This is a post with a difference, in the sense that I didn't write it. Some time ago I had tentatively posted the first part of a story in the making, and got disheartened with the almost complete lack of response. It turns out, however, that someone was deeply interested: my old boy Debarshi Saha (a student of engineering, too) has taken the trouble to write the conclusion of that story in his own way. I have pasted the thing as he wrote it below. Goes without saying that both he and I will be glad to read comments about how it went down...
These people are incomprehensible; and yes, also frightening! How do you account for the wordless language that binds me and my customers together? No matter how strange the request, how varied the tastes, I never disappoint them. Earlier, when I was a novice, my customers would praise a certain seller and his lip-smacking recipe, and advise me to be more like the individual. Those days were strange- me combing the streets of this town to find the elusive recipe that would entice his customers away from him, finding it, and perfecting my art; Now, I come up with improvisations frequently, and love to deliver to my customers the tangy taste that lingers behind- and keeps bringing them back to me frequently! Over the years, I have learned to love them all- Yes, I love the bespectacled banker who is always in a hurry, the little girl who gives me an impish grin, the young couples who always fiddle about with their mobile phones, and even the schoolboys who chatter like magpies- I love them all. I have learned to live with the condescending sneer directed by some towards me, the mournful air assumed by hapless lovers, the happy smiles some bestow towards me, and the gasps uttered by some on finding my paani-puri too spicy!
I often look wistfully at the temple gates, and catch myself feeling equal, at par with everybody else, in front of the Creator- who, strangely enough, was the one who ordained me to be different from my fellow-men! Is Life one never-ending cruel joke? I have spent many seasons in the sun, spent countless hours trudging down the water-logged roads to home, getting drenched in torrential outbursts, but still, I have held onto Hope, maybe the most beautiful thing of all. Walking down lonely and dark roads, with only the stillness of the surroundings to keep me company- I have been able to hear my own voice for once, in this industrial town, where most people are stone-deaf. I remember the day, when, as I was wending my way back home along a dark alley, I witnessed an accident. The man was flung from his scooter like a rag-doll, which skidded and thumped onto the wall, sustaining serious damage. He hadn’t accounted for the careless patch of oil left behind by some callous tanker, which led to this disaster. I remember rushing to his side, and cradling his head in my arms- He looked up at me beseechingly, with eyes that wanted to live, out of a socket that had begun to bleed. I hysterically screamed at the top of my lungs, rushing towards a nearby shop for help- and after that, the moments seem to have gone by in a flash. He was helped onto a private car, and whisked away to a hospital- by the kindly owner of the shop. I returned home, and spent the rest of the fateful night tossing and turning about in bed, thinking about the fragile gift of Life, which we all possess; but so few of us cherish! I remember going down on my knees and thanking God profusely, clutching my wife and son tightly to my chest.
The next day, I went about my work as usual and I remember thinking, “I wonder if he’s all right. Let no man die before his time has come.” I do not remember all the details, but I remember the motorcycle that halted at my stall, the person who jumped off it and embraced me like a brother! The flush that filled my cheeks and the wave of joy that ran through my heart- sent my pulse racing, when I learnt that the person was the victim’s son, and that his father owed his life to my timely action, and that he was now on his way to recovery. His father had wished to see me, and so I accompanied him to the hospital- in the midst of Life we are surrounded by Death, aren’t we? The man was a private construction contractor, who offered me a daily job as a worker- an offer I refused, and wished to pass onto my prodigal elder son, who had returned home with an empty pocket and a heavy heart, rife with evil habits. He gladly accepted, and I returned home feeling on top of the world- Little did I know the evil design that Life seemed to have fashioned with the fabric of fate.
A fool and his money are soon parted; a drunkard and his life are soon parted too. Intoxicated with country liquor, my son fell to his death from 5 storeys above while trying to climb onto a precariously constructed porch. This happened six months after that day, and has been a memory that haunts me to this day. I cannot begin to assuage my grief still; as the thought torments me every waking hour- Did I send him to his death? He was my flesh and blood, and I will always love him, no matter what. I wanted him to be a man; he ended up a corpse. I wanted him to work hard with his hands and tools; he drove the nail not through the plank of wood, but through my heart. I attempted to drown my sorrows, partaking of the same victuals that pushed my son towards his death- As I stumbled back, with every drunken step leading me towards home, I started thinking; Was I better off dead, or a quitter? I had hoped a few drinks would help me forget him, but after one too many, I started shouting his name all over town, with slurred verses and blurred vision. I have put all those days behind me, with my wife’s love, care and support in those dark times. But, all I wanted was words, his words; and all I heard was nothing.
