Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Ignorant Beggar

The young man looked out through the open window. He felt alone in the old compartment of the suburban local train. Though the train compartment was close to full, he felt completely cut off. He felt as if he was a misfit in the world, as if something about his existence was not right. It was not that he was unhappy about something he knew. He was unhappy because he was unhappy. It did not make sense to anyone but he did not care. The harsh June sun was beating down mercilessly on the small platform outside. There were a few small tin sheds, with too many people under them than they could pretend to protect. The whole platform seemed deserted. Suddenly, something caught his eyes.

A beggar whose legs had been amputated was crawling on the hot cemented platform outside. With a great deal of difficulty, he got up onto the train. The train started moving and so did his thoughts. He started remembering all the times when he had seen a beggar, with their mutilated limbs and deplorable conditions. How his heart had cried out each time. How he was told that begging was a business and you could not trust it. How his brain fought with his heart and ended up numb with neither side winning. The only fallout was an even greater feeling of guilt and shame which soon disappeared at the appearance of something seemingly more important in his life. How he hated it all. The self imposed importance, the self concocted mixture of feeding one's ego, the self defacing habit of running after things than waiting for life to wash over you. How he hated it all.

The shrill voice of the beggar broke his thoughts. He jerked back to the musty slightly smelly train compartment where the person sitting next to him was dozing off on his shoulders. He wondered about the sensibilities of reason which all his friends talked about, how beggars do not have a life, how the Government should do something, how things needed to change, how growth of his country has to encompass all. With his new found seemingly superior powers of reasoning, he felt choked owing to the lack of answers. How he wished if he knew the answers. How he wished he could play God.

The beggar was a man of around 40. When he got up on the train he noticed this young man in his mid 20s sitting in the corner of the train compartment. He noticed him because he looked different than the others, his clothes were different, his manners were different, there was a conjured confidence which was trying to mask the unmistakeable uneasiness in occupying the compartment. But still, what caught him the most was the young man's eyes which wore a misty confused sad look. He seemed to be some hallowed God to be in whose position the beggar would kill but his eyes wore a pain that even the beggar had not felt when a bus had run over his legs. He decided he had to do something.

The beggar went on singing a mixture of the latest Bollywood movie songs completely out of tune. He ignored all the furrowed brows of passengers who were roused from their slumber, the irritated shifting of the passengers in their seats. He ignored it all, he went on singing and begging for alms with an outstretched hand. It did not matter to him that his outstretched hands remained empty as he moved around. He just ignored it all. He reached where the young man was sitting. He stretched his hand and waited. The young man was numb again. His heart wanted him to give away the 10 rupee note in his purse. His brain however told him helping beggars was just increasing the problem and for self justification it also told him that the 10 rupee note was the last in his purse and he needed to keep it. The beggar could sense the confusion in the young man. How his look and eyes conveyed the compassion he felt for him but his attitude, manners and hesitation indicated otherwise. The beggar took away his outstretched hands and said, "Babu(salutation for Sir), where will you get off ? If it is ok with you, can I talk to you on the platform where you get off ?".

The young man was shocked, so was the train. He wanted to lie to the beggar and slip off but something inside him told him to talk to him. He said, "I will get off at the next station". The train reached the next station and the young man got off, followed by the beggar. All eyes in the compartment followed them. The beggar motioned the young man to come to the end of the deserted platform under a small tin shed. The young man was sweating profusely, he hated the summer heat but he went.
When the beggar and the young man reached the tin shed, the beggar suddenly asked, "Babu do you think you are better than me?". The young man was taken aback. He replied, "I am not sure I understand. Why did you want to talk to me ?" The beggar smiled and said, "Babu you look like the person who would have done and got a thousand things which I can never ever even imagine was possible, I wanted to hear it from you and be happy like you". The young man thought that the man was insane. Was he going to narrate his experiences which made for hallowed blog entries/acclaimed extempores to be read/heard/acclaimed by his reasonable friends to this person. The beggar broke his thoughts, "Babu, why are you sad ?". The young man rudely replied, "I am not and I am in a hurry so if you have nothing to say I would leave." The beggar replied, "Babu, do you think your life is better than mine." The young man angrily replied, "Yes, it is. I do not have to curse about my leg. I do not have to beg to eat. I do not have to be sorry about my whole existence." The beggar calmly replied, "You have only seen my missing leg and my begging and in that while you have presumed that my life is miserable and not worth living. I beg because with my condition I see it as the best way to earn money to keep me and my family alive. Even if there are beggars who cheat, how is it different when babus like you cheat in much greater magnitude and in place where the impact is so much more." The young man was lost for words. Here was a person who was speaking things which he had never imagined.

