Tr. Harish Mahuvakar
The old man had no sleep. Rose up and sat on the bed. Helplessly saw the disturbing hubbub around him. A net of confusion grew into his eyes. He saw the spider webs in the corner of the old house. Buzz....buzz... There a black bug was trying to make a hole in the age old wooden pillar that supported the house. The old man needs peace. The hubbub constantly serves a kind of hacksaw to the soul. All the birds might have sought shelter in such a scorching heat but there’s no rest to sparrows, mynas, and crows. There’s no stopping. Constant noise. It’s like mingling of Gagadio River into the Shetrunji. Add to this mingles the rivulet Kharo. What’s left then? Almost like thundering sounds. The squirrels too are restless. Won’t stop for a while. Like hammering they make noise. Though the noon moves to its end, they remain busy. The old felt their lateral but coarse tongue shifted into his mouth. Next to his home is Kana Bechar’s hearth. At noon the whole village turns silent but that man would be on the work. Always at noon he hammered metal. He’s such a devil! Why should others have peaceful siesta? More over his grand children and kids of the neighbours complete the battalion to raise hell!
It’s his nature that lets flow anger. It’s his habit that he gives some sudden twits to his head and that way pushes the anger down to the bottom. In such a long journey of life he had tolerated enough troubles. Now can’t he endure this much hubbub? One should know the art of controlling and quietening the mind. If one doesn’t learn this till growing old, then things would go with one’s turning down into ashes. Anything without sense is useless: O Shiva bless us, O Shiva!
Softening his tone at the utmost level, he asked the children playing in the veranda: O Radhu...O Pinu.. be quiet for a while. Look at the hot day my children! Your noise unbearable to me. Can’t sleep at all. And be careful. If anybody’s affected by such a heat then... The old man left the sentence incomplete. With only such a suggestion the ‘gang’ becalmed. The old man’s prayer was responded immediately. Everybody put index finger on to the nose and perhaps said to each other, ‘Oye... crazy ones, don’t speak loudly. It’s good that he didn’t say much. If got angry be sure to bear punches!
Watching his influence over them, the old man became somewhat happy. The lips spread a bit and both dried ends of it received droplets from the eyes. The happiness flowed down from his eyes. As if whispered to himself he spoke: O Shiva, bless us O Shiva! He unfolded wet scarf, covered himself with it and then stretched on the rough stringed couch. Again he tried for sleep. No result. The loo in the courtyard had wrapped him from all around. His weak hands repeatedly shook the scarf to push the hot air away. But the obstinate air went away up to end of the passage and returned again. Some time passed in confusion. Ultimately let go the efforts. Hardly he slept. Perplexity oozed into the form of perspiration. But now shrieking and wilful fights pierced his ears again and again. He thought, the children won’t allow him any sort of rest. He was bored now. He got up again. He saw a canvass water bag near his coat that was put there by one of daughters in law. It pleased him the way she cared him. He stared at it, shook his head in silent satisfaction. He supported himself on a side of the coat and neared the bag. Poured water into a tumbler that was placed on to top of it. Washed his face and drank water. He liked the cool feeling it gave in the stomach. It gave way to a sort of strange sound ‘e..ee.ehe...’ from the mouth. It was indication of good sign of his health.
The noon had gone now but the hot air still persisted. The shadows like a lizard saving itself not to drop was going up and up on the opposite wall. The gruesome shadow that was hidden under the old man’s eyes wished to come out. Time was not passing, he thought. He looked at the gate. The children were still busy in their play. He hooded his hand to look further and called out, ‘O My daughter Radhika, come here. But the children were so much engrossed in their games that his weak voice remained inaudible. He raised voice this time and called again, ‘O Dilu...Pinu... Chiku... The ‘gang’ this time ran to the old man leaving behind the play. He thought: On call none listened to and now with a loud voice all of them rushed to him. Strange are the children!
Radhika sulked, ‘Why didn’t you call me? With you I won’t speak.’
