“The world was a filthy place to be in. Not anymore. Mr. Kumar is here”.
That sounded absolutely asinine. He scratched out the line in disgust almost as immediately as he had finished writing it. It sounded so awful.
“If you are looking for leadership that walks the talk, look no further. In our midst is a leader whose business is to mean business”.
He almost puked. Cheesy, obsequious and uninspiring, nothing but a cheap marketing slogan, that’s what it was. Scratch, scratch. That line had to go. It did not befit his writing palate to be writing fatuous lines like these. This was getting to be exasperating. It had never been a difficult proposition for him to write. He was known to write well in a rhythmic flow without sounding amateurish and silly. Not this time though. Something had clipped his literary wings on this day. Something had dimmed his illumination. He gave it another hesitant attempt.
“In the darkest of times, from the ashes of inertia and corruption, there rises a sphinx whose destination is the changed destiny of mankind. Some call it the messiah of change. I call it Kumar Patil”.
He took in a deep breath. On the exhalation, he ejaculated a couple of nasty expletives and brought the process to an end with an angry thump of the fist on the table. Was this the writing he prided himself on? Was this writing at all? This was just a bunch of words arranged together to form a line of baloney. ‘Dark times? Sphinx? Messiah? Kumar? Oh please, kill me before I write one more word of absolute garbage’. He felt as disgusted as one would feel having to pay a bribe. He shuddered to think that his skill had eluded him on this day. He felt he could not continue with the agony of this mediocrity any more.
He replaced the cap of his pen, set it down on the desk and strode out of the room in disgust. Something had plugged the cascading waterfall of his literary prowess. He decided that he needed some fresh air to restore his literary tissues. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon outside and there was not bound to any traffic or any pedestrians outside. He would be able to think in solitude, and come back and have another stab at it.
Arjun Jaipal, AJ to his friends and close acquaintances, was quite an enterprising chap. An engineer by education and currently a software programmer by profession, he was good at what he did, vocational or avocational. His academic achievements were brilliant, his achievement at work a notch higher. He could have made it to the Indian hockey team had he not dismissed hockey to be a frivolous activity for passing time in the evenings. A few playback singers would have been out of jobs, had he heeded advice from many senior quarters to take his singing skills beyond the realms of the bathroom, and into the recording room. He, however, had maintained that music was for personal gratification and not for the gratification of the masses, thereby precluding any ominous possibilities of extinction for some leading playbacks.
But of all the talents he possessed, the one he cherished and evenly accepted as being really good at was writing in the English language. The power of the pen, that was his for sure. He wrote essays, poems, articles, reviews, descriptions, ponderings, and perspectives – almost everything that pretty much lent itself to an address by way of the pen was fodder for his writing gene. He was also acclaimed in his circle for this fertile talent. He wrote recommendations for people, essays for friends, perspectives for newspapers and magazines, and also posts on a very nicely maintained blog, a place he called the temple of the words. Writing was to him what cricket was to Sachin Tendulkar. He wrote because it was his passion. He considered it almost his identity. He wrote because writing brought him alive with vim and vigor.
AJ was an amalgamation of talents, with one deformity. He had a temper. One that was at times not always in control and one that was not always wisely channelized. Had he not had this lacuna in his armory of talents and virtues, he could easily be called an extra-ordinary human being. His temper gave him a vulnerable human touch. Anger and hunger were two adjectives that he had not mastered. When he was angry, he usually fulminated and at times did not hesitate in letting his hand do the talking. When he was hungry, he usually got angry and we already know what he did when he got angry.
When he was both hungry and angry, he was like a starving lion in the sahara that hadn’t found prey in days and was scouting for one with rage in the scorching sun. You would consider it prudent to not indulge him in pranks, arguments, advice, castigation, or even pleasantries. It was wisest to leave him alone. His anger usually subsided with a diet of writing or music, and good food usually restored his hungry tissues back to health and his blood back to room temperature.
As he closed the door behind him and headed out to take a stroll and clear the cobwebs off his mind, his thoughts raced back to the happenings of a few days before.
One that afternoon, a few of days prior to the day of this narration, he had been in that state of hunger and anger. He had been to the insurance office after availing a day’s leave at work, as his father had convinced him rather comprehensively that a life insurance policy was an absolute necessity for anyone who had a corporeal body with two hands, two legs, a beating heart, and a living brain. Usually one to admit logic and reason without being mutinous or obdurate, he had readily agreed and had made the trip to the agent’s office with alacrity, holding a cheque for the premium in his hand. He had presumed that it would be a matter of minutes to complete the formalities, after which he would dash off to the borders bookstore to do what he enjoyed doing most – rummaging through new book arrivals, picking one, ordering coffee, and spending the rest of the afternoon reading in the ambience of a cozy, air-conditioned book house infested with young readers like himself. What man proposes, life rescinds, and then life disposes what it proposes out of a capricious vim.
