It’s bound to be utterly delicious “, he said, “cooks are from Qatar, no joke.”
I was waiting for my turn sitting in a corner with my head buried in the newspaper when this remark made me look up; he was cutting hairs of an elderly half-bald man while talking to another old guy sitting at the other end of the pew, almost on the edge, with his head tilted to the left like he was really enjoying either the talk or the wait, not that he had that much time on his plate at this age but he wouldn’t have any choice, I thought.
Ayub is talkative and it works out well for his profession as a barber. You could spend hours listening to his narratives and not get bored.
“Only thing is, that I am not invited”, he continues, “and he is”, he adds further pointing to the soda stall next to his shop.
“This is funny because I was the one who introduced them, and now they seem to be going at it without me”, he said with a scoff followed by a grin, and then a self-assuring smile which remained plastered to his face for few more minutes until he started to speak again, “Have you ever had such a relishing dish?”, asked he to the other old man sitting at the corner of the bench.
Man shook his head.
At this point Ayub picks up a different pair of scissors and steps out for a few seconds, looks here and there on the road and then stares at the hardware store across the road from his shop.
“They are going too”, he said as he started trimming moustaches of the man in the chair, “You should know the recipe is pretty special and intriguing, let me tell you.”
He goes on without waiting for any response, “First chicken will be washed in detergent powder for an hour..”, I tilted my head, “..then it will be dried out and immersed in boiling kerosene.”
I was trying to find any hint of jest on his face but it looked sincere as he continued telling about the recipe.
“Once fried in kerosene, four bags of chewing-tobacco will be poured into it and then it will be mixed and mashed into keema.”
And he remarked, “Who would not want to be invited to a party where one will be served with such delicious chicken-keema!”
I continued staring at his face in awe and amusement. If he was laughing in the inside, he certainly was doing a great job hiding the expressions from showing up on his face and in his sad but twinkling eyes.
“That is what takes him through the day.. he keeps amusing himself and everyone around him”, I thought to myself.
I was interrupted by a nonchalant voice, “You’re next! Please come”, it was Ayub, smiling at me as I rose and went to sit in the chair.
People, I try, I really do, to visit everyone but attempts go in vain when there is too much going on around me… but rest assured that I will find you and if you’re good, I am gonna put you in my ‘Collection’… Today, I am here to see if any (would be good if many, I am optimistic you see) of you can give me some feedback on https://sanjeevkumarpandey.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/tangled/, plus, I have done some changes in look and feel so lemme know how’s the readability.. thanks for your support! You rock!
His is the oldest barber’s shop on the Crossing Street road. Long before there were others. With nothing fancy but two wooden chairs and simple mirrors at the back, side and front wall. Fresh newspaper lying on the side wooden bench that had many cracks in it with a few holes here and there. A souvenir, something like a locket, probably from Mecca, hung from the front wallbeside the frame that had Mecca painted on it. What was left of the side walls after the mirrors, was covered with posters of Bollywood actors at the top and leaves of Hindi newspapers at the bottom. Spider nets, who probably wanted to compensate for the lack of anything fashionable, were hanging from every possible place, object, and corner. Not that he didn’t care for cleanliness or was cynical about it but, one – he didn’t have time for unproductive chores, and two – he knew people won’t mind. And it was true, they didn’t; for they loved coming there and it had perhaps nothing to do with the fact that they had similar situation or worse back at their homes.
Why do we need an alternate perception of ourselves. You know what I mean? Don’t you? May be since our childhood everyone has talked about that one person – in the center of the story – the Hero. What about others? Can hero do everything that he wants without others’ help? Is his role more significant than those living around him? And is he an ultimate destination of individual traits? More importantly, does everyone want to be like him and leave their own characteristics, responsibilities, roles and aspirations behind just to attain a ‘portrayed-perfection’ of social and interpersonal qualities?
In every social setup Hero is more like a godly-figure; for everything he does is correct and if not, he still is worshiped for his casualness.
