Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Temporary Bridge over the River – part 3 of The Grand Fair on the banks of The Great, The Younger Sister and The Subtle


 Update for week ended 22 Feb 2013

“Wake up, Monu”, nudged Govind, the novice initiate. The morning sun had cast a scarlet hue to the skies outside, and one could see without having to squint much within the darkened tent. Monu moaned and pleaded to sleep a tad longer. He had curled up into a ball and had tugged the warm blanket over his face. “Don’t you want to find your parents? asked Govind. That startled Monu, whose eyes opened immediately and he sat up with a start. All this while, Monu had rested blissfully parking his lost status in his sleep and Govind’s words literally woke him up. He burst out crying as he looked at his surroundings and Govind sat beside him with the warm glass of milk. He nudged Monu to drink it while it was warm. Monu turned his head away and that was when the Sadhu Baba entered the tent. He looked at Monu and asked him endearingly whether he would like to go out and look for his parents. Monu was eager, but did not know how to go about it. What if he got lost again? Govind meanwhile, pushed the lip of the tall steel tumbler to Monu’s dry lips and instinctively, Monu started sipping. Govind held the tumbler in his right hand as his left took Monu’s little hands to cup the tumbler, and he slowly let go and got up to leave the tent. The Sadhu Baba walked up to Monu and told him about Govind’s registration of the “found” Monu and they could go and check today to see if there was a registration for a “lost” Monu? The Sadhu baba was convinced that history would not be so unkind as to repeat itself here, but he knew not to fight against fate. But he was hopeful that Monu would find his parents and so asked little Monu to get ready for his bath and be clean and prepared to go back to his parents. In the past 12 hours or more, the Sadhu Baba had been drawn to the child that he felt his eyes turn moist as he said that last sentence. Govind was a teenager, but mature for his age and he tended to little Monu as though he was his younger brother, sometimes chiding, sometimes goading and at times scolding, as he went about getting the boy to brush his teeth with the powder charcoal ashes mixed with salt, (which Monu immediately spat out and made a face), getting him to take off his clothes for the bath – partly reluctant because of the cold, but mostly because of the open nature of the “bathroom” and the persons around looking at him and laughing, and finally getting dressed in cleaner but larger clothes – with folded sleeves on the kurta and double folded “dhoti” all in ochre colour. Monu was convinced that even if his parents would recognize his face, they would disown him by his appearance. He wanted to take off the “dhoti”, but then relented, lest the people in the Ashram laugh at him again if they see him unclothed. Govind was patient and stern and the Sadhu baba looked pleased and relieved that this rebel had become responsible.

Govind had run away from a broken home – a drunk father who had abandoned his family for other hedonic pursuits while his mother struggled to get two ends meet in the filthy hovel that they called home. She had no money even to wash up, and hence found it difficult to even get work as a househelp. She would work at the street sewers cleaning out the muck and at times was asked to broom away the roadkill of a cat that had lived its nine lives, or a puppy that had strayed from its mother. It was horrendous work and Govind was determined to not follow her or his father. He ran away to the railway tracks nearby and one night slept in one of the waiting train compartments. That is where he found his answer – of running away and joined a troop of wandering hermits who had visited his hometown of Rameswaram and were now returning to their abode near the Great River. He was Sundar then. At first he was willing to do small menial work for them, like cleaning their plates after their meal, taking the senior monk to the bathroom and helping him clean up after that, but by the time he reached his destination, he had had enough. This was not what he had run away for – he seemed to be doing the same work that he did not want to and so one night ran away from that hermitage. As he wandered the streets,   he bumped into two men who had just kidnapped a woman and had beaten her up and were hauling her away in a waiting tonga, 2 wheeled horse-cart. Sundar wanted to shout but held his wits as he raised his arms horizontal to the ground and started ambling about like a blind person. He wanted to help the woman but was scared and waited for them to leave in the tonga. Then he ran away as fast he could till he stopped outside a lane where there was an evening prayer in progress. Sundar mingled with the crowd and he felt safe. He walked in towards the kitchen and asked if there was any food to eat. The Sadhu who was in charge of the kitchen was kind and he offered the boy some rotis and dal, wheat bread and lentils. The boy did not know how to break the bread and eat by dunking into the lentil, he was used to mixing the lentils with rice to eat as they would serve at his school in Rameswaram. That is what he did. The Sadhu smiled and asked the boy who he was and where he had come from. The boy could not speak the local language well, but his expressive face gave the gist of his tryst and the Sadhu offered him space in the hermitage only if he would work. Sundar was a reluctant worker, at times absconding from the hermitage to play with the older kids in the street, but more often getting into a brawl with them. He did not mind being beaten up as long as he got to beat one or two of them. The Sadhu baba found it difficult to tame this young boy, but was patient with him, especially at the evening prayers. Sundar mastered the bhajans, devotional songs so well and he sang it with such devotion that he soon became the lead singer of the group. That was one reason why the Sadhu baba had hope for this young rebel – and now he saw that young Sundar had indeed become Govind – almost like the hero of that ancient poem – Geet Govind.

