By Chaturvedi Divi
The City Mall assistant walked behind Vikas up to the exit door and handed over a small pack of apples. Vikas climbed down the broad steps at a gingerly pace, walked through the parking area waiting for his cab to arrive. His cane vibrated and a cyclist brushed past him. The bag he was holding got entangled in the rear rack of the cycle, and Vikas loosened his grip and let it go. As he was regaining his balance, someone rushed towards him.
“Are you all right? It is a narrow escape.”
“No worries, I am fine, thank you.”
After five minutes, Vikas heard the same voice. “Wow, believe it or not. This is great. The cyclist, the poor boy, was frightened. He handed over your bag and rode off.”
Vikas thanked him and moved on.
At home, to beat loneliness, Vikas listened to the audio book, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. At 5 P.M he opened the bag, and took out one apple, and noticed that the apples were not the ones he bought. The stickers were intact. At the mall, every time he bought fruits, the mall assistants removed the stickers before packing. They knew that removing stickers would be a cumbersome affair to him.
So, my bag was lost. Out of pity, the man gave the apples he bought. He lost control over his thoughts and he felt depressed and angry. He wanted to tell everyone that at 25, he was the most accomplished singer of theme songs on TV commercials and he made a fortune, and was not living on charity.
The doorbell rang. When Vikas opened the door, Suresh started humming a tune. It was always how he announced his visit. “Yesterday I worked late in the night… Installed new music system in our studio.”
“Did the company send its audio engineer to help you?”
“No, just their electrical engineer and his assistants. I was the only audio engineer responsible for checking the sound quality. It was hectic.” Suresh went into the dining hall and brought two glasses of water and plates. “I brought snacks from our favourite restaurant. Guess what.?” When he opened the pack, Vikas could smell samosas.
“Today, I want to try The Bird’s Opening.” Vikas nodded his head. After 20 moves, Suresh said, “BXE5.” He waited for a few seconds. “I called out my move. It seems that you are not your usual self today. What happened?”
Vikas told him the trick played by a stranger at the City Mall, and societal categorisation made him feel humiliated.
“Weird! He tried to play smart. He may even post the incident on social media. Question of attitude. Don’t give it the colour of humiliation. That is nothing but your imagination. Cheer up boy.”
I shouldn’t blame him for ignoring my feelings. He didn’t face any serious challenge in life. I should never broach this subject again with Suresh. Vikas had a disturbed sleep that night.
In the studio, while singing a theme song, Vikas missed a beat, for the first time in his career. The time signature was set to a slow waltz. In his second attempt, the sliding from one pitch to the other was not smooth. His third attempt too was not satisfactory. The creative director, Sankar had remained with the sole option of rescheduling the recording.
That evening while Vikas was pacing the patio up and down restlessly, Suresh called him. “Geetha and I will be at your house at 7.30.”
“Did she sing her lines this morning?”
“No, some re jigging.”
“Oh!” Vikas paused. “7.30 dinner time. I’ll order dinner for three.”
“Not this time, Geetha will bring home made food, just for a change.”
While dining, Vikas’ phone started singing. “It is from Educational Trust for the Blind,” Suresh handed over the phone to Vikas.
“Oh my god, I was supposed to address the students this afternoon.” Vikas apologised. His voice was shaky.
After they settled in the living room, Suresh said, “Sankar sir was a bit upset this morning.”
“But that was not because of you, Vikas,” Geetha quickly added. “Multiple takes…natural in the music world. There is lot of pressure from our customer, in-charge of the political campaign.”
“Yes, Vikas,” said Suresh. The fight between political parties resulted in a tough competition between ad agencies.”
“This morning you were a bit distracted,” Geetha smiled.
“Sankar sir gave me a good break in my career. I won’t trouble him. If it is required, I’ll opt out of the campaign.”
“Cheer up, boy. The same team will be retained for the entire campaign. I’m sure about it.” Suresh tapped on the centre table. “We all had a very long association with Bhavana Ad Agency.”
“Just relax, things will fall in line soon,” Geetha gently touched his hand.
After they left, Vikas sat in the patio switching from one audio book to another till midnight.
Two days later, Vikas received a call from Sankar. “Tomorrow evening there will be a small party at my house at 5.30. My daughter’s birthday. please do come.”
