Besieged

He fickled up and down
As the moon did shy
For fort time, not of nature
But of his ego ‘I’
***

He had forsaken his cosy home for the desolate of the wild. But soon had yielded to the forces of nature and yearned for the break of morn, so as to go back home.

The forest was dark and cold around him. “Has the dawn crept in?” He tried to open his eyes to the cold storm. He couldn’t and shut them again. He tried to curl up a little more, but his cold numb feet were reluctant to obey. He heard a sudden knock of a proud tree prostrating itself to the might of the wind.

Had not been this lee of rock, I would have been buried under these prostrating trees,” he thought. He heard another loud crackling knock, when Chhaayank bid his nightmare awake.

Someone was knocking at the door. His quilt had slipped to the floor, he was shivering and his feet were cold numb. Chafing his eyes and hands he stepped on the cold carpet and opened the door. His father was waiting on him with a glass of milk.

“Good-morning dad,” yawningly Chhaayank greeted his father.

“The world is in a chaos young man. The snow and storm have created a havoc and you sleep to rave the beauties,” his father shot a torpedo.

“What?” Chhaayank exclaimed with a half yawn. His drowsiness vanished, with the exclaim.

“Yes, my dear, many roofs have been blown off, trees have been brought down and it has snowed almost three to four inches,” his father flashed back.

“Bloody hell. I’ll get stuck here in Shimla for weeks then. I’ll miss the party in Delhi. I have to be back in Delhi today itself. It hasn’t snowed enough to bar the buses from plying. O! God mom washed my warm clothes yesterday only. They must not have dried. Who told her to do so?” Chhaayank complained in a single breath.

“O! That can be done. If you really want to travel today, we can dry them with the heater in half an hour. Right now you have your milk. It’ll get cold otherwise,” his father cheered him a little.

“Thanks heaven, the electricity hasn’t failed yet. But when are you and Mom returning to Delhi?”

“I’m on a month’s leave. So approximately three more weeks are left,” his father said casually as if he wasn’t perturbed by the snowfall.

In the main living room, Chhaayank’s mother, sister and their host – Chhaayank’s aunt were drying his clothes with the heater. They were discussing the shopping they did yesterday.

“Good morning mom and good morning auntie,” Chhaayank greeted them.

“Love to you beta,” greeted back his aunt. His mother and sister didn’t bother to oblige.

“O! Bua I would have got more of your love, if you could buy me the coat I saw yesterday,” Chhaayank too joined the discussion.

“If you liked one, why didn’t you buy it?” his aunt queried.

“It was a bit expensive for mom,” he answered making mocking faces at his mother. “Can’t you purchase it for me?” he continued.

“But you are leaving for Delhi. Anyway what cost did the tag display?”

“Rupees one thousand eight hundred and ninety nine and zero-zero paise only.”

“God’s grace! Do you really need one?”

“O! Bua how sweet of you.”

“Fine then. I’ll give it to Bhabhiji, when she comes to Delhi. But then you won’t get the pocket money I promised you earlier. You’ll get either the coat or the pocket money. You can’t have both sides of the bread buttered.”

“O! no Bua that is too unruly of you. You can cut down the pocket money a little.”

“I’ll think over it,” his aunt said.

“Flutter-flutter O! emotions, the leaf rhymes them all,” sang Chhaayank. It was a heads I win, tails you loose situation for him.

After some time Chhaayank declared his decision of cancelling his return to Delhi. He had other plans in his mind. He wanted to go on a shopping spree and buy the coat that very day.

“You can take your own time to dry these clothes. I won’t be sallying today,” he declared his changed mind.

No one reacted in surprise, as all were used to Chhaayank’s fluctuating fickle mind’s spontaneous decisions. Except for a sarcasm by his aunt no one said a word. “Make mighty the promise sun, the path to follow. Never fickle the idle wind, wavering path with words hollow.” His aunt had got an opportunity to give back Chhaayank the lines he recited whenever his aunt backed out of her commitment.

Still they dried and ironed his clothes, as they never knew where Chhaayank would try to land up next.

Within an hour the gale sluice was confined and the heavens had finished their quota of snow for the day. Chhaayank’s aunt was ready to go to the office. “OK dear, see you in the evening,” she announced her departure for her office.

“Oll Korrect. Shall I meet you on the Mall at 5:30 in the evening?” Chhaayank asked his aunt.

“What for?” his aunt queried.

“Obviously to buy the coat. I remember, it was decided so,” Chhaayank flashed back.

“O! no dear, not today. I told you I’ll hand it over to Bhabhiji to give it to you, when she leaves for Delhi. As such the spring is on the horizon. Let it be a promise for the next winter,” his aunt insisted for a pardon.

Chhaayank was taken aback. He didn’t expect backtracking, at least from his aunt. He was in a fury. His eyes fixed on the floor all the time, managing himself he said, “Make might the promise sun, the ideal path to follow. Never fickle the idle wind, wavering path with words hollow. Anyway, goodbye then. See you during the Chhaayank holidays.”

