ENGLISH ROSE

October 2016, New York

At sharp 9:00 PM, my hired cab screeched to a halt in front of The Public Theater, New York. I was a little afeared that I wouldn’t be able to make it in time but my driver was really an ace. Fortunately, we made it right on the dot.

I paid off my fare, hopped out of the cab in haste, narrowly escaped an awkward trip over the edge of the road-side pavement.

I recollected all my confidence with a deep relaxing sigh, and looked around, agape.

The entire road was abuzz with a horde of zealous theatergoers, gathered outside the theater, waiting restlessly for the opening of the Show. An extravagant amalgamation of the people of almost every age group, bedecked with voguish rags, trilling and buzzing excitedly all over the place. Each of them was beaming with sheer enthusiasm for this particular theatrical piece which was on the way to be a huge success of the year.

I was clad in a pure white tee paired with a carbon blue denim and a rich brown blazer. I didn’t give a damn to the accessories, but my boots were really cool. I knew that I should have spent a little more time on my choice of attire, after all it was a big day for me. But I realized it was the best I could do when I caught two angelic beautiful tall American lasses staring at me. They were exchanging giggles to each other in a rather baffling way. I really couldn’t figure out – whether it was a compliment or a derogation. Anyways, the anxiety to witness the play running through my veins compelled me to ignore them as I found myself unable to think of anything else.

For me, it was not just a play, a theatrical entertainer, I had been abiding for that adventitious day since last twelve thirteen years. There was not even a single day which passed when I might not have agonized to realize the only fanciful fantasy I had. Chasing that one dream, with the help of one of friends, I had moved to New York from North India five months ago, and eventually, in the  interim,  I managed to find a part-time job to cater my expenses in New York.

Finally, the day had approached for which I had been waiting for long.

In my childhood, my grandpa revealed to me, “Life is not about dreaming but exploring”. The day he taught me that lesson for lifetime, ever since I never ever dreamed of anything, no to-do list, no stupid goals. I just went about fulfilling all my duties for the day, and when the day is over, it’s really over for me. And, as my grandpa promised – “if you go this way, one such day life would certainly give you a chance to extricate the riddle of your very existence in this vast living cosmos”, it was happening for me slowly, the way I was going – every day I was just joyful.

I had nothing to gain. And, when I know that I didn’t gain anything so far in my life, the fear of losing something is not a possibility anymore. It’s the simplest mantra of living which my grandpa divulged to me long ago, and I appreciate it at heart.

But, out of the blue, one childish vision got stuck to my brain, and it was my Grandpa indeed who didn’t let this one abstract notion get off my mind. And, with time, it began to take over me and I became too weak to resist.

At 9:15 PM, the entry was open, and a multitude of spectators slowly streamed in the theater including me.

Fortunately, I managed to secure a seat in the third row, right in the middle as I had booked the show well in advance. The vehemence for relishing the show from a prominent seat overwhelmed me, I found it really difficult to contain the flux of excitement, and started fidgeting awkwardly in my seat.

Then, all the light goes off, the big scarlet curtain is drawn to each side, and everybody got bewitched including me as the beams of neon lights spread across.

2004, INDIA

In a remote village, situated somewhere in North India from where the gigantic chain of The Himalayas is visible now and then, mostly in rainy season when it pours heavily. 

An abrasive loud call-out from outside brings Shahid back from afternoon lull which he had been having following the school. Hearing the hullabaloo, Shahid jumped up in daze and went vile in rubbing his eyes with a series of adorable yawns.

Again, a loud voice “Shahid” pierced his ears. He looked around in bewilderment with drowsy eyes. A boy bangs into his room, carrying wild expressions on his face and a handmade bat in his hand, “It’s time to go, come on hurry” he shouts out-loud and vamooses.

Shahid gets off the cot (a narrow bed in India, mostly found in villages) in haste, looking for his sleepers everywhere. He was all-agog to accompany his friends who are off to the playground.

No sooner did he find his sleepers and almost ready to leave when the lady of the house grasped his arm.

“You didn’t have your lunch today” Shahid’s mother frowned at him.

“I don’t feel like eating, Maa (mother)” lied Shahid, outright, somehow wanted to be free from his mother’s grip.

