On a wet Sunday morning

Dr Sunil Sharma

Light rain. Standing on the bridge, indifferent to the vehicular traffic a small thin figure, drenching in the rain. A local train coming hurtling down the wet gleaming tracks. In the distance, the phantom of far-off bridge looming. On the left side, apartments yellowish and weather-beaten, standing like solid square of concrete-and-glass. Ugly and  ordinary. Behind the bridge, hills like a clenched fist, in the rainy mist rolling down. A gentle breeze.

Another local train, going towards Mumbai, shuddering and galloping on the tracks. A green light. Tracks, silent now,stretching into dim horizon.

The figure, a young man, hungry-looking  and thin, watching the trains rolling by under the bridge, in the rain. Standing alone, getting wet, deaf to a light traffic passing on the bridge, watching the trains moving up and down, in the rain. He is the Gurkha, the watchman of a building, who comes often to the bridge and watches the train for an hour or so with a child- like curiosity. Trains, ferrying   thousands  of people to locations different, to dreams multi-coloured. A hamlet, tucked away in Nepal, in the shadows of' the mount Everest, drenching in the rain of Sawan, obscured in the mist, with fires burning in the humble hearths, songs bursting from the souls of the pining maidens in the orchards, people dancing In the rain high on the local liquor. Clouds, kissing the sacred peaks, and pouring out heavenly water on the small villages, weaving magic in the dark-gray-skies, with soft winds whistling and light darkness falling. A symphony unique. The man, watching the trains rolling by below his small  feet, on the bridge, indifferent to the sounds at the vehicles racing up and down, on this Sunday morning.

In his fourth - floor 3 B H K flat, lying sprawled on the hard bed on his stomach, a clerk is reading a thriller. Immersed in the book, the short and fat man, unaware of his environs, is in a dark alley in Cairo, where two hired assassins are lurking in the shadows, waiting for their deadly victim: a C.I.A. undercover agent, who is expected to emerge from the house of his Egyptian mistress at any minute now. The small alley looks unearthly at 2 P.M. It is a warm night. The alley is in a seedy section of Cairo and totally in shadows. A perfect place  for murder. There are two cars at the two ends of the dark alley. Small and run - down cars where four assassins, in pairs of two, are sitting patiently, commanded by a Yankee going by the name Scorpion.  They are ready to ambush and kill their prey. Tonight, hisses the thin Scorpion in cold voice, otherwise we are all dead meat. They will wait halt an hour more. It he does not come down, we will take that bastard in the flat, snarls the Yankee In a voice that sends a chill down the spine of other members. They had seen the agent, walking into the apartment - building, in the evening. The agent was looking like an Arab from a distance, wearing the traditional headgear and flowing white robes, painfully hobbling on a cane. An ordinary Arab, in an ordinary street, now back home. The team was waiting, itching to lay bands on the man who bad busted a drug racket of their Turkish boss. But, unknown to the surveillance teams parked in the twisted Oriental alley, the agent was watching them from the opposite terrace of a dilapidated building, home to the lower class families of porters, cooks and peons. He had slipped outside in a burka three-to-four hours ago carrying a small laundry and a basket, not an unusual sight, in that poor street of unlit lamps, broken pavements, stinking garbage. The agent, code-named Carlos, was as dangerous and ruthless a man as was his namesake, the dreaded Venezuelan Carols or the Jackal. He was a master at disguises and carried enough ammunition to blow up an entire neighborhood. His seniors at Langley called him a walking arsenal and an efficient, cold killing machine. He was pulled out of semi-retirement from a life of a decent businessman at a small town near Texas, an anonymous town dotting the American map like any other middle-class town of 6,000 people or so - a perfect hiding place for an ex-C.I.A. operative with a now identity and a business to save him from any possible enemy or enemies that might settle score by killing him - and pressed into this last assignment,    on the oral "orders" of the president himself. He still remembered the rich, husky voice of the top executive of the nation: Mr. Carlos, do it for America. One last time, we need    you   He had felt electrified and said, Yes, Mr. President.   The orders were clear: bust the drug syndicate called Hydra.  Kill the top guys. Cripple the whole operation that ships billions   of      dollars' heroine into the states and then that stuff hits the streets of America, killing her young children by degrees.

What the hell that bastard is doing up there, snarled the big Yankee assassin in a southern drawl, where the hell that bastard is? The answer came in the form of a bullet, shot from close range that travelled through the open window of the car and killed the big Yankee In a second. Before his bewildered Arab companion could comprehend, a dark figure sprang up near the car-window, silent as tiger on the prowl, and pressed the trigger of his revolver fitted with silencer. The next bullet caught the Arab wide - eyed and terrified. It entered and exited through the waiting assassin's wild heart. A neat hole gaped there hideously.

The hunt had begun. The hunter had become hunted. Carlos smiled silently. He remembered Hoover's words: C.I.A., remember, is white America's Imperialism at its deadliest and ruthless. You challenge American hegemony and get your ass blown off, without even realizing it during those brief seconds. Carlos muttered, here I come, bastards, to teach you the power of the American imperialism. And he blended in the shadows, a tiger stalking its victim…

Take your breakfast, honey. I will eat it later on.

What are you doing sprawled on the bed?
Oh, I am reading an English thriller.

