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Sunday, September 16, 2012

An Encounter With The Reality

Team Being Cynical

Let’s drive down to college instead of taking the usual bus. Asked Manoj.
The empathetic adventurous idea was evident in his voice. Are you sure, I asked. You mean; you want us to drive down a good 400 odd kilometers? Are you crazy? The inquisitive questions were equally prominent in my voice.
The idea was scary. Not for me but for my parents. To allow a couple of fresh passed out engineers to drive such a long distance to collect their degrees was more disagreeable than allowing Kanti Bai taking an weekend off from the household chores.
I appreciate the idea but not sure if my parents would agree to this adventure of ours. More so when it is raining for last four days; I added.
It took a good couple of hours of strong efforts of mine and Manoj to convince my parents on how brilliant drivers we are and how accustomed we are with the torrential rain as if we were driving in the hostile Himalayan terrene all through our lives.
After persistent cajoling and convincing we were finally allowed to take the newly bought Maruti Zen out of the garage to start our journey from Sambalpur. It was well into midnight when I pressed the gas paddle for the first time in three months to start our journey that seemed so long and never ending when we started.
Could we really manage to drive so long without any freaky stuff? I asked Manoj while filling up the tank at the outskirts of Sambalpur.
Stop being skeptical, said Manoj. You know what; I am already feeling sleepy, he nonchalantly informed, without giving any weightage to my skepticism. Let me go to the backseat and take a nap. Whenever you feel tired, wake me up. I will drive the rest; come the generous proposal. Even before I could nod my head in either with my approval or otherwise, Manoj jumped to the back of the car after dragging a bed sheet from the minimal luggage that we were carrying. I could hear the mild snoring of Manoj while I was turning the ignition key. The child inside Manoj brought a smile on my lips before I drove out of the filling center.
I drove along the highway with the high beam stretching in front, tearing apart the pitch dark that seemed to engulf our vehicle every second minute. Jagjit Sing scratching his throat out in the stereo and Manoj jolting his nostrils at the back was bringing about that rare mixture of beauty and the beast. The persistent pitter-pater of rain drops on the car roof was adding an exotic touch to the already toxically sleepy and chilled environment. No traffic on the road was making the drive more joyful, except the occasional disturbance of passing Lorries or the long distance buses, there was no symptom of a living world around. The feeling of being alone in the planet with none in the near vicinity to disturb in your endeavor was overwhelming.
It was into the second hour of our drive and I was feeling a little sleepy. Should I wake up Manoj? Or should I stretch myself a bit? It is only two hours since we left Sambalpur. I can’t be that tired. I tried to convince my inner self with all possible abbreviations. Having a cup of tea could just be the answer to fight the chilled weather outside and a snoring idiot inside. I took a momentary glance at the milestone on the right to see how far we are from Boinda, a small highway side congregation of tea stalls to cater to the need of all the sleepy drivers like me perhaps. Only 10 kilometers!! A sense of relief hit me with some freshness. Perhaps the most precious cup of tea of my life is waiting for me in next fifteen minutes.
Manoj; wake up. Had to shake the pulping body at least half a dozen times before he could show some signs of life. Finally the beast woke up with a jerk as if been thrown into the middle of the battle zone without a gun. Thought you would appreciate a cup of tea before we drive further, I said. The warm cup of tea and hot fried Pakora that night at 2:15 AM could easily undermine the taste of any five star menus on any given day. Fifteen minutes after we stopped for the tea break I was back at the wheel with Manoj already under the sheet at the back, minus his snoring.
Before I could press the gas paddle to zoom off, I felt a very gentle tap on my window. In the minimal illumination that the singular bulb of the nearby tea stall was providing, I could see a figure that was standing half drenched to my right. An old man, not a day less than 70 years with a fragile and lean body was looking at me with possibly an unspoken request in his lips. The attire of the old man wasn’t speaking much of his economical stature. A dirt stricken Dhoti worn in typical Indian style and an equally dirty green colour Kurta on top with multiple stiches so big that they were easily visible even in that dim lit environment. An oversized sky blue colour sweater worn over the Kurta to perhaps weather out the chill brought about by this persistent rain. I could easily see a couple of big patches on the sweater also. I roll down the window glass to enquire what the old man wants from us in the middle of the night.
What is it? I asked gently.
Could you help me son; came the reply. Actually I had gone to my daughter’s house in nearby village and got late. I am waiting here since nine in the evening for some ride but haven’t got any. He added.
Where you want to go? I asked
Phulwari; my village. It is only 20-30 kilometers from here and on the highway. You can drop me on the highway and I will walk down from there. Extraneous answers even before I agreed to give him a lift were clearly showing the desperation of the old man for someone to help him reach his village. He perhaps took my silence of few seconds as an inherent NO. Please son, help me. My wife is alone in the village and not doing well. I have to reach there somehow; he persisted.
 The old man seemed genuine with his request. Yet I looked back at Manoj to let me know his decision. Bring him in nodded Manoj.
I opened the left door and asked the old man to get in. He was all in praise for our goodwill gesture. He showered us with his ‘thank you’ and all the blessings for our prosperous future. The old man went silent after a good five minutes of his praise and blessings. With a little apprehension we left Boinda accompanying a new found co-traveler as a payload of our car.
