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झील

एक झील है यहीं पास में

तेरी आँखों से गहरी और मेरे अरमानो से ज्यादा थकी हुई

किनारे उसके टहलने चला जाता हूँ कभी

वो जो गाना था हम साथ में गुनगुनाते थे

पत्थर बाँध कर उसी झील में फेंक आया हु|

 

यूँ  घबरा मत, वहां हो महफूज़ है|

झील के ताल में धरा है|

पापा के स्कूटर, लकड़ी-गारे के पुराने घर, दादी की कहानियो, नाना के पेड़ो, माँ के गुर्दे और दोस्तों की साइकिल से निकली हवा के साथ|

 

वैसे तो गोता भी मैं ठीक-ठाक लगा लेता हूँ

पर इस झील में कम ही लगता हूँ|

अन्दर जाने के ख्याल से ही सांस रुक सी जाती है|

 

लेकिन आज बात कुछ अलग सी हो गयी है|

अब तू आ ही  गयी है, न चाहते हुए गोता तो मैं लगाऊंगा ही

 

पता नहीं फिर कब बदन सूखेगा?

पता नहीं कब मैं उबर पाउँगा?IMG_4772.JPG

 

The Sunset Journey

inside-victoria-terminus-mumbai-bombay

I dashed through the dysfunctional metal detector at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Or rather the Victoria Terminus, as it is called by people who want to assert their inherited linkage to the city. The beautiful city by the sea, Mumbai. To me these people are in denial of accepting the fact that the city, which had its origin in the colonial era, had evolved out of its colonial past. I have always been baffled by this strange tendency to keep holding to very trivial memories amongst a lot of people. They clinch to it like a creeper does to a wall. Although accepting the change would not make an ounce of difference. I mean, would the magnificent, imposing Victorian structure change if we called it the CST instead of the VT. But then, whatever the name, it hardly bothered me. I am not made for Mumbai and I never had hesitation in accepting that. As far as the standard Mumbaikar mold goes, I am a diametrically opposite entity. I am lazy and slow; I cannot remain focused for even a minute; I hate crowded places and I really, really hate humidity.  My sprint through the platform was a metaphor for my desire to escape. I felt like a lab rat put in the condition most inhospitable to its species, just to see how fast it escapes. I had already made a fool of myself when I came down to Mumbai wearing a business suit in the month of May. My shirt was already sticking like a postal stamp to my body, all drenched in the costal sweet, beneath the expensive suit.  But that annoying feeling needed to be pushed to a lower position in the priority queue, top place taken by – Make your way through the sea of humanity and board the train before it leaves. Making your way through Mumbai crowds should be a recognized globally as an urban adventure sport.

Deccan Queen, one of the most famous trains to run in India. It plies between Mumbai and Pune on a daily basis since the times of the Raj. Had I not been in a hurry to board it I would have taken a minute or two to wonder about why the name of the train, another reminiscent of the colonial era, has not been changed yet. And how long till someone notices. The insides of the coach was no different from the overcrowded platform, but it had a promise. A promise of escape. In Mumbai you would see creature of only your own species everywhere. This should be what an ant sees when it looks around in a huge colony of ants.

The announcement that the train would be leaving shortly, came like breeze of cool air in hot summer. I tried to figure out, amidst the splendid chaos within the cramped up coach, the seat number that I was assigned by the benign online booking website of Indian railways. The reason why I am talking of the website with such reverence is because the website is a living entity of its own! It is manifestation of the great Indian government machinery, which like a tribal deity needs to be coaxed and cajoled to deliver your wishes. No Indian, willing to travel through the world’s largest railroad network, would risk angering it.

’26’ I mumbled. Sitting there was girl whom I had already noticed through my peripheral vision. Without looking towards her, I started settling my bag above the seat.

“Is 26 yours?” She asked, I was still struggling with the various straps of my bag. Without paying much attention, I just responded in an indifferent ‘hmm’. But as she spoke my brain almost alarmed started sending signals that said something is happening which is departure from the usual

“Actually I have some problem sitting in direction opposite to motion, would you be fine to switch this with mine? It is this one” She pointed to the seat just in front of mine. But by this time the talk about swapping seats appeared to be immaterial.

“Anku!” I exclaimed almost instinctively

“Rohan” She screamed. Her eyes lit up with the same sparkle that I had associated so much with her. Instantly I knew that there won’t be a dull moment in this whole journey. Ankita was seating in front of me. It took me a minute to realise that it has been 4 years since I had last seen her. She was wearing a salwar kameez which to me seemed a departure from the usual Ankita that I knew.

“You can’t believe, can you?” Her quizzing eyes looking straight into mine

“What?”

“That I have changed so much. The bindi, the mangalsutra, this whole Salwar Kameez thing.” She giggled. She enjoyed surprising people.

“Well, I have seen stranger things happen. So, I would not say that I cannot believe that you changed. But what surprises me is that we meet after so many years and that too on a train. I mean, we have so many friends in common but never did it happen that we meet at someone’s place, maybe accidentally. We meet on a goddamn train.” I shook my head

“True. And look at you. All suited up. No stubble. Show your nails to me” She pulled my hands infront of her.

“See. All nice and cropped. Kya baat hai?” She threw in her usual gesture of admiration

“Yes. You are not the only one who has been hit by life. Everyone gets a fair chance. I had a meeting in Mumbai, with a publisher. So had to present my best self.” I admitted

“Publisher! So are you finally getting published?” She almost screamed

“Yes”

“What is the book about?” Going by the Ankita from college I was expecting her to jump up and down, right and left.

“Some science fiction bullshit” I tried to play down

“What!? When did you start writing that? No love stories?”

“Not anymore. And moreover there are too many idiots writing love stories. But science fiction is niche. I wouldn’t have got published for next 10 years had I kept writing those candy floss love stories.”

“Oh my God. I cannot believe it. You know when I used to tell Aakash that you deserve to get published he always mocked you.”

“Well, as it happens to be, he is the one who helped me to get through to the chief editor of this publishing house.” I flashed the information for her

“I know. You guys are like this. You would catch a grenade for each other but would always make fun in each other’s face.” The light in her eyes seemed to die as if the source of her energy had been turned down. I knew what the reason was. When I first saw her calling my name, I knew this moment would come. Could I have avoided discussing on this? I asked to myself. Maybe not. Because Aakash was the link between Ankita and me. It was because of him that we knew each other.

Suddenly both of us went quiet. Unexpectedly we ran out of topics to talk. I kept evaluating things that we could talk upon but rejected each one of those in my mind, because some way or the other each thing linked to Aakash. She kept looking out of the window. The urban landscape of Mumbai, with all the chaos and disarrangement, was getting left behind. The queen, as it is called, raced away from the city by the sea towards the city by the mountains – Pune. The distinct costal smell of Mumbai was getting lighter and the temperature lesser. Sun went down somewhere behind the cluster of concrete giants, which from a distance were looking like half made sculptures of a novice.

“So, when are you getting married?” She asked trying to break the envelope of awkwardness

“I don’t know. Maybe 2 years from now” Unknowingly she had now pushed me into a more awkward territory not that I was comfortable already.

“Why? Are things alright between you and Kalpana?” She asked with a concerned voice.

“Well. She is not there anymore. We separated.” I tried not to look towards her as I kept gazing out of the window. The sunlight still shone on the face of the distant cliffs which came closer with each passing moment.

“Why what happened?” She asked. Although I didn’t want to bring up any discussion about Kalpana with anyone, but the simple fact that Ankita didn’t think twice before asking what happened made me feel glad. It is only with people who are really close to your heart, that you can ask anything without the fear of hurting your relationship. I had always felt that I was the closest to Ankita, among all of Aakash’s friends.

“The irony is, I don’t know.” I shook my head as I half smiled and half did god-knows-what.

“She simply left. And it appears that she doesn’t want to have any contact. Although she never told this to me and when I asked she just said that she needs some time by herself. She seemed to be intimidated by the fact that I knew her too well. I stepped back and it has been two years since then. So many times I think of calling her but then I don’t. We were not in a relationship where we could not have talked if there had been a problem. I mean, she could’ve told me what the problem was.” I just stopped abruptly there were so many things on my mind that I simply could not process the whole chunk of thoughts.

