‘What are we doing here in this irritatingly hot noon, Grandpa? You’ve probably forgotten that dad regularly pays installments of the AC.’ The 12-years old boy almost shouted at the old man as he walked along the riverfront, while the boy dragged himself forward.
‘I want you to understand what beauty really is, beta!’
‘So, another lesson? No, grandpa, please! I’m already sweating profusely and, and well, I’m so thirsty.’
‘If you really are, then go back to the car, and fetch the water bottle.’
‘Come on grandpa, it’s May. There is not a single drop of water in the river. There is no beauty, there’s no lesson!’
‘From the sixty five years I have spent on this earth, I have realized one thing, and I also want you to remember it: You can understand the positives only through the negatives. There is no good; until there is bad, and you already know, there IS bad! ‘
‘Okay, I got it! Can we please go back now?’
‘You will only be benefitted if you speak less. Might help you conserve energy and prevent thirst.’
‘But we are done with the lesson, no?’
‘I wish we were.’
Walking on for almost half a kilometer, they finally found one person on the dry shore. Someone bare-footed in rugged clothes, torn white t-shirt, dirty pant folded from the bottom, dry and sandy hair; cleaning the floor with a broom! A white bin bag lay piled next to him.
‘What is he doing in this hot noon?’ The boy exclaimed, ‘Doesn’t he know there are no tourists here in these days?’
‘He’s doing his job, son. He has to do it, no matter what.’
'You can understand the positives only through the negatives. There is no good; until there is bad, and you already know, there IS bad!'
‘Gosh, it would be so boring to work like this. That too, alone.’
‘No, he is not alone.’ Grandpa pointed at a girl sitting a few meters away from the sweeper. Even from the distance, they could figure out she looked pretty, too pretty to be found in such a place.
‘He will always find people like that girl here, even if it’s May.’
‘Yeah, but why is she here? For a lesson as well?’ The boy quipped.
‘Looks like that only. She’s sad. Probably crying. Her gestures suggest so.’
‘..And yet listening to songs?’
‘Seems so. I’ve always hated those wires, you know. Their ends are not even of the same size.’
‘Because, they fulfill the need, no? They are intentionally designed that way.’
‘Just like our Happiness?’
The boy knew something philosophical was going to be hurled at him now.
‘Let’s sit now, no?’ He cut the topic.
‘Yeah, even I’m tired. After all, I’m sixty five!’
Much to the boy’s relief, they sat on a bench and the much destructive missile attack was averted. As their eyes went back on to the sweeper, they saw him finishing his work, picking his bin bag up. He started walking towards the other end of shore. On the way, his legs jerked to a halt, in front of the girl.
‘Why did he stop? He probably heard the girl crying?’ Asked the boy.
‘Maybe. Or there might be some other reason, too. You are free to assume anything.’ The grandpa said, keeping his eyes jammed on those two.
The girl, gazing at the riverbed since long, realized she was being stared at by the sweeper.
‘Maybe, he just got his eyes red on her. Maybe, he doesn’t know we are here.’ The boy said in a detective-like tone.
‘I shouldn’t have given you the freedom to assume.’
The girl wiped her wet face and conscious, she looked at the sweeper.
‘See, she even wiped. She indeed was crying.’ The boy jumped out of joy for having cracked the code, ‘But, why?’
The sweeper, suddenly, removed his eyes off the girl, and dashed towards the stairs.
The grandpa kept himself focused on the girl, ‘Assume!’
‘It’s difficult. There are so many reasons that can make a person cry.’
‘Every emotion has a story. Assume the story, it will lead to the root of the emotion.’ The grandpa said as he felt he was finding the root. He kept on observing the girl, Preksha.
‘Happyy Birthdayyy, kutti..wassup? havin fun in d new city? hows evathin at work? it’s sunday too, so mst b plannin to hang out wid colleagues 2day, huh?’ Preksha had read as the message from her childhood friend, Ramayaa in the morning. She had just woken up, and yes, it was her Birthday! As is obvious to any other person, she also wanted to be wished by everyone she knew. In fact, again, as is obvious to any other person, she also wanted ‘more’ to be wished by people she didn’t know!
She sat still in her bed for a few minutes. Although she was yet to take bath, she felt fresh enough not to need one. However, the last few words in the message diverted her mind somewhere else. She stood up and walked up to the washroom to brush her teeth. She was still thinking upon the reply to that question. And as usual, instead of sticking on the prime matter, her mind got wandering about to a different path, thinking about her colleagues: Vandita, Akshar, Smit and..And, her phone rang.
‘Hello, Good Morning, Sir!’
