Friday, April 2, 2010

The Story


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I published this story as part of 'Katha Sagar' contest. 71 stories were published and I am happy that my entry could get a place.

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The cell-phone was ringing and showed his favorite picture.

"Hello"
"Is this Mr. Rakesh speaking?". An old-aged woman asked despite recognizing his voice.
"Sister!. What a surprise. How have you been? Put on more weight?"
"You naughty. Ok listen. We are going to have a fund raise next weekend. You can come?"
"You know I cannot refuse"
"Thats my boy" she said with a smile that Rakesh could sense. "Should I send someone to pick you?"
"How can I forget the way?" Rakesh's eyes fell on a toy kept on his TV.
"Its been many years my boy" she said with a sad tone.
"Sister, remember yours words when we last departed?"
"I know I know. But I have been longing since to see my boy again"
"Oh come on Fat lady, I will be there in a week. We'll have our usual sessions. Give a smile now"
"Naughty boy" and she smiled.

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Rakesh was excited. It was very hot here in Bangalore and wondered how would it be in Pollachi. Fan at full speed and windows open, yet it was hot. He was lying on bed but unable to sleep thinking about his childhood days. The moonlight was enough to see fan rotating seemingly without gap between its four blades. Ha! four blades is outta fashion.
He had read in a book that keeping mind blank helped to get sleep. So he now imagined himself surrounded by endless space. Slowly the eye-lids drooped. The four-blade fan started making odd noise as if a blade had become loose and about to fall. His eyes opened, saw the rotating fan. His ears heard the sound and his eyes started to bulge. Breathing became heavy. Unbearable pain shot through his nervous system and a crashing image floated around his eyes. He passed out and then there was peace. Heaven like.

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"I passed out for the first time"
"You sure?"
"Guess so". Rakesh was fiddling with an aircraft toy in his hands.
"Anything else different?"
"Same as usual. I wasn't able to sleep"
"You were remembering you early days?"
"Yes"
"Perhaps you should consult a Psychiatrist"
"You are one"
"Was. I am happy creating unusual problems for fictional characters of my books"
"My fat lady is my best remedy. I am going there this weekend"

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Bus to Coimbatore was at 9pm. But Rakesh started two hours prior to avoid traffic. The bus conductor gave him a daily pass (worth Rs. 32) instead of Rs.10 ticket. A fellow passenger explained matter-of-factly that it is a used daily pass. He went on to explain that conductors sometimes do not issue ticket for a lower fare from the passenger. Rakesh found it interesting and asked if it wasn't unethical.
"Both passengers and the conductor gain from it. Government anyways doesn't spend all for the public." replied the passenger.
After an hour of travel for about 12km distance, Rakesh got down at Majestic. A laborer asked him if he had a pass. Rakesh very happily passed on the "used" pass.

It was very hot and he had tickets for KSRTC's Rajhamsa executive bus service. He wondered what was "executive" in the bus? 2+2 seats (in a row) cramped up the space and a pale bluish light gave an eerie look. Thankfully push-back provision was there. It was 8:30pm and Rakesh couldn't find am empty chair to sit as it seemed a small town was gathered in the Kempagowda bus stand.
But unlike the other private buses, KSRTC buses start bang on time. The conductor came to check if all passengers were in. He found the seat beside Rakesh empty. On questioning, Rakesh answered that his friend could not make it due to an urgent project creeping up. Mumbling that there are many passengers wanting to go, he left as it was time to leave. Rakesh smiled on his triumph.

After an hour of evading through the traffic, the bus hit the outskirts of the city. The full moon was shining brightly and a cool-breeze ruffled the leaves. Rakesh wasn't getting sleep. He wondered how people were supposed to sleep in sitting posture. And though he got a window seat, it was on the right side and not to his preferred left side. He cursed the railway department for not having enough trains on a busy route. A special train for weekends is needed. He consoled himself by realizing that it was an opportunity to enjoy a night ride. No curtains as well in the "executive" bus. He opened the window enough for good view. Some childhood habbits are hard to break. Like watching out of a window seat. Looking out for what lies beyond with an yearning feeling. Be it a lonely shop on the roadside of highway, or a cyclist (most always a villager) carrying on his work in his own unassuming way, or sometimes a car horribly out-of-shape reminding the horrors of accidents. He thought why anyone has to drive so fast? But then it is their choice and their perspective.

Around 1AM Mysore arrived. The Mysore Palace (Wodeyar's Palace, not Tipu Sultan's as is common misconception) was glittering brilliantly. The bus stopped for some time in Mysore. Rakesh was feeling weary. He looked at other passengers who were sound asleep. Perhaps they are accustomed to bus travel. Road work was in progress, but the state of the roads were extremely poor. Such a bumpy ride. Presently the bus began ascent on the mountain road. And Rakesh's mood immediately got better. Oh! How he wished he could go for a climb then and there.
The climb wasn't steep. But the descent was and the hair-pin-bends looked pretty dangerous. Looking down, a sea of lights adorned the valley.
At a hair-pin-bend, lorries were coming from the opposite side and the bus had to stop until they passed. Space was wide to take the turn, but narrows afterward leaving perhaps a metre or two from the edge. The queue was pretty long and it seemed it would take an eternity for them pass. Rakesh sat back and closed his eyes. The trucks seemed to form a big chain and fly and suddenly crash. Rakesh woke up with a start when the bus started its descent again. And now he didn't seem getting sleep.

