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It’s been almost 20 years. I am back in the town as the district magistrate, where I spent a most of my childhood . I was yet to get the bungalow from the government so had to stay in the guesthouse for the time being. I was being driven in an open SUV to the guesthouse and I could feel the air with an essence of memories. The area looked familiar, a river flowing by, kids playing around. The road now had some potholes opposite to those days, when we could find some road in the potholes. The chauffeur was talkative, addressing me as ‘sahib-ji’ (a substitute for ‘sir’ in Hindi). He was almost 3-5 years elder as it looked from his appearance. Long dense mustache, slightly grown beard and short hairs, well wet with some excessively strong mustard oil and a well-built body. He was happy and tension free, whereas I was not. His (legitimate) income will be around one fifth of what I could earn legally, still he was more satisfied and relaxed. I was not very happy as I had to He was trying to explain me about the town especially temples and the banks of the river with religious importance. To be frank I was getting annoyed and was just trying to be polite by nodding my head in response to his words, some times with a sound “hmm!”Soon we reached the guesthouse, I paid some tip to the chauffeur saying “will fire you if you continue being talkative” within my heart, but the words that came out of my mouth were “you stay here I may go out in the evening”. The housekeepers took my luggage and lead me to my cottage. I gave him some money asked him to get some soft drinks as was the hot and humid month of July and I was not sure if I could get safe drinking water in there. I had more trust in the American cola companies than the motherlands ground water. Any way he went happily to fulfill my orders. I threw my self on the couch peeping out through the wooden window. The river, the temple and sound of bell in the temple, devotional songs being played there. When I was partially lost in nostalgia, I heard a knock on my door, it was the housekeeper with cola. I thanked the housekeeper. Planning to go the bed to have a nap. In order to make my nap go undisturbed, curbing the noise coming from outside was the priority. I moved to the window to shut it. I could get a bigger picture from here. Women entering the temple, with a corner of their saaree called aanchal, on their head after taking a holy dip in the river, some of them pouring the holy water over the Peepul (Sacred fig) tree and kids playing cricket in the ground beside the tree. Peepul tree and cricket! Some memories forced me to look at Peepul again. It is the same peepul tree, as green as it used to be, as thick as it used to be and as sacred as it used to be, it did not seem that it got older.I refuted the idea of closing the widow returned to the couch. Memories coming to my eyes like a Bollywood movie of 80’s. 20 years ago I lived in this town. As the son of district magistrate I had all the luxuries, respect and care. But respect stuff was limited to the grown ups. There is no such thing among the kids. They play together, fight and then play again. No one knows whom is what and neither they care. I use to play cricket with my folks here in the same ground. The shadow of the Peepul tree; use to be our strategy room, dressing room, dugout and celebration arena. I used to dominate the game every time. Not because I was a very good player, but because the playing kit belonged to me. Others had to bear my offenses if they wanted to play and I made full use of it. They have to bowl me out at least twice to really get me out of batting. They have to get out if I am bowling even if they are not. Every time I use to threaten them that I will take my game kit if they do not accept my rules unconditionally. I was the undeclared captain, umpire, referee and manager of the playing troop. Beside the cricket kit I always use to have a lot of tasty food and drinks with me that was another benefit for them. Another thing that made me rule the troop if not the game was that with my repute it was easier to get the ball back if someone hits it to one of the houses. But kids are kids every time they do not accept your illegal demands. That use to create kiddy fights and finally leaving me crying back to home with my kit. But there was one good thing, next day we again played as usual.
I am India, a 65 years young country. Well my my actual age is few thousands years in terms of civilization but I was reborn 65 years ago from my ashes created by colonialism, losing some feathers in the process. To introduce myself, I am the worlds largest democracy, one of the oldest civilization, birthplace of four major religions of the world followed by a quarter of world’s population and I house around 17.5% of world population.Historically, I was one the worlds first urban civilization, first country to have developed counting, zero and decimal. The civilization I cradled was the first to start a university, a proper language and grammar system and was among the first one to know that the earth revolves around the sun. Perhaps one of the few countries with more than five kings titled “the great”. I was the richest country in the entire world before I was captured and killed and was called the Golden Bird, or the Jewel of British Crown.Well enough of history. Today, I have the second largest army, fourth largest air-force and navy. One of the most modernized air-force in the world. My navy in the only “to be Blue water navy” in Asia. I am one of the few recognized nuclear powers on earth, one of the five countries to have a lunar mission and only 2nd with a lunar landing mission. I have the second fastest growing economy across the world. When the big power reduce their research budgets I double them. There are only two countries in the world that generate more number of scientists and engineers than I do. The world is being cured by the doctors and nurses I trained. I own, the 2nd largest railway network, largest communication network. I have 8 of world’s 100 richest people.My people claim that we never attacked any country, but thats not true, Indian kings attacked and ruled Srilanka and parts of old Persian empire, and my people still continue to attack within the country in terms of caste, religion, region and language. Most of the attack on me were the invited by my own people be it Moghuls or British.
