Sucharit/Suyesh (P-2)

It must have been nearly 20 years after that adventurous evening, when I met those three saints and also witnessed the dramatic scene of a pregnant woman delivering a baby, who then shockingly was forced to abandon it in the middle of the dense forest.

My village Jandera had got its name from its own population; because all of them followed one faith and ideology called ‘Godaism’. Jandera was under the kingdom of King Vikram, who ruled from the capital city of Amor.

Jandera was very lucky to have a young villager who had become well known for his spell binding discourses. Even nearby villages were buzzing with news of this young boy’s abilities. His speeches had become very popular. He did not talk about the religion or scriptures, but about practical issues of how to lead a simple and uncomplicated life. People were visiting him in herds, because the boy had practical answers to everyone’s day to day problems. They asked him various house hold, health or relationships related questions and he offered them long term easy solutions. He never said, ‘I will give you something’. Instead he said, ‘you have it all in you. You have all the solutions inside you; you just have to learn how to discover them’. Due to this the flock was getting self-empowered, especially women. Many of the listeners now wanted to stay with him as long as they could, to learn the art of living, the art of staying happy and be confidant! But he would always refuse such offers, ‘you have to take care of your own life and family. No one should turn away from his basic duties. All you have to do is do your job well and lead an honest life’. In spite of this people just kept walking behind him; there was no way to stop them. His disciples were growing every day!

The boy’s name was Sucharit – man of good character. Strangely his huge popularity got him another name, ‘Suyesh’ or the one who is famous for good reasons. Sucharit was about 20 years old. He was tall, had a lean muscular body. His beard grew a little scanty. His curly hair was up to his shoulders. He was mostly seen in a white cloth wrapped around his waist and a pleasant expression on his thin face.

Like everyone else, Sucharit too followed a near 2000 year old religion called Godaism. Followers of Godaism believed that the universe was created and governed by a single omnipresent, omnipotent power called, God. He lived with three old men, who were carpenters. Yes, these were the same three saints had rescued this howling baby boy, from a forest 20 years ago. So, Sucharit was a carpenter too, expert in making simple and economical furniture. He did most of the work himself, so that his old saviors could take it easy in the dusk of their life. All his life, the saints had fed him, taken care of him and most importantly sown seeds of good qualities in him. They adored him for the way he had grown up- so bright, so strong and so humane. But they had never bargained that he would be so popular.

It had not been easy for those saints at all, bringing up a child right from his birth. They never let out the secret how they had found him. Only dismissive answer they had for numerous questions and doubts for nearly 20 years was, that ‘his mother’s name was Meera, who was known to them and God was his father! Can’t you see it on his face? Look at the peace and glow! Doesn’t he remind you of God?’ It was nearly a declaration from those well respected saints to make a point for the boy. A thoroughly impressed village crowd ‘semi believed’ them. Everyone knows how babies come on earth. An abandoned ordinary child was turned into an extraordinary phenomenon, only to cover up the absence of his father. Whoever met Sucharit just once, who he was did not matter. Sucharit spoke in a common man’s language. Slowly a belief started developing that he was a god and not a human. He physically ‘touched’ them to make them believe that he indeed was a human being. Due to constant speeches and interaction with troubled lot, Sucharit had grown very sharp in his mind and kind in heart. He could genuinely feel or even guess everyone’s pain. ‘Suyesh Sucharit’ had become a strong magical magnet. His strong attraction converted many of his listeners into his disciples. They really loved Sucharit from their heart.

Sucharit as a rule did not allow women to follow him permanently. He knew women are needed at home much more than men. But nobody had been able to convince or force ‘Mangala’ away. She had to face a lot of criticism from everyone. At that time it was looked down upon for a woman to live with a man, without village head’s consent. She in fact lived with many men, because they were all his disciples. She took up the job of doing all day to day chores for Sucharit on the pretext that he had no time to do them anyway. She smilingly, cooked, washed and mended his clothes, took care of all important visitors, who were growing in number. Now Mangala became a strong confidante of Sucharit. And gradually got a nod of all his followers, to be with them.