The young man replied, "How can you live your life when you have nothing to look forward to ? At every stage of life, I am made aware by myself that there is a certain set of goals and when I reach there another set of goals crop up. There are big words and proverbs all around trying to justify your existence and journey when in fact they are there to distract your unhappiness with the fact that you do not know what is the purpose of existence ?". The beggar smiled and replied serenely, "Why is the purpose of existence important ? Why do you think my life is worth nothing ? I get the same satisfaction when my thirst is quenched. When you eat a 5000 rupees meal with your family and I eat a 5 rupee meal with mine, the happiness we gain out of it is the same. Do you think your love for your mother and wife is more than mine ? Do you think any of the emotions you feel is different from mine ? Life is a gift which God has given to both of us and He never takes any of it from us. It is our perceived imaginary happiness that causes us pain and disappointment. God never gives anyone more or less, He gives everyone the same." The young man was shocked. He never thought that someone as nondescript as a beggar could tell him this in the middle of nowhere. He asked, "So what is the purpose of existence ?". The beggar replied, "Why is it important to have a purpose ? Purpose of existence is a hallucination. An attempt by your ego to justify that it is all important. We all have a life, we need to live it and experience it in the best way possible according to us. We all have experiences and choices. All we need to do when we finally close our eyes is take a look and just say, My life was beautiful and that would fulfill the purpose. Would it not ?"

The young man was stunned. He blurted out, "Tell me something, are you some kind of a learned man struck down by circumstances ?" The beggar simply laughed and said, "Is it because you think the things I said cannot be from a person who has never gone to a school? Babu, I have never seen the inside of a school. I am an ignorant man and I spoke what life has taught me. Forgive me if I spoke something wrong and wasted your time". A tear flowed down the young man's cheeks and he touched the feet of the beggar and said, "Thank you teacher for teaching me such a valuable lesson." And then the young man told him the stories about the world he had seen and the beggar told him his. Both of them were sitting under that tin shed while many trains with incredulous onlookers passed by. And the summer sun was still beating down mercilessly but the tin shed was full of autumn warmth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Monsoon Juxtaposition

Lightning streaked across the sky lighting up the shivering wet timeless sky. Thunder claps reverberated across the skies in pursuit of the lightning bolt. A pursuit epic in magnitude and relentlessness. The huge woollen rain clouds had gobbled up the blue skies so that there was neither beginning nor end of the clouds. A shade of dark grey hung all around. Amidst all this, there was restlessness all around, the dry leaves were fluttering all around as if afraid of the impending rain. The little insects and birds were indulging in their last minute hurried chores. The river waves were rejoicing in welcoming their brethren from abode above. There was harmony all around.

The huge old house by the river stood a silent testimony to the spectacle. It was an old 2 storey British-India bungalow. With huge pillared verandahs overlooking a garden overgrown with grasses and various flowering trees fashioned to the last detail, she stood old, firm and elegant. On the first floor verandah he stood with furrowed brows lost in thought. He was gazing at the river flowing right across the road, he was gazing at the garden below, he was gazing into the shoreline of the river on the other side, he was gazing into the beautiful yet mysterious grey sky, he was gazing into into nothingness yet everything.

He was thinking about her, thinking about it all, thinking about how she and the rain were so alike. And then it all began. It all started with the wind picking up, singing that long lost tune which soothes one soul. She did the same to him, her words always started with the same delicate softness that always left him in peace. And then came the first raindrops gently falling upon the dry earth, the dry leaves, the tinned roofs and the dry hearts. One by one they left their mark, clear, precise yet delible. A melody was taking its shape and it all started with the first raindrops. The first raindrops in the river were like a gift to the waves, so was she, a gift to him. She always came like a breath of fresh air, subtle,ever present, firm and her memories always started playing with that little unmistakable charm. And then the intensity of the rain grew.

The raindrops became bigger and louder, the pools of water started forming in the garden. The pools became larger and larger until their water was gushing down to the river overpowering everything in its path. The coconut trees swayed as if they were mesmerised, they were free, they were alive. The green coats of the trees glistened all around. In all this, the only thing visible was the clean sheet of water descending from the heavens and the music it created. All that was alive
before was now dead and all that was dead before was now alive. The river water was alive, dancing the everlasting dance. It was alive to the last drop, a huge microcosm of energy and activity ready to hand out life and death on an even platter. The rain drops were working their magic when they reached fever pitch, some trembled and some rejoiced. So it was with her,she always worked her magic. Her memories when they reached their their intensity overpowered him. They had an equal power of ending his life and bringing him back to life. They had the power of cleansing his soul. They had the power of making him realize himself in a completely new light. They had the power of making him live in the past, present and future on an equal footing.

Then the raindrops lowered their intensity and vanished without the slightest bit of warning. The skies cleared and the magic disappeared and everything which had been touched upon cried out. It cried out for more. Sometimes they returned, sometimes they did not. A liberty nobody grudged them but always when they finally left, it was without warning. It was always abrupt so the last parting thought was happiness and not sorrow. And they always left everything they touched with its soul cleaned so that it could survive another passage of time until they returned. So it was with her, whenever her memories left him, they always left him on the edge, with the unknown flash which he could never remember how hard he tried. They always left him with a smile on his face and a tear in his heart. They always left him void of anger and hate and full of compassion but they always left him.

He could not bear not talking to her anymore. Damn the fight in the morning when he decided he will not talk to her. Damn the anger. Everything all around him was an encapsulation of her and she was an encapsulation of everything around him. Damn everything. He picked up his phone and rang her number. She disconnected. He rang again. She disconnected again. He rang again. She picked up and said "Hello" and

It started raining all over again.

(Photo courtesy trekearth)