THE BLIND LADY

The old lady didn’t know what it was to be blind, because she had never seen the world, so she neither had anything she missed nor she longed to see the world. She had been blind, even before she was born, and all her memories were stored in a form only known to the blind, and she had no complains. She had never known what it felt to see something; her whole life was all about sound and touch, and she felt complete with those faculties intact. In that small town where she had lived for fifty years her beauty was often talked about, and when they told her that it was sad that she couldn’t see how beautiful she was, she had the same retort, which she always said with her beautiful playful, smile, ‘it would have been really sad if you all were blind. You wouldn’t have seen such a beautiful face.’ She never told them she didn’t know what ‘beauty’ meant.
People often asked her if she ever thought about the idea of seeing the world. She was still to devise a way to convince them that she didn’t, because they couldn’t believe one could be content without eyes. For everyone, seeing was more significant than anything else; for her it wasn’t. It wasn’t that she had never thought of it, but somehow seeing the world had never excited her, in spite of all she had heard about the world. It only confused her. People told her about different shapes and colors, not knowing that it didn’t make any sense to her. They told her, excitedly, about height of the mountains, thickness of the forests, depth of the oceans, the sky lit by stars, the endless deserts and more, but no one ever saw in her the desire to see. In a way it had become a challenge for the people in town. Was there anyone who could show her that seeing the world was the most beautiful gift God had granted humans?
Our old lady used to sit on her porch in the evening to feel the transition between the day and night. It was her favorite time of the day. It was precisely at that moment when sun was about to disappear she heard the tap of a stick. She had a visitor, apparently, and she knew intutively that it wasn’t somebody she knew. She waited for the sound of tapping to increase and then she asked, ‘Who are you, old man?’
After a moment of silence, the man spoke in his gruff, hoarse old voice, ‘I am an old man. You guessed it right.’
‘I wished to know the purpose of your visit,’ the blind lady said.
‘I am new to this town. I just thought of meeting my neighbours,’ the old man said. ‘Wouldn’t you offer me a seat?’
‘Yes, you may sit. What brings you to this dead town?’
‘This isn’t a dead town. In fact it’s filled with so much of buzz and excitement,’ the old man said.
‘Who said dead means silent?’ The old lady said with a smile.’Anyway,’ she added, ‘what brings you here?’
‘I am a traveller, and this town happened to be on my way. Destiny brings me here,’ the old man said.
‘And, I assume, you don’t have a destination,’ the blind lady said.
‘You seem to know few things.’
‘Had you been blind for fifty years you too would have known a lot. Your eyes stop you from seeing the world,’ the blind lady said, realizing that it was time to put on the lamps.’Excuse me, I need to put the lights on.’
‘Why do you need lights when you can’t see?’ The old man asked.
‘It’s for people with eyes. They can’t see in dark, you see,’ the blind lady said with a smile.
‘You seem to have a hatred against people with eyes.’
‘It isn’t hatred. I just pity them,’ the old lady said, and came back to her seat. The sun had almost gone down, and it’s last hue of red and orange was about to disappear.
‘With your permission I would take a leave. I just remembered there were few people coming to meet me this evening.’
‘Of course. It was nice meeting you.’
‘Pleasure was mine. Would you care for tea early morning?’
‘I don’t mind a company. You will find me right here.’
‘Goodnight,’ the old man said, and tapping his stick walked out. The old lady’s mind followed him for a while, and then wandered into the dark world of hers.
Next morning, the old man looked jubilant for the reason he would reveal in a while. He wished her and sat exactly at the place he sat last evening.
‘Oh God! There aren’t many things you can compare with the sight of rising sun. It’s splendid, and along with it the mornings are beautified by the fragrance of flowers, silence of the best kind, and the gentle breeze caressing your face. It’s perfect,’ the old man said, not exactly talking to the blind lady but as if immersed in a monologue. The blind lady didn’t reply.
‘God is one hell of an artist,’ the old man said, still in the same state of rapture.
‘Do you want sugar in your tea?’ the blind lady asked.
‘No,’ the old man said. ‘Actually I don’t drink tea. Would you like to take a walk?’
‘Not really. I feel good sitting here. I have been sitting here for a long, long time and I feel at peace,’ the blind lady said.
‘We can just take a stroll in your garden. You have got some beautiful flowers here.’
‘Now I doubt you are an old man. You sound like an excited kid,’ the blind lady said wondering the type of man he was. She didn’t even know his name, but neither was she interested in knowing. For some reason she agreed. ‘Let’s go for your stroll.’
‘Did you plant all of these?’ The old man asked, as he kneeled down to smell the fragrance of one of the white flowers.