No boasting around anymore, lets go to the irony. I have about one third of poor people of the world and $2 Trillion of my money illegally lies in other countries. Though, I started the university system in the world, a quarter of my population is illiterate. I provide doctors across the globe but I have 0.7 hospital beds per 1000 as compared the international requirement of 3.96 and so is the trend in number of doctors. Some of my kings planted trees around the roads and today I am among the worlds highest CO2 emitter. We have a sex ratio where males outnumber females, a result of aborting female child although many of my people worship female Gods. I import more than we export, even after such growth of economy. My national animal tiger is endangered in my own lap. I have a high desertification rate a lot of people do not get clean drinking water. Concretization of land has led to reduction in ground water recharge.But all is not lost. I turn 65 today, I have many years of life ahead. I believe my people can generate more wealth, fight to get back the trillions. Respect female child with equal rights, educate people, develop infrastructure without disturbing ecological and natural balance. Some of the efforts have already started paying. I am the one considered among the top countries in harvesting renewable sources of energy. The emissions are being cut in an ordered way, methods of enginnering a more eco-friendly infrastructure is evolving. People who left me for a better future want to come back. My people own some emperial companies. I am striking back. Hopefully the illegal flow of money and legal flow of Brain will slow and ultimately stop one day in near future.You know good thing about my people that they always hope positive no matter what the situation is. And, I am still young enough to enjoy the fruits from their efforts.Have a great week ahead,India
Eight years! siting on the window seat of train I was just getting myself anxious. The train stopped and I managed to get my slim body out of the door through the crowd rather easily. It’s 4.30 AM, January morning with chilling breeze around. Feeling the cold I made myself shrink in my warm jacket. My unfolded fist wandered inside the pocket looking for the mobile. I dialed dad with freezing fingers to know if someone is coming to pick me up. After a short conversation I was asked to wait for sometime. I thought of satisfying my anxiety with a look outside the station. It was a changed city with new building structures and more of cars than rickshaws but people still looked the same. Starting off their day early in the morning even at 3 degree Celsius with freezing wind and visibility limiting fog. I reached near the temple which was unchanged and still looked new, separated by a street from a mosque; both crowded for morning prayers. In the flower shop the keepers were busy in handling the customers and occasionally sprinkling water on the flowers to make them appear fresh. I reached the narrow street there.
The street with which I share some pleasant memories. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, The girl is looking at the flowers in the shop and the boy is waiting for his mom outside the temple. My mom never asked me to enter the temple as I used to make fun of her so called GODS. We looked at each other and exchanged a smile. Both of us had some hesitation to approach and talk to each other. Now the funny irony was we studied in the same school same class and don’t need unnecessary introduction. Well, the hesitation did not last longer than 2-3 minutes.
“Hello Ayesha, how come here?”
As if I did not know that she must be here with her dad offering fajr prayers after morning aajaan inside the mosque. She smiled and gave me the answer I already knew. Now I did not know how to continue with our conversation.
She came to rescue me out of it, by asking “how come you in a temple? As far as I know you are an atheist, with a sarcastic smile.”
This took me by surprise,. I did not expect her to know this part of me, as very few of school-mates knew this, at least not her. I could easily hide my inner expression of surprise with a short laugh.
“That’s why I was forced to stay out of the temple by Mom, I said. And you are busy looking at these flowers,”
I asked to continue with the conversation, she answered yes and these red roses are my favorites. We barely had talk for few minutes as it seemed to me at that time, I saw mom coming out. Honestly speaking, I was not very glad to see her coming out so soon. Anyway I introduced Ayesha to mom and she greeted mom in by touching her feet. It is a usual of greeting elders in India. In turn she got a hug from my mom and some blessing with the sweets from the temple. After a short conversation between mom and Ayesha we had to say goodbye for the day and I moved towards my car with mom, but did not forget to wave my hands before throwing myself at the driving seat. I was 15 at that time but could drive without hesitation. This is one of the awards of being related to the city police chief in India.
