Curved plastic shielding six – or when the sky is clear, twenty – odd people chattering away about three doors down, pandit ravi shankar, or the wavelength of x-ray for diffraction of the micro-crystal, or particle physics with equal ease. All of them clustered around the black cement table that couldn’t hold twenty cups without seeming crowded, out for a break during lab time, for a birthday, for a tea, for a breather and a freshener before diving right back into whatever they came from.
Sharing tea, swapping stories about work (or life, which might almost be the same thing for this lot), and friendly and malicious gossip about friends, acquaintances, absolute strangers, and mrs. sharma’s daughters. Absolute strangers, of course, who didn’t stay strangers for long in a closed campus with limited privacy, since five years – at the least – in one place made sure you got to know people whom you may otherwise never – or only – have talked about.
Most tables occupied by a person sitting alone and contemplating who-knows what, or two people engaged in quiet, if sometimes vigorous conversation. And more rarely, when three or four gather, managing to pull off a controlled, if not dignified appearance despite loud disputes that can be heard clear across the place.
The chipped cups, the black tea “lemon beda”, and soothing yellow lighting where atlas could shrug. And someone else would pick up the burden, just for the curiosity of it.
are an endless quest to find beauty
and once you have it, to keep it,
heart breaking poignant beauty is in impermanence
They seemed to circle each other in the lamplight under the trees, close enough that a swaying arm may have circled the waist and the watchers at the coffee booth would wonder. Just as they would wonder if the trainers were too short on the tall young man with a crewcut, or if it just the sneakers showing. Their shuffling gait – almost a dance – down the road led them towards the crowd of three sitting on the grass on the edge of the road, munching and discussing lasers. They’d pause here and there, she’d clasp her small hands behind her back and look up, up and up at him. And they’d talk. Later, only images would remain: perhaps the swing of her hair from her pony tail, or the vivid sharpness of his features in the shadows, maybe the moment of laughter in circular spotlight created by one streetlight. They’d step along in the night air, before the violins started singing for either of them and never forget. This magical night with the rain hanging heavy in the air and clouds covering the dark moon, they would not run out of road. And they wouldn’t have to part ways.
fatigued,withthe rightkneeachinglikeanarthriticwomanofgreatage’s,eyesaboutto giveoutsoon, backalltwisted,hunched,hurting, painohpain.
a tooth that has misaligned, a catalogue of things to do left behind,atasktocomplete,and twomorespingup,
where does it stop?
It is my security blanket, my safety net, my strength. Like an anchor, it holds me and binds me to one place. Restless pacing aside, I cannot move. The length of the room is the further est I can let myself go before the anticipation of its coming, and the despair at missing it, calls me back.
Eventually, over the days, I learn one simple fact. It does not come when I want it to; it comes when I least expect it. I learn to sit with serenity, and eventually to do other things in the time that I wait. I read, I work. I think, I dream. I live, it is true, because living does not stop even when one does not live that life to the fullest. I talk, I laugh, I cry. But always, amidst all chaos that surrounds me and the whirlpool that tries to pull my attention away, one corner of my mind and heart – even my soul – are keyed to that corner, that anchor.
I linger, knowing that the moment it comes, my heart will take a wild leap of joy, and I will go to receive it with more energy and enthusiasm than I have for anything else in my day … or night.
So I wait.
As time drags on, and there is no sign of it, I must admit my tolerance fades and patience grows thin. Yet I wait, patiently or impatiently, for it does not care. What does it wait for? It will humble me, and then it will come. Or will it?
I run full tilt towards it, this fixed point of my life, as my patience pays off.
The phone is ringing.
Her hair leaps into my hands, clinging to the plastic comb she hates. I let it go and immediately, like blown by some unseen wind, it rushes to cover her small round face. The cackle of static electricity sounds as I swap the comb for the hairbrush and run it through the length of the hair. There are no knots, but I continue brushing. Her little face shows extreme impatience, and she’s begun to shift around uncomfortably in the high backed wooden chair she sits on.
Hold still, I murmur, enjoying the smooth silky hair, but she won’t. She is too anxious to be off. Her mother had leaned into the strokes. Her mother was a little lady, unlike this one, who was tomboy if I ever saw one.
Enough, please! Comes her still sharp voice, and she jumps off the chair. Her legs had dangled well off the floor when seated. She grabs my hands, the contrast of my dry wrinkled calloused hands – softened by time alone – and her pink fat little hands strikes me suddenly. I feel old. She suddenly kisses my hands and takes off, to her friends. To her life.
My hands are cut. I have assorted aches and pains and bruises that will complain later, tonight, but for now they can be ignored. The nettle has given me shallow gashes in so many places that I have lost count. The grass – bearing short thorns – is almost taller than I am. If the trip up was scary, I can’t imagine what the trip down will be like. Most likely I will roll like the little balloon I have become, and hopefully not damage any vital organs. Meanwhile, I let my hands and arms take the brunt of the scratches, I am mortally afraid of a thorn entering my eyes. But that is in the beginning. As we go higher, the sun becomes fiercer, and I lose fear. All there is, is the line of people behind me and the few in front. We keep moving, though the muscles in my legs are crying for a stop, a break. I know they will begin cramping when I do stop, and we do not intend to stop till we reach the summit.
Friendly banter continues somewhere behind me, somehow, today I have not the heart to join in. I am terrible at the whole hill climbing, physical activity front, and so the one right in front of my keeps checking and making sure I’m still alive. The one behind leaves enough space for me to back up if I have taken a path that is too difficult for me. I know that there are rips in my jeans – jeans for Christ’s sakes! This is entirely the wrong season to have gone trekking… but I enjoy the exertion. At some point, the wind becomes a huge factor, tugging, pulling, yanking. We tease a painfully thin friend that we don’t want her to fly off into the horizon. She clings on tenaciously. Finally, the company gives. There are too many of us inexperienced climbers to go up the last quarter. We all collapse where we stand, for more than fifteen minutes. Then we turn and go down, spider like, leaning as far back as we can. Defeated, but not forever. The summit still waits.