And the day ahead was one filled with hope and the Sadhu baba was about to take young Monu with him to the Lost and Found Desk of the Great Fair when they heard a loud thud and screams rent the air. It was not the usual sound of the fortnightly festive dips at the Great Fair. The cries were not that of the Sadhus rushing into the water for their ritual baths, but more of children and women. One of the ashram mates came rushing from the main gate, halting as he saw the quizzical look in the Sadhu Baba’s face. He was panting and frightened. There was a stampede that had occurred as a large brdge that traversed the river banks to the sand bar island in the center of the confluence and thousands of people had either fallen into the river or were trampled over on the remains of the bridge as people scampered back to the banks for safety. Monu clung to the Sadhu Baba as he heard this.

 

The D Street was trying to shake off its fears of the previous weeks when the D Boyz had lost their way and their SENSEX and had lost over 500 points. And so when they returned to D Street this week, they tried to gather their lost selves and re-assemble the SENSEX. As they picked the threads together and almost heaved a sigh of relief as a Malaysian air carrier tied up with an Indian pioneer aviator business group which let their SENSEX soar skywards, they were jolted out of their senses as another airline wanted to relook at its proposed announcement of an Indian JV. And then the bad news of a trouble from the West blew in and the Boyz who brought the news were panting out of breath as they received the news towards the end of their week – the SENSEX had tumbled 19317. 

 

Monu looked up at the Sadhu baba and tears filled his eyes. How would he go out to look for his parents. He did not cry or bawl, but tears still rolled down his eyes. The Sadhu Baba looked down at him, and held him tight turning his gaze outwards. How much suffering would the young seven year old have to endure? he wondered. He called out to Govind to take the boy back in. The Sadhu Baba urged everyone to stay inside, till there were further announcements. He knew that the situation would settle only if people did not panic, but how could he manage this for folks outside his group? Ramlal had returned that morning after a futile search for Monu. He had registered his complaint at night of the missing boy but had forgotten the photograph – that crucial item that could have saved him and his wife Vimla the travails of the coming days. And then there was this news of the stampede. Though they were safe, Ramlal knew that the stretched administration of this temporary city on the banks of the Great River would not have time to deal with a lost child – they would rather focus on the dying ones and see how they could save as many as they could. How ironical, thought Ramlal, the reason why people came to take a dip at this Great Confluence of the Great, The Younger Sister and the Subtle was to become immortal as legend had it that the place would be blessed by the drops from the heavenly ambrosia of immortal nectar. And here were people dying as they fell into the river. Ramlal looked at Vimla and were relieved to have each other with them at this moment, but Vimla’s eyes were filled with tears. She was worried about Monu.

 

I have not heard back from you on the lost and found ones and any other stories you would have from a Great Fair like this one. Please share with me, if you please.

 

Cheers and have a great week ahead.

