Unplanned Journeys

The express train was negotiating a curve before it applied the brakes gently at first and then firmly as the Kozhikode station was a few kilometres away. A train which had a few rivals as far as non stop running was concerned had another 800 kilometres to negotiate before it could reach Mumbai the next day evening.

Jalan the railway porter was looking for any passengers that night who would require to board their luggage on to the  train which would reach in a minute or two as per the announcement made. If not to board luggage, good God let some passenger alighting need my services and kept himself properly positioned as the train slowly floated into his line of vision. These days work was less as people travelled light and the trolley bags didn’t help either. It was not a good day for Jalan today. He had fallen from his bicycle and had gone to the nearby clinic in the morning and had his bruised leg bandaged. In the evening, he was invited to the local bar by his friend and after a couple of drinks, there was a brawl initiated by 2 outsiders who was pressing the waiter to deliver the drinks to their table and then beat him up. They definitely were outsiders, the dialect used was not local. Maybe there were goons, from some place who had come to the city on an assignment. Jalan had left soon after they had left but their faces had made an imprint.

Vedika was expected to join the IT firm at Mumbai day after tomorrow. She had asked her careless brother to book the train ticket and he had said he had taken care of the booking till the last minute. So instead of 15th August, he had booked on 25th and just while she was packing in the morning for the afternoon train, he comes with a sorry face and plays the breaking news to her. Then both of them tried other options and finally managed to get a second class AC 2 tier seat for her. One way it was good, she got more time to plan and pack her things as this was a midnight train from Kozhikode.. Her brother’s carelessness had caused  her mother to shell out more money, but there was no time to complain.

Dilip was selling cool drinks from the railway stall at Kozhikode. He along with Jayan  used to lease a tray of soft drink bottles from the store and then pay for it later. They had been at these for the past few years before the pandemic struck. During the period of one year they were doing petty jobs for survival. Now the duo were back to their station duties. Today Dilip had to go to Mangalore on a small parcel assignment and come back by tomorrow morning. He thought of carrying on his trade in the train till Mangalore though he knew there would be few takers for his drinks among the passengers in all coaches which were air conditioned and all   in deep slumber by the time the train rolled into the station.

As the train’s engine passed him, Jalan eyes riveted now on to the coaches was like the owl looking for crow. , his experienced eyes saw a young lady and a boy ambling over to the coaches now almost stationary. They had 2 small pieces of luggage, which he knew they could manage somehow. But out of habit, he went near and asked his if they wanted to avail his services. The young lady smiled at him and thanked him saying they would be able to manage. Jalan was back to look at other coaches to see if anyone was getting down. But he could not see much passengers sitting or standing, most of them were already in deep sleep, you could not blame them, it was already half past 12 in the early morning.

He ambled across to the second AC coach, where the young boy was standing outside and the lady now seated inside. He just came closer and as was his behavior he asked if everything was fine. Yes brother, everything is fine. It was strange though, there were not many passengers in the Second AC that day. She was almost alone, save for 3 or 4 passengers in berths 14, 15 and 16. At the same time, Dilip brushed past him as he was trying to get into one of the 3 tier coaches. Hey where are you going to sell your drinks. Everybody is asleep. I know he said, I need to go to mangalore for this small parcel delivery, so will travel in the sleeper coach. So thought of taking this train. I have the ticket with me. Why dont you travel in this coach. It is empty. What if the TTR catches me. Dont worry, there I see him, it is Nageshwara Rao, he wont mind, Nageshwara Rao was slowly pacing his steps towards the second class AC in which the lady had onboarded. Maybe he is coming to check just that. Jalan moved over to Rao and requested that Dilip travel in this coach even though he had a sleeper ticket.  It is okay, you can get yourself seated near the service staff boy at the   door. Even I will have someone to talk to. Dilip was all smiles as he got in the luxury coach and got seated in the berth nearest the door.

