The Notebook of a Blank Life

New Delhi, 31.12.1974

She opened a blank note book. “It was not just any blank note book”, recalled Shravani. It had been given to her by a Buddhist Monk, when she had wandered inside the monastery in a listless moment  a few days back. Nothing was written on its blue covers. There was  no mention of its price, not even the name of the company making such notebooks. It contained one hundred pages of spotless white pages. It reminded her of ‘One hundred years of solitude’ – a book she had postponed reading a hundred times or so.

She smiled. It was the smile of a remote uncertain hope. A kind of imagined hope one experiences when the day gets slightly brighter on a gloomy rainy day.

But the memory of the tumultuous recent past cast such a gloom. How was she going to erase it? How was she going to be relieved of the burdensome memory?

She had read somewhere, she remembered, “to write is to get relieved”.

Indian BloggersAt the age of thirteen, when most of her friends boasted of boyfriends,  she had formed an idea that she was enough unto herself. Now, at the age of twenty four some one comes into her life and she has this feeling that she is not enough unto herself.

He came, he saw and he swept her along. It happened at the wedding of one of her cousins, who was also one of her best friends. Usually, she avoided going to weddings. But this one she could not. Saket was not the usual guy who went out of the way to flirt with girls. Something happened in her in his presence. At the first meeting he had given her a ten second glance and gone away. Of course, she had heard of him from her cousin who had so profusely praised him as if her own fiancee was nothing compared to Saket.

Then there was a chance meeting with him after one week or so. The Ambassador she was driving had met with a  minor accident near Old Delhi Railway station. It had hit a taxi in front and a crowd had gathered around her. Things were taking an ugly turn. Suddenly, Saket appeared form nowhere and became her saviour. A friendship developed which slowly turned into romance.

They met at secret places as often as possible. There was neither a dream nor a down to earth plan that did not involve him. But the dream world of heaven did not last long. Some days back, on 20th December to be precise, she received a letter that jolted her out of the dream world. The hero of her dream world turned out to be a coward. Of course he claimed he was being martyred for the sake of his family’s honour and he had to marry the girl of his father’s choice.

The latest Bollywood number – mera jiban kora kagaz – wafted across from the radio of a neighouring house. She closed the notebook, kept aside the pen after  capping it and glanced at the envelope lying at the corner of her study table. She opened it to read the appointment letter, perhaps, for the seventh time. “Mama we are leaving to Calcutta Tomorrow. I am going to take up that job at the All India Radio, Calcutta”, she shouted so that here mother who was in the kitchen heard her. “It does not matter if we have to pack the whole night in stead of celebrating the new year”, she added.

She stepped on to the balcony. A gentle breeze was blowing, to sweep away the last trace of her burdensome past.  The neighbour had increased the volume of the radio. But she heard nothing. She saw nothing. Felt nothing. As if a sea of void had devoured her. As if the decision not to write about her tumultuous recent past had erased the memory of it. With this erasure, came a great relief, a great hope. A hope to start life anew, as new as a blank note book.

Mumbai, 31.12.1994

She moved to Calcutta with her mother, leaving behind her father who did not mind staying alone for some time. The stint at Calcutta was short lived. So was the stint at Madras where she had been transferred subsequently. At her own request and with a little bit of influence of her father who still worked for the government of India,  she got a transfer to Bombay. After moving to Bombay, life took a different turn. No more did her mother brought up the topic of marriage. She left the job at All India Radio and at the  behest of a private production company she became a director for Telvision Serials.

The December month of this year has been particularly  eventful. The short documentary film she had made on the life of the slum dwellers had won an international award. Her serials were getting high critical acclaim.

She was not much of a party woman. So she had declined all the invitations for the new year party. But her mother was happy to see the glow in her daughter’s face. This month has been an all time high in her career.

May be now was the time to write something in that notebook,  she thought. She had regarded the note book as a kind of a sacred relic. Neatly wrapped in a silk clothe, she had given it to her mother to keep it in a safe place. She asked her mother to bring her the notebook. The interior pages had slightly mellowed. But the pages were fit enough to be written upon. She recalled all her achievements and thought of chronicling those watershed moments in the notebook. She felt the rush of adrenaline and the unconstrained joy by recalling her achievements that had far surpassed her dreams. She wished she could somehow reign in her overflowing joy.

In the morning that day, she had gone to the beach to inaugurate the Sand Art Festival, where she was the centre of attraction. One of the sand artists was her intimate friend. As she remembered her friend, suddenly, she had a vision where the art and the artist were not different. She was terrified when she saw, in her mind’s eye,  the artist receding into the sea along  with the sand sculpture that he had created.

Simultaneously she saw that she herself and her achievements were  vanishing into the blank pages of the notebook and the overflowing joy had ceased into a calm lake without any waves.

She closed the notebook immediately, wrapped it up and gave her mother to keep it where it was.