But wait, aren’t there more people who would complete this story – other characters? I believe those ‘other characters’ are individual heroes of their individual spaces and quests, for none can replace you and do the what you were doing with same intent, intensity and good-faith as you.
It makes me wonder – why don’t we explore the hero within ourselves? In us, lies a spark which is so powerful that can make everything else look lame, but we never ‘go-inside’ and look for it. In fact, we hold the ground we belong and there is no match to our capabilities that some ‘Hero’ can replace. Let me ask you this: can your kids be loved by a different father the same way you do? Or can your girlfriend be more cared for by a different man?
Everyone is hero of their own story. Difference is, how you want to run the show? It is your story; your charm and your decision which would matter in the end as to where would your next scene propagate. Will it be a happy moment, a tensed situation or a let-it-go sigh of loss?
We spend most of the time in our lives trying to portray someone we are not. Interestingly, people mostly never get convinced of what you have been trying to get them convinced for for years! They know, somehow, the truth… the real you. So why not stop being something that you are not?
This situation has been the same for centuries or may be even before that and it continues.
In every era, whichever has passed by, the social setup has made sure that they project someone as an ideal of individual traits which would make everything else look so lame that people not abiding to the ‘desired’ characteristics are either considered unsuccessful or, worse, evil.
The evolution of concept of hero is of course not new. In almost every epic, lore, book or artifacts from history we have seen, read and interpreted a character leading others. In each of these the motion is lead by some individual towards fulfillment of a greater-goal which apparently satisfies a noble cause and brings value to the society at large. Now if you look closely, there are actions involved which lead to a mass development of a certain kind of change, and however small the impact might be, when we talk about society, of course we are considering individuals, most of whom might be convinced by the idea of this ‘revolution’ but there may be someone who has a different perception of the situation and whom idea, if considered, can be of greater benefits, for all. And of course, there may be some others – who are reluctant to any change whatsoever as they are not convinced with this idea of change.
Similarly, however small or large the context may be there are perceptions involved which make it a larger movement or a small change in the lives of people in that domain. For instance, electrification of a distant village may not be a new task for administration but the same is beginning of hope for brighter future to the villagers.
Perception of, and setup of, a society defines the kind of hero they need to drive their interests.
Per our inherited characters, and aspirations, we tend to follow our own heroes. People may choose a renowned actor, a local leader, or a successful businessperson as their role model and follow them blindly, forgetting their own qualities, capabilities and interests. But, you can be more than what you think of yourself. For your whole life you try to be more like your perceived character, or rather, ‘alternate ideal-self‘. Your aspirations are driven and in fact mislead in some situations due to this attitude. Such attitude is not only a problem for you but also for others who are dependent on you. You might feel inferior to what you want to be, but think this: what if you already are excel and trying to cut yourself down-size just to fit in someone else’s shoes! All of us need a little introspection of ourselves for we are the heroes of our stories. No one else can be so perfect than us to suit the role, fit-in and be that leader who can bring the change that you want.
However small your world may be, however scattered your aspirations may get and whatever job you are in, it is you who can do this; you are the individual who’s action will define the future of your family and self. For no one else is the hero of this story but you.
6 Kms to the south of Haldwani is Patwa Dangar, a place so high that you could touch the clouds with raising your hand just above the shoulders. This is sort of an unexplored hill station which surprisingly has a circuit house and a small village scattered over the highs and lows of steep hill.
12440 ft. (3792 m) above the ground you have to be really tough to live out here.
This is one of the first accounts of my adventures starting from college days. I shall post the series in continuation of the same. Watch this space for more!
Wisdom comes in unexpected ways. Thanks to a lot of books, I’d read, I knew this fact far earlier than I understood its true meaning.
What might be counted as mistakes, I managed to convince myself as being so obvious learning curve. So here I stand, today, not knowing if I am overlaid layers of lies on my behavior that now all I can do is a mistake again and yet not realize I have done one.
It’s time I heard it from someone I least expected from. Surprisingly it wasn’t surprising because I knew I can expect wisdom from any source, thanks to the books.
