Drama Thriller Romance
The Horseshoe Cliffs
- Author Name Not Mentioned
Anand was taking Preeti to the Horseshoe cliffs today. He had big plans for the day. In fact, today, he would tell her everything. He could sense his heart pacing already. He had spent at least ten minutes on deciding his attire for the day, and he had looked at his watch so often that he had looked into only the mirror as often that morning. He had not missed any minute that had passed. He had planned this day to such a level of detail, he thought, that he almost knew every single thing that was to happen. If this day were to be part of a movie, then, he thought, he knew every scene that was to come, every word that would be uttered, and even the precise manner in which the scenes would be acted, and the words would be spoken.
“It’s my movie today!” he thought.
He came out of his dressing room to the main hall. Snowy stood up and barked at him, “Good morning”. Anand bent down towards him, and cuddled him warmly. As he moved his arm over his hair, he stood silently, wagging his tail. Anand looked at his watch again. 8:54, it read, which meant that he still had 6 minutes to leave. He knew how these small Pieces of Time felt. At times, he had felt as if he could stand outside Time itself and meticulously watch such small Pieces fly by without bothering to fill in his life.
He switched on the TV, as he was still thinking and impatiently switched the channel to SCV, one that played songs from the movies through the day. A melodious number just got over, and the next song began. It was a recent romantic peppy number, and one of Anand's favorites too. The song, when it had just started, boasted no pretensions of excitement like the usual peppy songs did. It carried with it almost no signs of the enthusiasm that was to come, and there was just the smooth voice of a female playback singer humming a mild tune. All of a sudden, it seemed to acquire an incredible pace as some jumping beats set in hurriedly, augmented with heavy pluckings of an elegant chord progression on a bass guitar, and at almost the same instant, a male chorus voice joined in, hitting a really high pitched note that was conceivably difficult for humans to attain. This point, where the transition occurred seemed to have amazing proportions of energy that would seep into Anand and stay with him for the rest of the day. At least, he felt so. He rocked his head, and watched the song, as the heroine entered the scene in a skirt strewn with pink flowers, running through the seashore, splashing water around and wetting the lens of the camera. She was smiling in a way that was very much characteristic of her. The hero (one, who had recently gained fame as the boy-next-door kinda guy), ran behind her, with eyes wide-open, as if to desperately gulp every tiny quantum of all the light that emanated from her. His arms were attempting to reach her, as she kept moving away, just like the horizon that seemed reachable, though distant. His opened-up white shirt flapped in the breeze as if it too was dancing to the tune.
Anand thought of the Horseshoe cliffs even as he watched the song. It was the ideal place he could take Preeti to, and the ideal place to tell her everything. This place felt so singularly important to him now, that, if somebody would write a story of his, it would find its place into the title, he thought. Without much application of the intellect, anybody can make out that, the Horseshoe cliffs were simply cliffs that were shaped like a horseshoe. But, it was much more than that. The beauty of the whole place was too tough to contain in mere words, and to him, it possessed an elegance that would escape the expressive power of any language conceivable. One has to see it to feel it. From his house (which was quite close to the sea itself), he would take the newly laid highway, also known as the ECR, the East Coast Road that ran parallel to the coast for a stretch of around 90 miles, to reach the enticing Horseshoe cliffs. As he was thinking all this, the song got over, and the next one started playing. He knew it was 9. He would meet Preeti at the Brazilian coffee shop in fifteen minutes from now. She had said she'd be waiting there. Preeti would be waiting, and it was time to leave now, he said to himself again.
He should leave Snowy at Kousalya's place, before that. Other than Snowy's company, Anand stayed alone at home, and whenever he left home, he didn't want to lock him inside. It was a year ago on a rainy night when he was driving back home, that he had seen Snowy on the road, while just a baby, abandoned. He was too tiny then, and was helplessly shivering in the rain. Anand had brought him home and fed him that day. He was feverish, and Anand took him to a veterinarian, to nurse him. The next day, the rain was gone and so was his fever. Anand didn't feel like letting him out onto the roads again though, and Snowy had been with him ever since. Anand rang the bell as he stood before the door, and Snowy was standing by his side, wagging his tail, with his mouth open and gasping. He had grown quite a bit in just a year. Anand wondered how dogs grew up into adults at a much quicker pace than humans did. He also recollected how he had sometimes felt that the affection that a dog exhibited, possessed a form of purity and truth that humans rarely possessed. He could have at that point of time claimed that Snowy in some sense belonged to a more advanced species than Man himself did.
Kousalya opened the door and beckoned him in. She was in a plain sari, just the way he had always known her. It lacked color and was placid, almost as placid as Kousalya herself. The featurelessness of her sari was just a means to reflect the emptiness on her inside, it seemed. She seemed a little worried today.
"Koushi, is everything alright?" he asked.
"Jagan just fell and hurt himself," she said. "He is such a prankster. He tried climbing onto the top of the cupboard, and fell down. I had put some glass tumblers over there. They too fell and broke. One of those pieces tore open some skin near his chest, and he is bleeding. I gave him some first-aid and was just about to call you, and here you are. I thought you could take him to the hospital. You seem to be going out somewhere. Are you?”
"Yes, but there is no hurry. I'll take him," Anand said. He hurried to Jagan's room. Jagan was lying on his bed, weeping, as he contemplated over the stupidity of the glasses that were on the cupboard. There was no reason why they should have been there. As he noticed Anand entering his room, his cry got a little louder, so as to get more of his sympathy. 'Jagan is still not very different from the kid he was five years ago,’ Anand thought. Anand hated to think of that time, the time when the Truck had struck from the Dark and the time Jagan was King. Jagan had always liked gathering the attention of people around, and he would try to do it by any means. 'Well, he's still a kid. It'll get all right as he grows,' Anand thought. He then took him by his hand to his car and drove to the nearest hospital. He saw his watch now. 9:20, it read. Preeti would have come by now, and she'd be waiting.
At the hospital, Jagan got some injection to prevent the wound from infection, and he got some dressing on the chest. As he was getting dressed, he asked Anand,
“Uncle, You promised me you’d take me to the beach for swimming. When are you taking me?"
There was an anxiety in his eyes, the kind only children have.
“This Sunday, when school is off for you. Okay?” Anand said. Jagan smiled and nodded.
“The cut is not deep, and it will get cured easily," the nurse said. "Just take care that the wound doesn't get wet for another two days.”
She also prescribed certain tablets, and gave him certain instructions. Anand meticulously internalized them, so that he wouldn't miss a single bit of detail while telling Kousalya later.
He then drove back home, and dropped Jagan at Kousalya's place. He told her all that the nurse had told him. Kousalya just stood staring at him. "Thanks," she said. The way she said that, it seemed she really hadn’t finished her sentence. There was a distinct pause and Anand waited as he felt she had something more to say. He had always felt that way. Kousalya had much more to say than she actually did. Beneath all her calmness and silence, there seemed something that she hid somewhere deep within her and never let out, not even to him, despite the fact that he had been her close associate for five years now, since the Time the Truck had struck from the Dark and Jagan was King. "I got to leave now, Koushi," he said, and hurriedly left. As he entered his car, he looked at his watch again. He had looked at it every minute back then, early in the morning, while he was well in time for the day. But, the past hour, he had looked at it only twice, despite being late.
10:00, it read. He was a full one-hour late, and Preeti would be really upset.
In another ten minutes, he reached the Brazilian coffee shop and parked his car. He hadn’t felt the time he was driving to the shop from home. Another of those Pieces of Time that had passed him by ruthlessly. Only this time, he hadn’t noticed it. He hoped Preeti wouldn’t be out of her mood. He rapidly paced his steps and entered the shop. He looked around. She wasn’t there. He could sense himself trying not to believe her absence and looking around again. And again. And for another time, scanning the same points within the space of the shop disbelievingly, and at the same time hopefully. He wondered if she had come and left. He still had some hope though. Preeti was a very nice person and she would have waited had she come. He walked to a phone booth nearby and dialed. 9-5-4-2-3-8-6-0-1-3. He could see the numbers fly by in his mind as he dialed them.
The phone rang thrice before Preeti picked it up. “Hello,” said a voice on the other side. It was as reassuring as it was sweet.
“Hi Preeti. This is…” and before he could say anything more, Preeti started off.
“Hey, I am really sorry. How could I contact you? You don’t even have a cellphone with you. There is some change in plans. Something suddenly came up. And, if I tell you what, you’ll be surprised”.
She didn’t seem to stop for breath and was speaking into the phone as fast as she could, sounding all excited.
