It was my father who got me a membership in the public library while i was studying in 8th standard and he himself accompanied me to show how the books are arranged there and selected the first book that I should read, the one most Indian parents would do “My experiments with truth by M K Gandhi”.
I read the book in two days.
“I am going to library today evening” I announced.
“Sure. I will be waiting at the school gate at sharp 4 pm.”
He was always like that. He would accompany me wherever I go, to school or bazaar or relative’s houses. He would walk one foot in front of me, I had to follow him. He would tell his childhood stories to which I had to eagerly give my ears to. My grandparents were very poor even then he managed to gather good education, he would say. During those days I liked this journeys as I was not supposed to carry my heavy school bag to and from the school.
That evening I brought two books.
While we returned home, my mother would be preparing something special for me . She prepared some delicious food items for me everyday. She would wait for my arrival in front of the verandah, serve me the food, then return for her prayers. Her eyes filled with tears while praying and also when I come home late. She would not speak much. She never asked any questions only answered.
We lived in a rented house. We had a house, father’s ancestral property till I was 10 years old when he suffered big loss in his business and sold that house to our neighbour. Since then we were moving from house to house , everytime we were pushed out for not paying the monthly rent in time and I was studying in a school only rich could afford.
While at home, father would speak to me nothing. No stories, no poems, no childhood experiences. He would always be calculating his profit and loss, most often loss or he would sit in his chair in the dark side of our verandah thinking about something.
He was a loser in life.
He thought that he was a loser in his life.
In those days i was reading one or two books per day. I read Kafka, Tolstoy, Chekove, Dostaevisky, Gogol, Belsak, Alexander Dumas, Mark Twain, O Henry, Hemingway, Sherlock Holmes and many others. Also some Sigmond Freud and Bernard Shah. By the time I could make reasonable assessment of others’ thoughts.
My father thought that he was a loser in his life, his only life.
He was longing for a success.He wanted me to become a doctor. That’s how he planned his success. There was not even a single doctor from our village so it could be a great success.
In every classic fiction I had read people succeed in life by themselves. They had to work hard alone. They lead a lonely life. They had their own decisions. They walked alone. They lived alone.
It annoyed me that my father accompanied me wherever I went and it irritated me that mother waiting for me and preparing special dishes.
“Please leave me alone.” I said.
He continued to accompany me everywhere and mother continued to make me eat new dishes and we moved from one house to other.
I was frustrated. I wished I could make my own decisions. I wanted freedom. I wanted to go alone.
I was studying in 10th standard when I left my house. I had 200 rupees with me. I left my village and got into a bus. I gave 150 rupees and told him to took me as far as he can.
12 hours of journey.
200 kailometers away.
It was another small village. There was a grocery shop at the bus stop. He asked me what i wanted.
“Go to Baba, walk along this road. Only 2 kms.”
I walked along the road which was narrow with bushes on either side. Sun was setting in my opposite direction. Darkness began to fall on my eyes as there was no single street light in the path. I walked a long distance, I could not make out how long, almost 3 hours and i didn’t see a single house or any human being to ask for Baba’s house.
I stopped walking. In the middle of the night, without any food or water, walking a long distance, I was tired. I sat on a rock nearby the bush.
About 3 hours passed. An old vehicle, somewhat similar to a car stopped infront of me.
A tall man with a beard was driving the vehicle.
He gave a look at me without stopping the engine and asked me .”Who are you? Where do you want to go?”
“To Baba’s house.”
He opened the door for me and asked me to sit down.Vehicle moved with a jerky sound.
I looked at him.He was about 60 years age with a silvery mustache and beard. He was not bothered about my presence. He was looking at his steering wheel, not even on the road, as if he know the path by heart, turning here and there.
“I need a job.” I said. He was not listening or he acted like that.
“I need a job” I raised my voice.
I thought that he was deaf.
The Vehicle carried me to a big house. He dropped me there. Someone opened the gate.
He stopped the engine only to say “You are too young.” and he started off. I was given an out house to sleep the night.
Next day in the early morning a man who looked like a servent woke me up.
I was invited to Baba’s office.
He was an old man in his eighties with a balded head and a long beard.
“Tell me son. Why do you come here”
His voice was trembling.
“Some job. I want some job”
He didn’t ask anything more.
He called out “Hasan, Hasan”. Then the same man arrived there,who dropped me there, previous night.
“Explain the job” Baba gave some gestures and slowly crawled out of the room.
It was a simple job.
Very simple job.
