Vishal had lost again the race
He could not keep the pace
This time too he lost the case
About winning the silver vase
All this had left him in a daze.
He decided to set out to a place
Seeking a guide, peace and solace
He reached a wooded green space
Where he met a coach named Grace
Who taught him well how to pace…
Every day people who frequented the CGS market would spot him for his mischievous but endearing nature. Sometime he would be seen selling few fruits in a basket whereas the next day, he would sport as a flower seller. He had a smile for every buyer whether they bought or not, any of the items he sold. Just when one thought they knew all his chores, he would surprise them by employing himself at Karim’s workshop or any of the other shops in the market for a few days.
Ramu as he was fondly called, was a jack of all trades and did have shades of good nature in him. Most of the women folk would stop to inquire and have a chat with him before they vanished in the vehicles that brought them. He knew which shop had good vegetables and which among the displayed fish had come fresh from the river that day. In fact he knew the minds of the shopkeepers in that market as well as the customers who flocked to the market.
He was barely 14 having seen school for a few years before he ran away from where he belonged after which he was sighted at this place. It had been a couple of years since he was a part of this market, in this remote small township nestled near the western hills far away from the affluent cities.
One fine day Ramu was not to be seen. Also, some shops were ransacked that very night and certain merchandise and money went missing. Everybody blamed it on him or a gang of thieves who might have enrolled his services. The police made inquiries and all fingers pointed to him since he he had gone missing.
After the initial animated talk that lasted few days, everything seemed forgotten which is when Ramu the urchin made his appearance. The news spread like fire and the shopkeepers whose shops were ransacked came running to thrash him. Fearing for his life and well being, some customers and other kind shop owners shielded him from their wrath. “I had gone to the the next town to witness an annual festival” is all what he could repeatedly mutter before the police who were by now alerted took him away.
Ramu was in a poor state after he could not reveal anything or be of any use to the police about the robbery and after having beaten him black and blue he was disposed off near the thick woods at a neighborhood forest. He went hungry for a couple of days though the steady rains gave him enough water to drink. Slowly he dragged himself to the precincts of an old dilapidated temple. There he decided to put up shelter till the rains ceased.
In the morning he saw a old man worshiping at the shrine of the goddess. Among the items of worship was a plate of fresh flowers and fruits.After the puja was over, the person left the place or so he thought. He crawled to the plate intending to partake the offerings when he saw the same old man coming back again. “You may take whatever is left after an hour has passed” he suggested and disappeared again. Famished that he was, Ramu counted some minutes before he fell asleep. When he woke up he was surprised to see the flowers and some of the fruits gone. There were a bunch of bananas still left from which he ate and drank from the water that was part of the offerings.
A couple of monkeys descended from nowhere and made off with some bananas to his consternation. At least they could have sustained him in the evening. He tried getting up but the bruises all over and a couple of broken ligaments did little to help him.
“What brings you here?” Ramu jumped at the question. A sweet lady in a red sari sitting on the parapet was looking at him with a smiling face.
As was his playful nature and despite the pain Ramu replied, “I was dumped here by the law thinking me to be an outlaw. They lost interest in me after a couple of days and I do not know where I shall go now that some of my friends in the market have turned enemies as he recounted his tale”.
“Don’t worry about them. Here are a few silver coins. Distribute them to all those whose shops were ransacked and they will be happy. But before that you should regain your health. Come with me “as the lady got up and held a hand to Ramu to lift himself up. Together they descended the steps and entered a grove where existed a pond. “Why don’t you take a bathe in that pond all this pain that you experience will subside”. Like a loving son obedient to his mother’s call he slowly entered the pond with feeble steps and bathed himself. When he emerged from it how surprised and thrilled he was as all his ailments had left him.
“Now listen son, to all the other shopkeepers you must tell about this temple that exists deep in the dangerous woods and this trunk pointing to an old iron heavy trunk. It has a heavy padlock. Nobody can lift this from here but only the sadhu can open this and others could only break it open if they feel so. I guess there are a few hundred such coins in there. A few lucky and needy people do come this way that is when I get the chance to give away some of these” as she handed a few more. This is for you to open a shop of your own when the time is ripe. Which shop would you open dear son?” . “What about a flower and incense shop” Ramu wondered aloud, the first thought that had come to his mind.