‘Yes, I am blind; my nose works perfectly fine. I chose all of them myself,’ she said.
‘But the flower here normally is more fragrant,’ the old man said.’The soil here is not so conducive for it.’
‘But they smell all good to me,’ she said.
‘Because you are yet to smell it at their best. You don’t have to go so close to it to feel it’s fragrance.’
‘Are you some expert on gardening?’
‘I don’t know if you call it expert but I use to love spending time with flowers. Had you not been blind you would have seen that these flowers look better than they smell,’ the old man said, expecting some reaction but her expressions didn’t change.
‘I am content with what God has given me. You enjoy the sight of it. I will enjoy it’s less than best fragrance,’ the blind lady said with a smile.
‘Fair enough, I guess,’ the old man said and smiled, as he sniffed the soil in his hand.
‘Where are you from?’ The blind lady asked.
‘I don’t belong to any place. I am a traveller,’ the old man replied.
‘It means you keep running away from life,’ the blind lady said.
‘Yes, and perhaps also towards life. Have you ever thought of travelling?’
‘Is there any difference for a blind person? It’s the same I suppose,’ the blind lady said.
‘I don’t think so. Sight is just one aspect. There are million other little ways that make places different from one another,’ the old man said, moving from one flower to another, leisurely smelling each, and revelling in their fragrance.
‘Maybe in some other life,’ she said.
‘What is stopping you?’
‘There is neither stopping, nor any urge. I am comfortable in my life of unchangeable repetitive routine,’ the blind lady said.
‘There is this small village in middle of the forest, only two hundred kilometres from here,’ the old man began explaining. ‘Those people, like you, have never stepped out of the forest. I am going there after few days. If you wish to join me I can make arrangements.’
‘I wish it could excite me, but I think I will pass. You do your travels. I will sit here at my porch feeling sun rising and setting, day after day’ the blind lady said.’And, I think we have to end our meeting here. I can hear people coming to meet me.’
‘You don’t have to reject my offer so fast. You take your time. I will come after few days to take the rejection,’ the old man said and stood.
‘I don’t even know who you are.’
‘I will tell you all if you come with me to the village,’ the old man said smiling.’Goodbye. I will see you in few days.’
The old man left, but not without leaving blind lady with few thoughts.
Lying on her bed, the blind lady couldn’t understand what was happening. For a long time she had comfortably lived with her blindness, staying in the world of predictability. All those old thoughts of seeing the world had vanished in the background long back, and suddenly this old man-who had come out of nowhere-had ruffled up the surface bringing forth all those suppresed desires. She had kept that bold face of calm and poise for so long that she had started believing that she was content with her life. The old man had put a doubt in her mind. It would have been so easy to believe in what she had forced herself to believe and to deny his offer, she thought, only if the old man had tried hard to convince her. The old man didn’t seem to care much about her blindness and that was making it difficult for her, and she really wanted to visit that village, perhaps deep inside feeling that they were like her.
Three days, later, the old man came back to the blind lady’s house. She was prepared with her answer.
‘I will come with you,’ she said, even before he had asked. ‘I knew you would,’ he said, and for the first time in many years the blind lady felt she was losing control, and surprisingly it felt good; it felt light.
They sat in his mini truck early morning, next day, and their trip began. She felt an apprehension but her face belied her fears. She looked composed and calm, while inside she was feeling something incomprehensible to her. How could she so easily be persuaded by a stranger, or perhaps it was easy because he was a stranger.
‘Beautiful morning, isn’t it?’ the old man said, as the truck hit the road.
The blind lady thought for a while and then asked something she had waited for almost her lifetime.’What is beautiful?’
‘The morning,’ the old man said.
‘No, I asked what do you mean when you say it’s beautiful. How do you explain it to a blind woman?’
‘Beauty isn’t explained, but felt, and trust me you don’t need eyes. Even when we, with eyes, have to feel beauty we close our eyes. You have a natural advantage. Your eyes are always closed,’ he said. She smiled. ‘Put your head out of the window, and feel the cool breeze on your face. That is beauty,’ he added, and she followed his instructions. It was somewhat difficult to not follow the instructions of this old man with an hoarse voice, because it seemed to have something magical about it.
‘Does it feel beautiful?’ he said.
‘It feels something,’ she said, smiling, trying to control her hair flying in all directions.
‘It’s just the beginning,’ the old man said, and pressed the pedal as far as it allowed, and the truck vanished through the lonely road in the thick of the forest.
THE BEGINNING……….

