Shine On You Crazy Diamond…

 A summer afternoon long ago. Hot, humid,  winds chase idle leaves through the silent streets. In the distance, approaching thunder. A flash of a dust storm. And then a furtive but determined knock on the rusty steel gate. “Didi, do you have a job for me? Anything I can do for you?”. The dust storm reappears and picks up pace, the thunder in the distance is more meancing. “You need a gardner Didi?”. A quick look towards the swollen skies to ascertain the arrival of the impending monsoons.  “It will rain Didi. And the plants (a wave towards a profusion of seedlings awaiting their fate by the window sill) will grow all at once and growing plants always need to be looked after”.

In the next 30 minutes, Samuel Kandul, betting firmly on a strong monsoon that would create havoc in our garden, procured himself a job. He also managed to add grocery shopping (“The garden will look after itself  after the first round of the monsoons, Aunty, I will shop for you when it is too rainy, haan?”), and the occasional bicycle maintenance to his list of duties.  My mother gave him a cup of strong tea which he turned down emphatically. When she pointed to the storm outside, he agreed to drink the tea in the portico only because it was too windy and wet for him to venture back home. In the midsts of an impromptu electricity failure that prompted my mother to light up a large kerosene lamp, Sam with the westerlies lashing his tiny frame and the rain throwing the occasional damper his way slurped his tea from the mismatched cup and saucer that had been given to him. He lived in the tenements behind the old muncipality school, we heard and he had four young sisters. At 10, Sam contributed to the family’s income by doing odd jobs but he had figured out that he needed a permanent job and had presented himself outside our bungalow.

The monsoons raged that year but they could not alter Sam’s obsession with cleaning the gutters to remove the wet leaves and moving the potted plants from the portico around, so that they all recieved the rain’s bounty in equal measure. For someone who had largely seen the meagre and unfair side of life, Sam pursued fairness with a vengeance bordering on obsession. After my father threatened to hide the rickety and moldy bamboo ladder that was Sam’s latest tool in gutter cleaning, Sam offered to climb up the neighbouring mango tree and slide down the parapet into the gutters. “Perhaps you could also tell me what to say to your parents after they discover that I let you break your neck”, my father chided him. Sam looked at him aghast, “And what would they say if they realized that I stayed indoors while the leaves piled up?”, he demanded as indignantly as he could muster. Committment was a feverish thing in the Kandul family, as we were soon to realize.

Sam learnt to water the gardens, weed the side walks and polish the old bicycle as a treat on Sundays. He learnt to pick and store the never ending supply of fruit from the garden and when asked to leave some fruit on the trees for the birds as was the rule in our garden, Sam who had never shown much of a skill for any kind of maths, suddenly became adept at ratios and proportions. When he was given his share of the fruit, he accepted it with a solemn thanks and offered to exchange his share for the less plump and rather sickly pile behind. “It is all fruit Didi and someone needs to eat it”, he pointed out when I asked him to banish the thought.

When Sam did not turn up on a Saturday, he caused more of a worry than a stir. Monsoons and heat waves and darkened streets hadn’t stopped the boy from turning up for work and this was unlike him. He turned up the next day and refused to come in and stood near the gate. When I opened the gate to let him in, he thrust a telegram in my hands and asked me to pass it on to the Aunty and the Sahab. “My grandparents arrived yesterday and my parents had to go to work, so I stayed with them”, he explained. “That telegram arrived after they did, otherwise I would have told you earlier”, the normally cheerful voice sounded upset. “You didnt need to show us the telegram”, my mother gently admonished him, “We believe you”. “I needed to let you know that you were believing the truth”, Sam said simply before disappearing up the garden path.

The domestic help took to calling him Shyam because she couldn’t say Sam properly. The old lady next door for whom he cleaned windows once a month took to calling him Shrinivas because “the boy deserved a grand and possibly a religious name”. Sam took on the new names with delight. When I asked him if I could teach him once a week, he grinned with joy. “I would have to finish my work first, Didi”, he told me in serious tones. It became a pattern – Sam and I sat in the freshly tended garden every Sunday and I helped him with his math and his grammar and his science. What he lacked in understanding, he made up by effort. He sat on his haunches over the plain, single-lined hardbound books and rewrote his words till they made sense to him. He apologized when I had to explain the same thing twice. He came home with the question papers after every exam and waited while I cross checked his answers. “Didi, help me write about my favourite animal” , he implored one day. We spent a merry half an hour writing about elephants and Sam went away delighted. The grandeur of the animal seemed to replenish any shortcomings the education system had rewarded him.