Outside my office there is a smoking zone. A vendor sells cigarettes, Gutkha and other such consumables at a far end of this side. One might refer to this place as a relaxation lounge, but open and without any seating arrangements. People come to smoke-off their stress and ‘unload’ (read talk) off-the-record.
On one fine day, it seemed like it’d rain. FitBit showed five in the evening. The combination of pleasant weather and evening time invited me to go outside and take a walk.
A colleague was with me. After a few minutes of walk we sat on the side walk itself. A cab driver in uniform was standing nearby who happen to know this colleague of mine. They started chatting. I was all ears. There followed a discussion on Central Govt. and demonetization and later state Govt. policies. Driver seemed a well-read and informed man. In our social setup one may not expect such deep understanding of these matters from a man such as himself. But this is not what made me write this matter. That happened later.
Incidentally, a group of people who were smoking nearby left cigarette stubs on the ground and started to walk away when our driver friend broke the conversation, and to everyone’s surprise, approached this group and asked them to pick the stubs and throw in the bin put along the sidewalk.
That came unexpectedly but added to the beauty of the evening; people picked what they were leaving behind and threw in dustbin with a ‘thank you’ to the driver. Evening was not lame anymore, suddenly everyone around became so attentive to what we were talking.
He returned to us with a smile; I asked him if he had done something like this before and if he had hesitated (not that I noticed any) before approaching people to correct their mistakes for some may not receive that well, especially if questioner is not what you place equal in social hierarchy (a sad truth in India). He replied, ‘Initially, people wouldn’t appreciate a driver approaching them and asking to correct their actions. I realized, after some incidents where they completely ignored me or even asked me to mind my own business or sometimes even to do their bit myself, that I had been somewhat hesitant myself since I subconsciously acknowledged that I am placed lower in society. So, I self-taught and learned, gradually, that to convince others I had be convinced myself (Leadership 101!). Hence, I threw away the prejudices & hesitation and started to speak my mind free – with authority and concern I feel I have in such situations. I believe everyone can change when you push the right button.
I have also seen that some are there who appreciate me reminding them and may be next time they will repeat what I have done if they see someone else making the same mistake they did. It’s a chain-reaction and once provoked this feeling of responsibility keeps flowing through. I believe in power of conviction and good intentions; after all this entire country is my home and whenever and wherever I will see someone damaging its beauty I will stop, approach and ask them to correct it. People will learn, slowly, eventually.’
It was time to go back to work so I smiled, thanked him and wished him ‘all the best’ to keep making a difference. He smiled back and said, ‘I should too get back to my cab for people would be looking for their driver.’
Of course, I realized that by not stopping people from doing this mistake I was making one myself. I, now, am making one less mistake and, a difference by such small contributions.
Blurry Faces of the city is a series of illustrations of the people who are living around us but are rarely noticed and acknowledged in mainstream. I have attempted to see their lives and struggles as they go through the ordeals to keep themselves and their dependents alive – in hope for a better tomorrow.
Clock is about to strike 11 pm. We came out of a restaurant and started walking on the eastbound road alongside a now-slept market. On the road there are auto-rickshaws lined up with their drivers wandering around looking for passengers. Some auto-rickshaws are rushing down the road and some others slowing down to ask if we are intended to go somewhere. Some of them would try to guess the place we are likely to go and shout – ‘So and so much money for blah-blah place… Get in!’ We would answer some and ignore others. I know it is their daily practice so it hardly makes a difference what we really say. Deal is – are we getting into it or not? Actual listening would start only after either we nod to a fixed amount or the meter is down – which would be rare thing to happen so mostly for us and for most of the commuters it is the first one.
Amidst this, a police car came and from it a policeman wearing a washed away shade of standard-brown-police-uniform shouted on the owners of the roadside food stalls to close the business. Meanwhile a companion of the theirs, a motorcycle-ridden policeman, patrols the adjacent alleys and then signaled one of the stalls to bring food to the police car.
This must have been a routine for these stall owners and the patrolling party too.