Entry Gate No. 7 – part 2 of The Grand Fair on the banks of The Great, The Younger Sister and The Subtle


Update for week ended 8 Feb 2013

 

Vimla and Ramlal rushed to the entry gate no 7 on the river banks and squeezed themselves through the hordes of the people who thronged the gates for entry. Ramlal fished out the pass that he had got and waved it frantically over his head, shouting out to the gatekeeper for attention. Vimla was not far behind him with their family belongings and after much jostling, they reached the guard who checked their documents and read – “entry for 2 people” and let them in. Ramlal was relieved that he managed to get into the fair grounds and it won’t be difficult for him to now locate the tent assigned to them. For all the chaos outside the gate, the tents within the fair grounds were quite civic, with enough lighting and good directions to the different sections. “At least, we can now rest before the morning dip in the Great River”, Ramlal said to Vimla. She was tired and she replied, “Monu will be tired. Let us head to the tent quickly so that we can buy him his milk for the night”. That was when the couple noticed that Monu was missing. Vimla started getting hysterical and screamed out for Monu. Ramlal asked her to quieten down and he in turn asked her to wait at the tent while he would check at the gates. It was quite chaotic there and he was confident that Monu must have got stranded there but in the good care of the security guards. The night siren went off indicating the shutting of the gates for the night. Ramlal was sure he would find a sobbing but secure Monu at the gate, though he was still unsure, “when did I let go of Monu?”

Meanwhile, Monu was sipping his tall glass of milk that the kindly Sadhu Baba gave him. The Sadhu baba was also holding the glass for little Monu and urging him endearingly to finish off the whole glass while it was still warm. The night was likely to be cold tonight even though the sky was cloudy, he thought as he looked at the little lost boy. He had sent one of the novice initiates to the Security tent near their enclosure to report Monu. He was sure that the parents would be nearby and he could re-unite the boy to his parents. Although the crowds had increased over the years, the systems had improved and there were fewer instances (on a relative basis) of children getting separated from their parents, unless they were indeed forcibly abandoned. He shuddered at the last thought. What if Monu was abandoned by his parents? He had to find out if there was domestic strife or poverty or some calamity that befell the family for them to have taken such a step. Monu was so young. It was unjust and cruel for someone to have taken such a step. He was determined to find out about this and was hopeful that the initiate would return with good news of his parents. Meanwhile, Monu was getting a little less edgy at the temporary Ashram, hermitage, and asked the Sadhu Baba if there was a TV nearby? The Sadhu Baba smiled and shook his head, but he told the boy that there was a lively prayer meet scheduled in an hour and if he was awake, they would take him there. Monu, who had got less frightened of his surroundings by now, but yet wary of the crowded streets outside sulked and instead went off into a tent, and asked the occupants where he could sleep. The Sadhu Baba was surprised at the maturity of the boy who knew that he was lost, yet trusted his new finders. It was so unlike what he remembered from a long time ago when a young lost boy was petrified at being lifted up by a bearded mendicant. The foul body odour, the sharp eyes, the strong arms were all intimidating. This was not on the vast banks of the confluence, but the banks of the Great River. The boy was a little older perhaps, and he was at the Great Fair with his siblings as well. Their parents had taken them to one of the community kitchens and asked them to partake a meal, while they said they would wait outside. The innocent siblings, 2 boys and a girl gingerly walked in to have their first meal in 2 days. Even the bland and runny rice and lentil, Khichdi, tasted like manna from heaven. How they wished they could stay on here for longer just to get a meal a day! After wolfing down the insipid fare, they walked out to meet their parents, but they were not there. The girl was the youngest (perhaps 3 or 4 years old) and she looked quizzingly at her brothers, as though asking them about her parents. The eldest brother asked the younger one to stay back with the girl and went out looking for his parents. He must have been 7 years old or so. He ran as fast as his little bare feet could carry him, until he bumped into this tall ochre robed Sadhu. The young boy craned his neck upwards and in the moonlight saw a towering bearded and hairy figure look at him with fiery eyes? The young boy froze and tears welled up in his eyes.

Monu coughed a little from within the tent and the Sadhu Baba’s attention
was diverted from his thoughts. He wiped his eyes as they too had welled up and he got up from his little stool and walked towards to the tent where the Monu was. He saw Monu cuddled up under a quilt blanket and muttered, “Poor child! God, may his destiny not be unkind like it was to me”!

 

The D Boyz who had lost their way among the many fairs in their City and Streets were still struggling this week to find their bearings. And if they were slightly relieved the previous week at the possible revival of the fortunes at D Street, the sirens were blaring out the shutting up of some of these gates – as the GDP slowed down to a low of 5%. The boys shivered as the signs of slowdown were here to stay while it snowed down in Kashmir and parts of north India. The cold wave also swept into D street for a while, and even though the government did try to revive some sagging spirits by selling some of their family silver, it was not heartening at all and the D Boyz who were lost in the maze were tired too… and the benevolent SENSEX looked down at the tired Boyz as it shed some of its weight in sympathy to end at 19485 – another dip of 300 points!