‘Hey, first of you were called. But you didn’t pay attention.’ He laughed a bit and continued, ‘It’s okay. Now run to your Mom and ask her for my tea.’
Both the daughters in law were preparing the grain to grind. Radha said, ‘Aunty, Grandpa’s very angry. Serve him tea at earliest otherwise... Now my duty’s over. Don’t blame later on I didn’t report you.’ The girl knows how to put the Grandpa’s matter. And the younger daughter in law retorted, ‘Our Mother in Law has been born to you.’ She told it to his elder counterpart.
The younger in law’s daughter Chiku followed Radhika and echoed the same thing in the twisting tongue, ‘Yea, we have said to you for the tea. Don’t blame us later on.’ The younger one dropped the work immediately and rushed to the kitchen.
The old man noted: the daughter in law kept a sari-end between her teeth. It’s only a show of having a veil. Oh the tradition is vanishing! We have to witness only. Whatever she did was merely a show of respect. The urban wind has blown to villages. She is talking there in the back passage but its audible here. A thought struck to him. I should rent a small house at the end of the village. It would be quite peaceful for me. What’s the problem to me? I get pension. Won’t have to buy vegetable, milk, butter and such things. My life spent in education won’t go in vain. He was absorbed into such thoughts for some time. Another thought came up: Should I allow others to criticise my sons and daughters in law? Will it be good for me? What’s wrong here? All’s the world here they provide me. Better this prayer bead and better is myself. Leave all this worldly matters, it will serve to you. But then this noise, cries, and shouting. Can’t bear.
So that stiffened legs get relaxed he got up from the coat. He looked at the hook from where his cap and rob were missing. Stick was gone. Sharp voice went up: O Radhi, who’s taken away my things? You people don’t take care. The daughters rushed out as they heard the old man. The ‘gang’ had used costumes to dress themselves for an old. Dilu the young boy then left scattered everything under the neem tree. The daughter picked them up and shook off the dust and put again on the coat. She saw the old man’s lips moving in anger. She couldn’t stand up to it and she too got angry. She let her wrath out on the elder son Vinu. As she slapped him, he began to cry. Vinu shouted, ‘It’s not me. Why do you beat me? You can ask Radhika. Who’s told you...?’ The unfinished sentence flew with the tears. As she saw her brother crying, Chiku too tuned him. The old man became upset with this scene. Soon he dressed himself with the recovered things, supported with the stick and stepped towards the gate.
‘Grandpa shouldn’t I accompany you? On returning it would be dark and you’ll break your legs and that would cost six month bed rest. Mind well. You should agree to me, I say’ Radhika served the purpose of Grandma. On listening to it every one including Vinu couldn’t but laugh loudly.
The Grandpa responded, ‘O My Mother, worry not. If break my legs you don’t treat me with turmeric paste. Is it okay?’ He unlocked the door of the gate and advised her, ‘You be careful. Play only in the veranda. The cowherd’s to return.’ He was then on the street.
Radhika felt insulted. Her face bedimmed. She said, ‘Had you been silent we all would have gone with him.’
‘O Shiva, It’s you everywhere. Bless us O Shiva.’ He muttered. The street was left behind now. He was in to the crowds of the bazaar. He couldn’t but saw the playfulness of water fetching young women, cracking noise of vegetable vender, the young thronging at the pan-masala shops and their nonsense behaviour. It was like leaping into fire without looking. Such sights everywhere. Nowhere peace. The whole world’s gone crazy. It’s a big loud noise itself. There’s no respect, no dignity. All shameless. The evenings if spent in prayers by them, then they can learn something of culture and tradition. How can you expect anything when everything’s blown up with the new wind! First of all the evening prayers turned filmy and the bhajans merely loud bitter noise. Like coarse palms are their singing! No rhyme, no rhythm, no tune at all.