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I had to…..

She asked me where was I going. Somewhere, I said, because I didn’t know, and even if I knew I wouldn’t have said anything else, because my voice reached her like a quack of a duck or bark of dog or hiss of a serpent; all the words were same to her. Anything I said didn’t make any sense to her. She had accepted, or rather made to accept, that I couldn’t be right, ever. I wasn’t leaving her, nor I intended to hurt her but I could no more remain fragmented. I was vaporizing-parts of me were flying in every direction, and inspite of all my efforts I couldn’t bring them together. Everytime I tried to put my pieces together I landed, or rather spread, painfully, on the floor, flat on my face, and it took me eons to rise because all my rigidity of past has converted into a gooey liquid that had no shape, and even the hope of getting one was receding. I had even forgotten if I ever had a shape. As I slithered out of the house, she asked me, indifferently, sitting comfortably on her chair, her eyes on her laptop, without looking at me, if I was ever coming back. I said nothing, neither she bothered to ask, again. I slipped out of the house, but not before stealing one last glance at her, hoping against all the hopes to see few drops of tears, but her eyes were fixed on the screen. I knew she was thinking that it was one of my regular bouts of unjustified frustration, and I would be back in the evening to give her that one thing she needed from me before she went back to her work. She could have got anyone-she was as beautiful as anyone I had ever seen- to give her that one thing-I was no more good at it with my withered body and soul-but it proved she still had a heart somewhere, hidden underneath the layers, even if I couldn’t see it; it was a favor she was casting on me, like a mistress who cares for her slave and never lets him die. It’s irrelevant to her, if he has feelings; he is just a slave after all.The heat outside burnt my skin; I could smell the burning flesh but I couldn’t turn back to the dungeon we had been calling home, for some inexplicable reason. I dragged myself to the nearest bus stop, hoping it was the last time I was experiencing pain. It wasn’t a very selfish decision, I thought, or perhaps justified it to myself, as I waited for the bus, as I couldn’t take any more blames. I had become a burden, a leech, a parasite; something everyone wants to get rid of, and I knew it. Even she might have thought of it, but her soft heart would have never let it surface and her innocence would have never let her known that they were her own thoughts. She kept on believing that I was forcing these thoughts on her. Anyway, our lives had split in two direction long way back, so I thought I would make it easier for both of us, or rather, being honest, for me. She could travel her new path, unburdened by me, and I was hoping to find something that would make my life worthwhile.

There comes a time in every relation, when one forgets why they are together, and have to be reminded of by someone. We had no one, and our relation suffered the ugly, inevitable fate of millions- slow, painful death of love, after raising expectations beyond reason and understanding. As I saw the bus approach, my heart beamed, and I smiled inspite of the heat and the pain; it looked like my vehicle of liberation. I had left the luxury buses that had come earlier, because it reminded me of her, knowing most of the females inside reeked of richness and hungry for status like her. I dragged myself to a seat at the rear of the bus.