We kept walking towards the end of this market where there is a traffic signal – mostly ignored by all during this time of the night. Just before the signal, around a corner standing in ebony skin was a thin boy of age around 17 with his ice-cream trolley.
He had his skeleton prominently visible. All the features of it – the cheek bones, eye-ball sockets, collar-bones, elbows. His head appeared large though – due to unkempt hairs those fashioned a brownish color owing to dust gathered in them.
One can easily be startled by an ‘apparently unprecedented’ form of living being when least expecting. Not even in figment of imagination I would have thought this structure of bones, flesh and blood.
So I reacted, – “What are you doing on this side of the road!? There are no restaurants or anything luring for people to crowd around!”
“Cars stop here sir.”, came a reply riding on a voice that was sure of itself but also a little sad. “They buy from me. I am here for those customers.”, he added sounding defending his ground.
“Why not move a little closer to the market behind the bus stand?”, I said almost rhetorically.
“There is already a trolley on the northern corner. Two of us can’t sell together, we have to cover larger area, plus we have to follow a strategy of being visible at a certain place in continuation of positions – a series of trolleys placed at a certain distance from each other would form such a chain that would induce the ‘desire’ by repetitive stimulous to vision and mind”, he spoke in authoritative and compelled voice while narrating his sales plan.
He was getting into it. I’d drawn him into a conversation now. Earlier it was merely asking and answering. By this time, I had understood that he could talk more freely now. His body language suggested that he was at ease and the cover of defense that mind had created was gone.
I could see him more clearly now, for now he didn’t feel embarrassed, or offended, when I ‘stared’ at him.
Those eyes could not have been more alert and skin did not wear wrinkles and a nice bath would have had brought-out a smooth chocolaty tone instead of grainy and dusty brown one.
Teeth were surprisingly white against the common notion about tobacco eating mouths and surely one would have been able to count all the ribs if he’d took off his yellow-brown shirt.
He probably read my thoughts for he spoke suddenly, “I’ll put on some weight once my worries are over sir.”
I looked at him in awe and he went on with his story of leaving his village in Buxar (Bihar)and coming to Delhi to work in a factory that produced packaging items.
There came a mention of his father and his eyes lit up, his hands clutched the pushing-bar of his trolley harder as if they were the hands of his father whom he probably has longed to grab and cry, sharing his ordeals. It became ‘necessary’ to talk about something else to do away with the emotional overwhelm.
“So which ice-cream do you like?”, I made an attempt to change the subject but came no reply from the him. I felt a little embarassed to ask such a stupid question after a heavymoment. I, however, threw away that feeling and asked another question.
“When do you start your sale?” I asked, while pretending to read from the items’-chart hanging from the top of the trolley.
“From afternoon 3.”, he glanced at that menu chart and looked away on the road to our right.
“And when will you go home?”, I continued.
“I am waiting for some friends, the other trolley manning men, who would be going with me. It is risking life and property to travel alone on these roads due to some anti-social elements who will strip you of everything and wouldn’t hesitate to put a knife into you, so we go in groups.”, he said gravely while his forehead frowned.
The timing of this response could not have been worst, so to lighten the air I asked, “For how much did you sell today?
“Not much – only 1200 Rupees. Usually I make 2000-2500.”
“I understand that that money goes to the company. What do you get?”
“16% of my sales amount.”
“So you get it monthly?”
“I wouldn’t survive on monthly salary if it is this less! I keep my 16% every day… and I don’t like ice-cream sir.”
His friends arrived and he left with them; talking while waving hands animatedly. Sharing stories from the day. Sharing their common worries and pacifying what’s there to pacify.
“Oh you do enjoy reading as I do!”, I exclaimed.
“Yes! Yes! Indeed. I am the one people call book-worm!”, she reached for the coffee and took a sip of it.
“Coffee here is famous?”
“Yes, as they say so unless it is not so true!” I laughed on my own half-cooked joke and she pretended.
“So what did you read last? And since how long this obsession is from?”, I looked away from the beggar boy outside the glass to her only to find her staring at the same boy.
I coughed to get her attention back.