Cannot you do anything else on Sunday mornings, dear?
We have only Sunday mornings.

Do not disturb, yaar. An  exciting book. Edge - of - the - seat excitement.

I am the only one doing the breakfast. This is my lot now. Kitchen, children,  and kitchen. No change.

Oh, come on! Do not start nagging me. Be my good girl. Let me finish the novel—it is so—o ex—citing!.

The voice of the child coming from the living room. T.V. is on. A cartoon network showing  Tom and Jerry series. The child, excited,    yelling and laughing before the T.V. set. Is It Jerry or Tom.   Tom and Jerry?

Well, who bothers?

And the bored spouse resumes her dull kitchen job on this wet, Sunday morning.

A few blocks down the pot - holed, garbage - strewn road, a tall thin man sitting in a bar and watching the rain streaming down. Alone on his table; surrounded by soda bottles, papad, -whisky bottle, he drinking and smoking, cocooned in a haze of alcohol and smoke. Outside, the day looks dark gray and dull.

The rain has created a pulsating shoot of water between the earth and the heaven.

And who bothers, they care for money, all of then. Here, I am, here in the bar, a regular, the whisky the only passport to lands distant. The wife and kids, a big house full of  things. The wife reading  magazines. The kids talking over the phone / listening to music  / going out with friends in their second car. He leaving early and returning late from the Fort office. Commuting in the locals. Cattle cars. Bored commuters, tired sweaty, sitting standing, blank - eyed. Evenings most horrible. The kids watching T.Y., wife preparing the meals, and he, in the regular bar, downing pegs, in a haze of smoke, opposite a silent man, both drinking and smoking, close yet remote. And then he remembers the happy past while sitting in the bar:

Many years ago, in a different age and setting, the pouring rain cascading down their faces and bodies, the father and son walking down a deserted small- town street. Open-fields weaving  in and out, in a flat country. A temple, near the street, & neem tree sprouting from the ground.

Aren't the rains wonderful, son?
Yes, papa. I love rains.
Why? Papa?
They bring heavenly nectar. God sends down these waters to his children.
So that the earth children  should not starve or feel thirsty.
Does God exist, papa?
Yes, Sonny.
Where does he live?
He lives everywhere.
Have you seen him?
In you, in others.
In me.
Yes, all of us are his children.
Can I see him?
Why not? Work hard. Do your duties. Love others. He will show Himself.

They sitting now in the temple courtyard. Everywhere the rain dancing around. Grey mist gliding down the open fields. Far off, a train whistling down in the thick rain, emitting clouds. The temple courtyard, a father and a 14-year-old boy sitting together, in a flat country, empty. Two human beings. In a deserted place with  no other soul in evidence. Father, all wet, thinking. Son, watching him and  the nectar falling from the heavens. And, suddenly, father breaking out into a folk song:

Aaya sawan umad - ghumad nache re man ka mor,
ab lott  kay aaja  balamawa-
bahut diwas reh liye tum ab pardes...

His deep musical   voice, rising up above the din drumming about, echoing in the covered temple courtyard,  empty except the duo filling the sacred space with sadness. He mesmerised, staring at father. The tall muscular man, singing bef ore the decorated gods, in full ecstasy, tears running down his hollow cheeks. Rains ... the gods ... the flooded open fields ... a man singing in a musical voice booming in the yard... A train chugging away in the distance, smoke curling up...

Later on Ma chided papa. The boy is all wet. To the bones. He may fall ill. Papa only smiled...

Another drink... The bar becoming oppressive ... Gulping down the peg and lighting up another cigarette...

Five years ago, papa critical at the native place. He was in Singapore. Finalizing some projects. Returning two days later, driving a distance of 900 K.M. overnight, reaching the modest house of the younger brother... Papa, papa, I have come... A life less, old body, wrapped up in white, lying on the bare cement floor, eyes closed and nostrils filled up with flowers. Hands, that once stroked, now  mere bones. Papa, once powerful and handsome in a rugged way, now awfully shrunk. A bundle of  old bones and parchment.

Sing, papa, sing
     I have come back to meet you...
     Sorry, I couldn't come early...
     Sing that song... Talk to me…
     Look at your first-born son ... say a few words...

In answer, Ironically, -the same rain hissing and lashing the covered verandah and the few mourners, consoling the crying son ... the whistle of a thundering train in the background...

chal khusro ghar aapne…

The bar, now spinning. The man, paying the bill, walking out on unsteady legs. Outside, the slanting  rain, coming down heavily from a dark-gray sky. Black clouds, ominous, stretching across the sky,

Oh such a rotten day! A young man, standing under cover, saying to his bored companion. No traffic on the main street. The rain drops hitting the tar road ferociously and bouncing off. The man, walking down in the rain, moving  towards the edge of the town.

...The father and the son...the temple-courtyard...father singing before the gods...many years ago.

Semi-naked children , gambolling in the rain, splashing in the puddles, screaming and laughing. The children  of the slums.

At the edge, a small temple,  with a covered verandah. The man, now perched on the low parapet, crying and hoarsely singing in the empty courtyard:

ab laut aao balamawa
bahut diwas reh liye tum ab pardesh...

... On a wet Sunday morning...
(Courtesy: Creative Saplings)