me in the process. I didn’t care that she had given her something from my wardrobe but I was concerned struggling not to tell everyone that the T shirt Sunny was flaunting was actually mine. And my fears were not unfounded – in a fit of rage after loosing out a hand cricket match to Sunny I did blurt out “ Hey Sunny boy don’t think of yourself as Gavaskar , you don’t even have your own clothes to wear.”  After that I was explained in great detail by my parents that what I did was wrong but didn’t I say that I knew it would happen to start with. Anyway time went by but still when we refer to Sunny we call him “oh that T shirt Sunny yup yup” and I want to ask my folks what do they have say about linking someone’s persona to the clothes that you once gave away in charity. Huh !

Then as India caught with the rest of the world our school realized how this new kind of uniform could be used to differentiate between students belonging to different “Houses”  and we were given Red,Blue,Green and Yellow T shirts for Johns, Peters, Gabriel and Monfort house respectively. Soon the T shirts became part of  our second identity as sportsmen and many a T shirt were sacrificed in the wars that ensued for the supremacy in the game of football. Those who thought that a T shirt was just a piece of clothing were wrong , the yellow color symbolized all that was great and honorable and the red was damned to be a color of weakness and cowardice. The universal brotherhood of MBIC written on all our T shirts was dwarfed when it came to our loyalty towards Monfort and John house. We lived and died for the honor of our football team till I passed out of the school and kept the T Shirt safe from all evil for a very long time to come.

By the time I started going to college for my degree T shirts were quite in vogue and they became part of the mainstream haute couture. A T shirt that stands out in my memory was my “Doors” T shirt. It had the face of our God of those days – Jim Morrison painted on it in  bright psychedelic colors against with a deep black ground of the T shirt body.And yes it read – there are things known and there are things unknown, in between are the doors. I put it on firmly believed to be every bit of the rockstar I wanted to be. With my tight hip hugging Blue Jean and my long boots the Doors shirt somewhat increased the swagger in my stride. With dark ,gold rimmed Ray Ban Aviators I thought of myself as the rider on the storm gazing curiously at the lesser mortals who would take their sweet time to understand the deep philosophy of life I had already mastered. I loved the T shirt also because many of my ” fans” had said that it suited my attitude to the T.

And how can I forget that special T shirt!! We had gone on a field trip to Mumbai and fashion street was a must stop. The locals told us that most film stars shopped at Fashion Street and everyone started combing the footpath with stalls on both sides for cool stuff and cooler bargains. I was also sifting through a bunch of T shirts on a 4 way hanger when someone tapped on my shoulder. It was her ……I think this would look good on you. I found the yellow and green stripes just awful but I immediately mocked the T shirt on me for her to have look. She just smiled and I knew that I will have to live with this garment for the rest of my life. Mumbai shopwallahs are smart or may be they watch too many movies.  The bugger sniffed that love was in the air and doubled the price. She haggled and complained like all girls do and told him that he was a thug.We left the place. She would never know that I spent a fortune coming back to the place in the evening all the way from Andheri on a cab to buy the T shirt. I hated the way the shopkeeper looked at me…I even think he sneered and joked about it after I left but couldn’t care less. What the idiot didn’t realize that any price was less for the treasure I had in my hand that day.

The next big thing in my T shirt world happened when I joined Wal Mart. Having struggled for 4 years in my career I had stuck to my belief that I was born to be a merchant and travel the world- an idea that many of my friends who had switched to pastures greener in the domestic business had not exactly cherished. A company with the scale and scope as Wal Mart broadened my horizon like nothing could. We talked million dollars and met up with the shrewdest brains in the business. Being a big Box retailer, Wal Mart sold everything under the sun and we could pick and choose any business or product that fascinated our imagination. Not before long I knew how diamonds are traded and televisions manufactured, why India had an inward looking economy with a hindu rate of growth and why China was poised to be the shop floor of the world, Why Quality was more in the mind than on paper and why child labor was stigma for the rich but optimal utilization of resources for the poor. My Wal Mart T shirt was specially cherished also because I had flown half way across the world to attend the Manager’s meeting only to be on  a flight back the next day or so as I had to attend to something really important. Each time I look at the Wal Mar T shirt I can recall the thunder of 5000 voices chanting the Wal Mart cheer in Unison. While it seems funny now it was even funnier when I realized that I was shouting the loudest in my group and how a tear rolled down my cheek in excitement !!

