A couple of days later, on a lazy Saturday morning, AJ was doing his usual rounds in the local park’s jogging track early in the morning, when he suddenly felt the presence of a group of joggers doing their routine a few close paces behind him. He had never seen them before. As he completed a couple of rounds, the joggers continued to jog behind him, never altering their pace, never passing him, and, strangely, not even talking to each other. You would expect to hear friendly banter or something if you had a bunch of friends or acquaintances doing the exercise together. But here, there was no talk, no whispers, not even a cough or a sneeze; only the thumping of feet in synchronized chorus, more or less matching the thumping interval of AJ himself. AJ became aware of this alien presence in his surroundings, but dismissed them to be some kind of sportsmen or fitness enthusiasts who were probably part of a running club.
Something weird happened after a couple of rounds. A couple of the joggers suddenly accelerated and passed AJ. After outpacing him by a few yards, they slowed down and settled into their steady jogging stride. AJ realized that he was now sandwiched between a couple of men in front and a couple behind him. He could not see anything beyond the juxtaposed shoulders running in front. And he felt as though the men behind him were intentionally tailgating him. Something was definitely transpiring here. He had been exercising here for some years now, and nothing like this had even happened before.
He was unsure was to what to do. Should he curtail his run just because a bunch of guys were jogging too close to him? Why were they enclosing him? As he was debating decisions in his mind, the runners in the front stopped and turned around. AJ too came to a sudden stop, as did the two runners behind him. AJ’s heart started pounding hard out of anxiety and a sudden inflow of fear. As he stood petrified and too confused by the sudden chain of events, the two shoulders in front of him parted, and from behind emerged two figures, much like in action movies where the antagonist emerges in slow motion from behind henchmen; a man and a boy. AJ instantly recognized the boy to be the disgusting bully whom he had roughed up the other day. The man must surely be his father or guardian, AJ thought.
When they neared, the man turned to the boy and asked, “Is this him?” The boy nodded in the affirmative. The man gave a slow nod of the head to the other men, and in no time, they pounced on him. AJ winced in pain as some strong hands gave him quite a ‘therapeutic tapotement massage’ with all the slapping, hacking, and tapping, which would have been enjoyable only if you had been stiff with a strained back or were in the midst of a kung-fu or karate body firming routine. AJ was neither under treatment nor was he known to be sinewy, and the four men managed to play quite a bit of ‘knead the dough’ with him. After about five minutes, AJ ears, which were humming by now like multiple violin strings being bowed together, heard the word ‘stop’.
‘How does it feel to be at the receiving end, young man? Do you feel supple enough to break into a break-dance routine? Do your bones hurt? Oh sorry, am I hurting your feelings? Should we not have ganged up on you and beaten you up? I am sorry. I thought you were equal to five men in physical prowess. After all, you single-handedly managed to beat up a 10-year young old, who is ‘so’ equal to you in age and size. I am sorry. I should have respected your sentiments and probably have sent some 10-year olds to have a bout with you. My son tells me you have quite a foul mouth and quite a reckless hand. You want me to treat both of them today?’
So the duo was father and son alright. AJ was still reeling from the assault and battery. Still, just as every exam brings back the same nervousness and anxiety every time, the instant mention and sight of the bully, who was sneering at him with a wicked and vengeful smile, brought back into AJ the same abomination and anger that had forced him to take instant physical corrective action.
‘You son is to be blamed for that episode. He was beating the daylights out his classmate for no apparent reason’
‘And that would be your business because?’
‘Because you don’t go about thrashing someone, just because they are friends with a girl whom you have fallen for, especially when they don’t even know about it. And you should be studying and trying to learn when you are in class 5, and not trying to win over girls and become a Romeo’.
‘Girls? What do you mean? My son is into girls? My son is flirting with girls in class? My son is becoming a class rowdy over some goddamn girl?’
‘You should ask your ‘son’ that question. He was angry because his girl was being ‘stolen’ apparently. I was appalled that a boy his age could even use a phrase like that’
The man looked at the kid as if to ask him if it was true. The kid looked down in ignominy. The man seemed to have gotten his confirmation. He gave the boy an angry glare. The boy was sure to be tied to a pillar and whipped, upon reaching home. But in public view, the son had to be defended and protected.
