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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Memories of a Boulevard

     " You redeemed me without a clue
        I lost you that day too"


                                                -Ashok ( to Shakuntala )




Ashok always took the same road to work and back home from the first day he joined office. It was full of filth, irritating obstructions, dirt trespassing into air and the stinking cow dung smell which hung for the whole distance till Ashok's office. But Ashok knew better. Despite pressing advises of his friends and peers to resort to an alternate shorter route to his office, Ashok considered it worthwhile to walk his way to the office on his favourite route, which he had accidentally discovered on the very first day of work. He maintained that treading on that route treated him to delightful scenic experiences which he considered too dear to trade up with saving time and energy. So what if one has to exhaust himself a bit extra. Its worth it !,  he reassured himself. He often eloquently narrated to his friends all the visual delicacies which he relished on that street. He depicted animatedly the typical countryside scenes of cultivators tending their lush fields, half naked children playfully bothering anybody who fell on their way and teenage herders marshalling their cattle.  It was a  unique picturesque considering the fact that just a couple of miles ahead stood the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, where he came from and to where he went.


But deep down Ashok guarded his secret.

On the way, so vehemently discarded by his peers and so passionately adopted by Ashok, fell the hamlet where lived the sole source of Ashok’s bliss and joy, Shakuntala. He never missed a day without walking on that road and watching Shakuntala engaged in naive frivolities. He had seen her play, dance, quarrel, smile and even doze off in the shade of her village trees. His joy knew no bounds when he caught her glimpses. According to Ashok, the kind hearted Lord had assimilated, in Shakuntala, the whole gamut of exquisiteness that epitomized the idyllic beauty characteristic to nature's splendor. She fondly called her Shaku. He had once overheard her friends yelling at her by that name, when she had come dangerously close to being run over by a reckless motorcyclist. Ashok liked to believe that his beloved Shaku symbolized various spectacles of nature. Her mystic eyes were like the enigmatic village mist, her long flowing hair which seemed eager to kiss her ankles bounced to life just like the willing ripe crops on the vast fields allied to the mischievous breeze. Her smile infused the joy of immeasurable bliss into the comatose hearts of hapless on lookers. She moved about with an addictive playfulness characteristic to an unblemished childhood and spoke in the tranquil voice of the serene spring water. No wonder her lover braved the heat, dirt, stink & occasional rowdy drunkards in order to catch a glimpse of her, first thing in the morning. On reaching his office, he would enter the air conditioned chambers with big splotches of sweat all over his shirt but his heart made merry. Once Ashok had allured a boy from her neighbourhood with some pocket money and tried to pass on a chocolate to Shaku. The boy happily pocketed the sum, walked a little distance ate the chocolate and said something to some very serious looking men who shot murderous glances at Ashok. He paced away like he did not even exist. This had caused him to believe that his Shaku was a lone lotus stuck in a swamp of scoundrels. For a whole week he walked inconspicuously trying to avoid proximity to Shaku's hamlet.


A year passed in the meantime. An imminent fear began claiming the peace of Ashok's mind. It was the fear of never getting to have his beloved Shaku know about the intense feelings which he nurtured for her. Back home when talks of his marriage were raised, his attention would wander off to those playgrounds and countryside scenes with Shaku fluttering like a butterfly in them. So one Sunday evening Ashok dared himself to take a chance at interacting with her. He enthusiastically put on his most appreciated pair of trousers and slipped into the grey jacket which, according to his female peers, made him look extremely handsome. He tied the long laces of his navy blue sneakers and after having thoroughly frustrated his mirror for a full hour, ventured out on heart's adventure. He almost ran down on the flight of stairs, said a jovial 'Hi' to almost everyone he met, including his milk vendor, naturally shocking him down his bicycle. He randomly sang romantic Bollywood songs, whistling away to his heart's content. Even the dogs which saw him on the way, did not take it long to realize and bark in agreement that he was possessed, in love. The man was on a mission and his objective was to get as close as possible to the target and establish communication of some sort, preferably intimate, with her, 