Another T shirt that I love a lot is my “ Auroville” T shirt. Each time I wear this one I get transported to a world full of peace and contentment. A calm descends upon me and I am very much the spiritual seeker that I was roaming about the streets of Pondicherry. It’s a simple T Shirt with a deep blue background  but the special thing about it is that the word Auroville is hand painted along side a very misty pink lotus flower symbolizing enlightenment. I remember I had picked it up ‘oven fresh’ while the paint had still not dried from a European resident of Auroville who looked like Bob Marley if he would have been born in England of white parents. I had asked Joe how much should I pay him and he had answered back saying” how much do you think it’s worth my friend?” I had given my Rs. 300 to be on the safer side but he returned me a 100 Rs back. For a brief moment I had thought that what if all commerce was conducted with the trust and honesty as we had just did. I realized I was being wishful ……customers are not me, sellers are not Joe and the world was not Auroville.

The last T shirt I want you to know about is my GOA T shirt. It’s a bright Sky blue background the kind that my 10 year old would wear on a sunny day and has something very interesting written on it. It says “ Man made Booze, God made Grass. Whom do you trust?”  While at the face of it the statement epitomizes the flower child attitude of Goa, I found the statement to have a very special and profound meaning for me. Man made booze means all the material stuff that we have created around us as human beings to keep ourselves continuously engaged in the so called pursuit of happiness while God  made grass symbolizes everything natural woods, the mountains, the streams, the rivers, the sea. All of us find asking this question to ourselves some time – whom do you trust ??  Which is the path that’s going to take us to the destination we know nothing about…. if  it is a destination or a just something frivolous we are so habituated to. Every time I wear this T shirt and get into the Goa spiritI can’t help but ask myself –

Whom do you trust ???

The morning walker…

Take time to smell the flowers by the roadside.Life may not give you a chance to come back on the same road again ~ Aahang

I am old.He mused as he looked at his shriveled hands with blue green veins staring out of the flesh devoid bones. They resembled the passage of time that had taken him from a little child running in barley fields to this self inflicted confinement of a metro sky rise.Time flies he knew but for him it had flown with neck breaking speed only to get exhausted of all its swiftness.It stood still before him like a sentry- not allowing him the safe passage to the unknown.

No more money no more friends untill this other kingdom seemed by far the best…echoed Jim Morrison’s poem and a crooked smile flashed upon his face.

It was time for the morning walk.Yes walk. That’s all that he could manage and he hated all the youngsters who could run and jog. But before that he had to make himself some tea that would keep him warm in the breezy Bangalore morning. Liberation has given way to medication he scoffed as he popped up the pills for his BP,Sugar etc.He put on his Jacket,his walking shoes and his cap and  picked up the walking stick to complete the picture.He glanced at the wall clock.It was 5:30 AM.Time to begin another day that will repeat itself to boredom.There was a time when he woke up at  8:30 in the morning and felt so fresh when he started work with a cup of coffee .He had always promised himself to start early those days and now that he was fulfilling it he was not sure he felt exactly good about it.Sleep eluded him and Alprax with impunity now, leaving little choice but to start the day early.

On the way back he stopped by the temple.Just to say hello.His relationship with the divine had matured over time ,that’s how he wanted to think about it.Initially he was indifferent to the one who made all creatures great and small ,then he could feel the presence of an invisible force that guided his life and finally God was just a friend who had perhaps grown old with him.He felt that by now both have had enough of each other.When something good happened God got all the credit and when things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to be it was his fault.That’s why it was just a Hello now.He was wanted shake the old habit, the idea of having a companion but the habit was old , as old as himself.