“You know what? Suraj is here. He came to India start of this week, and he is in Chennai today to visit home. He had called me yesterday and I invited him to accompany us to the Horseshoe cliffs. He agreed. He said he’d pick me up from my home and we’d go to the coffee shop. I am still at home and he should be here any minute now. He has this really cool Mercedes, you remember? It is going to be real fun, riding on the ECR in his car.” She chuckled, as she said that. “I hope you wouldn’t mind waiting for a little more time. Okay, then. I will catch you in sometime, along with Suraj. We’ll have a lot to talk, I am sure. He should have brought tons of stories with him from London.” She disconnected.
Anand walked out of the booth and back to the coffee shop. He ordered himself a cup of cold coffee and chose a corner to sit. He stretched his legs that extended under the table well to its other side, and sipped the coffee, pensively. “Suraj has come from London.” He was doing his Masters in Business Management Studies there. While few others in his class back then managed to find funds and go to the States for pursuing higher education, Suraj had chosen not to rely on funds, and instead go to London and study business. He was affluent enough to afford that and given the highly ambitious person that he was, it seemed very natural for him to have made that decision. Anand and Preeti were some of the few who had chosen to find jobs, and they had both found jobs in Chennai itself. Suraj must have come to India on a short vacation.
Anand found it a little surprising that he was still in touch with Preeti. Back at college, two years ago, he had not seemed to be someone who really mingled with others too well. He had an air of suavity and sophistication to him that was very much characteristic of his lineage, and though he did connect with some people in class, he always seemed to have a clearly defined line that helped him maintain a clean distance with the rest in class. Though he never spoke of his ambitions, a simple look into his eyes would plainly reveal the determination that they contained. He was full of ideas and Anand had never doubted that Suraj would become big in business someday soon enough.
The watch read 11:00 now. Anand wondered as to what strange turns the day had taken so far. He got late only to find that Preeti hadn’t come, and now Suraj had come from London. “There is a change in plans,” Preeti had said. Though she had said she had invited Suraj to join them to the Horseshoe cliffs, Anand now felt as if it was they who were going to the cliffs, and it was he who was actually joining them. They would go in Suraj’s cool Mercedes. “How silly was I to think, today was my movie,” he thought. He wouldn’t tell Preeti everything today. In fact, he wouldn’t tell her anything. Suraj would have brought tons of stories with him from London.
He waited in the coffee shop, with the empty coffee cup in his hand, as he stepped out of Time and watched it pass by... In tiny unassuming pieces.
When it was close to 12, Anand noticed an auto halting outside the coffee shop. A young girl in a pink top stepped out of it. She cut the fare and entered the coffee shop. She looked around trying to find someone, and as she spotted Anand, walked towards him.
“Anand, we are going alone to the cliffs. Suraj isn’t coming. He’s got some appointments,” she said. Though it seemed she was telling that to him, she was looking down all through. There were no ups and downs in her voice and she was throughout pressing her voice on the same note, like a violin that was pulling out a sad note from its strings by merely being on the same pitch for a considerable length of time. Anand had the feeling she wasn’t really talking to him, and just wanted to tell it out. Tell it out, that Suraj wasn’t coming, as if she wanted herself to hear the fact and try to digest it. She didn’t speak anything more, and Anand felt he had to take the lead now.
“Okay, we can go then,” he said and moved, stepping to her side, then crossing her and walking towards the car. Preeti followed him. They both sat in and rode.
The first few minutes of the onward journey seemed too silent but for the song that was playing on the music system. It happened to be the same song that played on TV that morning, and strangely, it seemed to have no energy now. All the romance and the excitement that he believed to be the ingredients of the song itself didn’t seem to be so, anymore. He turned his head to the left, for once, and looked at Preeti. She was staring straight onto the road and it actually seemed that the streak of rays from her sharp eyes were overtaking all moving objects on the long highway and reaching at some distant point on the horizon. He turned back to face the road and continued driving. Preeti must be disappointed at the way things have happened today. She too must have thought of things she would do that day, in detail, the same way he had planned the day.
“Today wasn’t Preeti’s movie too, after all”. In fact, today was nobody’s movie. It seemed very natural to Anand this instant that most people had immense faith in God. It can be a scary helpless feeling to think that today was nobody’s movie, and it would be nice if there was probably this guy/girl/thing/God for whom today was His/Her/Its movie. That way, humanity could look up to this invisible intangible Force and hope for Luck to smile upon them. Anand didn’t quite believe in such a Force though. An amusing thought struck him just then. He could imagine a God who was helpless and weak, who would just sit beyond the edge of the world and watch things as they happened here. He would see helpless people crying out to Him not realizing that He was just as helpless. And He’d feel bad about that, everyday, through his infinite immortal existence. And even to Him, today was not a movie that He had the power to direct. As Anand engaged himself in this amusing train of thought, he for once thought that, the movie-makers were more powerful than the Gods themselves. They had the power to create a world of fantasy, fill it in with life and feed into it a perfection that the Gods seldom achieved, and in these fantasy-lands truth always triumphed, togetherness celebrated and people lived happily ever after.
“I am very sorry. I spoiled your day today,” Preeti broke the silence and Anand’s thought train. Anand almost shuddered a little, realizing that he had been lost in a world of strange thoughts, rather arbitrarily all this while.
“I am doing fine. Only you seem worried. I am sure you’d love the cliffs though. It is going to bring you back to your usual excited self.” Preeti smiled at him, and as she did, her eyes moved to spot a point beside the road.
“Lets have an ice-cream,” she said. They stopped at the ice-cream parlour over there. Preeti took a chocolate delight, and Anand a fruit fantasy. They got back into the car and rode again. ‘Horseshoe cliffs - 12 kms,’ a milestone said.
Anand felt a little relieved as they were reaching the cliffs. Preeti had acquired a little cheer, and he realized that it had already killed most of the moodiness he had accumulated over the first part of the day. Her smile indeed was powerful. He, to the total surprise of Preeti, all of a sudden, steered down from the road into the sand beside and drove into that, past tall vertical casuarinas on either side till he reached the shore. He parked his car there.
“Lets get down here. Time for the ascent,” he said. Preeti looked in awe at the huge single rock that stood before them. It stood high and more than half of it claimed its territory in the waters. It was wide on the shore and converged into a sharp wedge as it cut into the up-roaring waves. Anand was already walking up the narrow path that went around the cliff and ascended it from the behind. The ascent wasn’t steep at all, and it was just a matter of effort to make it to the top. Preeti followed him, very carefully pacing her steps as she ascended the cliff. As they were close to the top, the path ended abruptly and one had to just climb that last part by clutching onto the top with the arms. Preeti wasn’t sure if she could comfortably make it. Anand climbed up, and gave her a hand. As she grabbed it, he gave her a gentle pull and she made it too. They walked towards the edge facing the sea and it already seemed frighteningly steep even before they reached it. Anand reached the edge and stood there, staring into the enormous water body that was noisily roaring before him. Preeti though, had stopped a little way behind him.
“Why are you scared? It is absolutely great over here. Just come and sit by this side, and you’d feel really great.” Preeti slowly advanced towards him, and as she got the closest to the edge she could permit herself to, she sat. Anand sat beside her.
“It is much more beautiful than I had imagined. When you told me about the place, I thought you must probably, be just exaggerating. It is great. I can sit here all day,” she said.
As she said that, she undid her hair and let it fly in the fierce breeze that cut through the top of the rock. An unassuming strand of hair cascaded to the front of her face and playfully disturbed her. She pulled it back gently and turned her head from the ocean to face Anand. She noticed him looking at her.
“What are you looking at?” she asked, smiling as she did.
“Did you know you are prettier than all this?” he said as he looked deep into her eyes, and she shied off, burying her head into her folded up knees. Anand suddenly felt a pacing in his heart. He recognized this feeling very well now. He thought he would tell her. He had wanted to tell her for almost a year now. Before he could manage to gather some courage, Preeti spoke.
“Hey, by the way, how is Koushi doing these days? You said her mother is trying to get her married. How does she feel about that?” The sudden shift in the topic of her interest simply put an end to that little bit of courage he had managed to gather over the past few minutes. He sometimes thought Preeti had infinite control over him. A word that she uttered seemed to have the power to drastically play around with his feelings at its will.
“I guess she’s doing fine. I am not sure actually. She doesn’t talk much. Two days back, I saw her crying when I went to her place. She hurriedly wiped her tears off as I entered. Her mother saw me entering and pleaded me to advise her. ‘She has a kid to take care of, and she can’t be alone this way for the rest of her life,’ she said. I too felt she wasn’t very wrong. I felt helpless though, and didn’t feel like forcing her onto something that she really didn’t seem to like.”
