He was always a serious man, serious like a soldier who is going to fight an already lost war. A mood of quietness and loneliness prevailed at his presence. He was 65 years old but looked 20 years younger. His muscular fat arms were unbelievably long and his strong legs made him look like a Roman gate keeper. His grey beard and round beautiful eyes always attracted my attention. He had nice long hair and usually it would fall to his vast forehead. He was an ardent worker and could still plough land continuously for 5 hours in our property and he used to do that for so many years. He was also the official labourer of the neighbourhood.
I admired him at the time. I would find any reason to not to go to school on the day he works in our house. Though he seldom smiled at us kids, he was cool as a cucumber at all times. I never saw him quarrel with any other person which was, unfortunately, the characteristic of almost everyone in the neighbourhood including my father. I never saw him at an angry mood at any point of time. We were kids at the time, my brother and I, and used to go to his house to watch Television. His house was small, a small tin sheeted room, smaller than our house, but he had many new electronic items that we never even dared to possess at the time.
He was special to me. He almost kept quite every time and I used to wonder how could he refrain from uttering even a simple word of affection which we expected as a privilege from all adults for being kids. But it never happened, he never spoke to us kids. On the other hand, we were not afraid of his nature and in our minds we wished to speak with him, to get him speak with us.
I was 12 at the time and was a small kid, not at all naughty. I used to go to his house to watch movie. We were poor family and my father was jobless though we were fighting hard to compromise with the feudal past which haunted us in every little aspects of life. My mother admired his work and employed him over time when there was a work in our property. While he work there, I used to go to him and sit near where he work. He would never turn his head to see me sitting there, staring at him all time. Though we never spoke a single word, I knew that he was in sense of my presence and seemed to appreciate it. He is usually wrapped in a white piece of cloth and his huge muscles were the subject of the conversation of my brother. “He got huge muscles”, my brother used to exclaim, “I will be like him when I grow up”, he would mutter with a sigh of exclamation.
His job usually started in the month of April and by the end of May, he would have finished ploughing an entire area. Mansion starts in June and during the month, every pond in the neighbourhood would be flooded with rain waters. Rains always brought joy, energy and happiness to our lives. The heavenly drops falling from the limitless sky has been fascinating experience during those times. The smell of earth during the first heavy falls will bring joy and relief to the nature. The trees and plants which were almost dead with dryness of the summer sun would be dancing in the showers and thunderstorm that June bring with her in the turn of times. By the middle of June, all the ponds in the neighbourhood would be flooded and large fish come rolling in showers to the veranda of our home and we will catch them. My brother and all his friends go fishing in the ponds in heavy rains and bring largest catch. June was always a time when the bond between us and nature would take its full form to present the satisfaction of experiencing the truest colour of mother nature.
During those happy June days, I usually find him with a fishing rod in his right hand and a leaf-midrib of coconut tree with full of fish in the left. He was a specialist in fishing. He would be sitting beside the pond with his rod in his hand for many hours with much patience like a Maha Rishi. He was a splendid fisher and used to get much catch than my brother and his party combined. Sometimes I would go to him and sit beside him, staring at the end of the fish tail whether an unlucky fish is biting his bait or not. He never speak a word and I too imitate his dumbness. But I began to hate him after I see his heartless actions. He was cruel and I imagined that he was another person when he do it. When he catch a fish, he would put the midrib through the eyes of the poor fish and keep it hanging through the holes in its eyes. By the evening, he would be having so many fish in his midrib and all of them would have lost their eyes and would be struggling in pain. I hated him at the time, to be so much cruel to those poor fish. I would run back home and complain to my mother about the cruelest thing I saw and plead to her to instruct him to not do it. But my mother always took it as a silly matter and rubbished my arguments. “Go and play something’, she would tell me and “why you go to him, go to your brother”, she will say and drive me away.
For the next two days, I will be angry at him. As always, he never mind me and my anger would result in nothing but sad stupidness of a twelve year old kid. ‘He is so cruel to the fish’, I think over and over and try to do as much as possible to irritate him. Usually I did it by putting a stone into the pond while he sit there for fishing. I thought that by putting a stone in the water will make the poor fish realise that their fate is in danger. But I was afraid to do it more often because he would look at me when I put the stone to the pond. A silent message passes between us. “What are you doing?”, his raise eyebrows ask me and “Nothing, I go”, will be my reply through facial expression and run back home.
Many Junes passed ever since and I completed my graduation and got a job in the government. I was employed in a distant town and I would come to home every weekend. I almost forgot about the man as he is no longer the hero of my dreams. Times change our attitudes and emotions. I never even enquired about the man and his state of affair to my parents. Now I didn’t mind his whereabouts. I am a man and there was nothing to stop me from being a man.
I used to walk through the lands when I come home during the weekends. In one June evening, after so many years, I saw him again, sitting beside the pond with a fishing rod. He now looked old. But all his actions and poses were of that of the same man I saw in yesteryears. I stopped by and in my mind, I again felt that old hatred towards him for treating the poor fish in such a cruel manner. But there was something curious about his fishing now. I could see that the hitch of the fishing rod is still above the water. There were not so much rains in that particular June and water level was relatively still low. I wondered whether the old man didn’t see that the hitch is still above the water level? I went near him and looked at him carefully. He is looking straight without minding my presence. Now I notice that there was not a single fish in the leaf-midrib and with a start, I realised that he was blind. I lost all my energy seeing the pathetic plight of a man who was the hero of my youth. Now it is the turn of the fish in the pond to laugh at his plight and I felt pity for him. I took a stone and put it in water.
“Who is there”, he asked, “Don’t you see that I am trying to catch some fish”.
His voice was meek and low.
I went close to him and said, “It is me”.
“Ohhh, My son”, he called me affectionately, “I knew it was you when I heard that sound of stone meeting the water”. His eyes seemed to have searching for my appearance.
“Why you fish now, it is cold and this pond no longer has any fish”, I tried to discourage him from doing such a pitiable thing. “May be I could buy you some fish”, I said with sympathy.
He looked in the direction of my sound and I could see his eyes were filled with tears. May be he could understand it now. I could sense his feelings. I am helpless to do anything and there is a four letter word that we could blame on at times for whatever we are unable to control, FATE and imagining his heroic days, I just walked past.