Still the evening was far away. The eyes that found scraps of sunshine on lower roofs of the houses came down and began to slide with his feet. Ah! He will have to be careful as the road is rough and patchy. A Kanbi lad passed with his buffalos. He was amused and taught by himself. On seeing him he every day greeted, ‘O Grandpa, how are you?’ but today he behaved as if he’s not seen him. Those move ahead are cattle, and the one who follows them is animal. Any difference between them? In turn man becomes animal, forgetting common sense. He couldn’t despise more. He looked ahead. The village watchmen Kanji got ‘benefit’ not of the buffalo horns but at least of its tail. Trying to save himself as he turned back he found the old man and said to him, ‘O Masterji, better you stay at home. Be careful of these buffalo horns. They may toss you up in the air.’ But the old man laughed as Kanji was pampering his cheeks! Kanji continued, ‘What troubles you have! Both the sons support you. Got them married and settled. Everything’s up. Now you pass time in worship, how good!’ He glanced at Kanji and spread lips again. He thought his grandchildren: These buffalos may strike them if they are out on the street. But without much attention he responded Kanji, ‘It’s nothing. Just to relax myself I have come out. It’s very good to remain busy all the time. Once be free like me. You’ll realise how devilish it is! Full day none would like to pray. As kanji stopped at a shop to buy biris the old man tuned his chain of thoughts. The daughters in law are careless totally. Knows not how to rear children. As if measuring some height he raised his hand and said to himself, ‘They were almost infants and their mother passed away. Then what troubles weren’t there? What was my age then? Had I thought of remarriage... But no. I became their mother and father. Of course the sons haven’t forgotten all this. This is none the less when whole world is up against worst wind.
Thoughts came and died down. Broken was its chain. And he continued to walk ahead. He had already passed the Shiva temple near by the well at the out skirts of the village. He always uncapped his head to bow the Lord but today the routine broke. For a while he felt sorrow. But then consoled himself. It may be His will. Without His will nothing takes place. O Shiva bless us, O Shiva. Now the feet had turned towards the lake. He was lost into the matters. There was an old peepal tree. Had almost gone dry. But it had his days. On various occasion it was worshipped. Threads were woven around it. The other thought followed. What was the day that he travelled to another place? Did he go to anywhere? No. He doesn’t remember going to anywhere. This swelled his chest for a while. This was because he bore troubles. Worked so hard that he never had to beg to anybody. This was because of Him. Lord Shiva. If the family doesn’t know anything of this how can you expect the world? But why should I let know others?
Again he plunged in to thoughts. When one is nearing end of the life, he must be free of all temptations. Leave behind all the problems. It’s useless to ask what about of their life. Must ask to myself: What’s about you? If things are to be clear then this is the thing. In the balance sheet there’s no debit and haven’t allowed the credit side entry-less. That’s much more. Now why should I think all this? My book is open and clear. Let even my Lord with specs on see it closely.
He supported his back to the peepal trunk. With the stick end pushed his shoes a bit away. On his stretched leg he put his other leg crossed with 90 degree. This is the habit of his seating. Whenever he sits like this he is reminded of Lord Krishna. This is how I have been sitting here. Like me he too was sitting. From the opposite side came an arrow, and penetrated first the leg and then the heart. As one dry peepal leaf fell, he looked straight but found none there. Pain spread in the eyes. Fingers moved on the cheeks and found drops. Without any reason the memories of the wife overflew and darkened the sorrow. Why Shanta came up to my mind? Why at this place? Not a single event took place here. Then why? He tried to control his feelings. He asked himself: Can’t you be free from her? If you have still any affection then it’s like settling a village at barren place. At what extent are you to be drawn to her? The weight of the load remains same if you change the shoulder. Again he tried to suppress the feelings.
No, it’s not my nature to slip in such thoughts. I know as trees drop leaves so should we drop our self. But the coarse loud noise of the children doesn’t allow him to settle. O Shiva bless us, O Shiva. You are the Final and Infinite. The darkness enveloped the whole scenario but the feet didn’t required light. The legs habitually moved up and down.
