It was my last day in that city.
Each last day is just as mysterious as the very first day. Filled with secrets. The first day, the first time whenever we enter a new unfamiliar city, we usually get cold feet and experience a strange trembling in the pit of the stomach. It feels like one is descending into a blind well. The strange city seems to challenge you. You in turn seem to weigh your own thoughts and emotions, weigh your own physical strength to uncover and comprehend the city. As a bird weighs its wings before taking a flight. One wonders as to how much of the secret and mystery of that city one will be able to unfold or comprehend. How much will still be left unknown.
On the other hand the last day feels as if a part of one’s own being is left behind in that blind deep well, lost in it forever. Then one takes a mild support of some vague feeling, “when I come here the next time, then I will….” Though something tells you that there is never going to be a next time…..never another time…..
You want to make the best of that last day just as you drink the dregs of the last gulp of wine.
That day I had started off early in the morning, almost at daybreak. The wind was sharp. Trees were bending and doubling themselves as they stooped to dare the force of the wind.
Absolutely lost, I wandered on the roads for hours before I happened to reach ‘Sarkorama Hall’. The poster displayed “Life of Man”. A one-hour film. The title caught my imagination. I decided that at least my feet would get some rest.
In unfamiliar strange cities I never get tired, only my feet do. I always recall an eighty or eighty five year old English woman who was climbing that slightly up-hill road of Elephanta caves in Bombay. She had her shoes in her hand and was walking bare-foot. My daughter asked her, “Granny, are you tired?” She laughed and replied, “No my child. Only I am not tired my poor shoes are tired”.
I bought the ticket and sat inside the hall.
The film started.
A vast expanse ………….. encompassed me.
Oceans roared around me on all four sides. Huge forests swayed and rustled. Tempests resounded.
I was sitting perched like a worthless tiny ant, which didn’t matter to the roaring, rolling universe around me.
Forests, dense forests. Weird world of wild beasts. Birds, singing, twittering, chirping, building their nests, hatching their eggs, teaching their young ones to fly.
Rains, storms, gales, winds, everything. Thundering and deafening. Water on land. Land in water.
Boundless deserts. Amidst the blowing sands, blood-drops dripping from the wounded sun.
New stars being born, misty gas balloons….every minute. Every moment millions of stars disappearing, disintegrating.
The spinning Earth!
The sun. Millions of suns all in an enormous echo. An unending desolation with silence spread over it.
Animals and birds having their own worlds. Little worlds. Loving, screaming, fighting, dying, and being born.
An amazing wondrous world under the sea. Animals and plants. Corals and fish. Snails and shells. Smoking Volcanoes, Live, Smoking volcanoes under miles of water at the bottom of oceans!
Vapours rising from the sea, turning into clouds, dropping as rain. In torrents. On the earth below. On lush green leaves. Water tumbling forward in the lap of rivers jauntily flowing back to the ocean. Unending…..infinite…..gardish……
All round me clouds burst into rain, storms hissed, tempests thundered, forests screamed, winds galloped like mad horses. And…. amidst all those elements, a worthless tiny ant, a non-entity, shrunk in a chair!
It was then that a hand touched me lightly. Someone on the seat next to me. Slowly held my hand and said, “Don’t cry”.
Suddenly I brought myself back from the roaring rustle of the winds, from the screeching loud forests. I was back there. I felt very foolish. I was actually crying and sobbing.
The hall lit up again. I saw this good old woman sitting next to me. Dark complexioned, almost black. Thick dark curls capped her head. A full bosom heaved. Such an appearance and such buxom bodies always remind me of kids who are well-fed and have had milk to drink to their heart’s content. It gives me tender realization of motherhood.
She looked at me and smiled.
I got up and clasped her hand saying, “Thank you.” She responded with faint but a re-assuring smile. She still sat comfortably sprawled on the chair.
“Won’t you get up? Won’t you come out?” I naturally asked.
“No! I shall see this film again. Even if I go home, what will I do? All alone?” She said. There was a certain sadness in her voice, a marked helplessness that gets hold of lonely souls.
Outside, the road was wet. Perhaps there had been a shower of rain.
On that wet road I started walking again. The leaves that had been flying around like homeless vagabonds earlier on, were now lying in cozy damp clusters stuck to the trunks of the trees. Golden and brown bunches of leaves looked like squirrels waiting to sprint off.