Since Rukmani his wife of 60 years had died the responsibility of keeping things moving around the house had become his.His relationship with his wife had run the cycle that was exactly the opposite to the one he shared with God.He began by thinking of her as a companion or a friend as theirs was an arranged marriage, grew fond of her and deeply felt that her presence did give a meaning and stability to his life but finally he became indifferent to her.His wife was a slice out of what the world had offered him on his 80 year journey and as he kept loosing interest in one thing after the other his wife too became and object rather than a being.

As he walked back the sun had started to come up soaking up the nip in the December Bangalore air.The school buses began to show up at every nook and corner with their shiny happy occupants full of life,cheer and promise.He could see faces half asleep and freshly washed from behind the window glasses.A tiny hand would sometime show up and wave bringing a magical smile on the face that had come to see the kid off.This was one of the highlights of his day swelling up his heart with the warmth that had give him the hope and reason to raise his children.

He had chosen to stay alone as he did not get along with his sons.He thought they were too irresponsible and would have been no good had he not built the properties and business in his lifetime.They were chickens running behind their wives and had no guts to stand tall like him.Life therefore ran like a time table for him repeating itself in the same monotonous drudge each day.He would pick up the newspaper as he stepped into his flat and go through its contents that spoke of all the shame that one man had being doing to the other and then as he sipped his ginger tea he would have a quick run through the channels to make sure nothing interesting was on.He did like to explore the world through the episodes on Discovery and National geographic but some time back he saw a pattern and started loosing interest.Still they were the best bet anytime.

After the light breakfast of fruits and Museli he dressed up to go out.Yes he ventured everyday to the banks , government offices and hospitals to keep himself occupied. In the beginning he despised the look on the faces of clerks and hospital staff but now he almost enjoyed their frustration.He had found out new and ingenious ways of doing things in the most complicated and time taking manner.Time was all he had and if it was running out he had not been told about the quantum left to his credit was his argument.He believed that by now his area of influence would have come to terms with him- agreeing  to play along till the game was over.He read the ” how are you sir’ as ” Are you still there sir” and that had made all the difference.

Usually he would settle down for an afternoon nap to wake up in time for the evening tea and stroll but today was a bit different.He had this deep sense of nagging , a sense of missing something that made him feel hollow, a feeling that his time had come.He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to bring back the urge to continue.He was unsuccessful. Hope was the dope he was running out of.He could not push the pain any further.This had to be it he thought as he struggled to reach his aspirin pills.

The door bell rang.

He woke up to find that he was in his bed and was sweating profusely.Thankfully there was no pain in the chest.He let the reality sink in and poured himself a glass of water from the nightstand.

It was 5:00 AM in the wall clock in his room which doubled up as his study and his library.For years he had locked himself up after his sundowners just venturing out to grab a quick dinner when everyone in the family has had theirs.For years he had not slept in the same room as his wife and for years he had not bothered to ask his kids how they were doing.He believed that he enjoyed his own company and it kind of prepared him for the final journey when he will be all by himself. He was not exactly spiritual but reveling in his own self gave him a sense of gratification.

He realized  now that he was wrong. For the sake of being alone he had become lonely. The words from Jim’s poem haunted him :

Do you know how pale and wanton thrillful
Comes death on a strange hour
Unannounced, unplanned for
Like a scaring over-friendly guest you’ve
Brought to bed
Death makes angels of us all
And gives us wings
Where we had shoulders
Smooth as raven’s
Claws

The answer came in the last three lines :

I will not go
Prefer a feast of friends
To the giant family.

He got ready for his walk as usual but on his way out he kissed his wife and took a loving look at his kids faces as he ruffled their hair.

They were in deep sleep and looked like angels.

ब्रिजेश जी

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe ~ Albert Einstien

ब्रिजेश जी से मेरी पेहली मुलाक़ात उस वक़्त हुई जब मैं नया नया देहली में आया था.  एक प्रतिष्ठित प्रबंधन संस्थान का उत्पाद ना होने का लांछन अपने ललाट पर लिये मैं दफ्तर से दफ्तर धक्के खा रहा था. उन्हीं दिनों एक सज्जन ने मेरी स्थिती पर तरस खा कर मुझे एक बहुराष्ट्रिय कंपनी में मैनेजर के पद पर नौकरी पर रख लिया. मैं वक़्त का मारा था और सही मायने में मैनेजर बननें के काबिल नहीं था और उन साहब की कंपनी को सिवा उनके कोई बहुराष्ट्रिय क्या राष्ट्रिय भी नहीं मानता था. खैर ये तय था कि एक दूसरे के घाव को हम में से कोई नहीं कुरेदेगा और हम परस्पर सौहार्द बनाये रखेंगे.