Jalan came out of the coach and that is when he saw the 2 goons getting into the same coach at the other end. He had seen them loitering nearby before the train had reached and now getting into the second ac coach was a little beyond his understanding. Maybe they were going to from where they came, good riddance. He passed by the coach. Nageswara Rao was already dozing on berth 52. That means, he didnt expect any more boarding from this station. He walked on, the young lady was getting ready to sleep at berth 48 and the 2 goons had got seated themselves on the window berth and eyeing her. Jalan could not let her go on the train unprotected and without wasting time traced his steps back and got into the same coach at the door where Dilip was seated.

What happened, Dileep inquired with a surprise, are you also coming. Yes and I may travel more than you in this train. He told about the incidents during the day and now and how he sensed some danger to the passengers from these men. They ambled across to Rao and put his sleep out of the train. He thanked Jalan for coming in the train as the guard had taken I’ll at Kozhikode. The replacement will be at the next halt. They somehow wanted to hold the fort till Mangalore. As per his list there were 3 men and a group of Europeans boarding the train to Madgoan. The next couple of hours was crucial. Rao was looking at the bottles of cool drinks in Dilip’s crate. Slowly he opened his black bag gifted to him by some jeweler from his cloth bag. There are some medicines here and a soft weapon, as he took out a strip. There are 4 bullets in these. What weapon and bullets, both onlookers asked. These are sleeping pills I keep with me, if we can dissolve them in these 2 bottles and persuade them to buy it from Dileep, at least we can make them sleepy and thus a bit ineffective. Can you open the 2 bottles lad. Dileep did what was told, ground the tablets into powder and put it in the soft drinks and effectively closed the cap on them. I hope they wont pick up a fight with you over the soft drink. They wouldn’t notice it said Jalan, as their system is loaded with alcohol and water to them will be soothing, gas or no gas.

Now off you go and use your best selling skills to buy these from you. Keep some empty bottles also in your crate and cook up a story as to how you desperately wanted to sell the remaining and get off the train, as there was only a couple of minutes for it to leave the station. We have another 7 minutes left actually since the train came 12 minutes early. Wait, keep one more filled bottle in case the girl asks for one and he put it in the corner slot. Open that too, take a gulp yourself from that in case they insist for that bottle, you can say it is defective by showing them the open cap. Jalan said, you must be among the cops Rao sir and not on the trains. Rao took the praise with a humble smile.

Vedhika turned nervous the moment she sighted the two men who came and seated themselves on the window seats. They appeared drunk and soon the smell of their drink wafted into the surroundings. They were whispering something to themselves and  looking all the time at her. One of them asked if she wasn’t retiring to sleep. She, lending a deaf year, opened one of her bag and started searching for something which wasn’t there in the first place. Good Lord, I should not have booked on this train when so many seats were vacant, only He can come to the rescue. The search into the contents of the bag went on, and the one of the guys getting impatient asked her what she was searching and started to get up from the seat asking if she needed help. Suddenly a boy came from nowhere with a basket of soft drink bottles and stood in between them. He was very eager to sell his goods even in the dead of the night. Go away, they tried to shoo him off. One grabbed Dileep’s arm and dragged him away from the vantage position as he was blocking their vision. Still he went on pestering them to buy. Why don’t we buy one and send him off, and they got one from him. Vedhika didn’t want to send him away so soon, he was to her as all the gods in one body. She also wanted one from him and looked for the change in her purse. She had the change, but gave him a 200 denomination, hoping that he won’t have the change to give back and thus buy some time.  Dileep gave her the bottle earmarked for her and started pestering the other guy to buy the remaining bottle, so he can alight from the train, as it will start off anytime. The first guy who wanted to see Dileep off from his radar now tried his convincing skills on his friend to get the remaining bottle, and when he didn’t relent, he bought one more, so that the drink seller would vanish. The second bottle was forced into the hands of the other guy by the first and then both started to take turns drinking from their bottles.

