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SHORT STORY: To Become a Story…

SHORT STORY:    To Become a Story…

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  5 Nov 2018 12:46 PM GMT

Arunav Barua

Anger is often the key when in the face of discontent.

A deep, seething anger.

When life has led you in directions few have ventured towards, or destinations which seem like the prelude of some great promise but end up as mirages in a desert, and that thirst…

That thirst simply refuses to let go. It holds on to those dreams, those promises which you have surely realised for what they really are.

Empty whispers.

That is when anger takes over and you either smash your way out of your discontent or you simply wither away and perish.

The Church he was in now was the St. Mary’s cathedral in Shillong. It was a beautiful, quaint Church as churches go. A relic of the imperial British rule when Shillong was the erstwhile capital of North Eastern India.

Arihant was here for a reason.

To pray. For he could see no way out of the predicament he was in. Prayer seemed the only recourse. He was discontented with his lot, with the monotony of routine that his life had become. He believed he was a romantic at heart. Beautiful verses moved him, he was in love with the setting Sun, the full moon, and the ‘Great Bear’, the only constellation he could confidently recognize and recall in the night sky, when he took upon one of his frequent sessions at star-gazing. Today, he prayed for change. As he sat in front of the two stairways leading away in a semi-circular arch to meet at the roof of the church, he knelt, and he prayed. He had never done so before but he realised that it was his anger that led him to prayer, to God.

That night Arihant dreamt of a beautiful temple which he somehow recognized as the temple of Ahura Mazda, the light that illuminates the truth. There, he met his guardian angel and his mother, who asked him to play with her son. He also received a message, that he didn’t have long to live.

He woke up scared and disoriented. He remembered his dream but he shrugged it away as just another meaningless dream, as all dreams are,

Meaningless…

It never bothered him that he recognized the temple as that of Ahura Mazda, a name he had never heard before and the message of the subsequent events were lost unto him. On his breakfast table, as he sipped his coffee, he remembered that he had been to Church yesterday, and he smiled.

He smiled at his own foolishness.

“Rehan, you finish your breakfast. You are getting late for college.”

“Yes Mom.”

Arihant had lost his father when only six and his mother had juggled two jobs to get him through school and now college. He wanted to graduate soon so he could get some job and help in paying the bills, and letting his mother rest.

Yet, his heart seeked an escape from that future. A future where he had a steady job and a secure life. His heart seeked adventure. His heart seeked romance. That had led him to the church yesterday. Some dreams remain just those…dreams. Arihant never missed his father though. He had grown used to being without him and his wayward imagination helped him in overcoming the loss.

As he rode his bike to college, his mind kept going back to his dream and he wondered who Ahura Mazda was and why he had seen such a dream. It never occurred to him that sometimes, the cosmic forces of the Universe come together to send messages across time and space, through the medium of dreams. It never occurred to him that his prayer was a catalyst that set forth events of such enormous significance, to pave a way for Arihant to realise the dreams of his romantic heart. A catalyst that started a series of events which even he could not comprehend, even with his vast imagination, even with his dreams of romanticism and adventure. Someone, somewhere, in some cosmic plane, heard his prayer, and the dream he saw was just a prelude to answers his heart desired but did not have the words to form questions.

As Arihant parked his bike in the college parking, he saw a dark skinned, wide eyed boy, pleasing to the eyes, walking up to him. Kamli.

Kamlesh Chattrogotha.The two became friends for a strange reason. Street dogs…

Kamli had seen Arihant play with a couple of street dogs and he had seen the exuberance and the feeling of joy as Arihant fondled their ears.

“Not many people would do that, you know.”

“Do what?”

“Touch street dogs.”

“Oh! That.”

“Yes, that.”

“I love dogs and as long as I wash my hands before I eat, I see no reason not to touch them.”

“Hi, Kamlesh…and you are?”

“Arihant.”

“Nice meeting you Arihant, rather, nice knowing you.”

The two had then gone on to play with the dogs, Kamlesh being one of the few who dared play with street dogs.

Like Arihant.

