We were en route. We were lost.
We were driving along the road that bonds the likes of IIT-Delhi, Jia Sarai, Ber Sarai et al – but one of my friends who was in charge of the steering wheel believed that there was a mammoth shopping center, somewhere along the way – which in fact wasn’t – I had already realized the inevitable but familiar with his habit of axing his own leg, I abided by silence whilst he growled and muttered obscenities in disappointment at every corner, at every turn – for not being able to find ‘nowhere’. Since I decided not to hold a conversation with a short tempered git that he was, I slanted my seat backward and pulled my feet free of the shoes. Oh, what a pleasant relief it was! It was a hot day in the month of August. That particular afternoon was dry and the Sun was nothing less than a predator for the populous beneath – for everyone was trying to evade it. The roads were nearly empty, I lazed backward – the blue of the sky was as if a reflection in crystal, I didn’t even try to witness the cruel glare of the summer sun, it was nothing short of being offensive to my vision. When there is nothing to search, eyes wander in all directions. During one such wandering, after I had already witnessed a perspiring vendor who had put water up for sale, enveloped by a desert of people and a hoard of dogs who were being advantageous of the deserted road which was now their playground, chased cars back and forth, a giggle escaped my mouth whilst my vision lingered hither and tither to finally come to a stand still upon my wrist. A realization struck me.
It was the day of Rakshabandhan. On my wrist, I had donned a Rakhi, but I bore no enthusiasm for the occasion. Perhaps, my disinterest towards the occasion was primarily because I was away from home, in a city which was once stranger to me but now was nothing less than home. But not exactly home. My sister wasn’t here, my mother wasn’t here, only my friends were here, and whatever I had, whatever that was present here, was not suffice to celebrate the festivity of Rakhi. Owing to the rituals and pestering calls from my mother who was insistent like hell, that I don the Rakhi that my elder sister had sent me – I had succumbed and I had tied it around my wrist that very morning. I fixed my glare on the Rakhi that my sister had sent me. It was a cute little joke. Here I was, in my early twenties, making my way across the deserted roads of Delhi, hoping to find an imaginary complex that might be harboring a food joint where I would finally eat something – but everything encompassed to minuscule proportions when I realized that I was wearing a Mickey Mouse rakhi – a kind of rakhi for kids. My sister and I watched a lot of ‘Disney Hour’, every evening during our childhood. We were actually quite punctual about it. Those were the fun infused days, full of joviality and admonishings. Children of our time fared out well. We all were quite innocent and some essence of it has remained with us even today. I smiled and fixated my sight ahead on the road.
My friend comprised of not one but many when it came to talents. But none of them proved useful, for words, words and only words dominated his actions. When we were leaving for this memorable escapade, he called ‘shotgun’. I could have had argued with his claim but didn’t. I should have. He had this trait of driving off from the best that the road offered us, to dive in straight for the pot-holes. It had been a bumpy ride as of yet and there was no stopping. I had conjured up a mental note in my mind that at the very next red light, I shall promote myself and take up the duties of being a driver. Quite familiar with the surroundings, I gazed outside to determine in how much time, or say, after how many bumps shall we become familiar with the next red light. It wasn’t far. It was actually on the verge of arrival. We were passing by the bridge that opens its way towards Munirka. It was gray with despair, engraved with modern minimal designs that make the least sense and had started to flourish green with innumerable Peepal plants that had started to originate and grow from the cracks of time. Beneath the bridge too, nothing but despair lurks – from the darkness that it harbors evolve the haunting faces of malnourished children donning barely any clothes, draped in shreds of poverty, feet devoid of slippers and eyes devoid of hope – their life devoid of festivals, their expectations devoid of the mercy of others. During the times when the hustle and bustle breathes its essence through this very road, along which we were driving that day – and when the red light plays its part – when traffic along one particular side of the road comes to a standstill, they- the children of fate, arrive – their souls open wide with their naked feet tottering around every car, auto-rickshaw, scooter, motorbike et al, begging for what may be anything – for anything from a ten rupee note to a half filled bottle of warm water, tends to make them happy. Pity. That day too, I could witness the little them roaming on the road ahead. Perhaps, they didn’t even realize that today was ‘Rakhi’. And even if they realized, then what? Nothing, I supposed. The traffic light started to display the harsh shade of red as we approached the crossing. My friend who was determined to crash his way across the empty road had to stop the car on my severe insistence. Wearing a solemn expression, I told him that I shall be driving from then onwards. He didn’t argue. He knew I meant it. The children of fate had already started to thump on our windows. The ghastly sight of their brutalized innocence seemed to be speaking out to us across the barrier of the glass. I made a quick decision to hand them some money once I got out of the car.
I unlocked my door and stepped outside only to realize that only two little kids were there. A brother and sister perhaps. The sister was a bit taller, so I assumed she was the elder one. They both were tattered and battered – the children of fate. Ignoring my friend who was all grumbles and mumbles (because of the heat), I proceeded to take some money out of my wallet to offer it to the children. They were nudging me from beneath, pulling the fabric of my pants and I was somewhat getting irked at their persistence, for I was already midway to provide them with what they so desperately desired. But when I offered them rupees, I realized that it was the sister who was nudging me continuously, for something else, other than the money, had caught her attention. My Mickey Mouse rakhi had engaged her desire and propelled in her – a budding want for it. Her little brother too, stood gazing it, with a grin spread across his face, a finger in his mouth. A moment passed before she finally pointed towards it. She said nothing, She first pointed towards my Mickey Mouse rakhi and then towards her little brother. And smiled nervously. It was perhaps the most genuine smile that I had ever experienced in my whole life. It was irresistible for anyone to not succumb to it. All I could do was smile back, though it appeared as if a reflex, upon my face. I unwounded the Rakhi off from my wrist and handed them to the little girl. Oh, the look of delight that lingered upon their face. I walked towards the driver’s seat and watched the two children as they scampered back into the ghostly darkness that lingered beneath the bridge. I ignited the engine, with my friend now seated beside me and steered the car along the road, my wrist devoid of the rakhi, my mind blooming with utter peace. And yes, we did find the place we were searching for. Although it exactly wasn’t the place we were searching for, but somehow really resembled the place we were searching for. But it delighted us. Just like emotions, isn’t it? Sometimes, the emotions that we expect to derive the essence of delight from, prove futile, and new strange emotions that bud from new experiences, infuse us with beautiful memories that tend to last a lifetime.