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Piklu and the Old Man

The old man’s long vacant gaze outside his window was sucked in to his immediate surroundings by two faint knocks on his door.
It took time for him to regain his composure.
It’s as if he was there at a milky-white temple on a green, cloud-capped hill and the bell started chiming melodiously, increasing in pitch with every new ring. Soon the sound vortexes in into a table clock honestly doing its duty of croaking harshly.
Riding on the sound, the knocks that has increased in frequency and into loud thuds, the old man's soul entered his body from the desolate and peaceful land to this environment of smell, and depth. 

“Who’s that,” the old man said feebly, he felt tired talking.
“Can I come in?” a thin voice, probably that of a small child, rang outside the door.
Why not?
The old man remained silent. Thinking what to respond.
“I want to come in,” the thin voice proclaimed the finality of its decision
Why can’t I come in?
Because you are not invited.
You meet people only when they are invited?

The old man puckered his brows. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t want to meet anybody. People have been nice to him in his life. He really doesn’t have any complaint against anyone. Perhaps, that’s his complaint. He never thought about this important question. That’s a miracle!

He expected more questions across the door but nothing came. The old man’s broken heart hurt a little. He wanted the kid to come in. But he is not among them who cares much about their hearts. Like an indifferent husband, he turned his mind from his heart. The pain subsided and vanished.

He was now looking through his window again in the vast green expanse. His eyes are getting weaker, evening comes earlier to him than others, nights linger on longer than when he was young. The world around him is changing at a much faster pace these days. The body is slowing down, his trusted organs are bidding farewell and asking his permission to let them go. He should get a new body soon.
His room is dark, rather damp. The discoloured walls sport greenish spots with mosses growing in places wherever they found a hint of water. The air inside is heavy, with just enough oxygen to sustain the old lungs. There’s one damp bed, the bed-sheet once was yellow but fungi  have given it a blackish ochre hue. The dirty thin pillow is shedding black lumpy cottons from the side.

Not that it matters. He anyway spends most of his time on this chair, resting his hands on the mahogany table pushed to the wall making the window an extension. The rusted window bars, table, the chair and the old man on it makes a unit – the only inhabitant of the room.

There’s no fan, he doesn’t need it. The tap in the bathroom has rusted too and needs a plumber’s attention. Water drips continuously in an aluminium bucket. The old man never needs to turn on the tap. The bucket fills up in overnight. Enough for him.  

The old man again fixed his glance at the distant mango tree. With foliage covered in dark long leaves, the tree resembles a green umbrella. It is surrounded by a few coconut and jamun trees along with a few trees that never bore any fruit.  

The mango tree is special among them. When it is heavy with fruits, it sways lesser in wind than her neighbours do. All over her, she is carrying green, round mangoes that should start ripening within a fortnight. She should not be frivolous and dance at any hint of music like other lasses around. Every year this time the tree smiles in utter satisfaction and calmness like an expecting young mother. The old man watches her all day long and utter prayers for her health. 

This village is known for its mangos. Everyone has mango trees in their backyards. Satiated children don’t raid any tree to get their rightful share. They don’t come to play here too. The field is covered with large lush green grasses, green bushes and yellow creepers and hosts a colony of snakes of all sizes and venom. Only a few kids dare to come to in this part of the village.

The old man largely remains undisturbed, hoping someone will disturb him someday.

He spotted a tiny hand grasping one of the bars in the window. Quickly another bar was secured and a small young face raised his head looking straight at the old man’s eyes.

The old man furrowed his brows to express his displeasure. But his heart thanked the small angelic face for coming.

“So, why won’t you let me in?” demanded the boy, aged about seven-eight.

The old man pouted his mouth, ran his hand through his white beard …. “hmmm … why are you here? I told you not to.”

“Why should I listen to you? You are an old man and can’t run like me.”
“That’s true.”
Do you play?
Why not?
I can’t run like you.
So what do you?
I watch you playing.
And … I watch you resting your chin on your knees as you stare at those heavy clouds, I watch you slashing your stick through the grasses.
I don’t know.
Why don’t you know?
I am not that clever. Can you tell me why I don't know? You are an intelligent kid.
No, but my baba can, he is clever.
And your sister?
Didi? Nah! She doesn’t know a thing
“And your mother?”
The little boy slit his eyes in deep thought  … he was not sure.
“Maa is nice.”
“I am sure she is,” the old man nodded in approval.

The kid now directed his attention inside the room.