सो जान में जोश और मन में ललक लिये मैं पेहले दिन दफ्तर में दाखिल हुआ जो कि एक फैकट्री को आफिस की शकल देनें की एक नाकाम कोशिश से ज़्यादा कुछ नहीं था.ज़ो एक वस्तु उस जगह पर अंतरराष्ट्रिय सी थी वो वे सज्जन खुद थे और वो भी इसलिये क्योंकि उनका 25 साल पुराना पासपोर्ट उनकी जवानी का मखौल उडाते हुए ऐसा केहता था. और यहीं मेरी मुलाकात श्री श्री 1008 ब्रिजेश जी से हुई.

छूटते ही ब्रिजेश जी ने नये रंगरूट यानि कि मुझे, गियर में ले लिया. नीली लिखने वाली कलम के अभाव में ज्यों हि मैंने हरी स्याही की कलम से हस्ताक्षर करनें चाहे ब्रिजेश जी उठ खडे हुए और गरजे :

ये क्या कर रहे हो

साइन कर रहा हूं . क्यों ?

नये नये आये हो और पेहले ही दिन नौकरी से हांथ धो बैठोगे

मैं कुछ  समझ न पाया और सवालिया निगाहों से उन्हें निहारनें लगा.

यहां सिर्फ नोएल ( कंपनी के मालिक जिनका वर्णन मैं कर चुका हूं) हरे कलम से साइन करता है.

और अगर कोई और करे तो ? मैंने ललकारा.

तो क्या नौकरी गयी.

मेरा मन घबराया पर वैसे ही जैसे बेटे का बाप की जेब से पैसे निकालते समय घबराता है.

कुछ समय यों ही काम करते बीत गया और फिर जैसे बोरियत को मिटानें के लिये ब्रिजेश जी मेरी ओर मुखातिब हुए और बोले :

सुनो

क्या ? मैने ज़रा खिन्न होकर कहा

ज़रा एक गिलास पानी ले आओ

क़्या !!!! गरजनें की बारी अब मेरी थी

अभी नये आये हो ना. मल्टीनैशनल कल्चर नहीं जानते. क्या एक ऐसोसियेट दूसरे ऐसोसियेट की हैल्प नहीं कर सकता ? बहुत छोटी सोच है तुम्हारी.

मल्टीनैशनल कल्चर गया तेल लेनें.अगली बार मुझसे पानीं लाने को कहा तो बोतल सर पे फोड दूंगा

क्या यार आज कल भलाई का ज़माना ही नहीं रहा. मैंने तो सोचा कि तुम्हारा ओरियटेशन कर दूं और तुम तो मार पीट पर उतर आये.खैर जाने दो मुझे क्या ? याद करोगे जब दिल्ली की प्रौफेशनल लाइफ में फिट नहीं हो पाओगे और ट्रेन में वापस जाने के लिये नई दिल्ली स्टेशन पर खडे होगे.

देखा जायेगा पर मुझसे अगर बकवास की तो ….

इस दिन के बाद ब्रिजेश जी मेरा मिजाज़ खूब समझ गये और देखते ही देखते उनका स्वभाव मेरी तरफ नर्म हो गया. इस बदलाव की एक छोटी सी वजह ये भी थी कि वो मुझे ही रिपोर्ट करनें लगे थे.

