The postcard – it rests on a desktop,
You gaze at it intently,
Losing yourself in it’s beauty
Until you feel you are in it
That you are a part of it
You feel the sea-scented winds
As they weave through your hair
And the soft warm sands caressing your feet
You look up into the sky,
Trying to find the sun
And then it appears…
Out of nowhere,
With a sharp piercing beam
You narrow your eyes
Trying to regain your composure
When sirens start wailing in the distance
Getting louder with every passing second
The sun continues to beat you down
The sirens get louder…louder still
Till the commotion is unbearable
You hold your head in your hands
Shutting out the unwelcome intruders
And then you feel a sudden jolt
You slowly open your eyes
Blurred images are all you see at first
Then the picture clears itself
And you hear the alarm clock at your bedside
‘Damned thing!’ you scorn as you quieten it
No time to complain, you are late
By half an hour
You rush through the charade
Of dressing up, and rush out,
Not even sure if you are fully awake.
In the distance, bells go off again
Dreaming again? You wonder…
Just then you see, the red chariot
Ready to depart.
You run – not even fully warm yet.
‘This will hurt later’ you mutter
Finally you are seated inside the chariot
You heave a well deserved sigh
Of relief – and shut yourself from the world
With your earplugs
You feel a tap on your shoulder.
It is the old man beside you
For some reason he is smiling.
“Probably tipsy’ you conclude.
Who dares to be cheerful at this obscenely early hour?
‘Good morning,beta’ he says,
Louder than one normally would,
Realizing that you are consciously avoiding
The world outside, complete with him
He knows you can hear him though.
‘That’s okay, ignore me like the rest’, he says
You turn, a little embarrassed
And sheepishly utter a ‘good morning’
‘It’s my birthday today’, he says
Handing you a flower
“Happy B’day” is all you manage to say.
But you can’t help noticing
The unmistakable sadness on his face.
The conductor appears shouting
‘Change Change’ in a throaty,hoarse voice
‘Don’t we all want change,beta’
Your sage-like neighbor tells him
As he hands him a few coins
You can’t help but chuckle
At the old man’s witticism
He turns and manages half a smile
‘Birthday to hai, but I wish I could say it’s a happy one’
You think of inquiring the cause of his sadness
But choose otherwise
The man turns to a banner in the bus proclaiming
‘Unity in diversity’ and then he draws your attention
To the empty seat in the row adjoining.
A Muslim lad not more than 25 occupies the seat.
Suddenly sleep-filled eyes well up with suspicion.
The aging man turns to you again
As if to prove a point.
You shake your head in disapproval,
Your neighbor mirrors the movement
He then asks you to look ahead
At the man with the latest Nokia toy
In his hands – and then to the child
Pleading not to be thrown off the bus
“Khali 8 anna kam hai, uncle” he says.
But the conductor refuses to budge
You toss a shining rupee at the man in khaki,
And see the child smile back at you
The smile on your neighbor’s face is wider still
‘Amazing what a change, change can bring’ he says
You look at him, a little mystified
The man has a way with words most definitely
You nod affirmatively.
Just then the ride gets bumpier
‘It’s a bloody minefield’ complains Mr. Hi-tech
As his shiny Nokia crashes to the metal floor
Outside, a banner reads
“Date of Completion – December 2006”
Needless to say, your neighbor has spotted it too.
You whip out a newspaper
Flipping through the glam and glitz,
The blood and the gore, the rich and the famous
The fast and the furious, the ‘bold’ and the ‘beautiful’
And the agile and the athletic
To finally come to the comic strips
Like you always do
Who wants to deal with the everyday ‘mutch mutch’?
At least the comics are funny, you think
‘That’s the problem,beta’, the wise one spake,
Almost reading your thoughts
‘I can’t even expect people
To pay attention to me
For a few minutes,
How can I expect change?’
The conductor overhears
And defends himself
Saying he has already given the two of you
Your fair share of shiny metal
But he fails to see the point
There’s more to this than money.
The sage-like visage wrinkles with sadness
‘It’s okay beta…
Maybe this generation doesn’t understand
Me and what I represent.
Someday I hope it will,
Before something should happen’
He replaces the sadness with an assuring smile
Pats you on the back,
Just as he did earlier,
Steps off the bus and walks away.
You watch him
As he turns into a speck.
You turn back the newspaper
And your eyes rest on the headlines
It reads “Happy Birthday India!”