She would wait by his side until he fell asleep at night. She was ready by his side again with a jar of water in morning. Watching her devotion, everyone developed a deep respect for her too, not so much because she was close to Suyesh, but because Suyesh also had so much respect for her. Mangala was now Ma Mangala for everyone. Phenomenal popularity of Suyesh now could not be handled by the usual small scale arrangements. It needed planning at a much higher level. Ma Mangala stepped up consultations with other colleagues and designed a security net for Sucharit. Since they had spotted spies from Amor too many times in the crowd, visitors were not allowed to get very close to him. Donations too had become large to be taken lightly. They had to be received, stored securely and properly accounted for. Thankfully Sucharit’s ministers had kept all these worldly matters away from him. His last meeting had so many visitors that they had to meet outside the village in a more open space. Sucharit spoke for a long time making everyone spell bound. Someone guessed there might have been nearly 50000 people in that gathering!

And that did not send a friendly message to king Vikram of Amor.

My Locality

Our home in 7-Bungalow area in Andheri west was an oasis of peace and quiet when we just moved in, in July 1980. In fact my building was the last one in the lane. It had a dead end on the right and there was a barbed wire, running across the lane. Beyond the barbed wire there was a large puddle that turned into a regular pond during rains. It remained slushy throughout the year and later turned into breeding bed of mosquitoes. It was also very quiet as there was no through fare for traffic. No noise. No pollution of any kind. Soon the young ones started using the dead-end as a perfect area to play cricket. Although I stay on ground floor flat of this building, yet if I stood on a small table, I could see the sea from there… well now the view is blocked by many layers of buildings. So ‘Sagar Darshan’ (view of the sea) is impossible now even from my terrace. The road in front is no more a dead end. As my apartment faces the road, there is abundance of traffic noise and variety of pollution. One can see a thin layer of dust reappearing on our furniture every hour. During morning and evening rush hours it can take 1-2 min to cross this narrow lane. There were some changes that were also good, like greening if this lane. Initially it was all barren and bare; but over the years the trees grew tall; but that reduced the size of our sky and patches of sunlight…

So, as I mentioned nothing is same in front of my house compared to 1980… the only exception is a loud and clear voice calling, “dabba batliwallaaa…” (empty cans, bottles)! You can say that ‘voice’ is not a thing. It is just a voice, which cannot be called as a part of this lane. Agreed, but I do hear it in my house, morning and evening, just as I hear the traffic noise. Therefore, for me it is part of this ambiance. It is the voice of a short and thin Marathi guy, a scrap dealer, mainly old newspapers and anything that others don’t want. Perhaps he was well built under his white shirt and dhoti – since he walks such a lot all over, and carries all his stuff on his shoulders. He does not own a cart, like many others. Be it summer, winter or thrashing rains, he was very regular in his business trips. He weighed newspapers with his small weighing scale that has a mettle hook. Somehow I never sold old newspapers to people who used a that kind of weighing scale. I knew their scale would never be right. I had experienced it once. I called out to a young man to sell my old newspapers. He arranged the them in a neat heap, tied it up, pushed the hook of his scale in the string… and pulled it up with his elbow on his knee. Simultaneously his face distorted, right arm shivered and his gorging eyes gave out his failing strength. Putting it down heavily he said, “3 kilos”. I laughed, “Does lifting only 3 kilos of weight makes you shit in your pants?” He was sheepish. He didn’t know whether to admit he was weak or he was a cheat. I asked him to get lost… Years passed, I did not change my view of scale with hook and never dealt with that dabba batliwalla too.

Coming back to only constant ‘dabba batliwallaaa…’ years passed, but he was still making his rounds, though virtually doing no business. May be he was too simple and did not have will to push his business. His bag remained empty in the morning and in the evening. He looked older as he had been walking on this road for more than quarter of a century. I realized his walk is a drag now, as though he is pulling himself in an invisible cart. I realized I too had changed. I do not react that strongly towards that cheat weighing scale. I had become soft towards him.