At the outskirts under a neem tree on a small platform of a small temple Bapudan Gadhavi had his assembly. From the peculiar way of walking he immediately identified the Master. As soon as he neared, Gadhavi asked, ‘O Masterji, why walk straight away without any greeting? Won’t you offer any knowledge to us?’
‘Already got late, otherwise would have given you company.’ Without halting there he responded. Wrath grew in him: O devil, Gadhavi, what’s use of being with you? You are a man who always remains busy in criticising others. Senseless talks constantly comes out of you. If we sit with you, it’s sure we turn mad. I remember that day. You insisted so I gave you a company. You narrated a tale, “As we are sitting here on this platform, so did some Kanbi farmers under a very huge banyan tree in a village. A passer-by saw some memorial stones, and asked, ‘who are they?’ An old of 85 from the assembly said, ‘it was the time, we were young. A Kathi man from our far away farms tried to take our cattle. He bit the cowboy and pushed him to our village. No sooner we listened to this, the young who were sitting with us, turned volcanic hot. Whatever weapons were handy they took and galloped in to that direction. Some who took the matter at heart were sacrificed, and those who took the matter in the mind remained seated over here and we were survived. You see us with hookah and biris and you see the memorial stones of those martyrs.” On Bapudan’s tale all sitting with big bellies couldn’t but laughed loudly. The son of Caharan community narrates such a tale instead of heroic one. And this bastard asks me, ‘Going straight away? Let me tell you, I had gone to spoil your father.’ He muttered.
A little fumbling raised dust and fell in to an eye. With spittle he wetted a scarf end and tried to remove it. Didn’t help. It troubled the eye like the bygone days. Shanta departed in the labour pain leaving behind a baby. How difficult it was to take care of her! But be good to that neighbour. The woman of Ramji Kana put it to her breast along with her own. She fed like her own daughter. And that’s why like a mother she stood in her marriage. At a time there was no burden on me. Do I remember anything? Hardly I knew the rituals performed and her departure. But lot of troubles I remember in bringing up these two sons. Daily I fetched them to school. Starting from morning till they slept all hustle and bustle was upon me. At what extent the neighbours can help you? They too have limitations. They too live in the village. The people may tell senseless tales. Without any cause why a woman should bear bitter words? Shanta died and liberated herself but why the neighbouring woman should have troubles? Was it Shanta’s fault? How can she come to know that she will soon depart? It wasn’t her will. After this tragedy many were the offers for remarriage but he was determined not to send the children in a hellish condition. Time went on and with it also passed twenty years. They were got married and settled. Even he cradled his grandchildren. Come on man, be relaxed. But the ill-fated am I and where’s the relaxation? Where should I seek it to?
When he reached at the gate of his house he listened to the sons and their wives talking loudly. Now how can I blame the children for noise they make! How anyone can prefer this? Did the Lord forget to put a switch in their throat for slow volume?
As the chain clanked, everybody realised the old man’s returning. While hooking the rob, the cap, and the stick at its place, he asked: Why are you all sitting like that? Is anything wrong? A daughter in law brought warm water to wash hands and feet. The younger son asked, ‘Won’t you have dinner now, Father? ‘Alright, serve it,’ said he while wiping his hands with the scarf. ‘What was the matter?’
The small hands of Chiku brought a smooth round wooden piece to support the Grandpa’s legs while sitting on the floor. ‘O My Mother, hand over to me. If it fell on your foot, you won’t stop your crying.’ He kept the piece under his leg and looked at the elder son.
We have transfer orders. We both have been sent to very far and remote village Raniwada. The office has made a rule that no teacher shall serve to his native village. They blame that teachers don’t work properly and keep busy in odd jobs for earning. People like us who tread on your honesty line suffer the most. Do we have any farm or a shop? And yet we become the target. But what can be done? We are scapegoats. Better thing only is this we have been sent together in the one and the same village. The elder son put all the details.