“What do you mean?” his aunt was bewildered.

“I postponed my journey just to buy the coat, otherwise what business do I have here? I should take your leave then,” he replied raising his sight straight into his aunt’s face to trace some ray of hope.

But hard luck prevailed. “You can’t go now. It’ll be too late by the time you reach Delhi. Where will you have your dinner? Don’t be so rash. Bye! See you in the evening,” his aunt said in a single breath. She knew the tactics and diplomacy to evade Chhaayank’s histrionics. To avoid more verbal controversy, kissing him she moved for her office.

Chhaayank felt as a hot potato dropped by his aunt. “The black coal red burnt white, an irony to the setting sun night,” he mumbled the lines, which he had once written on his irony of fate.

***

Soon Chhaayank was in a local bus heading towards the main bus-stand, brooding over the drama that all occurred half an hour ago. He had refused to have his grub and his father refused to part him with the fare he required for his error errand. Instead his father offered once to purchase him the coat but his ego had fluttered high on the self designed brooch with the inscription ‘EGOTIST’, which he had sported on his right chest of the jacket he wore. He had threatened to go out in the snow and as for the finale his father had surrendered by giving him the money for the fare.

This had come as a shock to him. He had expected his parents to request him not to go and offer to buy the coat for him and ultimately after repeated requests, his ego appeased, he would have given up his concocted tantrums. But the tables were turned and his parents had surrendered easily. Gloomy and sluggishly he had walked out with a bag bearing his travelling necessities.

Reluctantly, as he had not wanted to go without the coat and the pocket money, he had bid his parents goodbye. He had looked back again and again expecting his mother to call and stop him. But no one came after him and no one called.

***

Chhaayank was feeling terribly hungry and his feeling cross with himself made acidity more itching. He thought, his mother must be crying. Her dear son left without having his food. But he cared least about that. His mind ruled the heart. He was cribbing about something else. His mind was lured by the wealth he was losing.

In the bus two people sitting in front of him were discussing politics. “If Sukh ram wouldn’t have been trapped in the telecom scam, his claims to be the Chief Minister of Himachal were really high and there surely would have been a division within the Congress party,” one of them said.

“This is dirty politics. I still can’t understand why can’t he let Raja Saheb be the Chief Minister, when people have so much faith on him,” the other answered.

The discussion was getting hotter. Another eavesdropper joined with his expert comments, “They haven’t left the clothes as well out of politics. People wearing green topis are considered to belong to the Raja faction and those wearing red belong to the Sukh Ram camp.

“And people wearing woollen prince coat, belong to the Raja faction and those wearing and achkan belong to the Sukh Ram faction,” he completed his expert comments in a single breath in fear that lest someone else says them before him.

Now it was a turn of a lady who was sitting a little forward, to turn her head and gave her judgement to nail the coffin, “He railly nids a laang coat to hide daa mani, he gyaned fraam da scam.”

It was time for Chhaayank to rebuke himself, “Well Mr. Rana, you neither got the coat, nor the money.” He laughed at himself and mumbled, “the proud tree stood up to touch the sky, but stars as leaves looked low, wonder why?”

Suddenly the mini bus was on brakes. Chhaayank came back to his senses. The bus had reached the main bus stand and his seat mate was telling him, “Chaliye Bhai Saheb and let me also step down.”

Alighting from the bus, amidst blaring horns, Chhaayank was greeted with loud cries of the conductors and one of them on the way to his destination was crying, “Dilli-Dilli, Chandigarh, Ambala, Panipat, Dilli.”

“Panipat,” Chhaayank laughed through his nose and with a grin repeated the word, “Panipat”.

This city always gave Chhaayank some food for thought and instigated a stream of thought – the three famous battles credited to Panipat, the great Mughals – Babar, Akbar, Aurangzeb – their downfall at the hands of the British – the freedom movement – the first war of indipendencein 1857 – Jhansi ki Rani – Subhadra Kumari Chauhan who wrote a marvellous heroic poem on the little ‘Mannu’.

Nurturing regrets for Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, with the same grin and sarcastically, quoting on himself, Chhaayank continued to mumble the parody he made on the spot, “Khoob ladaa mardaanaa who to Shimla waalaa Rana thaa.”

But today the Rana’s manoeuvre had failed for the egoist ‘Chetak’ had failed.

***

He saw a local ‘Mudrika’ approaching. He gave a second thought on his trip to Delhi. His self, the mere word ‘I’ seemed to him as a pendulum vacillating between the two charming orgy poles of party and money.

“Without money the party would be dry – ‘CHARMS’ less and for the money, I’ll have to still that ‘I’ in Shimla till morrow. Fools they are who move the sun rather than the earth.”

Without caring for the aftermath he found himself waving to stop the bus and he was on his way back to Sanjauli. The bus passed his ex, old, famous Catholic school. Earlier on his way to the bus stand he had failed to notice the white snow clad St. Edward’s rooftops, the pines and the large play grounds where Chhaayank used to play in the lunch recess. The cross on the school building seemed to him the ‘I’ in EGOIST, captive on the school roof abandoned to bear the wind and snow.

