Monday, October 17, 2011

The Stranger – Part III

Read Part I & Part II of the Stranger series.

I was left speechless on hearing that his son had passed away. Hearing it made me feel more pity for him, who was already in such a bad state. “Iam sorry to hear that, Baba”, I replied. The fact that my cousin was in hospital in a highly critical state was a troublesome situation for my family, hence I could empathize with him completely. I didn’t know what to say to him.

“He is not there anymore. He has left his parents all alone in this nasty world, saying so he started coughing again along with rivulets of tears flowing down his face. 

“Why don’t you take the medicine now?. Hope you had your lunch” I asked trying to change the subject.

“Yes, I had something in the morning” replied the old man.

As he took the medicines, the bus to the main bus terminus arrived. Being a weekend, the bus was crowded with passengers having with their own plan for weekends. We got into the bus & somehow reached one corner of the bus and held to the support railings. 

“India is so different from Bahrain. The roads are much better, people are so nice and everything goes on smoothly there”, he said.

Not wanting to let Bahrain score against India, I interjected “India is one of the diverse nations and the world’s largest democratic nation too”. 

Yes. India is certainly rich in diversity & culture, he said

Not only that, India also has huge deposits of varied natural resources, I said proudly & regretted the moment I said it. 

No wonder, you still import petrol from OPEC, he quipped. Life is better in Bahrain compared to Saudi. Or for that matter any other Muslim nations. But at the same time, one has to adhere by the state ideals. Though we aren’t an authoritarian state, we expect people to respect and live by the code as directed by our King & state. 

“Oh, Bahrain has a King too”, I asked.

“Yes, he replied looking at me as if I was mentally challenged person. We have a King who lives in a luxurious palace. You know what I had the fortune of meeting our King in person. The company I work for is owned by the King’s eldest son. So, being a head of the division I was asked to visit the palace once to submit a report to my company head (the eldest prince). 

I was trying hard to imagine the old man as a head of a division. Probably dressed up in formal suits & shoes. “So did the King meet you?” I asked.

No. I was waiting in the main lobby when I saw our King. He was returning back to palace from some work, he said. He looked at me & smiled as he went in. I will never forget the day.

I was wondering why this guy was going crazy over getting a smile from the nation’s King. Then I realized that in India, the frenzy fan following for any actors/actresses will definitely beat that of his King. 

“There would be lot many women in the palace, quipped a nearby passenger, thinking that the King’s role was to enjoy & move around with women all day. I looked around to see who had asked the question & saw that half a dozen passengers were looking at us intently. I realized that the topic of King had invited the curiosity of few nearby passengers who were glued on to our conversation. 

 “Oh… Actually No, replied the Old man. Our King was meeting with foreign dignitaries that day & was coming back from meeting them. That’s when I met him, replied the old man.

Disappointed at not getting an answer for his question, the man tried again “The King would have many wives with him always, isn’t?”

The old man gave a puzzled look. He wants to know if the King had many wives & if all of them stayed in the palace, I rephrased the question for the old man.

He has few, not many wives and they reside in the palace with him, he said.

I heard from my friend that electronic items are available very cheaply there. Is it true?” asked another passenger nearby.

“Well, not really. But we do have ample supply of those goods hence the availability at low cost, said the old man. Few more passengers took part in the conversation. It seemed as if I was hosting a reality show with the old man as the guest. The old man was slightly surprised with the new found fame still 
was patiently answering all the questions. 

Thinking that if the conversation went forth, people would start asking random questions on Bahrain women & goods to the old man, I asked the old man “I think we have reached the bus station. So where are you planning to go now?”

“I will be going back to Kerala now to our ancestral home. Now that our son is not with us, I will have to go & look after my wife who is alone there, he said. Since the topic had changed from the King to Kerala, the passenger’s interest faded away and they got back to their normal routine of dozing & gazing outside. 

I nodded my head in agreement. I was finding it hard to console a guy who has lost his only son & hence thought it is better to stay silent rather than saying anything. 

“Son, I would need a small help, said the old man.

Yes, Baba. Tell me, I said

“I would like to borrow some money to go back to Kerala. The money which I had in my purse was stolen by those thieves. All my money is in my bank account in Bahrain which will take a week’s time to be transferred back here. Meanwhile, it will be helpful if you can lend me some money for the bus
ticket. I will send the money to you, as soon as I get my money, he said. 

No problem, Baba. You can give me the money later. I don’t have the money now. I will withdraw it from the ATM machine and give it to you, I said.

The bus had reached the main bus stand. Getting out of the bus, we enquired the place where Kerala buses will start. The conductor directed us to a spot. We asked the driver about the ticket fare to Kerala. “Normal fare 195, Non A/C pushback -290 & A/C- Rs.650”replied the driver as if reciting a hotel menu. “There is a last bus today & it will leave in half an hour”, he said. 

I told the old man to wait near a shop so that I can go & withdraw the money from the ATM. After withdrawing the money, I came back & extended Rs.1000 to the old man. 

The old man gave me a quizzical look. 

“I know Baba. I suggest that you travel in a push back seat instead of a normal one. You would have to sit straight in a normal seat which will be highly inconvenient. Also, you would need some money to buy something once you reach there.

“Thank you & God bless you, Son. You are very caring & considerate.” Give me your address so that I can send some gift to you. That is the least I can do for you, replied the old man. 

Now, that is not required, Baba” I said.

“No, no. I insist.  Tell me – would you want a digital camera or a TV”, he asked.