Did he invite Suresh and Geetha too? Who else would be in the party other than his daughter’s friends? Would there be a music performance? Would he ask me to sing? Will he tell me I am out of the campaign?
On the way to Sankar’s house, Vikas bought a branded pen set. Sankar led him into his house. His wife Jyothi and their daughter Vani thanked him for sparing time and Vani introduced him to her friends. Vikas noticed that it was a small gathering and all the guests were Vani’s school mates. Sankar guided him to a corner table and said, “My childhood friend Dr. Pravin will join you soon.”
A couple of minutes later, Vikas heard footsteps. “I’m Dr Pravin.”
“Pleasure to meet you, doctor.”
“The pleasure is all mine. You know, I was caught in a traffic jam… a procession… some political party. Pravin lowered his voice and said, “I believe that the world will be a better place without most of these politicians.”
“Yeah, they whip up regional feelings simply to gain support from a section of the people.”
“Exactly, every day some kind of unrest somewhere. I feel that every morning before venturing out, we should check whether it is safe to go out or not,”
“The way people check in some regions whether it is snowing or not.” Vikas laughed.
“Snowing. It reminds me of beautiful places in Kashmir… You know there is a village in the eastern ghat of Andhra Pradesh, Lambasingi, the Kashmir of AP.”
“Lambasingi? I visited that place when I was in school. Those images are still fresh in my mind. Thajangi reservoir… Susan Garden…. Amber coloured flowers.”
“I understand you are not blind by birth.”
“How do you…”
Cutting in Dr Pravin said, “You told me just now.”
“Did I? …Yeah… I was normal till I finished my bachelor’s degree in music. One day I had some discomfort in my eyes. I was treated for macular degeneration but there was no improvement and after a few months I lost sight.”
“Visual impairment… Things changed. There were times when it was tough to handle even day to day activities like crossing busy roads or making a phone call. Those days have gone. Technology is of immense help now.”
“Yeah. The phone I use is voice activated, it has programmed buttons in Braille. Routine activities are not at all challenging to me. My real challenge is…” Vikas crossed his legs, uncrossed them, and leaned back.
“Go ahead Vikas.”
“I mean… I believe there is a mismatch between my self-image and social identity. Except my colleagues in the agency, others often times, in the name of helping me, place me in embarrassing situations.” His voice choked. “They give a fancy name to their behaviour… social etiquette.”
“I understand the lowered expectations offend you. You feel disturbed, agitated and you lost focus on your work. An issue, considered trivial sometime back, has grown into a serious problem now. Am I right?”
“I try to divert my thoughts but…” Vikas leaned forward. My colleague Suresh says it is in my head… cognitive dissonance. Is it not real?”
“There are several planes of consciousness. At one plane, it is real.”
“Identity– psychological or social is a complex experience. It involves a host of things influenced by family values, beliefs, media and social interaction. The question, what is my identity, led many from physical to metaphysical…”
“Dr, I’m not bothered about…”
“Interact with people more and more. Socialise.”
“Will it solve my problem?”
“Certainly. Perceptions will change.”
The next morning Vikas went to the neighbourhood park and sat on a bench. He heard noises- children playing, adults jogging, some discussing politics. No one came to share the bench with him. After one hour, he noticed that the park was almost deserted. While returning home, he could exchange greetings with his immediate neighbour, but there was no more interaction. After four days, he stopped his morning visits to the park.
The park was a nice place to meet people, but in his case, Vikas had to find better ways to socialise. He thought of running chess classes for children… I could take Suresh’s help without disclosing the motive. Or, he will again come up with his imaginative theories…
On that Sunday, while playing chess, Vikas shared his idea with Suresh.
“Yeah, Sunday mornings.”
“Interesting. The patio is just enough for a small group. We’ll insist on nominal entry fee. You know, free coaching doesn’t carry any value.”
In the first session, Vikas explained to the boys the nuances of opening, middle and end games and about classical, rapid and blindfold formats. Suresh analysed the different strategies and tactics followed by world class chess players and asked them to start with foot soldiers. Despite their attempts to make the session interesting, none of the five boys turned up for the second session.
“Street cricket is popular here. The boys don’t want to miss it. We should have thought of it,” Suresh said.
Vikas woke up at 5.a. m to the devotional music that invaded his bed room from the new temple, about 100 feet to the north of the park.
I should tell the priest to lower the noise.