“I’m sorry what did you ask?”, she reacted embarrassed. “Sorry, I got carried away with the view outside. It’s a beautiful weather, isn’t it? Looks like it’d be raining again.”
“Yes I guess it is. How would you go back if it starts raining?”, I asked.
“I would go with my girlfriend. She’d come to pick me; lives around here, you see.”, she explained.
“Oh great! That would save me from the trouble.”, I said and followed a combined half-laugh.
I knew she was lying and it would be me dropping her once rain started.
“You didn’t tell me, what did you ask me about?”, she broke my thoughts.
“I probably asked a wrong question earlier, let me rephrase myself.” (Smile) “What are you reading currently?”
“Nothing as of now but I read Arvind Adiga last..”, she started to speak.
“No way! The White Tiger! That’s my favourite!”, I interrupted overjoyed.
“No doubt it would be; beautifully written it is”, She continued. “But I am now wondering what would be my next pick.”, she finished her coffee and put down the cup.
“As this one was amazing, I can settle for no less for next one.” She said while wiping her lips with tissue.
“And I can’t settle for anything less than them.” I thought in my sub-conscious.
“It’s not too hard. Here, take this.”, I stretched my newly purchased copy of ‘The Kite Runner’ towards her.
“Khalid Hussainy! Why, this should be the one. Yes!” She took it from me and flipped it front and back a couple of times before putting it down on table while still clutching it from bottom.
“You have a great sense in these things. I must admit, I am impressed.”, she smiled with carefree air for the first time.
“Thanks, that’s what everyone tells me.”, I took the compliment as I consider it my right. I am always good at taking comments and compliments reasonably well than most.
“Oh nice! See? I knew you are good!”, she sported her heart-aching smile again. One would do anything to see that again and again.
“Thank you. I know I am.” , I didn’t try to be modest as I consider it a very common and unyielding practice.
“Well, so I guess I would just buy this one now.”, she said.
“No. Why, you can keep this.”, I pushed the book that was now resting on the table, towards her.
“Oh no! No! Please I’ll get a new one plus I have to go to the store anyway today for my sister’s daughter.”, she said while pushing it back towards me.
I put a finger from the other side to stop her sliding it.
“No. I’m sure you’d have to go there but please keep this, I insist.”, I literally insisted and said it literally.
“Oh what are you going to do then?”
“I’ve another copy of it.”, I lied and I guess she knew it too but didn’t press the matter any further.
She left without her girlfriend coming to pick her as it didn’t rain and I paid the bills before getting out half an hour later when it actually started to.
I looked up and raised an eyebrow in question, “Now who needs the weather?”
Our ancestral home was also the residence of a dog, a cat and some pigeons apart from our pet parrot Mitthu.
The dog was very fond of the buffaloes and hence he was found mostly sitting beside them during day and outside their shed (byre/ outhouse) in night. Having a canine near cattle was also assuring to grandmother that no harmful animal or visiting snake would cause any trouble to our two buffaloes and a cow.
Moti, that’s what his name was, mostly was obedient except for the time he used to ply his wit to surprise the cat which was another self-invited member of the family. She liked to sit under guava tree or on the attic in veranda if not in the North-Western room of the house which served as kitchen and storage for food and grains, milk and other supplies.
The cat was afraid of Moti but knew no fear other than that. She knew that inside the house she was invincible for Moti never would cross the door to come inside house and people would only mock to shoo her away most of the time, so she would pounce in her own way annoying ladies of the house. They would shush her and she will not blink an eye; they will throw broom or other handy things to scare her and she will jump from one place to sit at another. She didn’t fear anything until someone chases her away practically.
Moti didn’t like the cat at all due to their natural rivalry and mostly due to the fact that she could help herself with whatever she wanted to eat from home while Moti was dependent on us. So he wouldn’t leave any chance to chase her down to the veranda’s threshold until latter jumps inside house and disappeared. Moti never crossed that threshold to go inside to continue the race. He would stand there for minutes and then lick his ears and legs and shake careless flies from the body and start jump-walking towards the courtyard like he was the king of the palace prodding the red carpet. We didn’t mind him being around and in return of his voluntary service we would give him food thrice a day. He gradually became a non-announced pet.