I turned to her. Her eyes still fixed on me. She had a look of a mother who had just seen her child fall down but would not help the child, just to let it learn.

“Don’t worry.” I tried to brush away her worries with a smile

“I am alright now. I am over her now” I assured

“Are you?”

“Well, that’s what I tell myself everyday”

“You know Rohan, people say that all the time that they are over some person. But actually that never happens. I know how it is. Once you are with someone, completely into the relationship you allow that person to touch your life and alter your life like no other. If and when that person goes away the impressions still remain. Like even the sculptor leaves a work incomplete still the work speaks of the sculptor’s art. That incomplete statue will always be there even if the maker has gone away. So don’t tell me you are over her”

“Maybe you are right. But there is no other way to overcome. You know, when this happened I would not sleep for days at a stretch. Everything in my life was a mess. I could not remember even the slightest things. Sometimes I would keep staring at the mirror in the bathroom thinking whether I have brushed or not. I realised how important she was to me. She was the one thing that stablised my life. For a very long period of time things stopped making sense at all. There was no real value attached to anything I did. All seemed worthless

Without her my life was like a plane without a wing, somersaulting on its way to a crash. But then one day I questioned myself – how long would I be living like this? Either I end everything or I get out of this mess. It was not just me but everybody around me who was getting affected by this. And then I think I decided to move over her.”

She smiled as if rejecting the whole justification. I still remember the day when I was leaving for Aakash’s wedding and Ankita bunked her office to see me off. It felt so strange at that time. But now it made complete sense. She would never meet him again. I still remember that wedding, it lacked the euphoria, so characteristic of any Indian wedding. I remember Aakash sitting on the mare staring into a distance while his kin and friends, fuming with alcohol, danced around him. He was unmoved, only if the baratis took the effort of looking at his face.

“It is not that you forget someone or get over them. You just get used to living with the void in your life. Months after Aakash’s marriage I would go into these strange moods where I wished that a car runs me over the next time I cross the road. I would carry on with my life like everything is normal but on the inside I could feel the burn.”

“I know how it feels. I still do not have a routine, you know why? Because there is no one thing that holds my interest for long. I would start off with a thing and by the time I would get really interested in it the thought of Kalpana would strike. How this would seemed if she was here? And boom. I lose all the interest.”

“Is that why you started writing science fiction? Or rather why you stopped writing love stories?”

I was speechless. I was amazed how well she could understand me. It was scary but at the same time, soothing. Close friends always remain close no matter how much time you are away from them.

“Never mind. I know the answer. But yes I know the feeling of restlessness and disinterest. During our courtship, Anirudh expected me to talk to him daily and be excited about our marriage. Initially I had no interest. But then I realised that, maybe I need make him feel that I am interested. Because what I have lost in Aakash is already gone with him. I cannot keep holding onto it.”

“You are contradicting yourself. You just said that we cannot get over a relationship but now you are saying that you realised holding on would not help”

She smiled again as I her follower and she was a seer who knew what I sought.

“Life in itself is a contradiction, isn’t it? We are not born by our will nor we die by it, still we call it our life. Now how contradictory is that?” she quizzed “Also I didn’t say I was able to forget him. It was just that I was able to fake my happiness.”

“But how long can you do that?”

“I don’t know. It has been four years and here I am. You get up every day and put on a mask. As you said, you tell yourself every day that you are over her. That is what I would call putting up a mask. Like an actor training yourself to behave in a manner which announces to the world that you no longer live in shadow of the one whom you loved. You are over her. You change yourself, your habits, your routine, basically anything and everything that people, or even you, associate with her. You stop listening to the song that the two of you sang together, stop going to that restaurant, that book store and even stop eating ice cream of her favourite flavour, even if it was yours favourite too. And you keep doing it every day. You create the mask. But beneath the mask you still are the same. Till the point that everyone else starts believing the mask to be the true you.”

“…And then?”

“Then what? It continues that way forever. You are confused that whether the mask is the true you, which all believe to be or you have lost yourself somewhere in the past.” Her brown eyes were now moist and her voice shrill. She wiped her tears with the end of her dupatta

“Leave it. Thoda zyada funda ho gaya nahi?” she tried to put a smile on her face. Perhaps her mask.

Nahi yaar. I think you are right. Things that hurt us in life change us more than things that make us happy. The fire in the furnace moulds the tool and not the water in which it is quenched. You remember college. How optimistic we were, perhaps over optimistic. We believed everything would work out and we would have our way with life. And look now here we are crying over the memories of people we lost.”

“You know, I no longer die to watch a Shah Rukh movie first day first show. Shah Rukh, Salman they are all the same for me now. I simply do not feel the excitement. Sometimes I miss it but then I do not see the point of that. Maybe this is what people call maturing”

“Somewhere inside I feel that this change that we go through, which you just called maturing, teaches us to adapt. It teaches us to respond to the circumstances and to face this world in a better way, but it drives us away from our true self. We may be best suited to take on the world but we are not the actual us. For example you losing the excitement for a Shah Rukh movie, that’s not the actual you but you have learnt that getting excited earns you nothing. It is survival of the fittest. The fittest version of you lives!”

She just smiled and somehow I knew it was a real one. We just crossed Monkey hill. The train curved on the edge of the beautiful Sahyadri range. Sun went down in the distance, it was orange and almost touching the horizon. The haphazard urban landscape was far removed and the slopes of Sahyadri dried in the sweltering heat lay around us. I my opinion the Western Ghats had the best sunsets in whole of India. I often rode to a small mountain near Pune on the weekends just to enjoy the spectacular summer sunset from there. I loved sunsets. Kalpana hated them. She always considered sunsets as moments of parting, but I detested any such categorisation.

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“Sunsets in Sahyadri are so beautiful” I spoke in its awe

“Absolutely” She concurred

“I think this is the second best part of the whole journey” I told her as the train curved through the mountains towards the tunnel.

“What’s the best part?” She asked

“Meeting you” and we both broke into a laughter which only those would understand who have really close friends, who share a relationship where words are secondary or maybe tertiary.

“Trains always mesmerised me since I was a child. Not just the machinery, but the whole concept of travelling with completely unknown people for lengthiest of distances.”

“Is there any specific train journey that you remember?” I asked her

“Not in particular, but yes there are many”

“I had this one journey cemented in my memory. I was travelling from Indore to Bangalore. And there was this couple from Rajasthan who had a very beautiful baby, just above a year of age. The baby was very cute, but sadly it had a hole in its heart. They were going to the Sai Baba hospital in Bangalore of baby’s surgery. They had just got a phone call and had started from their place without thinking twice. It was really heart breaking. And there was this Bengali gentleman. He would have been around 60 years of age. When you talked to him he was all negative about life. He told me how when he was young his family astrologer had predicted great achievements by him but he didn’t. He just turned out to be a mediocre medical salesman. And in the night when everyone was asleep I kept thinking that will I be the same as this old man towards the end of my life cursing everything and repenting how I spent my life. In the same compartment I saw despair in that old man and hope and optimism in the young couple who were traveling for getting their baby operated without any guarantee, just on basis of a phone call. The sheer emotional expanse of life overwhelmed me. And I cried that night, for hours.”

She listened to me with a radiant smile on her face

“I think, you should start writing love stories again, Rohan.” She suggested

“Maybe one day I would. When I have a name and people would by any bullshit with my name.”

“Oh come on! You would write great love stories”

I shrugged. The train rolled in an out of the tunnel and had covered most of the mountainous terrain, now reaching the plateau. Pune was not far now. Our beautiful journey would come to an end soon.

“But you are right. As we grow up the way we see life keeps on changing. I feel it is because of the experiences that we accumulate throughout our journey that shapes our view of life. And somewhere it is up to us how we treat these experiences. It is like, various combinations of same set of musical notes give us different tunes.”

“True. I think it would be a good idea to just note down our current perspectives so that four years later when we meet again, we would be able to compare how things have changed”

“Shut up! I need to get going. Anirudh will be picking me up at Shivaji Nagar.”