‘What my son does is his business. You are not a bloody social reformer here to be taking cudgels against society’s malpractices. And you have had the nerve to lay hands on my son. You had the temerity to lay hands on Kumar Patil’s son. If people came to know that Kumar Patil’s son was manhandled by some nondescript civilian, and yet nothing was done to put the offender to task, you think there will be any credibility left in ‘Veer Bharat’ party’s ‘valor virtue vision’ slogan anymore? A party that can’t defend and retaliate over an assault on one of its comrades’ sons will be able to preach valor and bravery to the people of this country, you think, you insolent retard? Your ugly face is making me angry now. If I just give the green signal, these men will chop, grind, and mince you right at this moment. You think you are the only person here who knows the language of the fist? As they have said in one of those Bollywood movies, ‘the school where you learn your art, we have long been headmasters of that school’ “. He was about to signal to the men to commence festivities one more time, when AJ spoke.
‘Did you say you are Kumar Patil of the Veer Bharat party?’
‘No no. I said I am Charlie the clown from Apollo circus. Of course I am Kumar Patil, you moron. Looks like the beating has dislodged your brain a little’
‘I had contributed an article to the ‘Young India’ magazine commending your recent ‘Vision before Visualization’ initiative. I liked your ‘big picture over small gains’ approach. I had even sent a copy to your party’s office for perusal, but never got a response from anyone. I was beginning to think that some ignoramus in the office’s receiving desk had probably trashed it thinking it to be a piece of junk. I wasn’t expecting politicians to be refined readers with a flair for the works of the pen anyways’
‘Are you Arjun Jaipal?’, came the surprised reply.
‘Yes, right now with wounded flesh and turbulent blood’
The man seemed to be temporarily filled with remorse. He gestured to the men to back off. They obliged without hesitation.
‘That article did us a huge favor. Every day, we are being inundated with fan mail and letters of inquiry from people eager to know more about the program and its agenda. We even have received scores of offers of volunteership and also some very generous donations to keep the program going’.
There was an awkward silence for a few moments. Kumar Patil finally spoke, breaking the discomfort that had permeated the ambience. ‘Look, I am sorry we had a rough and unpleasant introduction to each other under most unfortunate circumstances. I was enraged that you had the gumption to beat my kid up. Nobody has had the guts to come even within a five feet radius of my kid. I thought I should be teaching you a nice and nasty lesson for your insolence.
But if I did that, that would be like biting the hand that feeds. Your article has given us enormous publicity. And we could do very well to ride on that publicity wave. I am about to make you an offer. We are in the process of creating a branding portfolio of the ‘Vision before Visualization’ campaign. We believe that that campaign holds enormous promise. Our estimates tell us that if the campaign could be sustained for six more months, it would catapult us into the league of formidable national players. This campaign could just be the Midas touch that our party needs. It could be the unique selling point of the party. And to get that unique point to a broad spectrum of society, we need someone to be writing about us and our campaign in eloquent terms. We need a literary spokesperson, an advocate, a sort of marketing brand ambassador for our campaign. We have already been scouting for talents, but haven’t stumbled upon anyone worth their salt really.
But I think we might have a winner in you. I could let you have a stab at it if you think you might be up for the challenge. I would have you start with a commendation of myself, to begin with. The whole campaign was my brainchild, and it is only fair that a few good words are spoken about me. I did not get into this line of business to be Mother Teresa you know. I am willing to be Mother Teresa after I reach the helm of power. Not now. I have sacrificed a lot to get into power and politics, and I am beginning to sense that this campaign is nicely shaping up to be the crowning glory that my image needs. Yours could be the words that could define Kumar Patil to be the man, the emissary of India’s revolution, the harbinger of change, the one-stop solution to the myriad problems that plague our society today’.
Events have an uncanny knack of taking unpredictable turns. In a matter of 20 minutes, AJ had gone from being the object of someone’s punch practice to being the object of someone’s job offer. How was he supposed to react to this? He had inadvertently commended the services of a gentleman who had just beaten him black and blue. He had heard a power-hungry politician compare himself to Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa happened to be one of AJ’s idols and it pained him immensely that someone would use that name for selfish motives and with a very antithetical mission.
