It was Friday morning. The city bus stand was unusually crowded. People stormed in and out of the bus ,school children buzzed here and there with their tinkling lunch carriers. my mother and my aunt stood far in the corner of a coffee shop . I could hear my mother groaning over today’s unexpected rush at the bus stand. I wondered what he might be thinking right now. By the way ,‘he’ refers to my third cousin. I liked all my cousins in a natural way. But, this one was slightly different. He studied at the university of Stockholm , Sweden. Last time I met him ,he was in school. After a long time,he was back in India on a holiday. He talked less and stared more with his expressionless face. That was why I feared him.
I winded up my thoughts at the sight of the bus which was already brimming .People hopped on without waiting for the bus to halt. In a fraction ,a crowd assembled at the door blocking the freeway. As I clambered into the bus, I caught my cousin’s stony face except that now there was a slight but distinct frown on it. I was sure he wasn’t accustomed to this kind of boarding.
“don’t worry”, I hissed. “ this is because there is a fest held right in the next village. We are sure to find vacant seats later”.
I tried to cheer him up but his eyes narrowed over something.
“ why are they sitting there”?. He inquired.
I looked carefully. A group of working class men sat there with all their eyes set on the newspaper and then it was written over the top in block letters “LADIES” .
“ it is meant for the ladies. Isn’t it ?” Sukhi asked.
Of course it was. But who cared. No one ever protested or someone did with a little or no success. I couldn’t explain all these to him though. I mumbled over my ill fate. I tried to change the subject. “ it is lush green all over. it is worth a few snaps. I love this place. I love my country.” I don’t know why, but I stressed the last sentence. He remained still as usual, expressionless.
Lord Shiva resides in the caves of Malleshwara. When we headed towards the temple entrance , I could smell something very stingy. The chill wind carried the rotten smell of the dumped vegetable waste not very far from the temple. I tried to patch it up before my cousin could notice. But , he was already on his way.
” Don’t the municipality ever try to clean it up”?
“ oh! They do. It’s the rain water that has created the mess”. I said sheepishly.
We waited there at the shabby bus stop down the hill .the bus was due late for over 45 minutes. I saw my cousin pacing up and down.” Tell me , do the buses here ever arrive on time?”.
“they do. It is because of the fest I told you about. It is one of the biggest held in the month”. He was least bothered about what I said.
The journey back home was none the better. It was raining outside but there were huge water droplets rushing down the ceiling of the bus and then the bus stopped with a jerk. The rain had turned the road into a marsh. I just wished I was invisible.
As we climbed down the bus,I said “ sorry sukhi, I just brought you here on a wrong day. Never mind. This Sunday, it will be a surprise visit to the grandpa’s. I love being there , I love my country.”
“ of course I know , you love your country. But , is it enough to just love? Don’t you think, you ought to do something more?”
I was petrified. I couldn’t sense the cool evening breeze. I walked along keeping pace with him. As I did so, I wondered how close had he been to the truth just a few seconds before.