When Dileep was confronted by the 200 rupee currency, he was delighted to see that his role getting extended in the drama. He started searching for the change in his shirt pocket at his own pace as if he had all the time in the world. Gone was the impatient looking seller, anxious that the train would start, now he acted as if he was one of the passengers. Vedhika prayed that he did not have the change with him or else the whole scene would change in a minute. But she also didn’t want the guy to get stranded in the train. Maybe another minute or two for the train to leave, thought Dileep. He looked for the change in the back pockets and slowly took out the change, counted them, not once or twice but thrice to the desperate looks of the goons. You know what he told them with a smile, I have lost many a money while giving back the change. Sister can you count them and see if that is okay as he handed back the change. Vedhika counted swiftly and said it was fine but sad to see him leaving. The train had started to move slowly and Dileep hurried to the exit door.

When all seemed clear for the 2 men to start gaining lost territory, to the surprise of all three, in walked another god in human form for vedhika. Mr. Rao pulling his black coat on his shoulders as a rucksack walked in with his cloth bag and reservation list.  Looking at the men, he turned over to Vedhika and asked for her ticket. To put it straight, asking for their tickets was never in Mr. Rao’s plan.  My prayers are being answered, as she went looking for her ticket in the bag. Oh it was the ticket she was searching so far, remarked one on the window seat. Hope she gets it before we reach our destination and went into a laughter spell.  Mr. Rao took a seat on the berth as he was in no hurry in contrast to the train which was trying its best to reach its next halt early. Do you remember where you kept it. Maybe try the other bag, or maybe your purse soothingly were these words from Rao. All the patience just like her father. I am sure it was in this bag, where I kept when my brother gave me the print. I can show my ID as she showed her license. Yes, yes, old fella why do you insist on a ticket, her ID is enough for you to check your list.  Who is the TT here, you or me in a rough voice, a livid Rao retorted, but had to keep his temper in check. He definitely knew he was no match for the guys, if he ignited a fight now. Hope Jalan was hearing all this a few seats away in the dim lights.  I want to see your Ticket young lady. Do you have it on your phone. No, but I think I can ask my brother to send me a copy of it on the phone. He had a copy downloaded on the laptop. Laptop or Desktop I  do not care I just want a copy of your ticket on this berth top, why he seemed so offended Vinitha never knew. But as long as he was there, the jackals sitting on the windows won’t make a move.

Rao was enjoying it. Just like in a cricket match, the play was being enacted at his pace. The creativity 30 minutes back was played well so far in reality. okay make a call to your brother, I can wait. Vedhika started calling her brother praying that he picked it up. She went trying for 5 minutes multiple times and gave up. Her brother would have been fast asleep. He is not picking up, I wonder whether he really booked a ticket in the first place and gave you the print out. No sir, he gave me, I kept it in this bag, I am sure. In that case, take out all your belongings from this bag and put it out one by one and search for it. I will come back to you. Then he got up, went to the 2 fellow passengers who were enjoying the show dangling their legs on the seat like monkeys. Now can I ask for your tickets, fully knowing that they had none on them, at least for this coach. One of them pulled up 2 unreserved express tickets to Mangalore and showed them to Rao with a smile showing one broken tooth. He sure must be on the receiving end thought Rao. Rao looked at the tickets, was amused to see they were taken one month back. He took some time to read it maybe a few times, verified them for their correctness,  smiled and gave it back to them for their future trips. He went across to Vedhika smiling that he had covered another 5 minutes. She had gone through the things fully and yet was not able to recover the ticket print out.

Vedhika requested him to allow her to travel since her ID was there for him to verify. I cannot allow you still, as he took her ID and went through her address and all and wasted time. But why sir, she asked timidly. She didn’t want to offend the TT, as he was like a rock in midst of a flooded river to which she could cling to, till further help arrived. He handed back the ticket and said, you will have to get down at the next station which is Mangalore another couple of hours away, as you are not a bonafide passenger. Now what does that mean, remarked the window cooled man. Old fella, if her name is on your list, what is the problem, in anger , he got up wanting to strike the nuisance of a TT who was foiling their plan. But that is exactly the point, you see guys and it was Rao’s turn to laugh. He took a minute to recover himself from the long laugh and said, you see the point. What point Sir ji, what are your driving at, what point, the window men were getting impatient now. Her name is not on my list. What, all three remarked in once voice. That is the point you see. Either you will have to pay the full ticket money to your destination or you will have to get down at the next station. It is for you to decide. Where is she headed to, asked the goons in one voice. What difference does it make to you, she is travelling to Mangalore for now unless she pays for the ticket. Come on Sir Ji you are allowing us to travel with these tickets, and you are making a big commotion with her on not possessing a ticket copy. That is the point what I want to make, you have at least the tickets, she doesn’t even have a COPY and we went into another spell of laughter. Watching the plight of the girl, all this while, the guys had emptied their bottles, Rao observed this as he went towards the window seats and raised his hand.