It was a pleasing sight to see simple, poor, happy, empathetic people instead of complex, rich, sad, self-obsessed whiners she had around her all the time, but if you told her she wouldn’t believe, because she and her group thought of themselves to be great philanthropists. I wouldn’t say she was exactly like them, but was trying her best to be one of them. The bus began with a rumble, and I felt my heart beat after a long time, and even if my body and soul was still deformed I could sense some activity within, pointing towards a freedom from stagnancy and fraility.

As the bus drove across the city, I saw memories. In spite of trying to remember the old ones, before we had met, I could only see her beside me; they weren’t happy ones-we had had happy, really happy times, but events of last few years had clouded the good old ones. I wasn’t even looking for those good old times, like I had tried earlier. This time around, I found happiness in being able to leave it behind. The bus drove faster and I felt that those sad memories were going behind me, like the roads and the trees and the buildings whizzing past the window. Once out of the city, feeling surreal, comfortable, tired, amidst the greenery that signalled freedom, I closed my eyes, with my head resting on the window glass. The rumble and vibration of the bus sounded like choplin to my ears, and soon I fell off to deep slumber, unlike anything I had experienced in years.      

It was almost sunset when the bus stopped for refreshments; I wouldn’t have woken up if it was not for an old man who wanted to know if I wanted something. I thanked and smiled at his simplicity; in return he requested me to eat and pee, because the next stop was our destination, that was scheduled to reach by almost middle of the night, and the buses didn’t stop anywhere in middle. I asked him to get me a bottle of water and a packet of chips; he went out pleased. Languidly, I stared out of the windows; it had become pleasent and windy. Behind those hills was my destination, though I didn’t know why I was going there. On a second thought, the very next moment, I realized why I was going to that particular place. It was one of the places I had wanted to visit with her, for a long time, but it never interested her. Of course, it was my fault because even before the planning begun with her I would leave the room, because I wanted her to be spontaneous, and not detailed about the trip, and when she was spontaneous, my wallet was empty. Looking at the hill I felt our love was ill-fated since the beginning. I had no energy to blame her or myself; we had been through it hundreds of times, and I didn’t feel like wasting the sight I was beholding; it was easier to call it a bad luck. I didn’t hate her or wanted to spoil her life or cheat her or was jealous of her progress or anything, and I know even she knew those allegations were baseless, so it felt stupid that most of the times we fought over the topic. She blamed me and my parents; I blamed her and her family and her friends, and both of us believed we were right, as it happens in unsuccessful relations. I felt no anger against her, and suddenly, to my joy, felt my body was beginning to take the shape, I remember, once I had, but had forgotten. Perhaps, this was the journey both of us had been waiting for long, and finally I had taken, and for the first time I was not seing the rearview, because I knew it had always been empty. Finally, the delusion was fading, and the reality unfolding, and the life that had come to standstill was moving, even if slowly, giving me a faint hope-all I needed- that there is a life ahead, and it’s never over till it’s over.

The bus screeched and rumbled and got back on the highway, and on my face I had the faintest of the smile, only known to me, as the wind caressed my face. Only the present was relevant. Everything else was only a delusion, I had finally understood. 

         

    

       

The value of money

           
                         

 