“Yes, I too don’t know what to say. At the end of it, it should be her call,” Preeti said.
Preeti had gradually acquired her composure and she was soon her usual self, and what that meant to Anand was that she was going to entirely decide the direction most of the talking would take, and he would just join her in the conversation. She talked about several things, recollected how they had once cut a class on contemporary literature and gone for the recent popular masala movie in town, narrated how she was pissed off with the deed of her colleague who according to her was a very selfish girl, described how work felt these days and so on. The afternoon and then the evening too passed by, very rapidly. It was 6 pm. Preeti said, “Hey, I guess it’s getting late. We should head back now.” They both got down the cliff soon and then into the car, drove past the casuarinas and onto the ECR. They started heading back, and Anand was wondering if it was a good idea for him to tell her now. But before he could even think of that, she leaned her head on his shoulders and fell asleep almost immediately. Anand just drove back, with everything still remaining buried deep within him. He hadn’t told her anything Today.
Preeti woke up as they reached the outskirts of Chennai, and they both stayed silent listening to certain melodious numbers on the audio system till they reached her home. She got down unhurriedly.
“Hey, It was a great trip. I felt very good. Thanks. You should take me there another time soon, will you?” she asked, as she was holding onto the door. Anand nodded, though he wasn’t sure if she had really meant it.
“Okay, then. Bye. And thanks for dropping me home too,” she said, and she left without really waiting for him to bid her back ‘goodbye’. The door closed with a thud.
It was 10 pm and Anand headed back to his apartment. He parked the car and walked to Kousalya’s place. He rang the bell. It was Koushi’s mother who opened the door. Snowy rushed towards him, barking wildly as he did and kept hopping up trying his best to rest on just two foot. Anand looked at her and asked,
“How is Jagan doing now?”
“He’s fine. The pain has come down. Koushi just put him to sleep. He was talking about you all the time. He would have said at least a hundred times today that you are going to take him to the beach this Sunday. He’s very excited about the whole thing.”
Anand smiled and said, “I hope Snowy didn’t trouble you much today.”
“No! Don’t worry. He was a good kid. Just found his corner and stayed there almost the whole day without causing any trouble,” she said.
“Okay, then. I guess I’ll leave for my place now. It’s late,” Anand said.
“Did you have dinner tonight? Koushi has made some food for you too. Please come, have it,” she said.
“Oh! That’s really nice of you. But, please don’t put yourself into such trouble again. I’ll find dinner for myself,” he said. He had a light dinner and left for his place.
“Thanks. Tell Koushi that the food was great,” he said smilingly, as he left. Snowy followed him wagging his tail all along. They both reached home. Anand changed into his nightwear and retired to bed. The highway drive had made him weary. As sleep was gradually taking charge of him, there were just few unconnected threads of thought vaguely circulating on his dizzy mind.
‘He hadn’t told Preeti anything today. He’ll soon do that’.
‘Poor Koushi! She should soon find her way out of all this misery she is into.’
‘He would definitely take Jagan to the beach this Sunday. He had not kept his promise the last time.’
Even as these thoughts were floating in his mind, he fell asleep.
Three days passed at work and it was a fairly tight week for Anand except for the Wednesday he had taken off to go to the cliffs. Being the primary sales person in the Cool-It air conditioning firm, he had to visit the building contractors and administrative executives of certain companies that were settling into new buildings in the city. He had to go there, get the building plan and suggest a robust and desirable air-conditioning design after having worked out the behavior of heat flow in the building. He, being a new comer to the firm, handled both the technical and sales aspects of a project, and he was already seen to be good at them. His boss had informally told him, that his transition into a Sales Executive was soon to happen.
As he woke up from his bed, he could hear something telling him, “It is Sunday. You got to take little Jagan to the beach and teach him to swim.” He brushed up, freshened himself and got ready. It was 11 already, and Jagan would be waiting eagerly. He would have tried to come to his home to see if he was ready to go, and Koushi would have stopped him from doing so. “Anand might still be sleeping. Don’t go and wake him up now. He’ll come. Just be patient.” Anand took out the float he had bought the night before for Jagan. It looked like a huge doughnut. He could already imagine Jagan putting himself into it and ebbing with the waves. He was in his shorts. He put a towel and some dress to change in a plastic bag, and then came to the hall. He unchained Snowy, and walked out as he followed him, to Koushi’s home.
Even before he rang the bell, Jagan opened the door and let him in.
“I am ready, Uncle. Shall we go?” and walked out even as he was saying that. Koushi shouted, “Jagan, wear your slippers.” She gave a small bag with Jagan’s clothes to Anand and said,
“Take care of him. You don’t have to get into water really. Just stay on the shores”.
Anand said, “Don’t worry, Koushi. Nothing is going to happen,” and then turning to Jagan, “Jagan! Aren’t you taking your cycle? We are cycling to the beach, and taking Snowy too with us. It is going to be fun.”
“That’s a great idea. I’ll take it right now,” and he ran out shouting at the peak of his voice, “Bye, Ma!” without looking at her. Anand followed him to the ground floor of the apartments and took his cycle too. Snowy followed them too.
Jagan rode his cycle shouting out his recent favorite song aloud. It was an erotic number, and Jagan kept innocently crying out the words that actually referred to a pair making out sensuously. He was not sitting on the seat, as he wasn’t tall enough to reach it so he just stood on the pedals and alternately applied pressure on them. Anand rode alongside, and Snowy was running behind.
“Uncle, how deep into the sea are we going?” Jagan asked curiously, as he lost track of the lyrics of the song.
“We’ll be going into it till a point comes where your feet wouldn’t reach the floor when you are standing. You’d be all in water. Are you not thrilled?”
“Wow, I am totally thrilled. How high would the waves be?”
“You’ll see it for yourself. Don’t worry. The float would ensure that you are absolutely safe wherever you are in water. There are some simple rules that you should follow when swimming in the sea, and I’ll tell you them once we are there. Okay?”
Jagan seemed all excited. He was talking without halting much, and he hadn’t lost any of the innocence he had possessed five years ago. The time when the Truck had struck from the Dark and the time he was King.
That night, five years ago, Murugan was cycling to his newly bought land to see if things were all fine. He had called a builder to decide on the plans for a compound wall he wanted to put there. The road seemed unusually dark, though it was just minutes after dusk and as he was thinking of further plans, he kept cycling, entirely unaware of the Cruel Force that was on leash that night. The Truck came from nowhere all of a sudden, and it seemed to be as drunk and out of control as its driver himself was. It seemed to roll towards the edge of the road where Murugan was riding. When the truck driver noticed the minuscule vehicle strolling along the edge and tried his best to steer the demon back onto the track, it was too late. The collision was not too violent, as the driver had indeed braked quite heavily, but it was just enough to toss the cycle off carrying its rider along with it in the air. The man and the cycle landed with a thud on the solid road. A group of villagers nearby rushed as fast as they could. An elderly man was shouting out, “Let’s take him to the hospital quickly. Fetch a rickshaw. Quick,” and then bent down to Murugan. A man fetched water from somewhere, and there were this group of people holding the lorry driver by the collar of his shirt and shouting at him.
“Are you doing okay? You don’t seem to be hurt very badly. There isn’t any bleeding. It is just a mild accident. We are taking you to the hospital and it will be fine,” the elderly person spoke.
“No, Sir! I am dying. Please take this number and give my family a call. I am leaving them alone.” He gathered words amidst acute pain and spoke intermittently. He cried as he said so and there was as much fear in his eyes as there were tears. He looked very pale as if he had seen the Demon come before him and knock him down. The Demon was going to chain his soul and take it with him ruthlessly. Away from his world. His family. From Jagan. From Kousalya. He stood no chance before the infinitely powerful and evil hands of Fate. And the God was helpless Himself. Though there wasn’t any major visible injury on the outside, the handlebar of the cycle had pinched into his chest the moment he fell on the road, quite acutely and had his liver snipped off. He bled on the inside and on the outside there were just few drops of tears that emanated which carried any sign of all the pain that he was suffering.
“Hello. Is this Murugan’s home?” he heard the old man speak into a phone. “Mr. Murugan has met with a minor accident, but there is nothing to worry about. We are taking him to the Central Hospital, and he’ll be all right.” The news had reached, and that gave him a mild feeling of security and peace amidst all the pain. A few men lifted him up, placed him on the back of the rickshaw that just zoomed in and shouted, “Hurry! Hurry!”
Murugan shut his eyes and a man kept hitting him on the cheek trying to wake him up, and it was a matter of seconds before he totally ceased to exist. His soul was snipped off from his body like his liver had been sometime back, and the Demon dragged it along with him. Chained.