Once we had many empty liquor bottles to dispose. My wife had called him and handed the bottles to him. As he fiddled in his pocket for coins to pay her, she told him not to bother and instead gave him Rs 5 from her side. He was shocked! It is not the way this business works. He seemed nonplussed… feeling very confused, he went away. After that whenever we have an empty bottle, I call him in Marathi, “kaka, ikde ya” (uncle come here). Very gingerly he would come to our door. We would hand him the bottle along with a 5-rupee coin. Our business model has been modified. My wife said he is so old now. I too liked the idea. Now he takes the bottles, which actually helps us in clearing the clutter and we pay him for it. He says a parting ‘Namaste’ and both parties are mutually grateful.
Later I worked on making this business relationship to next level. Whenever I passed him on the road I started wishing him, ‘Namaskar Kaka’. He would raise his hand and acknowledge with his “Namasker”. It must make him feel good. One day I stopped him, made small talk with him and asked him for his name. “Sukhdev” he said. I found his name a little surprising. I always imagined him to be ‘Sakharam’ or ‘Ganpat’ or ‘Tukaram’ or may be just ‘Patil’. Sukhdev was so unlikely for a such a typical Marathi Manoos. More over I did not have too many Sukhdevs in my memory. One of them was this huge documentary filmmaker of 1960s and another was a freedom fighter – both Punjabis. Never mind I thought. He says his name is Sukhdev. So be it. After that I started addressing him with his name rather than just ‘Kaka’. That must have made him even feel better, because when someone living in an apartment addresses a ‘dabba batliwalla’, by his name and makes a small talk, must be ego booster for him. That was my intention…

It has been 4 months that I have not heard him calling out. There were quite a few bottles lying under the kitchen sink. After waiting for quite a few days, I decided to find out about him from the nearby cobbler, Parmeshwar. I stepped out immediately and met Parmeshwar. I asked him for Sukhdev’s where about, saying he has not been seen for some time now. He at first could not place the person, but then he said ‘oh him? He met with an accident.’ I did not like it. ‘When?’ I asked him. ‘May be about 4-5 months back.’ He added, ‘he was in hospital for sometime after that I don’t know.’
‘Oh… I see!’ I felt very bad. Noticing my genuine concern he offered, ‘I know where he stays. I will go and find out how is he feeling and let you know.’ ‘Fine’ I said and feeling a bit uneasy, returned home. Two day later Parmeshwar was calling out to me from my balcony. I knew he has some news for me. Sukhdev has become very weak, he said. He cannot get up. He is perhaps too old to recover completely. I felt like going to meet him right then, but in that hot afternoon it was not so easy to get up and get out. My ‘wish’ lost to my will power. In a few days bunch of empty bottles got disposed off to someone else. The ambience surely seems to have changed on my road.

Back to a distance past… I was in my balcony. Sukhdev was passing and ‘calling out’ in his powerful patent style, ‘dabba batliwallaaa’. In a light mood, I thought, I have never seen this Dabbawalla sitting somewhere relaxing or eating anything, ever. He just walks and walks and walks. That means he would be burning many more calories than he is consuming. That would also mean that one fine day he may just vanish in thin air and someone will find his clothes on the street, without any trace of him in it – scientifically speaking!

