Aditya Raj Kaul
Home had been a withered dream. It was a distant memory which had brought convulsions of pain along. Yet fragments of the memory remained stitched to wander in the sphere of chaos. There was a wish a writer had once. It was the longing to die.
And today Chandanwadi was in an unnerving calm atmosphere. The sky was clear even though the air was gloomy. For once it wasn’t the sandalwood fragrance but the sea of humanity converged to fare final adieu to the man of his words. The man, who had attempted to stand on raging fire without any mark of pain, was draped in white.
It was autumn. Crumbled dry leaves made screeching sound. Marine Lines was in a curfew like state. Traffic was replaced by mourning crowd; thousands of men and women walking alongside the railway tracks. The sea on the other side was still, in melancholy. It was too silent for a sea.
It was an end of an unannounced journey. It was an end to an effortless flight in the vast skyline of desire. There was deafening silence which remained. Silence was where it all began, once.
And for yet another hour he stared in silence towards his laptop in search of words as his mind transferred into thoughts. The story was vivid in his mind, frame after frame, concise. Only the words played hide and seek with his imagination. For a journalist worth his caliber, it wasn’t a mammoth task to link characters and their quotes with the idea of the subject. To ink a remarkable, memorable story was an art worth his salt. He carved heartening stories with magical words out of nowhere it seemed. But, this wasn’t a normal 500 word byline. By any means it was no ordinary story on his desk. The tale of his longing would be narrated in no simple words. Every word had to travel a two decade long silence in search of hope.
Samsar was under an ocean load worth of thoughts. He was a wandering shadow searching for a lost identity. His 23 winters had been spent in intense thought about his misplaced existence in an unknown land among people from different castes, regions. He was in a metropolis with varied cultural identities. Often he fumbled to question the very essence of his role here. In a rebellious zeal always, he lamented being part of a civilization of confusion. At the end, perhaps always, he stood against the tide, silent and neglected by the pace of the world inching towards a dream. And today he logged on his desk the memory which he would carry every passing minute as a burden of his ancestors; the memory, which had to be narrated before meeting a dead end in history. It was a threshold to a new journey of faith.
The amber light of dusk had withdrawn Samsar from the worldly pleasures around the city on a regular Friday night. While his friends took over the discotheques and pubs in town, he would sit silent recollecting past anecdotes. In anxious gulps of breath, he stood, and surrendering, shut the laptop, ran towards the door. He paced in the boxed elevator, which had a toy sound in its background, all the way to the ground floor to catch an auto rickshaw to the Andheri station. As light trails of passing vehicles reflected in his eyes, Samsar thought of another journey he had undertaken, possibly, the very first in his life. The journey, was etched as a story forever within him, since the time he heard it in complete from his mother.
In this hour of dusk, time was crawling at a slow pace, passing through the ever crowded narrow passage with shops on both sides to enter the station, Samsar held his chocolate brown bag tight to make way safe through sea of humanity. He was used to the Mumbai way of life, running around with bags held in front over the shoulders only to manage a comfortable entry into the congested local trains. It had been six long months in this city of dreams. The monsoons were the worst time of the year to be here. Not just because of the scale of rainfall in this city living over a sea but because Samsar avoided using an umbrella. It wasn’t his usual lazy style that was the hurdle. He was in love with the transparent German raincoat that his mother was gifted by her pen friend from Munich. It was a 20-year-old raincoat which almost never came handy in plains of the north where rainfall wasn’t as harsh. “Or, was it 23 year old?” he wondered. Memory faded as Samsar climbed the stairs to reach platform five of one of the busiest suburban stations, boarding the Churchgate fast local train to Bandra.
Within minutes Ville Parle passed and soon came Santacruz with an Air India flight taking off right above the train at shooting speed. After Khar Road, the train made a screeching halt at Bandra. Samsar spent these fifteen minutes standing at the door of his first class bogie holding the pole for support as the evening breeze cuffed his face. The calm chill, that the waves brought reminded him of his mother, who used to pamper him right up till his late teen years. Both mother and son often used to travel to explore new destinations, across the country. While the mother loved the unique historical and cultural insight to a region new to them, the son indulged in photography and often engaged in friendly conversations with inhabitants. He had a genteel way with people, of striking a chord even in an alien environment. Though often huddled and sporting a serious look, Samsar had a humorous side. It took his friends longer than usual to understand him. It was difficult to decipher his mind.
His mind was filled with an emotional conflict with which he grappled alone. Any interference from others wasn’t welcome, although he was never rude to curious acquaintances trying to partake the responsibility of conflict resolution through psychological mediation. He was polite in his gesture to show them the door.
For years there was an image he encountered in dreams. An old nailed blue door with its handle locked. A bottle green cloth hung from its top corner, partially visible to his eye. The door must have existed forever with a rusted metallic sheet covering it from left bottom. Nothing existed beyond this door. It was an image that haunted him since childhood.