Kousalya was about to leave home for the hospital, and she heard the phone ring again. She hurried to the receiver, picked it up and placed it on her ears. “Madam! We are really sorry. Mr. Murugan just passed away.” She placed it back. Murugan wasn’t there anymore, and she saw all her life lying before her like an infinitely long featureless highway and she was going to ride it. Alone. And just then, the sea within her exploded and her eyes bled them out.
The home was full of people that night. There was a group of sick women who contrived words of condolence crying them out, as and when new people came. Clever actors. Kousalya was weeping in a corner.
Jagan was excited to see the crowd at home, and he felt they had all come there to see him. He knew he was important to them all. In fact, he was possibly more important than anybody else he could think of. He tried his best to hold his head higher and higher as more and more people came in, until he couldn’t reach any higher. He noticed people looking down at the floor as if in shame. His uncle came to him, and said,
“Jagan, your mother needs your help hereon. Will you take good care of her?”
“Yes, I will,” he said proudly.
“Good boy. Your dad should be happy. He has left Kousalya in good hands. She’d feel like a Queen the way you’d take care of her.”
Jagan smiled. He was a King. And he thought he smiled the way a King did. With an air of pride and a sense of accomplishment.
“Poor Jagan! He doesn’t even know anything,” a lady screamed. Jagan grew a little angry over this and before he could react in any concrete fashion, he could hear somebody in the crowd shout.
“Let’s take the body to the grounds. It is time.” The weeping that had subsided a bit over time, suddenly assumed the form of a vigorous uproar and the air was full of the voices of women screaming into it, as some men came and lifted the body up. “Get Jagan readied for the rituals,” a man shouted.
“Jagan, you have to get ready. Come with me,” a man said, and he dragged him along hurriedly, without really caring to wait for a response from him. The man stripped the Emperor’s new clothes off him, and wrapped him around in a clean white dhoti. Jagan felt a little uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to being in such attire. His knees seemed to stick together, and he couldn’t get them apart easily. He tried to walk and realized he was moving in small jerky steps. The tiny King limped behind the army of men to the grave. Anand had watched him from a distance that night.
And that night had ended with a silence. Dead Silence.
“Uncle, how further do we have to go, to reach the beach?” Jagan asked.
“We are almost there. Note the route carefully. Next time, you are going to lead the way.” Little then would Anand have realized the prophecy hidden in the unassuming sentence he had just uttered. Jagan would come there again, and he would in fact lead the way. And Snowy would follow him. Feverish and Wet. And then, would Anand follow too. And then the Stone would roll, the Bee would sting, and things would never be the same again. But that was all to happen only the next time they planned to visit the beach. For now, Anand would show him the way.
“I remember it all very clearly, you know? I’ll show it to you the next time,” he claimed.
“Yes, I know you would. You are a brilliant kid.”
Having cycled for nearly three kilometres they halted as they reached the shore. The beach was deserted, and this was one reason why Anand liked the place. It was just the four of them there: Anand, Jagan, Snowy and the Ocean.
Snowy seemed to get a little frightened at the immensity of the ocean, and the way the waves unceasingly tried to breach the shores. He ran towards the sea barking, and as a wave approached, he receded. Then, he barked again and ran towards it. Only to come back again with the next wave. He kept doing it over and over again. He was very careful not to let a single drop of water touch him.
“Stay here for a minute. I’ll take you in, in a moment,” Anand said, as he slowly started walking into the water. Jagan waited at the shore and saw him walking into the waves. After exploring the geography of the sea floor for a while, Anand came back to the shore. “It is totally clear. Get into the float,” he said. Jagan got in.
“Here are certain simple things you should know when getting into the sea,” Anand said. “Since the sea water is very dense, you can float on it without much effort. You should not fight the waves, and instead of trying to beat them, you should join them. If you give yourself a little hop as a wave passes you by, your neck would always stay above the surface irrespective of how big the wave is.” Jagan carefully listened to Anand, with widely open eyes. “Watch me now,” he said, and moved further in and Jagan could see a monstrous wave approaching him. It was taller than Anand and Jagan for once, feared it would swallow Anand and pull him in. But, Anand seemed to effortlessly let the wave pass him by.
“Don’t fight the waves. Join them,” Jagan agreed.
“Another very important thing. Don’t drink the water or breathe it in, even accidentally, particularly when you are in deep sea and gasping for breath. That can knock anybody down. The water is very saline and if one gulps it through the nose or the mouth, it would hurt in a very acute way. One can feel it pinching at the back of the head. It would be nearly impossible to gain control again, and one would start taking it in more and more, without control, and it is dangerous. Do you see that?” Anand asked.
“Yes, I do. I wouldn’t drink or breathe in water anytime,” Jagan said.
“Good. Anyway, don’t worry. I gave you those instructions only so that you are well equipped to explore the ocean and don’t end up doing the obvious mistakes. Did you know it is so much fun to swim in the ocean? I’ll show that to you today,” he said. Jagan could feel the thrill in him again. “Do you see the rock over there? That is where I am going to take you now. And, you are going to swim there,” Anand said.
“Cool,” Jagan said as he looked at the round rock, further down the sea. It was a huge solitary piece of stone peeping out of the water, and Jagan made up his mind to reach it. At any cost.
“Now, just wave your hands into the water gradually and keep following me.” Anand said and slowly moved towards the rock. And Jagan tried to follow him beating the water vigorously with his hands. He didn’t seem to progress though, and Anand showed him the way to pull the water back gently in an organized fashion and at the same time cycling his legs so as to stay comfortably on the surface. Jagan soon learnt the harmony behind the motion of the arms and he saw himself moving forward gradually.
Just then, a monstrous wave approached them, and to Jagan’s surprise, it just lifted him up along with it and then passed him by to reach the shore. Jagan gathered more courage now. He wasn’t scared of the sea anymore. They slowly moved in, Anand swimming by the side of Jagan, and soon they were at the rock.
“Now, we can rest on the rock for a while,” Anand said. He pulled him out of the float and gently pushed him onto the rock, as he ascended it. It was a little slippery, but Jagan carefully ascended it, without Anand having to tell him how to do it. Anand spent some time floating on the water, horizontally on his back for a while, and Jagan watched him from the rock. They both stayed there for an hour or so, and Jagan had already picked up a bit of swimming. He could almost go anywhere without any fear, if he just had a float. He knew the rules of the ocean very well now.
As they were getting back to the shore, a huge wave bent over them and broke. To his shock, Jagan was almost turned over and before he slipped out of the float, it became stable again. A little water got into his nose and he coughed vigorously. He felt a sharp pain on the back of his head as if a bee had stung him. He had already stopped swimming and just kept coughing.
Anand smiled, “See! I told you, you shouldn’t drink this water.”
“But you told me you don’t have to fight the waves, and they’d safely pass you by? See what happened now,” and he coughed again. Blood streaks showed up in his eyes in red broken lines. The salts from the water that broke over his eyes had sketched those, rather elegantly.
“Well, I didn’t tell you about the waves that break over you. It is just the smooth waves that pass you, and despite their fearful size, they don’t hurt you. But, waves that break on you are strong and when they are over you, they can potentially invert you into them. These are actually the dangerous ones, and when they break over you, you have to hold your breath carefully and don’t let any water into your body.”
They waited for the next wave that would break over them, and this time, Anand was holding onto Jagan’s float to prevent it from possibly inverting over. Jagan closed his eyes and held his breath strongly and it hit them. Jagan felt as if a powerful fist knocked him and passed them by. Jagan had managed to hold his breath this time successfully and he was proud of it, not very unexpectedly.
As they swam back to the shore, Anand told him stories about Tsunamis, which were incredibly tall waves that were believed to have even toppled huge ships over, about the Dead Sea, where people could just simply sit and float on the surface, about mythical sea monsters and many more.
They were at the shore soon, and, Snowy was lying there on the sand lazily, having grown tired of fighting the ocean. As they changed their clothes, Jagan asked, “Uncle, are we coming here again next Sunday? It was total fun. We will come, okay? I want to go to the rock again. And, I am going there myself next time,” he said.
There was much hope and curiosity in his eyes, which were full of red broken lines. “Okay, we will,” Anand nodded, smilingly.
“Mummy. I had great fun, you know? Anand Uncle took me into the sea and taught me to swim. We went to this rock and stayed there for a long time. Then, this big wave broke over me and …” Jagan had so much to tell Koushi, she thought he wouldn’t stop for a long time. He kept going behind her, as she moved from the hall to the kitchen and then to the dining room, as she kept attending to her dinner preparations, and kept filling her with all the details of his little adventure. “Mummy, Anand Uncle knows so much, right? He is so brilliant. You should have seen the way he was floating on water with his back on the surface so effortlessly. It was too good. Will you come with us next time, Mummy?”