Baba had a grand daughter. A 20 year old beauty. I had to accompany her wherever she went. That was my job. Another interesting thing was that I should carry a mirror always with me when I was with her. She was very beauty conscious.
I agreed. I was offered a good salary. That evening I was invited to Fathima’s room, Baba’s grand daughter. I entered the room when she was looking at a hand mirror to adjust her long hair falling on the forehead.
“What about the new job?”
She was a real beauty. But she was not looking at me.
She was lookin at the mirror and talking.
“Please look at me. I am handsome.” I said silently.
“Yes bheegum, i liked it.”
“Today at 5 pm I want to go to bazaar.”
“I am ready madam.” At 5 pm she came out of her room. I was waiting outside. She handed me the mirror she was carrying. We two went outside. We were walking to the bazaar. There was only a small distance to walk.
She talked a lot about the bushes, trees or bazaar and sometimes she asked me to show the mirror so that she could appreciate her beauty or adjust her hair. Sometimes she talked little. She would be in another world, neither talking nor listening.
Finally we arrived a crowded street. Every person I found had an exclamation in their face, as if they are seeing a hippopotamus from the circus or a divine beauty, most probably the latter would be the reason. Whenever a person crossess us she asked me to show the mirror and avoid them by looking into it.
She bought some ornaments from a shop and a dozen hand mirrors and handed over to me. During this time she looked at my mirror several times. After an hour we returned. She entered her room, I gave her mirror back and my job was over for the day.
Every day she went out to some places like bazaar or park or village hotel or anyother place. Everytime I had to accompany her with that mirror. I had to show her the mirror frequently, every 5 or 6 minutes. At other times I would be sleeping in my outhouse most of the time. I had never seen her in the house as she was always locked up in her room.
I got a good salary and I had to do nothing other than my job. I had had delicious food 4 times a day. Baba was very kind to me. He would ask me my opinion in his trades. He was doing business in spices. Hasan was his employee and the old vehicle was used to move the goods from the village.
There was no other inhabitant in that house. I wondered. Baba and Fathima alone in such a big house. Hasan was the only frequent visitor. Sometimes village men came there seeking donations or some other financial help.
Gradually I became an indispensable member of that family. Baba discussed his everyday business matters with me. I had my own opinions. At days I dealt with his busines when Baba was not feeling well. Any way I had to accompany Fathima everyday wherever she went. That was my primary job. I could not neglect that.
Fathima was very much happy with me. She began to make her appearances in the house too. We played chess together. Baba would be helping her so that she could win. We told stories each other. Only thing was that she needed a mirror.
One day Baba became sick. He was gasping. I was making arrangements to bring a doctor. He asked me not to.
“I am crossing my 100 years of life. No need of a doctor. I am not diseased. I am aged.”
20 years. I couldnot believe.Long 20 years had passed after i came here. “Now i must be 36” I thought.
Baba was trying to catch hold of my hand.
I was standing beside him.
“Where are you from my son? Dont you have any relatives?”
That was a question with a million pounds weight. I was terribly shaken. I withdrew my hand. I sat down. I suddenly realised that I had not thought of my father or mother not even for a single second in this 20 years. I forgot them.
I forgot them for last two decades.
My eyes were blank. No tears.
My mind was black. No feelings.
Baba was looking at me.
“No. No relatives. I am an orphan.” I said and got up.
Baba said “Please take care of Fathima. She is my daughter not my grand daughter.
She is having Schizophrenia. You know what it is”.
Next day Baba died. I noticed that Fathima attended the her father’s funeral with a mirror in her hand.
Next day I entered her room. I asked Hasan to make sure that all her mirrors are broken. She was frightened. She ran towards us, looking into our eyes, then ran out of the house.
“Where is my head, Allah I have no head. I lost my head.”
She was running madly for a mirror to make sure that she had a head. There was no mirror in the house. She ran out. Hasan followed her. Before I could think anything she jumped into the well.
I didnt know what Schizophrenia was. But now I had seen it. Fathima was buried near her father’s tomb. I decided to return to my village.
I wanted to see my father who accompanied me everywhere. I was sure that he would have succeeded in his life.
I wanted to see my mother who waited for me every evening with her special dishes. I knew that she would be waiting for me with his delicious dishes every day, even today.
I went to the place where my ancestral house situated. I asked the neighbour to whom we sold the house. They were ready to sell the house.
I wanted that house back. I wanted my father and mother to live there.
He didn’t recognize me. I asked him where my parents lived now.
He said “They are dead. 6 years ago… they were living in a …”
Now I am living in my ancestral house. In every corner of the house there is a mirror.