Ultimately he approached nearer to his favourite part of the town. He had never been beyond a particular point on that path. The last time he came to this point he had come dangerously close to being manhandled. Suddenly those scenes from the past threatened to come to life once again as he was welcomed by a couple of drunkards who swore at each other recklessly as if they were privy to a prize that was to be accorded to the most avid swearer of rustic slangs. Names of mothers and sisters were being flown around with utmost reverence, as he sheepishly avoided their gaze and walked past them. There was absolute peace for at least ten to fifteen furlongs thereafter. That, however, was not meant to last longer as he ran into a gang of middle aged men seated near a Kadam tree. Circles of dense smoke were being emitted as they smoked an indigenous version of something akin to a pipe. All of them looked at him in quick succession with bloodshot eyes, the bloodshotness being the sole courtesy of the blinding smoke. One of them mumbled something and the rest started laughing like madmen. Ashok nervously shot two or three melodious whistles from his dry mouth, pretending to have turned deaf. That seemed to quieten them. After a negligible pause, one of them swore loudly at him. Ashok kept walking, with an increased pace and chose better than to look back. After having treaded a good twenty to thirty steps ahead he turned back to check the position of the rowdy group of men but kept walking. He had been inattentive to the passage of time and he realized the same when he noticed everything around him had turned pitch black. Except for the far away flickering flames of earthen lamps creating dancing shadows of strange looking human figures, Ashok could not see a thing. He had begun hearing strange sounds. He guessed that animals must be emitting them. He found it very strange that just besides his town, which was brimming with din and commotion, there existed this place, where modernization seemed as alien as Martians. Completely devoid of any visibility in the dark, he ambled for dimensions. All of a sudden he heard the hysterical ringing of a bi cycle bell and before he could ascertain the direction of its source, he felt a sizeable piece of cold metal ram into his crotch leaving him writhing in rippling pain. He clutched his private part and kneeled down breathlessly. Before he could come to terms with the shearing pain, a pair of hands grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up. Then came the torrent of blows and kicks. He sank back into the ground. Fringing on the point of blacking out in the dark, he heard a husky voice angrily calling him 'blind', 'nincompoop' and 'moron'. He heard the cursing fade away into the dark behind him. A few seconds later Ashok got up, wiped his face clean with his handkerchief and began circling around frantically. For all he knew, he was lost. He heard a faint sound of singing accompanied by harmonious percussion from an unfathomable distance. He cherished the rising & ebbing music and felt reassured that he was in no savage land. He began walking again, with only one thought in his mind that seemed to do away with all the disgust. It was that of the apple of his eye, Shaku.

Ashok kept walking, chanting some vital hymns. He ultimately found a tiny hut. From the look of it, the hut appeared to have been deserted centuries ago. He could not sense the presence of anybody there. Just when he was beyond expectations of running into any soul, he heard the clinking sound of anklets which reminded him of the comforts of his home where he had heard identical sounds as his mother and sister walked about. He saw the silhouette of a female figure growing larger as it advanced in his direction. She inquired, in a guarded manner "Yes ?...Who is it ?..Raghu Chacha ?  .. or is it Basu bhaiya ?". She immediately informed "Mother has gone to fetch our tumbler which she left at the village well..and Father has gone to his friends. You come back tomorrow. Ok ? ". She began to shrink back in the same direction from where she had emerged. Ashok stopped her and blurted "Wait..please. Can you kindly help a lost man here ?. " The girl noticing that the man did not sound like any of the villagers she knew, became stiff with alarm. Ashok however continued "Listen Ma'm, I am Ashok and I have come from the nearby town. I cannot see you in the dark. So can I please come a bit closer."  He began walking ahead. "Look actually I have come here looking for someone. Her name  is......"  Before Ashok could conclude, the girl let out a deafening shriek that seemed to embarrass even the loudest of vehicle horns. Ashok was dumbstruck at her response. Not knowing how to go about it, he hurriedly ran upto her and capped her mouth with his right palm while pressing the back of her head with his left. He started saying something like "What's the matter ?" when she managed to slightly loosen Ashok's palm on her mouth and at first opportunity sank her canines and incisors into his index finger as hard as she could. Ashok howled in pain and instinctively grabbed her hair and violently pulled her, in self defense ofcourse. She again scremed for her life. "Hey I'm not here to hurt you. Stop It." Ashok yelled with all his might trying to vocally overpower her. In the ensuing push and pull, both of them had moved nearer to the hut's entrance, where a soft glow of lantern light dimly illuminated the girl's face. Ashok felt all his strength receding through his feet. He loosened his grip on her and gaped at her face as if he had seen an angel from his grandmother's fairy tales. He had seen Shakuntala.


The next feelings which Ashok experienced were a mix of violence and bliss. He heard blurry voices cursing him and mighty hands caressing him recklessly with blows, slaps and kicks. But the unshakable ecstasy within him obstructed the penetration of pain. Before he lost his senses, the last thing he remembered was how Shakuntala's eyes were locked with his, in a most transparent exchange of thoughts as he slipped into unconsciousness. The pain was only felt by him the next day when he regained consciousness on a shabby bed in the local dispensary. He learnt that a criminal case has been registered against him and that the Police would be soon taking him into custody for producing him before Court to face his trial. It was quite an incident for the town and even bigger for the rural community. So on the day of trial, the Court room was bustling with murmurs and whispers. The Judge rose to the Bench and the case of The State vs. Ashok was called. Ashok had been booked for charges of outraging the modesty of Shakuntala, which was a criminal offence as defined in the Indian Penal Code. The Public Prosecutor had thoroughly examined all his witnesses,  most of whom testified that they came to the spot after the occurence had taken place. Taking advantage of this, the defence counsel managed to establish through their evidence that none of the prosecution witnesses, hitherto examined had seen the accused actually assault the victim in any manner. So naturally, everything now depended on the version of the key witness, Shakuntala.


