The Conqueror of Time

The table-lamp cast a gloomy light in the room. Instead of being a source of warmth and comfort, it served more to amplify and emphasize the overarching dominion of darkness and shadows inside the room. A most fearsome combination this- light and darkness scheming hand in glove to further a common agenda; that of fortifying and strengthening the doom and gloom of the room.

A homeopathic kit, strips of capsules, a thermometer, blood pressure meter, syrup bottle with a narrow mouth and ungainly wide base, thick brown glasses and a tissue roll, all sit illuminated under the direct glow of the bulb; alert and upright waiting to be summoned at the slightest gesture from their master. Two pale chairs, seated cozily against the table in the middle of the room, gaze solemnly at the lackluster white wall, trying hard to figure out the reason of their existence. This table, of a darker shade of brown, broader, thicker and brooder than the other with the table lamp, is topped with a dull glass and carries a bottle- half empty, two glass tumblers, a pair of hearing aid, torn tissues, an old mobile handset, and small bottles of Ayurvedic medicine. Two other small tables placed against one of the walls heave large voluminous passenger bags.
The curtains, spread firmly against the whole of the window, block the continuous attempts of the sun to instill the time- dimension in the room. The frozen hands of the wall clock and the broken table clock have become memorials of the defeat of time in the relentless war waged against it by the master of the room.

That man, the master of the room- tall and frail, in late 80s- lays buried under layers of clothing and a thick blanket on a single bed in a corner of the room. The body turns and twists with amazing punctuality. After, what may be an eternity or no time at all- for nothing in this room contains any clues about the passage of time- a face, warped and wrinkled, emerges from beneath the blanket and a harsh ringing cry fills the environs. Next moment, a boy has appeared at the door to answer the call. The old man shouts some order and collapses under the strain even before the boy shuts the door to block the intrusion of time. Lunch is served in no time.

The old man fumbles out of the web of blankets and somehow drags his body onto the chair. With cruel disdain, he observes the general scheme of things- the bowls and platters are set on the folding table always in the same manner- two small bowls with vegetable and rice and another with curry. After much hesitation, the man finally starts. Like an ancient machine pressed into action, the bones creek with every movement, the teeth chatter violently, as if in protest and the muscles flail uncontrollably. Somehow, the food trickles down the mouth. By the time he has had anything substantial, the last ounces of energy have escaped him.

Anyhow, the old man hauls himself up again, the legs drag, shoulders bow and hands strike helplessly, but he struggles his way back to bed. Day in, day out, week after week, the same process is repeated without fail or flaw- like a song set on repeat mode in a music player.

The old man has held his own against time- the room stays dull, the sun makes no breakthroughs, the clocks lay redundant. Here is the man who has petrified time- becoming in its wake both the victor and the victim.

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Decoding the JNU campus

There is this feeling in JNU…. that everything here talks. Each wall, all buildings, the stones, the rocks, the birds, the dogs, all have a story to tell- to teach you life lessons. And so I embarked on this mission to try and listen to the inaudible but omnipresent spirit of the campus.

The thing that strikes you in the very first visit to the campus is that its environs are not tamed. There are no beautiful gardens, manicured bushes or trimmed flower pots. But infact, JNU thrusts you into this untamed jungle where you step out of a building to find a completely dried up tree, with not a single leaf to speak of, proudly beaming down on you. And you wonder, why is it still standing, why has it not been brought down yet. You would want to scan the vast open area in front of the convention centre, but then, right in the middle of the ground, a family of crooked tress and some stoic rocks have decided to take over the place. They wouldn’t budge for the sake of a beautiful sight. You maybe roaming around hostels cursing the dilapidated structures, and out of the blue, a ridge-like rock springs into sight. The rock has braved all kinds of pressures and managed to stay put. With sheer stubbornness as its only weapon, it has forced the ‘higher beings’ to alter their plans. So now, the buildings are raised on either side of the rock. The human will had to bend, when faced with the immovable rock.

Then there is the site of the campus itself- a huge undulating jungle juxtaposed with the clutter of metal, brick and mortar that make up Delhi; the jostle of the city juxtaposed with the stillness and vastness of the campus; the voices of protests running amok and shrieking at power right in the heart of the capital of the nation.

All these things call out loud to me, teaching me what JNU stands for. It is a place where weirdness is norm, a place where you are expected to not fall in line or rather encouraged to fall out of it, to stand out and stand unique, to stay ugly but beautiful in your own way, to be crooked, ungainly, stoic and solid, so long as you know your base is true. To stay strong and impregnable under pressure; to move only when you think that is the right thing to do and not merely because everyone does so.

And when you finally see Nehru, coated in black, striding with a baton under his arm, you do realise that ‘the march to freedom never truly ends’ and that there are miles to go….

Perspectives

It was a remarkable day for Zafar… Destiny chose him to make 2 saves in one day…

And for the umpteenth time, Zafar got up to enact- without the least signs of irritation or fatigue- his goal in the dying minutes of the final; the goal which gave St. Sebastian School their first ever ‘Inter-School Championship Trophy’, elevating his status to that of a celeb. within the confines of the school.

“I looked at our striker Rohit. He was marked by several defenders and I knew then, that he had no chance of receiving any pass. So, I sneaked in at the far post, waiting for destiny to provide me a chance” he explained presently, to his mates while on the return trip home.