He loathed the idea of receiving a job offer from a brute, and yet the ‘Vision before Visualization’ campaign was indeed a brilliant one, that had been efficacious in setting right a lot of negative tendencies and course correcting a lot of wrong methodologies and malpractices. He weighed the pros and cons of eulogizing a brute on one hand and working for a bigger cause on the other. After all, he himself had said a few moments ago that he was a fan of the concept of ‘big picture over small gains’. It wouldn’t kill him if he serenaded the leadership of one man, if in the process, a campaign with surely a lot of promise, would stand to benefit. Moreover, this would be his big chance to write at a much bigger level, on a much wider platform, and for a much wider audience than he was accustomed to. All in all, it seemed like a win-win. He did not have to think further once he hit this point in his analysis.
‘Okay, I’ll do it’
‘Good. Now we are talking business. I will have my men send you a bio-data that describes all the initiatives that I undertook in the past and the current ones I am pursuing. You can do splendidly well weaving a garland of plaudits with your interesting style of writing. The problem part for you will be describing me as a person. You don’t know anything about me, and our introduction has not been memorable by any count. Yet, I trust that you will be able to use imagination, adjectives, and my resume to good effect and come up with something that could enable a few big cutouts and statues to spring up in the cities of the country. Let me caution you though. I wouldn’t be pleased if you decided to use the pen for malice. I would expect to see good things about the party and about the leadership. If I see that you have chosen to use the pen to settle personal scores or undermine the party’s image, my men here always need some handy exercise to prevent their hands from accumulating rust. So think and act wisely’.
‘A writer doesn’t pick up the pen unless he is sure he wants to. And when he does, he does not practice duplicity. If I hadn’t seen the positive ramifications of your campaign, I wouldn’t have agreed to write myself. I think your campaign and my words can partner together well to do some good for a lot of the country’s existing problems. I don’t conspire with my pen, I construct. So you don’t need to worry. You will get what you want in a week’.
‘Good. See you then. Have a nice day’. The party left without uttering anything further or even throwing back a ‘see you soon’ glance.
For the next few moments, AJ sat on the bench with his head down, lost in deep thought. Here he was, exploring avenues to grow as a writer, and somehow, funnily, some kind of a peremptory offer had come looking for him. He would have preferred writing an insightful piece or a thought-provoking critique of the campaign, but here he was, with an offer to panegyrize a power-hungry politician who happened to be running a campaign for absolutely selfish reasons, but which happened to be giving the leaders and people of the country a very important message: stop visualizing things without having vision. He felt strange. At long last he got up. He decided it was time to go home. Thinking more wouldn’t help. It would only befuddle him further. And what was the point in thinking now. He had already given his consent. The clock was ticking for him. He only had a week. There was nothing much to think about, only he had to write. He made another decision at that instant. No one at home or elsewhere would know about this episode. If he looked ruffled upon entering home, it was because he had taken a tumble while running.
AJ headed to the one place that had given him breakthroughs and flashes of imagination on many an occasion; the jogging track. The fact that his unfortunate rendezvous with Kumar Patil had also occurred on that otherwise hallowed ground did not deter him. He knew that the jogging track always responded to his despondency when he was intellectually bankrupt, and the fact that he had been embroiled in a scrimmage on that very altar of enlightenment did not discourage or dampen his spirits. As he entered the ground, he took his customary stroll along the track to loosen up. A few paces later, he halted at the very spot that had brought about a flurry of radical changes in his most present life. As he stood staring at the ground and the surroundings, his sub-conscious mind raced back to the scenes with Kumar Patil and co. Images were vividly played back, and the words exchanged were recollected in full detail.
‘Are you some bloody social reformer? My men will chop, grind and mince you. I might have found a winner in you. I am not Mother Teresa. Not now. Your words could define Kumar Patil’. All the important things that were uttered on that day were brought to his attention with resounding clarity.
