Kahaanse10 mins 288 10 mins 288
Prologue: As many readers had felt that my stories are so technical and serious, I am trying a lighter story for the first time. All the characters and incidents portrayed in this story are completely fictitious. Do not try their actions at home or in public places as they would be moving around in buses, having lunch together in cafeterias and that too without masks! Let us blame the story's time period 2018(pre-covid year) for all these abnormal behaviours. It's story time now…
With pedestrians paddling and shoppers strolling, Karol bagh was clamouring with crowds so early in the morning. Be it the early morning or the mystic midnight, nothing would make much difference to the city which is always in the vibrance of josh.
While everything seemed normal and everyone looked casual, there was one woman who looked extremely nervous and was very much out of the frame. In a purply pink salwar-kameez and a handicraft leather bag, stood Sandhya impatiently at the bus stop. It is not her curly hair or the round face, but the intense eyes, that would fascinate anyone with reverberating energy. Her typical south-Indian face-cut and revealing restlessness announced to everyone that she is a newcomer to the place.
Sandhya is a central government employee who got transferred to Headquarters after 3 years of home state service. This is her first posting in north India. But the reason for her anxiety is not the new posting or the delaying bus but Hindi! She had memorized important Hindi sentences and when bus 181 arrived, she got into it eagerly.
The DTC bus was not much crowded and she had enough space to stand thanks to her stars. Most of the seats in the bus were occupied by a single family, who in bright colored dresses behaved like they owned the bus. The golden-red sarees of elderly women, rich lehengas of young girls and shiny sherwanis of men indicated that they were going to attend some marriage or some special function. All eyes in the bus were on the family as they were seriously discussing some issue with the bus-conductor. Sandhya was also watching them though she could not understand a single word in the conversation.
"Secretariat kho ek ticket dhedho" when she recited the words carefully to the bus-conductor, Sandhya felt proud of herself. She had the delighted feeling of reciting the 16th multiplication table to the maths teacher without any mistake. She had the correct amount ready in her hands for the ticket so that there would be no need for further conversation. But, has life moved so easily anyway?
When the conductor was about to give the ticket, the elderly woman in golden-red saree told him, "Ussay ticket mat dho. Hamney ek ticket jyaadha le liya hai. Usme vo travel karegi" after which he went back ignoring her. Sandhya couldn't understand why and so she called the conductor, and it was then the elderly woman started shouting at her. Sandhya felt so embarrassed as the entire bus was watching her now. She didn't know what to do.
Helplessly, she called the conductor again for the ticket. Now the elderly woman got so infuriated that she grabbed the money out of Sandhya's hands and continued scolding Sandhya. Sandhya was really shocked by this rudeness. She didn't even imagine in her wildest dreams that looters would come as a family, well dressed and steal money publicly in buses. The worst part was that nobody questioned them not even the bus conductor. She thought the conductor was also part of the looting gang.
Neither the book "Learn Hindi in 30 days", nor the you tube videos or the mobile apps helped her understand the language which she heard in the bus. She felt like an alien on Earth and if she stayed in the bus for some more time, she felt she would cry. Hence, she wanted to get down immediately irrespective of the stop. It was then she noticed the laughter of a man who was standing next to her. Instantly, she found out that she was the reason behind this amusement. He couldn't control his laughter and his eyes were literally with tears due to continuous laughing.
The man with trimmed beard and angular face looked so professional in the formals he wore. Though he would have had a prosperous career in modelling, he appeared like he was doing a white collared job. Sandhya got enraged by his insensitive hilarity. It was then he spoke, "Hi, I am Rajeev from Gurgaon, working in Secretariat. I am sorry. I understand you are new to this place" and he started laughing again. That went beyond her tolerance limit. She said, "I am also working in Secretariat. I am overwhelmed by the hospitable behaviour of the people here!".
With a sudden surprise of meeting a new colleague in bus, he spoke, "I guess you are from Kerala. That is why you don't understand Hindi". She wanted to shout that people from Kerala can understand Hindi as they are taught the basics of Hindi in school. But, she replied quietly, " No, I am from Tamilnadu!" for which he sighed "Chennai hai…". She rebuked," Tamilnadu doesn't mean Chennai. I am not from Chennai. I come from a place down south of Tamilnadu which you will not recognise definitely." He tried to pacify, "Ok relax please. Let me explain. The family got an extra ticket and hence they wanted you not to buy one. That is why, when you called the conductor for a ticket, they reacted that way. It's because of the communication gap." Their stop had come by then.
It took half day for her to complete her joining formalities and settle in the new office. Rajeev accompanied her for lunch. The cafeteria was crowded with government servants and common public who visited Shastri Bhawan for various reasons. "Dho plates Roti", Rajeev gave the order and smiled, "I know you don't eat such a lunch in your place. Don't worry. Let me teach you how to eat rotis". Sandhya was surprised by Rajeev's acumen of equating speaking Hindi to eating rotis. Yet, she couldn't stop imagining what rotis meant to her in childhood. In her hometown, roti was the bun from bakery which usually her mother gave during fever or illness. According to her, any stuff made from wheat was nothing but a chapathi in whatever form it is. After Sandhya moved for work, she got introduced to varieties of roti.
Sandhya was not a person who was after external approvals for her actions. She lived her life for her own self and did not worry much about others opinions and judgements. Even she got amazed by Rajeev's activities unmindful of the surroundings.
