Ten years ago… India performed miserably at the Cricket World Cup...
Ten years ago… The Dot-com Bubble finally burst…
Ten years ago… An Indian plane was hijacked with the help of Taliban, on the Christmas Eve…
And ten years ago… He had lost his brother forever to an accident…
He walked down the building, through the foyer, across the street and reached the signal crossing in about ten minutes. But he had no recollection whatsoever of those ten minutes. As a matter of fact, he didn’t knew that he had eaten French toast for his morning breakfast, had two full glasses of orange juice and had watched TV news for half an hour since the time he had woken up. He didn’t knew that the sidewalk he was standing on, was covered with huts of varied assortment, and children having similar blackened, soot-laden faces, and women with half the clothes to cover their shame. He didn’t realize that a big fire wagon had blazed past in front of his eyes, which was followed by an equally noisy ambulance. His eyes missed the stares he got for his ill matched tie, or ruffled stubble on his face, clashing horribly with his beige three-piece suit. He was unaware of this and most of the past one week, wherein he had done all the things expected out of his jammed schedule, completed all the priorities piled up on his demanding time; yet he did that as if he was a machine, a robot, an inanimate object trained to do all those things. He did not live it, did not relish one single moments realization of life. Since past one week, he was almost like a dead man.
All this… Because it was his birthday today.
He had realized this almost a week ago, when his mother had called him up to ask him about his birthday gift. He remembered it was the time he was having his lunch. After abruptly ending that call, he ignored his food, and went on to start working like a machine. In past three years of his work-history, he broke all records by working over-time for twelve straight hours, retiring only at daybreak. He did not hear or even cared for the praises he was lauded with. He nonchalantly shrugged off his boss’s recommendation plans, and attempts to excite him by offering him trebled pay-package. He accepted it without any sign of excitement or any remote human emotion.
All that… Because it was his birthday today.
He had never celebrated any of his birthdays. Not since then, back ten years ago. He had never asked for presents, thrown parties for friends or treated his relatives to any sort of celebration. He had even vehemently declined instigations on part of his mother to go and visit temples. He had cocooned himself off in a separate space, a parallel world for rest of the time in the year, living a life in which he acted being happy, pretended geniality, masqueraded smiles, and behaved as if he was alive, happy and contented with his life. His friends were envious of his glamorous lifestyle. His colleagues were in awe of his intellect and creative genius, his cousins jealous of his riches. His uncles and aunts put his example to their rather irked children; his nephews and nieces looked up to him reverently; and his parent’s eyes glowed with immeasurable pride whenever he went to visit them back there in Poona. But all that crumbled, everything dissolved, each year, regularly, he forgot everything of it when his birthday came. It was then actually he was living, not when he wined & dined at high profile parties. It was then he existed, not when he caroused with the best girls around. It was then he truly became himself, pure and unpretentious, not when he worked his way up the charts of success.
All of this, because ten years before… He had lost his brother in an accident forever… On his birthday.
An accident, which was not an accident...
They had gone to visit the Bandra bandstand; him, his little brother and their parents. On reaching the place, the kids saw the decrepit structure of the old fort, a fort built as a Portuguese Watchtower, and destroyed by British as a threat to Maratha forces… They passed the winding stairs that were house to many couples finding solace and solitude in a usually crowded and conservative society… They reached the low stonewalls and peered through the open sky, towards a city beyond the sharp stones in the sea, which was once seven different islands...
And they cried their throats out in the blowing wind, rendering the surrounding public askance, and they fought for their way to sit on the on the only ridge available, built probably to house a cannon. His parents frowning over him ushered him to let the younger one take the seat. They went downstairs to eat chaat at the corner of the street and asked the kids to follow them. He being denied of his opportunity, followed immediately, but his brother, missing the instructions over the sound of incessant breeze, stayed on. After reaching the bottom step, when they realized he was still stuck there, they asked him to go and fetch the little punk.
On seeing the desolate place, and spite still fresh at being denied the opportunity to sit on the ridge, he decided to play a prank on his brother who still used to urinate in sleep after hearing ghost stories. He surreptitiously slunk behind him, and shouted BOO loudly in the small child’s ears.
The moment after that, he can never forget till the time he would die. He remembered his brother standing upright, balancing himself on the sidewalls. He remembered that on hearing the noise, he shook feebly, and a rock below his feet dislocated. He remembered the look of blankness on his face. And in the next moment, he was gone! Out of sight! Disappeared! Abracadabra! Lost!
A small hand reached up to his fingers, and tugged at it, bringing him back to reality. He saw one of the similar faced children pointing at his bowl, at his tummy, and at his even smaller sister beside him turn by turn. He looked at both of them and realized, that maybe they were impoverished, maybe nobody even looked at them twice, maybe they had the bleakest possible future ahead, but yet… somehow they were together. Somehow, they were alive, and loving each other, caring for one another, able to look after and beg for each other.
He removed a hundred rupee note, handed it in the sister’s hand and said to the brother;
“Never lose her.”
He did not go to his job that day. He went to the nearby liquor store and brought liquor worth a month of a regular drinkers appetite. Then he proceeded back home.
He drank for the rest of the day. For the first time in ten years, he tried to dissolve those memories, tried to evaporate his guilt, his searing pain of incompleteness, the unforgettable memory of his crime.
But memories he discovered could be created, but cannot be removed out of conscience. As much liquor he consumed, as many tears he shed, as many howls of fury he screamed… he could not forget, what he never had to remember.
At last, driven by insanity of alcohol, and the overpowering might of guilt, he picked up his phone and dialed his Dad’s number.
The call got picked up after three rings.
“Hello” he heard his dad’s warm voice speak on the other line.
But he could not bring up to speak what he wanted to.
“Hello… Arun, are you there?”
He said nothing.
“Arun… Arun… are you able to hear me?”
“Arun… what happened beta?”
“How are you keeping dad?”
“What happened son? Where are you?”
“How is mom, dad?”
“Arun… where are you? Have you been drinking?”
“How is everything in Poona dad?”
“Such shame Arun… who else is there with you? Are you alone?”
“Dad, its my birthday today dad… you remember… its my birthday…”
“So these days you have started celebrating in this manner, my son? What shame, god! What shame!”
“My birthday, remember dad? Ten years. Bandra bandstand. Anil. My birthday… Remember dad?”
“Anil? Are you all right son? Is everything fine over there…”
“Remember dad? Bandra fort? How Anil… How I… How we were…? Remember dad?”
“Dad… Anil did not die that day dad”
“Beta you have been drinking too much. Go to sleep dear. And have some lime water after you wake up.”
“Dad… he did not die that day… I killed him dad… I murdered him…”
A still silence greeted him after this. For two long minutes nothing was said or heard from both the sides. After that,
“You have been drinking too much son… Go to sleep and drink lime water after you get up.”
And before he could speak another word, the line clicked and went dead.
He looked up at the setting sun on the horizon. A black spot seemed to grow bigger and bigger over the orange heliocentric disk. On closer observation, he saw it was a bird returning to its nest after the days toil. He could hardly suppress his emotions then. He hadn’t shed a single tear since the time Anil dropped down the fort walls. Neither when he was being rushed to hospital, nor when he was cremated. But he couldn’t stop then. As the tears welled his eyes, a smile lit his face, and he placed the bottle down.
A bead of drop rolled down the glinting cyst of the green bottle, as the door clicked close.
He could feel his presence, somewhere, somehow, as the waves knocked about him, licked his toes at the foot of an old fort, which was destroyed for safety, and where destruction happened ten years ago, because of risky fun.