Jalan was straining his neck all the time and hearing the conversation and getting ready to pitch in with his story provided Mr. Rao could let him come on to the stage. Now that he saw, he knew he had to put up a show that would last as much as it could. He limped supporting himself on the side berths and entered the arena. Rao looked at him, arent you Javed ( putting an alias to his name) from Calicut, what happened to your leg. A nasty piece of luggage fell on my leg while helping a passenger to board. I couldn’t even limp like this much less walk. I have walked through 3 coaches. The pain is unbearable, do any one of you have a pain killer or paracetamol or a drink. Here have some water, Vedika gave him the water bottle, and yes I have a pain killer strip with me. She took it out promptly and gave it to Rao who looked at the strip, took a whole minute to read the contents. Do you have an allergy he asked Jalan. Allergy to what, Sir? What do you mean allergy to what. I didn’t get you sir. Please give me the pill and save me from the pain. Okay tell me are you allergic to pain killers before. I don’t remember having taking any one recently. Then you should be careful. Stop beating about the bush old fella. You are a mighty hurdle for any action said one of the guys who got up menacingly towards Rao. Rao promptly handed the pill to Jalan. Sit here Rao beckoned him to sit and have the medicine. Now it was 2 protectors on both sides for Vedika. The contest was well played out.  Can you give me a minute, I will make a call to Mangalore to get a doctor to attend to you, maybe a wheel chair if they have one, as he walked away with his phone in his hand. One of the men who had got up was feeling sleepy and tried to pick up a quarrel with Jalan  when in came Dileep. Now what happened to you, did you not get down in time,asked Jalan of him. You mind your business. Dilip chided Jalan.   Yes I am minding my business, last week you took money from me and you have been hiding all this week from me. Now you unexpectedly come in front of me. Where is my money young fella, Jalan let his arms fall on Dilip’s shoulders and shook him. I will give it to you by next week. Give it to me now or else you will disappear again. I was wondering all along why you were not to be seen selling on the platform, now I know. You are spending time on trains hiding from me. Come on come on guy, came Mr. Rao crowding into the discussion. This is not the place to start a fight. This is my space, if you want to, do it outside,am I right? Rao asked the window goons to support him on this statement looking at each of them trying to understand if the sleeping pills were doing the job. They were feeling sleepy, the eyelids were drooping. If it all a fight erupts, then Jalan could take care of the proceedings, he thought.

Jalan asked for some clothes from vedika, caught hold of one who was not interested in running after Dileep, tied his hands backwards with the help of Rao. The other one got tired after running to catch the nimble and mischievous Dileep finally slumpled down in one of the berths to sleep and in a matter of minutes, his hands also were tied. I think you people should get some sleep, he told Vedika and Dileep. Myself and Jalan would see to it that these persons won’t get up till they are pulled up by the railway police. I have made all the necessary arrangements. We can definitely put a couple of charges on them.

I do not intend to start a fight, but he must agree to a date as to when he can give my money back. The bickering went on an on, and there seemed to be no end to it. The guys who had the effects of the pill knocking them to sleep could take it no longer. There ensued a fight in which Jalan put  up his knock out punches on display and they couldn’t take it any longer from him. They then turned their attention to Dileep who also went into a wild sparring bout with one and then went running as if in a catch me if you can through the coach, taking care that he did not disturb the sleeping passengers at the far end of the coach. Jalan tied the two back to back with his porters cloth and sat beside them. Rao and Vedika was enjoying the events turning out well in their favor. Don’t worry daughter, he assured Vedika , this was just a play to protect you from them. Another hour, they will be in the safe custody of railway police and don’t worry about your ticket. You are very much on my list.