Rajeev tore the rotis in her plate into pieces, poured out the gravy and raita both over it and smashed the pieces like an enemy. Even Einstein could not identify what remained on the plate. She felt like vomiting on seeing her plate. Then came the turn of the poor onion which was given in whole instead of a salad. He took it on the table and gave a hefty punch. The plates and tumblers jumped an inch above the table and came down. Instantaneously, few splashes of water from the tumbler also got added to the molten content of the plate. The deprived onion cried pathetically and exploded into two. Two girls who came to take the table went away after seeing the mess on the plate.
"Rajeev, what the hell are you doing?", she cried. Rajeev replied smashing the rotis in his plate, "Sandhya, this is how you have to eat rotis. Nobody would teach you this. You must thank me for this.""I will go and get a fresh plate. You can have the horrible halwa you made in my plate too!", when Sandhya stood up, Rajeev stopped her and uttered "Taste just once and then do whatever you want." Sandhya left with no choice tasted it forcefully. She exclaimed with a sense of awe," It's yummy. Unbelievable Rajeev." He smiled with acknowledgement.
"Do you know Sandhya, Tamil was the second official language in Haryana till 2010 yet not a single native knew Tamil", when Rajeev said, Sandhya curiously asked "Why?". With a chuckle, he replied "Because there was no Tamil teacher in Haryana!". "Bad joke", she cried. Rajeev responded, "Ok. Let me now try a good one. There were 5 ants waiting to race. The announcer shouted, "on your mark, get set, go", 4 ants started to run fiercely. But one ant didn't start and remained in the starting point. Why?". Sandhya chuckled, "May be it got a leg sprain?". Rajeev refused, "because the ant didn't know English!". "Oh my God! I can't digest the language jokes anymore. Lets stop here, Rajeev", Sandhya pleaded.
"Let me ask a serious question. I have been trying to understand the reason. I have met many people from Tamilnadu like you. Why didn't you try to learn Hindi?", when Rajeev asked, Sandhya replied without any reaction, "because there is no Hindi teacher in Tamilnadu". " Not a bad try!", exclaimed Rajeev. "Let's move now. It's late", reminded Sandhya.
When Sandhya took up the first file and started reading it, a man in fifties came to her desk. The ease with which he moved around depicted that he had been for years in that place. He asked, "Kahaanse". She stayed silent as she couldn't get him clearly. He asked again "Kahaanse". Words like "Aase" and Dosai" popped up unconnectedly but how much ever she tried her memory, she couldn't guess what Kahaanse would be. Her brain was devoid of all Hindi after the morning bus mela. She kept thinking and he asked again loudly,"Kahaanse aa rahe ho". She thought this would end up in another humiliation and thankfully Rajeev came for rescue this time, "Ankur sir, she doesn't know Hindi. As today is a restricted holiday, boss postponed the formal introduction of Sandhya to staff members tomorrow. She is Sandhya from Tamilnadu and he is Ankur sir, the senior-most officer here".
"I am also well aware of the politics in Tamilnadu. You people feel grateful for the protests of your leaders Anna and Kamaraj against Hindi. Do you understand the difficulties you are going to face in North India because of their anti-Hindi agitations?", when Ankur spoke mockingly, Sandhya felt so insulted. But she did not want to stay quiet again and had to reply," Sir, this is the general misconception which I wish to clarify. Anna and Kamaraj did not protest against Hindi. They protested against the imposition of Hindi." Ankur was taken aback by her poised reply and left the place affronted. While preaching is becoming more common, learning is becoming rarer.
Amidst the gigantic government buildings, stood the small tea shop invisible. The aroma of the tea dust competed with the roadside garbage for dominance over the region and confused few houseflies to take diversion to the shop. Not just the houseflies, most of the government servants crowded the shop, addicted to the amazing tea made by Susheel, the owner. It was real magic when Susheel swings the milk over the jug.
On one of the benches sat Rajeev and Sandhya, sipping the sweet and strong tea in the glass tumblers. Sandhya was excited to find coconut biscuits and when she went to take one, Susheel asked, "Kahaanse". Rajeev smiled and Sandhya replied," Tamilnadu". Susheel couldn't understand and asked, "Mathlab?". Now Rajeev interfered, "FilmStar Sridevi ka jagah". Susheel got a glow in his face after Rajeev's reply. Sandhya was shocked that Susheel didn't even know the existence of Tamilnadu except for Sridevi.
In a distant bench, she saw a foreigner who was speaking sign language with the people around. Suddenly she got a strange feeling that she sensed herself related to him more than anyone else in the city. Thrashing her thoughts, Susheel uttered, "Sister, ek aur biscuit lelo!". At the same time, the radio in the tea shop played "Jana gana mana adhinayaka jaya he..". Everyone stood up except the foreigner who was busy drinking his tea. Many times, we get connected to people mistakenly and irrationally. But, life brings before us the right people and right relations at the right time who would stand for us and stay. Sandhya, in a moment, understood how meaningless she thought about the foreigner. She understood how strong the Indian ties are.
It is not the unity, but the diversity which had defined India for ages. When Sandhya revisited the entire day's happenings, she found out the most important lesson. Though we may be divided by language, religion, region and numerous other factors, there is an invisible bond which has organically united Indians together in the past and would continue to exist till the existence of humanity. So be proud to be an Indian!