  
It was a beautiful morning, and I was returning home after a sleep over at a friends place. Being a horrible singer I capitalised on the opportunity to sing the songs nobody around me, for all right reasons, allows me to sing. A soft drizzle, a gentle wind, lots of green in my vision, it seemed perfect, and I was lost in the moment, when an image disrupted the flow. I had to stop.It was a middle age man without a leg looking for a ride. Though he didn’t have a leg, and was with crutches, looked miserably poor, it didn’t invite pity, yet I stopped for some inexplicable reason. Everything about his eyes and smile screamed wickedness, but I had to ask him where he wanted to go. He asked me where I wanted to go, and I sniffed some scheming, but I told him anyway. I knew he would say he was going there, and he did. I had met such people before, and many times, because I can’t stop myself from giving a ride to anyone looking for it. I knew the plot; he would ask me what I did, praise me for helping him, and then tell his story- he had no money and had to return to his village, and would look at me with beseeching eyes, saying that I was the last hope of humanity for him. Though I knew the plot, I was prepared to give him a hundred rupee note at the end of the one mile journey. May be it was the beauty of early morning that had gone inside me, or the remnance of last nights ballentine, I was feeling unusually good and I wanted to supplement it by doing an act of charity. As I stopped and was ready to take the money out, to my surprise nothing as what I had imagined happened; he thanked me, smiled wickedly, and disappeared in a narrow lane I felt sure he didn’t stay in. Slightly astonished, I kick started my bike and headed off towards my home. I had hardly gone few metres when something struck my mind. I hoped it wasn’t true.

I had some money, seven hundred and fifty to be exact, in my hind pocket, and I had felt something, I remembered, around that area when the man was sitting behind, but I dared not touch and see if it was still there. I just hoped it was a bad thought. I don’t know why but I couldn’t stop or turn to see him or feel my pocket to reject the bad thought, and kept riding, hoping half optimistically, but optimisim was receding and by the time I reached the parking pessimism had completely taken me over. Apprehensively, I checked, and found that the pessimism wasn’t baseless; the man had taken it all. All seven hundred and fifty except an old ten rupee note which had got stuck at the depth of the pocket.         

It took me some time to react to the situation. It was a peculiarly odd situation to be in. I was neither angry at the wicked man with crutches, nor was I upset at losing money; in fact I didn’t know how it felt. Thinking about this strange happening I lazily climbed up the stairs. My father opened the door; I quietly walked to my room, and sat beside my study table. My mind was finding it difficult to contemplate and comprehend. What was I suppose to do? Tell my parents how the world had turned wicked. There was no goodness left, and vent out my anger on the world filled with selfishness and greed. But, how could I say that; that wasn’t my feeling. I was simply confounded with the novel experience. It had never happened to me before. But, I had to tell them the little incident, perhaps in hope of getting some clarity, and also because they had already sensed that something was bothering me.

My father, as expected, blasted off with abuses, about how money centric the world had become, there was no humanity left, and there was no place for gullible people like me. I paid no heed to him and kept delving, precipitously, deep into that little occurence.

I thought, if I became angry, what would be that anger against; against the man, who, in spite of his wicked appearence, surely needed the money more than me. If I became upset for the lost money, how was it justifed; one drink last night had cost me more than that. But, if that was the case, why was I thinking so much? My mother brought me breakfast but I didn’t feel like eating. I went out to smoke, hoping it would clear my doubts.

The focus shifted from my reaction to how generally people reacted to such incident. Why did people, like my father, get angry? Perhaps, they felt a sense of betrayal of the silent, unsaid trust people like him expect of humanity, and an incident as such disturbed the harmony of their assumption. When he was shouting, it wasn’t because I had lost money, but because the humanity had let him down. He couldn’t understand how could a fellow human cheat other; and, of course, because he couldn’t think of cheating anyone. My mother looked upset; again, it wasn’t the money; her reasons were the same as my father but she felt sad at betrayal. Was there any other way of reacting, I thought? Yes, my brother’s wife had given that perspective from the kitchen after I had narrated the incident. She called it destiny; for her there was nothing good or bad about it; it happened because it had to happen. My brother had asked me, as I crossed him on my way out, to think of it as an act of charity and forget it. Surprising, none of the reactions involved loss of money as a factor. It was perhaps a bigger issue than money. But, was there any other reaction to this simple incident, that happens to most of us at some point of time, if not the same incident, at least it’s variant, than the ones I saw at home.