 

Entry Gate no 7 was shut and the security guards were finally relieved after a hectic past hour and crowds thronged outside the gate clamouring for their attention and beseeching them to let them in. Ramlal rushed to one of the guards and told them about his loss. He wanted to know if they had found the child. He was worried that perhaps the child was outside the gate. The guards did not know what to do. They had not found any lost child at that gate, but could not say for sure if the boy was stranded outside the gate. And they could not open the gates, as it would cause a commotion with crowds already pushing against the closed gate. Ramlal was getting despondent and not knowing what to do, asked to be let out. The guards resisted and asked him to check on the next day when the gates would be opened again. Ramlal could not believe what he heard. He got into a rage and yelled out at the security guard, “a little child is lost outside and you expect me to stay calm till the next morning.” It was almost getting into a fisticuff styled situation as some of the guards and others nearby restrained Ramlal from hitting out and being hit out at. Ramlal screamed and kicked and finally fell in a heap as he cried out, “Monu, Monu!” As he was overpowered physically, a senior guard walked up to him and gave him a suggestion – I can let you go out, but after an hour, when the crowds at the gate would have thinned out and tired itself out for the night. Ramlal could not wait that long, but he had no choice. He kept howling, “Monu, Monu!” till his throat went hoarse. Vimla was sobbing outside their tent, while the other occupants cajoled her to at least walk into the tent and rest instead of staying out in the cold. Her only lament was, “how can I be in comforts, when I don’t know whether my son has eaten or drank anything, or where he would be in this open Fair Grounds. How am I to remain calm when my mind is racing with multiple terrible thoughts. Is he safe? Is he afraid? Is he lost? Is he kidnapped?” the last question was horrifying as she burst out sobbing loudly now. The Sadhu Baba, walked into the tent to see if Monu wanted to join the evening prayers. Perhaps he could play the little cymbals. Monu was fast asleep, tucked into the quilt in a foetal position. Sadhu Baba smiled and asked the novice initiate to turn down the lamps, and to stay with the boy at all times. He did not want the boy to wake up in the middle of a dark night with no-one near him. Loneliness scared the Sadhu Baba, as it had scared a little boy many moons ago!

 

So will you help Ramlal find his lost son? Have you tried helping out a lost child at a fair or a mall? Do write in.

 

Meanwhile, have a safe week ahead! Cheers….

 

(This is in continuation to https://riteriterite.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/the-grand-fair-on-the-banks-of-the-great-the-younger-sister-and-the-subtle/)

The Grand Fair on the Banks of the Great, the Younger Sister and the Subtle


Update for week ended 1 February 2013

 