“We’ll see about that,” she said, looking at him with a smile, and Jagan knew what she meant.
“You are always like this. I know you wouldn’t come. Wait. I’ll draw it and show it to you. It was so beautiful, you know? If you see it, you too would want to come. I’ll go find some paper.” He ran into the drawing room to find some paper.
“Mummy, I need a notebook,” he yelled.
“Mummy is busy. Try and find it yourself,” came the reply.
“Okay. Got it.” He pulled out a notebook as he was digging into some clothes in Koushi’s cupboard. He quickly scrolled through the first many pages as they were all already filled with some scribblings. He wondered what his mother would have to write over there. He didn’t have much time to think of it though. He had to draw now, and he hastily moved through the last few empty pages until he found the page that he thought suited his needs the best. He held the blue crayon and scribbled several lines across the length of the page. That would be the sea. In the centre of the page, he sketched out an irregular hemisphere for the rock, and then went on skilfully filling in all the fine details.
He had been in that room for almost half an hour now. Satisfied with his portrait of the scene, and convinced that it would evoke sufficient excitement in his mother, he moved out with the notebook in his hand. He walked into the kitchen. “Mother, I am done. You should look at this,” he shouted as he was still looking for her. She wasn’t there. He went to the hall. Grandma was sitting on the sofa with a book on her hand. Her neck was bent towards the notebook that was too close to her face anyway, and she was reading through her glasses that were closer to the tip of her nose than to her eyes. “Grandma, did you see Mummy? Where’s she?”
“I don’t know, Jagan. She might have gone out to buy something for cooking.”
Jagan walked out of the hall as Grandma returned to her book. He walked towards the balcony, and peeped out of it. He noticed Anand moving his car out of the parking lot. “Uncle, where are you going?” He cried at the height of his voice.
“I am buying a cell phone today. Going to the Spenzers shopping mall.”
“Can I come too?” Jagan asked.
“Sure. Come over.”
“Yahoo!” He then turned to his grandma and said, “I am going with Anand uncle to the Spenzers. Tell mummy,” and he ran down the stairs, with the black notebook in his hand. That contained his piece of art and all the scribblings, which were irrelevant to him. Those were his mother’s.
He got into the car, and directly scrolled to his picture. “Uncle, look here. That is us, swimming near the rock.” Anand looked at the picture. The imprecision of the portrait was what made it beautiful, he thought. Jagan had ignored the irregularity in his depiction of the profiles of the objects and had concentrated more on the details that were even peripherally connected to his theme. The picture was rich with elements and seemed to signify a child’s joy, though it wasn’t explicitly portrayed anywhere. Jagan seemed to be a tiny expressionist of his own kind, the way he had captured the theme with a distorted rendition of the scene. “Its beautiful,” Anand said, and he warmly rubbed him on his head. “Okay, lets move then,” he said, and steered the car.
In another hour, they were back home. Anand didn’t have much difficulty choosing a cell phone that suited his taste and requirements. He parked the car, locked it, with all the secrets and irrelevant scribblings that Jagan left back along with his expressionist artwork in it, and got back home. Jagan bid him ‘bye’ and went home, hopping merrily, two steps at a time, and circling his arms in the air.
Anand got into the hall, as the door shut behind him. He had to call Preeti, and tell her about his new phone and that she could call him anytime now. ‘9-5-4-2-3-8-6-0-1-3’, the numbers flew by in his mind, as he dialed them. And, he heard a ring at the door the same time it rang on Preeti’s phone. He held the cell to his ears and walked to the door. Preeti still hadn’t picked her phone up. Anand opened the door. It was Kousalya with Snowy standing by her side. “Hi Koushi. Come in,” he said and directed her towards the sofa as he was still very attentive to the phone. She seemed very pensive and she was looking at Anand with empty eyes as he was walking hither and thither unable to wait any longer. There wasn’t any response from the other end, and Anand decided to disconnect for now, and try a little while later. He disconnected the call and sat by the side of Kousalya.
“You look tired. Shall I get something for you to drink? Just a second,” and before she could answer he got up and walked towards the refrigerator. He opened the door and as he was searching for some fruits, asked her “So, how are you feeling today?”
“I am doing fine,” and then paused for a moment. “Is that a new cell phone by the way?”
“Yes, have a look at it. I just bought a simple one. I thought it was better to be in constant touch with friends.”
She took the phone in her hands and looked at it. “It looks cute.”
Anand cut the fruits he had gathered and put them in the mixer grinder. He switched it on, and they both waited in silence as the mixer ground the fruits noisily. After a minute, he collected the juice, put some sugar, stirred it and brought it to Koushi.
“Hey, come on. It is fine. Shouldn’t I even do small things for you? You don’t have to thank me for things like these.”
She smiled. “You are so nice. You also keep Jagan engaged all the time. He is happy when you are around.”
“He is a sweet kid, and I like playing with him.”
And then, there was another of those pauses. Those inevitable gaps in personal conversation, which go unfilled, despite both the parties consciously attempting to find words to fill them. They seemed like holes in the fabric of time itself. One seemed to drown into such holes and unless they swam out of them, they got lost into them forever.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Koushi said, just managing to swim out of her little Time-Hole. And just then, the cell rang.
“Just a second,” Anand said and picked it up, as he saw the number on the display. “Hey Preeti! I had called you a while ago. I have got a new cell phone,” he said. Kousalya noticed a sudden burst of energy show up on Anand’s face.
“Oh, is that you? That is really cool. I had this missed call on my phone, and I just thought I’d see who that was. Now that you have got a cell, I can disturb you all the time,” Preeti said, chuckling. Anand felt some thrill in him and his lips spread out into a smile almost instantaneously and rather involuntarily.
“Of course. Of course.”
“You’ve finally come to your senses. I’ve told you a trillion times now, that, you possess a car, but you don’t possess a cell phone, and I somehow have always found that very weird.”
“Yeah. Maybe. But, anyway, I’ve finally got one for myself.”
“True. Hey, Do you know? I actually wanted to contact you. I was wondering if I should even come to your home. Thank goodness! You called me yourself. What an amazing coincidence, you know?”
“Yes,” Anand nodded, though he wasn’t really sure if this was that amazing a coincidence at all. “What did you have to tell me?”
“That is a surprise. Actually, I have wanted to tell you this for sometime now. And, I am a little shy to tell it so easily and simply. I am even a little afraid I don’t have the courage for that.”
“Oh,” Anand could already feel his blood heating up a little. He was anticipating the obvious.
“I’ll tell you this Sunday. Okay?”
“Okay, then. Bye,” and the phone disconnected.
“Was that Preeti?” Koushi asked. “How’s she doing?”
“She’s doing great. I forgot to tell you. She even asked about you, last week when we had gone to the horseshoe cliffs.”
“Oh! You took her to the cliffs?”
“Yes! It is a beautiful place and I have always wanted to take her there. She loved it.”
Koushi seemed just as quiet as always. “You seem very happy when you talk about her,” she said, with a slight smile.
Anand chuckled, and said, “She is very bubbly, you know? Her excitement is infectious, and when she is nearby, everything around seems so lively and exciting.”
“You like her a lot, don’t you?”
He hesitated a little, and then broke off from his sense of shame.
“Oh, Koushi! You are a great friend of mine, and I don’t mind sharing it with you after all,” and he told her all that he had felt for Preeti for a few years now. He told her how they were great friends since college, how he came to like her, how they went to classes and places together, how they would study for exams together, how they managed to find jobs in the same city, and how he had wanted to tell her everything for a while now and how now she herself was going to reveal her feelings to him, this Sunday.
Koushi was listening to all that he said. And, she knew it hurt her to hear that. She was in no way like Preeti, the young bubbly all-excited girl who would spread her charm and energy around, wherever she went. Despite being as hardened as she thought she was, she was a little afraid that her agony would show up in her face, this moment. If only Anand wasn’t in the excited state that he was, he might have easily made out from her face that something was not quite in place. Anand was happy when he was with Preeti, and the two of them deserved to be in the company of each other. For all time to come. It seemed like the neatest way for things to happen. By coming into their way, she would be an intruder, and her presence would not serve any more purpose than to add confusion and dissolve the harmony of the whole thing. She was a mother now, a few years elder than him, and he was full of youth and energy. She made up her mind and decided she would abide by her mother’s allegedly brilliant idea of a groom hunt, as that seemed like the natural way things could happen to her.