Looking back at the mountains, Rakesh could see specks of light emanating from the moving vehicles. He looked around again to see if anyone seemed awake. The light inside the bus wasn't good enough to see, but if anyone moved, it would be visible. All seemed to be happily sleeping. Back to sight seeing for Rakesh. The bus was starting to turn right when Rakesh saw a blaze of fire. It seemed like a vehicle burning but it was spreading slowly. It was a large waste garbage dump. A small explosion (perhaps of a battery) triggered Rakesh's phobia. He did not pass out this time but pain was unbearable nonetheless. He was perspiring and the flashing images of a crash kept floating around his eyes. He was happy that the empty seat he booked was useful. The wind slowly dried his sweat and he slowly relaxed and feel asleep at last. Peacefully.

It was 5:30AM and Coimbatore was about 30min away. Rakesh seemed oblivious to the cold wind. Coimbatore arrived and someone tapped on his shoulders to wake him up. Rakesh dreamt that someone huge was lifting him up. He woke up all soaked up when shaken forcefully. He let a wry smile about the dream which surprisingly had come after a long time. Sister Philomena would be happy to hear it.

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He took a town-bus to Ukkadam from where buses to Pollachi start every five minutes or so. Luckily he got a government service bus ready to leave. Private bus would have had those ear deafening music.

Rakesh took to sight seeing again. It was more than 4 years since he had left the orphanage for under-graduate studies.The diverging roads near a lake, traffic at railway crossing and lots of trees gave him a nostalgic feeling. He was waiting for the giant structures to come. And not to forget the ship-shaped marine college. The childhood memories were coming thick and fast. The fights, the pranks, the beatings, the phobia attacks. Why had Sister restricted him to come these four and a half years? Ofcourse he knew the answer.

The giant structures came and inevitably the discussion came flooding back:

"I found it I found it." said an excited Rakesh.
"What you found" asked his fellow 5th standard student Muniyappa who was imagining himself as superstar Rajini.
"I found from where the wind comes!"
"Where?"
"See those huge fans over there"
"Oh ya.. I see..."
"Am gonna tell this to Sister"
"Waitttttttttttttttttttttttt.. Why are some of them rotating slowly and others are stopped?"
"They are taking rest.. You know they rotate faster in night and take rest in day. Few are strong enough to rotate in day time also"
"But why are they...."
Before he could finish the question, Rakesh went upto Sister excitedly to tell his discovery. Sister was dumbfounded on hearing it. She did not know how to explain it to him. She patted on his back and said she will buy him a chocolate in the picnic.

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12 years later, now, Rakesh found it amusing. He wondered why a windmill did not trigger the phobia attack but a ceiling fan did. May be that 'discovery' had something to do with it. He started feeling weary now and slumbered for a while. The sight of dense coconut trees meant Pollachi was about to come. Finally around 7:30am, he touched down on his favourite place in the world. He went to the auto stand and asked for Saranalayam. A young lady who was standing there recognized him. She asked Rakesh to come along with her.
"What's your name and do you work there?"
She stammered "Sangeetha. I teach there."
He asked why she chose to teach at this young age. She said she believed in service, and no better than to be in an orphanage.
She was feeling at ease now and asked him whether it was true what was said about his phobia?
"I suppose you already know all about me."
She nodded and asked how he coped with it.
He answered, "You should know it. Our Sister keeps telling us to be not apprehensive about the future and live in the present. Compare the short time I feel pain to an hour. Or a day. It is very less. It just is difficult during the attack, but there is no physical pain afterward"

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"What a surprise my boy! I thought you are coming tomorrow"
"Oh come on Fat Lady. You told me to come this weekend"
"Saturday is working day for you. isn't it?" quipped Sister Philomena.
"Ya, but you said weekend. So I took leave. I called yesterday night to inform you, but your mobile was switched off?
"I was with God the whole night praying for you my boy"
And on and on they kept talking. Sangeetha, despite herself, was envious.

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It was evening time and all the kids were assembled around Sister, Rakesh and Sangeetha. One of them asked Rakesh about the giant fans. Rakesh couldn't help smiling, but wondered how that came about to the kid's knowledge? Another asked if it was true that Sister came in his dreams often as a giant lifting him up.
Sister was smiling sheepishly. Rakesh took the opportunity to start their usual session. He wanted Sister to start telling a story and promised to tell about his journey last night. The aircraft toy was in his hands. Sister saw it and understood.

She began:
"There was this plane carrying Rakesh & his family that crashed near a mountain...."

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