Nothing in the world fascinates me more than a fit body.So much so that If ever I am given three wishes by a Jinn, I would wish for a well toned body in all the three. So in this pursuit for a fit physique, I have made it a point to spend an hour daily in the evening exercising and working out in the park near my home, for which I feel privileged sometimes to stay in a locality where the colony has the best possible parks of the city.
So in that quest, I was always a regular patron to the park and so was he. I would be at the same time every evening. So would he. I never saw him coming in; he was always already there. I would often tell myself that if this is the beauty of life after retirement, blessed are the retired people!
Surprisingly he wasn't given to walking or exercising in any way. All he ever did was to sit on the bench in the same way, looking at the setting Sun day after day. And it would frustrate me that even to see the sunset, he had actually chosen the wrong spot. From where he sat, all he could see was the glow of the setting Sun behind an old and withering building that would look great on the cover of a book but not someone would necessarily want to visit.
Initially I felt it was odd that someone would come in to a park but have no interest in any form of exercise and eventually in a few weeks I lost interest and he became a part of the landscape. Always there, but unnoticed. Occasionally when I passed him, I would smile but he never responded. Never. Not even with a gesture of courtesy. He was probably in his 70s and I could understand.
One evening an urgent work interrupted my schedule so I had to stay on till late in the park.
It was a cool October evening. Diwali was late that year and only a few days away. The sun had just set and it was that time of the day when you know that hard work is over and party time is about to begin. Incessant Diwali sweets and gifts call for extra calorie-burning-workouts so I exercised a little longer than usual and was now on my way out. I guess I was the last person to be leaving the park till i saw a shadowy figure sitting on that bench. It knew it was him.
The dusk had given way to the night and it was getting misty by every passing moment , I felt it wouldn't be safe for a man as old as him to be there alone. I went across and asked him if he needed help. He just waved me away and didn't even care to look at me to respond. I felt humiliated and cursed myself for unnecessarily going to him even when I was getting late for my daily chores . And Just as I was turning around to go back, he asked "'Aren't you the young man who jogs here every evening?". Strange question, I thought to myself, surely he could recognize; though we had never spoken, we had been seeing each other for years. But I let it pass.
"Yeah", I replied with a slight touch of disgust.
"Ah, then you must help me. can u tell me if the lights have come on in that house?" he said, pointing to that old and withering building far away with his folded black umbrella (the kind of which older generation used to keep) that he was holding. An even stranger question, I thought to myself; why not see for himself? why ask me this?
It was when he rose from his bench and started walking that a 1 rupee coin dropped. In a moment I understood why he never smiled back, why he never walked and why it didn't matter to him that he was seated on a bench from where he couldn't see the sun set. He was blind.
"Have the lights come on?" he asked again, waking me up from a momentary loss of consciousness .
"Yes, Yes they have", I replied, feeling awkward and eager to help in anyway I could and asked "is that your house?"
"No, no, never stepped into it."
"Then why does it matter if the lights are on or off?"
"Oh that's an old story", he began, obviously eager to continue.
"Many years ago when this house was majestic and new, a beautiful young girl lived in it." Sounded like the start of a fairy tale, the kind of which you are always eager to shell out some minutes even in a busy schedule . "She was the life of the household, every one loved her, her parents doted on her.
"But beautiful people are human too. Who can understand how these things happen? Barely out of her teens she fell in love with a young man far below her status in life. They had met on just a few occasions and yet were silly enough to think of each other as soul mates for ever."
Nothing unusual, I thought; happens in every film!
" But once her parents got to know of this affair, they would have none of it. They tried to get her to change her mind but when that didn't work, they were ruthless. They wouldn't allow them to even see each other. There were no mobiles in those days and speaking from the family phone was out of question. Sending letters and messages was impossible as they kept a firm watch on her throughout the day."
"Must have been terrible!" said I.
" She would sit at a window every day hoping that he would be somewhere in the wilderness below and looking at her. Eventually when it was dark, she would retire to her room. He would wait for a while as if to say goodbye and go back home. For months that was the only way they connected."
A sombre moment. No matter how much of a cliché it may be, the story of people in love being sundered apart is always touching. I was quiet; so was he. Luckily by now we had reached the gate; I used the silence to help him step out. But he continued "Till one day she didn't appear on the balcony."
" Maybe she went to another city, maybe she went abroad maybe she married someone else . Maybe she just moved on. But He never saw her again."
For a while there was deep silence. What does one say? I could see he was moved but far less than I was. He had obviously repeated this story many times before!
There wasn't much to say except to wrap the loose ends. So I just put " And what about him? What happened to him?"
" Oh, he? He stayed"
Those words just kept on ringing in my ears for years.
One more piece of fiction . Hope you will enjoy this too :-
- Conversations in the dark
It was the month of June, I was at my home in Jaipur. The sun was at its peak, right above the Tropic of Cancer. Days were scorching and nights were no comforting either. That night ,I was very tired and didn’t realize when I slept. The onl