“I want to go along, too. I too want to go along” was the adamant strain that Monu kept reciting with pleading eyes to his mother, mostly. Monu’s parents were planning on travelling to the Grand Fair by the Great River this year. Although this fair visited the banks of the confluence of the three rivers, the Great, the Younger Sister and the Subtle River every four years, Monu’s parents Ramlal and Vimla, had never visited it. This year, they planned to undertake the short journey by bus and then by train to get to the city of the Grand Fair. Monu was all of 5 and rarely stayed away from his mother. His father used to work far away in a city that he only knew as Rajdhani, and would visit on special occasions, like his first birthday and ceremonial shaving of head  or the death of his grand uncle and sometimes during the monsoon months to help the family with the farmwork. This year he was with the family to attend the Grand Fair. Monu had started sobbing and stopped eating and kept on his adamancy and crying, till he almost went short of breath on that foggy, wintry morning. Vimla tried enthusing him with promises of gifts like a toy bus or a golden stuffed horse. But Monu was inconsolable. He wanted to go with them. She reasoned that it would be very crowded there with Sadhu Babas, ascetics in long flowing beards, who would scare him or even kidnap him. Moreover it would be very cold, and he would have to wake up before dawn for the dip in the ice-cold river and he would have to sleep in the open. And the walk to the river would be miles and miles away. How could the little boy endure so much of trouble? Ramlal looked at the little boy and lifted him to his shoulder and told Vimla, “this boy is light, I think we can manage to take him to the fair “. Monu’s eyes lit up and you could see the twinkle in them despite the tears. And off they went to the Grand Fair City by the Great River. On alighting from the crowded train, Monu could only see a sea of legs moving around him and he was scared and felt lost. His father was carrying the little box carrying their clothes and some offerings for the festive river, apart from the cash that he had earned at Rajdhani. Vimla walked closely to her husband as she too was overwhelmed by the crowds that spilled out of the station onto the streets. Ramlal asked Monu to hold onto to his finger as they negotiated their way out of the station to the nearby bus stand that had buses and mini buses plying to many places including to the Fair grounds/banks. At the Fair Grounds, they could see tents all the way to the horizon and despite the fog, the bright sodium lamps lit the place up in an orange glow. Monu had never seen anything like this before. He was mesmerized as he looked to his left and right, soaking in the sights and sounds of the place. He had many questions to his father – how was there so much light although  it was well past sundown? What were so many people doing at the foodstall. Why were some people clothed in ochre robes, while some had no clothes at all? Did they not feel cold? Won’t they also get asthmatic attacks like him? He could not see any trees nearby, so he wondered where people would rest after their afternoon repast? His grandfather always slept on the strung wooden cot under the mango tree in their courtyard every afternoon. That was also where Monu would play with his long moustache, twirling and tweaking it. At times, Dadaji, as he fondly called his grandfather, would yelp in pain, but quickly smile at the little boy admonishing him for the act. He would never scold Monu, his first grandson. And after all that walking, Monu was tired and asked for some rest. Vimla saw a stall that vended some hot fried bread, puri and some potato curry. She asked her husband, if they could stop and eat before proceeding to the tents. They stopped and that was when they felt the chill. It was cold and despite the hot fire on which the vendor fried small round bread, puris, the open air environment and the proximity to the river ensured that chilly winds engulfed the Fair Grounds. After the short stop, they started their journey to the tents, when Monu saw a bright setting with lights and life size paintings of a jeep, a car, a scooter, he got all excited. He asked his father what it was. Ramlal explained that the this was a Photo studio stall where you could take pictures of the family as though they were driving around in a jeep, or a scooter or a motor car in a big city. Monu had never sat in a car or a jeep or even bee to a big city and wanted to have  a picture of it. Ramlal smiled, looked at his wife Vimla, who smiled too and they left their luggage at the entrance and were guided by the photographer on how to stand and where to look at, and also with what expression on their faces. Monu was excited with the lights and colours. After the photo-shoot, Ramlal paid for the photograph and picked up his luggage and along with Vimla and Monu walked out of the photo shop. That was when Monu saw a gathering, and he turned his turned his head as far left and back as he could to see what was happening. He could see through the gaps of the legs of the men gathered around, glimpses of a Sadhu, with his face aglow from a fire nearby, perhaps.  The sight scared him, and he looked up to his father to ask……. But he did not see his father? He looked to his right, up, left, back. He turned around and searched for the familiar faces of Ramlal and Vimla and could not find them. He ran back to the photo shop a few steps away, and bumped through people who were shuffling through the crowded way. He searched for his parents at the studio. The cameraman seemed to recognize the young boy, but he was busy and said that they would be nearby. Monu wandered back in the direction that they had set-off to, but he was not sure which way to go after reaching the place where he had got lost, The Sadhu Baba gathering! By now, the crowds had thinned and the sad look on Monu’s face gave way to tears rolling down his cheeks. He was sobbing and crying out “Maa, Baba, Maa Baba”. But no-one seemed to have noticed the little lost boy. He sat down by the road side, tired and cold, when he saw someone approach him – what he saw from his bent position were ochre robes and as he lifted his head to look at the face of the person, he was terrified to see a Sadhu Baba stretching his hands forward to lift the boy!