New Delhi, 31.12.2014

After the death of her father, they moved back to Delhi. Even at eighty four, her mother was healthy enough to walk without support and eat without any restrictions. Sometimes she felt older than her mother. Of late, she had taken more interest in yoga, philosophy and spirituality. This particular day she had thought of going to the monastery with the blank note book and if possible to trace the monk who had  given her the notebook forty years back.

After reaching the monastery she sought an immediate appointment with the senior-most monk. She was ushered into a  circular room where the monks received visitors. As she entered the room she wondered whether life, some time or other came full circle. There was nothing on the wall except a painting of a lady and a monk. As her attentions got stuck there, the monk said that it is was a painting of Amrapalli, gifted to the monastery a few day back.

Oh! how could she forget Amrapalli. After all, she had made a serial on the Buddhist tales and the serial was highly popular those days.

The monk, his head clean shaven, was sitting on the floor on a mattress. He motioned her to sit across and make herself comfortable. She asked him as soon as she settled down, “Are you the same monk who gave me this blank note book?”.

“It does not matter whether I am him or not him. But what matters is, whether you have written anything in it.”

” I tried, but I could not write anything. Whenever I tried to write something some strange things happened in my mind.”

“Then, perhaps,  you deserve a better blank book or some surprise gift in exchange of the blank note book. You have preserved it so carefully.”

He went inside and brought a gift wrapped in colourful paper.

She was going to ask many things, say many things. But the monk got up and said, “Excuse me. I have to go urgently. Take this gift and open it at home. I will discuss with you when you come here next time.”

She took the gift home. This year too she had decided to skip the new year celebrations. “But one thing I will do this year”, she thought, “I will open the gift exactly at 12 o clock”.

It was midnight and she could hear crackers bursting and loud speakers blaring to announce the dawn of a new year.

She opened the gift. Inside was a strange thing that looked like a note book. As soon as it was exposed to the air it started vanishing and was gone in a few seconds.

Now there was nothing even to create the dilemma – whether to write or not to write.

Outside, the celebrations became louder and louder. But she heard nothing. She sat down and felt the silence within, as she sank into the depths nothingness.

 

A sweet illusion

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The phone rang, light went off and then, there was this knock at the door. These things happened one after another  so fast as if they happened simultaneously. Rita was a little confused as to what to attend to first. Of course she could see the phone blinking. It was her husband.

“Hello Nick, wait a moment. There is someone at the door.”

Supporting her cellphone glued to her left ear with her left hand, she opened the door with the right. Electric connection was restored and the corridor of her apartment  was lit up as she opened the door. It was a boy with a bouquet.

“It is for you Ma’m”

The boy handed over the bouquet and ran away without waiting to hear Rita shouting at the back

“Wait”

She tried to follow him down the steps of her second floor, but the boy had vanished. Is he from this apartment complex? How come, I have never seen him. She was so much perplexed by the sudden turn of events, after an hour of a boring monotonous evening that she thought it better to talk to her husband later.

“Wait Nick, I will call you after some time.” she told and  cut off  even as he was shouting at the other end, “Tell me, what happened”.

She sat down on the drawing room sofa and gazed at the bouquet which was so heavy that she had struggled to hold it with her right hand. It was a gorgeous bouquet with an assortment of roses and chrysanthemums. She was lost in the bouquet for  some moments when she realized she had  a mystery to solve. Of course she had to call his husband first. She put away the bouquet on  a side table. She called her husband just to justify how busy she was at the moment and promised to call him after dinner.

Rita had moved to Bangalore two months back to join her new job while her husband and two school going sons stayed in Delhi. She held a senior position in a multinational company. Her husband was a senior bureaucrat posted in one of the influential ministries.

First she tried to recall if she had forgotten that day’s association with any important event in her life. No, there was nothing like that. Or was it that rascal colleague who, from the day one of her joining, had been trying to be so friendly with her that she felt irritated each time she thought of him.  Of course there was a small secret consolation. Even at this age someone took the risk to befriend her in an uncomfortable way. She was almost fifty and had begun to put on weight of late. She smiled at herself and almost forgave that uncouth scoundrel.

“Then, what about the boy? He may be just a pawn in the game”, she thought.

“Or, is it a case of mistaken delivery?”

She got up and went out to inquire in her neighborhood whether anybody had any occasion that warranted a bouquet to be delivered. But, none of her neighbors had any such occasion.

“I think I have seen that boy”. She felt embarrassed that she was talking to  herself so loudly.  She felt further embarrassed as there was no one beside herself.

Then she remembered. It was the maid’s son. Her face lit up with the prospect that she could now nail the culprit.

She went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. While the water was boiling, she boiled inside with excitement.

Pouring tea into the cup she pondered, “What if it is the same scoundrel? Should I warn him?”

“What if he is not?” As the thought crossed her mind she was touched with a mild touch of melancholy.

As she sat down with the cup of tea, she caressed the flowers with her fingers and decided to stop further probe once and for all.

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‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’ 

The Bhajiwalli’s Husband

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Someone pressed the calling bell- ting, tong.