“I would like you to sell a bit of everything with less margin so that poor people can depend on you. Will you do this for me in return for this favor, and yes do sell flowers and incense for I would grace the temple next to the market and people from all sections would throng your shop to get the flowers for worship”.
Ramu never felt so happy and yet sad to leave her. “Where do you live and who is that old sadhu who prays here”, was his parting question. “I am the caretaker of these woods and that person found me here when I rested once in my journeys through the length and breadth of this forest. It is an old story for which we will find some other time”. “Meanwhile hurry up and get going now and plan accordingly as I told you”. Ramu kept looking back at her wondering how they could live in the midst of that thick forest as he traced back his way to the road on the outskirts and from there on to the market.
The shopkeepers rejoiced to see him back in his usual self and were glad he could be of some help to recoup their losses with the coins he gave them. Others who had faith in his goodness were glad to see him hale and hearty and blessed him. Some were sure that he had the divine’s blessings during his stay in the forest. He recounted all what had happened to him in the last few days but only Mukha who had setup a oil shop last month came to him again and pressed on him to retell the story as if he didn’t believe the innocent Ramu.
One day Mukha did not come to open his shop. People who came for their weekly oil needs had to go back disappointed. In fact, Mukha never came back from wherever he had gone to and even while the police like the others made a half hearted attempt to search him, they too failed. After a month, it was Mulchand, the vegetable grocer, who suggested that Ramu use the vacant shop to setup a small business of his own and true to the promise given to the sweet lady at the temple, he set up a shop which had everything what others had including the flowers and the incense for the shrine at the market roundabout.
It was a matter of few months before news started pouring that the goddess at the market shrine was powerful enough to grant blessings and remove many ailments of those who flocked to her so much so that the shrine became popular in no time and Ramu’s was the only shop which was selling flowers and worship items at the market. After a couple of years the CGS shrine could host its own festival.
When Apsomji got up at 5 in the morning partly because of the alarm bell ringing and also because of the commotion caused by his few followers who had already entered his visiting room, he knew it was going to be a good day.
Sometimes he was wary of these followers who had been acting as his disciples, advisers and red tape, all put together. Their clamoring was so much that he had always thought of sacking them all or at least put sack cloth over their loud mouths. There was no privacy in the sense, as he could sense it from the bed room. Here he was only getting up and they were walking into the dining room now as enforcement sleuths would walk in uninvited and treat themselves to food leftovers in the refrigerator and on the table.
Still, Apsomji thought, they were needed to give him company and vet on his ideas that steamed from his head. Today was going to be a good day, as he stretched his arms, went through his yogic motions followed by the rush to the bathroom to complete his ablutions. When the warm water was falling from the geyser, he was wondering what pep talk should he be doing in front of the European delegation who were in town to gauge and most probably reward his city for its cleanliness and care of labor and destitute people.
Apsomji as Mayor for the last 2 years, had been made aware of this comprehensive clean city trust that was set up some place in Luxembourg. Apsomji was a poor reader and whatever information he got was from his sycophant gathering of the above mentioned followers. This award specially set up for cities in developing nations, they had told him was to be awarded if certain conditions were met. On top of the list was – There were to be well-managed slaughter houses, proper waste management, clean drinking water and no overflowing drains, no sight of child labor, no barking strays and polluting vehicles and of course presence of a few parks and gardens to counter the greenhouse effect. Apsomji was a little confused as to how a green park could counter a green house, but he left it to his intelligent team to figure out.
The past few weeks had been hectic for his supporters and people in high offices who helped him to design the itinerary and chart out the survey course through select places in the city, which would keep off-limits, the dark areas away from the sight of the trust members who had flown in 3 days back. If only he could trust them to deliver the coveted award to his city. Apsomji and the corporation members made sure that the award committee visited few looms (hand-loom enterprises) where no child labor existed, a few eateries where everyone who worked was above 18 or made to look like that. A visit to a park that was renovated this year and what was previously a deserted junk yard was also on the list. Slaughter houses were cleaned up and the animals lined up and cleaned up one day in advance. Drains were covered with hard sheets and very feeble concrete slabs that would break if a vehicle went over it. All these were laid out just in time before the motorcade of the visiting luminaries went that way. All strays were rounded up or those who could not be, were chased away in such a ferocious manner that the corporators knew they dare not enter the city limits again.