“What? Are we already there?” I asked and looked out of the window and I couldn’t believe we were already in Pune. Sun’s light had almost died and the road running parallel to the rails was full of vehicles, like fireflies in a field at dusk.

The train pulled on the platforms and we bade goodbyes. I would be going on till the next stop. She waved from the platform as her husband stood politely behind her. Would she tell him who I was and how she knew me? I asked to myself.

In the last few years I never had felt as contented as I did that day. Neither she nor I asked to exchange numbers or addresses. Maybe we would meet again, like this, in one of the sunset journeys. Maybe…

The Storyteller’s curse

Yes it is true. Anyone who has ever dwelled in the unfathomable universe within his or her mind know what being a storyteller is. You create characters and you create their joys and sorrows within the layers of your consciousness. You bring them to live, you give them motive to live and to die. You fill their lives with colours or you drain all the colours from their lives.

Storytelling in not an art that is developed over time, but is an innate instinct. It is something you are born with, a birth trait. And it comes with a cost. Or rather with a curse, a curse that you can never get rid of. I call it the storyteller’s curse.

The ability or in this case the tendency to tell a story makes the person in question to go through the angst and agony of his characters. Willingly or unwillingly the storyteller lives the troubled lives various characters and in this process rubs off their hopes, disappointments, ambitions, jealousies, envies, loves and hates. Sometimes it is the kindness, the compassion of the fairer characters that seeps in and sometimes it is the wickedness or the dark side that envelopes the storyteller’s imagination. The storyteller is always at a risk of becoming the worst of the characters he conceives, because they are nothing but a fragment of imagination that the storyteller lived in a parallel universe. You will spend nights thinking about how a particular character would have behaved had they faced some situation that had occurred to you. You would spend hours assessing which action of yours is a reminiscent of which character you have created. Every person you know, every new person you meet is a source material to create new characters and modify the existing ones. It is not something you can control. It is an autonomous brain function that runs like a daemon process which cannot be killed. Sometimes it is a please and sometimes an agony that your own brain subjects you to, as if the problems of your own life are not enough. As a storyteller it is not just one live you. It is a crazy mix of numerous lives that the storyteller goes through to tell a story.

This is what I call a storyteller’s curse. There is no remedy for this. Not one that is known to men.

The Green room

I looked into his eye. My own eye. I was up next. RJ was speaking about his play and what it was all about. I had to do the same. I could hear him articulate what was the underlying idea and why he thought this story should be told. I closed my eyes, inhaled. Diaphragmatic breathing, a technique every actor practices. “It improves the throw of your voice,” Nilabh sir had told us several times

With my eyes closed I turned away from the mirror, RJ was still answering the questions that the guys from the theatre company that organized the event asked. The thought of speaking into a camera kept haunting me. Performing on stage is fine, but camera! A bloody camera which could zoom into and focus on the single hair that stuck out of my nose. My body shivered in a strange way. I slowly opened my eyes. She stood there, right in front of me. Her bosom rose and fell with a deteriorating frequency as she caught hold her breath.

“Narmada, you are in the frame, back off.” I had heard someone shouting when I was looking in the mirror. She was forced back into the green room by her colleagues. Maybe she had just climbed the rather steep flight of stairs to the floor of the stage and before she could catch her breath she was shoved away from the stage and into the greeo room.

I had talked to her once, with regards to the availability of the light arrangement during the competition. And the moment she picked up the phone and greeted me, I knew hers was the most alluring voice I had ever heard. I wanted to tell this to her on the phone, but couldn’t. There she was, standing in front of me. Just the two of us in the green room, that was painted black so that no lights bounced back on stage when an act was going on. Only one tungsten bulb did lit the room. The light was just enough for her to see me. She turned her gaze towards me and saw me looking at her. She was wearing a very basic outfit. Black denim and a green spaghetti top. Climate in Pune during the monsoons is very pleasant, eliminating any need of warm clothing. The top hugged her body, accentuating it. She looked into my eyes for a moment and turned away.

I cursed myself, mentally, and turned away from her. I looked up in the mirror and found her looking at me. I felt a sudden urge to tell her that she had a beautiful voice and that she, indeed, was beautiful. I could hear the intensity of my breathing rise. Out gaze met in the mirror. She shifted her weight such that her hips slanted at bit. I so wanted to turn away and speak to her, but I knew that a video was being shot and any noise will ruin the take. I had to get closer.

She turned towards the stage again. RJ kept on blabbering and I had long stopped paying attention to that. A cold fire rose through my spine. The more I looked towards her the more it grew. Narmada, it said that the river Narmada is an eternal virgin. No one can and no one will ever conquer her. It flows through the rocky terrain of central India and thus has been given the name Rewa, the one who leaps. The movement of her hand to tuck a fluttering lock of her hair brought me back from the plateaus of central India to the green room, where she and I were alone.

An unknown force pulled me towards her. I slowly walked, unconsciously. She kept looking at me. Her eyes blinked in quick succession and for a moment she looked towards the floor. And when she looked back up I was still moving towards her. I could see the fright in her eyes, but that didn’t deter me. She straightened up as I reached close to her, close enough to feel her intense breath on my neck. She kept looking in my eyes, perhaps with an anticipation. I was resolute to tell her what I had wanted to since I first heard her voice. I leaned towards her. Her lips trembled. I could feel my heart pounding at a never before rate. My lips parted but I could hardly speak. Everything seemed to be slow, like a marble dropped in a pot of honey. She closed her eyes and before I could say something, her lips touched my lips. What followed was something that could never be done with a predetermination. I felt the metallic tinge of a chewing gum that she would have had earlier in the day as my tongue moved over hers. Her tooth lingered a while over my lips, nibbling and biting. I felt dizzy, maybe because of the camera fright that I had in back of my mind.

Her hand slowly made its way through the back of my hair. She kneaded my hair as her tongue investigated the insides of my mouth. I took a sigh and gave in to the indulgent pleasure. She came closer. Her body now touched mine and I could feel her thumping heart, beating in unison with mine. I hugged her with all my remaining strength and she leaned all her weight on me. I was floating in a sea of cotton balls. Everything around me was as soft and as brilliant as cotton. Suddenly weightlessness took over and I was falling down a never ending abyss.

“You are up next,” She spoke to me. I opened my eyes. She was still standing at the gate of the green room looking at me. I was trembling, thanks to the unexpected daydream I had. I turned towards her. She had the same look in her eyes. As I walked towards her, she backed off a bit. Her eyes looked down towards the floor for a moment and then turned towards me. I was now standing close to her, close enough to feel her intense breath on my neck…

You

Do you know who you are?

Has anyone ever told you who you are?

That careless nod of yours tells me that you don’t know what you are. Believe me, you don’t.

People think they know you, you think people know you, but most of the people around you are not aware who you are. It is the most insignificant part of you that they believe to be you. Can the depth of an ocean be judged just by looking at the waves on the shore?

Ask me and I will tell you who you are. Only those who have seen the starlight know of its soothing luminescence. The cool, white light that penetrates all that is superficial and enriches the deepest trenches of one’s soul. And you are that rare starlight which is bequeathed on a fortunate few. Those who know the real you value you.  We are blessed to have you as part of our lives. You are god’s gift to the world, and he surely does not make your kinds anymore. Behind that casual smile and that gentle frown is a soul that is exceedingly pure. So much so that I am scared of myself ruining its purity. And when the world hits you, it is so heart breaking for me to see this miserable world make you suffer, the light of your soul gets shrouded by the malignant tricks of the world.

It is in these times that you need to realize what you are. Never let anyone make you feel belittle or demean you because that person is not even half of what you are. You light up the lives of people around you without even knowing it. And for my selfish interest I would never let the light go out of my life.

How to ‘almost’ kill a faculty member in an engineering college

Disclaimer: This is a true incident that did happen. No matter how unbelievable this seems, it happened. Please don’t ask when, where and with whom. I have withheld names for reasons of privacy.