She too knew, life was nobody’s movie, and the decision of what to act was not on the hands of the cast. Nobody understood the strange turns the play would take and the only importance of people was to merely exist so as to enact it all out, and also at the same time watch it all happen. Any more reason attributed to their existence was just false and pretentious and all theories of purpose were simply products of childish hopefulness.
As Anand finished his narration, he turned to Koushi.
“And that is how things are now. By the way, you wanted to talk to me about something?”
“No! Actually, I had just come to leave Snowy here.”
“Oh! But you really seem you have something more to say. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am. Very sure. Thanks for the juice,” and she stood up and walked out.
Koushi was as mysterious as the sea itself. She possessed a depth that was unconquerable and all the activity within her was contained within the shores, the intangible but unimaginably powerful lines she had set for herself, and she never crossed it, although it seemed it was so immense to be contained, Anand thought.
From then on, Anand started anticipating the arrival of Sunday, and the only other person who could compete with him in his anticipation was Jagan, the tiny expressionist. That Sunday would be the day the decisions would be made, and the course would be decided. The whole week passed by in a blaze. When in eager anticipation, every minute that passed by could be felt and experienced tick after tick, but it seemed all ticks were racing themselves to reach Sunday as quickly as they could. Monday passed and then did Tuesday very much the same way. Those two days were incomparably inferior to the Sunday that would come and they merely served to be specks that would fill the holes in the fabric of Time.
And so was most of Wednesday. When Anand returned home the night of Wednesday though, there was a small surprise awaiting him, something a little unpleasant. As he fetched Snowy from Jagan’s home and brought him home, he noticed that something was a little weird. Snowy was unusually calm, and the lack of activity in him was very visible. As they entered home, Snowy just moved to his corner and rested himself on the floor. Jagan’s grandma had told Anand that he hadn’t had any food the whole day. Anand brought a few biscuits and some milk for him, but he didn’t seem to want them. It was too late in the night to take him to a veterinarian and he decided he would take him the very next morning.
The morning of Thursday, Snowy had got an injection and Anand left to work after leaving him at Koushi’s place the usual way. His fever didn’t come down though, and consistently prevailed for the next three days. The doctor had told him that the viral attack might take more than a week to subside. A strange silence haunted Anand’s home from then over the next few days, as Snowy helplessly rendered himself to a corner of the hall.
The night of Saturday, Preeti called up and they planned to meet at the Brazilian coffee shop the next afternoon.
“Why the same place?” Anand had asked.
“What is important is not the place. It is what I am going to tell you tomorrow,” and then she had chuckled.
Anand had spent a large part of the night awake. He was quite sure of what she was going to say, but the wait was still a phenomenon in itself. He had always believed that Preeti had liked him a lot, and that it would just be a matter of time till she said it out loud. He dreamt of all the moments she had told him she had missed him, the places she had wanted him to accompany her and so on, while he was still awake. And amidst his dreams, he fell asleep.
Sunday finally found its way through the maze of time, and made it to the top. Anand woke up late in the morning. Today, Preeti would tell him everything. She wasn’t telling him that at the Horseshoe cliffs. But, it was not the place that was important. In fact, the Brazilian coffee shop suddenly seemed more beautiful and romantic to him than the cliffs did. He walked to the hall, as he brushed his teeth. Snowy was sleeping calmly in his corner, coiled into himself. He was to be the Messenger and the Savior today and there he was, lying humbly, showing no signs of the hero that he would be today.
The bell rang at the door. Anand opened the door and he found Jagan standing there. “Uncle, I am ready already. Do you know? I have lots of plans for the day. Yesterday, when I went to the market with mummy, I had bought these nice blue goggles. Look at them. Now, the waves can’t hurt my eyes,” he said, smiling with a sense of victory.
‘Damn! I totally forgot,’Anand thought.
“Hey Jagan! Uncle has got some sudden work to attend to, this afternoon. I am afraid we can’t go today. I promise you we’ll go there next Sunday. Okay?”
Jagan’s head dipped into his neck and his lips assumed a concave curvature like those in the smiley that signified ‘disappointed’. He just turned back, angrily and left. Jagan wasn’t a kid who would weep when disheartened. And, it was not the right way for kids to be. Anand thought that usually, kids lacked the power and reasoning to hide their emotions, and just plainly expressed them. Jagan though sometimes seemed too adamant and a little too hardened for his age.
The cell phone rang. Anand walked and picked it up.
“Good morning darling. How are you? Have you woken up?” Preeti asked, her usual excited self on the other end.
“Hey. Good morning. I am doing fine. What is up? Any change in plans?”
“No, I just wanted to see if you were awake. I am not really able to hold it anymore, and just couldn’t stop myself from calling you. Be there on time, okay? 2 pm Sharp. I’ll be waiting. Bye, then.” She disconnected the phone.
‘She was unpredictable,’ Anand thought, but he knew he was her darling, and he knew what she was going to tell him Today.
1:45 pm. As he moved his car out of the parking lot at home, he noticed that it was a bit cloudy then. ‘It might rain today,’ and the very thought sounded so romantic to him now. He turned on his audio system, carefully adjusted the equalizers until every line in it was in the optimal position and then played his favorite number on it at a blasting volume. He shifted the gear to his left and then forward, and it clicked ‘one’. The car started off with a jerk and the spasmodic start soon dissolved into a smooth drive. With the romantic clouds above his head, he sailed towards the coffee shop, rocking his head in perfect synchrony with the beats of the song itself.
He parked his car before the coffee shop just before 2 pm, and Preeti was already standing there at the entrance. Though he pretended he wasn’t excited, he could see himself wrapping up things at a quicker pace than usual, and hastily rushing towards her.
“Hi! Good boy! You have made it in time! Come. Let’s go in.”
Anand followed her into the shop. He had waited a full week now, but the past few minutes seemed intolerably stretched, and he found it difficult to stand it anymore. Once again, he realized how much of a mystery Preeti actually was. He had been her friend for almost four years now, and still he knew so little about her. She had talked so much to him, but had really told him nothing. He wondered if he had told her everything about him, on the other hand. Though he wasn’t too sure, he indeed felt he had. His life was an open book, but for some reason, he felt there was nothing much to read in that. He had been the same as far as he could recollect, and anybody who would read the first page in his biography, probably knew all that was there to him.
Anand strangely felt Preeti was walking towards a table where someone was already sitting. He had the feeling that he had known the man too. In fact, he realized later that he had actually recognized him then. And, it was when Preeti actually went around the table and placed her arms on the shoulders of that man, did Anand realize that she had walked to the table intentionally.
“Anand! Suraj,” she told Anand pointing to Suraj, and “Suraj! Anand!” to the man on the table. A little fear struck, and Anand suddenly felt he wasn’t really ready to hear anything then.
“Hi Dude! How are you doing? Do you even remember me? You seem all lost?” The man said.
“Hi Suraj! I, of course, remember you. But, I should say you have changed a lot. London, it seems has made you a different man,” Anand felt a little happy he could strike such a brilliant conversation.
“No, I wouldn’t say so. You can ask Preeti about that,” and then turning to Preeti, “Is that so?” he said.
“Of course not. You are still the same dumb ambitious childish guy I’ve always known,” and she laughed.
And, then, another of those tiny but finite pauses resulted. These holes in Time inevitably showed up whenever there was a group of three people in which not more than two were related to each other. None would manage to find a sentence that was appropriate to all of them.
“Okay. Let me break the surprise now,” Preeti said. It seemed funny how everyone was waiting for the thing to occur, but it still took so long for it to actually happen.
“Anand, I have always wanted to tell you this. You have been my best friend. When I am with you, I feel very comfortable and free, like with nobody else I know of. I am really myself when I am with you. You are so genuine and affectionate. And that is why I like you so much.” There was a small pause. And, in that tiny moment, every beat of the heart seemed very tangible.
“And, I feel really happy to share this with you. Suraj and I are getting engaged next month,” and then they both laughed aloud, unable to contain their joy.
“I should tell you I was even a little scared that you would take Preeti away from me. You are such great friends, and she talks about you so often,” Suraj told Anand, laughingly as Preeti playfully hit him on his upper arm with her fingers locked. Anand had the feeling Suraj had cleverly devised that statement, an ingenious joke that was truly just plain mockery. At least to him, it wasn’t funny. But, he smiled. And, then, Preeti and Suraj started playfully quarrelling and recollecting incidents when they had in past quarrelled similarly.
“Preeti, I am actually in a little hurry now. I got to take Snowy to the veterinarian. He has still not recovered,” and he stood up, not really caring to wait for their responses.
“By the way, I am really happy to hear this. You are a great couple. It seems like I’ll have to go to London now, if I have to see Preeti,” he smiled.
