Tuesday, January 17, 2006


‘You’ve been watching too many kung fu flicks.”

The old man with the shining beady eyes made that dismissive pronouncement.

“If you think this is a place to hide from the real world, you are wrong. Running away has never helped anyone, you know.”

I must have rolled my eyes, because I saw a ghost of a smile twinkle in his eyes.

“Okay, then I won’t bullshit you.”

(My jaw dropped at hearing the real world word from an away-from-the-world monk.)

I waited for some profound lines about hard work and realization and seeking god. Nothing. He simply stared at me, a mona lisa smile on his face. Saying nothing. So this is how lab specimen felt…

Maybe he had fallen asleep. Just like grandpa used to. Mid sentence. I sort of craned my neck as a detective wood towards a closed door, in order to hear conversations behind the wall, not hiding the question mark on my face…

His eyes were closed. That was a definite. Maybe he had fallen asleep.

Or maybe he had died. And as soon as that thought popped into my head, the radio in the same over active head changed stations to hard-core right wing fm station that was playing ‘abide with me’.

I remember how another person had died exactly like that, mid sentence, listening to me sing that very hymn…

Jai Prakash Narayan was one of the good guys in politics. But he was also very old. (I was just a school kid then, and anyone over thirty was old. But this man was so old, he was wrinkled all over.) I remember I had inwardly shuddered with the callousness of the very young as his wrinkled, gnarled and bony hand grasped mine and his quivery, wrinkled voice said, ”You sing beautifully, will you sing a bhajan for me?”

I remember saying, “Bhajan?!” with so much distaste, I can still picture the grin that spread all over his wrinkled face.

I had extricated my hand and looked around the room.

Apparently he was very ill, and apparently I was the only one in the room that afternoon who was completely oblivious of his historical importance. For me, he was just a very old person who was making an irrational demand. I sang ghazals, I sang in the school choir because I liked harmonies. But bhajans? They were meant for the Hare Krishnas. But now there were a whole bunch of people in the room who had gathered around the ailing politician, who were all staring at me for a miracle. I had no time to think, because the feeble voice had reminded me, anything, any bhajan. Someone helpfully stage-whispered, “He too likes 'Vaishnava jan to'…”

And inspiration hit me when the radio in my head (yes, I think I’ve had it running in my head forever) pushed me into singing ‘Abide with me’.

And before I had finished the hymn (and in my defense, it was a kind of bhajan), the man had died.

Needless to say that the news never mentioned my lethal weapon, and the family has never allowed me to sing in public again, but nobody and no event has been able to switch that damned radio in my head off. And right now it was playing ‘Abide with me’. Again. And the man in front of me was old and wrinkled and had gone very very silent.

Maybe I should look harder at him. So I half crouch up from where I was sitting and start to sort of do a tiger crawl towards him. I have unkind thoughts of rigor mortis and of having to try and untangle his mortal remains from the lotus position…


Fuck! The teva monk! I had forgotten all about him! He must have materialized behind me without making a single sound.

I think hard. I think fast.

And execute a clumsy the Indian style prostrate-yourself-in-front-of-holy-men namaskaar.

I open my eyes to see the old man grinning. (He’s alive! Thank goodness!) The teva monk is behind me so I don’t get to see his reaction. But I am sure he rolled his eyes. Whew! That was close.

I look at the old man. He knows I am waiting for words of wisdom from him. So he obliges.

“Now that you are here, work hard. I hope you will unlearn the fear you have lived with for all these years.”

Man! I am hopelessly impressed with the mind reading thing. But the whole setting does not allow a Jim Carey jaw-drop act. So I nod my head meekly and follow the teva monk once again.


Blogger Jugal said...

Where's this going? :D
I like the constant movie references coming in at odd places :)
Jim carey jaw drop! :)

1:57 AM  

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