Friday, December 01, 2006

As Appu lost himself

Appu was sitting in the veranda of his home, watching those raindrops percolate through the coconut leaves and shatter into a million minute droplets as it fell on the pebbles. The petite pools of water around seemed to linger for those tiny droplets, like a hungry cat waiting to devour its own litter. Rains always carried a wide range of emotions with it. He was reliving those old days, when that tender cold drizzle somehow rendered his psyche gloomy, when that sudden gushy flow of torrent made him march ahead with inspiration, when the flowing rhythmic rain slowly rambling on the leaves made his teenage life romantic. Rain always seemed to mystify him; he understood that rain had always remained a part of himself. And there he was - after all those years of roaming around, back in that old chair watching that slight drizzle turning into a ferocious downpour. There he was - drinking a glass of black tea, with a book in his hand. It was on the same chair that he let his adolescent mind wander free in those rains as the heroic Dostoevsky of ‘Oru Sankeerthanam Pole’ or in search of that lost ‘Athiranipadam’ of ‘Oru Deshathinte Kadha’. It’s been ages since he got some time in peace to himself, like this- with just books for his company. When he looked outside of the compound wall he felt that years had not moved at all, as he watched those different shades of umbrella cloths traipse through the road as if they had lives of their own – poor ones, elderly ones, indignant ones, bouncy ones and even colored ones. An old gray umbrella that walked quite slowly, took his mind to those old days.

It might have been in his school days when he was studying for the exams, that Appu noticed a hand with a gray discolored umbrella opening the gate to his home. It was raining from morning, and he saw an old hand clasping tight to the cloth bag that hung from the shoulder to prevent it from getting wet. As that gloomy shadow turned in the rain, he saw an old man with a wrinkled face and pure white beard walking towards him. He saw a kind smile on the old man’s face and the presence of a crude walking stick told him that the old man was a beggar. When he dropped a 25 paisa coin to the old man’s hand, he saw a kind grateful smile and a kind voice that seemed to come from his beard said “Let Murugan shower you with all the blessings.” The downpour had reduced to a drizzle when he saw the mystifying character closing the gate. That was the first time he saw ‘Velu Appoopan’.

Velu Appoopan used to come to his house every Saturday noon and call ‘Appooo… Dharmam Thaayo…”. And Appu would take the coins that he used to collect for his pocket money to raise a rupee for Velu Appooppan. Velu Appooppan used to tell the stories about his small hamlet near Palani, where they had lot of land in which they used to farm almost everything in the fertile soil, where the green paddy fields meet the blue sky at horizon, where the ‘Jallikkattu’ race is so much a part of everyone’s life. Their conversations went on for weeks, and Appu shared many a joke sitting in that veranda with Velu Appoopan when rain was lashing its soul out. He remembered putting his books down and listening to those tales from Velu Appooppan with an open mouth, with lot of worship. The stories ranged from the floods of 1950s that erased quite a number of souls of his farmer kin, the killer malaria which followed, that took his wife and sons with it, the cock fights and murders following that which used to ensue after harvest festival at his village. Appu was largely inspired and thrilled when he heard about how Velu Appoopan organized his villagers with his speeches and poems, even after he was down and out with the killer disease that took his family with it, how he built a farmers union to fight the case for the grand of agricultural land and how he became the chief of that village. Appu was mystified about why a village chief would roam around begging for food and coins. All Velu Appooppan told was “When everything is lost for yourself, and then you go through the process of gaining everything for others….there comes a time when you realize that you have served your purpose. If you are lucky, you reach that phase of your life - when you realize that you can keep smiling and you become a part of those clouds that travel places to keep raining with no tomorrow. But most of the people would be unlucky, as they keep standing in that rain, looking up at the pouring heavens, shivering in the cold, wondering when the rainy days would be over. I am glad that I am lucky to be a cloud that cools down places with these rains!”. He did not see Velu Appoopan after that…Maybe the cloud moved on to create new rivers…

Appu woke up from the trance and kept his glass down. The black tea had gone cold. He wanted to go back to those times; he wanted to become a child, sitting in that veranda hearing those heroic stories again. He wanted to see that wrinkled hand holding the gray umbrella, and the kind old face that told him inspiring stories with that constant wheezing of the raindrops in background. He wanted to gape his mouth in adoration, and dream about being a good man in the future. But…there he was. Sometimes years stop passing by, and you realize that it’s not Time that moves ahead – it’s just yourself that’s moving ahead and the time actually stands still. He walked into the rain. He felt those drops kissing his palm. He realized that he was smiling….he was floating around, in those clouds just like his Appoopan told him.

It took him sometime to realize that the music he was hearing was not that of nature, but of the mobile in his pocket. The usual voice told him “Test case 248 is failing. Report immediately. Priority 1”. Appu jumped back to the veranda. His mind wandered to the test case and the priority deadlines of the work. He looked up into the pouring skies, shivering in the cold, wondering when the rain would stop. As he cursed the rain, little did he realize that he was that unlucky human, just like Appooppan told him. Appu just kept looking at the firmament….And rain fell down in buckets. He kept staring at the horizon, as the rain began to blur his vision … He steadily dissolved in it, as he lost himself.

* - Picture courtesy - Dhanush