And then the epiphany happened. ‘Mother Teresa’. The name struck him like a flash of lightning. That name had to be the answer. Kumar Patil didn’t really deserve a heartfelt encomium. Mother Teresa did for sure though. He was right. He was not Mother Teresa. Nobody could be Mother Teresa. To be Mother Teresa, you needed to put aside all other thoughts and have only one goal in mind; the amelioration and the upliftment of mankind, of the lowest of the low, of the outcast, of the diseased, and of the rejected. She alone was worthy of praise, not some clown aspiring for a throne and a coronation. She was worthy of encomiums. She was worthy of all the plaudits and the laurels. She was worthy of all that because she was primarily worthy of humanity’s thanks and gratitude. And praise without being thankful is just sycophancy. Praise arising out of thankfulness is gratitude. AJ was being servile in his attempts to praise Kumar Patil.
But Mother Teresa was someone who was above all of this. Her life was a glory in itself. Such people, he could only hold in awe and take inspiration from. It now came to him in a flash. He would write about her. It would come naturally to him, to speak of her in a reverential tone. He would surely find words befitting her stature. He would be able to concoct an inspiring and yet moving account of her, her life, and her works. And then when it was all done, he would just replace her name with that of Kumar Patil.
Having hit upon a gold mine, he rushed back home and started off with renewed zest and an excited mind that was behaving like an impatient kid on the way back home after having purchased the latest Harry Potter book on the first day of its release, just waiting to tear open the paper wrap and gorge on the marvelous piece of writing.
‘Good fortune does not lie in getting what you asked for, but in getting something even without being eligible to receive it. The good fortune of this country has been the advent of great personalities who have emerged on to the scene in times of complete depravity and hopelessness. By our actions, through century after century, we have strayed far from the ideal of humanity; of justice and equality, of progress and harmony, of love and brotherhood, and of valor and virtue. Our good fortune has been that we as a race have been extricated from pernicious darkness and restored back to health by the actions of a few extraordinary human beings, who have had the vision to look beyond the mundane, the courage to assimilate, internalize and then to disburse, and an undying and unabated love for mankind. Our good fortune has been their presence in our land. Our good fortune has been in learning of them and their works. Our good fortune has been in leaning on them and letting them shape our destiny away from damnation and towards greater dawns. We continue to be in turbulent times. We need hope, we need acceptance, we need encouragement, we need a hopeful picture of tomorrow to hold on, we need certitude, not possibilities, and above all, we need a helping hand and not a rule of law. One name binds together all these preparations we need to do today with the destination that awaits us tomorrow: Mother Teresa’
Line after line, paragraph after paragraph followed, and half a day later, AJ was penning the last words of his essay: ‘we fail, not because they are uncharitable in giving, but because we are frugal in receiving their guidance and benedictions. Let us heed their words and actions for the sake of a better tomorrow’. Satisfied, he let out an exhausted sigh and closed his pen. He now had something that would sweep Kumar Patil and the Veer Bharat party off their feet. He couldn’t wait to call Kumar and tell him that it was done. But it was already late and so he decided to postpone his call to the next day.
When he called the next day, Kumar’s secretary answered the phone. ‘I am sorry, but Sir is away on an all-day engagement and will not be able to take phone calls. All his appointments for today have been postponed to tomorrow. Would you please call back after 10AM tomorrow?’
The next day, the secretary answered the phone again. ‘Sorry, but Sir has taken ill after his outing yesterday. He already knows you have something to give to him, but he is indisposed at the moment and he said he will contact you as soon as he recovers’.
A couple of days passed without any intimation or reciprocal call. This started to worry AJ. Did Kumar not care for the essay anymore? Was he really sick or was he just trying to put AJ off? If that was the case, he could simply have told him. Was AJ just wasting his time on a vacuous, spur of the moment deal? After all, there was nothing on paper. It had all been agreed upon verbally. Kumar was free to renege on it and AJ would not even be in a position to hold him accountable for it. These last thoughts started making AJ angry. He felt cheap and exploited. He had wasted thoughts and words on an unprofessional power glutton. He had also done an unpardonable of writing an essay on Mother Teresa, when the essay was never meant to be about her really. He felt disgusted. He wanted to tear up the writing, but he was too possessive about stuff he wrote, and never would destroy any written artifact of his. He would simple stuff it away into some folder, erase the damn thing from his mind, and get on with his life and his daily routine. What a pathetic anti-climax to a gripping story!!!
