It is cold. And this time, I am scared. The body doesn’t really want it.
I heard Dad saying to ma recently, “There is something he finds in it, on the highway, riding amidst all those vehicles, something more than other things give him”. He is right, something there is, what, I do not know. Who knows what it is we seek in life, us bums. And so I set off, excited about the road ahead, yet, a little tired, a trifle sad. I was happy about being on the way home, yet a tad weary of the times having gone by – for it was the time of the year when we generally look back and take stock. There was hope in the tomorrow to come, and the nervousness of living on the edge. I read someplace – if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking too much god-damned space.
It was tough riding this time. I was completely exhausted by the day’s work, and it was almost 10 in the night by the time I finally decided to leave. Even as I was crossing the city limits, I wondered if I should go back home and sleep the night and probably leave the next morning. The exhaustion – both physical and mental – was playing on my mind, which was throwing up the most morbid of thoughts including a vivid imagination of being the target of highway robbers! To add to it, my headlamp decided to ditch me, somewhere along the way. There wasn’t much I could do, at that time of the night, and so I chose to ride on, in the pitch dark, taking succour from the lights from passing vehicles. Most of them were cars, and every time one passed, I would give it a chase for as long as I could. Which wasn’t too long, considering the fact that we have big and powerful cars in India today.
Hotel Vignesh was the name, if I am correct of that highway eatery. At past one o’clock in the night, it was bustling with business. The tawa sizzling as the cook splattered water on top of it, before laying the next set of parotas, dosais and eggs – omlettes, half-boils(thats how the sunny side up is referred to in this part of the world!), or full-boils(what do they call these – double friend eggs?) – as the clientele preferred them to be served. There was a little idol of the Lord of Obstacles , with a lamp burning inside a tiny enclosure, a common sight along the roads. I wonder if that had anything to do with the name of this little joint. And I had to be brought there, just then, as I was contemplating about the past. The year is just another one of those reminders, that- yet another one has gone by, that life’s passing by and I wonder when it’s ever going to be time before I did anything about it.
Earlier, I had stopped off at one of my regular spots, only to find the tea-shop dark and half closed. A closer look revealed my usual friend there, waving a sign of recognition from the inside. A cuppa, I had needed it quite badly. Much to my surprise, I was denied it, not before I could notice a hint of sadness in his eyes. They were apparently asked, by the local police force, to shut shop after midnight. At least water, I thought, and stood chatting up with some of the few bystanders – labourers probably – waiting for some transport to take them home after a long day. As I stood there smoking, I noticed an argument among some men quickly turn into a high-pitched verbal dual, bordering on getting physical. One look at my friend at the shop, and he quickly waved me a dismissal, nothing more. And I was one my way. Something seemed not right at my tea shop, at pudupattinam, almost exactly half way between chennai and pondy.
An hour or so later, I was flagged, for the second time by a bystander. The first time, it was a young boy, around 20, I can’t recollect his name now. I dropped him off, and waited for a while, taking in the surroundings under the lone neon lamp that lit that part of the highway. He stood a dozen feet away, and was standing there, wringing his hands. I told him my name, and asked him his. He told me his name, and said he was a student, and for some reason, seemed uncomfortable. A while later, another person comes along, and my friend was on his way, saying his friend had arrived and he would get going. I was wondering if the poor kid was scared of me or something, he had that look in his eyes, and was quite obviously skeptical of me. I would be too, if I were to hitch a ride from someone in the middle of the night.
When I was stopped for the second time, I noticed it was completely dark around there, with a few lights visible at a distance, probably a small settlement. I had wanted to stop myself, guy waving for a lift, I instinctively pulled over. This small made guy walks up to me, sort of strains his eyes to size me up, but doesn’t say much.
“I hope you are not in a hurry, I need to have a smoke”, I told him, as I lit up.
And then the funniest thing happened. I couldn’t understand what he was communicating. I was amazed at myself at how easily we take things for granted. Imagine the number of languages and dialects spoken in India, let alone the world.
So we stood there that moment and quite instantly, started laughing, though I suspect each of us, for our own reasons. In my smile, there was a desperate helplessness. In his, probably irony, I am not sure. This guy was mute; completely unable to talk, he couldn’t even make a tiny sound. He was also probably deaf, for he didn’t seem to reciprocate from what I was ‘saying’.
For a moment though, I did not know what to do. He seemed helpful. He screws his hands against his head and gives me that questioning look, possibly confirming with me if i hadn’t understood. I nod, and he gestures to me to wait, and starts communicating again, slowly and more animatedly this time.