Himself, being a product of St. Edward’s and that too a boys school, he felt grateful to the school for brooding his big ‘Ego’. Two or three boarders were walking in the snow in the playground, hand in hand. Chhaayank’s juniors.

“Do they also carry a big ego like me?” Chhaayank questioned himself. But then he had the answer to it as well. “No they don’t. It is the crest they carry their chest pockets of their blazers, which has a star engraved on it, a symbol of light. Light to show the right path. The path of success and humbleness. But the pride and ego lies in the fact that they carry the crest with this motto and there is something written on the crest in Latin or in Greek, which I or they suppose to understand but aren’t really sure if it exactly means what we think – Lumen Esquire S. Eduardi Schola Simlae. It is just plain inter school pride and snobbery.

I must have bullied these children once upon a time and addressed them piddi the common nickname for the juniors and made them run on petty errands. Now they too must be doing the same with their juniors,” he thought to gratify his ego that he was not alone in this race of egoism and pride.

***

In Sanjauli, Chhaayank’s feet were impeditive to incite forth to his home. He didn’t believe in his self-translated Hindi maxim: “Lost he is not, the lost of the morn; in the evening if he returns home.” It was sheer mundane for him, quipped for the world to practice upon. He had to give some reason to gratify his ego. He went to the panwallah and asked for two ‘Wills Navy Cut’ cigarettes. ‘Charms’ wasn’t sold lose in Shimla and he couldn’t carry the packet home. He sat in a shelter and lit the cigarette. “Charms is the spirit of freedom, charms is the way you are.” Fiddling with the cigarette, he remembered the Charms publicity slogan, which Chhaayank and his friends often sand to culminate their emotions with the smoke. But at the moment ‘Wills’ will to quench his ego lingered on him.

Dragging long puffs Chhaayank pondered, “Whose bloody face did I see when I woke up? Dad’s… No you have no right to be Faustian,” Chhaayank felt ashamed of his blasphemous thoughts. “The nightmare itself was a bad omen. The nightmare, the nightmare…” All of a sudden his eyes brightened up. He had struck the gong. He came back to the present with a startle when the fag end burnt his fingers.

He lit the second ‘Navy Cut’ and with a smile on his face, he took off his gloves, unlaced his shoes, took them off and the two pair of socks he had worn. Wore the shoes and tucked the two pairs of socks and gloves into his bag. He cursed the people to damn perceiving him with queer eyes of the sane creed pitying a ‘could be mentally retarded’.

He finished the cigarette and soon Chhaayank was walking back home cautiously on the snow.

With a little hesitation, Chhaayank pushed the call bell and sarcastically mumbled “Halted, the gentle breeze, Kissing by, Just to insist a hello!”

His sister opened the door. A smile swelled her face, which Chhaayank had hated since childhood. Concealing his embarrassment he smiled back at her but didn’t bother to give any clarifications. He never had felt the urge in his life to share his feelings with her. He only talked to her when he wanted her to run on errands for himself.

For the preface Chhaayank contorted his face and quietly stepped into the drawing room. He threw himself and the bag heavily on to the sofa with his head hanging back and eyes closed. His parents were already seated there opposite to him. After a minute’s lull he gently opened his eyes and without moving his head he searched for the expressions on his parents’ face. All the time they had been observing him with their faces lit up with a smile. His mother seemed to have cried all this time. Her light brown eyes sparkled with the little tears, which still engulfed the canthus.

Chhaayank’s father broke the silence, “What happened?”

Getting the cue, Chhaayank raised his head and blurted, “Bloody hell.” He often swore by the Satanic world. “A tree had been uprooted and the earth had moved down along with it on to the highway two kilometres ahead from the bus stand. The authorities said that it would take minimum of two hours to clear the debris. Had I waited, I would have reached Delhi at midnight and moreover my feet and hands are cold numb, as I had forgotten to wear the socks and gloves in a hurry,” said Chhaayank in a grim tone and all the while managing to keep his face contorted to portray as if he was really annoyed with the debacle.

The smile on his parents’ lips had widened. As if consoling his son, his father said, “You must be hungry and moreover your mother too didn’t have her breakfast. Go and change yourself and we’ll have lunch together.”

With the same seriousness Chhaayank got up, picked up his bag and headed towards his room. Inside his room he closed the door behind him and switched on the tube. He gazed at himself in the dressing table mirror. A smile broke on his face and he heaved a great sigh.

With his heart full of bliss Chhaayank sang, “Flutter-flutter O! emotions, the leaf rhymes them all.”

He had aced the ego test. He threw himself onto the bed with his legs leaning against the wall. He glared at the graffiti scribbled besides his feet on the wall:

“The doors of my house
Let them be low.
So bend ‘I’ and all,
Egoists, who enter within
The temple of my abode.”

***

— Was written sometime in the ’90s.