हम सभी की ज़िंदगी में एक व्यक्ती अती विशिष्ठ होता है – हम. परंतु ब्रिजेश जी में ये भावना कुछ ज़्यादा ही प्रतिष्ठित थी. ना जानें क्यों पर उन्हें हमेशा ये चिंता सताये रेहती कि लोग मेरे बारे में क्या सोचते होंगे. वो अक्सर इस गम में डूबे रेहते कि आज अगर मैं बाल तिरछे काढ लेता तो फलानी पर मेरा इंम्प्रेशन ज़बर्दस्त पड जाता. हम पूछते कि फलानी कौन ? और वो केहते की वही जो आज टैम्पो में सामने बैठी थी. सिवा एक आह के मेरे दुखी मन से और कुछ संभव न हो पाता था.

इसी कडी में एक दिन कुछ बायर ( माल खरीदनें वाले) अमरीका से हमारी कंपनी के दौरे पर आये. उनमें सबसे गणमान्य व्यक्ती को वो केबिन दिया गया जो हमारी बैठने की जगह के ठीक पीछे था. केबिन वातंकूलित था और चारों ओर से उसमें शीशे लगे थे. मैं दिन भर ब्रिजेश जी की गतिविधियों को ताडता रहा.ज़ानता था कि अनहोनी होने को है. दिन भर एक ऐसे आदमी के सामने बैठना जिस पर इम्प्रेशन जमाने की कोशिश हमारी कंपनी का मालिक तक कर रहा हो ब्रिजेश जी के लिये बहुत था. वो परेशान थे ये तो विदित था पर इतने परेशान इसकी मुझे कल्पना भी नहीं थी.

करीब पांच बजे के आस पास वो मेरे पासआये और बोले – मुझे लगता है कि साला अंग्रेज़ मुझसे चिढ गया है.

भला वो क्यों ? आपने कौन सी उसकी भैंस खोल ली है ?

पता नहीं यार हर आदमी को मैं ही क्यों खटकता हूं जबकि एस दफ्तर में सबसे मेहनती और होनहार अगर कोई है तो वो मैं हूं

इसमें क्या शक़ है पर आपको ऐसा क्यों लग रहा है कि वो आपसे चिढ गय है.

कमीना दिन भर मुझे घूरता रहा और अभी अभी मैंने उसे नोएल से धीरे धीरे कुछ केहते हुए देखा है.

मेरे अंदर का शैतान जाग चुका था.

मैं बोला – बडे दुख की बात है कि अपना साथ यहीं तक था. कंपनी का घोर दुर्भाग्य नहीं तो और क्या है कि आपके जैसा टैलेंटेड और वफादार आफिसर एक अंग्रेज़ भेडिये की बिल्लौरी आखों पर बलिदान कर दिया जाये. आखिर भगवान ने आपसे पूंछ कर तो आपकी शकल बनायी नहीं कि साहब को उसे देख कर ही गुस्सा आ गया.

वो तो सब ठीक है पर किया क्या जाये ? नौकरी तो बचानी होगी.

मैंने सुझाव दिया – आफेंस इस द बेस्ट फार्म औफ डिफेंस. आप भिड जाइये ससुरे से.जो होगा देखा जायेगा … सर फरोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है, देखना है ज़ोर कितना बाज़ू ए कातिल में है.

मेरा ऐसा ही केहते ही ब्रिजेश जी की आंखों में खून तैर गया और वो अंग्रेज़ के बाहर निकलने का इंतेज़ार करने  लगे. शाम हुई और वो समय आ गया जब अंग्रेज़ अपने केबिन से बाहर निकला.मैनें ब्रिजेश जी की ओर देखा … वो सीट पर बैठे बैठे उलट पलट रहे थे.

अंग्रेज़ हमारी ओर बढा तो मैं सच्मुच थोडा घबरा गया कि पता नहीं ब्रिजेश जी ने इशारों इशारों में ही देश के मेहमान के साथ कोई अभद्र व्यवहार तो नहीं कर डाला. पर ऐसा कुछ नहीं था. अंग्रेज़ सज्जन आगे बढा और ब्रिजेश जी के कंधे पर बडे प्यार से हाथ रख कर बोला –

यंग मैन कैन यू प्लीज़ शो मी द लू ( टायलेट) ?