Next week we met in the school bus. Our houses were not very far so we used to travel through the same bus to school. But today it was different we were not just exchanging smiles but worded smiles.
She suddenly came with a question,
“You were surprised on that day when I called you an atheist, weren’t you ?”
Ah! I don’t how the hell girls can know something even if you try your best to hide it from them. I think that makes them a better spy (Mr. Ian Flemming your movies should have a female bond). I just smiled with acceptance. She laughed and told the reason was Priyanka (Only my good friends and anti’s knew about this quality). It was enjoyable to know that she used to talk about me before. For the first and last time I was happy with what Priyanka did. She was an annoyer for me before. I just thanked her without blabbering a word. During the next days we talked more often than ever, with words and without words. Once in the school park she told me again that she loves red roses perhaps for the 9th time in 10 days. To admit, at that time I was stupid enough to not understand the meaning hidden in her words, and I continued to be idiot for next few days.
The entire class was on an excursion to the city zoo, few of the students got intentionally lost from the troop during the visit., and fortunately we were a part of this lost bunch. We in pairs then departed from each other before reappearing in more or less an hour. After jocund excursion and the better one hour (When she got a red rose finally) we came back to our homes. I was talking to sis (the way I address my elder sister) I told her about Ayesha. And next morning it was a teasing day. Sis and Big B had entered a collaboration to banter me. Well anyone will love doing this if a 15 year old boy says he is in love. I was embarrassed, but had to bear it anyway. By evening Mom and dad had joined the collaboration, and I had no savior. Mom started saying I met my daughter in law and I support my little son. I don’t care about the religion stuff. And then she laughed at me. I was peeved, blushed and irritated simultaneously with their remarks and tried to show that I am getting angry. Anyway, it continued with a slow decrease in its intensity through the days.
Eid- Ul- Fitar invitation brought a reason to meet her parents. I was determined to behave in the best possible to impress way. I did not need a lot of change or rehearsal as I was already a well behaved boy. Believe me I did more just accomplishing the job in my hand. The impression that I left that day won me the freedom to meet and talk to her more often than I used to enjoy before. But it was because their parent still took us as kids. This is probably one issue that has never been resolved and will never get resolved. All the parent take their kids to be kids even if they turn into grand parents.
That morning she came and without saying even Hi moved into the lecture room. The teacher was inside so verbal communication was difficult. I thought of playing the postman game. The game was very simple and efficient way to communicate in presence of teacher. The sender writes something on a piece of paper and the paper passes to the person you want to communicate with, through class mates, hiding beneath the desks and tables.
“What happened? Why are you not talking to me?” I asked.
After a long journey of 11 people it came back to me.
“Khaalaa jaan saw us yesterday and she told mom about us”, was the answer.
The news was not good but like a fearless lone warrior engulfed in enemies den I wrote
She wrote that we will talk after the lecture.
As soon as the lecture was over I rushed towards and almost screamed at her,
“so what if Khaalaa saw us ? Its still the same we love each other”.
She, without saying anything started crying and now I was down.
Trying to console her I said, “why do you worry its not a big issue”.
In sobbing voice she replied “no, its not possible to continue with this anymore. Mom slapped me yesterday. Look I come from an orthodox muslim family. My parents will never accept anything like this and that too with a hindu boy”.
“What the hell? don’t you think its just stupid and nothing else?”
She came closer and then said
“we would continue to friends but it cant continue in the same way anymore”.
“Friends! shut up” I barked. This is very typical of girls first carry you to a stage where they call you more than a friend and suddenly freeze with this kind of end. It was all getting to an end very suddenly and awfully
I somehow managed to attend rest of the lecture came back home and cried for sometime hiding in a blanket. Then onwards I met her everyday for next 30 days or so but no talks, just staring and hiding from each other. Board exams came and went. I went to a different school to continue with studies and then moved to the medical school. Next two years of study and preparation for medical school never gave me enough time to remember or forget Ayesha. Dad was transferred from that city, so never had a chance to visit this city of good old memories. Today after 8 years just trying to remember incidents that had happened, getting deeper into nostalgia. From the street I could see two teenagers who started with a story here.
I was so drowned into all these memories suddenly the mobile vibration woke me up and without looking at the call I asked
“yes dad where are you?”
Oh I can see dad’s car coming, gotta go…..