Fiction: Someone's Son

Aneeta Sharma

Aneeta Sharma

I met him on one of those routine, mundane days and the memory invariably brings a smile in its wake. But first, let me give you a window into what got me started on this particular reminiscence.

 Times and consequently attitudes have changed over the years. Living in a dynamic flux with the world becoming increasingly self-centered and people happily and voluntarily trapping themselves into isolated cages, we are left with no time to stand and stare…. neither at cows nor at the busy, pulsating life around us.

 Every now and again you pick up the morning newspaper only to be confronted with a heart-rending narrative about how some accident victim was left callously on the road to bleed to death while indifferent cars whizzed past. Gone are the days of folks rushing to retrieve the groceries of a person whose shopping bag played traitor in the middle of a busy market road.

 We need to accept the harsh truth that the society we live in is an excessively pragmatic one. Loss and profit are the game changers and everyone is out there in the market to ensure that he sells his product, skills, knowledge, talent or whatever. And that requires projection. The fallout of which has been the mushrooming of a multibillion publicity industry. The commercial breaks on the assorted channels probably take up more time than the soap operas they are supposed to sponsor. At times it makes you wonder which is the story and which the promotion.

 It is but a natural corollary of this situation that our impressionable youth has been targeted and ensnared by the world of advertisements, which in turn is apparently governed by a ‘no holds barred’ and ‘all is fair in love and war’ dictat. The visual ads and consequently the behaviour of their protagonists gets weirder and crazier by the minute and their real-life counterparts fall head over heels to emulate them.

 A young man aces avalanches and mountain cliffs simply because he gulps down a quart of some aerated soda intended to be sold to a gullible public which is not credited with even an iota of intelligence or common sense. The idiotic box which has made a bid to take over our minds, tells us that a young lady not only lands a prize job but also comes out on the top simply because she washes her clothes in a particular detergent and is obviously assessed on the basis of the sparkle in her clothes and not any merits which qualify her for the post. These fake celluloid spinoffs all seem to vie with each other for top place in incredibility and absurdity.

 A recent chocolate ad shows a youngster engrossed in munching a bar and shares the frame with an old lady sitting on a bench. The woman’s walking stick falls just way out of reach and she makes a pathetic appeal for assistance. The lad or should I say lout- deliberately turns his head away.

 Exactly what message are we giving? I would not honour this atypical specimen of wooing the buyers by calling it innovative or novel advertising and it struck a particularly jarring note. The clip concludes on an ‘all’s well that ends well’ sop, with the old lady pulling herself up to retrieve her stick and miraculously escaping from having her brain crushed in by a falling block of mortar. She turns around to thank the youngster who nods in an offhand manner.

 What challenges my credulity is not the end but the beginning of the advertisement. How can a young fellow be so indifferent to a request for help? Or is the ad simply presenting the new normal- the pattern of behavior expected from youngsters these days?

 This apparent shift in behavioral attitudes and perspectives hits a person of my generation harder because we were brought up on an abundant diet of pleases and thank you’s, coupled with stories of how good children always helped senior citizens cross the road and were the epitome of good behaviour. These days, you could trip over yourself and then get up to dust yourself off, without drawing even a raised eyebrow, let alone an extended hand.

 Which brings me to what got me started in the first place. Unfortunately, I am one of those who love to beat stress by going out on a shopping spree. I am not sure if it really helps or we do it because emotional management modules tout it as a tried and tested therapy. On one such solo shopping trip, I found myself in one of the Mega malls which have become the chief landmarks of our NCR. After spending a couple of pleasant hours picking up odds and ends which were not really needed but which caught my eye by virtue of their attractive display and the fact that they were being offered at half their price. Discounts are difficult to resist and don’t they know it!

 Finally, I stood in the queue to cough up the payment and make the transaction legal. There were a couple of customers in line before me and for a moment I considered switching to the adjacent counter. The woman standing abreast of me put the thought out of my head. Her arms were loaded with garments and she was dragging a bulging bag to boot. She seemed to have been shopping as though there would be no tomorrow and it would take the devil’s own time to clear her. I would wind up sooner if I stuck to my own line.

 Glancing over my shoulder at the boy behind me, I wrinkled my nose. Not yet out of his teens, he wore a streaked nest on his head and his baggy jeans were in danger of slipping off his waist. He ignored my critical inspection and looked right through me. A prototype of the youth I had mentioned earlier. Indifferent, casual and self -serving.