ब्रिजेश जी के अंदर मानो करंट सा दौड गया और वो एक्दम उछल कर उस्के साथ हो लिये. आधे रास्ते पहुंचने पर अग्रेज़ बोला – हे आई कैन सी थे साइन इफ यू आर नाट प्लानिंग टु कम अलांग.

ब्रिजेश जी हर्ष और विस्मय का मिला जुला भाव लिये मेरी ओर आये और बोले – बच गये दोस्त.मैं गुंगुनाने लगा ” दिल के अरमां आंसुओं में बह गए…… ”

अनेकों चमत्कारों से भरे हुए हमारे मित्र ब्रिजेश जी के बारे में एक बात जो और खास थी वो थी उनकी बिना बात चापलूसी करने की अदा. एक तो उनके द्वारा की गयी तारीफ अत्यंत ही प्रकट तौर पर होती थी पर उससे भी भयानक थी उसकी टाइमिंग. किसी ने कहा है :

जिसे दिया था गुलाब का फूल कल मैंने , उसी के हाथ का पत्थर मेरी तलाश में है.

और यही गुल ए गुलाब ब्रिजेश जी खींच कर सामने वाले के मुंह पर मार देते थे.

मिसाल देखिये :

दफ्तर में एक थे मिस्टर क्रिष्नामूर्ती . यथा नाम तथा गुण काले इतने कि हंसते तो ब्लैक ऐंड व्हाइट पिकचर याद हो आती. मोटी सी तोंद इस लूक को काम्प्लिमैंट करती थी और उस पर से उनका ड्रेस सेंस – एक्दम कातिलाना. अगर मौत से बचने की आखरी सूरत उनकी शान में चंद लफ्ज़ केहना होता तो शायद मैं खुशी से खुद्कशी कर लेता.

एक रोज़ जब सुबह सुबह जब क्रिष्नामूर्ती शायद अपनी बीवी से लड कर आफिस में घुसे ब्रिजेश जी उनके निकट गये और बोले – सर आज आप बहुत हैंडसम लग रहे हैं !!

डर के मारे मैंने आंखें बंद कर  ली थी पर जो कुछ मेरे कान में पडा वो अद्भुत था. मिस्टर क्रिष्नामूर्ती खडे हो गये और अपना इंस्पैक्शन कराते हुए बोले :

तो बाकी दिन क्या मय ( मैं इन मलयालम) तुझे शाकाल लगता हूं ??

ब्रिजेश जी किंकर्तव्यविमूढ से एक टक देख रहे थे. शायद उन्हे एहसास हो चुका था कि ईश्वर के द्वारा किये गये काम मे टांग नहीं अडानी चाहिये.

एक और पात्र जो ब्रिजेश जी के अनचाहे गुलाबों से अक्सर घायल होता था वो थे हमारे  जी एम साहब श्री सुरेन्द्र चावला. बात बे बात ब्रिजेश जी अपनी लगावट की अदायें उन पर बिखेरा करते और मैं हमेशा सोचता कि धन्य हैं चावला जी जो सिर्फ मुस्करा कर रह जाते हैं …..या हो सकता है कि मन ही मन उन्हें अपनी झूटी तारीफ सुनने में मज़ा आता हो.पर ऐसा होना अविश्वनिय था.

लेकिन वो केहते हैं ना कि बार बार अपनी तकदीर को आज़माना नहीं चाहिये , पता नहीं कब जवाब दे जाये.  ऐसा ही एक दिन ब्रिजेश जी के साथ हुआ. चावला साहब के जीवन में एक कांटा था – नोएल. सब जानते थे कि जब भी चावला जी उसके कमरे में जाते हैं उनमें हीनता का भाव ऐसा भर दिया जाता है जैसे कि गुब्बारे में हवा. कमरे से बाहर आने के आधे घंटे तक उनसे कोई भी बात करना इस फूले हुए गुब्बारे में सुई चुभोने से कम नहीं था. उस पर कुछ ही दिनों पेहले चावला जी के पिता का देहांत हुआ था और वो बैठे बैठे ही अपने बचपन की यादें ताज़ा कर इमोशनल हो जाया करते थे. कुल मिला पर स्तिथी नाज़ुक पर कंट्रोल में थी.