Liar Liar

I was on my way to the airport to meet someone. I was in an auto. I always travel by autos. They are cheaper, more easily available and open to uninterrupted flow of breeze. The auto stopped under a coming up fly-over near Andheri station. Frankly, quarter of Mumbai is perpetually under construction. As I was checking a message on my phone, I felt somebody in a car was looking at me. You can get this feeling, when such things happen. I turned towards that car and found a young boy clicking my picture on his cell phone. Perhaps he did not know the rules of social decency. I objected and told him that you cannot click anyone’s picture without his permission. But to my surprise he turned out to be a cheeky bum. Idiot said ‘sir just one more, ok?’ He clicked another one and rolled his glass up, as he and his friends did high5 and laughed aloud. I was aghast! Traffic had started moving. The car got space to speed up. I was in top irritated gear. I told the auto driver to follow that car. Old man got tense and asked if the car turns right from the road? We have to go straight. Never mind I told him; just follow him. I want to teach that bum a lesson; spoiled bloody brat! Auto squeezed through the narrow gaps and got closer to the car. The brats noticed and panicked. There was no scope for them to take off under a under construction fly over. They were also not so close for me to get down and give them a good fight. Signal was green, so the traffic kept moving gradually, taking my anxiety level to well above the red. When you are on such roads, your anxiety levels are any ways, way higher due to noise, dust, smoke, heat, hanky on your nose… and then someone takes your photos and runs off! Something had to be done. I was not taking it sitting in an auto. The car turned right, as the driver had doubted. Stupid driver, why did he have to say that? Hasn’t he heard of ‘if anything can go wrong, it will’, Murphy’s simple law? I shouted don’t worry, turn right and follow them. We can go from Vile Parle fly over.
The chase had started on S V Road now. The car passed the location where they shoot ‘Shapath’ and I had my first meeting with the producers. Car was now increasing the distance between us. Luckily I saw the Irla signal turning red. This is where Nokia Customer Center is located. I had just been there to get details about ‘whatsapp’ for a favorite person. Now was the chance to give a hard knock on that car window…
Suddenly I heard a shrill brake sound. Auto stopped with a jerk. My head almost hit driver’s back. Huh, he exclaimed and then said, 65.

I looked around. Oh my god! I think I need to make some corrections in the above story. It is true that I was under that fly over in Andheri. It is also true that Mumbai is perpetually under construction or repairs. Even a car had stopped next to my auto. But from here things seemed to have changed dramatically. Actually I remember it now, when that white car had stopped next me, it bounced a nice strong light that filled in inside the auto. I saw my face in the rear mirror and found the lighting interesting and clicked a picture. It came out good. Then out of greed, I took one more, thinking two is better than one. Those idiots were watching me from their car and must have found it clearly narcissistic. I hated it that they had noticed me doing that – clicking my own pictures. Though I admit to indulge in it quite often, of course in private moments mostly. But right now I felt as if someone had seen me masturbating. I told the auto driver if that car goes straight, you turn right. We will go from the Vile Parle fly over.

Without You

I can’t say I have problems

Or complains with my life

Even though you are not with me

But yes,

Living surely is not as lively

Since you are not with me…

Remember?

When we walked

We just walked

We walked out

With nowhere to go

Nothing to do

Nowhere to reach

Soon we walked back in

We were each other’s destination

Complete, within each other

Now I need to stop often

Looking for a shoulder

To rest a while

To sob on

Or to, just be

As you did on mine

Remember?

Corners of my eyes

Need to be soaked dry

With a palm

Like I did for you

If you remember

Certainly, life still has its own joys

I do find reasons to smile

But I don’t smile for no reason

Since you are not with me

I remember (P-1)

The incidences of this story are more than 2000 years old. I was much younger then, but details of those memories still clearly float in front of my eyes. With the passage of time the scenes may have turned a little sepia but they still play back faithfully. The landscape was hilly all around, but the hills were not very tall. The trees or bushes were very few and far apart. Yet it was not exactly a desert.