The incident had completely taken over my mind within an hour of it’s occurence. It didn’t matter if I tried to think of something else, my mind hurriedly went back to it. The weather and the conditions hadn’t changed much when I was going to work, but my mind had turned inwards completely. Why couldn’t I get it over and move ahead? What was so special about the incident? Anyway, I knew what I would have done with those seven hundred and fifty, and it was nothing very important, nor was the amount, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had planned-two packets of cigarette, a biryani for lunch, and a packet of chips and cold drinks for the kids I taught. And, then I thought what he would do with that money. By then I had lost his wicked expression and was just thinking of him as a poor wretch. It started with a romantic image of a poor man buying food for his family; I was not much touched by it but I thought seven hundred and fifty was enough for a poor family to buy enough food for a week. My few indulgences and his basic needs; I felt the money in his hand had more value than it had in my hands. He had multiplied the value of money many folds by taking it from my pocket, much less the happiness he would get from it. It felt something, though I couldn’t be sure if it was happiness; but the simple idea transcended me to the sphere where we all talk about charity. Wasn’t it simply an act of charity, except for that I wasn’t aware of it when it happened, and the realization came a little later. And, hadn’t I often talked about it, about helping others, so what was bothering me from being gratified as I had felt earlier while helping others. Was it my shallowness-because the man had not recieved but appropriated the charity from me, hadn’t seen in my eyes, and said few heartfelt words filled with gratitude. Was my big talks about charity all about the gratification I felt at the end because the other made me feel superior, and nothing more! No, it wasn’t, I realized: I was starting to get a feeling, slowly spreading inside me, in fact very slowly, but it was burgeoning.

It was a novel feeling; I had never felt anything like that before, and by evening it had filled me completely, and it felt better than the feeling I had had in the morning, or rather in a long time. Once again, I was on the bike, riding amidst the soft drizzle, gentle rain and lots of green in my vision, and I understood what it was. I had understood the true feeling of charity.

It didn’t involve me. I was nobody. I had become insignificant. 

As the gentle breeze hit my face I realized how wrong I had been till then by involving myself in the act of charity, unknowingly feeding on the vulnerability of those in need of help. I had unwittingly, till then, made myself superior by offering my help to the one’s in need. If I really wanted to help I should have just helped, and kept myself away from taking that higher position. The realization seemed to lighten me by every passing moment. The lame wretch had taught me a true lesson in charity. Only the act was important; not me, not my will, not my way; in fact nothing except for the fact that a man in need got his need fulfilled. What if he stole the money! Why should he wait for someone, in his vanity, with a charitable mood, to come and throw few pennies in his hand! Because one families hunger can’t wait for another man’s charitable mood. He, surely, meant no harm to me, and though one’s philosophy about right and wrong might be disturbed at this idea, my didn’t; it only strengthened mine. The man had taught me humility I had forgotten; the humility that had been taught to me as a kid. The old saying about charity that says if you are donating with right hand your left shouldn’t know flashed in front of my eyes. Only the act of transference from the one with excess to the one with need is important. The wretched man had taught me a valuable and significant lesson; something that would stay with me till the end, and how much did he charge for his service; a trifle; a mere seven hundred and fifty. I had never valued money before, neither I had ever recieved such value for money. The most wisely spent money for a long long time. It felt good.

In the evening, as I sat with few friends to drink, I told them the story, hiding the details of my thoughts. They said I was an idiot to help people that way and give a ride to anyone: it wasn’t help but foolishness. Hadn’t I heard about people being robbed by strangers? They said the man wasn’t buying food for his family, but probably drinking at some shady pub, and telling others the tale of an idiot he had lightened by seven hundred and fifty. I laughed with them. I was probably an idiot, as they said, but it felt good being an idiot, and it didn’t even matter what he did with the money. Whatever he did, he had already given more than enough to me in exchange.

As I was about to sleep, I recieved a message from my friend. He had found seven hundred fifty rupee on the bed I had slept last night. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. The money kept on giving me more and more, but I couldn’t take any more. I felt like the richest person in the world, smiled, asked him to give it to some beggar, and drifted off to a deep slumber, thinking about the lame wretch who unknowingly had taught me something I wouldn’t forget for long.