This is story of a batch from one of the zillion Indian engineering colleges. The batch was in its first year of college. February was the month and the college annual function was closing in. The first year in college is daunted by seniors though but in this college the management also dominates the freshers. Some over enthusiastic bunch of guys, trying to gain overnight popularity, decided to participate in the annual function. The best thing they could do was mock someone. So the wise one suggested that they should participate in the annual function with a skit, which was a spoof on the Indian film industry. They were initially told that being a fresher you don’t dare such kind of thing, as the seniors will not like this. But like most Hindi film heroes undaunted by the threat they went ahead. The skit was to be presented in front of selection committee and they needed time to practice it. In the college they couldn’t think of bunking the class for that. Even if they were able to dodge the faculties the wrath of seniors was bound to catch them. So they realized that they had only two options either they back off from the scheme or they must bunk the college and not come at all. But as the saying goes Pran jaye par shan na jaye, even the greatest of fear would not have distracted them from their path. Because, ek baar jo unhone commitment kar di to wo apne baap ki bhi nahi sunte.

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Apart from the skit a dance item was also being prepared by their classmates, who were more interested in the booty shaking and body aching form of art. So it was about half the class involved in the activity and all had the same big question. When and where do we practice?

As it happens in all good masala Hindi films, the help came from the Gods. Lord Shiva came to their rescue. It was not that Shiva himself came down from the icy abode of Kailasa. The God of gods doesn’t even need to blink one of his two eyes (shhh, we don’t talk about the third one! Pralaya). It was Maha Shivratri or the occasion celebrated as Shiva’s birthday (if I can call it a birthday, because technically Shiva was never born, more on that sometime later). The college had not declared a holiday for this occasion. Although none of the people planning to do the skit would utilize the holiday for any religious purpose, almost all were offended. They took the matters in their hands and some how convinced the rest of the class to go on a GT (General Tadi or GT means as mass bunk, a local slang)

If the college authorities had enough funds they would have put speech analyzers all around the campus for monitoring the word ‘GT’. It was the one thing which should not be named. But had our protagonists stepped back just because of this fear, thing would have just like the usual – boring. And this story would not have been there.

Coming back to what happened next. Over all it was a successful feat, they had successfully performed the first GT of their college lives.(Pat on the back! Applause)

After practicing the fine arts of acting and dancing for a whole day at a friends place. When the next day they came back to college there was a buzz. Everybody was talking about a serious action been taken against the class. Soon the thunderbolt came upon them. Dr. Lion King (AKA Chin 2.0), the director of the college along with Mr. Mother-of-groom, HOD mechanical department came to our class. They were all much tensed for what they will do to us. They had heard a lot about Dr. Chin 2.0. Even the Bravo seniors (4th year guys) wet their pants due to fury. There were legends about how he punishes the culprits. It was rumored that he will hit with anything that comes to his hand. He holds your hair tight in one hand and makes you bend over your back before he starts punching your back with his other hand, holding anything that comes in front of him.

Mr. Mother-of-groom on the other hand was not so famous for anything. At first look he seemed like a regular old guy who has had enough from life and had a significant bald on his head. On the other hand Dr. Chin 2.0 was a big man, his appearance was intimidating, and he had a huge belly and used suspenders to support his pants. The most freighting thing was that he was a retired army officer and had that hostile air that army men have for their enemies.

It was couple of days after the GT feat when they came to the class. Mr. Kyu-Sir was lecturing on Engineering Physics. Mr. Kyu-Sir was a flatterer; he was always trying to impress Dr. Chin 2.0. As they came in, in true filmy style everybody was stunned. Nobody spoke a word, not even Mr. Kyu-sir. Dr. Chin 2.0 started writing something on the board. The class thought that finally he has taken the matter into hands, frustrated with the stinking notes that Mr. Kyu-Sir taught us, and will teach physics from now on.

But to everyone’s surprise, what he wrote was a numbered list. Everyone was totally confused. The numbered list said

1)      Get suspended for 30 days

2)      Deduction of 5 marks from sessionals

3)      Rs 500 fine on each student.

These were the three options that the class was given. They were to choose their own punishment. A true act of typical Hindi film villains. Moreover at that time Kaun Banega Crorepati (Indian version of Who wants to be a millionaire) was quite popular. So it was not very difficult to guess from where the inspiration came.

“We won’t talk about what you have done or why you have done. We just want to know how will you pay the price.” Declared Dr. Chin 2.0

“You have three options. Get suspended for 30 days, deduction of sessional and a fine of Rs. 500.” He said.

“What will you like?” he asked. This question frightened the hell out of everybody. No one had a clue. And the biggest fear was that if anybody told about the skit and the dance they will face the rage and also will not be allowed to perform.

Nobody in the class dared to answer everybody was trying to think. Some wished that they had the lifelines the participants had in KBC. They would’ve gone for 50-50 so only 1 and a half choice would’ve left.

But they couldn’t ask for anything here. Suddenly a student spoke. “Sir these 5 marks are to be deducted from total of the sessional or from each subject separately?” It was Paw-on. Everybody was shocked to hear that. How could he ask a thing like that thought.

Even though the situation was tensed. The simple question from Paw-on brought in an unintended laughter, students tried to conceal it. As soon as he asked this something happened to Mr. Mother-of-groom. He started having nausea. He started having shorter breaths and almost fell on the chair and was almost unconscious.

They thought he had a heart attack after listening to what Paw-on had uttered. Dr. Chin 2.0 was helping Mr. Mother-of-groom to recover but it seemed Mr. Mother-of-groom was fast getting unconscious. People were frightened as nobody understood what to do. “Sugar” Shouted Dr. Chin 2.0 as if he had broken the code and got the cure.

Mr. Kyu-Sir soon dispatched a student, Go-rub, to fetch sugar from the Physics lab.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mother-of-groom was still lying unconscious taking long and distant breaths.  Dr. Chin 2.0 was trying to talk to him. I wonder what an effect Paw-on’s question had on this old man that he is knocked down to unconsciousness.

His situation started worsening and he turned down to puke. He vomited on himself and the disgust was clear on the students sitting close to him. He also started groaning. Sounds that people make when they are possessed, came out of him. It was getting scary and bad. Mr. Kyu-Sir had almost shitted in his pant and was standing there trying to think (!) what to do.

Soon Go-Rub came back with a glass of water and some sugar. Dr. Chin 2.0 ordered Kyu-Sir to mix sugar in water. Kyu-Sir put all the sugar into the water only to find that there was no spoon to stir. Mr. Mother-of-groom was still unconscious. Most of the students were convinced that he is surely going to die and they might get another holiday and this time officially ;).

But Mr. Kyu-Sir found out a way to stir the water by using his finger as spoon. He was also very afraid of Dr. Chin 2.0 and didn’t want to upset him. He was in double thought as what to do. If he is late in mixing water and sugar and something happens to Mr. Mother-of-groom, Dr. Chin 2.0 will certainly do something bad to him. But on the other hand if he was not able to find any spoon and using a finger which was dirty and was covered completely with chalk dust will only inflict more dangers of infections. But Mr. Kyu-Sir went ahead to deal with the present problem first.

As he finished stirring the water Dr. Chin 2.0 poured it into Mr. Mother-of-groom’s mouth. As soon as the glass of sweet water went in Mr. Mother-of-groom stood up quick like a rabbit.

“So what is your decision?” he asked. The class was stunned once again as what was all this. This guy nearly escaped a life threatening situation and they are still bothered about the GT. Still nobody answered, all were freaked out with what had happened. There was a stunned silence as no one could think of a possible answer. Some thought of the Addad-Bakkad method used for objective type questions in India, some were thinking of asking – Sir answer kya lana hai? As they always do in practical experiments.

The dashing duo didn’t have enough time for the students to come up with anything concrete so they went away without any solution and told that as the class had not opted for anything, they will decide it by themselves.

Later it was informed to all that Mr. Mother-of-groom was a diabetic and the situation he was in when he fainted was of hypoglycemia, the lack of sugar in blood.

Paw-on, the croaker, didn’t stop his big mouthed adventure jut there and after all this had finished a circular came to the class. Paw-on in his heavy and loud voice said “ek gaya nahi aur yeh dusra aa gaya” he should’ve considered the position at which he was sitting. He was sitting in the first row and was clearly heard by Mr. Kyu-Sir.