On that particular day, sun had just gone behind the western hillocks. Winter had set in. So, it felt quite cold after sun set. But unaffected by the clean, cool breeze of dusk, I noticed three wise elderly men resting on a plateau near my village. They were watching the redness of western sky and scattered patched of red clouds. Their smiling eyes seemed to be looking far away in the distance, as if they were able to see the edge of the world. They seemed to be enjoying the uninterrupted panorama all around. These wise men were there because they were tired of their journey and were hungry. One of them untied a knot of his simple whitish cloth containing some bread and few boiled eggs and was eating silently. Others were in the process of opening their pieces of bread, meat and potatoes from the pockets of their tattered but flowing robes. Their faces looked peaceful. They had three cloth bags, each filled with carpenter’s tools, like hammer, saw and plainer. They seemed so content as if the whole world belonged to them. They had kept their tool bags very respectfully, close to them. I thought they might be traveling saints or sages who spread the message of love and harmony among all. They surely did not look like carpenters to me. I approached them curiously. As they saw me one said, ‘oh hello, come here taste this bread’ and offered a piece to me. The offer was so unexpected that I just took the piece and humbly took a bite. ‘Are you carpenters or saints?’ I asked. They all seemed amused. Huh huh huh, one laughed. Both, we are both. We move from village to village, teaching people values of love, family life and respect for your profession.’ Other filled in, ‘and if it is required in every new village we do carpenter’s job too, since we need to survive until we move on to next place.’ ‘We don’t live on alms. We like to earn our bread. You go home now it is getting dark’, last one said. ‘Let me stay’, I pleaded. ‘My village is right down there and I can sprint down to my home in a few moments.’ They seemed to agree.
I knew all the saints then used to preach only about virtues of love, living harmoniously in a family, to be useful to your community, importance of studies, staying healthy, caring for young ones and respect for elders. All the saints did have self respect of earning their own bread, rather than living off society.
The redness of the sky had faded and gradually was turning dark blue. A few bright stars had emerged in the eastern sky. I noticed that there were three exceptionally bright stars just above us. To my utter surprise the stars had the same formation in the sky as the three resting saints on the earth. I thought when you feel love, you see it in everything that you see and if you think you met spiritual people you connect heaven to it. But it is just a co-incidence, I knew. The narrow path going down looked very lonely and dark now. As I watched, they decided to spend the night under those stars. May be they too will notice the formation of stars when they look up while lying down; I thought.
If one looked down from the hill top, two villages could be seen in the distance due to their twinkling dim lights and the rising smoke from a few thatched roofs. Saints fell suddenly quiet. They had begun meditation.

In a few minutes I heard some voices. They seemed to be coming from unseen part of the path down below. I looked. Nothing was in sight. Even in meditation saints seemed to be concentrating on those human voices. As the sound grew louder they opened their eyes and we all looked in the direction of those sounds. They looked a little surprised now. Soon they noticed three people. I too saw them. As they approached near we could see, a balding old man, an old woman and another woman who had a very large stomach. ‘Oh’, one said, ‘she is having a baby.’ Another one, ‘where are they going? Reaching any where from here would take them very long’! ‘They also must have walked a long way to get here’, third said. They felt sorry especially for the young woman and wondered why at such time they all had to venture this far! The voices became a little clear now. It seemed that they have been thrown out from their own village due to the shame of pregnant woman. Perhaps she was not married or may be her husband died. Men were so horrible and superstitious those days. They believed that if the husband died then the woman must be evil. Poor women, they really had bad deal those days.

Whimpering and crying pregnant woman suddenly stopped walking and sat down moaning with pain. Old woman looked at her face closely. The man was breathing hard standing a little away. She walked to him and spoke softly. She then guided pregnant woman away from the path and took her behind small bushes. The man too sat down on path now and buried his forehead between his palms. His head moved side to side. Even from that far he looked a picture of frustration and sadness. Stifled cries of woman were filling the air and the anxious old woman kept saying, ‘Meera don’t scream so loudly. Be soft Meera!’
On the hill these saintly carpenters knew what was going to happen next. And I was going to learn something new. Suppressed painful cries of the young woman went on for a few moments more and then a long silence descended… finally bubble of silence broke with a weak howl that announced the arrival of a new soul. Watching this drama from a distance was such a strong experience for us all. They raised their hands in prayer and looked up. Stars were already looking at them. They mentally blessed the new born and got busy among themselves.

But what happened next was totally unexpected! Old woman had wrapped the crying baby in a cloth and kept it by the side of path. We were horrified to see that the young woman was being forcibly dragged by the other two and leaving the new born behind on the deserted path. The young woman was so reluctant to leave the baby. Being weak she got dragged away. She kept crying bitterly, looking back all the time at the small bundle kept at the side of the path; at the mercy of… no one in sight.

Trudging slowly three of them turned around the hill and went out of sight. Their voices too faded away… and soon the cries of the baby started filling the empty space once again. The saints looked at each other and at me. It was impossible for anyone to just sit and not reach out to rescue the baby. They collected all their stuff and started walking down in a careful hurry. The family had left the baby along with the name of its mother, Meera!