“Then came the cross” he indicated the same with a swift upward movement of the arm, all eyes now fixated at him. “The defenders all leapt up to head it away” half- jumping now to aid the imagination of the audience, “but realized soon that the ball had been over-hit and would sail over Rohit and all of them.”

The silence that filled the school bus was surreal, more so because the return trip of any school bus is marked by chaos and pandemonium. At one point, even the bus conductor turned around to see if the kids were all still there and he found them hooked to a tall, lean boy with a mess of a hairstyle, his cloak-like-shirt hanging almost up to his knees.

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“The defenders were all smiles but as they turned around, their expressions soured in despair; for I stood at the far post, eyes shining like beads, completely unmarked. The ball was floating in perfectly towards me.” Zafar was clearly enjoying the unperturbed attention of his new-found-fans, like any 17 year-old might, prolonging the act with pauses and visual descriptions. He took a step back, the shoulders hung back, the chest puffed up, eyes squinting upwards as if sharply focused at something; the torso forming a bow, of sorts- demonstrating proudly, the perfect posture he formed to receive the cross. “The ball landed here”- pointing at the center of his chest, “and I cushioned it down. Then, a powerful volley which crashed into the top left corner” duly obliging his fans by a wild swing of his leg and raising his arms. And at once, the out-of-place, frail silence ruptured and exploded into applauses, high-fives, hooting and shouts of victory.

Five minutes later, Zafar was out of the bus, having made more friends and acquaintances today than he had in the whole duration of the last 2 years in his new school. His imagination fired up by the prospects of a merry future…. A girlfriend before winter break didn’t seem so improbable now… The usually sluggish and tiresome walk from the bus stand to home, somehow became fun and fast- paced.

It was only after he had covered half the distance that sounds of shouting brought his senses back to reality. Turning a corner to the right, he immediately saw the cause of commotion. A crowd of 10-20 people was gathered in the Shastri Park. Right in the center lay a man, face down; 4- 5 people beating him in tandem – punching, slapping, kicking and whacking with a baseball- like- bat. As Zafar approached the mob, he heard a man shout ‘A thief, a rogue…. That’s what he is… caught him red-handed, the slimy vermin…. Have no mercy!!!’

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The harangue somewhat placated Zafar. Because, he reasoned out, it was probably best for others to watch him bleed so that no one else ever dare steal again. ‘I must capture this incident. It shall serve as a deterrent from indulging in dirty activities for my mates too.’ Thus, he took out his phone, even as kicks and punches and the choicest of the abuses were raining on the man in the middle. Unmoved by all this, Zafar fiddled with his phone to start the recording. Possibly, it was the crowd that gave credence to what would undoubtedly, have been a frightening incident in other circumstances.

Zooming in on the man, he noticed that the red and black checked shirt (if it could still be called so; it had been mostly reduced to shreds) looked familiar. The beat-up man was showing no signs of activity; one of the attackers went up to him, grabbed him by his hairs and pulled him up.The body turned and the brutalized face appeared up close on the mobile screen.

‘It couldn’t be…. It shouldn’t be… the poor quality video is  deceptive….but what  if???’ His hands and feet became numb, the mobile dropped and he didn’t even realise.  Memories were stirring up, churning out images, one after another, blocking his view, deceiving and confusing his sense of reality, something was struggling with him, neither allowing him to move nor to stand. ‘I must find out…. Must make sure…’.

Pushing, elbowing and squeezing through the crowd, he was at last, in the front row. The frail and limp body was shaking uncontrollably……was it fear…. or was it shame ….. or was it a stroke… he couldn’t tell. But of one thing he was sure- even through the numerous cuts and gashes, the bulging eyes, the dust-filled disheveled hair, the highly disfigured and distorted body- he recognized the man in the middle- undeniably, it was his brother. As a bloody punch hit the man, an electric shock ripped through Zafar’s body. He cried out uncontrollably, “Let him go, you sons of a …… (somehow our hearing sense failed us at that very point!!!)… He is my brother…. Innocent!!” but only a meek, incomprehensible, barely audible voice escaped his vocal chords. The commotion around him was too powerful, covering him, strangling his vision and blurring his thought process. He had to do something but what…. Another kick landed on his brother’s shin and he rolled over, howling….

Instinctively, Zafar picked up a stone lying at his feet and threw it at the nearest attacker. Now, he had their attention… there was no turning back… he ran at the attacker, hurled a punch which was easily dodged and the returning punch dug into his stomach. The wind was sucked from his body and he knelt down, gripping his stomach. The crowd was now hooting, even as some were trying to break up the bout, but to no avail. Another man slapped Zafar’s neck, which turned a shiny red… Even as his body started falling forwards, a kick at the chest rocked him back on the knees. As his face swung back, a long bat swam in vision…. His shoulders hung back, his chest sticking out with eyes pointed upwards… a bow figure again…. ‘receive the blow’… ‘cushion it’….’all shall be well’…. An echo pounding in his head… and then, WHAMM!!! The final blow….

 

 

Bitter-Sweet

Death is what gives life meaning
Fear makes you crave for courage
Anxiety exhorts you to acquire peace
Failure ignites in you- the passion to succeed
Sorrow makes happiness worth achieving

Then; let all, who read this
Give due worth to adversity
Belittle not, nor bemoan it
Steer your ship through the storm
Thus shall light emerge, ever sweet, searing the veil of darknesses…..

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