Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Setting Sun

It was the hour of the setting sun; birds flew back to their nests, cows sauntered back to their sheds and the strong winds shepherded the farmers back to their houses after a hard day at work. But some never found their way back.

Krishnappa sat at the footsteps of the house, leaning against the wooden pillar and gazing into the distance with a woebegone expression. With his sparse grey hair and wrinkled creases etched on his forehead, he could easily pass of as a grandfather in his 70s. Yet he watched the kids in the neighbourhood wistfully and the memories flooded back to him stronger than ever. Unable to watch the sight of the children playing Hide and Seek, he began to shout at them. He waved his stick menacingly until they ran away laughing at the expense of the “mad old man”.

Having cleared the street of its only lively residents, he settled down and resumed his contemplation until the sky discreetly transformed from a fiery red to a stealthy purple concealing with it, the mysteries of the night. The stars appeared surreptitiously, until the blue velvety sky was studded like a thousand bejewelled spectacle. He remained in his solitary trance until the call of his wife beckoning him indoors shook him out of his reverie.

If Krishnappa has seemed a tad monochrome, Anandibhai’s spirit sufficed for the two of them. She hummed a tune as she went about her chores, her silver anklets keeping rhythm to the melody. There was a sparkle in her eyes though her face was wrinkled with age and her heart; weathered with pain. If Krishnappa was still a sane man, it was undoubtedly due to the good natured charm of Anandibhai.

They laid the vessels on the floor and she began yet another animated conversation of how their neighbour’s daughter Rukmini was seen at the lake with the milkman’s youngest son Arun after sunset. Krishnappa didn’t mind the mindless chatter as he quietly ate his meal. In fact, he was glad because her soliloquy gave her some respite from the numbing pain gnawing him from within. How did she bear it? Why was he not as strong as her? Why did the memories keep flooding back to him like it was just yesterday? Did she also grieve for the past but stifle the pain under a fa├žade?

“Are you even listening?!”She snapped at him crossly.

“Yes, yes, how audacious of them! So young and irresponsible! This can’t be encouraged.” He added hastily as his wife eyes him suspiciously.

“You don’t hear a word of what I say! I was telling you that Jalaja’s daughter gave birth to twins last week”. She looked at him with concern. Her tone softened and she continued, “Krishna, what has come over you lately? Why are you so sullen and indifferent? Do you not like what I cook?”

Ah, the clever woman. With those large brown eyes looking piteously at him, he would have thought she was truly hurt but the hint of a smile betrayed her purpose and he could not help but indulge his wife with an appreciative smile. After all, nobody could possibly cook better than his wife in all of Narasipura.


It was a piercing cry that broke the silence of the night. She woke up with a start and glanced at him. Yet another piteous cry echoed through the barren household. His face was contorted in pain and tears streamed down his cheeks. No! She could not see him suffer even in his sleep. Gently, he she woke him up and put an end to the nightmare that continued to haunt the daylights out of her husband.

As the days wore on, the household was enveloped by a pall of gloom. Not even the lilting melodies of Anandibhai could elicit a smile from the increasingly restless Krishnappa. The nightmares grew more frequent, the neighbourhood children did not dare to enter their street and Anandibhai was at her wit’s end. Seldom did Anandibhai give in to the demons inside her; she strived to remain as a beacon of hope and support to her husband. But the burden of being the sole pall bearer to the persistent misery was beginning to overwhelm her and she gave in to the momentary weakness.

It was five years ago that their life changed forever. Their only son Madan, his wife Radhika and their son Rama had come to the village for the temple festival. After the marriage Madan was a busy man in the city with responsibilities. Radhika was accomplished and educated but she remained cold and aloof with them. It was their son, Rama who brought joy into the life of the old couple. His eyes twinkled naughtily and hinted at more mischief. He tottered around the house on unsteady feet and claimed a place everyone’s hearts. With his curly mop of hair, chubby fingers that always found themselves in trouble and baby talk that flattered even the most hard-hearted person, Rama was the talk of the town seldom though his visits were. He was the apple of his grandfather’s eye and was proudly paraded around the town on the old man’s shoulders on every such visit to the village.

Rama was now about four years old and some said that he was Lord Krishna incarnate with his sense of humour intact. It was the season of the temple festival and there was a fair which attracted throngs of onlookers from the nearby villages. Krishnappa insisted on taking Rama to the fair with promises of joyrides, rasgullas and balloons. The mother detested the idea, the father reluctantly permitted it and the two set off hand in hand into distance.

It was the hour of the setting sun; birds flew back to their nests, cows sauntered back to their sheds and the strong winds shepherded the farmers back to their houses after a hard day at work. But some never found their way back.

Gaily lit lamps adorned the entrances and stalls selling trinkets and toys beckoned them further into the melee. The humdrum of chatter, the excited screams of children on the joyrides and the rhythmic beats of the ‘dhol’ filled the air.

It was a lot more crowded than he had expected; Krishnappa clasped little Rama’s hand tightly and they slowly made their way through the milling crowd. Stalls at every few steps allured them with promises with toys, sweets, balloons and games. It was every child’s dream come true. The excited boy tugged at him and guided him further into this delightful place.

A toy train that moves on tracks. “Okay, son”

Gulab jamoons! “Sure, why not?”

A multi-coloured spinning wheel! “Anything for you, little one”

Krishnappa could not help but indulge his only grandson and agreed without a second thought. He fished out his purse from his waistcoat to give the shopkeeper the exact change.

