The Man on the Bus: Part 1

Shalin caught his 7 am bus. Starting the journey on the footboard and getting a seat after 20 minutes. His office in Bkc was the last stop. Daily rigmarole. Jump on the footboard, push the way through, get a seat and dose off. Chalaa… Chalaa. Utraa last stop… That was how his day started.
This journey had started 10 years back when he landed his first job. Straight out of college. Shalin had an idealism equalent to the leaders of independent India. He would change the world, given a chance that is. This was his chance. Nothing till now was set on a platter for him. Living in a pigeon hole somewhere in the shanties on the outskirts of Mumbai. It was the dream of getting out that fueled him through his graduation and post graduation.

10 years down, the idealism was replaced by despondency. A feeling that could possibly be shared by prisoners on a life term. 

A bad marriage, mortgage, his mother’s illness meant he was a dead horse that was being flogged day in and day out. Self doubt writ large on his face. He couldn’t conjure up courage to look out for a new job, pull the plug on marriage or leave his home. He was absolutely incapable of taking any decision. His mind had caged him so hard that the only luxury it allowed him was his daily routine, anything beyond would be dangerous.

Today as he prepared to get out, he felt an old man smiling at him from the last seat. That smile was unsettling. Also it seemed like the old man had that gaze on him from a long time.

Shalin ignored and walked out.

Next day just before he got his seat, he checked for the old man. Relieved that he couldnot spot him, he caught his seat and prepared for his customary nap. But it wouldn’t come. The harder he tried the more difficult it was to sleep. Suddenly he saw the old man was sitting next to him. In his struggle with himself, Shalin didn’t notice when the old man came and sat beside him. Shalin was spooked but was not showing it. He started looking outside.The old man had the same zen like smile. Nothing bothered him. It was too much for Shalin. 

He looked back at the Old man and asked, “Why are you smiling at me?”  The old man calmly responded,” Is that a problem?” “Obviously, isn’t that a problem, how do you expect one to react when an unknown person is smiling at him, stalking him if I may?”Shalin shot back. That obviously had no effect on the old man, his face was still as a placid lake,the smile was not disturbed one bit. ” I came to help, what’s ailing you dear?” Shalin was stunned. “What do you mean? Who are you ?” “That’s not important. I have been observing you for about a month dear and I can sense an extremely negative energy field around you. I have been looking at you since a month hoping you would catch me and possibly I could help. So tell me dear what is it? I can help.” ” Nothing, just go away, its none of your business…. He kept mumbling, each word coming out with a lower decibel, the false courage was eluding, his eyes were becoming red and suddenly the dam burst, Shalin kept crying… The old man didn’t utter a word. After a while Shalin slowly looked up, a little embarassed, what had he done? Who was that man? How could he come from nowhere and do this to him? He was equally amazed how his normal self gave way, how could the facade crack?But after all this, the truth was, he was feeling very light, like a huge weight was off his back. As he slowly looked up, the old man put an arm around him and said, “Look around, no one is looking. It’s OK to let go once in a while. How are you feeling son? Slightly better? ” He queried. Shalin nodded. “By the way your stop is coming. Something important at work or can you bunk? This old man would not mind some company. There is a bus from here to Juhu beach.” Shalin followed the old man. They caught the bus and landed at the beach. On the way Shalin kept looking out, he never looked back. The old man was silent. No word. But this silence was agreed from both sides. There was no need to say anything. They both got down at Juhu Beach and walked towards the beach. “Sahab Chatai lelo..” The old man gestured the rug man to place the rug on the sand and handed him 10 bucks.

It was about 9 am. the sky was slightly over cast. The beach was relatively empty. The morning joggers had gone. The couples would come in the evening. The stalls selling Pav Bhaji and other street food were not open. Both of them sat facing the shore. A wave came with a flurry and died in a whimper, pushing the sand slightly higher. 

Do you like the waves? The old man asked rhetorically and continued. I personally love them. What are the waves? For some they could be water, For some they could be energy, but for me they are the ocean expressing itself. Come to think of it, the wave is the ocean afterall, isn’t the wave the ocean’s eternal offer for friendship with land. The land is dense and solid, the ocean however keeps working, bit by bit. The beach is where they meet. Another way to look is, the land is Yin and the Ocean is Yang. One gives and the other receives. The energy is being transfered eternally. Close your eyes son and tell me what you see?” 

What do you mean? What can I see closing my eyes? Asked Shalin. The old man would have none of it. He didn’t bother answering and gave him his signature smile. 

Shalin slowly closed his eyes. After a while he realised that the old man was expecting an answer. “Well I see nothing. Wait it is a faint red. The sun is able to penetrate my eye lids. My eyes feel warm.”  “Ok now tell me what you feel” said the old man. ” Well my face is warm. I can feel the wind, its blowing my hair. The wind is getting really strong. I can hear the waves. I can hear the crows. I can smell so many things. The smell of the wet sand. The smell of the Pav Bhaji.” 

“Well you are making progress son. Now feel all of it together.” OK I can feel it. All of it together. I feel so alive. I feel so good. How did I miss it all this while?” Leave that live in this moment…. After a while Shalin slowly opened his eyes… “Well that felt good…

…Ok  but tell me all this mumbo jumbo is just momentary and all my issues are real. I need to get up and face them. So all this makes no sense in the real world that I live. Like today I just bunked office. I ran away from my work. That makes me a coward…

The old man:

“Okay let me ask you this. What makes you happy?  That’s a simple question.”

Shalin:

“Well these days… Just about anything on TV. Ice cream. I crave icecream.”

