Waves And Sand Castles

Waves And Sand Castles

9 mins
18K


"Your tea is getting cold," she said peeping out of the window, "for the third time now."

Holding his knees, he straightened his back; the garden hose still letting out water.

"Let's get it done for the day, right?"

"Yes, coming," he said more to himself.

He let the hosepipe fall and rambled towards the water tap, turning it off deliberately; she eyed him all the while. Having wiped his hands on his shirt, he looked around the garden: the jasmines, the marigolds and now the aloevera sapling.

"That's for you," he said and turned towards the window, "coming, coming."

The old man took the morning newspaper, seated himself by the window chair and raised the cup to his eye level. No trails of steam rose from it. He liked to see the garden in the background like a green haze against the rising steam from his tea; he did it whenever he found his tea hot. The old woman, smelling of incense, walked in with a tray of biscuits.

"Oh its cold is it?" she laid down the tray and sat on a chair opposite to his, "suits you."

He rustled the paper and settled to look at it. She looked at the bald of his head that was visible from above it. No trace of his thick curly hairs remained. She looked out of the window to the marble statue that their son had put up in the garden. It had a fairy with her wings spread, standing tall and looking up with a bowl raised over her head. Grains were put in this bowl every day for the sparrows. The fairy stood on a circular disk-like platform in which the old man put water for the birds to drink and bathe in. Their son, an environmentalist, was working on saving the sparrows which he said were under threat. He was working on a project in Kerala for the past four months now; they had not heard from him since he left.

"I think we should put a box for them," he said. She turned towards him. He was looking at the Sparrow's nest on the mango tree.

"They might use it to build a better nest," he said now looking at her through the corner of his eyes.

"You had enough tea. Now you get ready."

He ran his fingers through the arrays of washed and pressed clothes in the wardrobe; the smell of naphthalene balls filling his nostrils. He pulled out a neatly folded yellow shirt and turned it in his hands, his honeymoon gift.

"Aren't you ready yet?" the old woman called from the kitchen.

"Yes."

They walked on the Mount Brigade road that ran around the Clarke Lake. The doctor had increased the medicine dosage saying it was as expected in old age and was not a cause for concern.

"Its nothing," she too said after having a private chat with the doctor.

She was now buying fruits. He eyed the young tourist couples cycling past him. Thirty years back they had settled in this town having married. They took evening strolls around the lake, sometimes on feet and sometimes on bicycles. She loved to ride the cycle holding it with one hand, letting the other hand wave in the air, making shapes with her fingers, the wind caught in her hairs, the long end of the sari wrapped around her thin waist. He would always fall back and watch her from behind. She would occasionally look back at him, and her cycle would then wobble. She would then grab the handles with both hands, still looking back until he came up with her and they rode off together.

"Come," the old woman said passing a bag of fruits to him.

"So many fruits?"

They passed through the market. The old man looked at the decorated shops: Bright, fashionable clothes hanging in stacks and the accessories and souvenirs put up to attract the tourists. Over the decade the town had rapidly become a popular hill station. It was easy to tell the tourist season just by looking at the shops. Makeshift souvenir shops came up everywhere. Even those selling grocery and essentials became gift shops during the peak season.

The old man closed the windows, drew the heavy curtains and turned on the lamps. A faint smell of incense came in from the other room.

"Will you play something?" he asked.

She nodded. He already had the violin out of its box and had kept it on the table, ready for her. She sat in her chair and tuned the violin. He looked at the carpet, studying its familiar square patterns. She played a couple of notes, stopped, tuned it, and finally satisfied, started playing again. She played Bach; the piece he liked. He kept his eyes on the carpet pulling on its threads with the fingers of his right toe.

By the dull light of the yellow lamp beside him, his wrinkles appeared even more prominent; especially those at the edge of his eyes. His slow breathing was marked by the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest which was once broad and stout. His square jawline was now hidden by cheek muscles that hung loose. She looked at the outline of this small man, a shadow of the proud man he once was. Time is cruel, she thought, it does not respect the strong; it does not care for the week.