“No excuse will do for you” his mother affirmed in a rather serious tone, “you have to eat first then I will let you go out”, the final decree she delivered.

All the fervor with which Shahid was rushing about tumbled down right away. He looked at his Grandpa who was sitting in another cot nearby in full anticipation of some help from him. Contrary to his expectation, Grandpa shared a nerdy look through his fat round spectacles and turned his eyes away ruthlessly. The old nerd, squatting down in an awkward position in the middle of the cot, wearing a ripped white Baniyan paired with a blue checked Tehmand, deliberately avoided his grandson.

“No one is supposed to open up when the house-maker is standing at the podium & holding the mic”

When Grandpa didn’t bother himself to help him out, with a constipated look, Shahid landed his pom-pom with a bang on the floor to have his lunch first as the mother dictated, of course, in a good grace for her child.

Mother served him the food, and, with no courtesy, Shahid devoured his meal and run away.

Shahid, an eleven years old naive boy, belongs to a run-of-the-mill family. A family which is led by a mother who works as a sweeper in a nursing home in the neighboring town which is about 15 to 18 miles away from the village.

Ten years ago, Shahid’s father met death in a tragic road accident. Shahid was merely two years of age when time dealt with no mercy, and this is why Shahid’s mother had to step out to earn bread for the family. Unfortunately, Shahid couldn’t get a chance to weave a memoir with his father, only a vague picture and indistinct voice of him floats in Shahid’s mind whenever he needs his father standing by him.

There were only three members in the family including Grandpa. In spite of daily life struggle, no one of them ever fell into the trench of misery just because they don’t have money in their pocket at times; this reason was not good enough to turn any of them off.

As for Shahid, he was very much under the influence of his grandfather, and was very close to him. The bonding between the two was really inspiring. His grandfather was a man of Great Spirit; he has always been irksomely torpid with a smiley face against all possible odds. He knows how to go with the flow of time without responding or reacting to the twist & turn which mighty time might have for him. Nothing could bring him down and Shahid was earnestly adopting all these invaluable qualities from him.

Wearing a yellowish vest, paired with Extra Large grayish shorts, Shahid was dashing at full speed towards the playground which is laid outside the village near a mammoth natural pond where he and his team play cricket every day.

Through the vast virescent fields of wheat adorned with mustard, Shahid was running frantically on the parapets across the grounds like an ace when he was stopped by a much older boy who belongs to the other side of his village. All of the sudden, Shahid’s face turned as white as a sheet, and he almost tripped over his speed. Shahid looked at him with an empty face, mouth partly opened. He couldn’t figure out – why he was approached like this?

Before Shahid could utter something, the boy pulled a note out of his pocked and entrusted it to him.

“What is it”, Shasid raised his face upwards to make an eye contact with him.

“Give it to Rekha”, that boy replied pronto.

“Who is Rekha”, Shahid tried to steer clear of him because he got the wind – what the hell that boy was up to.

“Don’t play smart with me because you are not, little imp”, that boy cleared the confusion straight away.

On and off, Shahid was raising his face to peep into the eyes of that rogue while talking to him and finding it quite difficult as the blazing sun was showering fire full-force all around. Every time when Shahid looked up, he had to squint.

That boy is a famous young womanizer from the village who wants Shahid to drop a love letter to his beloved Rekha who resides in the neighborhood of Shahid.

Shahid doesn’t like that boy but he thought it would not be wise to deny him outright so he agreed to drop the letter with zilch resistance.

Shahid took the letter from him and began to head towards the playground.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Where are you off to”, that boy raised his brows at Shahid.

“Going to play with my friends”, Shahid mentioned meekly, and he knew it was to happen.

“No game today, go, do my job first and nobody should ever come to know about it”, that boy made it very clear to Shahid.

Shahid knew that he was not in position to oppose, therefore he didn’t, he had to turn back unwillingly. That day Shahid couldn’t get to play.

In the evening at around 08:00 PM, a huge uproar on the street took place. Shahid was having dinner with his mother. They both looked at each other in alarm. Then, the abusive words began to float in the air at high pitch, Shahid’s mother got scared, she immediately left her meal and sprinted to close the main door of the house.

In the event, Shahid expressions turned void as though he already knew – what was happening, and why? He didn’t bother himself to peep outside to take a stock of the situation. He was seating insensitive and busy in finishing his meal.