Journey of life

All of us are walking on the road that leads us to our final destination. This is the path that everyone takes in their life and which no one can shun. All get pushed on to this road and walk they have to. Experiences that we gather get tagged as luggage on to us. Some are good whereas some are bad and others best to be forgotten.

These experiences and memories cannot be discarded as each event and action gets etched, some on your body and others most in memory. We get our family members to walk with us in this journey of life where some leave us soon and others stick on till the very end.

Friends come in from different directions as they meet us in their journeys. Some give you company  and lighten the travails of the travel. There are others who confront you with negative motives and who are best to be avoided but not everyone can, as some are forced upon you that leaves you weak and tired to continue the arduous path ahead. The journey is long for some who grumble about it and short for others who enjoy the travel.

The sun, the wind and other elements play their parts when they cross your paths daily as you walk ahead not knowing what is in store for you, a journey where the destination marks the culmination of a life well spent or best forgotten…
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Story of a Ruin

Hindu temple, Ubud, Bali
Pura Temple, Bali

On the banks of a winding river
covered by shade giving trees
stood an old temple now a ruin
one day, was I mighty surprised
to see myself walking towards it?

The glaze from the noon fiery sun
as it struck many majestic pillars
at first blinded me; I could see
a deity of a goddess unattended.

Offering my salutations to her
I looked around to spot anyone
who would come this desolate way
but alas, no one seemed to exist
except me, in these lost quarters.

I walked the once trodden steps
when having heard a sharp noise
I turned around, to my wonder
the old sanctum door now shut
who shut that door, I wondered.

Around the farther side were
trees plenty next to a cool pond
with flowers growing amidst it
my eyes spied in the shade of trees
a monkey, a squirrel eyeing in awe.

The breeze and the fruits in bounty
took me to a dream of bygone days
I dreamt of that place back in time
how festivities rocked the still ground
where people flocked lost in joy.

The temple fair with pristine glory
attracted one and all, near and afar
a visitor in me now in different attire
there I saw a beautiful girl standing
at the steps of the majestic temple.

Was she beautiful, was she radiant
was something about her charm
observing all who were lost in fun
who she was, so bright as the sun
my mind at sea, churned thoughts.

I climbed the lovely temple steps
devotees praying to the goddess
somehow the glow on the deity
could very relate to that on the girl
one in divine, one in human form.

Casual inquiries it was made known
she was the child of the temple priest
a devotee who cared for nothing
engrossed in the service of his folk
worship a mother who was his child.

I circled with the crowd at every turn
her radiant smile, the mighty holy
doubts cleared with the compassion
she bestowed on us with her love
a mother pleased at her children.

At a loss, keep the discovery to myself
do I make it known, had I the courage
should I approach her I wondered
would she listen, as others her age
a woman, she of a countless age.

One day, she was playing with kids
getting close towards the little ones
when she sensed my approach,
the all knowing smile asking
was I attracted to her these days.

With courage, I went near divine her
while the kids not at close quarters
asking her, was it true, I had sensed
she the divine in human form said
keep it to you, which I did this time.

Days were spent meeting and asking
had she powers she could exercise
could she keep the village blessed
she would wait for them to pass a test
then, would decide to be a part of it.

Months passed by, days of joy to me,
one day, the priest’s daughter fell sick
ailments added to her father’s plight
one said of a physician with the king
might help her to tide over her state.

A journey to the palace was too far
to ask for a cure might invite wrath
a lad I was, to carry the message
private to the medic, to respond to
a person glowing, despite her pain.

I went to the court and with difficulty
manage to get his consent, for the call
but he asked a fee, which I doubted
any one, of the village could afford
but they could have tried and helped.