That had set off a friendship that had spanned the three years in St. Edmund’s college, Shillong. They had visited Shillong Peak or Laitkor Peak as it is known. Arihant had threatened to jump off the railing that day and Kamli had said he would follow if Arihant did. That was their youth speaking for them. The two had then gone on to take in the panoramic view of the sleepy town of Shillong that the peak offered in silence. They had thrown stones at the college signboard at night in one of their bike sojourns. Kamlesh was a Jain and he had taught Arihant that every life was precious. That even insects deserved to live, and Arihant, who had despised mosquitoes before that and took great pleasure in slapping them to death, started shooing them away, much to Kamli’s delight. Kamli had also taught him to say “Namo Jinnanam” at the Dhwaj or crest of every Jain temple. He had said that saying the mantra looking at the uppermost part of the temple was equivalent to ‘Matha Tekna’, or visiting the temple.

Now, for Arihant, who googled Jainism, and after reading about the Tirthankars and their non-violent approach to life and their vegetarianism, had decided that it was the highest perfectionist religion, as even an insect deserved to live, and he had gone on to say “Namo Jinnanam” at every Church, Temple or Mosque; cross, spire or crescent. As for Arihant, though he was a Hindu, a Vaishnava; he was tolerant of all religions. Infact, he was a step beyond, he believed in the inherent goodness of all religions. He had dreams though, Akbaresque dreams of one religion for all the people of the world. He even had a name for that religion, simply calling it “Unconditional Love”.

Plato had the right idea, thought Arihant, his ‘ideal state’ was the way to ensure this ‘unconditional love’, when parents would not know who their child was; shared love, common love, Unconditional love. Arihant also felt disgusted sometimes with things other than his own life. He felt disgusted with the corruption rampant in his country; with the greed he saw everywhere, the smallness, the selfishness. Brought up in the Vaishnava culture, his mother had imbibed unto him that of the three forces of the Universe; that of creation, preservation and destruction, preservation was the most important. She told him that Vishnu was thus above Brahma and Shiva, who were Gods of creation and destruction, because Vishnu was the God of preservation. She also told him that all three forces went hand in hand to form the cosmos as we know it. Arihant though, was not a staunch Vaishnava or Hindu for that matter. He had borrowed a children’s copy of the Old and New Testament when still a child, from his neighbours, who were Christian, and had loved the stories of Moses, of David and Goliath, of Elijah and of Jesus’s life. He had understood that the basis of Christianity was love. Theirs was a religion based on love and not ‘fear’. The Sermon on the Mount had touched a chord in his child heart. Later, he had read up the rules of Islam on the net. He soon started drinking water in three sips as was recommended in the Islamic rituals. He could not remember since when, his nightly prayers consisted of the Lord’s Prayer, taught to him at school; of chanting of the Krishna name, Krishna being their personal deity; and a prayer to Allah. His mother had brought home videos of the famous Pakistani soap, “Dhoop Kinare” and he had fallen in love with Zoya, the central character, and had been struck by the similarities in the cultures of the two countries; India and Pakistan. So when most children his age had been brought up to hate their neighbours, Arihant felt love. Later, it had become one of his dreams to see the two countries united, if not geographically, at least ideally. He believed that even the mighty West would fear the union of these two giants. In some part of his heart, he felt that was a major reason why this enmity was fostered, even encouraged.

Arihant also loved reading and was a voracious reader. From Enid Blyton as a child, he graduated to Ayn Rand. From Dickens to Coelho, in the world of books he felt free. He lived and relived every adventure, every book. He craved in his heart that some day, he would live the romance and adventure he read about in books. So tired was he of the monotony of his dull life that he approached the highest power he knew to realise his dreams.

God.

Little did he know the power of a simple heartfelt prayer.

“Rehan, what are your plans, now that we graduate a month later?”

“Kamli, I don’t know. Just have no idea about what to do with my life.”

“I am planning to go to Bangalore, after the exams, to get a job there.”

“Bangalore?”

“Yeah. It’s a happening place. Some of my friends have vouched for the rock cafes and nightlife there.”

“Umm. It does sound exciting.”

“Yeah, why don’t you join me?”

“I will see, have to talk to mom. I don’t know if I can convince her to let me go.”