इन्ही दिनो एक रोज़ जब चावला जी नोएल द्वारा प्रताडित हो कर अपनी सीट पर आकर बैठे ही थे कि ब्रिजेश जी ने उनकी इमोश्नल नीडस को एक्सप्लोएट करने की ठान ली. अपने मुखारबिन्द पर अत्यंत लुभावने भावों को प्रोजैक्ट करते हुए बोले :

सर आपसे कुछ केहना था ..

क्या ??

सर आपके पिताजी मर गये तो आप छुट्टी पर गये थे ना ….( वो ये भी तो कह सकते थे कि पिताजी नहीं रहे पर शायद ब्रिजेश जी शाक थिरैपी का इस्तेमाल करना चाहते थे सो बोले कि पिताजी मर गये)

हां तो ? चावला जी सर उठाये बिना कुछ लिख रहे थे

तो सर हमारा मन आपके बिना बिल्कुल नहीं लग रहा था

अबे उल्लू के पट्ठे !!!! मैं तुम्हारा दिल बेहलाने के लिये दफ्तर आता हूं क्या ??मैं कोई नौटंकी हूं कि मुझे देखे बिना तुम्हारा मन नहीं लग रहा था ? मैं यहां काम करने आता हूं तुम्हारा दिल बेहलाने के लिये नहीं … आपके बिना मन नही लग रहा था ईडियट  !!

मेरा मतलब वो नहीं था सर .. मेरा मतलब था सर की जैसे . ब्रिजेश जी बैक फुट पर आ गये थे.

मैं तुम्हारा मतलब खूब समझता हूं मिस्टर .भाग जाओ नहीं तो …

बेचारे ब्रिजेश जी – चले थे चौबे छब्बे बनने बन के रह गये दूबे.अपना सा मुंह लिये सीट पर आ गये और सैम्पल पैक करने का नाटक करने लगे.

ब्रिजेश जी की एक और खास बात थी.

आप सोचते होंगे कि इतने कमाल एक ही शख्स में कैसे घुस सकते हैं पर घुस गये थे तो मैं क्या करूं ? मैं तो ठहरा सूत्रधार कथावाचक –  ऐसा कैसे हुआ ? वैसा कैसे हुआ ये सब पूछना मेरे अधिकार की परिधी से बाहर है. खैर वो बात जो कि खास थी वो था उनका संगीत प्रेम. उसे वो सबसे छुपाते थे पर ऐसे कि सबको पता चल जाये –

फूल गिरता है उठाते नहीं हो, प्यार करते हो बताते नहीं हो.

य़े शेर ब्रिजेश जी ने नोयेडा की ब्लू लाइन बस के पीछे पढा था और बहुत प्रभावैत हुए थे. मुझे बाद मे पता चला कि उन्होंने इसे संगीतबद्ध करने की चेष्टा भी की थी.

सो एक रोज़ मेरे निकट आये और बोले आओ चलो बा्हर चलें. कार तो लाए हो ना ?

मैने सर हिलाया और अनमना सा उनके साथ चल पडा.

कार में बैठते ही उनके हांथ में एक कैसेट उग आया और उन्होंने उसे मेरे डैक में घुसेड दिया. देखते ही देखते ” घंघरू की तरह बजता ही रहा हूं ” के स्वर पूरे वातवरण को झनझनाने लगे.मैं समझा कि मेरे मित्र का मन आज क्लांत है और वो मुझसे अपनी भावनाएं शैयर करना चाहाता है.पर गलत ……. एक दम गलत. मैं भावनाओं मे बह कर ये भूल गया कि कलेश फैलाने का एकाअधिकार सिर्फ और सिर्फ ब्रिजेश जी को है और कोई अन्य उनकी इस कर्म भूमि में प्रवेश कर ही नहीं सकता .

थोडी देर ये पिटा हुआ गीत सुन कर मैं ऊब गया और मेरे चेहरे पर उभरे भावों को भांप कर ब्रिजेश जी बोले – कैसा लगा ?