Clean drinking water taps were setup, 100 in all, at various points, around 30 across the course that the award committee were to travel and visit on feet. 70 sweepers were employed on a 5 day shift and most of them were child labor. The terms and conditions read – They were to sweep the streets early in the morning and never to be seen again in the daylight. Brooms were given to them but no collecting buckets for the filth they were supposed to sweep. These should be collected as heaps, so that in the morning run, the sewage vans would collect them. Since 2 weeks, around 100 traffic policemen were given the additional responsibility of noting and chasing down vehicles with polluting exhaust. Those who belonged to the polluting lot however belonged to the city corporation buses and these were asked to keep off the roads on the day of survey. It was rumored that a traffic inspector who went running after one such vehicle had his white uniform turned to black and was in the hospital wheezing it out.
The waste dumping yards, all three of them which the city had, had got a carpet of sand over the now rotting junk. This sand would help control the stink emanating from it, as per his genius corporators. Another set of volunteers of the CLEAN CITY CAMPAIGN promoted by the corporation had rounded up the rag pickers most of them children, beggars, the old and the infirm who were seen on the streets and packed them off to a home in the suburbs for a week till this thing would get over. After his bath and breakfast, Apsomji with his followers neatly dressed went over to the corporation office ground next to which a dais had been erected to seat the award committee members and the corporators. He made sure that the newly put up dais could hold the weight of at least 20 people sitting and 20 people standing and another possible 20 rushing on to it in the last-minute by doing a dry run.
Everything looked perfect. The dignitaries, 5 of them, were to start of from their hotel on their run up passing several points in the city as per the scheduled path that the corporation had charted out for them. They were thinking of using an open jeep for the purpose but the clouded skies that looked imminent to drop tons of water forced them to use covered cabs. After all, they could always get down with umbrellas to inspect anything if they wanted to. As they had their breakfast in the hotel, there came the rain that was helped by the monsoon winds which was holding out for so long. Now with no holds barred, the pouring rain stood its ground for a full 40 minutes to register a 4 cm rainfall.
With the high tide now against the Mayor and his corporators, the drains got flooded up in no time and as the touring party left the hotel in cabs, they were witnesses to the flooded conditions of the city roads in rainy times. Out came their notepads and drainage was given a very low score. When they visited the slaughter-house, it was pouring water over the tin sheets on to the meat and the animals huddled up. The stench was unbearable, as the drains had vomited out the filth back on to the well cemented floor. They left in a hurry in a nauseating state.
The water in the roads, in the parks and the waste dumping grounds had cleared up everything that was supposed to be hidden. A cow which had a fall in one of the covered gutters just managed to climb in front of the approaching motorcade to visually treat the guests with the black coat of paint it had acquired on its legs from the drain. The city was churned up with waste with all the money invested to make it clean going down the drain. There were still a few street boys here and there with gunny sacks on their shoulder trying to pick things that could have some salvage value from the flooded streets. Sadly, the dignitaries could not get down anywhere as most places had rising water till knee height. When they reached high and dry ground at one place, one of them got down and opened one tap to inspect. The sound of air gushing at first made him jump and then muddied water came out, all to his disgust. Grimaced with suffering at the plight of the city dwellers, the visitors rounded off the survey, half way, and made their way to the corporation grounds.
The corporation ground was in no way different from the streets. They barely managed to get themselves on the dais without water entering their shoes. The bright sunshine after the downpour did little to lift the curtain of gloom that had descended over the hosts and the audience. The results were expected to be as bad as they could get and the poor Mayor and his team had to leave the stage in disgrace. Nevertheless, they had high hopes for next year to make amends. One thing, they collectively agreed, while getting down the steps into the pool of water was – Never to invite anyone during the rainy days…
The fields would sway to the wind
the children in trains waving back.