“It would be fun and seriously dude I don’t want to lose you.”

“Shut up! Or, I will start thinking you are different!”

The laughter of the two young men with dreams in their hearts and longing in their eyes echoed away into the cold Shillong evening.

The subsequent days were spent in preparation for their graduating exams. Arihant and Kamli decided that the best way to tackle the exams was combined studies, where they would pit their strengths and erase their weaknesses through mutual conversation. Converse they did, but as both soon found out, their interactions were anything but academic.

“Bangalore has a higher female-male ratio than any other city in the country, even Mumbai.”

A point made by Kamli which was an important reason for both the still single boys.

Slowly Kamli’s silent encouragement managed to influence Arihant and Bangalore became more tempting as a Utopia. A land where people are free and the women are beautiful. Soon both realised that their sessions at combined studies, more often than not, led them away from the task at hand-studying. So, with much regret Arihant suggested that they stop their sessions and study alone to at least clear their exams. He also made it clear to Kamli that their dreams of going to Bangalore would remain pipe if they flunked. Kamli agreed, and for some time the two friends parted way to make the journey to Bangalore, their Las Vegas.

Soon, the hour Arihant had been dreading arrived. Kamli was leaving a fortnight later, now that the exams were over and he told Arihant to book his tickets on the same train as there would be a rush later. That left Arihant’s mother, and try as he might, he knew it would not be a cakewalk to convince her to let him go to a city over 2000 miles away from their sleepy hamlet.

“Mom, I need to talk to you.”

“About what does my son need to talk about?” She seemed in a good mood.

“About the future.”

“Go on…”

“Well, Kamli’s going to Bangalore and I think I would like to go too.”

“Why Bangalore, you can get a job here.”

“Yes I can, but the pay is much higher there and there are so many more options to choose from.”

“Options?”

“Yes mom, they have hundreds of companies I can try getting a job in.”

“Is it jobs you are interested in, or girls?”

“What?”

“I heard you and Kamli talking.”

“You were eavesdropping!!!”

“No, but I heard your talk, you never care to talk softly.”

“Mom, I really wanna go.”

“Arihant, why can’t you stay in Shillong?”

“Mom, Shillong is beautiful and I love you, but have you seen the men here?”

“What’s wrong with them?”

“For all its beauty, we are called ‘Dkhars’ here, the non-tribals, and they don’t like us do they?”

“Not all are like that Arihant.”

Mrs. Choudhury only called Arihant by his full name when she was angry, or sad, or both and he knew he was losing the plot.

“Mom, the Khasi men in my college, all they want is to own a leather jacket and drive a taxi and have all the time in the world to go fishing.”

“Well, the Khasi women work, and the Khasi men have the best hearts and are true.”

“But I want to fulfill my ambition and I have dreams and Shillong in all its pristine beauty does not fit in the picture.”

Arihant saw his mother close her eyes for a while as he knew she did when in deep thought. There was hope still.

“Rehan, I would not be able to give you much money and I fear you will spend away our savings.”

Seeing light at the end of the tunnel, Arihant pushed for broke;

“Mom, I will start giving interviews from my first day there and by the time the month is over, I will have a job.”

“I don’t know Rehan, but one thing I do know is that I cannot bottle you up in Shillong. I always knew that Rehan, since you were a child, but I love you so son.”

Seeing the tears in his mother’s eyes, Arihant took her in his arms and whispered in her ears;

“Mom, I won’t go if it gives you so much pain.”

“No son, you go.”

“Oh! Mom.”

“Has Kamli made his tickets?”

“No, he’s waiting for me but I didn’t know ifI could convince you.”

“Promise me you will take care of yourself and avoid bad company.”

“I promise.”

Thus the stage was set, the plot woven. What began in prayer resulted in a journey that began with a promise. All Arihant knew or felt at that moment was tumultuous joy that he was moving towards his dreams at last, that there was still hope for him. Though saddened by the prospect of leaving his mother and his beloved Shillong, he was finally ready.

To leave his childhood behind. To live the adventure of the books he had read.

To become one…

A story.

Feedback: arunav_barua@yahoo.com

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