Even if it wasn’t the first row Paw-in’s voice would’ve made it to Mr. Kyu-Sir’s ears. It was just to hear this that Paw-on was sent out of the class for rest of the time.

You want to know what happened next. Well, this is pretty much it, the annual function got cancelled that year. But they surely became a rage in college afterwards, with their plays, stand up acts and dances.

I would come back with more such incidents from the engineering colleges. If you have one which you think should be shared with everyone here for the sake of spreading the smile. Do write to me about that and we (you and me) will put something together.

Note: People who have a ‘Kidda’ for knowing the real names of the people involved in the incident can either try to translate the names that I have given or try to find a name which sounds familiar in pronounciation 😉 

My Room

Suffering, yet again, from a relentless attack of insomnia I lie down in my room looking at the ceiling. I have long given up on trying to find a solution to my sleeplessness. I turn around and look at the state of my room. To an untrained eye my room would seem like an ultimate mess, but to me it is as organised as a military arsenal. I know exactly where I have kept something. I love it this way. I love the chaos and I love how I can still find things amidst all this.

But today when I look at my room a thought strikes me. Something much more than just a commentary on my lifestyle. Isn’t my room a perfect manifestation of the state of my mind? The more I look around the more this makes sense. Memories, faith, insecurities, fear, chaos, passion, prejudices and filters everything was there.

At the far diagonally opposite end stands the cupboard. It is stuffed with random things and I rarely open it. There are things in it which I avoid to confront on a daily basis. Maybe if on a weekend I have some time I would open it just to rearrange the things and then forget it for the rest of the week. The only use it finds through the week is as a mirror.

Behind the cupboard lie things now unknown to me. I remember chucking some useless stuff behind it in the gap between the wall and the cupboard. But the dust of time has changed the appearance of most of those things. I can’t identify them anymore. And perhaps that is the corner of my room I am most afraid to go into.

A whole quarter of my room is occupied by a mattress given away by a friend as she moved to another city. I rarely sleep on that mattress. It is all covered with my clothes, books and bags. The mattress is just visible in-between things, in some patches .

Just opposite to the mattress is the small table which houses the various idols I have. A place of worship. A place where I keep my faith, secured. I do spend time there, but not more than 10 minutes. But I spend that time daily

The fan goes around with a squealing sound as if something inside is broken. Nonetheless, it still works. Moonlight comes in through the window. My room has a fairly huge window with glass panels. I rarely open it, the glass allows the light to come in and leaves the noise out. But then sometimes I pull in the curtains for I do not like the light always.

Image

The door, how can I forget the door! The only way into the room. From the door looks down on me, my favourite poster of The Iron Man and also a Bat-sign placed just above it. Somehow looking at the Bat-sign and The Iron Man poster is the most comforting sight of my whole room. But if I close the door I would lose the sight of them. Have I been keeping the door closed too often lately?

Is this even making sense or I have gone crazy beyond repair?

As I said earlier it just seems like someone peeked inside my mind and created the ambience of my room. Or has this happened by itself? Something which is bound to happen. Maybe the world is not so fluid as it seems. Maybe there is just one state to which all things want to tend.

Is there a cosmic pattern that is revealing itself upon me? Are all things just manifestation of something else? And it is just the matter of scale. Why else would a tiny particle of dust resemble a mountain? Why the atomic model so much resemble the cosmic systems?

Is there a common code which reveals in everything and everyone? As if repeating itself over and over in all forms, shapes and sizes. And we are just too busy in looking at the variations that we miss the commonality.  Maybe it is something which was once known to us but we have lost it over the time. The knowledge of trivial things has replaced the wisdom of universe.

Why else our old teach us to greet each other by saying Namaste? A simple word which we might use several times in a single day, still missing the meaning of it. Namaste (Namh + Aste)- I  bow to the one that resides in you. What is this that is said to reside in all of us. Isn’t it the connecting link, the cosmic code.

Isn’t it the same thing that is inside my mind and in my room.

Oh dear, Night

When that brilliant ball of flames quenches its thirst in the ocean and moves to the distant lands slowly an envelope of darkness falls upon. It is the time when we retire to our abodes. It is the time when the nightingale sings and stars come out to watch over the world of the mortals. Most of us think that this time of the day is a time when we sleep. But night is more than what we see. Rather than a time for sleeping it is a time of awakening.

It is in the lap of night that your soul finds peace. The day is when you live for the world. During the day you are a husband or a wife, an employer or an employee, a student or a teacher but when the rays of sun bi a goodbye to the earth like the clothes on your body, your soul sheds these identities.

Night marries you with your soul. It is the time when you stop being what you are told to or what you are expected to be. It is the time when you are. Even if your body sleeps your soul awakens to the starry summon. It is in your deepest dreams that you achieve your true self.  You do what you wanted to and be what you wanted to be. Love your loved ones and meet those who are afar in space and time.

Your dreams are the vessels which mount the distance of space and time. When the cool moonlit breeze caresses your body, your soul sets sail in the vessels of dreams and travels through epochs and spends fathoms to be with the one you want to be. There is no worldly bondage to tie you in your dreams.

And on those, like me, who are void of sleep, the goddess of night showers her most cherished blessings. The song of silence fills the heart and the glow of darkness enlightens the conscience. For the real dreamers are the one who dream with their eyes wide open.

It is in this envelope of darkness that the soul which is a tear from the almighty’s eyes, silently walks into the chamber of your heart. For the cacophony and ferocity of the day does not suit the flourishing of the soul. During the day it hides beneath the layer of clothes that you have to wear. And while it dances within the palace of your heart it arouses the fountain of creativity. The scented streams of art flow the strongest in the night. Night inspires.

Night conceives the ideas of the new world that must come alive with night’s death. It is the reason for the birth of a new day.  Night fades itself away to let a new sun arise erasing all that was yesterday. Night is the mother, the mother of tomorrow.

 

मेरी अजब सहेली है ये रात,

हौले-हौले कह जाती है हर बात।

 

सपने कई, जिनमे है कोई बंधन नहीं,

उन्मुक्त भाव और उनकी उड़ान नित-नयी।

यादों की दिल में करा जाती है बरसात,

मेरी अजब सहेली है ये रात।

 

और है स्वप्न से भी सुन्दर इसका चेतन दर्शन,

परमात्मा की शरण में आत्म का मंथन ।

खुद की खुदी से करा जाती है ये बात,

मेरी अजब सहेली है ये रात।

The book and the monster

It was a lonely night for him. He had nothing much to do, and neither felt the zeal. He saw the book resting, looking him into the face, on the messed up dining table. The book had been long on the list of his pending items. Just for the sake of killing the time, as he was not able to sleep, he picked up the book.

A mild wind was blowing through the room. Wind chimes tied on the curtain rail behind him swayed incessantly, producing a pleasant but mysterious noise. The book had involved him completely. Quite oblivious to his surrounding he was completely in its clasp. He was so engrossed that even if something lurked out of the dark behind the curtains, he would not have noticed. Just as he turned to the last page of the first chapter, for fraction of a second, his attention moved away from the book.

“Is there someone behind me?” He asked to himself

Consciously he turned back to flush away his apprehension. The curtains flew and wind chimes chimed. He went back into the book. But, still, he could not get the doubt out of his mind. He still felt as if someone was behind him. It seemed that the something wanted his attention, purposefully.

“Is it because of the book? Is someone or something jealous of the fact that the book has got my full attention and nothing else?” he asked to himself once again

He moved his glance away from the pages of the book. And then to greatest of his horrors, he turned into a monster!