"What is it?" she asked keeping aside the violin

He moved a little in his chair but did not say anything; she waited.

"We have had a good life," he said looking at her only briefly "now at the old age we have to struggle for peace."

She looked at the index finger of his right hand making circles on the chair's armrest.

"I don't like whats happening," he said after a long pause, "we are losing our town, aren't we?" he said looking at her, his voice raising a little and then falling into a whisper, "It is difficult to accept it but yes-"

"Why do you say that? How can we lose our town? We are here."

"They are making shops and hotels at every corner. Did you not see?"

"So?"

"Two men had come. They wanted to know if I would sell the house."

"When?" she tilted her head, "you did not tell me."

"They were contractors. They build hotels. And they are here all year round," he said, "we have lost our small town, haven't we?"

"No, we haven't," she said, "this is a beautiful place, so people come and visit."

"And when they leave, they leave a mess behind," he said.

"Why do you mind? You have your home and your garden," she said, got up and walked to the kitchen.

***

"Please sign here, thank you." Mr. Krishna looked up from the register and said, "please follow the boy to your room. will send the ID after photocopy."

A boy lifted the suitcase, bags and the guests followed him up the stairs. Mr. Krishna folded the money and pressed it to the feet of the Ganesha idol on his table and then touched the notes to his forehead, thrice, joined his hands and murmured a prayer. This was the first tourist family to have arrived for the season. Although there had been a Belgian couple and a German man renting rooms for over a month now, the business season could be said to have started only when Indian tourists began arriving. Extra staff, just for the six months, had already been hired. It was now when the entire town found business and employment. Most of them would be out of work during the off-season, living off their savings, feeding their families.

A thudding of a motor-cycle engine echoed from the parking of the hotel. His son had woken up and was leaving. Mr. Krishna peeped out of the window as the motorcycle passed under it. He noticed the clothes his son was wearing and on finding him in comfortable clothing, deduced that he should be back early. Of late his son had been drinking heavily, but Mr. Krishna argued with his wife that once the tourist season started, their son would have work to do and would not indulge in alcohol.

"Its the lack of work, poor infrastructure and the unavailability of regular jobs that's the culprit," he said to his wife.

Having put the cash in the locker and turned the key, Mr. Krishna stepped out of the hotel. The cemented front yard had been cleaned to his liking. Outside the gate, a taxi was parked with the driver inside. A hotel boy was watering the saplings that had been planted along the wall. He looked at the signboard: Bold, blue letterings against a white background reading Krishnalaya Hotel. He looked at the big glass windows that were meant to give the hotel an elegant European look, and a smile appeared on the corner of his lips. This was the fifteenth year of his hotel. Having started working as a newspaper delivery boy, he had made his way up through various jobs: learning, taking risks and growing. His passion to be successful, to be rich, always pushing him harder than other men could think of.

The Hotel was built after he acquired one of the residential bungalows from an old couple. They were initially reluctant to sell the property but after a death in their family, had given it off in a bargain. However, Mr. Krishna had to renovate the property, the construction of the original bungalow being too old-fashioned to support the idea of a modern hotel that he had in his mind.

With his hands held back, Mr. Krishna strolled up to the marble statue in the center of the front yard. It had belonged to the old couple and was instructed by Mr. Krishna to be left where it stood even when the garden around it was cleared. The statue was that of a fairy with her wings spread, standing tall and looking up with her hands held high. Mr. Krishna had seen the aesthetic potential of it. He had the statue polished and the bowl replaced with a fountain that sprinkled water out of the fairy's outstretched hand. Against the early morning sun, the drizzling water droplets formed a rainbow. Tourists particularly liked to have photographs clicked with the fountain.

"You,"

The boy watering the plants came running.

"There are bird droppings here. Get a scrubber and clean it."

The phone rang. Mr. Krishna pulled out his smartphone and looked at it. He had received multiple notifications related to room bookings. At his age, he found it difficult to understand the customer's preference for booking rooms via applications, instead of a simple phone call. He would have to wait for his son to return.


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