With sad tidings, I got the message
no one cared to help the priest
who did selfless service for them
helped bring blessings from Her
just as She had blessed him with Her.

Chiefs and landlords refused to help
in kind or in money, left him sad
the priest died, broke, just as he was
was this test you told of, she smiled
she was to pass, with me by her side.

Rain clouded to the delight of all
but my plight, no one could gauge
I lost her that night, hands in mine
radiant as ever, loving eyes upon me
in torrents, it poured from the sky.

The river nearby rose in anger
submerged all with its people
waves climbed the forsaken temple
they also washed away our lost selves
I must be glad to part with my body.

It all came back, I was driven here
a place where I loved a girl of glory
a divine Odyssey it got me here
left to reminisce the story of a ruin
would She come again for me…

If you liked reading this, hope you enjoy the sequel that continues as a story in Yajnavalkya

My distant pal

We became chat friends at a net cafe

Most of the time we sat next to each other

Not knowing  it was she  and I  him

We did wait for the bus at the stand

Just  a smile passed when our eyes met

Our mind always busy with the distant pal

One day the pal was all gloomy while chatting

Inspite of my inquiry she kept quiet

I smiled at the stand but she didn’t look

I sat in the seat as she stood thoughtless

I offered the seat next when it went vacant

Her exam results were out, she confided

Oh,  is that  all, I smiled cheering her up

I am leaving tomorrow for I cannot stay

won’t you be seen at the net cafe then

I will not be there as I need to pack up

She bid a sad bye as she got down

I saw her walk and disappear in the blocks

While the bus carried my sadly hurt weight

The next day dawn, I logged in at the cafe

She had put a mail thanking me for support

she was leaving the city as it was not in her

to crack the exam even in her third attempt

also was not sure if she would chat with me

I looked at the vacant seat beside me

Then it struck, she too had said the same

Logging out, I broke into a run sweating

the bus was waiting as if asking me to board

I hopped into it and off  where she left it last

I retraced her last seen steps into the blocks

meeting and confirming it was her was vital

walking in the sun long my vitals were failing

when a car bumped into me with her in it

What are you doing here, she asked tending

I came to meet a friend who is flying today

But miss I did just like this car gave me a kiss

Do you want me to drop you at the airport?

Yes yes! I scream, my dream having come true

In the cab I asked her where she was leaving

Both the answers matched and then I asked

What made her think she should quit study

She said she had fallen in love with her pal

Who went pale on hearing such sweet words

I don’t know how to tell him, her eyes damp

cause the pain in the heart now unbearable

Now that you have told him, he would know

I haven’t told him it is you I told, she flamed

Her looks made me all the more to smile

Can you tell me how it happened, I teased

The exam or love is what you want to know

I am asking you on your  love stupid, I joked

How can you call me stupid, she flared up

If you can call me umpteen times on chat

Why cannot I sweetly one time in person?

Ajay, you of all persons, she exclaimed!

After a silence that seemed an eternity

She told the cabbie to turn back home

I am not going anywhere but here

as she held my hands with gleeful eyes

With Ajay why can’t I Vijay over my exams?

What A Waste is War

What a great waste is war

For it puts everything to waste

It is all for a need they say

To bring back the lands together

But that is what they said long back

When the united  land was divided.

It is all for a need they say

But it takes away our needs

there is nothing left to feed

no place to work or play

no houses left for us  to rest.

As the enemy is on the march

we are looking  to resist and rest

how long can we run from the land

where in peace once we did dwell

where the winds of  war seldom came.

Then you came and felt the need

good counsel came from all sides

but the need made you pay no heed

in the midst and stuck in the mire

Is it too late to turn back now

when the evil of war became your peril?

Why so unhappy?

The friends ask you to party

You must try this restaurant

The movie is worth seeing

Why haven’t you bought a new vehicle

Is satisfying the senses real happiness?

Aren’t the so called senses the demons?

That shield you from the creator

Who keeps waiting for you

To break the curtain

To see the real Him

After which the senses wither away

And seldom call you to satisfy them

For having walked with the divine

They know they have lost you

While you got lost in the love

Of the one who created you.