The tides would get back their surf
the farmers too engrossed in work.
When the rains hit us days on
it made pools of watery slush.
The mud would entrance the kids
who would make pots with the clay.
The sun would peep in on the dew
so the grass could retain the shine.
The grasshoppers would jump in joy
crickets playing the game of life.
The butterflies were very choosy
as to which flower they would sit.
This made it difficult for us to catch
by reading their minds in tiny heads.
A group of clouds came from nowhere
filled with water, they turned to a shower
it is rainy days here again, remarked some
kids left their games and did a rain dance
whatever was left to dry now taken inside
whatever needed to be wet was put outside
the rain drenched and washed the stench
bringing its own perfume that was earthen.
The clouds could now be seen fast receding
a child looked up to see them now flying away
what other task you have, to go soon so fast
please stay and pour some more water on us
to our hearts fill and to fill our pots and wells
No dear, we have other places to water well
and we better not be late, whispered the cloud
as he sped away to catch up with the others…
The wind wound up its path and made a detour
only to face poor me and accord a warm welcome
The canoe in which I was seated, wobbled slightly
not sure of how it would handle the shallow rocks.
The dried up lake seemed to end all of a sudden
its path cut off by a long line of rounded rocks
the jarring made by the canoe prompted me
to desert it, having reached new found land.
The jump into the slush was a rough landing
I made my way to the parched land, with cattle
looking at me, an intruder to their grazing fields
dried as it was, I wondered on what they fed.
I could see a pall of smoke rising from a few huts
the distance to it was still far for my tired legs
A tree came into view with a few stones around
I decided to sit for some time to rest myself.
I sat in a trance, and I knew not, how time passed
My beard and dress and long hair gave me a look
of a saintly man, though I had fled away from sins
The only option was now to make a new beginning.
When I opened my eyes, I could see a few men
waiting for me to open my dried eyes and behold
what miracles I could perform for them, a poor lot
was what I thought, as they prostrated themselves.
I smiled at them and that lit up their eyes and ears
for they wanted me to perform and speak words
only the wise could speak, with souls enlightened
could they follow me, is what came to mind first.
The words flowed from them, and was I thrilled
to understand, and when I spoke, they listened
for they thought I was a savior sent by the Lord
to heal their wounds of despair and woes of life.
They seemed to have everything in plenty but not
in bounty, was rain that made the land parched
them having to walk the distance to the water
where I made my descend a few hours away.
They offered fruits and water and was I thankful
when providence and attention was riveted upon
poor me, who was a fugitive all these months
having got into fights and theft before I could rest.
I waved them off, tired to smile back at every them
listening to murmurs and pleas from elderly folks
they having crowded so close to look at me,
a specimen who spent solitary years in a cell.
The next day the people went about their tasks
some huddled in front of me, a welcome guest
who they thought would bring them benefits,
if only I knew, glory was to bestowed upon me.
A spade lying across was now gleaming at me
asking as if to get up and make its life meaningful
it is when I thought I could make mine too with it
having decided to bring the river to this village.
When I started work, amused kids joined the fray
villagers were not left behind lest I cursed them
for not joining the holy activity and before long
a pond and a canal was dug with no water to feed.
I looked up at the sky, there was no cloud in sight
If only, I wished, it rained, the weather so ripe
I managed to set up a prayer and a feast for all
joining to get divine help for the parched land.
The collective group prayed with me for days
waiting for a miracle to happen with me in tow
getting tired and with faint hopes diminishing
by the hour, my divinity was put to the test.
I did not lose hope and worked on the pond
with collective hopes getting faded by the day
a few people now dismissed me as a mad man
who knew nothing but to dig his own grave.
The flow of flowers and the fruits dried up on me
as I meditated upon nature, to provide the bounty
not riches, but pure water only could it provide to
make the land and my new life worthwhile.
One day, it did rain, when we were least prepared
the flowing water filled the canal and wet the pond
the next day, with tidings came the river gushing
plenty, it filled the mighty pond as did our hearts.
These days, I am a Guru, giving my blessings to all
from poor folk to rich ones, from near and afar
and what better person could teach them than me,
a fugitive, who had learnt to live life the better way…