“Well, if you say so, a camera would be fine, I said. I have been planning for few months to get a camera. Now that, the opportunity presented itself, why not make the best use of it. Thinking so, I wrote out my name & address in a piece of paper and gave it to him. 

Let’s go & get your tickets, Baba” I said.

“It’s not required, Son”. You have really done a lot to me today. I don’t know how I will be able to repay you. I will have something to eat and then buy the ticket. I don’t want to hold you from your journey. You have your own bus to catch now.

I realized that I was yet to get a ticket for myself. Generally, I book the tickets online & hence have a ticket. Since, it was an impromptu travel decision; I was yet to find out the bus schedules. “Are you sure you don’t want me to accompany you till your bus”, I asked.

“No Son. I think I will go & call my wife & tell her about my journey now. And I will inform my company to about my resignation. Then have some food before boarding the bus”

“Okay, Baba. It was nice to meet you. Take care” I said. 

You too Son. Thanks for everything. Come to my home in Kerala if you ever come there”, he said with a smile & went off in the other direction.

I reached the ticket area & bought the tickets for the bus to Chennai. The bus was supposed to leave in 45 minutes. Since I didn’t have any work to do & the downpour was still continuing outside, I decided to wait in the bus until then. I kept my bag & sat down in my seat listening to the music in my iPod. The other passengers started walking in gradually. My weariness overtook me and I slowly drifted off to sleep. I thought about the condition of my cousin & mumbled a prayer that he should get fine. Then, the old man image appeared in my dream. “Poor guy. His situation was so pitiful. He had been working so hard abroad to save money for his family & for a better future but now all of that is just an empty dream.  It’s always better to spend your time with your family; Time spent with family is much better than spending time running behind money”

As these thoughts were flashing in my mind, my last conversation with the old man played out.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to accompany you till your bus”, I asked.

“No Son. I think I will go & call my wife & tell her about my journey now. And I will inform my company to about my resignation. 

Hold on. What did the old man say “call his wife & office?” During our earlier conversation, the old man had said that he had lost all address which he had. How can he call someone without having their details? I wondered. 

“Don’t be stupid. It’s his home & office number. He may remember it, I thought. 

“Let’s assume he can do that. But then he said he didn’t remember any other information during our conversation. How can he remember their details now?” I wondered. 

I looked at the watch. The bus to Kerala was supposed to start by 7pm. It was 7:05pm now. My bus was still filling it; hence an idea occurred to me. I went out and ran to the place where the Kerala bus stood, hoping the bus would still be there. I spotted the bus around the corner. The bus conductor had gone to get something and the bus was still waiting near the gate. I dashed on towards the bus. As I climbed in, the bus driver shouted “No seats available; Get out”. I just barged in & glanced around at the passengers hoping to find the old man. I couldn’t find him anywhere. The passengers gave me a scornful look.

The bus had started to move. The reality of the situation dawned on me. As I got down from the bus, I heard the song which was playing in my iPod. It was Frank Sinatra’s & it went 

That's life, that's what all the people say…”

The End...


Mystic ray said...

hmm ..Grt story indeed.. What went in my thought is no matter You are played around ,SPEACIAL thing is You are indeed Human:) Its the intention which matters .What i felt was your heart must have already told you about it ....but u see we are humans .we tend to be humans sometimes without any reasons , logicality and practicality .You just do it for you wish to do it ..thats it ..whatever happens thats okk... We tend to trust humans even when we know they are not to be .. thats what life is about:)Whatever the reason he gave you ... Ur hard earned money must have helped him in some way .we dont know the other side of the story ..what he actually meant that money for .Hoping wishing that your money was rightly used ..thats what u could possibly wish that time :P..twist has really straightened up :)looking forward to some more REAL stuff of you :)

ఉదయ్ శంకర్ యర్రమిల్లి said...

Awesome ending da..

Not that i didn't know this before, but the way it was written, makes it.. That's a trademark PS..


Aragorn said...

@Mystic Ray: Wise words indeed :) i agree that sometimes we need to trust others even when we are completely in the dark. But my motive through the story was to ensure we trust people but be aware of the devil inside them ;)

Aragorn said...

@Uday: Thanks for the kind words da :) Though you recalled and guessed the story by the II part itself. :) Good memory recall !!!

Maddyz said...

At one point I thought the old man sounded so genuine ..his cough and stuff !!

Mystic ray said...

@aragorn...i did guess the end and its true.u have to trust me here :P.sacch mein ..When u see the devil u think u trust people ..:P u tend to trust people only when u can see the best part .And thats how life is ... Occasionally with our busy ,robo life ..we behave so humane at times that we see the brighest part of individuals ..If u start looking the devils of other people ..i think we would be living in the world of horror...:) so..i think the moral of the story is ..See the good of men ..even at the cost of some price ...Looking at that good side you might as well explore your goody nature...wise words coming up as u know i am seeing the brightest part only of someone out there ...making me evolve ..varna itna akal kaha ...:P

Aragorn said...

@Maddy: Yup. A flawless actor indeed! :)

Aragorn said...

@Mystic Ray: Yea, t words of wisdom are flowing as tat of waters of Ganges. ;)
Isliye, I dont want to convert this to a debating platform :)

Amit Malik said...

Nice story. very well written but why such a cliched ending. Life is about trust , about being positive and about endings which keep you going.

Aragorn said...

@Amit: Thanks Amit. I too thought of giving an different ending, but then wanted my readers to be aware of the reality which exist.

Though, I very much agree that Optimism & trust is required in the current age, one has to know that there are two sides to the same coin, so that others dont take advantage of the compassion, the good souls display! :)