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A Tale of Misery and Pain

 
by Pradeep Kaul ( Khodbali)

It was a hot afternoon. If I remember correctly about one month must have passed. I saw a bespectacled man in late seventies. His gait caught my fancy as he slowly moved up the road till he walked into a bend. About half an hour later I again saw him. Though my eyes previously had a backside view of him but this time I recognised him as soon as he had come over the bend. With a piece of cloth he wiped his sweat. His gait was more shaky and it seemed as if he was on last reserve of strength. When he drew nearer, I could see the frail contours of his frame. My guess was incorrect to some extent about his age.  But guesses are often misleading and sometimes one is startled by the wide margin a guess makes a miss. He was sweating profusely and with equal rapidity he wiped it with his piece of cloth which was tattered suggesting a long, vigorous use. As he passed by my side I was struck by something unusual in him. But I could not muster enough courage to introduce myself. Soon I went along and as I stole glances at him his rickety figure had melted into the maze of roads ahead.

But then strange are the ways of this world. Many incidents in our day to day routine escape our notice. This feeling is more intense when you are living in an alien place where the cultural affinity is at variance and where nature is torrid and tantatizing. The urge to reach out to your motherland, the very thought of it, the life that you passed in her lap, the cool, soothing spring breeze at day break, the boughs in summer, laden with crisp fruit, the waft of autumn breeze bringing with it the aroma of saffron fields, the silently falling snow flakes, the sense of loss of all such beautiful things, obviously is enough to make life unsavoury and our memory hazy. With so many cares to nurse that incident of my tryst with that frail figure escaped my memory. But sometimes strange and amazing things happen, and it happened soon.

I had another tryst with that man about fifteen days later. With same shaky steps he slowly wound his way up the road. This time my resolve was firm. I went ahead and with usual civility introduced myself. At this uninvited intrusion in his  reverie for he was oblivious of his immediate environs, he was taken aback. With subdued and mild alarm at the sudden intrusion he retraced a step and looked askance at me. I could read a strange sense of despondency and dejection writ large upon his freckled visage. The deep furrows on his forehead and near his dry mouth first went deeper and then slowly opened up to reveal aging skin that lay in between. By now he was somewhat reconciled to the disturbance that my introduction had caused. Namaskar, he replied to my greeting. How are you? He asked. This way our conversation started. I started walking with him without even noticing till I suddenly found that I had covered a fair distance of about two furlongs. Now I noticed another thing that I did not see earlier. He was carrying an old canvas bag which was dangling from his shoulder, hanging loose as if enjoying its to and fro motion.

Our conversation struck a familiar chord. we found ourselves engaged in an animated conversation. We went inside a wayside tea stall. I ordered tea and soon we were sipping it when he gradually started opening up. I learnt that he was an academician. All his life he had taught in college. Years latter many of those students rallied against his tribe throwing them in a caouldron of heat and dust hundreds of miles away from their cosy homes. The teacher with hard earned money had built a house in Sylvan surroundings on the banks of a mountain torrent against the backdrop of hills clothed in dense pine in Kashmir. A perfect picture post card setting where higher pursuits of life such as writing and contemplation come natural to a sensitive and creative person. There according to him, he had collected a beautiful library having rare books. While narrating this tale his eyes turned moist and his voice broke into a faintly audible murmur. With difficulity he collected himself and continued.

It was from such idyllic environs, he had to flee for life and for honour, like thousands of other men, women, children and infirm. It was amazing that he did not care a fig for all his earthly belongings but his heart wept for the loss of those pricless books which he had collected all his life. The way he had raised his family the same way he had raised his collection of books.

Two years ago his house had been set on fire. But prior to that it was ransacked and his precious books were either plundered or burnt. He had, when we met gone to the police lines to inquire about the whole episode and to know first hand what had really happened to his price less treasure. He lived in a dingy, ramshackle rented room with his wife. His children had flew off to cocoon their own nests far away. Thus he had to pursue the case himself though his circumstances were straitened. During our conversation I ordered tea thrice. He would politely refuse each time. By now I had a feeling that I was becoming a part of his tale so I wanted to know more of it.

There was only one way to keep him glued to his seat and that was to order tea in regular succession. He was emaciated for he had walked a good distance from home to police office.

In his canvas bag he had a bundle of worn out papers. Among them he showed me a photostat copy of the first information report about the fate of his house and of his cherished treasure with characteristic disdain he showed me that photostat copy and said, “look whatever I achieved in my life, whatever I yearned for all my life has now crystallised into this photostat copy. This photostat copy is the only proof of my existence in my dear motherland where I lived. It is the only proof of my academic propensity and pursuit.” With a voice which could hardly speak he took a deep sigh took this copy from my hand and thrust it deep into his bag.

The din in the tea stall had grown louder. The rattle of glasses and the loud music played, made me feel that I was in a strange place. The old man wanted to take my leave. He must have been anxiously waited for at home. I nodded in polite affirmation and we went out of the stall. I took his leave. For sometime my eyes tried to follow him. To them he was not a stranger now. Some time later my gaze returned blank for he had mingled with the surging crowd and gone away.

I remained awstruck by what had happened during last one and a half hour. What the old man had said had shaken me deep from my slumber. That photostat copy occupied my mind. I thought. Who I was? What was I doing in this place? Who  brought me here from my paradise, my home? Was I also a photostat copy of my realself the orginal of which lay in my home, my Valley my Kashmir. ‘Yes’, I said to my self, I am also a photostat copy without real colour and life, only in dull black and white. I tried to search for my own self which was lost now for about a decade beyond the peaks of Pir Panchal. I was nothing but a mere frame in which life is only a formality. My thoughts revolved round the conversation I had with Dr Ram Krishen a few minutes earlier and with drooping head I slowly walked away.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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