 The line inched forward and I thankfully handed over my purchases to the salesgirl across the counter. She went through them efficiently and after docking the appropriate numbers on her computer, asked me if I had a membership card.

 This card system is another fad which has caught on like wild fire. Wherever you go, they promptly talk you into subscribing to one of their membership regimes, promising lucrative points on every purchase. Eventually, these points can be redeemed for a super fantastic amount, or so they say. Not to mention, the special offers which can be availed on birthdays and anniversaries. All your staunch determination to refuse flies out of the window in the face of their vociferous wheedling and bingo! They have landed you like a big fish!

 Being no different from the majority of our gullible population, I too have been conned into about a dozen of these plastic temptations which have never been redeemed to date. As a result, my wallet is pretty crammed up. Good, old- fashioned, paper- currency which I refuse to step out without struggles for space with these bits of plastic.

 Opening the said receptacle in a hurry, I tried to pull out the elusive card and the right bills from the interior. The offending wallet refused to cooperate and slipped from my hand. Rectangular bits of plastic and a few assorted coins rolled on to the floor, careering towards the end of the counter.

 I cursed under my breath. It had taken me pretty long to crawl up the line and now I would be on my fours collecting my booty while that chap behind me would get his purchases cleared. Before me. I could almost see his smile of satisfaction at my having been evicted from between him and the counter. Without pausing for a breath, I pulled up the extendable strap of the stanchion and lurched forward to claim my property. Bending down hastily, I grabbed my possessions and made to get up, all in one agile, acrobatic movement.

 My ascent was checked abruptly as my head banged against something firm yet soft. I glanced upward to see what had braked my progress. All that met my eyes was a broad palm spread out like a canopy over my head. I was puzzled. Travelling down the hand and up the arm which was attached to it, my gaze took in the fact that it was extended by the young man who had been standing behind me a few moments ago. Smiling nonchalantly at me and in response to my quizzical look, he gently pointed upwards.

 I realized that my head was vertically beneath the protruding edge of the marble counter top and my sudden upward ascent would have resulted in a rather painful and unfriendly encounter with the ugly corner of the slab. I could visualize my cranium, backed with the full force of my momentum, connecting with it and hear the sickening crunch of bone against granite.

 The young man had not only taken in the situation and my eminent trajectory but had also preempted my inevitable collision. following me under the stanchion, he saved me in the nick of time. I shudder to think what would have happened but for his quick response. Having done his bit, he once again fell into line behind me and waited patiently for me to pay my dues. I willed his eyes to connect with mine so that I could thank him but he was absorbed in some abstract line of thought which brooked no interruption. His offhand manner clearly indicated that he did not need the gratitude which was his due.

 I concluded my purchase and left with a light step and lighter heart. The youth of today was not a total washout. In this overwhelmingly indifferent and insulated world there were young people who were sensitive and empathetic. Mentally I thanked the woman who had brought up such a fine son.

 The advertisements could huff and puff with all their might, the media might paint the murkiest picture of an aggressive, self-serving and indifferent human population; as long as there were mothers like her and sons like him, God was in his heaven and all was well with world!

***

 

Bio: Aneeta Sharma is a resident of Noida and has her roots in Himachal Pradesh. She hails from a family steeped in military traditions. She is an educator by profession and has 28 years of teaching experience. She currently takes free-lance workshops for Educational Institutions.

 She has published two books in 2022. The first, titled Home Run (Notion Press) is contemporary fiction set in an Indian backdrop and the second, A Handful of Dewdrops (Evince Pub), is a collection of poems inspired by real life visuals. She runs a blog with TOI and her bilingual poems have been published by Visual Verse and included in national & international anthologies. Her short stories have been published by Kitaab International (Editor’s choice) and Indian Periodicals.

Email: aneeta65sharma@gmail.com

3 comments :

  1. Very well written producing
    Graphic picture of people around The author has unique sense of observation and wonderful ability to paraphrase it. Hope to see more from her pen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A fine, heartwarming story, this. Enjoyed it immensely.

    ReplyDelete
  3. An interesting piece, thought-provoking, enjoyed it. Hope to see more!

    ReplyDelete

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