He was a white stray dog who started coming to us while he was only a pup and we fed him out of sympathy and for our own amusement of watching a ‘tiny’ dog eat meticulously and admire his little movements of paws, jaws and eyes when he ate or played with the food. Sometimes he would sit straight and eat calmly and some others he liked to drag the chapati to the shade of Momjhilli tree and tear it to bits before eating some of it and wasting most part. It was my aunt who named him Moti. He had black patch towards the lower-back portion of his body and also on his tail.
Moti eventually grew into not-so-attractive street dog and ran away from the comfort of homemade food and jute-bag sleeping place to adventures of jungle nearby and fields towards the northern side of the village. Probably he went busy into marking territory for I had heard every dog has to mark one’s, once they are adults. Moti stayed ‘abroad’ for quite a sometime until one-day grandfather found him scratching his ear violently near our tube-well beside fodder’s field.
Grandfather was a man of golden heart. He brought him home and sat down on a Machiya (a small cot like furniture made of wood and woven with jute-made-threads) beside Moti and plucked away bugs from his ears. Then he gave him cooked rice and roti to eat. Probably this was the moment that turned Moti away from everything else earthly and he followed grandfather like an obedient child from that day till the day he died.
One very peculiar incident happened one of those days which sow a seed deep into my heart – of the sensitivity towards animals. This probably is my inheritance too which has passed from grandfather to dad and from him to me. We love animals no matter how dirty, bugged or crippled one is. We found peace in helping them overcome their problems and inconveniences.
However good I am at sensing their feelings now, on that one fateful day I did something very terrible that shook me to core.
During the season of winters, we were playing outside the cattle’s byre beside the Bel tree, when our uncle called us children to help him pick twigs and wood for fire and other sundries we used them for. We were most enthusiastic to go into woods as it was adventurous there, at least during the day time. We have heard scary stories about night behind those tree lines, inside the mango, black plum, blackberry and bamboo ridden forest but day time was fun as we used to go with elders to pick Mangoes, BlackBerrys, Black Plum, Mahua, Karvan, Amla, Imli, Chilbil and herbs. I went to the place where everyone was picking twigs and freshly chopped firewood but instead of picking the same I found myself picking Badhar and Kaitha. Both as delicious inside as bad they looked from outside. While other picked the wood I picked those wild fruits and along with that a long chopped out stick-thin part of a young bamboo tree was also discovered by me. It was green, fleshy and tender enough to be bend in arcs – a perfect material to make a bow. So I made one. Next all I needed was an arrow and I could hunt everything down inside that jungle in front of our home. I found a very arrow-looking material – a thin stick in the husk of the wheat. Practice began and I was compared with great people in no time. Proud and conscious of the recognition I roamed and strolled in and around house showcasing my talent with bow and arrow.
This could have ended here but a strong desire to do something mischievous took me outside the veranda and I, in anticipation of shooting arrow near the Mitthu’s cage and scare him, took aim of beside standing Moti’s left eye from a distance of several feet and swoosh! Arrow hit Moti’s left eye. He ran madly agonized and bewildered. I was scolded and my bow and arrow were brought down to pieces in no time but I was not thinking about them but Moti.
People looked at me with a strange looks and mostly remain devoid of any emotions for days until one evening Moti showed up again with one black and other light greyish eye – the left one. I felt something twisting inside my heart and it seemed some veins gave up; limbs didn’t seem to move and a feeling blocked my throat with a big ball of tears. I know now, it was guilt mixed with pity. I had learnt my lesson with someone else paying a heavy price for it. Moti grew less cheerful than earlier and would rather sleep than chasing the cat or playing around livestock. His grief sowed the seeds of sensitivity towards animals deep in my heart which I carry to this date and are an indifferent part of my life and practices.
Moti stayed with us for many years after I left our ancestral home. He died in a summer due to an incurable disease, away from our home, from all of us. In the jungle, below a blackberry tree.