‘Preksha, can you come to the office for half an hour? You’ve got to upload Mr. Kumar’s file by two o’clock.’ The head of department said from the other end.
‘Ye..yes, sure sir. I will be there in fifteen minutes.’
Hanging up, she threw the mobile on the bed. Obviously. There was no reason for her not to be angry. She hastily got herself ready, wore her sandals, locked the door, and plugged earphones in:
“રંગી પરોઢ આવી, ખુશીયો સંગ લાવી..
હરખાયે હૈયુ, હાયે હાયે હાયે હાયે..
આશા ની કિરણો વિખરાયે , ઉમંગ એવી છલકાયે,
મન હળવેથી ગુનગુનાયે, હાયે હાયે હાયે હાયે..
હેય શુભારંભ હો શુભારંભ,
મંગલ વેળા આવી..”
As she speeded her vehicle up towards the office building at the Premam circle, she heard some voices, besides those tunes that the earphones played..
‘You know what, I am never going to understand what kind of statuses she posts on FB, and why, and how they pop up in her mind?’ It was Vandita, sitting on the desk in the office, talking to others, ‘But I know one thing, she is hell of an awesome friend to be with. She might be into these mature thoughts kind of shit, but she knows very well how to be an immature crazy animal while being with someone like me.’
As Vandita ended, Smit stood up, and began, ‘It is not very long since we became friends, nor we have talked to each other much. But from what I know about her, I have found one commonality between us, and that is: the love for God!! And..yeah, she is a nice girl.’
Then there came Akshar’s turn, ‘A girl, being 300 kms from her house, works, studies, and still tops. Just imagine, how amazing, intelligent, powerful, strong, beautiful girl she would be! Okay, I know I exaggerate a lot sometimes. But, seriously, she is awesome. I just love her. Well, don’t carve a literal meaning out of that, Amar will kill me otherwise, like literally.’
He raised his arm at Amar, who, nervous till now, turned conscious. Everyone was looking at him, waiting for him to begin, eager to break into making fun of him. In spite of trying to bring himself to words, he failed.
‘I knew he wouldn’t be able to.’ Said Vandita.
‘Come on yaar, stop blushing and begin! See, even the camera is on. Don’t ruin the plan, buddy!’ Akshar added.
‘जय हनुमान ज्ञान गुण सागर, give him strength, जय कपीस तिहु लोक उजागर.’ Smit spoke, much to others’ disregard of his untimely reference to God.
‘Forget, even God is not going to help us.’ The frustrated Vandita fired, ‘Amar is such a coward, he is not going to..’
‘I LOVE HER!’ Yes, in return, he exploded. Everyone jumped out of joy and cheered, as if the party had already begun, even though the birthday girl was yet to arrive.
Suddenly, the peon arrived with the cake in his hands, panting as if he had just been back from a marathon.
‘Shit shit shit, she’s here already.’ He said as he opened the box on the table.
‘Hurry hurry Hari.’ Smit said to all, precisely all!
‘God, fast she drives!’ Akshar said while placing the candles on the cake, ‘It’s hardly five minutes and she is already..’
‘Guys, look at the door!’ Amar pointed at the open door.
Smit dashed towards the door. As he slipped, the peon caught the movement and closed the door – BANG!!
And, she arrived, with the song still on loop in her earphones:
“हाँ मज़ा है ज़िन्दगी, नशा है ज़िन्दगी..
धीरे धीरे चढ़ेगी, दुआ दे ज़िन्दगी, बता दे ज़िन्दगी..
बात अपनी बनेगी..”
Everything was as planned, everything was as hoped for. It was her birthday, and..the only difference was, there were no Vandita or Akshar or Smit or Amar or even the peon. No decorations, no camera, no cake, no candles. There were only Preksha, her departmental head, and the song that still refused to end. Maybe, Preksha didn’t want the song to end only?
As she entered the office, she paused the song and plugged the earphones out. She sat on the computer, and started operating the robotic employee hidden inside her, for she herself was not there; she was in the party, where all her colleagues had gathered, they were celebrating her birthday with so much zeal, Amar was trying to gather all his courage to propose her, and she was the most beloved girl for the day. She was in her fictitious world, created in her mind, created by some strangely happy feeling. Wait, there was no reason to be ‘strangely happy’, was there? In fact, she was only angry when she left home, no? Then how come such dreaminess and happiness crowded her all of a sudden?