Shahid’s mother went upstairs on the roof to see why the hell there was so much fuss. A few people from the vicinity were thrashing a boy soundly and showering abusive words.

Shahid had done his job; he was supposed to hand in that amorous letter to the girl not to the girl’s father. The poor Romeo had to pay a heavy cost for the mistake he made that evening, he hired a novice mailman.

A few peaceful days passed, Shahid did a great many things in the past week. He participated in various art and craft sessions at school and won various medals in sports either. He was one of a few bright students in the school who are teemed with almost everything. A boy who is a deft at everything, particularly in the field of art and sports.

On a fine day, in the evening, Shahid and team precipitously made a plan to pay a visit to the neighboring town. The idea of visiting the town occurred to them from nowhere. They had never been there before, but in passing, a kind of frenzy hijacked their little brains, and they all ventured out without giving a damn to the consequences what might happen to them if something goes wrong.

They covered about 18 miles by hitch-hiking, on foot, running amok, they made it somehow.  There they were in the town before sunset. All-together, they were appearing like a pack of vagabonds. Well, they were not supposed to loiter in a town which is approx eighteen miles away from their village. There was no leader, it was an acephalous team of little champs. The deeper they got in the town, the more exciting it got for them. A kind of euphoria had frozen their mind, they were running all direction, making noises, picking colourful refuse from roadside, as everything around was appearing novel to them.

By their expressions, anyone could easily conclude that they have come to the town for the first time. As the sun was going down slowly, the town begun to twinkle with neon lighting, the big billboards off the road, and the façade of each shop began to fluoresce eesomely.

In the moments, Shahid and all his friends couldn’t figure out that the sun has set and the dark night has begun to surround. By that time, they were supposed to be home but the exuberance within themselves kept all the worries at bay for them. From lane to lane, they explored every corner of the main market. And, their energy didn’t dwindle a bit at all even after hours of expedition.

They were all standing off the national highway which goes through the town, and were busy in shouting at the moving vehicles, then a biker noticed them and stopped his bike, right in front of them.

Almighty God!

He was the Romeo from the village, when he stopped his bike right in front of the boys; every one of them turned pale, utterly dumbfound. All the joy, the pack of juveniles was experiencing suddenly vanished into thin air, only empty faces were left there. At a stroke, they had realized their crime of the day they committed.

The biker from the village gave them a devilish smile; after all he had his chance to get all of them thrashed. Shahid was seriously scared, he slowly took a back step, and ran towards home.

No sooner did Shahid start running when all of them began to follow him. The biker gave a chase to them with hurls and shouts. All the colorful scrape they had grabbed in their hand they threw and ran at their fullest speed to home.

At 08:00 PM in the evening, Shahid was sitting in the veranda, head down as his mother was giving him a sound sermon for the scene he created that day with his friends. The biker had done his job.

Of course, Shahid didn’t get to eat his meal that night; it was the punishment awarded by the lady of the house. His grandfather was sitting in the cot nearby, squinting at his grandson stealthily. They both were shooting looks to each other in between when shahid’s mother was reciting her lecture. Each time when they shot a look, they sniggered under their sleeves. Perhaps, the scene created by Shahid made his grandfather recollect his childhood memories.

By the suspicious countenance of Shahid’s grandfather, it can be adduced easily that Grandpa might have also made the same mistake when he was young or maybe the more serious one.

His grandfather didn’t say even a single word about Shahid’s blunder because the old man was already in focus to pamper Shahid. Consequently, he chose to keep quiet.

At 11:00 PM, shahid was sleeping under the open sky in a mosquito net. His grandfather slowly sneaked in Shahid’s cot. Shahid woke up in daze; grandpa hushed him quickly.

“I brought you something to eat” grandpa whispered.

“Grandpa’s love, how could he let his grandson go to sleep empty belly”.

How was the town, what have you seen there”, grandpa asked under his breath.

“It was awesome, there were many a big shop and thousands of colourful lights everywhere” Shahid fumbled with stuffed mouth, again excited to share the experience.

“What happened to others” Shahid asked, he wanted to know if his friends, who accompanied him, are dead or what?

“I don’t know” Grandpa replied.

Then, Grandpa noticed something which was kept under the pillow of his grandson.