Most of his early years were spent in haste; there weren’t any happy memories. Samsar was ten-months-old when his longest journey began. A journey which only his mother recounted well. The very first and the longest journey which began with no end, no destination. Just like a migratory bird travels in the sky, he undertook this journey in utter chaos. Not for food or shelter. For hope and safety across a long tunnel. Jawahar tunnel.
It was 19th January, 1990. A wintery haze had set in. Dal Lake was frozen, so were the shaken bodies of those hundreds of frightened pigeons who were to embark on a journey. And there crawled Samsar in the courtyard of his home on the banks of Dal Lake. It was an island like formation on the river bed with houses scattered around. Rainawari, a unique mixture of a town and a village was often called the Venice of the east by European travellers. It was situated amidst the most beautiful environs overseeing the Himalayas on one side and the magnificent Dal on the other.
It had been little more than nine months since Samsar was born. His mother, still completing her PhD in history from the University, had to manage her infant and research at the same time. For the lady worth her salt, it wasn’t a challenging burden to shoulder such a responsibility. She could handle Samsar well as he was unusually quiet child from the very beginning, but curious.
Things didn’t move steadily for many days. It was that fateful winter night when the loud speakers uttered raucous warnings against them to leave. The warning became more unbearable than the terrible winter chill in the valley. It had been pouring snow all night. Old houses with white flakes covering their slanting roofs stood silent witness to these gory voices. The electricity went off early that night, unexpected. Sometime late into the night gun shots rang in the air. Someone on the street corner had been screaming “Thathye saeb ha morukh mandras nish” (Thathye, elderly person, was killed near the local temple), until his family members pulled him inside holding his mouth in silence. The eerie calm surrounded the valley of sorrow at night.
It was the longest night of trauma as death marched to and fro in the darkness. All through the rendezvous with death, these souls waited for the first morning rays to escape fate. Even the animals could be heard sulking on the street. That night humanity didn’t get enough sleep.
As birds braved their way into the morning, people emerged to flee from the reign of fear. Houses were locked in the hope to return when the situation improved over the next few days. Samsar was huddled into a white cloth by his mother and covered by woolens. His mother packed few bags to carry necessary clothing, utensils and some cash along with some age-old photographs and rare paintings that were close to her heart. Never would she have imagined that these photographs would become relics in the years to come.
Majid, a friendly milkman in Rainawari who owned an auto rickshaw helped some families escape their way with light luggage to Lalchowk. He had already made almost six rounds from Rainawari to the bus stand at Lalchowk. At the cost of suspicion by local area commanders of terror outfits, Majid made a brave attempt to rescue families risking his own life.
“Welyiv jaldi, bus hay aasyi weny nernas tayaar” (Please come fast, the bus would be ready to leave), he screamed from the porch outside her house. It was a vast compound overlooking a giant tree that was worshipped as a deity.
Holding Samsar the white bundle that was, she raced to sit inside the auto rickshaw after locking the main door. She stopped mid-way and ran towards the tree of Vittal Bhairava which wasn’t far off. Bowing her hands in prayer with tears in her eyes, she took the basme tyok (ash formed by burning the holy lamp) slowly pasting it on Samsar’s forehead. Samsar stared into her eyes silently. Holding back her tears, his mother boarded the auto rickshaw to Lalchowk. And the journey began...
The fear of turning old had been recurring all through these last few months. Not that the grey hair would bother his ego, not even the flab of dry whitish-brown skin protruding out from calcium-less bones. Samsar wasn’t too conscious of his looks or even the ever growing beard lately. Most of his life had been without any particular fear.
As he was driving away in the dark to seek solitude, the fear grew stronger. It brought quick sweat on his face and the deep forehead, added along was a rattling effect on his nerves. His right foot pressed hard against the accelerator on this empty city road far away from the city of his thoughts. The racing heart was faster than the car. “I wish to stop and run away to my home”, he thought. Though he knew he couldn’t.
“There seems no end to this journey. The farther I travel, the more I seek to return. The time dissolves into memory. In this thorny path ahead of me, I see an identity-less non-stop journey into darkness. The journey itself begins in darkness of hope. An ironic life of a wandering soul”, he scribbled on his brown notepad.
“Most nights are spent in the ‘white and black’ of the unseen past. Past being a predicament as much as the future”, he continued to write. Samsar had a poetic touch to his intricate prose writing.
“I stare at the photograph of a rare sparrow sitting on the gate of a mausoleum with her back turned towards me; on the front is a ‘hazy green’. One of the many photographs pasted above my work desk. The haziness of this forced journey is unpredictable. In this concrete jungle, I do not long for another machine. All I yell for is my lost abode,” he concluded.