The rain had started to pour heavily and minimizing the visibility in front of the windscreen to considerable extent. Driving seemed uncomfortable all of a sudden. The presence of a complete stranger inside the car wasn’t any comforting either. Why you left your daughter’s place so late? You could have stayed back and left in the morning. Why you took this risk and that too in this weather? I asked to break that uncomfortable silence.
I heard a deep shy followed by a miniature silence full with some untold pain of the old man sitting beside me. Who is there for me that I should have stayed back? Came the reply finally. The vacuum in the voice was quite visible.
Why? What about your daughter? I enquired in a lighter tone, as not to sound like interfering in his personal matters too much.
She died today only and that is the reason I was at her place. The reply was stone cold with no eloquence or punctuation. I could feel tear drops falling down his eyes. A moment of silence followed as I didn’t wanted to disturb the old man in his pain and sorrow. Let the tears flow down, I thought.
How all this happened? I finally asked. I could feel myself chocking with words failing miserably to come out from my voice box. Suddenly the outside world seemed darker than it was five minutes earlier. I increased the speed of the wiper to counter the rain drops that was pouring in buckets by then.
The stove burst while she was cooking today morning. Though I know what the real thing is; her in-laws, the village heads and even the police are narrating the same story. I know they have killed my daughter but none is coming forward to help me. Not even the police of the village. My daughter’s in-laws are rich and influential people of the area and that is why all are supporting them. No one is interested to listen to my part. I tried convincing a lot of people there, including the police inspector but he chased me away and threatened me to put behind the bars if I go there again. The old man finished this big sentence in a single breath. For the first time I could hear the sound of his cry. In my subconscious mind I had already slowed down the vehicle considerably by then. Perhaps my nervous system was mesmerized by this agonizingly painful story of an old and helpless man.
But you could have persuaded a little more? If you were suspecting some foul play, why you went to your daughter’s place alone? You could have taken along your family members or your village heads to confront them? I suggested more than enquiring.
The old man nodded in agreement but seemed like dejected with the effectiveness of my suggestions. No one comes forward to help an old and poor man son, he replied. I asked many to accompany me, but every one denied citing one excuse or the other. Even my distant relatives refused to co-operate. Perhaps they didn’t want to get themselves into any trouble by getting involved in such cases. Finally at noon I decided to come alone after not a single soul came forward to help or support me. The helplessness in the voice was let lose without any effort to capsize them within.
You don’t have anyone else? I mean no son who could have come along? I enquired. My enquiry was obvious vis-à-vis the situation that the old man must have gone through to bring some justice to his departed daughter.
Yes I have two sons but ironically they have long forgotten they have a father. Both of them staying outside with their families and perhaps hate to even acknowledge me as their father. They haven’t paid a visit to their aged parents in last decade. I struggled so much to give them good education so that they can make an identity for themselves but now they have conveniently forgotten me. Being a post-peon I did my best I could do. Slogged in the sultry sun to distribute the letters, gave tuitions to village kids at night for that extra income so I can provide everything my kids need. Made them eligible so they can stand in the status of the society but they ultimately found their parents too uncivilized and uncultured to associate with. They even didn’t turn up for their sister’s marriage two years back. The thicknesses in the voice made me feel the tears are as if drooling on my palms. After a brief silence he started again. My daughter was all that I had in my life for some time and yet God is so cruel to snatch her from me. The words were spiked with the sound of that painful cry, perhaps the veracity of which I would never know.
You know, my daughter was very beautiful. She was so charming and homely and affectionate. It is because of this only that the proposal from such a rich family came along. Honestly we were no match with the stature of my daughter’s in-laws. Initially I was skeptical, whether to go ahead or not. But the elders convinced me to go forward. I had to sell the only piece of my land to arrange money for the marriage. But see, what I and my daughter were rewarded with. He completed the sentence without even looking at me for once.
Why are you thinking negative? This could be a real accident. It could be entirely different than what you are thinking. I tried to play the devil’s advocate.
No it was not an accident. It was deliberate. He delivered these strong words looking straight at me. I wish I had taken my daughter’s words with more seriousness and shouldn’t have hid it under my helplessness. He took the longest of breaths while finishing these words.
When she was at our place last time, she was complaining about the indifferent behavior of her in-laws. She was mentioning about the physical torture she was administered to in want of dowry. She was even not too keen to return back to her in-laws place. I wish I had taken her words on face value; my daughter would have been alive now. Guilt was all over the place in his words and his voice. The old man sobbed again for the missed opportunity to save his daughter’s life. Controlling his plight he thought to take a pause again. I was even trying to arrange some money to give to her in-laws but little did I know they would do this so quickly. I wish I hadn’t convinced my daughter to go back to that death chamber again. The old man sobbed again.
I took the long breath this time for a change. I was fast struggling for words to continue with the conversation. Manoj was perhaps overhearing our conversation as he was out of his slumber a long back and sitting with a somber face and realizing the agony this old man had to face all through his life, culminating with losing his only daughter for no reason. God at times is real cruel. Cruel beyond words could explain.