“That unfortunately is very correct,” Suraj said.
“Okay, I take leave of you then.” Anand moved out of the coffee shop to his car. The unromantic clouds that sailed across the sky were beginning to darken, as if they were carrying signs of the premonition for the day with them.
‘I was too silly. I should have known,’ he thought, as he walked. It seemed so evident to him now that Preeti and Suraj had liked each other. He recollected Preeti’s disappointment at Suraj’s absence last week, and he had sensed a little bit of connection between the two then, but still, somehow it hadn’t struck him enough. Sometimes, the Truth presents itself before one so simply without any disguise, and inspite of staring at it all the time, one still fails to just see it. And, then, suddenly, the realization occurs out of the blue and one wonders how it had been there all the time, and still how one had been blind to the obvious truth.
He drove his car away from the coffee shop. He wasn’t going home, and he didn’t really know where he was going. He just wanted to drive.
He saw all his life lying before him like an infinitely long featureless highway and he was going to ride it. Alone.
He could feel the weight of his heart bringing him down, and he feared he might break into tears, something he never thought he was capable of. He sensed himself growing weak, and he wasn’t sure if he could take it all. He saw some fields pass by, and he decided he would stop there. He drove into an open section of the field and halted. He thought he would lie down there, in his car for a while. Sitting on his seat, he leaned on the door, stretched his legs and placed them on the other seat. And just then, something fell. He bent down and picked it up.
It was a black notebook.
He opened it. There was the expressionist picture, of the sea, the rocks and a child’s joy. The picture was inverted. He had opened it the wrong way. He thought he could have taken Jagan to the beach today. He rotated the notebook by a full 180 degrees. Jagan could have drawn some more in the notebook. He scrolled back few pages and he saw some scribblings. Those were not Jagan’s. And, those were irrelevant. He closed the notebook, and placed it aside. But as he just put it down, he thought he had seen something. Something that was indeed ‘relevant’. When the notebook closed in a flash, he thought he had seen his name written on that page. He opened it again, arbitrarily started on a page and read.
19 June ‘03:
Today, the feeling struck me again. Though I have felt, life can go on this way for all time to come, I do feel the solitude getting on my head. Amma asked me again today to think about marriage. I am nervous, and I don’t really feel like getting into the whole family thing again.
25 June ‘03:
I hate myself so much for not being able to control my liking for Anand. He has been a great friend, and it is indeed true that I feel very comforted and peaceful whenever he comes home. And, I keep thinking of him most of the time. When I first thought of this, it seemed funny and I had simply ignored it as something weird and random. But, surprisingly, it has grown to be more and more powerful and more regular with time. Today, I was idling and imagining him consoling me. Today, I have resolved to put an end to all this. He is a young man. All this is wrong, and this can’t happen.
27 June ‘03:
I feel much better and normal now. How silly was I to think I had such feelings for Anand. He had come home today and we had a long casual talk. And, I am happy I could be so normal today, and we spoke just like how good friends do. He said he was going to Mumbai next week for a training programme. He sounded all excited about his new opportunities. I wished him all the best for his new venture.
7 July ‘03:
Today, Amma cried, and I thought I grew sick of her doing this to me. She seems to want to get rid of me. I am a burden to her. Today, I think, maybe, I should accede to her wishes. For some vague reason, I am thinking of Anand now. It would be better if he were here now. I hope the feeling is not taking me over again.
13 July ‘03:
I haven’t spoken anything to Amma for a full week now. She is a poor being. Maybe, I should stop being this adamant.
20 July ‘03:
Anand is coming in a week. He called me and spoke to me today. And, I realize I have felt better today. I am already anticipating his arrival.
25 July ‘03:
Anand’s return got delayed by another week. He called me up today, and said that, and I realized I was missing him. I am gradually giving up to this feeling. I don’t think I can keep on pretending.
1 August ‘03:
Anand is back. He had brought toys and sweets for Jagan. When I saw him affectionately share it all with Jagan, it felt good. Jagan feels great whenever Anand is with him. I decided I would talk to Anand and ask him what he thinks of Amma’s ideas.
3 August ‘03:
Today, Amma had gone to the village, and I had invited Anand to have dinner. He actually came a little early and helped me make food. “Come on, Koushi. I am not a guest! I am one among you!” he said, placing his arms on my shoulders. And that I knew was sufficient to get me on a high for the day. During dinner, I told him that Amma wanted me to get married, and asked him what he thought. “Koushi, you are a nice girl, and you still have a life to live. If I were your mother, I would pull you by your ears now adamantly, and get you married,” and he laughed, and then on a calmer and more serious note, he said, “Koushi, I seriously think you should get married.” I had a vague confused feeling for the rest of the day.
Anand kept sailing through the pages, as fast as he could. With every page he read, he could feel the pain and confusion that she had gone through all these days.
There were several pages missing in the middle. They seemed to have been torn out of the notebook. Towards the end, there were a couple more entries.
15 March ‘04:
Anand is taking Jagan to the beach the day after tomorrow for swimming. I did sense this silly feeling of being in the beach with them and watch them both play.
16 March ‘04:
When I look back into the pages of my own diary, it feels wild, and I see myself as being very confused, erratic and wrong. It has been almost a year now, and I think it is time I said it out loud. It might feel better once I do that. I have decided to go and tell Anand soon. Maybe, I’ll do that sometime during next week.
Anand turned to the next page. There was nothing written there. And the next page had the painting of the tiny expressionist. Those last two entries should have been the most recent ones.
He looked at his watch to see the date. 24 March, it read. He recollected what she had said when she had come home that Wednesday, “I wanted to talk to you about something,” and now he knew what she had wanted to talk about. He wondered how he had not noticed it then. He had always had the impression that Koushi wanted to tell him something. He thought he had even seen it rise from deep inside her all the way to her throat but she would kill the beast right there and swallow it back. Often, the obvious truth stares at one simply, and one still fails to see it.
Anand put the notebook aside, and started his car. Suddenly, his journey seemed to have acquired a definite meaning. He could see the end clearly now, and he knew what he would do. He steered off the field back into the roads and drove. It was late afternoon, but it was as dark as it was just before dusk. The clouds had extinguished the sun, and it seemed they were in a festive mood. Soon, there would be rain. Anand saw a clean streak of white flash from the clouds all the way down to earth. The festival had already begun.
He reached home. He couldn’t wait to go and tell Koushi. That he would be by her side for all time to come, putting a permanent end to all her solitude, and all of his, as well. That they would go through this journey together. The long infinite highway was no more something that they need to be sick of anymore. There was no itinerary for the journey. The destination or rather the absence of one didn’t matter. The journey seemed to be the purpose itself, and they would travel the path together.
He had barely parked his car when he noticed Snowy running towards him, barking vigorously. Anand got off his car and tried walking. Snowy intruded, barking as loudly as he could, running hither and thither, not letting him move. He was falling on him, two feet up. It seemed weird. He was feverish, and that morning, he couldn’t even carry himself along. Just then, Koushi came out to her balcony, and shouted, “Anand, thank God, you are here! Have you seen Jagan? I thought maybe, you took him out with you.”
“No, I didn’t. He might have gone to his friend’s house to play. Did you check?” he said. Snowy was barking. “And I don’t understand why Snowy is barking like this. He seems to want to tell me something. He was all feverish even today morning.”
“Yeah. And did you notice something? He is actually wet. I don’t know where he has been to. He has been barking like this for the past half an hour.”
Fear struck. Snowy was wet, and Jagan was missing. There was only one place that he could have been to. Jagan was a brave kid, and he could have easily done that.
‘What if? He thought. “Koushi! I’ll go find him. Don’t worry. He’ll be back home soon.”
Anand rushed to his car and started it. Snowy ran out of the door, and started leading the way, running as fast as he could. The wheel spun with a screech as Anand moved it out of the driveway. His legs pressed the accelerator hastily, as if they had a mind of their own. And the car followed Snowy, as he ran, feverish and wet.
The dark sky broke, and it poured ferociously. Snowy was still running, undeterred. The rain that had rendered him helplessly shivering a year ago seemed to have absolutely no impact on him now. He sped amidst the mighty rain. He knew he had to do this now. He was the Messenger and the Savior today. The car raced through the slippery streets as it headed towards the beach.
The heavy rain had almost totally blocked the front glass of the car, and made the drive more than difficult. But, there was no stopping. The car screeched as it turned into the sand from the road. Anand steered through the wet sand that had now hardened a little. He sped towards the coast and stopped.
