There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blue Oblivion

By Ananya Mukherjee

Aaditya Singh Chauhan had not been keeping too well, of late. He was touching seventy-five this March and these years of struggle of trying to keep the kitchen fire burning against all odds, material and spiritual, had drained him completely. I had always known him to be a strong man in the past, but I saw him withering slowly with each passing day, his weak bones giving in to the realities of age and unable to cope from the harshness of nature, Aadi, the fighter with the Rajput bloodline was unwillingly yet eventually succumbing to acceptance and withdrawal.
It started early last summer when Aadi, still considering himself an energetic artist, spent an entire afternoon restoring a mural near the portico facing the lawn. It was the blue fa├žade that could be seen directly from the street corner of the neighbourhood we lived in for over forty years now.  Not much had changed in this sleepy quaint county in the north of England over the years, except that the neighbourhood, once bustling with the shrieks of cars horns and bicycle rings, the peals of childish laughter and the aroma of freshly baked food from country kitchens had submitted to an evitable acceptance of old age and solitude. The once wide streets had become narrow and unfit to hold the dreams of the young and most of them had moved south, leaving the county quieter than usual or desired, only for the aged parents, the immovable structures and the immobile associations. It was only during thanksgiving, Christmas and the Easter weekends, when life would rewind to several decades and the sleepy county would suddenly rise up from its pervasive silence. The homes would spring to life with children and grandchildren.

During such a visit last Easter, Joyee, our first born, an established designer in this part of the world now, raised her eyebrows to the blue mural in the middle of a family lunch in the garden. The exact words she used were “Such a shame!” as her eyes inspected the mural that once defined the identity of the home we had built together. And that pointed criticism was directed at no one else but her own father. Unlike his feudal background, Aaditya was an esteemed artist who specialised in murals, one of the best of his times and his work of art could be seen all across England and other parts of Europe and Asia. For a man whose creations were celebrated over the continents, having a worn out mural on his own county home was perceived discreditable in the eyes of his own children.  
Joyee was harsh, but she was right. The mural had peeled off in places, the colours had weathered too many storms and in its present state, the once brilliant piece of art looked like a sad caricature of its lost glory. Aadi had taken the criticism a bit too strongly and started working on restoring the mural with a speed and vengeance I dreaded. He toiled through the afternoon suns, without food or sleep for days, recharging the dead wall with an energy that seemed to take every breath out of his own old lungs. My protests fell on deaf ears. He was not ready to listen. 

"I need to finish before the rains come back and wash away my first strokes,” he was determined. 
And just when the last corner of the top right was ready for the first stroke of paint, Aadi slipped, fell from a shaft and broke his back. That moment in our lives left the mural unfinished yet finished the man forever.  Aadi got back on his feet after few months in bed and long painful hours of physiotherapy, but the strength in his body was gone. He could move slowly and after much effort, the exercise of a mere physical movement would tire him so much that he chose to sit quietly by the window doodling on a scribble pad or listening to Bach, his favourite since he was in school. 
Then one night, when the wind was whistling through the backyard trees, and the temperature had suddenly gone down a few degrees, just as I was cleaning up after dinner, a car pulled up into our driveway. On any other night, I would not have opened the door to any visitor at that hour but the tempest brewing at my doorstep led me to do the unthinkable. I opened my home to a stranger. 
The first things I noticed in him were his deep blue eyes. He must have been in his mid-thirtees, well-built and of average height. His Asian features were well crafted. I must have looked curious for he started immediately in crisp British accent. “Sorry to be bothering you so late but I need a shelter for the night. The storm would not let me drive any further and all the motels that I have crossed so far have no room. Yours was the first house that I could see from the street corner as the lightening shone on a mural on that wall.  You are not obliged to help me, but if I can park my car here and stay till the storm passes away, I would be grateful.” I stood at the door with suspicion written all over my face. Aadi was hardly in a physical shape to protect me, and I was an old woman anyway. What if this strange man with the second most sparkling pair of blue eyes I had even seen turned out to be an imposter?   He perhaps analysed the expression of doubt on my face and flashed out an Identity card. “Look, I am not here for burglary if that is what you are scared of. I am an architect and I have a site to view in another location, hence I am stuck in this county. I have no interest to rob you of anything.  The moment the storm stops, I will leave. If you believe in me, you could let me in, or I will find another shelter….” “Wait,” I stopped him in the middle of his sentence gaping at his identity card.  “What did you say your name was?” 
“Aakash. It’s an Indian name. You are Indian too, are you not?” 
“And your full name?” I probed returning the card to him.  
“You are quite an investigator. Well…if that helps you, my name is Aakash. I have a surname but never used it.” 
Aakash! My mind was going into a timeless retreat…scenes unfolding one by one, drying my throat and pushing a canon of tears into my tired old eyes. 
“Come inside, Aakash.” This was the second time in over three decades that I called out that name. 