The younger son said, ‘Not the less troubles we faced even for this! As that man Miyani the Head Clerk was your student, with great difficulty he could explain our matter to the authority.
The old man was satisfied with his image though he didn’t like the transfer. But times are changing he knew. He completed his most of service years in between two villages, it was his time. In those days the authority always listened to them. They never hurt the feelings of the serving men. Well, we haven’t to rule the village! Wherever is the bread, and shelter that is our village. Well prepare yourselves to go. He put things as if they were too depart and took a bite of hotchpotch and loaf. Everybody stretched their lips a little taking care that the old man doesn’t see.
Some moments passed silently. Then the elder son mustered courage. He had to speak, ‘Either you come with...or any woman may stay for you... Should we do it?’
‘Why? If any of your wives live here, she’s sure to be caged. She would become a poor soul. Don’t worry about me. I know that in turns both can stay and serve me. Their parents are virtuous so are their daughters. The old man with a high gratitude remembered his counterpart in law. Whatever may be the reason but the old man’s face revealed happiness. The sons on listening to this were confused. Both of them tuned one thing, ‘How it would be if you come with us? We won’t have any...’
‘What trouble? I’m heal and healthy. How far will I go? What have I to do all alone whole day? Need tea two times only and no lunch I take. For the dinner a pancake, vegetable, and hotch-potch. That’s all for me. You and your wife make visit occasionally in a month or on holidays. Any missing grocery and such things you bring, that’s all for me.
It was the same response as they had expected. They knew the father. He continued: I’ll be all alone the whole day. Hand and heart for Hari – the Lord Shiva. His joyous spirit couldn’t remain veiled. This is the opportunity my Lord ... Something happened and he unfinished the talk. Became silent and began to prepare tobacco to be put into the mouth.
He wanted to tell: I’ve been born in this village and in its very soil will breath last. But it was the supper time so they won’t like such a thought. He didn’t let it out.
Finally the departure time came. The luggage was put in the carts. The daughters in law and children were seated in the cart in which mattresses and sheets were kept. One son rode the bicycle. To bid them good bye the old man walked up to diverging road near the lake. At this juncture the carts were stopped again. The daughters in law got off and bowed down to the old man. They sought his blessings and the children too did the same. Cries of Dilu, Pinu, Chiku, filled the air. Radhika was the apple of his eyes. When he hugged the little angel, he too became uncontrollable. Tears dropped. Soon he controlled himself and instructed everyone to take their seats. As if he consoled himself he said, ‘They never ever have gone away from me that’s why... Within no time things would turn normal... Send messages regularly... Dilu suffers from worms in the stomach. Take care she doesn’t take so much jaggery. Now Raghav, push your cart. Before the lamps turn on you reach Raniwada. Be speedy. He said to the cart-man. Till the cart went away he continued to advise.
On the way home back he talked to himself: More than the self they are darling to me. That’s why such feelings. Demanded this loneliness and hence I got. Now I must be free from all the desires. If not now then with me they’ll go.
Even on the broad day light the home looked desolate. As if it remained shut since ages! To kill the horrible thoughts he wished to take tea. How many years after was he treading to the kitchen? Found out tea, sugar, and milk. Tea won’t have any influence today. All alone does anybody like to have? From the nearby wall he shouted for Ramji Kana. I say, let’s have tea together. The house has turned deserted so I thought it’s better if you accompany me.
Masterji it’s very bitter to stay all alone. Had you used your influence, couldn’t transfers be stopped? You have a very good reputation.
If we wish, what’s not possible my dear brother? But what I think is different. If they go away they may be accustomed to live without me. When I depart for the longer journey, they will not feel so hard.
For the supper the daughters had prepared potato vegetable and paratha. He found them neatly placed in the bowls. For this evening at least, there was no trouble for cooking.
