Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Joy is Now.

~ For me. ~

I remember that it was raining. 

We drove through puddles. Water hit against the window, and my head jolted back from the glass each time; an impulsive reaction to the thought that I would get splashed.

A building came up on the left, unoccupied. Between the road and the front steps, a lake of rainwater. The unsightly kind. The kind that summons dirt and dust and mixes it into a brown concoction, garnished with coloured plastics swimming giddily. The kind that makes you think of waterborne disease. 

But this in India, and one treads with faith.

The bus slowed down.

Necks craned upwards, looking over the seats in front of them. Small chatter, questions. What’s going on? To the left, Lake Cholera. To the right, Death Highway (or so it seemed to us foreigners, whose stomachs were unaccustomed to the great nerve that Indian roads demand).

Vijay Bhaiya explained: checkpoint.

Checkpoint?! A beach umbrella, a school table, a three-legged stool, a man in a nondescript khaki shirt, and a clipboard.

Yes, checkpoint.

The road was about to head into the mountains, and vehicles were inspected to check that they could make the journey.

Well. That was reassuring. I think.

I was curious as to what a check actually meant. There were no tools, no additional personnel apart from the Khaki Man. Vijay Bhaiya held a few sheets of paper, probably documentation certifying the vehicle’s safety. He got down from the bus and the checking began.


We stayed put due to the drizzle, and I soon lost interest in the inspection. Looking for other distractions, my attention diverted to a food stall pitched a few feet away from the beach umbrella.

It was one of those mobile trolleys, four-wheeled. A tarp covered the frame, and on it sat a stove with two hobs. The first was uncovered, and He was making rotis bloom directly on the flame. The second held a pateelah, and there was no doubt that cha was brewing.

I watched the roti-making with bated-breath, given my troubled relationship with the roti-making process (see earlier post). Junior tended the cha. Probably His son, I thought.

Another man walked past our bus and reached the stall. They sipped out of the steel cups, and talked. Of what? I hazarded guesses. The latest Bollywood blockbuster (Ek Tha Tiger was on every billboard between Delhi and the moon). The going rates for bribes (no doubt He had first-hand knowledge given the stall’s proximity to the checkpoint). A daughter’s marriage (or the curse of, what with dowries and mothers-in-law of the Zee TV variety). Or maybe the weather (safest really, when all else fails).

The fascination was mutual. They turned to look at the bus, and caught me staring at them, camera in hand, as I tried to take a photo through the raindrops. Knowing that they were being photographed, their backs straightened, smiles widened. I smiled back. Another 5 minutes of this and we would have become Facebook friends, fo sho.



And here it is.

That was when She appeared.

There was nothing memorable about this woman. This is not a judgement, but a mere statement of fact given that even as I recall this memory today, descriptions fail me. I was already suffering from the usual sensory overload that the Indian experience offers, and the rain further numbed my senses and blurred my vision. 

Yes, that’s it. It was raining, you see.

She offered a plate with a bowl in it to Her son (an imagined relationship; keep up, please), who placed a few fresh rotis atop the bowl and took the plate away. Lunch for Gran. Yes, another assumption.

Apparently this was the last order of the day. He gathered a rag and wiped His cart clean. Hmm.. clean really is a relative word, isn’t it? The white specks of atta disappeared and His teeth shone back at Him from the reflective metal of the stove. Or so I imagined, through my rain-streaked window.

She put all the utensils together and carried them… to a bucket a few feet away, placed next to puddle. Rain water in the bucket, rain water in the puddle. Rain water in her hair and on the bus and rain water everywhere.

The washing began. Hmm… washing is another relative word. The utensils went into the puddle, then were rinsed in the bucket. Rainy, dirty, muddy. From muck into muck.

Here there is a pause in my notes, where I’d written 12.30 p.m. I don’t know what this means. It must have seemed important enough for me to jot down, so here I write it again.

12.30 p.m.

As She sat by the pail (ah, yes, She wore a saree; She had gathered it around Her knees as She squatted), He walked up to Her side. He pulled His trousers up by a few inches, and squatted beside Her.

He placed His hands on Her shoulders, and shook them. In a loving, playful, it’s-the-end-of-the-day kind of way, He shook them.

She tilted Her head towards Him, and They laughed.

And laughed, and laughed, and laughed. 

I was trapped in the bus, but I heard Them laughing with my eyes. It was a teeth-showing, belly-shaking, head-thrown-back, eyes-crinkling kind of laugh. 

I had no idea what the joke was, I had no guesses left. But watching Them like that, soaked, squatting by a disgusting puddle, next to what were probably Their only utensils, and just simply laughing at nothing more than a shoulder shake...

Bewilderment. 

What was Their secret joke, what could there possibly be to laugh about, I thought condescendingly. This entire episode had been nothing short of a rude glimspe into the crudity that some lived in.

And yet, there They were, laughing.

It was over in a few seconds. He walked away to tend to the stall, and She continued on with the washing.

But those laugh lines, they would not fade. I heard Their echo, with my eyes, through the blurred, wet window.

That burst of emotion is so vividly etched in my mind. 

One word came to mind: Joy.

I love this word. It is so big. Big, and deep, and whole. It has nothing to do with what you own, who you are, or where you are headed. It is in the small things, and the big things, and the non-things. It grows inside a person, in the quiet storm, in the busy calm. 

It is an attitude that you nurture tirelessly so that the seeds will bloom when you need light around you. And when those roots grow strong, then it is a choice, to look in the face of everything you have, and everything you don’t, and to still say, I choose you, Joy, right here and now. 

Soon the inspection (!) was completed and we continued on our way. I scribbled the passing thoughts from those moments as best I could. I wanted to remember Her uninhibited laugh, to remember that in those few seconds, while I was caught up in everything that wasn’t there, She made a choice that I didn’t even remember I had.

So many things we know, but without knowing.

My pilgrimage to Hemkunt began at that spot. It was my first checkpoint, and my first lesson. 

That happiness is a choice. And Joy?

Joy is Now.

Enough hiding. Run out of the shadows, my dear girl, and live.

~ notes from my road, Hemkunt 2012 ~


1 comment:

Sharan Kaur said...

The picture, the words, the sentiments...everything comes together so beautifully! You have a gift. Waiting in anticipation for a book compilation of your essays.