 “Who might it be?”, asked my guest.

 It was a kind of automated response and he seemed to have forgotten the question the  moment after he asked it as he turned his gaze towards the wall painting. May be my taciturn guest  had nothing better to speak at that moment.

 “It must be the bhajiwali’s husband”, I said gleefully.

Bhajiwali’s husband?”

My guest seemed to be really interested in the visitor now.

“No body knows  his name. There is no need to. He is just a side kick at the Bhajiwali’s shop. But he is a presence, a presence not to be ignored. A presence that has utility. So every one calls him the bhajiwali’s husband.”

“But he has come so soon. It is hardly ten minutes back that you ordered the snacks. Better than the Pizza guys”.

My guest burst into short bouts of  laughter, stopping abruptly as if to take stock of the situation  and ponder why no one could get at his humour.

The bhajiwali’s husband does not have a name. He may have one, but nobody seems interested to know it.

My guest has a name. He is Raj, my lost and found classmate. We used to be classmates in primary school.  Thanks to Facebook, I found him after 24 years and also found that we have been living in the vicinity of ten kilometers for the last five years.

My wife opened the door, settled the payment and after a cursory check of the items inside the packing, shut the door.

After snacks and tea, I suggested to Raj, “ Why not go out for a stroll,  leaving the ladies to spin their gossip and the children to settle their tab war.”

“Yes, why not for the old days sake.”

 Raj’s house was five blocks away and after school it was our habit to go out for a walk. I do not remember Raj ever playing those childhood games. Most of the time, he would be absorbed in his thoughts. Of course,  I never figured out what he was thinking about. During our walks together, he would hardly talk. It is I who would be doing the talking knowing fully well  that Raj was nodding his head without being interested in what I was saying.

As soon as we landed on to the  street in front my house, we heard loud noises coming from the end of the street.

“That must be from the bhajiwali’s theatre”, I remarked.

Bhajiwali’s theatre?”,  Raj was surprised, But you told she has a shop.

“Oh! Don’t  take it so literally. Sometimes, in the evening, it turns into a theatre. Come, we will go there.”

It was a small shop at the  end of the street that touched the road surrounding the boundary wall of a temple.  There was  a grocery shop to one side and in front, there was a liquor shop. Half of her customers were drunk.  While two drunks were shouting at each other, the bhajiwali  was shouting at them to keep quiet or go away. There were a dozen other customers who were oblivious of the chaos around, may be being  used to such spectacles on a daily basis.

The bhajiwali continued with her multitasking activities, putting pakoda in hot oil, settling a customer’s bill, making small balls of mashed potato, while all the time shouting at the drunk customers to behave or at the other shop  boy to go and  ask the requirement of the newest customer.  In spite of being  small in stature and very ordinary dressed in a sari that seemed to have been salvaged from a dump yard, she held centre stage. Surprisingly, she never shouted at her husband who stood at a distance waiting for her next instruction.

She called him near and told him something very softly in a kind of respectful way. He dashed off again, perhaps on another errand.

After sometime the situation improved. The two drunks fighting had become friendlier, most of the customer demands had  been met. She spotted me from behind the boiling oil in the pan and smiled. It was the smile of a young maiden with a tint of a blush. The old stern matron in her was gone.

“How were todays items sir. If you needed anything you could have phoned  me.”

“Oh! As usual the items were superb. For today, it was enough. We are just out for a walk.”

Slowly we stepped away and took the bend by the temple wall to another street.

Unlike the walk of our old days, this this time Raj started the conversation, “Surprisingly,  the bhajiwali too does not have a  name and I have a feeling that her husband is not her type. I mean they are not of same social status. Did you observe, even though he wears simple clothes- just a light shaded ill-fitting pant and a shabby shirt, there is something majestic about him, particularly the way he carries himself around. ”

 “I don’t know how far these are true. There are some rumours”.

“Rumours?”.

Raj seemed to be interested  to hear word for word of  I what I was going to say, as if suddenly and at one stroke to compensate for his display of lack of interest in my talks during our walks in those childhood days.

“Yes, there are rumours.  Ok I will tell you what I have heard.  It seems, this lady was a temporary housekeeping staff   in a bank where this gentleman worked in a good position. The gentleman had some soft corner for this lady and used to help her financially to tide over her family’s financial difficulties. Some say, the gentleman embezzled money. Some say, he was innocent but had to pay the  price for the wrongdoings of his boss who escaped without harm . This guy was suspended and was imprisoned for some time. After this incident, his family disowned him. Then, it is this lady who came to his rescue. This incident happened in another city. They moved in to this city as the lady had some contacts through her distant relatives. Together they set up this shop. Nobody knows if they are actually married. Now nobody bothers to know. Nobody is interested to probe further.  They seem to be quite a nice couple and the snacks she prepares are hot favourites for many. “

“Yes, now nobody bothers to know. That is the beauty of it”- sighed my friend as if relieved of some heavy burden.

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‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’