The past nostalgia was still churning itself inside him; and the hope for future burning all around.
Was it the fear of turning old? Or, perhaps of being a homeless man, which was an ordeal haunting him since years together.
“No matter how much the fear grapples within my silent heart. It’s too late now; for the journey has been halted”, he had noted on the last page of his diary.
Samsar once crept on the walkway talking in doddering tone to his own self, “Just as the withered dislocated leaf of ‘Chinar’ which narrates the agony in its fire brown tint before being crumbled, the fear in me shall pass. The silent journey alone to my home shall never end. I shall remain young forever to recount the ‘untold story’ of a forgotten tribe. The tribe that existed in their homeland, not so far long ago”, he mumbled.
“Freedom is a prison for I am not at home. I remain confined in that prison lark”, he once told Tarangini, staring into her eyes sitting at Marine Drive way past midnight.
Tarangini, who was a well-known journalist with a popular news channel, would hear his anguish patiently. His words would echo in her dream.
Samar had a strange way with words. He loved his hearth as much he loved Tarangini.
Tarangini had met him over half a decade ago on a walkway in New Delhi. It was not as silent as Marine Drive. At that time it was a sweltering June summer at Jantar Mantar, the protest junction of the country where an entire sea of humanity would converge to sing through their tears on tragedy and travesty of justice.
It was a late afternoon. Samsar in his late teens at that time was more of a crusader of justice who worked as a cub reporter. He was the focus of attention for uniting masses to protest against the police for botching up a brutal case of rape and murder. While journalists jostled for space to grab him by his arm for a quick sound-byte, his eyes fixated on a figure at a distance. The figure, restless, holding a placard in hand led the protest as a passing storm. Samsar couldn’t gather strength to look into the eyes of the figure, as he was too steady for the storm to catch pace. It was an extraordinary moment for the teenager. For a moment, he stood unaware about the cause that had led him to this place. It was a Bollywood story; love at first sight.
As loud music reverberated around Samsar stared at the figure without a breathing break. In darkness, the crowd mingled, limbs moved in all directions uncontrollably while he stood there with his hand in the denim jeans pocket and eyes still fixed in the direction of the creation, “the one created for him, perhaps”, he thought.
In the motionless stance among mechanical bodies, his mind didn’t flicker an inch. The loveless figure sat at a distance with uncomforted eyes but smile glued on the melancholy filled face; the perfect smile of a disappeared love regaining consciousness slowly.
Their path in-between still crammed by souls in tempo didn’t let them move, or was it the velocity of pain shared by them?
As a couple of years passed in their relationship, Samsar traveling through the mountains in a distant land on work assignment wrote in his diary, “Love doesn’t fade away. It griddles fine and tosses well. And, then it returns with a thud for good. Because love isn’t a relationship, it’s madness. The madness is of patience and heart-aches. It’s a revolution shaping up each day, tangled with missiles landing everywhere. The missiles are in a confused state of consciousness. It’s a state of longing for the beloved with abated heartbeats. Love doesn’t end anywhere, it only grows till eternity”.
The short span of separation from Tarangini had left him sleepless. He was restless in love. While the nights passed sleepless, during the winter days Samsar walked around the hills amidst natural green environs away from the clatter of the city.
“Your absence is a deep wound in my silent heart. It doesn’t heal. In solitary moments, it pains till I fall asleep. And find you smiling in a sweet dream”, he wrote in his diary.
Love was her innocence and his commitment; her sweetness and his gentleness; her talking, him listening. Love was her sunshine and his moonlight.
Tarangini returning from office often stayed back with Samsar in his room at Carter Road overlooking the magnificent sea. They would talk endlessly into the night. Their stagnant bodies would meet in silence making love. Devoid of the pain they would part.
Their love wasn’t a secret anymore. It wasn’t the paparazzi filling the air with rumors but their families came to know of the secret affair. They had begun coercing both to tie the knot. It was a matter of few days.
Early evening on a Sunday, Samsar left his room to meet Tarangini at Kayani Bakery. It had been a usual day with bright sky. He took the local train at Bandra to Churchgate. On way he decided to get off a station before Churchgate at Marine lines and began walking towards Kayani. Thoughts mingled inside his mind in a joyous overtone as he thought of making love the previous night with Tarangini.
It became sultry as he walked in pace. At the Metro Cinema he halted for the traffic to stop to cross the road. He had a habit of avoiding the subway which meant climbing up and down the stairs. Escalators were still restricted to the upscale malls. He thought of taking the subway but since the traffic signal turned green he brushed away the thought. He continued walking.
Jarring sound suddenly left the road ahead of Metro Cinema in thick black smoke. Passing vehicles flew in air as wailing sound filled the area. Minutes later emergency sirens took to the street.
Samsar died. The chains of longing ended in spring of his youth.
And, home remained a withered dream.