So what you are planning to do now? I finally managed to utter.
The silence that followed told a thousand answers. The silence was a testimony of what the old man wanted to do. Perhaps burn the entire planet if possible. What can I do? He finally asked. A question as an answer, I guess. I have no one to stand by me. The culprits are influential and the police is not heeding to my words. They are not even agreeing to take the complaint and investigate. Whom I should fight with? And for how long? Son, I don’t have any strength left in me to fight further at this age of mine. I have fought all through my life for my very existence and I don’t have any strength left. Do you think I can still take the thick and thins of the circumstances and fight to give my daughter her justice? Do I have the mental, physical and economical substance left in me for such endeavor? The painful acceptance gave the impression of the old man already resigning to his fate.
Could we help you in any way? Manoj spoke for the first time in last half an hour. I joined the chorus with our combined pledge.
The old man looked at us with some sense of relief. But what can you do for me? As I said the culprits are very influential. It is not entirely about getting help but also about my strength to fight. You people can help me once or twice but it is me who has to take the fight to my daughter’s killers. You can’t be there for me till eternity. I don’t want to fight another battle again with no support or help insight. The people are so influential that they might even hurt me and my wife to get away with their crime. They have killed my innocent daughter and if there is anything called God ever existing then he will deliver the justice. He tried to console himself and his battered emotions, hiding behind that never seen heavenly judgment.
The discussion was getting heavy on my emotions. Slowly but surely we both were getting into the pain and suffering of the old man. In pursue of our good intentions, we shouldn’t hurt this poor fellow unintentionally even. The last thing I wanted is to rub salt on the fresh wounds of this man, whose name we are still unaware of. Intentions don’t count as long as you are hurting someone at the wrong place, even without any motive or malefaction.
How far is your village from here; I asked out of nowhere to change the topic.
I could see the old man wiping his tears before answering me. Another four or five kilometers I think. It is just after the level crossing.
Thanks to the recently inaugurated train track between Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur, the track criss-crosses the highway at two places. And the old man must be referring the first intersection, I thought.
We refrained ourselves from poking our nose on the misery of the old man further. All were silent inside the car. Only the sound of the rain drops on the car roof was trying to tear up the painful silence and making the situation a little heavier. We drove along in silence for ten minutes in that dark night as if we don’t have anyone for company. In the pitch dark the street lights installed at both sides of the railway crossing was an exception. We could see the illuminated part of the railway crossing from a distance.   
Why so much rush at the gates? Asked Manoj, when we were a good hundred meters from the railway crossing gates. Is there any train that just left?
Hell no. I replied. There is only one train that flays through these tracks and that must have left this point a long time back. Could be some occasional goods train, I added.
As we approached the gates the situation was getting a little clearer. Good congregations of people were surrounding a particular area at the side of the highway. Commuters have conveniently parked their vehicles on the sides and gathered at a corner. I could see a police jeep parked at the right side with one Havildar specifically placed to clear the approaching traffic and keeping the rushing crowd from becoming a nuisance for the vehicles on the highway. Must be some accident, I announced as if without it others wouldn’t have realized.
I moved a little ahead staying away from the surrounded crowd and parked on the left. Still the ignition on, I rolled down the glass and enquired the exact reason for this mess to the Havildar in charge of the traffic control.
What happened? I yelled. The Havildar looked at me as if I asked something out of ordinary.
There is an accident, he replied while still moving towards me.
Is it serious? When it happened? Are there any dead? I asked all three questions without taking any breath. The Havildar looked more confused than he was to begin with; seeing my inquisitiveness to know a hell lot in double quick time.
Yes it looks like serious. He replied as a matter of fact. A jeep that ferries local passengers from nearby villages to Boinda has turned turtle. There are at least four dead and few others are transferred to the hospital. There are many critical among the injured. The Havildar replied even quickly the speed than I asked them.
When it happened? I asked again to remind the Havildar that he missed answering my second question of the lot.
A good four hours earlier, around 10 P.M perhaps. He answered and rushed towards a wrongly parked truck on the right.
I sank to my seat again. It must be a bad day, I thought. Tried to help an old man but ended up listening the most painful story of our lives. And now, this disturbing news of the accident. God also goes crazy on odd days when he thinks to influx the world with all the possible pain and suffering on the same day. It is a bad world.
Let’s move. I was disturbed in my thoughts by Manoj. Not that we could have done any better to the situation by staying there.
I pressed the gas paddle again to continue our journey. If it doesn’t rain further then we will be in Bhubaneswar by 6 in the morning; asked Manoj. I nod my head in silence.