चंद्रग्रहण – २

मीठे नींद में डुबे शंकर के आनंद में तब खलल आ गया जब उसके चेहरे पर हलकी हलकी पानी की फुहार आने लगी। आधी कच्ची आधी पक्की नींद में जब उसने आँखे खोली तो देखा कि झोपडी की खिड़की खुली हुई है और उसमे से हवा के साथ बारिश का पानी भी अन्दर आ रहा है। नींद टूटने से शंकर थोडा  सा झुंझला सा गया था। उसने जैसे ही खिड़की बंद करने के लिए उठना चाहा, बाहर टंगे लालटेन की ज़मीन पर पड़ती रौशनी में उसे एक परछाई दिखी। और अगर वो एक साधारण परछाई होती तो शायद शंकर की सांस ऊपर की ऊपर और नीचे की नीचे नहीं रुक जाती। परछाई एक लाश की थी जो झोपडी के छप्पर से लटक रही थी, हवा उस लाश को अपने साथ दाये-बाए हिलाए जा रही थी । कुछ क्षणों के लिए शंकर समझ न पाया कि क्या करे! फिर उसने धीरे से खुद को खिड़की के पास खिंचा तो पाया कि जो छप्पर से लटक रही थी वो कोई लाश नहीं थी। बल्कि किसी ने खेत से ला कर काकभगोडे को टांग दिया था।

“कोई पागल ही ऐसा कर सकता है!” शंकर ने बुदबुदाया

शंकर अब भी आश्चर्यचकित था, मगर अब उसके दिल से वो दहशत जा चुकी थी जो परछाई को देखते ही उसे महसूस हुई थी। वो आस पास का जायजा लेने जब पीछे मुड़ा तो उसने पाया की चूल्हे पर रखा वो बर्तन गायब है। उसकी समझ में आ गया कि जब वो सो रहा था, जरूर झोपडी का मालिक वापस आया होगा। काकभगोडे को टांगने वाली करतूत भी हो न हो उसी की होगी। शंकर उसे धुन्धने झोपडी के बहार आ गया। हवा अब और उग्र हो चली थी। लालटेन की लुपझुप करती लौ देख शंकर को दिए और तूफ़ान वो पौराणिक संघर्ष याद आ गया। जाने क्या सोच कर उसके परेशान चेहरे पर हल्की सी मुस्कान आ गयी।

शंकर ने उस काकभगोडे को नीचे उतरने के लिए जब पकड़ा तो देखा कि काकभगोडे के आँख, नाक और मुंह बना दिए गए थे। जिस लाल रंग से उन टेढ़ी मेढ़ी आकृतियों को बनाया गया था वो अभी तक सुख भी नहीं था। शंकर ने काकभगोडे  को उतार कर ज़मीन पर धर दिया। ओटले के किनारे पर ही वो बर्तन भी रखा था जो पहले शंकर ने चूल्हे पर रखा देखा था। जब शंकर ने ध्यान से देखा तो पाया बर्तन में अभी भी कुछ रखा हुआ था, पास जाने पर उसने जो देखा उससे उसे एक लघु हृदयाघात आ गया। बर्तन के अन्दर एक कुत्ते का सर था। शंकर वही का वही ज़मीन पर बैठ गया। यह सब क्या हो रहा था उसकी कुछ समझ में नहीं आ रहा था। उसकी तार्किक शक्ति उसका साथ छोडती सी मालुम हो रही थी। जो कुछ आज रात उसके साथ हो रहा था, उस सब की व्याख्या शायद ही कोई विज्ञान दे सकता था। पर यह सब हो तो रहा था, वो चाहे मने या न मने। कुत्ते का सर देखते ही उसे लगा था की ये उसी कनकटे कुत्ते का सर होगा। न जाने क्यों आज रात घूम फिर कर शकर का सामना उस कनकटे कुत्ते से हो रहा था।

उसने हिम्मत जुटा कर अपने दर की पुष्टि करने के लिए ज्यो ही बर्तन में झाँका, एक अशांत से अट्टाहस ने उसकी रूह को कंपा दिया। कुत्ते का कान तो कटा हुआ ही था, लेकिन यह हंसी किसकी थी। पहले तो उसे लगा कि लक्कड्बग्घो की आवाज़ है, लेकिन तुरंत ही उसका यह कयास असत्य सिध्द हो गया। सामने से एक अधनंगा व्यक्ति हाथ में कुल्हाड़ी लिए पागलों सी चाल में शंकर की तरफ बढ़ा जा रहा था। वो पागल आसमान को ताकता बेतरतीब सा शंकर के बिलकुल पास आ गया। जब शंकर ने ध्यान से देखा तो पाया कि वो तो पागल रामकृष्ण ही था। तो क्या वो अपने गाँव के इतना करीब आ गया था, कि रामकृष्ण के खेत में पँहुच चूका था? रामकृष्ण को देख उसके खोये होश वापस आये। मगर कुत्ते के सर को पकाने का वाली बात उसके समझ न आई। रामू पागल तो था पर ऐसी हरकते गाँव में तो नहीं करता था।

“तूने उसे बचा लिया?” रामकृष्ण ने चीखते हुए शंकर से पूछा

 

“किसे?”

“इसे, तेरी भाभी को।” पगले ने काकभगोडे की और इशारा करते हुए बोल

“अरे, ये लक्ष्मी भाभी नहीं है। बस एक काकभगोडा है, बस। लक्ष्मी भाभी तो मर चुकी है ना ।” उसने रामू को समझाने की कोशिश की

यह सुनते ही रामू फिर अपने भयावह अंदाज़ में हँसने लगा।

“तू भी बाकी सब की तरह पागल हो गया है, शंकर” उसने कहा

यह सुन कर शंकर को क्षण भर के लिए हँसी आ गयी। खुद पागल हो कर यह पगला मुझे पागल बोल रहा है। उसने सोचा कि जाने दो इससे बहस करके कोई फायदा नहीं है, मैं कुछ करके यहाँ से निकलता हूँ।

“माफ़ कर दे भाई, मैं इसे वापस टाँग देता हु” कहते हुए शंकर ने काकभगोडे को वापस छप्पर पर टाँग दिया

रामू सर हिलाने लगा। “अब कोई फायदा नहीं। वो तो चली गयी ना।” इतना कहते कहते रामू ने शंकर का हाथ पकड़ लिया। शंकर पूरी तरह सतर्क हो चूका था। वो रामू की और से आने वाले किसी भी प्रकार के हमले के लिए तैयार था।

“चल, आ मैं मिलवाता हु तुझे उससे।” रामू ने उसे खींचते  हुए कहा

“नहीं नहीं, मैं घर जाता हूँ ” उसने कहा 

“नहीं” रामू चिल्लाया “अब तू नहीं जा सकता, वो तुझे जाने नहीं देगी, इतना आसान नहीं है।”

शंकर रामू के ऐसे बर्ताव को देख कर घबरा गया। इसके पहले रामू को कभी इतना उग्र उसने नहीं देखा था। सीधा सादा रामू, गाँव में रोज सुबह हर आने जाने वाले को ‘राम-राम’ करता था। गाँव के बच्चे उसका मज़ाक बनाते कभी उसका सामान छुपा देते तो कभी उसके पीछे टिन के खाली डब्बे बांध देते। मगर रामू बस उन उत्साहित बच्चो को देख कर हँसता रहता। लोग ज़रूर कहते थे कि कई साल पहले उसने अपनी बीवी, लक्ष्मी को मार दिया था। लेकिन शंकर को इस बात पर मुश्किल से ही यकीन होता था।

रामू अब शंकर को खींचता हुआ अँधेरे में ले जाता जा रहा था। शकर ने हाथ चुदने की पुरजोर कोशिश की पर न जाने कहाँ से उस पागल में उतनी शक्ति आ गयी थी कि शंकर जैसा हट्टा-कट्टा युवक भी हाथ नहीं छुड़ा पा रहा था।

इससे पहले कि वो कुछ समझ पता, रामू उसको एक आम के पेड़ के पास ला चूका था।

“यही रहती है वो। रोज़ मुझे यहाँ बुलाती है।” आँखें मटकाते हुए रामू ने हौले से शंकर के कान में कहा

“वो जो घर में खाना था न, इसी के लिए बनाया था। इसी बहाने तो इसको घर तक लाया था। पर तूने उसे भगा दिया। नालायक।” ये कहते हुए रामू की आँखें अंगारों की तरह जल उठी, नथुने फूल गए। पूरी रात में पहली बार शंकर बुरी तरह से डर चूका था। उसने अपने हाथ को एक झटके से रामू की पकड़ से छुड़ा लिया।