“Thatha, balloons!” the little boy squeaked excitedly and tugged at his clothes.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming” the old man replied and turned around to find himself staring at the sea of humanity.

Suddenly the air was humid and suffocating him. He pushed through the crowd angrily and charged in the direction of the balloon seller. But there were balloon sellers in every direction and nowhere did he spot the familiar curly mop of hair. He waded through the crowd, shouting with all his strength “Ramaa! Ramaa!” but he never heard the response to his calls. The minutes turned into hours, the crowds thinned and the shopkeepers began to pack up their wares after a good day of business. Krishnappa was now delirious and ran across the field like a man possessed.

The night was chilly and he was freezing under the shade of a tree when they arrived. “Where is he?” his son thundered. The woman beside him was livid with rage and her eyes glinted menacingly. He could not meet their eyes. Yet they bore into him like gimlets. He could feel their scorching gaze burning him and he sobbed quietly.

Where is my son?” his son repeated with a deathly calm that often precedes a murderous rage. Words failed him and he bowed his head, overcome by shame. Harsh words followed, he vaguely remembered being struck by his own son but his eyes searched for Anandibhai who wept silently in the distance, unable to stop them, unable to say anything.

It was a long night and accusatory eyes followed him as they made their way to the police station and filed a complaint. The Inspector made no promises. If anything, he ridiculed him and asked them to forget that they ever had a little boy. Policemen were sent to the neighbouring villages, every known offender was questioned and all desolate buildings were searched, yet no clues emerged. It seemed like he had vanished into thin air in a fraction of a second.

The morning brought no relief and the siege intensified further. Anandibhai tried to diffuse the tension but the sharp vitriolage of the mother scorched her into painful silence. The police were on the lookout and pursuing several leads but it would take time and anything could happen in that time. In the week that followed, they lived a ghostly existence and the happy babbles of the little boy haunted them. Even if they did fall into the snares of restful sleep, they were rudely awoken by vivid delusions of unfathomable possibilities. None could compare the pain and angst of a mother separated from her son but Krishnappa was consumed by an equally heart-wrenching emotion: Guilt. It seared through him like knives of ice and ripped him apart until he could no longer feel; his tears stilled and there was just emptiness within.

It was on the ninth day since the incident that a silver lining appeared in their dark thunderstorm of clouds. Madan received a call and immediately left. After a while, Radhika began packing up and she too left without revealing anything. Anticipating good news, Krishnappa and Anandibhai went to the police station. A cab was parked outside, ready to leave. Radhika sat inside and she did not seem to be alone. Was that him? Could it be..?

Happiness flooded through them after the drought of misery and pain and they eagerly made their way towards the car when they were ambushed by constables. Madan emerged out of the police station and eyed them stonily.

“There will be no need for any of this. Do not attempt to contact us. Let us live in peace.” He announced and proceeded towards the cab. Before they could protest, the constables hustled them to a corner where they watched helplessly as their only son became a stranger.

A tiny head bobbed out of the window; with the curly mop of hair dangling close to the sunken eyes and a small smile, “Thathaa!” said the little one and waved at them until the mother pulled him away and shut them out forever.

It was much later, through the rumour-mongers in the neighbourhood that they gleaned that Rama had been found in a hamlet near Bangalore. The kidnappers had demanded a ransom but the police had swung into action and nabbed the culprit and rescued the boy. He was safe but shaken by the incident. Attempts to reach him had been futile for they had cut contacts with most relatives and their hopes had dwindled after several fruitless attempts in the huge city.

“Anandi!” repeated Krishnappa and she was jolted back to reality. “I want to go to Bangalore. This is my last chance. I cannot live much longer like this. All I desire is to meet my Rama, even if only once. I will die a happy man seeing the smile on his face.” Anandi sighed. She did not protest but this seemed like taking to the uncharted seas without a compass. Where would they look?

They packed their bags and left the next day to the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan city. Combing through the little information they had obtained about their son, they revisited his old workplace. The Manager had been warned about them and sent them away while his old colleagues refused to reveal anything about the family. Unable to contain herself, Anandi made a plaintive request, pleading to see her son in her twilight hours but it made no impact on them. As they trudged out of the office, the security guard noticed the defeated look and enquired about them. He remembered the bright young man Madan working at the office a few years ago. “I swear that I do not know their whereabouts but I have seen them drop off the little one at Poornaprajna School in Banaswadi. I may be old but my eyesight has not yet failed me.”

With renewed vigour and zest, they travelled to the school and waited by its imposing gates. Slowly, cars began to line up in anticipation of the tiny tots inside. Krishnappa and Anandibhai sat unobtrusively in the shade of a tree and waited hopefully. As the sea of children emerged out of the gates, they were momentarily taken aback. The little ones eagerly bounded homeward and rushed out to meet their parents. Slowly the older children made their way out of the gates with much more grace but nothing could hide the excitement of returning to their nest after a long day of lessons and no play.

Amidst the bobbing heads, the striped shirts and blue trousers, a solitary curly mop of hair stood out.. There he was, taller than before, with a boyish grin as he talked animatedly with his group of friends.

Krishnappa could not stop himself. He hobbled forwards and called out with every ounce of his energy, “Ramaa!”

Like a deer sensing the scent of a wild animal, he froze for a second, alert at the sound of a familiar voice. He turned towards them and in that moment, their eyes met. Krishnappa looked at him with tears of joy and Rama broke into a smile and embraced with pure unadulterated love.

Somewhere in the distance, a car honked angrily, but it did not matter, not today. Maybe, in the end, everyone finds their way back to where they belong.