I could see the old man still undeterred by the happenings around and sobbing profusely without any sound. I felt like hugging him and give the much needed comfort that the old man might expect this hour. At least I can wipe his tears which deserve my attention; more so after the old man opened his heart out to complete strangers. What is our relationship with him? Nothing, perhaps. We might or might not remember him or his pain after couple of days. But can I ever forget this journey of mine, which has all the wrong embedded deeply within? Can I forget that I gave lift to a human who perhaps has lost everything in his life with nothing left to cherish? Can God be rational ever and convince himself to not inflict all his tests on innocent and helpless human beings like this old man?
Stop here. Yelled the old man. I was dragged out of my thoughts. I can walk from here. My village is only half a kilometer from here, he supplemented. I slammed hard at the brake paddle which was quite unnecessary as anyway we were not going anything beyond the speed of a local train.
But I don’t see any route to your village here. I enquired. I only see bushes and pitch dark surrounding. Are you sure you want to get down here? Concerns of mine was evident as I dearly didn’t wanted to drop the old man at an entirely wrong place at the mid of the night.
Yes, came an almost silent reply. I will get down here. My village is to the right. He answered while pointing his fingers on the direction, which only pointed to a range of deep bushes and bushes only.
But, I don’t see a path that could lead to your village uncle. Asked Manoj. Even the beast was getting worried about the wellbeing of the man who we didn’t know half an hour back. Are you sure? Hope you are not confused in the dark, he asked again as if he wanted an extra confirmation.
Yes, I am sure. Can I forget the village and the route to it where I was born and with all probability would die? Before we could ask any further questions, the old man gathered himself and his small jute bag that he was carrying and got out of the car. He showered all his gratitude for being given the lift and blessed all his good wishes again before disappearing into the bushes with no sign of any pathway that can be inhabited by any human being.
In the reflection of my car headlight I could see the thin and fragile figure engulfed within the thick bushes into oblivion, leaving both of us speechless. I pressed again on the gas paddle after five minutes of waiting for the rest of our 200 kilometer journey. Manoj didn’t felt like sleeping anymore and I had long lost my tiredness and sleep. Perhaps the moment the old man opened his mouth to narrate his story and pain the world and the time has hurdled into a pause. Rest of the journey was as quite as death. None of us uttered a single word as if we both wanted to pray and feel sorry for the old man in silence.      
It was the rising sun that greeted us when we entered Bhubaneswar. The morning jogging crowd and the occasional tea stall opened early in the morning to cater to the need of the populace who has taken the pain to come out so early and enjoy the fresh air. The rain has stopped long ago in this capital city. It was 6:30 in the morning when we reached home. The long drive of last night and the mental pressure all the way in the drive was no doubt taking a toll on our patience to stand on our legs for even a second.
Both of us crashed into our beds without having a talk with anyone around. I don’t know when I went to a deep slumber amidst thinking about what happened last night. It still felt like a mirage, as if nothing has happened in realty and yet so real.
Get up!!! Wake up and see this. I was pushed out of my good sleep by this consistent pursuance from Manoj. I opened my eyes and peep across the window to gaze what time it could be. It could be well into the late afternoon, I presume, at least it looked so from the position of the sun. What is it Manoj? Irritation was never a hiding factor in my words.
You must see this news. He was now forcing the morning news feed at me. What is it? Don’t tell me we had lost our Prime-Minister in a bomb explosion last night. I was still irritated with my words.
Hell with your sense of humor and read this. Manoj almost smashed the morning local daily on my face. Read the news on third page and you will know. Lazily I flipped the pages to third with still my eyes red and full with sleepy jerks.
The news at the top on page-III was there with colured pictures. ‘4 DEAD AND SEVERAL INJURED AS JEEP TURNED TURTLE’, was the headline that it was depicting. Is this the news that you wanted me to go through? I asked for the confirmation from Manoj. And is this for what you woke me up from my sleep? You must be an idiot to do so. Is it such important news that you had to wake me up and slam the newspaper on my face?
Yes, he nodded. I went through the news without further question and put it down once I read the whole story. What nonsense? It is the same accident that we saw on the highway. What’s the big deal? When four people have died, it ought to come on the newspaper. Is this the bloody thing for what you woke me up? I asked again. Now I was more irritated than initially when he woke me up from my much needed sleep.
Yes the same accident. Manoj was unfazed while answering without caring an ounce on how much I was feeling irritated. But I guess you haven’t gone through the pictures of the dead at the bottom of the news item. He enquired. Yes I hadn’t and I shook my head in denial. Then go through the pictures, he almost sounded like ordering me.
I went through each of the pictures minutely to find what that had caught Manoj’s attention. Each of them with some close inspection.
Look at the fourth picture closely. Isn’t he the same old man whom we gave lift yesterday? Now Manoj was shaking.
I looked at the fourth picture again. The same dirty Dhoti, Green Kurta and the same oversized sweater with those two big patches at the top left. I can still remember the big patches on the sweater that caught my eyes the moment I looked at the old man for the first time. The same face with that unspoken pain in the eyes which was still fresh, even after he was dead. I looked again at the picture to verify once more that it is not because of my sleepy eyes that I am getting hallucinated. No, I am not mistaken. Is it real what I am seeing?
Finally I looked at the still shaken up Manoj; by then he was anxiously waiting for my confirmation. I took a deep breath and looked at the picture again to reconfirm one more time and raised my head up at Manoj for the second time in as many minutes. “YES THE SAME OLD MAN …!!, I answered quietly”. That was perhaps the best I could have uttered for a response that time.

