Have I told you about my adventure with this epitome of feminine beauty? Have I told you about the weekend I spent at a beach with the icon of feminine charm, grace, and mystique? No! Did you indeed say no? Maybe I am getting old and forgetful. Amnesia has penetrated my skull, crept and clawed into my brain. The way I met and lived with the dream lover of half the people of our land is a long story.
After my escapade with the lonely lady of the oracle of chaos I took the road again. I walked. Was the road my destiny? Was there a real rainbow at the end of my journey? I couldn’t tell. I kept walking. I passed through forests; crossed streams; saw elegant goats grazing in the meadows. As nights fell, the birds returned to their nests and I wondered why I was the only creature with no home of my own. At night I felt lonesome. The moon was my only companion, as she had been for years. She used to walk with me. I always talked and poured my soul in my talks, but she seldom replied.
One day I felt a pimple erupt on my nose. I was not bothered much at first, but then I had nothing else to do except walk on a lonely path. So I developed an obsession with the blackhead. It accompanied me everywhere sitting right at the tip of my nose. And to vanquish it became my sole worry.
I chewed four leaves of neem and applied the paste on the pimple, but it did not go away. I felt as if I had grown a rhino horn. I applied aloe on the blemish but it didn’t budge. It grew and I could see it perched on my nose: perched pompously. I applied soil. I washed my face with drops of dew that I gathered in a cup made of leaves. I crushed fire ants and applied the pungent paste on the acne. Nothing happened to the adamant pimple and so I decided to slaughter it. I punctured it with a thorn and let the pus flow. To this day I have the tiny scar, a spot on the tip of my nose where once rested a haughty pimple.
I walked through a village, but didn’t stop. I walked through a cremation ground where I saw a child being cremated. I cried, as I saw a flame raise its hood and dance sinisterly. The fire fed on the bones and flesh of a lovely child, and confronted the mortals. I cried and promised to myself, that if I ever did meet Death, I’d ask it why beauty dies at an innocent age.
I wiped tears on my sleeve and walked away. Soon I was smiling, as I saw a cow giving birth to a calf, which tottered on its lean legs and then gained poise. I walked and started whistling a song: a happy song about a wanderer. I stopped whistling when I saw crops burning in another village. I asked a peasant that why he was burning his crops.
‘A curse from heaven has descended on our fields,’ he said and limped away.
I saw crops being burnt in all the fields there. I walked through the village that had turned red; a village where tears had merged with sweat. As I emerged from the dejected village I looked at the trees that lined the road: the trees with drooping branches and pale leaves. And on a bush that was still green I saw a green locust – fat with the sap of once alive trees and plants. And I saw an army of locusts all around.
I’ve seen a locust cloud kill hope in a village.
I walked away. I hadn’t been able to expel the last speck of smoke from my lungs when I saw a young lad of five, walking with his herd of goats.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked the boy.
‘To a place where there are enough shrubs and shoots to feed my goats,’ he replied.
Then he asked about my destination.
‘Wherever my destiny takes me,’ I replied.
‘What is destiny?’ the goatherd asked.
‘Something that propels us to our doom or gratifies our heart’s desire,’ I said and immediately felt how hard it was to answer his innocent query.
‘What is desire?’ the boy asked innocently.
‘Something that we want.’
‘What do you want?’
‘To wander eternally… or to stop soon and settle down.’
About my heart’s desire, I had never understood. I had not pondered about the question seriously, till that young goatherd of five had asked.
We walked, side by side on that road. Whenever a goat strayed from the herd, tempted by a half-green bush, away from the road, the goatherd coaxed it back. I used to stop too, waiting for the boy to walk beside me. He milked the goats, at dusk and at dawn. We drank the milk. We walked during the day, and at night we sought shelter under some tree.
‘What is your heart’s desire?’ I asked one night as the boy kept a watch over his herd, lest a wolf or a wild dog carried one of the goats away.
‘To see that my goats are well-fed and healthy,’ he replied.
Sometimes we picked berries from a shrub and ate them with relish. One day I hunted a partridge after a long run across open fields and barbed fences. I shot it with a stone flung from a catapult that was fashioned by the goatherd. The lad had tied the supple flesh of a tree on two branches joined at the hips.
He made a catapult and I hunted a partridge. He placed three stones and built a fire. We cooked the partridge in the fire, turning it soft and mellow. We added salt and black pepper for taste. We talked as we feasted on the bird.
‘The sky is blue,’ I said as I looked up.
‘Blue? What is blue?’ asked the lad of five.
‘It’s a colour,’ I said.
‘Colour?’ the boy asked.
‘Yes,’ I explained, ‘everything has a colour. The grass is green. A rose is red. A sheep is white. Our skin is brown. Coal is black…’
He tried to understand the notion of colour.
‘What colour is water?’ he asked after he had gulped water from a goatskin bag.
‘Colourless,’ I said and dreaded what his next question would be.
‘But you said that everything has a colour,’ he protested, looking at me with his innocent eyes.
‘Yes,’ I said searching my mind for an answer. ‘The colour of water is colourless.’
I heaved a sigh of relief that I could at least blurb out something.
‘So colourless is a colour too,’ the boy mumbled.
‘It is,’ I said.
‘Colour is like shape,’ the boy continued to mumble as if trying to learn about the notion of colour. ‘Everything has a shape too. The sun is round. The moon is round too. A field is square. A lemon is spherical…’
‘Yes,’ I added. ‘A goat’s horns are conical. An elephant’s trunk is cylindrical. Water is shapeless.’
‘Is being shapeless a shape too?’ he asked.
‘Yes, it is.’
He could now relate to the concept of colour. It was something like shape for him. He asked:
‘What colour is life?’
I didn’t answer right away. We finished the last remnants of the barbecued bird and resumed our journey. We walked together on that path. One day I answered his question.
‘Life is bright for those who live every moment and it is bleak for those who sit idle and wait for it to turn bright,’ I replied.
I was unsure whether the simple lad could make sense of my words. But he astonished me with his words.
‘Life is like a goat that’ll never yield milk on its own. We’ve to milk it and endure its kicks if we want to savour the milk,’ he said.
We walked. We rested. We ate. We drank. We rested. We walked.
We walked for many days together. Sometimes in hot afternoons, I used to read a book while lying under a tree. I used to read aloud the stories that I read, for the benefit of the boy. Once I read from a book that told the story of a crown prince who had relinquished his royal rights and the royal life and became a hermit.
‘I can’t understand the story,’ he said.
‘It’s a difficult book,’ I said, looking at the boy.
‘Which is the most difficult book that you’ve read?’ he asked.
Woman, I thought but didn’t say that to the young lad. He would himself learn about the indecipherable work called woman.
‘Life,’ I said instead.
We walked again and reached a place where the trail diverged in two opposite paths.
‘Which path should I take?’ I asked the young man.
‘I’ll take this path as it goes to the grass fields,’ he said pointing towards the path that was narrower.
‘How do you know?’ I asked as I couldn’t see any grass on the path he had chosen.
‘A herd of goats had passed this way,’ he said pointing towards the mark made by the hooves on the wet soil.
Then he pointed towards the wider path made of coal tar and said: ‘Take that path as it travels through a city.’
And I took the road that took me to a city. I walked alone for miles and missed the rustic philosopher, my young friend. I walked lonesome again. I could see smoke in the distant sky, big smoke. I knew that it was a big city. I walked and as the night fell I could see lights, many lights at a distance. I walked alone till I reached the big city. Then I became lonelier.
© 2011, Bhupendra Singh