I now have a radio to keep me company- the foot-tapping, peppy beats of popular numbers that the garrulous radio jockeys belt out are a big hit with my younger customers. They affirm Life and its endless stream of energy, as do marriage halls bedecked and adorned with streamers and flashing lights, venues for the banquets hosted by Life. I have started saving money to arrange for my younger one’s marriage, so that his child will be born, not into a world of bleak landscapes and squalor- but into a world where he might have a chance to live his life. In my childhood, I wanted to be like Mohan, my neighbouring grocer; like Birju, the village fisherman- and then I never became any of them. I would want him to go back to my village, far from the madding crowd, and live a simple, yet happy life. Do I aspire too much for my family? I close my eyes for a moment and the moment’s gone, while all my dreams pass before my eyes with curiosity at my naivety. Had I not yet learnt my lesson?
Anything you do in Life might be insignificant; but it is very important that you do it- because no one else will. All we are, is, dust in the wind, a drop in the endless ocean of Time, the same old song- still, we are humans, albeit divine beings having a worldly experience. None of these words are mine, but the wisecracks by the inquisitive author, who happened to frequent my stall once and still does now, though nowadays he doesn’t linger that long- my stories are getting over quickly! Upon hearing my story, he remarked that a story worth remembering was a story worth narrating. He struck me as the sort of fellow, who, having endured snide remarks from his bourgeoisie friends, was impatient to exhibit an understanding of Life, far beyond his years. Well, he badgered me with questions and “read my eyes” for a long time, when at last he came to his best & final offer of letting me finish my story! How I loved him then, even as I started searching for answers- for becoming the hero of the story, the poor hero whom everyone loves but no one wants to emulate!
I proudly brandished the faded, smudged old sepia photograph of me and my family- the only one proof of our lives - kissed it, held it to my heart and said, “Tell them, let everyone know, that I lived a very happy life and died a very happy man. Tell them, living Life was the happiest moment of my life, although I didn’t know it!” If any of you read this story, or if he ever writes it- do stop by my stall to stare at Life, otherwise you might miss it altogether. My daydreams have transformed my beloved town into a town of signs and spectres; my experience with Life has left me with a map of society’s rituals and mores, and my photograph, with the story of one man’s broken heart.
Hello everybody! This is the first time that my muse has granted me permission to reveal myself to you all, who might be reading his story. I couldn’t bring myself to accept the fact that the calluses on his hands, the way of feeling under-rated and unappreciated, the twinkle in his tired eyes when he laughed, were not enough to make him unhappy, to take away his courage, when he looked into my eyes and proclaimed himself to be a very happy man. I flung down my pen and stared at the ceiling, thinking to myself the same thought that would come back to haunt me again and again. You know the riff of a tune, the strains of a violin, and the whiff of the melody in a song that plays over and over in your head- this was the thought that pulled at my very heartstrings, when I realized that maybe Happiness was something you could only pursue, and never reach.
I attempted to visit him many more times, but he never set up his stall near the temple gates again. I wrote nine letters, five of which I put in envelopes, and none of which I posted- he was a man, who carried his home about in his very heart. I resolved to forget about him; He was just another man I had known, among the anodyne sea of acquaintances I had. But I never could. He taught me to keep fighting and to live, something I had never known. Whenever I snuggled into my cosy bed on a chilly night, whenever I sat down at the table to partake of a sumptuous meal, whenever I watched happy people milling around me, I remembered him and his eyes. He had the audacity to dream when Life seemed to be one un-ending nightmare; he had the tenacity to keep dreaming when he should have stopped hoping. Life had not granted him a field of dreams to till; he still had the courage to smile back at Life, when Life frowned at him. But, I did not tell you all this to serve as a mere homily- I wrote down all this so that you all could live your lives, before it is too late. It is never too late to live, is it?
[The paani-puri seller went back to his village, and set up an elementary school, with just two students- his younger son and Mohan the greengrocer’s son. Moved by his efforts, the villagers chipped in and built their school brick by brick. His younger son would go on to become the first graduate from their village, with the help of an NGO that received a letter from a certain individual. Coming back to the village, his son re-modelled his father’s dreams into the first school for his village and neighbouring villages- he named it in memory of his father, and dedicated its mission to the spirit of a brave heart, his father. His grandson would become the first doctor to receive the President’s medal for extraordinary services rendered to his countrymen. The NGO nominated his son as their President, and continues to serve many more fighters across the country. It all started with the letter from the author, who sent his friend’s life story to the NGO. He would go on to publish many more novels, after numerous initial rejections, and eventually win the Sahitya Akademi award. In his emotional acceptance speech, he would affirm that every beauty of Life, and Life itself, deserved a novel. He had dedicated his first published novel to the spirit of his friend, who taught him to live luminously betwixt the two legions of darkness.]