“वो देख” रामू ने लालटेन पेड़ की ओर की और अजीब सी भाषा में कुछ बोलने लगा। पेड़ उन दोनों से कुछ गज की दुरी पर था, अँधेरे में लालटेन की रौशनी जैसे ही पेड़ पर पड़ी कुछ सरसराहट सी हुई। शंकर न चाहते हुए भी उस ओर देखता रहा। पत्तो की आड़ में शंकर को दो आंखें दिखी, जो लालटेन की रौशनी से टिमटिमाने लगी थी। बिना कुछ सोचे शंकर वहाँ से भाग। पीछे से रामू के चिल्लाने की आवाज़ आ रही थी। कुछ दूर जा कर जब उसने देखा तो रामू पेड़ पर  अंधाधुंध कुल्हाड़ी मार रहा था। उसने वहाँ से भाग जाना ही बेहतर समझा। जैसे जैसे वो दूर जाता जा रहा था, रामू की आवाज़ हलकी और भ्रामक होती जा रही थी। उसे लगा कि रामू किसी से झगडा कर रहा था, शायद किसी महिला से।

बेतहाशा भागता हुआ शंकर वापस रामू की झोपडी पर आ पंहुचा। उसने अपनी साइकिल ली और बिना वक़्त गंवाए रवाना हो गया। बारिश तो अब थम चुकी थी, ग्रहण भी छुटने को था। चन्द्रमा की हलकी हलकी दुधिया रौशनी से थोड़ी दृष्टता लौट रही थी। शंकर अपनी पूरी उर्जा से पैडल चला रहा था। भूख प्यास से बेहाल हो चुके उसके शरीर में अब कुछ ख़ास ताक़त बची नहीं थी। ये तो उसका निश्चय ही था जो उसे जिलाए हुए था। आँखों की पलके अब कई मनो के भार के नीचे दबती जा रही थी और सोचने की शक्ति अब क्षीण हो चुकी थी।

एक बार फिर शंकर को दूर कुछ रौशनी सी दिखाई पड़ी। वो उस ओर बढ़ चला। लेकिन इस बार वो सतर्क था, कि कही फिर किसी सरफिरे के घर न पहुच जाए। झोपडी के बाहर लालटेन आँगन में रखी हुई थी। जैसे ही उसने झोपडी के बाहर साइकिल रोकी, अन्दर से एक चितपरिचित आवाज़ उसे सुनाई पड़ी। इसमें कोई शक न था कि वो आवाज़ रामू के हंसने की थी। मगर शंकर को इस बात पर अब भी विश्वास न हुआ। वो जब रामू की झोपडी से निकला था, तब से अभी तक उसने नाक की सीध में ही साइकिल चलायी थी। घूम कर वापस वह पहुचने का तो सवाल ही नहीं उठता था। इतना सब हो जाने के बाद भी उसके अन्दर कहीं एक तार्किक जीवित था। वो साइकिल रख कर दरवाज़े की ओर बढ़ा।

“मैंने कहा था, कि इतना आसान नहीं है।” रामू ने अंदर से अट्टाहस करते हुए कहा

शंकर की नींद अब पूरी तरह उड़ चुकी थी। उसने साइकिल उठाई, फिर से उसने पूरी ताकत से पैडल चला शुरू कर दिए। वो यही सोच रहा था कि अगर इस दिशा में जा कर वो वापस शंकर के घर पहुचता है तो शायद वो सीधे नहीं एक चक्कर में जा रहा है। इस बार उसने इस बात का ख्याल रखा कि वो साइकिल सीधी, बिलकुल सीधी चलाये।

काफी देर बाद, उसे फिर से एक झोपडी दिखी। वो मन ही मन यह मना रहा था कि इस बार तो वह किसी और की झोपडी पर पंहुचा होगा। मगर उसके सारी धारणाएं एक ही पल में चकनाचूर हो गयी। इस बार तो रामू बहार आँगन में ही खड़ा था और उसे लगातार घुर रहा था।

“मत भाग, वो तुझे जाने नहीं देगी।” उसने कहा “चल हम दोनों उसको ख़त्म कर देते है।” ये कहते हुए रामू उसकी ओर बढ़ा।

“देख रामू, तूने अगर एक कदम भी इस ओर बढाया तो अच्छा  नहीं होगा।” उसने रक्षात्मक रुख अपनाते हुए कहा “इससे मेरा कुछ लेना देना नहीं, और उप्पर से मैं इन सब चीज़ों में नहीं मानता।” शंकर ने अपनी दलील दी।

“तुझे क्या लगता है कि लक्ष्मी मर गयी है, और उसकी आत्मा मुझे परेशान कर रही है?” रामू ने अपने सड़े दांत दिखाते हुए पूछा “वो नहीं मरी है, और न ही उसकी कोई आत्मा है। वो तेरी मेरी तरह नहीं है रे।” अब बात शंकर के समझ से परे जाती जा रही थी।

“ये बात तो मुझे शादी की पहली रात ही पता चल चुकी थी। मगर किसी ने मेरा विश्वास ही नहीं किया।” वो बोलता जा रहा था और शंकर बुत सा खड़ा सुनता जा रहा था। कुछ जाने की जिज्ञासा मनुष्य में एक ऐसा जूनून उत्पन्न कर देती है कि हर डर, हर खतरा उसके आगे छोटा लगने लगता है।

“हर रात वो मुझे खेत पर ले आती, फिर न जाने क्या क्या करने लगती। उसकी करतूतों से ही मेरी ज़मीन बंजर होती गयी।” रामू की आँखों में एक शोक सा भर आया था। “कितनी कोशिश करी मैंने उससे पीछा छुड़ाने की। तुझे भी बोल था मत आ, नहीं बचेगा।” ये कहते हुए उसके चेहरे के भाव अचानक वेहशी हो गए। वो शकर की और बढ़ा। शंकर ने उसे एक जोरदार धक्का दिया, जिसके चलते दोनों ज़मीन पर गिर गए। रामू का कन्धा पीछे पड़ी उसकी कुल्हाड़ी पर जा लगा। वो चीख उठा।

शंकर ने आव देखा न ताव। अपनी साइकिल उठा कर वो निकल पड़ा उस जगह से दूर। पीछे से अजीब सी हंसने की आवाज़े उसकी हृदयगति को बढ़ाये जा रही थी। वो आवाजें और तेज़ होती जा रही थी। पहले तो केवल रामू के चीखने की आवाज़ थी, पर धीरे-धीरे उसमे किसी और के रुदन और फिर लक्कड्बग्घो के रोने की और कई सारे उल्लुओं की  आवाज़ें मिलते गयी। शंकर पसीने में तरबतर निरावाकाश साइकिल चलता जा रहा था।

उस आवाजों को वो नज़रंदाज़ तो नहीं कर सकता था, पर उसे पता था कि अगर वो वहाँ से नहीं निकला तो उसके लिए अच्छा नहीं होगा। इस सब में एक बात तो उसके समझ बिलकुल नहीं आई, वो ये थी कि रामू ने उसे कब मन किया था कि इस ओर मत आ। और फिर उसको वो वाकया याद आया जो इन सब अनहोनी घटनाओ का अगुवा था। वो कनकटा कुत्ता। और कहीं न कहीं घूम फिर के उससे शंकर का सामना हो ही रहा था।

जो कुछ भी हो रहा था, वो सब उसकी समझ और उसके ज्ञान की व्याख्या से परे था। अब शंकर का शरीर जवाब दे रहा था, मगर उसका जज्बा उसे आगे बढ़ने को प्रेरित कर रहा था। रात का आखिरी पहर चल रहा था, दूर क्षितिज पर हलकी मधिम लालिमा दिखने लगी थी। उसके पेर पैडल पर ढीले हो चले थे। शरीर के कोने से शक्ति को खींच कर वो जैसे तैसे आगे बढ़ता जा रहा था।  उन आवाजों ने उसका पीछा नहीं छोड़ा था। जाने क्या चल रहा है, और इस सबका अंजाम जाने क्या होगा। लेकिन एक बात तय थी, हार मान लेना उसके लिए एक विकल्प नहीं था। अगर वो आज हार मान लेता है तो, माँ का क्या और उसके छोटे भाई-बहनों का क्या।