“Is there a ghost inside?”
“Oh!” the kid loosened his grip and sank a little.
“Where is he?”
“You are talking to one.”

The kid jumped down from the window and shot off around the corner. The old man tilted his head a little to follow him but the kid was fast. Now the old man again fixed his stare at the mango tree. He was pleased with himself.

“If you are a ghost why don’t you have red eyes and big teeth and claws?” the kid’s voice came from the corner of the house. The old man couldn't locate him.  
“Oh! I wear them at night,” the old man raised his voice.
“And in the morning?” the kid shouted from the corner.
“Oh! As the sun rises, I lose my power and get nailed to my chair. I can’t move.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes. Very much.”
“Will you eat me if I come near you?”
“At night, I might. In the morning, I can’t. Come and see, I don’t even have teeth to eat rice.”  

The kid now showed up, trying to stand on his toe and peak through the corner of the window. The old man leaned forward and opened his mouth to reassure him. The kid now stood in front of the window at a distance
“What’s your name?” the small boy demanded standing in attention.
“Old man.”
“Guess what’s my name is?”
“Hey, that’s right. How did you know?”

The old man smiled.

“So now tell me what’s your name?”
“Old man, I said.”
“Old man cannot be a name. What’s your real name? Tell me or else I am leaving.”
“Okay, okay, don’t leave. My name is … ghetufool.”
“What kind of name is that?”
“I know!”
“My name is Piklu,” Piklu said as he tried to catch hold of the window bars and lifted his head to talk with ghetufool.
"Nice to see you Piklu."

Piklu looked at him without saying anything.

“So, why won’t you let me in?”
“I want you to be free. Go run Piklu, it’s such a lovely world out there. Make this world yours.”
“Why should I run?”
“I can’t run anymore. You must.”
“Just run like that?”
“Yes, just like that.”
“That’s so stupid.”
“Foolish is funnish!”
“Watch me,” Piklu jumped off the window and sprang like a deer calf. ghetufool watched with a glint in his old eyes as Piklu darted like an arrow towards the mango tree.

He was now rapidly climbing up the tree.

He was now swinging from the branches like a monkey.

ghetufool wiped his eyes as they keenly followed every act of Piklu. He watched Piklu chasing butterflies in the grass. He watched Piklu making small paper boats and launching them in the small pond nearby. Piklu clapped as the wind blew, creating patterns on the water and carried the boat to the middle of the pond.
Piklu was now knee-deep in the water, cupping his hands to catch colourful guppy fry. His half-pants wet, Piklu wiped his dirty hands on his white shirt.

ghetufool watched Piklu dancing in the rain and singing rain-songs the whole evening till the sun started setting in.

Piklu came huffing and puffing.

“Open the door before you become a ghost.”
"Stay out. This is not where you should stay. 
"Will you open or I will break this house?" Piklu started kicking the rickety house, shaking the very foundation of it. "Open the door. NOW!"
"Piklu, the world is much larger out there, you must leave your house."
"I love this place. I don't want to leave," Piklu said and suddenly he pressed his face hard against the window bars, popped his eyes and said in a harsh adult voice. "Besides, will you be happy if I leave you?"

"No! ..." ghetufool almost threw his hand in despair.
"Will you be happy if I am as old as you are?" Piklu's voice now resembled that of his. Feeble, weak.    

"Oh no! NO!" ghetufool was aghast, he was gripped with fear.

"Open the door," Piklu's voice sounded that of Piklu.

“Oh yes,” ghetufool opened his red notebook. Piklu entered through the window and vanished in those black characters, without even saying so much as a bye.

ghetufool closed the copy and sighed. Yet again, he failed to push Piklu away from him.

He shall try again tomorrow.


Vincent said…
I've had time for a quick read so far. Very vivid, real, sweet. More later maybe. congratulations!
Vincent said…
It's an allegory of course, as revealed by the old man's name. the author unconsciously recalling his own childhood; trying to push away his young self but inevitably fascinated. As is Piklu with him.

The theme recalls a book by Richard Bach, Running from Safety: "In this encounter with his 9 year old self Richard Bach tries to explain the things that really matter. He finds his teachings do not go as planned."

For, if I recall correctly, each learns from the other. There are extraordinary twists and revelations.
susan said…
This really is a beautiful story, ghetufool. I loved every part of it including the unexpected yet compelling end. I was quite transfixed.

Thanks so much for your visit that lead me to this wistful meditation of a long life.

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