“What is it?” Grandpa asked.

Shahid pulled it out, it was a wrapper of something having a photo of a beautiful lady on it.

Where did you get it, and what would you do with it”, Grandpa asked in surprise.

“Who is she” Shahid asked innocently.

How do I know who she is” replied Grandpa, baffled.

“She is beautiful”, Shahid mentioned with a dotting tone, totally mesmerized by the picture

“I want to know who she is?”, Shahid stretched further.

Hearing this, grandpa gave an odd look to him. Because it was going to be a tough task how to find out who she is, and Shahid would not give up. Grandpa had got the wind of upcoming trouble.

In the meantime, Shahid mother noticed both of them in the cot. She saw her father-in-law feeding Shahid. However, she was also going to feed him, after all, she is a mother. Seeing that affecting scene, a smile spreads on her face. She stepped back and let the two continue whatever nonsense they were doing.

In passing, Shahid artfully took a promise from his Grandpa that he would help him in finding the lady on the wrapper.

Grandpa vowed to help him in finding that lady, and went upstairs on the rooftop. Shahid saw him going upstairs from his mosquito net and pondered over, “why the hell Grandpa is going upstairs in the dead of night”. Shahid left his cot and perused him.

Grandpa was sitting on the floor, eyes locked with an old Granny who lives in neighborhood on the other side of their lane. She was also on the rooftop of her house, and they both dotingly sharing looks and making faces at each other, passing smiles in the worst clumsy ways.

It was not the first time Shahid caught his Grandpa in such acts with her. He knew that his Grandpa had something to do with that old woman but he never got the hold of it to the core what it was actually.

Once he eavesdropped, when his mother having a chit-chat with a lady from neighborhood. She said that Grandpa and that old woman were in love since childhood. They were the love-birds of the village, but nothing could happen in favour of them, and her father got her married away. Unfortunately, she couldn’t bear a child after marriage, and her husband got married to another woman. After twenty years, her husband died, and her step children threw her out. And she came back to her father. Ever since, she has been living here, her brothers and nephews look after of her. Shahid heard this story from his mother.

Shahid left his Grandpa in his love affair and got back into his cot.

Next day, the mission starts off, Grandpa shows that picture to one of his friends, in case he knows “who is the lady on the wrapper”. Grandpa friend remove his glasses to clear the lances, and put them on again. He stared at the pic with mouth agape, a number of wrinkles covered his forehead.

“English woman” he stressed finally in an unsteady voice.

“Have you seen her anywhere”, Grandpa asked with no sense of integrity.

Grandpa’s friend shook his head hopelessly, bemused, “How can this old nerd even ask such a humiliating question”

Shahid was about to come back from his school, and Grandpa already knew with which he was going to be badgered. Grandpa was sitting outside off the road on the steps outside the main door of his house near the waste water drain with his friend. The alleged valentine of Grandpa was also sitting outside her home when Shahid came back from school. He shared a look with that Old Item. She smiled at him, Shahid smiled back. And, as predicted – Shahid asked about whether they have found out the lady on the wrapper or not.

“She is a English Woman”, Grandpa nodded his head in access, hopelessly with the most vexatious grin on his face.

Shahid shook his head in disappointment and lingered in the house.

In the evening, Grandpa gave a ring to his childhood friend from the only available PCO in their village which is fortunately in working state too. At first, he hang back from revealing – why he gave him a call but he had to tell him the purpose after all he was grandpa’s childhood friend.

“Oye! Randheer, Shehzad this side”, Greeted Grandpa

Hearing his childhood friend voice after ages, Randheer jumped up the chair “Oye! Seza, after a long time, I thought you might have departed to heaven”, Grandpa’s friend fleered and laughed out-loud with no courtesy.

“Is everything all-right, how come after a long time”, Mr. Randheer continued.

“Randheer …. How to say”, stammered a bit Grandpa.

Hearing this, willies encircled Mr. Randheer, he thought – something went wrong. “Is everything all-right?” he stressed again.

“Everything is fine. I am just looking for a girl,” replied Grandpa in hesitation

“Who is she?”, Mr. Randheer asked in a curious way.

“That’s the problem, I don’t know who she is, I have only a photo of her”, Grandpa continued at high pitch as the voice began to break.