On the fourth day, he received a message on his mobile phone: ‘Meet me at the jogger’s park at 5 PM if possible. Let me know if you will not be able to make it’.
When AJ entered the park at 5, he saw Kumar sitting on one of the benches, dressed in a white cotton kurta pyjama, with a stubble and uncombed hair, and looking troubled. He seemed as though he had come to the park directly after being discharged from hospital for some ailment.
‘I have a problem’
AJ was not sure what to say. ‘Ok’
‘I have not been able to sleep, or eat, or do my work. I am feeling empty inside. I feel very miniscule. I feel my life has become purposeless and very narrow. I am shattered mentally. I need some perspective and a re-orientation of my personality. I need cleansing’
AJ was confused, and yet happy. An abominable human being was speaking of self-transformation. But then, he was a politician. He could be having some trick up his sleeve.
‘What happened? Something happened to the campaign?’
‘No, the campaign is fine. The day you had called, I was out on an invitation to visit the Mother Teresa foundation in China Town. It was an opportunity for me to make some donations to their cause and earn some visibility. I also wanted to see if I could use their network to reach some neglected sections of society and fish out volunteers for the mission’.
AJ did not say a word. Already, the description was reeking of self-importance and nothing else.
‘But, that day changed my life. I don’t think I have seen such a bunch of dedicated workers who are totally committed to the cause of treating and accepting people with love and giving them hope. I saw lepers being given a body wash, beggars being shaved and wiped with disinfectants, old and abandoned senior citizens being taken out for walks, and orphans being put to sleep with lullabies. These workers had no expectations other than the expectation of hope. They seemed so content with their lives, as though they had been placed in the best place on earth, and were assigned the best job ever. During the day, I had occasion to chat up a couple of them. During the course of conversation, I asked them what their salary was. I was dumbfounded when they said they were paid only about ten thousand every month for all that work. They worked there for almost eight hours a day.
When I asked them the reason for their happiness in spite of being paid so meager an amount, they said giving people hope and getting their blessings and good wishes in exchange was bigger gratification for them than the paychecks they received every month. The foundation was sponsoring the education of their kids till matriculation, and they were eligible for free healthcare. But that wasn’t the reason they were there. They had no compulsion to tend to lepers and people with contagious skin conditions and mental derangement and alcohol abuse. They said they were with these people because they deserved a second chance and because there are not many hands that give in today’s world; only hands that receive.’
‘I felt so low. My self-esteem at that point was abysmal. What I was projecting as a supreme act of sacrifice and an earth-shaking mission was commonplace and a daily routine for these people. I realized that I would become powerful and visible, but I would never become one that would see hope from close quarters. I would only be making a business out of hope.’
‘I walked away in shame. And as you can see me, my state has been one of agony and implosion since. I can’t live with my miserable self. I want to throw it all away and start afresh. But I do realize that this campaign is going to do a lot of people a world of good. Hence, I have decided to step down as campaign chief and will only look after logistics and field operations. I want to see what hope looks like Arjun. I don’t want to be a businessman anymore. I want to be the deliverer of hope.’
AJ was blown away by the intensity of the speech. He sensed sincerity. This was definitely not a scheme or game plan. There was truth to the cell in the man’s words.
‘I, I am at a loss for words to appreciate your selfless gesture and your transformation. I wish you all the best. I have the essay with me. If you could take a look……’
‘Essay? Ah, yes. I wanted to talk to you about that. I need a change to be made. Could you write about Mother Teresa instead? I would like to dedicate an essay to the foundation as an act of gratitude for my reformation. You think you could do that for me? And as far as writing for the campaign is concerned, I have already instructed the manager of operations to recruit you as editor-in-chief for all our publications and journals.’
AJ was totally blown away. Providence had intervened and made sure the essay got its due dedication after all. If this wasn’t a miracle, what else could be!!!