Nature

A child fed the crows and the pigeons daily and it had been almost a year. She tried her best that each one got its bountiful share. They still bickered with each other during feeding time. Some of them became plump and some were average while others looked famished. She tried to feed the famished ones but the well fed ones came back everytime for their share.

She used to feed the crows first lest they fight the pigeons off. Even then they used to pull the pigeons by their tails and make fun of the famished ones. After that she would find the crows fighting with each for no particular reason.

One day she asked her father, why is it so dad that inspite of all the freedom and the food they get, they behave so? The dad replied, “every form of living beings have their own nature and it is mighty difficult to change it. Some think over their actions and get better. Even we humans are no different, child! You will understand this when you grow up”

A helping hand

For those who have already read Reach to the Poor, Pravin and Raju are familiar characters now.

It so happened that during one of their recent visits to the town, to augment supplies to their shops, both had the feeling that it was time they visited a hair cutting salon.

They always lodged themselves at the Hazari lodge which was slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a Sunday morning and after a quick breakfast at a nearby dhaba, they walked in search of a salon. A few minutes into their walk they saw a ruffian at a distance arguing with a wayside hawker woman. It appeared that he was threatening her to part with some amount of money as weekly hafta to shore up his fortunes. The misfortunate woman with no one to seek help, it being a Sunday morning with most of the shops being closed, parted with her earnings.

The money collected, the ruffian parted soon from the place. Our silent observers at a distance, walked upto her, heard her out. They took some time to console her, helped her with some money saying they would teach a lesson soon, to the so called terror whenever an opportunity presented itself.

On their look out for a salon, they came upon a few other hapless hawkers who too had to bear the brunt of the so called Gajya the illegal tax collector.

A poor man was pulling his cart of ice slabs at a distance. They hurried upto him to make inquiries. Despite the heat and a sweating brow, he was kind to stop and help them with directions and also offered water laced with few pieces of ice if they wanted. As was their nature, they politely declined the warm offer of cold water and hurried to the salon.

The road to the salon was a bit bad and they had to take care not to fall into the many inviting potholes. As they reached the shop they could see one hair dresser and two persons waiting on one of the two worn out benches. They seated themselves on the other one and picked up a conversation as was their wont.

The hair dresser also lent his ears and the topic turned to Gajya. Most of the shopkeeperd feared him, said Jayanti Lal who was finishing his creative work on one of his customers and at the same time eager to be friendly with the visitors he asked Raju as to what they did. Pravin with a laugh said, “I burden those who come to me and he sees to it that they don’t die” . Hearing this Raju also laughed in big tones.

This is a poor locality, Sir and we do not have that much earnings to share with anyone said Jayanti Lal with a confused look. Offlate Gajya has been asking for more which we cannot give and that gives rise to skirmishes with him. I don’t mind giving him a free hair cut and a shave if he demands and he paused, maybe that offer I can give to you too. One of the bench customers, Javed looked with fear about himself and in a whisper told Pravin… He carries a knife with him, they say. Oh no, talk of the devil and here he comes….

Gajya’s frame came into view to all eyes who looked his way. With a Pepsi bottle in hand, he was idling his way to the salon. At the same time through another lane, came a ice cart pulled by an old man. One of the cart’s wheels got stuck in one of the pot holes and he asked for Gajya to help him out not knowing who he was. All eyes were riveted on Gajya as to how he would react. The irritated ruffian slapped the man and continued walking towards the salon.

Javed bhai whose turn was next whispered.. Now it is his turn, we will have to wait till he gets his hair cut and beard shaved. We, the timid always have to wait.

Raju’s blood was boiling. He would strike this bully as soon as he was within striking distance come what may. Pravin sensed Raju’s mind and decided to teach a lesson in their own way. Touching Raju he said a word which only Raju could understand. “Big boy”. Many a childhood scenes of skirmishes flashed in Raju’s mind. He smiled briefly. It was time to act.