He got out of his car hastily, and saw Snowy head into the waves that beat him and sent him back to the shores as he kept trying over and over again. He had acquired an incredible courage today. Anand ran towards the sea. He saw a cycle lying down on the sand as he headed towards the water. He had no time to think. He ran into the waves that were battling against Snowy. And, there at a distance, he saw Jagan sitting on the rock wrapped in a doughnut hole, weeping, from inside his blue goggles.
He had adamantly come there today, after Anand had refused to take him. Snowy had followed him as he had cycled to the shores, and watched him head to the rocks with his float into the waves. As he was nearing the rock, a huge wave had raced towards him. It was at least twice as high as the highest wave he had seen last week, and he seemed like a tiny bug before the monster. It had lifted him up and tossed him into the air, and then into the water. The currents underneath had twisted him at will. Water ran into his mouth, and he coughed, as the float brought him up to the surface again. He had been terrified and as he tried to see through the goggles, the rock stood just before him. Had the wave tossed him a little to the left, he would have fell on the rock with a thud. He hadn’t thought of it then. He had just quickly ascended up the slippery rock and sat there.
Snowy had seen the waves ruthlessly bombarding Jagan and he had run into the water. He swam a quarter of the distance and just then a wave had simply smashed him back to the shore. He had tried his best to breach the fort that the sea had put up there, in the form of waves, which seemed infinitely powerful now. As he realized he couldn’t quite do that, he had remembered Anand and had run back home. To convey the message.
Snowy had acted extremely smart today. Anand, once again, thought that, he indeed belonged to a very advanced species, as he ran through the waves.
Soon, his feet couldn’t reach for the floor, and he swam. When a huge wave broke over him, he held onto his nose and swam deeper. As the wave broke on the surface above him, heavy undercurrents swayed him by. It was going to be tough. But, he had no time to think now.
He swam further, and after fighting two more waves that forced him towards a different direction, away from the rock, he reached the rock.
“Jagan, don’t worry. Uncle is here. You are safe now.”
From inside the water, he tried to find a hold on the rock, to stand as comfortably as he could. He extended his legs towards the bottom of the rock, feeling its surface, to see if there was any crevice or irregularity that he could hold onto. And, just as a point came, beyond which he couldn’t really stretch his legs, there was a crevice. He realized that the rock actually stood on an even larger rock below, which he could barely reach for. The crevice was indeed just the point of contact between the two rocks, and it was just sufficient to get almost half of his right leg into.
“Jagan, now listen to me carefully. You should get down the rock now, holding onto my hand into the water, and I’ll take you to the shore”.
“No, I won’t,” he wept and coughed at the same time.
“Hey, it is going to be perfectly okay. I thought you were a courageous kid. Look at you. You are crying.”
The last bit of tear rolled off his cheek and indistinguishably merged into the rain, and then into the sea. Jagan resolved not to cry anymore.
Just then came the disastrous wave. It was a little taller than the wave that had tossed Jagan closer to the rock, and it was to even cover the whole rock as it would break on it.
“Jagan! With one hand, hold your nose tight, and rest the other against the rock strongly. Have your mouth shut and hold your breath as the wave passes by,” and before he could really complete that, the wave broke over them.
It was as if a powerful fist had knocked him down, and Anand was all inside water, with his right foot still feeling the crevice. He hoped Jagan would still be on the rock safely. Just then, a strong current swept him past towards the rock and pushed it a little. The crevice widened as the rock gave a little more way, and Anand’s right foot moved into it further. And then, the rock swayed back resting all its weight on his foot and locking it in, with it, tightly.
The pain was immense and Anand couldn’t really move. Beating his left leg against the current that just passed, he made up to the surface and gasped. He was stuck.
As he stood there with his leg stuck into the deadly crevice, he tried pulling it out with all his strength. A small pool of blood leaked from there, as he realized his fingers were crushed a little. The pain was taking him over, and now he realized there was no way he could really move it out. He could just hope for the next monstrous wave to give his feet some space to find its way out.
And then came the next wave. “Jagan, do you remember what I told you?” he said, and dipped into the water. The wave passed by and the current served to just sway him around the rock with his foot in the crevice as the axis. He rose up again to the surface, and put his neck above the surface. This time, Jagan had slipped down through the rock and he managed to hold on to it, before he totally fell into the water. His knee was hurt as he had scratched against the rock, and he could see lines of blood there.
Anand realized the right thing to do then. At least that was what he thought was the right thing.
“Jagan, let us play an interesting game now. You are going to make it to the shore all by yourself”.
“Uncle. No! You have to come with me. I am scared.”
“No! It will be totally fine. Look. I am standing very comfortably here. The waves couldn’t even move me. I am standing here strongly, as if I am stuck. Am I not?” he smiled. “You could easily fight the waves, and it is going to be very interesting to watch you do that.”
“But, I am really scared when the waves break over me. The water gets into my head, and it is painful.”
“Come on. I thought you knew the rules of the ocean very well now. Okay, let me repeat it for you. There are just two things you have to be very careful about.”
Jagan watched him as he spelled them out.
“One! Hold onto your float as tight as you can. As long as you are in your float, you are absolutely safe, and the sea can’t do anything. You might be tossed, pulled into water, but eventually the float will bring you back to the surface. You got that?”
“Two! Try as much as you can to resist water from getting into your mouth and nostrils. And, whenever the waves subside, beat your arms pulling the water backwards as you reach for the shore. Am I clear?”
Jagan nodded again.
“Don’t be scared. I know you are going to make it comfortably.”
“Come! Get into the water now, and swim towards the shores,” Anand gave Jagan a hand, as he crept into the water, wrapped in a doughnut hole.
Jagan started on his journey towards the shore, and Anand watched him battling his way alone. He could hear Snowy barking at the shore. Another of those huge waves came by and swept over the rock. Anand dipped into the water to let it break over the surface the usual way he let them pass without harming him much.
He came up to the surface and saw the wave close in onto Jagan. As it reached him, it had acquired a great deal of speed, and it pushed him rapidly towards the shore. Jagan was already halfway towards the shore, and Anand felt comfortable now. He is going to make it. Jagan had mastered the rules very well.
As he stood there, with his foot stuck beneath the deadly rock, watching Jagan reach for the shores, another wave swept him by and Anand almost involuntarily dipped in, but this time, the undercurrents swept back towards him from behind the rock, and moved it further inwards, locking more of his foot under it. Anand realized the urgency of the situation, and held onto his breath tightly. He knew he couldn’t bend himself up to reach for the surface now. The stone was gradually rolling over him. He reached for his leg with his hands and pulled it out vigorously, with his left leg pushing against the rock fiercely. The pain was almost killing and a little more blood seeped out of the crevice, as if the rock itself was hurt. Anand had no time. His lungs were running out of air. He held onto his breath further and gave it another fierce try. He wished his feet tore out of the crevice right then, but it unfortunately refused to.
He was absolutely out of oxygen now, and he let out air for a few seconds so that he didn’t have to breathe in. His breath bubbled up to the surface noisily. It was as if his soul was escaping from him to the surface, in fragments. Anand felt it closing down on him, and then he gave up to the sea in one precise moment, as he let some water into his mouth. He coughed and a little more water got in. He felt the Bee sting him at the back of his head, and he knew the Demon had taken away his soul now. Chained.
As the water seeped into him further down into his lungs, he felt a raging explosion from within accompanied by immense physical pain. He had always felt that what made death more fearful was not its occurrence, but the intolerable pain that accompanied it. He felt it now, but he had no other go than to experience it. And, he knew the God was helpless too.
He had already resigned to the unknown Force that was desperately demanding his life, and from under the water he looked up. The rain was still falling all over the surface noisily.
‘Jagan would have reached the shore now.’ He began thinking, in breaks, amidst all the pain that came in acute gaps now. ‘Preeti would go off with Suraj, to live with him in London. She would go with him everywhere, in his really cool Mercedes. And, she would be happy.’ Anand, at this moment, only felt some regret as he thought of Kousalya. ‘Things could have easily been different. But, the fist of nature was infinitely powerful, and nobody really knew what strange turns life would take and the course it would assume.’ But, he had saved Jagan, for her. That was what he came here for today. ‘Kousalya was not alone. Jagan would grow up to be a responsible man, and he would take care of her like a Queen.’
He felt his eyes close, as the pain lightened a bit. He had already got a little used to that. The currents were still rocking him. Only he wasn’t fighting them now. As his heart beat for one last time, he heard Snowy’s bark from a distance. He knew what the message was. Jagan was ashore.
And, Anand drank no more of the sea. Nor did he breathe.
The next wave pulled the stone further in, as it rolled off from the larger rock beneath. Both the rock and Anand were freed from the rock beneath. The stone rolled deeper into the water, and he moved up towards the surface, where he floated. Effortlessly.