Old man:

“Nope… That’s not what I meant. Those are things you do to escape. Tell me what makes you happy. ”

Shalin:

“I don’t know. I thought that was happiness. I don’t know what is happiness. What is happiness?”

Old man:

“Ok a moment when you forget yourself, a moment when you are intensely active but deep within you are still and in harmony. When did that happen to you last?  Look within son, Shut the mind off. It is a fool. It is just filled with the past. Feel… Use your lymbic brain.. ”

Shalin: “What the hell is the lymbic brain. ”

Old man:

“Don’t mind. Close your eyes and ask this question to yourself.”

As the eyes closed, Shalin started looking within. At the periphery, the wind, the sun and the smells where playing their part but deep inside what was this feeling called happiness? When was it that he felt alive? When was it that he felt still but bustling with activity. His life was flashing by, sifting through multiple images as if his life where a movie. 

Shalin:

“Yes. I felt happy when I organised events. That was my forte. I was the best in that. I organised events in my college, in my mohalla. It was so hectic but I felt so good. Yes  I felt happy doing that.”

Old man:

“What do you do these days?”

Shalin:

” I work as an accountant in a bank.”

“Hahahahahaha…. “The old man laughed uncontrollably.

“Ok , let’s do an experiment. We will meet each other one week from today at the same place at the same time. In this week you have to do what your gut ask you to, however scary or weird it sounds. Just follow your gut, for that is the God’s GPS. I know you are scared. So follow it for one week.

Do we have a deal ?” Asked the old man

“Deal!!!…

What’s your name? I don’t even know your name.” said Shalin.

” That’s not important. With a name you will label me.” said the old man with his Zen like smile.

The Ocean of Blue: Part 2

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“Ammi samandar kaisa hota hai??? Ammi bataona…???”

“Arre khaana bana nahi abhi tak???

” Javed ko kya bolu??? Roz aata hai… Arre kab tak aisa chalega???

An average day in the life of Naseem, On one hand a very very  inquisitive 5 year old Sahil who would question her on anything and everything that he saw and on another hand a nagging Mother in law. It is not easy being a young widow with a child in a conservative muslim family, especially  when you are just 24 and you need to be running the house. There were all kinds of people, There were the oldies who said she brought bad luck to the Qureshis and blamed her for the untimely death of Imtiaz, Then there were others who despised her for going out to work in a call centre. There was also the neighborhood lech Javed who would pry on her any given opportunity.

But life wasn’t like this always, Naseem was the most beautiful girl in her mohalla, for her mother she was her Pari whose eyes had Noor. Life was beautiful. There was the neighbourhood paramour Imtiaz who had a special corner for her. Naseem liked the way he looked at her, he was earnest, and respected her, yes he was uneducated but believed he could change his destiny with his hands. Naseem’s mother hated Imtiaz, She had big plans for her daughter and Imtiaz was no match. Well…as they say time had other plans, She was 18 and he was 24, they eloped and by the time they reunited with their family, Naseem had a 3 yr old Sahil. It was one helluva ride with Imtiaz, no expectations, each day was a new experience, Imtiaz had a way of surprising life, staring at it, every day was a lifetime, simple pleasures like catching the double decker at Colaba to see the Queens necklace, the best nalli nihari and ran masala at Mohammad Ali road or just sitting by the Ocean, every cell of her body was full of life, it was like they were on a constant high. They lived like there was no tomorrow. Imtiaz was a shayar to the core. He wrote for her only for her, for her eyes, made her feel like a princess. It didn’t matter they stayed in a shanty, with room only enough to keep a double cot. One day Imtiaz didn’t return home, a rogue car came the wrong way and  knocked him over. Naseem mourned for three days, on the fourth day she got up and took charge, there was a family to feed, her life had changed forever. Naseem was the man of the house.

Naseem packed off Sahil to her  neighborhood kindergarten, packed her lunch, kept her mother in law’s food in the plate, pulled over the burkha and ran to catch a rickshaw. The Call centre had punch in, punch out timings and every late mark would knock off half a day’s salary, from her precious Rs.7500 that ran her house. The train pulled over, Naseem’s friend Rehana would keep her place at the door, Naseem jumped in, greeted Rehana, she moved back and the train started, slowly catching momentum, there was a rhythm to the sound of the rakes almost like it was the rhythm of life. The wind touched her like Imtiaz, reminded her of his presence, it wanted her to be free, this was her quite little daily epiphany. Something hindered her thought process today, someone was watching, as she looked across there was a figure of a middle aged man in the distant train, looking at her in the most impervious fashion, the look froze Naseem, those eyes they were seeking something, something that was ethereal. She looked back, straight in them, at first he hesitated then he looked right back, it was a moment when a connection was made, she touched something, the moment seemed like a lifetime without a time or a space dimension. It was endless, like two oceans had met. Suddenly the sight was gone as her train pulled over, the other had passed. The connection was interrupted.

Naseem started to laugh out loud. Rehana was clueless, Naseem told her “Chal aaj bunk maarte hain” Rehana had not heard such a thing ever. Naseem wouldn’t listen. She took Rehana for a movie. Naseem laughed like a 5 yr old during the movie, almost as if she were someone else. After the movie Rehana could not stop herself and said “Naseem aaj kya hua tujhe??? Bataana” Naseem said, “Rehana ek bat bataoon, mujhe ishq hogaya hai” “kissse ???” she queried… “Zindagi se” answered Naseem. Rehana was about to say something when Naseem’s phone rang, it was Sahil, he asked “Ammi batao na  Samandar kaisa hota hai??”
“Neela, Gehra aur Behadd” answered Naseem.