“We drove down, my folks are asleep, will yell at me if I wake them up, need to go and eat.”
I signaled back it would just be a smoke break.
Now I did not know what to feel. I didn’t bother about it though, just looked around, it was silent, except for the occasional vehicle passing by. The sky was clear, lots of stars strewn around, about half a moon. I pointed the vast sky to him, he pointed back with wonder in his eyes too. I was wondering what he would be thinking. Not much, just the food and rest, I suppose. There is so much talking done about everything, cricket, work, philosophy and what not. And here I was, unable to talk to this simple little guy. He must have thought me an idiot, himself being disadvantaged by two senses less. And he wouldn’t wrong.
At that point of time, I was simply grateful to Him – for having taken me through this magical moment, when I could experience communication in silence. What I was even more grateful for was, this little guy himself. For all through my brief interlude with him, I noticed this smile that never left his lips. Even his eyes reflected this joy, that was infectious. I wonder what made him so happy, considering he was in all probability a cleaner (the assitant to a driver, usually in-charge of running errands, cleaning up, filling water and so on) with a very modest background. I wondered if it was indeed a blessing – for he could not hear all the evil that is spoken in this world.
We rode on and when he indicated me to stop, I noticed this busy eatery – Hotel Vignesh. I sat there on one of those stools covered with drops of dew, looking at the various people around me, I saw my friend find a chair and his food soon arrived. He was eating eagerly, suggesting to me that he probably was really hungry. My thoughts were still in the moment when I met him, and discovered how little I knew. In the midst of the loud music blaring there and all the activity, my mind veered off in its own course. When I finally broke out of the reverie, my friend was nowhere to be seen. I looked around, even at the highway, but he seemed to have disappeared. I wanted to shake hands with him, once more, and thank him, but that was not meant to be.
It has been a roller coaster year, in terms of emotions. Tough work, and thankfully, that’s what keeps me going. A little over a year ago, in fact, I think I had started blogging then, yes I had – I found a job that gave me some purpose. Interestingly, what led me to it was that one decision a few years back – to quit. And then I found a teacher in a monk. From there, it has been the same life, in new light. I suppose I was that kind too, and I was shown the way inward. Coming back to work, it has been wholesome – challenging, purposeful and giving me a lot of joy, learning and what do they call it – satisfaction?
As it is with life, there were the lows too. “Dealing with hurt is tough”, my dad was telling me on New Year’s eve. We had a long chat about a lot of things. All 4 of us in fact, and I was sitting there thinking about how we’ve all grown up, grown old, and were sitting there talking about grown up things. I am sure they have had their bad times too. I could see it, especially when dad was talking about going back in time and setting things right. It pained me, to know that I might have given him the feeling that something was ‘wrong’ somewhere along the way. I can’t recollect something like that, for when I look at myself now, and all that I have, I can’t but help feel blessed and grateful, that things are just fine.
What keeps me going is my faith, in the something that pervades every sentient and insentient being, that knows what is best for me, that makes sure that despite all the lust, greed, violence and destruction around us, keeps producing that miracle – of harmony. Only the absolutely insensitive could question His presence, I think. For, this is beyond cognition, what they call as faith. When I look around, and think about what good I have done for the world around me, and weight it against all that I have TAKEN, and yet experience the harmony, I know Him.
A year goes by, and reminds me of a similar setting, when I wrote a post around the same time, only a whole year back. Time flies, doesn’t it?
The greatest disgrace is when a man falls in his own eyes. Nothing can be more shameful, for at the end of the day, I am the only one who knows myself truly and completely well.
I have decided to be truthful to myself. It is not a resolution, for that seems a little ritualistic to me. Every year, I made resolutions, only to break them soon. This time, I’m not making any such things as resolutions. Just one decision, and I am going to stick to it, God be with me.
May all you wonderful folks have a fantastic year ahead. May there be introspection, may we grow and evolve into human beings. Thank you, for your presence and words have helped me grow in my own way.
It is magical. One can not understand unless it is experienced. And in order to experience it, one must break away from any preconceived notions that may have been formed about it either from one’s upbringing or cultural values. A simple gesture, it virtually eliminates the need for empty words. And it comes in handy at all times – during joy, in sadness, in victory, in defeat, why, even during death. There is a lot it can do – a simple hug.
This New Year, I am giving anybody who has ever stepped here, everybody comes by regularly and anybody who is yet to step here – loads of hugs. There goes – isn’t it mysteriously enchanting?