Before The Real World Began

I came across this piece in an old diary. I had written this piece of Fiction (?) about 6 years back and it surprised me with it’s ease and simplicity. I was quite the kid of the street. This was written at a time when I wasn’t allowed to venture beyond my lane alone even at 3 in the afternoon. Trip to the Market must have been quite a thrill.  I have not altered it. It is true to it’s naive spirit.

 

Returning from school at two in the afternoon, I could already see the arrival of summer in February. The juice shops had opened. People were stopping for a drink of pudine ka pani and some were walking around chewing radish. I urged mom to allow me to have a drink too. She gave me a ‘no’, saying “home is near, let us drink clean water. Who knows what they mix in this, you’ll fall sick and miss out on school. I don’t want all this in your twelfth standard.”

A sigh escaped me. It was just February and I had my board exam in March the next year [2006] but mom had started already! I wondered what would happen to me by the time it was February next year.

Well, nobody cares for boards when they have a virgin weekend stretched out before them. I most definitely don’t.

It was Friday and I was returning home surviving two Maths, two Economics, two Accounts and two Business Studies. My uniform was in a mess as usual. The shirt was tucked out, the tie hung loose, a (quite trashy) silvery chain (which was not allowed in school) showed from the gap which was created due to the collar button being open. The shoes were dusty and the socks were rolled down. When I had left home in the morning my hair was wet and lay open, it was open the whole day but now it was tied up in a small bun high up on my head as I was tired of having it on my neck.

I dragged myself to my room which was on the second floor and dumped my back pack on the bed and lay flat beside it.

The window was still closed, like I had left it in the morning. I got up, opened it and drew aside the curtains. The room filled with light, wind, freshness and joy. I felt a lot more energetic than I was.

This window in my room out-looked a peepul tree, a few neighbourhood buildings and the whole of the sky. At night the light from the Market Street and shops would illuminate my window and the tree would get an eerie look. The sky would usually be a reddish gray due to pollution and clouds but at times I did catch a starry sky in the capital.  

My room in all consisted of a bed, a fan, a closet and a wall cupboard for books. This cupboard mostly lay empty as all my books were strewn beside my pillow, on the bed. I could not get to sleep if the stock was not there.

After a bath I had a fast and hurried lunch and came back to my room. I was somewhere in the middle of a Sydney Sheldon. Determined to finish it up and start Rusty and the Leopard [which I had stolen from the library] I started reading after I had covered myself up with a light blanket. Soon I was fast asleep. When I woke u it was six fifteen. I went down to play. Gullu, Vishu and Nishu were there already.

“I went to call you, but you were sleeping.” Gullu said to me.

“I just woke up, where is Mamta?” I asked.

“She has gone to the tuition early today.”  Gullu replied. Mamta was his kid sister.

“And I kept Raksha at home. Sneaked out when she was in the bathroom.” Said Vishu about his nagging toddler of a sibling.

“Let’s go to the park!” Gullu suggested.

“I’ll come too, I’ll come too.” Manish, Gullu’s infant brother came out of his house and held onto my hand. [I was his special favourite, I guess.]

“Mani bhai, we are not going to the park today. It’s too late to go anyway.” His elder brother tried to convince and get rid of Manish but kids are often smarter than we consider them to be. So a group of us five people set out from our homes and walked through the market to the park.

When we reached, a group of college going guys were playing cricket. A gang was playing volley ball, couples were squatted on the grass with pleasant smiles and hopes in their eyes. Masters were playing with their dogs and a gardener was watering shrubs.

We walked up the slope in the corner of the ground. It had gigantic rocks on it where we usually sat. The Banyan tree behind the slope stood tall and big and provided the whole slope with a warm shadow. Behind the rocks was a deep and ancient well. It was dry now but at some time there was water in it. The well was covered with an iron gate with iron rods. We could look at the bottom of the well and see empty packets of chips, toffee wrappers, bottles of cold-drinks, dried leaves which had fallen from the banyan tree and many more useless things. It had become a trash-bin.

Manish ran around and up and down the slope, the three boys indulged themselves with the job of climbing the tree behind the slope and I looked around the park from the available altitude and felt myself to be the owner of everything that was happening in the park, the sky, the birds and the wind.

At times I would come alone in the morning on holidays and lie flat on one of the rocks and enjoy the wind. Sometimes I wondered how beautiful it would be to be a bird, most of all, an eagle. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about things and I could just spread out my wings and roam free without any work. As far as the thought of eating rats and rabbits go, it would be no problem as I never an interested in what I’m eating. When I was a kid, I would wrap myself with one of my mum’s black duppattas and run down the stairs. I’ve always loved black birds. Especially eagles and crows. Even their voice fascinates me.

I walked over to the tree and watched Nishu [the best tree climber] catch hold of branches and proceed higher up on the tree. Gullu was hanging midway. Vishu had managed to slip twice and get a bruise on his hand. He was even shorter than Gullu, quite natural that he couldn’t climb or maybe he didn’t know like me.

A pigeon, who was returning home after a hectic day of work and most probably had an emergency, could not hold in longer and dropped its leavings on Gullu’s head.

“eeeww…” Nishu said and burst out laughing.

Everyone was laughing their heads off but Gullu was red in the face, embarrassed. He descended and said “aye haye… donkey of a pigeon. May his wife run away with another pigeon.” But none of us stopped laughing. I dragged him to the gardener who had the water pipe and he washed his head and dried it with a hanky.

After a while we found ourselves walking around in the market without any purpose, stopping every now and then to talk to shopkeepers who were well acquainted with us. The evening market was a pleasure to be in. What hustle-bustle. We were joined by a few other friends who were returning from their tuitions. Pratik, Deepak, Mamta (Gullu’s sister), Sushma, Nirmala (Gullu’s specially close friend), Chinu and Saleem.

The market was flooded by the strange combination of Hindi film songs, azan and other devotional songs played by cassette shops, the nearby famous mosque and the tiny temples propped right beside the mosque.

Once in a while a cycle or a scooter came and the pedestrians had to move aside to let them pass. A cow was munching away squished and drained fruits from a juice shop when the shopkeeper was busy talking to the bread-pakora wallah. We trooped in front of the pakora shop and ordered twelve break pakoras for all of us. The spicy snacks were enjoyed as we strolled to the mungfali-wallah. I took popcorn worth two rupees and some took peanuts and gajjak (a sweet made of molasses and peanuts – a winter special).

By the time it was eight, we walked back to our homes, our stomachs filled with a lot more goodies and tit bits.

Once home I tried to sneak up to my room without having to talk to mom. For I knew she was going to pull down the same topic we have been through a lot of times. Dad. How he had disappointed her all her life and how careful I should be while choosing my spouse.

Up in my room, I set up a chair near the window and took up my book and started reading it. As pages decreased and the time increased, the light of the Bazaar receded. The sounds ceased. A silence settled over the busy capital. The stars twinkled, the breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees and the dozing birds snuggled closer to each other in their cosy nests.

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