As usual in the evening he came out for walking. But returned before his routine time. As it was his habit he cleared his throat loudly on entering the house. It was the indication for daughters in law for their veils. But then he laughed all alone. Any one for it today?
There was cold water from the tank. He washed hands and legs with it. Now onwards he will have to light the lamps and do incense sticks to the Lord. This work was done by the daughters. They lit the lamp and placed it to the basil plant. They sat and bowed head for the worship. He liked this very much. Seeing them Shanta would be revived in him. He imagines Shanta there at the basil plant...
The elder daughter was graceful and so was her cotton week for the lamp. How carefully she made it? The woman who can’t make such a good week, won’t be able to brighten up her family. This was his conviction. Often he remarked too. Homes of such women aren’t homes but unorganised dove nests.
He sat down for the dinner. Took mango pickle and baked roti. But as the hand lifted up to the mouth it came down. Left the bite uneaten. Stood up, cleaned the mouth and drank water only. Was it because I missed the noise of Chiku and Radhu?
He felt the night descended so quickly. The neighbourhood was also silent. The old man tried to see beyond the lamp lights. There was nothing that can solace him. Only still and solitary air could be found. The light of the lamp darkened the situation. He blew up the lamp that was at a wall stand. Picked up the prayer bead that was at one leg of the coat. He tried to pray but it was useless. There was neither cry of Chiku nor any demand to tell a Devil’s story from Radhu. Neither Dilu nor Pinu on the bed. These both know how to please Grandpa. They would put: not useless we do massage your legs. It costs. It costs our story. This is what we say. Isn’t it right Grandpa? Radhika won’t let go prayer bead from her hand. It only would be given back when there’s a story. But do the stories come automatically? From where to find them? But then he always made efforts and the stories will have strange characters like Sugar Sister, Date Aunty, Walnut Uncle, Grandpa Jaggery, and so on. The affection that always remained in the small eyes was not there today. The man shook his head in desperation.
The younger daughter in law was not small in heart but was big in her displeasure. Her anger fell upon the children. Even though veiled, she would forget that Grandpa’s listening to. That’s not fair for a daughter in law. But the new generation knows not how to respect the elders. But he reconciled himself. No, no that’s not the case for her. She would be angry for not to disturb him. So that he slept well, she would control children. She’s only twenty and darling sister of five brothers. She is unknown to troubles. How can you expect that she adjust so quickly to a new place and yet she has made this house as her own.
Often his hand halted. Beads didn’t move. Some words of prayer too remained unfinished. Finally he concluded prayer was impossible. It’s His will. If He wished we can pray if not, not. O Shiva bless us, O Shiva. He left efforts for the prayer.
He passed the full night restlessly. Often he turned sides. He tired for the sleep. But it remained far away from him. This is how he passed three nights. Things he desired he had now and yet has he to pass the time in such a misery? O dear soul of mine, ways of you are strange.
He locked the gate. While handing over the key to Ramji Kana he said, ‘Till the ‘gang’ was here heap of noise they harvested for me. And I thought how to worship Him in such a condition? But now I’ve realised that when they were with me, He resided in me. As they left my Lord too left. Unhappiness is more in their absence, rather than in their presence.
O plenty of reasons one can have for his unhappiness...
He took a bag and began to walk supporting himself with the stick. Stopped for a while and spoke, ‘Ramji, they had urged me a lot to stay with them. Obstinate was I. I had told them: I’ve been born in this village and in its very soil will breath last. Now you tell me, what’s the difference in the soil whether it is of this village or of Raniwada? Wherever you go it’s the same land. The Mother Earth will immerse in herself a handful ash of our body. I will very frankly tell my sons: I have the spirit of Man and without Man I have no spirit. Without you I can’t live and that’s why I came back. What else?
Ramji, tell me, isn’t it right? It is. The Lord resides in our children. What do you say? Isn’t home with them is the Paradise on the earth?
Without waiting for Ramji’s response he began to walk again.