“Didi”, the tone was urgent and full of confidence as I got home from that evening. “I had my english exams today and we were asked to write about our pets”. Before I could ask him, the answer came loud and clear “Didi, I remembered everything we had said about elephants”. Resisting an urge to laugh, I maintained the facade, “Elephants don’t make very good pets, Sam”, I gently told him.  The grin disappeared but only for a minute, “If I ever get a pet Didi, it will be an elephant – nothing else would do”.

A few months after the elephant episode, the old tenements were razed to the ground to make way for a newer muncipality school. The old inhabitants were offered accomodation on the outskirts of the city. Sam and his family moved overnight and except for short trip to tell us that he wouldnt be working for us any longer, Sam bowed out as dramatically as he had arrived. “I will send someone over Sahab, those gutters will need to be cleaned” were his parting words even as he walked away looking at the foreboding clouds.

I met Sam Shyam Shrinivas Kandul after many years, he said he was earning a living working in a candle factory. The same smile, the same earnestness, the same beliefs (“Kandul, didi, like Candle, we are a family of candle makers, did you not guess that?”).

No Sam, I did not guess that all these years but I think I knew it all along. I hope the candle making works for you ; some people deserve the light much,much more than others.

To Sir With Love

Tucked away on the last page of a dog-eared handbook is a scribble that says “I wish you well. I hope you come back to this place after you are done with wandering the world”. Age and fading ink have turned the black writing into a sepia pattern. I don’t need to decipher the words for I know them by heart. Behind the facades of classes and lectures and gradually blossoming relationships, there was a special spot in a crevice of my heart for you. You were more than the Professor who taught me Programming, you were the reason why I enjoyed all my subjects that golden summer. I don’t know if you know this but for what seemed like eons back then, I hung around your office waiting to ask you questions that I didn’t need answers to. I took more effort with your subjects than I did with anything else. When our paths crossed on the campus, my route meandered after yours till I couldn’t keep up with you any more. 

After a seemingly usual class, when one day, you stayed back and asked me if I knew the meaning of my name, love entered the heart and declared it was there to stay. It must have been a normal question but when love is leaning against the door waiting to get in, a gentle nudge is all it needs to announce its arrival. I daresay you didn’t know the old trick of “If you love someone, then they will turn around to see you as you pass the corner”.  You had this habit of turning around several times as you walked back to your office, and I stayed in your line of sight every single time, ensuring that I didn’t miss that one last glance. It is these small things that define love perhaps, for when it is in its fragile state, love does not lay much in store, by time redefining moments.

Once in a lifetime comes a love that doesn’t demand anything because it doesn’t know how to ask for anything. It lives for the moment, and it barely peeks into the future; so happy is it with the present. The summer that year gave me such a love – a quiet, unassuming, placid feeling in the heart that had no rush to go anywhere with no reasons to win anyone over and no future to conquer. And so when I took to visiting a friend that lived opposite your house, you learnt to wave and smile at me. I didn’t stop to talk and neither did you. We had the equation of a Professor and a student down pat and you sometimes asked me what I was up to if you happened to bump into me, on the unpaved, cobbled sidewalk outside your house. I walked past your house a few times after you moved away at the end of the year. You cannot miss someone you never really knew. Instead the feeling of missing someone is substituted by a gnawing feeling of the possibilities that could have been. When you think of it, one sided love can be so liberating really because there is no one to limit your dreams of the relationship- sometimes this even makes up for the truth that your dreams will always remain dreams. 

I googled your name the other day- after many years. I don’t know why I did it, I wasn’t feeling nostalgic and I didn’t want to walk down memory lane either. It was perhaps an overpowering need to return to something that had once been pretty perfect in its restricted framework. The college has changed so much from what I could see. I did not know that you were now the department head. Did you still go for walks around the main cricket ground, I wondered? Oh, you have changed enormously too – the salt and pepper hair tells me that we have both traversed a long way down the cobbled paths.

 

The battle between love and fate always leaves a casualty. You could end up disbelieving in love. Or you could end up believing in a fate that is out to short-change you. Sometimes, just sometimes, though there are no causalities. There are snippets of time that teach you that you don’t always have to win. Just being part of the game, no matter how one-sided, can be enough for a life time. I wish you well too; I am not yet done with wandering the world. But someday perhaps, I shall come back and smile at you again as our paths cross on a stone cobbled path – and as always after we have asked each other about the journeys made, we will go our own ways happily…..

-S