When her name was called, the defence counsel fidgeted in his seat and the Prosecutor beamed with confidence. She walked into the witness box and after being administered oath, stated her identity and address for the record. Ashok was standing in the dock meant for accused persons. Shakuntala looked at him briefly and turned away her gaze to the Public Prosecutor who was rummaging through his files.
"Do you know this man ?" he asked Shakuntala, pointing his finger at Ashok.


"Yes" came her reply.


"Please state before this Court, how you came to know him" said the Prosecutor walking up to her stand.


After seeming to contemplate for a brief moment, she began "On the day of the occurence, he had come to our house. He asked me to help him find his way. He seemed lost."  she wrapped up. She looked at the Prosecutor who was also watching her curiously. He sincerely gestured at her to continue to speak. Shakuntala gave back an equally sincere clueless look.


"That's it ? That's all you've got to say ?" the Prosecutor fumed impatiently. "And he did not do anything objectionable ? " No sooner than he finished his sentence, Ashok's defense counsel shot up from his seat crying "Objection  - The learned Prosecutor is leading the witness" seeking an intervention from the Judge. His objection was accepted by the Judge and the Prosecutor was refrained from asking such a question to the witness. The clever Prosecutor apologized and rephrased his question "Tell us everything that happened that night" he asked Shakuntala again. Shakuntala repeated her statement and only added further that "I do not exactly remember what else had happened that night. I was a bit sleepy and I wasn't in a state to remember accurately the entire course of the incident. But I assure this Hon'ble Court that the man did not do a thing to me which by the farthest stretch of imagination be called as criminal." she concluded emphatically and looked at the Prosecutor who had no other recourse but to helplessly look back at her. The Courtroom broke into hisses and murmurs as the Judge rapped his gavel on his table ordering everyone to be silent. Shakuntala was excused by the Judge from the witness box. As she walked down, she stole a fleeting glance at Ashok, who was already staring at her. Both smiled miserly at each other this time. She was escorted out by her family and relatives, with her father angrily mumbling something to her. The Judge gave his verdict wherein he declared Ashok innocent. Ashok hurriedly walked out of the Court, but could not find Shakuntala or any other villager. He was immediately congratulated by his lawyer, and also advised by him to sue the girl and her family for malicious & false prosecution of Ashok. He also assured him of sure shot victory and a hefty compensation. Ashok humbly denied. But he once again  conveyed his utmost gratitude to his lawyer, to which the latter responded with a strange grin, as if he wanted to say "We both know why you won, don't we ?". But Ashok had no clue.


Six months have passed since Ashok's day at Court. He has been promoted in the meantime. He bought a car soon after his promotion, which he occasionally drives to work. Everything seemed to have fallen into order. Except for the fact that Shakuntala is no more seen at the playground or anywhere in the vicinity she used to be frequently spotted at. Ashok still walks by the same street, hoping that someday he will see her again and say 'Thank You', at least.




                       


                                                            *****************




("Memories of a Boulevard" is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person (alive or dead), place or incident is coincidental.)









10 comments:

  1. That was a good read...Sad that after getting so many blows he lost all contact with her :)

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  2. Again! YOu know, as soon as I fathomed this to be a work of fiction, I scrolled my way down to see whether I would make it to the end and soon realised I would not. Just to have a feel of what it was, I went through the first few lines knowing fully well that I would then read the last 2 paragraphs and some other day come back and read the entire post and comment.
    But the master story teller that you are, the flow of your story didn't allow me to skip a single line.
    I myself write pretty long posts but that's more because I have always had issues with brevity (which supposedly is a sister of talent :D). I mean I never expect all my readers to read those posts in entirety. But the way you go about your stories Anupam, it would take a massive amount of will power to tear oneself from the story midway. The length didn't matter at all and I must say it was captivating from beginning till the last line.
    A great start; the way you introduced your leading lady was great and an equally good end.

    Keep it up. You gonna be a superb fiction writer someday. Though you write all sorts of things pretty eloquently, fiction is something I will keep coming back to your blog for :)

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    Replies
    1. Dear Sudha,

      I wonder how to correspond to such magnanimity. The ordinary writer whom you generously call "Master Story Teller" is further humbled. Keep reading me Sudha. You have no idea about the degree of impetus you have given me today. I've just returned from an exhausting tour and the first thing I read in my inbox is your inspiring mail. Thank You...SO MUCH.

      Regards,
      Anupam

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  3. your stories are intriguing, very well worded and keeps me rooted to my chair till I finish reading it. It is from a world I don't know anything about and I love reading all about it.

    Thanks

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  4. yo bro! its after a long time that am reading a story from your blog-page! I know I was away for a long time and work and other tasks didnt allow me. But when am back to your page, I see a another story and it is a bit similar to me... when I was watching a gal :P :P Though I didn't want to complicate my life any further... Do u think I should penn down this incident? :P :P U seem to be away from Gtalk as well, for a long time now! Hope to see you soon there!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Bro,

      Glad to have you back. Good u didn't choose the complication. You should definitely write about the incident though..

      Anupam

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  5. You have all my hats!! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanx Rohu..those are precious collections for me !!!

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