The whole affair turned out to be a nightmare. The filling of wordy and voluminous forms, the trip to an authorized medical diagnostic center several kilometers away to complete the mandatory medical checkups that themselves lasted over three hours, the unavailability of the signing officer, the negotiation of commission with the agent, the final handover of the cheque and the issuance of the policy papers, had all culminated in five solid hours being lost and our hero transforming from freezing ice to molten lava. Yes, he first got impatient, then hunger pangs started, and his state of turbidity and his empty food tank combined to give an explosive mixture of heat in the blood and clutter in the brain. By the time he was done, he was ready to go head on with a bull in a bullfight, if that were needed of him to do.
He decided to give the bookstore a skip and head home to a hearty lunch. He never missed occasions to partake of his mother’s cooking. There were few things in the world that defined for him the word ‘divine’. One was the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. Another was the batting of Sachin Tendulkar. And a very definite one was his mother’s cooking. The very thought of sitting down and lapping up the tasty preparations that she was acclaimed for in the family and in the neighborhood made him hasten his steps to the bike stand where his bike was parked. He would have preferred being beamed across to his house on the transponder by Scottie of Star Trek, but alas, such things do not exist in real life. And so he started his bike and sped off like a man on a mission to save earth from the aliens.
A very familiar crowd of rambunctious school kids greeted him as his turned in to his colony from the highway. The school was hardly a kilometer away from his house, and this being close to 3’o clock in the afternoon, school had dispersed for the day and the kids were filing out in large volumes, some headed home in waiting cars and rickshaws, and some boarding the fleet of buses waiting outside. AJ slowed down and stopped meters before a zebra crossing outside the gates, to let a swarm of students cross the road. With hunger ticking away and exhaustion seeking his attention, he grew impatient with the seemingly never-ending march of the kids and restlessly kept turning on the throttle every few seconds. As he finally saw an end to the student train in sight, his eyes glittered and exasperation was replaced by hope.
As he was planning to shift gears and be on the move again, something caught his eye. In the marching retinue, he caught sight of a bully mercilessly spanking another boy. And it was some beating all right. There were hard taps on the head, punches on the back, grabbing of collars, and tight grips over the neck. The victim seemed too terrified to retaliate and was seen crying and imploring him for mercy. Things like ‘next time I will make sure’, ‘sorry, I really didn’t know’ were heard.
An angry and hungry AJ had sniffed prey to let out the angry beast in him. He swiftly parked his bike to one side, and hastily headed towards the oppressor and the victim who were still trudging along with the hit-plead sequence. Actions speak louder than words. In AJ’s case, they spoke faster than words. One push and one tight slap across the face, and the bully was stunned in the first second, and on the floor of the pavement in the next second. A typhoon had just hit him. The victim was equally stunned by the sudden reversal of fortunes and the abatement of blows to his body.
‘You are some big bully, eh? Why the hell were you hitting this poor boy?’
The bully, still numb with some shock, but now slowly beginning to regain his boisterousness, muttered out a reply ‘He is trying to get too close to my girl”
This enraged AJ further. ‘Stealing your girl? What class are you in?’
‘You good for nothing smart-ass kid, you want to make girlfriends at this age? Do your parents send you here to study or to bicker with other boys over girls?’
‘Look, this is not your business. You don’t know who I am’
Another slap broke the silence in the air. ‘There, I don’t know who you are, but that slap will remind you of me alright. No one talks in that tone to AJ. Now be off before I turn you into a peeled orange. If I ever catch sight of you troubling anyone again, you might be found hanging from one of these light poles, screaming for help. And get your parents to teach you some humility and some culture, you manner less brute. Now beat it before I unleash on you monstrosity of an unthinkable order’
The bully ambled out of the scene with one hand on his cheek, emitting a glare that said ‘wait till you hear from me mister, this isn’t finished yet’.
AJ’s gaze followed him as he continued to walk away and finally got into a car that was parked at the rear of a fairly long car lineup on one side of the road. Perhaps the driver or the other occupants of the car had not seen the boy being dished out cheek music, otherwise there could have been a bigger fracas, AJ thought. His thought suddenly broke as he realized that the whole beating business involved another boy, the victim. It was perhaps the responsibility of a good bully-thrasher to commiserate with the victim after the predator was driven away.
With that in mind, he turned around, only to find to his shock that the boy was gone. He had vanished without trace. AJ stood surprised. He had taken so much trouble even in his current state of gastronomical bankruptcy to help a lad out of troubled waters, only to find that he had just run off like a dog with crackers attached to its tail. Only he had not yelped and howled. Equally angry with the victim for making the whole endeavor thankless for him, AJ slowly walked backed to his bike, still in disbelief. He started the throttle and headed out of the school block, a few onlookers following him with their gaze and murmuring amongst themselves, as is the wont of onlookers in all parts of India.
He reached home and quickly immersed himself into the act of devouring every atom that his mother had laid out on the dining table. With every morsel going in, a few kilobytes of the day’s recorded memories were erased, and by the time the meal was polished off, he was in another frame of mind altogether, just as a tiger squats like an elderly statesman chewing betel nuts and disbursing axioms to the grand-children, moments after it had pounced on a hapless prey and emptied its guts out. The transformation was rapid and very surreal.
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