And now, some kind of sadness overshadowed all other emotions of hers. She was sadder than she should be. Those assumptions, they were so fake! She has just joined the office a few weeks back. She hasn’t even talked to any colleague from the office more than enough, how can anybody even remember her birthday? And even if they do, why would they celebrate it with so much zeal and enthusiasm? Those assumptions, they were so fake! Amar doesn’t even look at her during the office hours, forget about knowing her. How can he love her? Those assumptions, they were so fake! She was the one whose drunk father used to beat her everyday at home. How can someone even choose to like her? Those assumptions, they were so fake!
She somehow completed her work, and left the office. She didn’t want to go home, she just wanted to be sad. She wanted to pity on herself. She wanted to cry. She wanted to believe she was the loneliest girl in the world. She wanted to lose. She wanted to blame her God for this. She decided to reply to Ramayaa, ‘Heyya, thankzz a lott. Meanz a lott to me. n yeaah, goin out wid dem, dey r so crazy. It’s goin to b gr8 fun fr sure.’
So, she again plugged the earphones in. This time, some different tunes though:
“खोयी खोयी सी हूँ मैं, क्यूँ यह दिल का हाल हैं..
धुन्दले सारे ख़्वाब हैं, उल्ज़ा हर ख़याल हैं ..
सारी कलियाँ मुर्ज़ा गयी, रंग उनके यादों में रह गए ..
सारे घरांदे रीत के..
लहरें आई, लहरों में बह गए..”
Once again, as if those earphones, so intimate to her ears, had gained the power to control her feelings. They played the song to evoke her emotions and let her get disappeared in the imaginations, in those fake assumptions..
Vandita, sitting on a bike on some peaceful lone road was telling to someone sitting in front of her, ‘I didn’t know it was her birthday, maybe because she’s not there in friendlist on my FB I guess. And anyways, she is not some ‘friend’ whose birthday I would like to remember!’
On the other hand, Smit, seated in a temple, while praying, was talking to the God, ‘Happy 20th Birthday to her. You know, she IS a nice girl.’
While, Akshar also had something to say, ‘Preksha? Who? That chewing gum girl, who stretches every matter to the best possible length? Arghh, this is crazy; why would I want to wish some random stranger on her birthday?’
And finally, Preksha could hear a whisper, Amar’s voice, as he spoke softly in Vandita’s ears. Out of nothing, he brought a ring out, sat down on the floor on his knees, and..
Preksha was looking at the dry riverbed. She was also like that dry shore, no? Without any companion to cheer with, without any hope to go green, having the only help of loneliness to play with. She could find her own reflection in those sands. The song ended. She checked her mobile. No reply from Ramayaa yet. Maybe, she was busy, or maybe she had wished in the morning just out of formality or something like that?
She put another song on, again, to prove her point, to prove to herself that her assumptions were correct, even though she never knew what was there in others’ minds. Really, there was no way to know that, was there? What Vandita, or Akshar, or Amar or Smit or even Ramayaa had thoughts on her, were secret to her; and she herself knew the same thing, but still, she wanted to lie to herself. Her lie might have turned out to be true, or even false, who knows! So, she started another song, a sorrowful one, and those earphones – they again helped her.
The sweeper strangely stared at her for a few minutes, and then, walked towards the stairs.
‘Grandpa? Grandpa, Where are you?’ The boy brought the old man back.
‘You know son, why two ends of those earphones are of different size?’ The grandpa muttered. Though this was no different from what he spoke just a while back, this time, the question excited the boy. He was curious to know what was coming.
‘They are just like our happiness, you told a few minutes ago.’ He replied.
The sweeper sprinted towards the stairs. He then sat in a corner, and opened the face of his bin bag.
‘Yeah, they are like our happiness. They are of dissimilar length, but they are intentionally designed so as to prove their purpose.’ The grandpa said.
The sweeper brought an old, broken radio out of it, which he must have collected from some garbage, which he must have recalled when he saw ‘a girl’ playing songs on her earphones.
‘We also blame our God for showering so much fury upon as, and bestowing his best wishes on the others. We feel left out while demanding justice from him, when we have a point to cry.’ The grandpa continued.
The sweeper tried turning on the radio, it really turned on, he was so happy!
‘But God is no partial being. He has designed our happiness just to prove its purpose.’
However, the radio played nothing; it was only voice disturbance that the sweeper could listen to. He got sad, but he still continued trying, with a hope to listen to anything – just ANYTHING!
‘From our eyes, the happiness might look of dissimilar platform; but from his eyes, this dissimilarity is the best justice.’
‘Oh.’ The boy wondered over those unattractively wise words. He asked him, ‘And what assumptions did you make, grandpa?’
The grandpa smilingly replied, ‘I assumed I was God.’
The sweeper kept on trying hard to make himself listen to some music, but he failed; the only thing that happened with the radio was the endlessness of voice disturbance!