They picked up the noisy bundle gingerly. It was a boy. He kicked and wriggled. I too saw his face. He had black curly hair. His frantically moving fingers got caught in beard of its carrier. They put some water in his mouth and looked around at the trees to find some fruits. I found a dead wood and threw it hard at a fruit tree. It sent some fruits back. I got them to the saints. They squeazed the fruits and dropped the juice drops in baby’s mouth.

Darkness of night was everywhere. A saint carrying the baby told me that they will need to reach the baby some safe place, where regular feeds for it can be arranged. One put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘it was high time you too went home’. I agreed. They quickly organized their things started walking in the direction baby’s family had gone.

Being alone I too started climbing down to my house. I knew they will have tough time, finding the baby’s parents. And they if don’t find them the baby some how will have to be brought up by them only. Soon three carpenter saints and the newborn baby turned out of sight.

I sprinted down. My mother had all the rights to yell at me. But I felt so very happy with the unbelievable experience I just had. It was an amazing story to tell her and everyone else.

Soothing Night

It was deep into the night. Even dogs had stopped barking. Only changing notes of cricket sounds gave a semblance of time dragging itself on.

He was restless; turning and twisting on his sunken bed under the thatched roof of the hut. His every little movement made the bamboos of his cot squeal loudly in the deafening quiet of the night and then… quieted down. He was used to it. He felt as though the sound was being produced by his own body movements, by his own bones. There was nothing to be noticed in it. Cot actually seemed like extension of his body. Was it a month… less… maybe more? It has been just too many days… and nights on this cot, knitted with zigzagging ropes made of grass and coconut hair.

Her ruffled hair was flying all over her face. End of her sari was on the floor, exposing her lose, torn blouse.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Disturbed, he turned to his side. Deep etching of cot ropes’ zigzagging pattern was seen on his thin bare back. It seemed as if the pattern was his nerves and not impressions from the cot. Nerves in geometrical form! His own nerves have gone all haywire, with no symmetry; narrow somewhere, thick elsewhere, knotted at some place and suddenly getting entangled around a bone. Her flying hair! Nerves are meant to hold people together. Like nerves of this cot, keep the cot in place. Hold your nerves, they say.
“You should have told me that you can’t do this.”
A thin layer of sweat appeared on his temple. Involuntarily his palm wiped it off before it trickled down to his eyes.
“Uhh… ohhh, unnnn”, he moaned in sleep.
“I am leaving… And listen, I am taking Bubbli with me… So don’t go informing the police… How can anyone trust you with a one year old?”

With a jerk, he sat up. Instantly darkness enveloped every detail in front of his eyes. His head spun due to weakness. He held his face and waited. After recovering, he reached out for jug of water. He has been doing it for many days now, living on water. He finished it in two swigs. It had to be refilled from the hand pump. He got up. But due to next bout of darkness, he banged into the wooden pillar. He knew he had to find ways to handle his weakness. He hadn’t seen food for days. He didn’t know when he ate last. But there was an image of rice and a piece of jaggery. Was it day or night? Memory failed him, forget it… he did not want to tax brains. He moved very carefully towards the hand pump. He grabbed the handle rather heavily, pushing it down by his falling weight. Few drops of water emerged from large mouth of the pump. He kept the jug from where the drops emerged.

Straining his back, he lifted the handle and pressed it down again, and again, a few times. When the sound of filling jug said, it is half full; he stopped. His entire energy was emptied in filling half a jug of water. He turned back, took a few swigs again and put the jug in the niche. He then carefully moved towards the room; stopped at door and held onto it for support, to face the void inside. A beam of moonlight was angled across the room. Entering from a hole in the thatched roof, it had settled on Bubbli’s pillow in a small circular patch…

For a shocking moment, patch of moonlight seemed like Bubbli’s face on the pillow. He sat down near in a surge of grief… gently he picked up the pillow and hugged it tight. With his face soaked in tears, he started feeling Bubbli’s entire bed with his trembling fingers and then… lied down on it, crouching like a baby.

The patch of moonlight had now settled on his face.