Note:

I never wanted to write this since I was not in for of letting the world know someone's personal misery. Hence refrained from jolting it down, even though the encounter is good ten year old. Recenetly a friend after hearing this suggested me to pen it. The argument was, could it be the poor old man perhaps wanted me to write his story? Else among all the people why he arranged the encounter with me only? Valid points and here I am with the story. May his soul rest in peace!!

12 comments:

  1. Very touching buddy....

    Is it for real?

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  2. Heart touching!
    The sinners like those of the Girl's in-laws may not got punishment from God instantly, but they will get eventually. YSR is an example. Now Sonia gets cancer...

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  3. Title and the photograph such a misguiding stuff for it to be about minorities!!!

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  4. I think - the same people who killed the old man's daughter killed him too and managed to show it as an accident!!

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  5. @Anonymous

    Not sure bro, but it is 10 years but I still get goosebumps thinking about that night. I still feel shakey imagining that I had interacted with a Ghost that night!!!

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  6. If your story is right and he was not alive then he could have contacted anybody. If that person contacted you with some purpose (as you argued) then it could be something more than being part of some online write-up after 10 years. May be some monetary help to his wife at that time. Where will his wife now? How she would have spent her every day alone at that age after that day? These questions are giving me tough time thinking.

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  7. @Anonymous

    No Idea mate. I tried once or twice to get the details of this man and his wife but all in vain. Hope she would have survived somehow :(

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  8. You finally penned it. Didn't you? Honestly at times I even think of it now and get jolted. By the way, you shouldn't have changed my name there :(

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  9. How can a news paper publish an incident which occurred very early morning and appear on the same morning

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  10. Dude, the accident was around 10 PM not early morning and the news published in the local daily, that too evening edition.

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  11. this is a true story but you are writing it perhaps exactly after12 years

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