“Where does she belong?”, Mr. Randheer asked again, now the things began to slip out of his sphere of understanding.

“I don’t know a thing about her. I want to meet you”, said Grandpa.

“Oye.. Seza come then”, mentioned Mr Randheer in great enthusiasm.

Grandpa had been planning for long to see his childhood mate, eventually, his grandson gave him a reason to see his friend.

Next day, Grandpa noticed that Shahid was heading to his school, halfhearted. Old nerd had never seen his grandson so dejected.

At noon, Shahid came back from his school, but couldn’t get to see his Grandpa anywhere. Seeing the restlessness on his face, his mother informed him that Grandpa was out to see someone.

The day passed, and the twilight tinged the empyrean with multiple colours. Grandpa disembarked from the last bus right outside the village with a big box in his hand. It was quite heavy for him and causing him to limp in his right leg.

Grandpa was heading to his home at a snail’s pace. As he got near to his beloved’s house, he noticed – a few members of her family were rushing about in worry. He sniffed something wrong but couldn’t inquire anything and move ahead.

Now here it was, at his home, Shahid jumped out of joy to see him and ran towards him.

“What have you brought?”, Shahid put his hand on the box, and stroked it.

“I have a surprise for you”, Grandpa made a funny face at him, “You just take your seat, I will show you”, said Grandpa.

Shahid spread a bed-sheet on the ground and placed his butt quickly on.

Grandpa dusted off his black & white chronic Television, and prayed to the lord – it should work. He pulled out a CD Player out the box which he brought from his friend’s house along with a Compact Disc of a Hollywood movie.

Shahid figured out what his Grandpa was up to. Exhilaration filled him to the brim, he shouted outloud, “Are we going to watch a movie?”. Shahid danced about all direction and announced it out-loud to his mother too.

Grandpa turned the TV on, and played the movie.

UNIVERSAL PICTURE PRESENT – “The Mummy”

Grandpa and Grandson were sitting all-there, totally engrossed, and had scarcely been blinking their eyes. Following the opening scene, the moment when the actress of the movie appeared on screen, Shahid blasted in awe and looked at his Grandpa.

She was the lady, they were in quest of.

Finally, they came to know who they were dealing with.

In the middle of the movie, Shahid’s mother entered the room, brimming over with intense pain, her eyes were bedewed with tears. Shahid didn’t notice that her mother was there.

Grandpa looked at her, she wanted to say something but the grief had paralyzed her tongue, she agonized to find words to express what she wanted to say. Grandpa made a gesture to keep her calm, Grandpa didn’t want to spoil the evening for his grandson. Perhaps, Grandpa had already got it, what his daughter-in-law wanted to say.

Grandpa enjoyed the full movie without letting Shahid know anything of the prevailing grim outside.

Next day, with the first shaft of morning beams, Shahid woke up full-on, with new energy. As he got off his bed, he saw her mother was sitting next to him. As soon as Shahid looked at her, into her eyes, a stream of tears rolled down her cheek. Shahid turned blue immediately.

“What happened Maa”, Shahid asked, restless.

Her mother stood up and cuddled him in her arms. Shahid held her mother tight.

That day, shahid witnessed two biers going outside of the village with a massive trail of people behind. One was taken to the crematorium, and other one to the graveyard which was situated exactly in front of the crematorium on other side of the road.

Shahid was left alone, broken-heart. He had lost a best friend that he found in his Grandpa.

For many days, Shahid thought – it was Imhotep from the movie who killed his Grandpa but it was not Imhotep, it was the old lady who took his Grandpa with her or he willingly pursued her, as he usually would.

My Grandpa’s valentine, she died, he died, what a love!

After one hour, the all lights were turned on. The curtain was dropped. And, everybody had left the theater, but I was still seating there, lost in thoughts, benumbed. Somebody from the theater staff noticed me. He came to me and gave me a nudge to move out as the show had finished. I came back to my conscious state, plead sorry to the theater staff and moved out.

On the way to my apartment, again in a hired cab, I was sitting torpid, expressionless but only from outside. Inside, the surge of emotions running riot, but I had almost forgotten – “how to display them”. Hence, I tried to sit calm, with a blank face, and staring outside through the window glass.

Tears were really threatening.

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