You can stay till the storm passes away.” I mumbled in submission.
He smiled and thanked me for my kindness. I looked away. Those two blue eyes and the name were too much of a coincidence to happen all at the same time. 

“It is really safe for an old lady to live alone here?” He said examining the living room and settling down on the couch.
“My husband and I have been living here for 40 years. He is not keeping too well but we can manage fine,” I replied. “Would you care for some tea?” 
“Oh, that would be fantastic, thank you.”   
"I did not know we had visitors so late in the night,” Aadi was leaning against the living room door. 
I hurried to support him and he waved his hand, signalling me to stop. 
“Yes, young man, what brings you here?” He asked with undeniable authority.
Before the stranger could speak, I stepped in, “Aadi…his name is Aakash. He was caught in the storm and is here till the storm withers away.”
“Oh, I see. And were you so caught in a time warp to be taken by a name, my dear, that you allow a stranger to come in at the middle of the night?” Aadi looked at me straight in the eyes. I felt injured just where only he knew the scar was and left the room.
The night that I had buried along with the blue mittens, the toys, the bottles, the tiny pairs of overalls, towels and memories in the backyard several winters came back in a flash....
 “Mrs Chauhan, you have a baby boy. His eyes are as blue as the sky. He looks like a prince,” the nurse had said beaming. The Woodlands Hospital down the road had registered his name as Aakash Singh Chauhan. 
Tired after a difficult surgery, I had barely had the chance to hold his tiny body close to mine and nurse, but those eyes like sparkling sapphire glistened even as I embraced him and repeated his name…”Aakash.” Yes, he was a prince, my little prince. Little had I known that it was the last time I would see him….
On that fateful night, a fire broke out in the Woodlands Hospital nursery charring all new borns and young children to death, marking it as the saddest day in the  history of this peaceful country. For several of us, like me, it scorched their souls beyond repair. 
“Can we have some more tea?” Aadi had begun a conversation with the stranger in our house who had the same name as my dead son.
“Which part of India are you from?” 
“Well, I am from the North but my family has lived in England for many years.”
“Ok. Where you born in England?”
“Oh yes. Here…actually…er..somewhere around here. You know some place called Woodlands Hospital?”
“Ah…all our children were born there too till it caught that miserable fire. So did your parents live here?”
“Well..ah..I am not sure.”
“You seem very young. You could not have been born too many years ago. What’s your birth year?”
“Look…are you not getting too personal?”
“No, why can’t you tell me when were you born?”
“Of course I can tell you when I was born. 80…. Erh.. 8 August 1980.” He stammered. 
“Impossible! You are lying…and what’s that you are hiding behind you?”…Aadi’s voice was rising.  “I will call the police. You are a bloody imposter..” 
“Nothing…” he shouted back…”Stay off…..”he pulled out a gun.
 I stood frozen watching the two men in my living room. This man, who I had given shelter in a storm, who had the same blue eyes and name as my son, was born on the same day, same year in the same hospital as my Aakash, and was pulling a gun at my husband?
“But my Aakash is dead. He is lying cold and dead buried in that little garden facing the blue mural. He has been dead for almost 30 years.  How can you be him??" I wailed letting out a scream….collapsing on the couch.
“Jesus!” he said and dropped his gun. His entire demeanour changed with that word.
He paced a few steps across the living space, and stopped to look at Aadi.
“Look, I am not who I said I am, but I am not an imposter. I am an officer of the Scotland Yard. Here’s my true identity card.” He handed out an identity card from his shirt pocket. There was a photograph of the stranger in police uniform.
Aadi looked away, holding me firm in his arms.
“For security reasons, we often pick up names of the dead, registered names of children such that we can operate incognito.  It is not the best idea but it protects our identity for a bigger cause. I am really sorry, I did not know that Aakash was your son. I was given his name because his eyes matched mine. I am really sorry.” With that, he picked up his car keys and left.
The wind was still whispering through the trees, the tempest lashing at our doors, as we held each other staring into the darkness, and catching glimpses of the blueness of the mural as it shone in the occasional lightening, reminding ourselves that the death of a child does not kill the fearless protectiveness of a parent….they continue to be parents, in life and after…