Raju got up and stood near the dressing chair. The current customer had got down. Javed bhai afraid of annoying Raju whimpered, ” but it was my turn”.. Raju looked at him with a fearful avatar and said “Did You say something” . As if taking up the cue Pravin rose from the bench remarked, “Yes it was Javed bhai’s turn. How can you..” . Raju just laughed.

Helllooo, blared out Gajya. “Everyone will have to wait because it is my turn”. Pravin not even showing that he had seen or heard Gajya rushed to Raju and chided Raju for breaking the queue. Raju told Pravin to keep himself outside of this and tried to get himself seated. To the onlookers, it seemed Raju and Pravin were strangers or not friendly to each other.

Gajya was finding it a bit difficult to make his presence felt. Today it seemed these persons were deaf and blind at least these two strangers as others were atleast passing him a glance. Maybe they didn’t know his credentials. So he shouted at Raju to get out of the chair. Pravin meanwhile was trying to pull Raju out of the chair to the consternation of Jayanthi Lal. Today it seemed he had to deal with not one but three thugs who might pull the rug from his feet if he didn’t act in time.

Pravin nearly managed to drag Raju out of the chair ignoring the pleas from the hair dresser and good old Javed bhai who had now withdrawn his case and awarded his turn to Raju. But Pravin would not let go of Raju and pulled him out. Gajya came and tried to sit in the vacant seat or so he thought but Raju on his way down pulled him down with him. Now Pravin asked Javed bhai to seat himself to which the poor Javed bhai said he could wait. Now Pravin looked so angry that Javed brother got into the chair.

This was too much for Gajya who got up and was trying to work himself into a rage but now Pravin took hold of him and gave him such a resounding slap that his face turned outside to the lane where his eyes met the poor fellow still grappling with his cart. How in a few minutes the equation has changed, he thought. “No, I will not take this beating quietly” he loudly said. You will have to pay for this and he pulled the infamous knife from his pant.

The gleaming wicked looking weapon was well sheathed and in Gajya’s hand could work wonders. It was not without its labor that its master had become himself respected out of fear. Slowly as everybody stood frozen, came the knife at Pravin but the plunge was arrested with a timely kick to the knee from Raju.

What followed was a brawl. Gajya didn’t know from where all the blows came, so thick and hard that he cowered before the lot. A few passer-by fellows also joined in the revelry. It seemed to everybody that Raju was a much bigger thug than the punitive Gajya. All the cash on Gajya was taken out by Raju and he was unceremoniously kicked and dumped out of the shop. The knife now in safe hands, Gajya had to run out for his life.

Raju bhai please be seated said all in one voice to which he laughed and walked out with a smiling Pravin. On the way they treated themselves to cold water offered by the old gentleman after having helped his cart out of the gaping pot hole. When they looked back at the salon, they could see Jayanti Lal and Javed bhai saluting. On their way back they parted with the money to those few hawkers who had lost their money earlier. “A visit to the salon can wait, Big boy” said Pravin as they walked hand in hand back to their lodge.

No Time

There is no time to look at the blooming flower

There is no time to look at the perched bird

Nor any chance to find time for a small prayer

Time ambles along with you glued to the gadget

as you spend time looking at the varying stocks

undecided for there is no time for you to decide

for there is no time to sit on the rocks and gaze

at the time keeper setting far away into the dark

You have no time to enjoy the delicious food

no time to thank the loved one who serves it

as you kill time on chat with a distant friend

who has no time to meet you anytime soon

Time stops and slowly passes you over

for chiming time has proved time and again

you have no time dear available to value it.

Happy Birthday

I woke up to the sound of
birds chirping and the
bard singing his tunes.
In the distance, a church
bell rang in sweet chimes.

Down in the street, there
appeared a few people
celebrating some event.
With bugles and trumpets
they were all ready to start.

The wind had a fragrance
and a vibrance never seen
before, and yet little
flowers kept beckoning it
to keep them swaying.

I wondered what it could be
memorable as it seemed to be
and then remembered it to be
a special day, that could only be
a day to cherish, Your Birthday!