Tuesday, December 18, 2007
A red, "heart shaped" balloon..
It had been a long but fruitful day. Long -because as any other day I sat in my office, like a sundial, watching the shadows getting longer; fruitful- because towards the end of it my boss called me in his cabin to tell me that he finally had a job of some consequence for me that could also take me overseas. Elated, I walked out of his cabin; proud, for the first time, of being an engineer. I never forget to thank God on such occasions. And having done that, afraid that I might offend my Good Luck, I promptly closed the chat-window on my computer screen, where only a few minutes ago, I was making some not-so-wise cracks at my joblessness. Raring to go, I would have begun the job then and there, but to contain the excitement was becoming more and more difficult by the minute and I had to share the news with my family and friends. So I decided to call it a day on the pretext of beginning new work on a new day, punched my card, and walked out into the dry, four degree centigrade January Delhi, feeling it, for the first time, go down to my lungs instead of my bones.
As I stood there waiting for the cab, notwithstanding Himmesh Reshamiya singing (and on that particular day not ‘whining’) at the Panwalah’s, I decided to relinquish for the moment my daily calorie-count and treat myself to a little five-rupee snack. New diet plans, new day onwards. At a distance I saw the white cab coming and inadvertently found myself in a get-set-go position. I got into the cab, smiling at my impatience to get home and break the news, the cloyingly salty snack crackling on the median of my tongue, reproving myself banteringly for cribbing about my work, or rather the lack of it, and for cursing the system. Sometime in between, not noticing when, I drowned myself in a happy reverie, conjuring images of a “busy and important” me, of the snow-laden mountains of Europe where they just might send me on work, of the many congratulations I would receive when I’d accomplish some feats here and there, when suddenly I was intercepted by something that seemed like a cold, steely rap on my brain. I realized that the cab had stopped at one of the countless traffic signals and the “rap” was actually a knock on the glass window to my right. There stood a tall, dark, bearded man, with a bandana rather determinedly tied around his head; his shawl – only an accessory – not an equipment to shield him from the cold, for apparently, he didn’t feel the cold. And even if he did, his stone-cold eyes belied it. At my very first glimpse I knew he wasn’t a beggar. The somber expression he bore and his posture- upright as a bamboo stick- suggested that he was here on serious business. Ironically, he held, clenched in his right fist, half a dozen of red, heart-shaped balloons. His gaze met mine but for a moment, asking, half matter-of-factly, half resignedly, if I cared to buy them. And before my brain, numbed by the usualness of the sight, could respond, for some reason he moved on. The cab jerked ahead and for a moment I was thrown aback. They call it Inertia of Rest. When the cab moves on and you can’t. My cab moved on too. And as it took a right turn from under the flyover I saw three children, naked as my soul, their only garment- entwined balloon tubes that they held around their necks, following the Balloon Man.
I was now in a quieter lane. I could see on the opposite lane a few cars, moving in towards me very slowly, their headlights baring my face. I found myself gazing again at another pair of eyes - not “stone-cold” as the Balloon Man’s, but sponge-like that absorbed and squeezed stuff out back to where it belonged-in the rear-view mirror, asking me a barrage of questions. Would the snow-clad mountains of Europe make the little balloon-clad people too shiver with excitement ?? Did they too have new plans for a new day?? Why did I stay put, paralyzed?? Was I too much of a believer to take responsibilities?? Or too much of a cynic to trust my pittance?? And why now was I feeling connected to the Balloon Man?? Did we have something in common?? Perhaps we did. His hope and my humanity - both stillborn.
“No, Thank You”, I replied to the painted face which was serving us Cold-Platter. In the background I could hear fulminations in Punjabi insisting that the meal be reheated, which, to the respite of many other painted faces, were suspended by one announcement of our landing in Zurich. In thirty-five minutes three weeks of hard work will have paid off. The airplane dived and soared, like a dolphin, into and away from the clouds; not hostage to any laments-my viscera- mimicking the same. I had not the need of any balloons. For I had one already. A red, heart-shaped balloon. Anchored to the ground by threads one moment; winged, floating yonder, the next…