I went and sat in a park and watched these washed wet leaves. At night the wind must have blown with great force. I could feel that by looking around. Scared and timid fleeing leaves chased by mighty winds shrieking in the darkness of the night. Leaves left there, innocent, homeless, scared.
At the moment they looked like wet heaps of dead butterflies, squashed in the storm into dead silence.
A skinny hunched old man was walking towards the place where I sat. His trousers were tattered at the ankles. There were patches at a number of places. A big loose torn black coat hung over his frail body. I noticed all this as he came closer. The wide pockets of his coat were stuffed with empty bottles.
His eyes swam without focusing. Even as he looked at me, he looked through me, blankly. His eyes shone in a muddled, muddy way. Glazed. As if they were sick and tired of seeing and looking at things. Anyone who guzzles cheap alcoholic drinks on empty stomach, is bound to get this murky clouded glass-like glow in the eyes.
For a moment he stopped near my bench, contemplating to sit on the other end. But then he didn’t. He hesitated and walked ahead, leaving behind a strange smell, a kind of a mixture of stale bread, cheap liquor and deserted benches. It was more than a mere smell, a sort of a stench it was! A rotten stench. I realised that it was the smell of helpless poverty and old age.
I got up and moved. I walked towards the sandy beach to seaside. It was a smallish beach in the heart of the city. Like a long scattered lock of hair, a part of the sea had entered the land. On both sides of it, perhaps, this bustling city sprang up, as time passed. Water, small boats, steamers. By their side, a neat, well-combed long beach sprawled.
The clouds had lifted. Sky was washed blue. The sun shone bright, and particles of sand were glittering and twinkling. Here and there tiny sea-shells in various colours could be seen. White, smoky grey, blue, brown. I was very fond of collecting shells and small pebbles. Even now I’d love to do it. However, when we observe them later, much later, they tend to lose their luster and look dull, like the hues of stale, withered, faded flowers. Dusty and dead. Their sadness is unbearable.
Rain is usually followed by a lukewarm, light sunshine, which reminds me of diluted and bluish iced milk. From such sunshine, there, light warm breath emanated. A footpath ran along, parallel to the beach. There were heaps and bunches of wet leaves stuck in the cracks between the road and the path. Crumpled and shrunk, they too seemed to give out a vague, strangely warm breath. Neither stench nor fragrance. Neither smell nor odour. Only breath. Only breathing – mysterious and strange. The smell of years, and ages of bright sunshine, bygone rain-showers, and part of wild winds.
I thought to myself, “May be I am feeling this way because it is my last day in this city.”
I had no connection with that city whatsoever. I had no ties which would bind me to it. So nothing could make me cancel or postpone my departure.
We pass through unfamiliar towns and cities, their roads and parks, dust and sand, sunny patches and rainy showers, green and brown leaves. We pass the trees and old folks who have no support. Preoccupied, we simply pass by. Nothing beckons us or calls out to us to turn around. Nothing binds itself to our existence to pull us back.
It was decided and certain that I had to leave that evening. That is why that city was unnecessarily wasting its breath and hampering my move, with light and warm gasps.
All of a sudden my heart felt very heavy. Melancholy and detached from the colourful crowd around.
I too started looking through that crowd like that drunken broken old man. This often happens in a dream. A kind of a tableau moves all around you. You are a mere spectator just looking through all those moving figures.
I felt a deep melancholy. Got deeply depressed. Exhausted. Some sort of weight sat on my chest, just above the ribs; like a burden of a bundle of old, worn-out discarded clothes.
As though in a sudden jerk my contact and relation with all of them snapped, with that city itself, with the crowds of that city, with the wet leaves, the aged black woman sitting on the chair next to me, with the drunken old man wrapped in the stench of stale liquor. I started swaying in space like a helpless leaf.
Just that moment I felt someone looking at me.
Very often someone’s gaze creeps and almost walks on the pores of our skin. Doesn’t it?
I looked around. At a distant many children were eating ice-cream cones near a colourful trolley selling ice-creams – pink, lemon, chocolate. A child was staring at me with blue eyes filled with friendly smile. His round chubby cheeks were smeared with ice-cream.
Under the warmth of this humming smile that breezed towards me, my contact with that city became a lasting bond and a strong tie instantaneously. Now whether I continue to stay here or lasting leave, makes no difference to me! I thought to myself, ‘stay or leave! This city will be a part of me, for ever!’