It was the week of the Fairs. There were quite a few that were being held across the country including on streets of the cities, not far from D Street that would be closed to traffic to allow the gentry to enjoy the Fair. The Dark Horse Fair, The Bright Lady temple Fair, the Trade Fair, etc. And these places can be quite crowded and so full of people that some D Boyz could easily get lost there. So like in the story above, this week too, some D Boyz like Monu, insisted on visiting the fairs and got engulfed in the crowds. The crowds kicked up dust and smoke and the foggy conditions at times were attributed to the smoke and dust. The Boyz took a Tata bus to one of the fairs held on a island or a sand bar actually in the middle of the river. The temporary bridge was shaky and although the bus did not fall off the bridge, the sudden swerve at the end of the bridge, caused some of the luggage on the roof of the bus to spill out and fall. Rumours immediately floated around that the bus had met an accident and the D Street was in chaos. The SENSEX tumbled like  a bus into a river from a bridge. It was only late on the Friday evening that the real news of just the slip reached D Street. But the damage was done to the D Boyz’ confidence as they dropped their SENSEX form the 20000+ levels at the beginning of the week to 19781 – close to 300 points down!

Monu screamed as the middle aged Sadhu picked him up. Monu’s reflex was to hit out at him. But those little hands could do little to divert the Sadhu. Then Monu clutched at the beard and gave it a strong tug, to which the Sadhu yelped. He however did not let go and instead took the boy to the tent by the wayside next to the burning bonfire that Monu had just seen from behind a curtain of legs. Monu was so scared  that he now stopped crying and only looked on goggle eyed. His jaws dropped as he saw that it was a temporary settlement of Sadhus. There were Sadhus of different shapes, sizes and ages. There were even some young ones who did not have beards, and were clean shaven. He saw the usual trappings of worship near the entrance. Some idols, a garlanded picture of Gods and Goddesses, some lamps glowing warmly and the brass bells and platters. Monu was stifling his cries and sobs, but could not control it any longer. He let out a loud cry and his pent up energy to kick, hit, punch the Sadhu who was carrying him. The Sadhu sat him down on a wooden cot, not unlike his grandfather’s. Monu did not know why that comforted him a bit. Even the face of the sadhu who sat on a stool nearby did not seem as scary as he had imagined. In fact he felt some sort of comfort as though his grandfather was close by. He dropped his head on the strings of the cot and covered his eyes from the side of his face like blinkers on a horse. He now cried, but peacefully. The elderly Sadhu spoke softly to him, ”Little boy. What is your name? Are you hungry? Where is your mother?” The first 3 statements, Monu listened to between his sobs. He almost warmed up to his “kidnappers”. But the last statement was what threw him off gear again, and he bawled out loudly, refusing to be cajoled. He kept elbowing anyone who would touch to comfort him. The elder Sadhu walked up to the shrine and the brass plates. He picked up a handful of sugar candy on offer, and offered it to the little boy and said, “Little Boy Monu, have some. You like them, don’t you?” Monu was not as surprised by the gesture as he was by the fact that the Sadhu had called him by his name. He stopped crying, but his face was wet, pink and his nose was sniffling. “How do you know my name?” he asked. The Sadhu sat up Monu, straightened his hair, wiped his tears off the swollen cheeks and passed his palm over Monu’s shirt pocket. It had  a handkerchief pinned onto it with a chain stitch design of a name in Devnagari, Monu. Vimla had stitched this onto the kerchief so that it wouldn’t get mixed up with that of his friends at school.

So this week we visited two urban fairs. One was truly urban where one could eat Teppanyaki noodles and cool it down with Strawberry cheesecake or choose to have Puris with Undhiyu and cool it down with Jalebis. It was also a place where neckpieces form Colaba causeway were sold by “tribal artists” at prices that the multiples of the quoted price on the Causeway. All for a cause, we were told. I still preferred the causeway! The art installations were less art, more installations. But maybe my sense of art was so out of place!

The other fair was one of fun and gaiety and of moving to the urban city and yet had its heart at the right place. It did not pretend to sell “ethnic” goods and food. It sold what people clamoured for. Toys, cosmetics, bangles, hairclips. And had rides that could get even middle aged people squealing like kids in rickety giant wheels. The cameraman was here with his cinema star cutouts that one could pose with, while the children got their fill with the kulfi and ice golas.

You can guess which fair I liked!

Do let me know of your Fair experiences!

Have a nice week ahead … cheers….