नहीं। मुझे घर पहुचना ही होगा। उसने खुद से कहा और फिर एक बार साइकिल पर अपनी पूरी ताकत झोंक दी। पता नहीं कब, यूँ ही संघर्ष करते-करते वो ज़मीन पर गिर पड़ा। माँ का परेशान चेहरा उसे उप्पर बादलो में दिखाई दे रहा था। वो चाह रहा था कि माँ से कहे कि घर पहुच रहा हु, पर उसके शरीर ने होंठ हिलाने की भी शक्ति नहीं थी। धीरे से उसके मस्तिष्क ने भी उसका साथ छोड़ दिया, और वो वही मूर्छित हो गया।

 

शंकर की आँख खुली तो उसने पाया कि सुबह हो चुकी थी। रोटी सिकने की खुशबु घर में फैली हुई थी। उसने एक गहरी सांस भरी। कुछ क्षण के खालीपन के बाद अचानक उसके दिल में उस रात का ख्याल आया। और वो  गया! क्या वो जिंदा था? उसे तो यकीन था कि वो नहीं बचेगा।

“उठ गया तू…” माँ ने उसके सिरहाने दूध का गिलास रखते हुए कहा। और फिर आँखें बंद कर कुछ बुदबुदाने लगी। “…ले दूध पी” कह कर वो चोके की ओर चली गयी। दूध का गिलास होंठों से लगते ही शंकर को एहसास हुआ कि वो कितना भूखा था। शंकर ने एक घूंट में सारा दूध पी लिया। माँ अन्दर से कुछ लाल मिर्चें मुट्ठी में बाँध कर ले आई और शंकर की नज़र उतरने लगी। शंकर को अभी भी यकीन नहीं हो रहा था कि वो जीवित था। लेकिन जो कुछ उसके सामने हो रहा था उससे तो यही अर्थ निकल रहा था कि  वो सही सलामत था।

“क्या कर रही है?” शंकर ने पूछा तो माँ ने इशारे से उसे चुप रहने का आदेश दिया। माँ ने कई बार मिर्चियों को उसके सर से पाँव तक घुमाया और फिर अन्दर चोके में चली गयी और उनको जला दिया।  मिर्ची जलने की तेज़ ढान्स से शंकर खांसने लगा।

“तू अब ऐसे किसी उटपटांग काम के लिए बखत-बेबखत इधर उधर नहीं जाएगा।” माँ ने गुस्से में उससे कहा

“मेरी तो जान ही निकल गयी थी। न जाने सारी  रात तू कहाँ था। वो तो भला हो उस लड़की का जिसने तुझे गाँव के बहार बेहोश होते देख लिया।” यह सुनते ही शंकर का सर चकरा गया। किस लड़की ने उसे बेहोश होते देखा? उसने तो उस वक़्त आस-पास किसी को नहीं देखा था। वो हर पल आश्चर्यचकित, और ज्यादा आश्चर्यचकित होता जा रहा था।

“कौन?” अनायास ही उसके मुंह से निकल पड़ा

“अपने गाँव की नहीं है। पर बहुत भली है है। बहार झाड़ू लगा रही है।” माँ ने हल्की सी हंसी के साथ कहा

तभी एक सकुचाई सी आकृति कमरे में दाखिल हुई। सांझ के ढलते सूर्य की किरणे उसके ताम्ब्र वर्ण को और भी स्वर्णिम बना रही थी। दिन भर के काम से शायद उसके केश जो सुबह एक स्पष्ट छोटी में गुंथे हुए थे, अब स्वतंत्र हर ओर हवा में  डोल रहे थे। और उसकी आँखे झिलमिलाते दीपक सी, जैसे ही शंकर की दृष्टि से सम्मुख हुई तो छुईमुई सी सकुचा गयी।

शंकर अपने होश खो चूका था । वो भूल गया था कि एक रात पहले ही उसके साथ क्या हुआ था, वो भूल गया था कि कुछ पल पहले उसको अपने जीवित होने पर भी संदेह हो रहा था। उसे याद रहा तो बस उस युवती का शर्मीला चेहरा।

“लग गयी झाड़ू?” माँ ने उससे पूछा तो शंकर को एहसास हुआ कि कमरे में उसके और उस लड़की के अलावा कोई और भी था।

“बेटी, देख शंकर को होश आ गया। अगर तू नहीं होती तो न जाने ये नालायक खेतों में कब तक यु ही पड़ा रहता ।” माँ ने वक्र दृष्टि से शकर की और देखा। ” इसलिए ही बड़े-बूढ़े ग्रहण के वक़्त निकलने से मना करते है।” ये कहते हुए माँ फिर चोके  की और बढ़ चली। शंकर अभी भी एकटक उस लड़की को निहार रहा था। और वो वहाँ कड़ी शर्म में डूबी जा रही थी।

कमरे में एक बैचैन सी ख़ामोशी थी। “हमारी भैंस कैसी है माँ?” उसने बात पलटने के लिए माँ से पूछा

“बेटा उसने तो रात में ही दम तोड़ दिया।” माँ ने धीमी आवाज़ में कहा, शायद वो शंकर की चिंता को कम करना चाहती थी। लेकिन शंकर के दिमाग से सारी फ़िक्र, सारी चिंता काफूर हो चुकी थी। उसे प्रेम हो गया था।

वो लड़की शंकर के घर में ही रहने लगी। कुछ महीनो बाद शंकर ने उस लड़की से अपने प्यार का इज़हार कर दिया । और उसने भी शर्मा कर, लजा कर एक रुकी सी हामी भर दी। शंकर को तो लगा जैसे उसके जीवन को अपना मतलब मिल गया, शायद ही गाँव में शंकर से ज्यादा खुश व्यक्ति कोई होगा। माँ को तो वो पहले ही पसंद थी, पर शंकर के बाबूजी इस रिश्ते से नाखुश थे। लेकिन उनका मत शंकर के लिए कुछ ख़ास मायने नहीं रखता था।

कुछ ही दिनों में दोनों की शादी हो गयी। शादी के पहले ही महीने में शंकर की माँ चल बसी। बीमार तो वो कई दिनों से थी, और इसीलिए उसने जल्द से जल्द शंकर की शादी करा दी थी ताकि अपने रहते वो शंकर की शादी देख ले। शंकर शादी के बाद से गाँव के लोगो से कटा-कटा सा रहने लगा था, और माँ के बाद तो उसने किसी से भी मिलना बंद कर दिया था। दिन हो या रात, बस खेत पर ही काम करता रहता था। और वहाँ भी उसे लगातार निराशा हाथ लग रही थी। जिस साल पुरे गाँव की फसल अच्छी होती उस साल भी शंकर के खेत में बमुश्किल कुछ पैदा होता।

लोग कहने लगे कि शंकर पागल होता जा रहा था। नहना धोना उसके छोड़ दिया था, घर में रहना भी एक दी उसने छोड़ दिया। गाँव के चौक पर पड़ा रहता था। और एक दिन उसकी बीवी भी न जाने कहाँ चली गयी। लोगो ने आखिरी बार उसको शंकर के साथ एक रात को खेत में जाते हुए देखा। और फिर अफवाहे उड़ चली। शंकर ने भी रामू की ही तरह अपनी बीवी को मार डाला। या, उससे तंग आ कर उसकी बीवी भाग गयी। सच कोई नहीं जानता था। शंकर के भाई-बहिन भी नहीं। वो तो जैसे-तैसे इधर उधर काम करके अपना पेट पाल रहे थे।

रात होते ही शंकर खेत की ओर चल देता। वहाँ एक जामुन का पेड़ था, उसी के नीचे वो सोता था। उसके साथ एक कनकटा कुत्ता भी रहने लगा था। कुछ लोगो का कहना था कि हर रात शंकर उस पेड़ से न जाने किस भाषा में बात करता था।

फिर एक दिन किसी ने कहा कि शंकर के खेत में उसकी पत्नी की आत्मा भटकती है!

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