मैं बोला – ठीक है. शाम को सुनते तो अच्छा लगता.अभी मूड अलग है

अरे वो नहीं गाना .गाना …

गाने के बारे में ही कह रहा हूं यार

अरे मेरा मतलब गायकी , सिंगर , आवाज़ !!

सिंगर ? अरे किशोर दा हैं तो अच्छा ही गायेंगे ना

वही तो . ये किशोर दा नहीं हैं

मतलब ? तो और कौन है ? ये 100 % किशोर ही हैं

नहीं ये किशोर दा नहीं कोई और है.

कौन ?

इस पर ब्रिजेश जी ज़रा लजा गये और झुकी हुई नज़रों से अपनी तरफ इशारा करने लगे

मैं खेल के मूड में आ गया. अरे नहीं मैं मान ही नहीं सकता. लगी सौ सौ की … क्या बात कर रहो ?

यही तो बात है मेरे दोस्त. आज इंडस्ट्री में कद्र्दान ही कहां हैं ? किशोर दा लकी थे कि सही समय पर इडस्ट्री में आ गये नहीं तो वो भी मेरी तरह कोई थकी हुई नौकरी बजा रहे होते. साला हां जी कि नौकरी ना जी का घर .

आप सोचते होंगे  कि इसका क्या मतलब ?? मैंने भी सोचा था. पर ब्रिजेश जी ऐसी बातें कह जाया  करते थे कि आदमी जीवन भर सोचे और उनका मर्म जाने बिना ही पंच तत्वों में विलीन हो जाये.

कहने की ज़रूरत नहीं कि उसके बाद मैं कई दिन उनके हुनर को तराशता रहा और यहां तक कि  कुमार सानू की खास पेशकश पर ब्रिजेश जी बम्बई भी हो आये. ये बात और  है कि मैंने उन्हें ये कभी नहीं  बताया कि उस दिन जो बीस आदमी जो उनकी गायकी का शिकार बन चुके थे वो मुझे उनके जाल में ना फंसने के लिय आगाह कर आये थे .

मेरे फैरवेल में ब्रिजेश जी ने दर्द मे सराबोर हो कर – चलते चलते मेरे ये गीत याद रखना गाया और वक़्त के मेले में हम दोनों कहां खो गये पता ही नहीं चला.

आज बरसों बाद मेरे एक निर्यातक मित्र का फोन आया. वो बहुत ही विचलित अवस्था में थे.

केहने लगे – यार पियर वन ( अमरीका का रिटेल स्टोर ) से एक इंसपेक्टर आया है. बडा ही बद्तमीज़ है.

मैं बोला – सो क्यों

अमां मुझसे से कह रहा है कि ज़रा एक गिलास पानी ले आओ.भला ये क्या बात हुई. वहां किसी को जानते हो ? ये बद्तमीज़ी तो मुझसे बर्दाश्त ना होगी.बिजेनेस रहे या जाये.

मेरे चेहरे पर मुस्कराहट आ गयी और मैंने कहा – उनसे पूछो कि सर पानी गिलास में लाऊं या सीधा बोतल से पियेंगे ?

यार मेरी जान मुश्किल में है और तुम्हें मज़ाक सूझ रहा है. इसका क्या मतलब ?

अरे तुम पूछो तो . फिर आगे बताना.

थोडी ही देर बाद मेरे निर्यातक मित्र का फोन फिर आया. चेहकते हुए केहने लगे – यार कमाल हो गया. वो तो केहने लगे  कि मैं तो यों ही मज़ाक कर रहा था. अभी अभी तो कोल्ड ड्रिंक पी है.और हां मज़े की बात तो ये है कि अचानक तुम्हारे बारे में पूछने लगे . तुम जानते हो क्या ?

हां शायद थोडा थोडा – मैं हंस रहा था .

**ये कहानी पूर्ण्त: मेरे खाली दिमाग की पैदवार है. इसका किसी भी व्यक्ती या वस्तु विशेष से कोई सरोकार नहीं है. बस पढें और मज़ा ले … जैसा मैंने लिखते समय किया है.

~ By aahang