He had a bath and then waited till he felt the warmth of the sun. Then he went to the temple. When he entered, he noticed it was crowded. He heard adults guiding children, breaking coconuts and ringing the temple bell. Some devotees were chanting Durga ashtottram. Puja was going on.
While he was wondering which way he to go, one devotee approached him. “For darshan, turn to your right and move on.”
“I’d like to wait for some time.”
“Come with me. I’ll show you a place where you can sit comfortably.”
Vikas was in a dilemma whether to lodge a complaint with the priest or not. After half-an-hour, Vikas noticed that except for the footsteps of an occasional visitor, there was silence.
“Did you have darshan? Are you waiting for anyone?” Vikas was startled. The voice continued, “I am the temple priest. Do you need any help in getting back home?”
“No, thank you. My house is close bye, the other side of the park.”
“Oh, you stay nearby. There will be a veena recital this evening. Please do come, sir.”
Veena recital! I can think of giving a musical performance in the temple. Festive season. Almost everyone in the neighbourhood visits the temple. Can there be a better place for socialising. Not the usual devotional songs? Must be different and fit into the festive theme and mood. How about folk songs?
When he shared his idea with Geetha and Suresh, they were not enthusiastic. “Folk music. I am not sure that the trustees of the temple and the priest will encourage the idea,” Geetha said.
“It is not easy to convince the devotees too,” Suresh said.
“Don’t feel disappointed Vikas. We are not giving up the idea. You know my brother Ravi. He is in event management. I’ll speak to him,” Geetha assured.
“It is possible if we can find a sponsor and a suitable venue. Temple premises are not ideal. Sponsors can’t erect banners and they don’t come forward if you tell them, you are invisible.” Ravi patted Vikas on the shoulder. “Any other venue? Not the expensive conference halls.”
“Park, yeah, brilliant idea. Now, I can look for a sponsor, and even cosponsors like ice cream stalls, coffee stalls. How about Bhavana Ad. Agency?”
Geetha laughed. “You are asking us about our own agency!”
“Why not? Your director will inaugurate. The local MLA will be the chief guest. No doubt, we will get good media coverage.”
When Ravi raised the subject with ad agency, Sankar said, “I’m not convinced that the agency gets lot of publicity by just placing a few banners. The finance Dept. will object. The agency must be able to show case its achievements… an audio- visual show may be ideal. I’d like to involve local people by organising a slogan writing contest for the school children. Can we open a stall there?”
Ravi was taken aback. He asked for two days to look into the feasibilities. He and Vikas met the colony welfare association president and secretary and shared their idea with them. When Vikas and Ravi proposed to contribute generously to the association welfare fund, the president and secretary gave their consent.
“Now, we have to reschedule our plan. We should make the event more attractive to the business community. A few more stalls should come up. Otherwise, we just can’t organise it,” said Ravi.
Ravi contacted several business establishments and Vikas, Suresh and Geetha accompanied him for personal interaction with the heads of firms who showed some interest in the event. At the end of the third day, there was some clarity. Dealers of hand-loom sarees, handicrafts, children’s
books and confections agreed to open stalls. It turned out to be a mini exhibition that would run for three days with music performances in the evenings.
Suresh said, “Now I am confident. Yes, we can make it happen. I’ll take care of the sound system.”
“Ravi, please see that everyone gets due recognition,” Vikas said.
“Recognition… monetary benefit… we can discuss later.”
Geetha and Vikas selected a few folk songs highlighting Sankranthi theme and practised. They added commentary to every song explaining the significance of the cultural traditions of India. One TV channel signed an agreement with Vikas and Geetha for telecasting one song a day for one month.
Though there were frequent references to his blindness in the media coverage, Vikas didn’t get irritated.
One morning, to gauge the mood of the people in the neighbourhood, Vikas went to the park and sat on a bench. Children surrounded him asking for autograph. Adults were eager to shake hands with him. One of them said, “I enjoyed the programme a lot. It was unique and memorable. Adding commentaries highlighting the profundity of the traditions is a wonderful idea. Most of us follow the traditions casually without paying attention to the message they carry.”
Vikas heard a faint and distant voice. “Do you know, he is blind. He lives around here; we didn’t even notice it. The other day, in the general body meeting, some questioned the colony welfare association president for granting permission for holding a commercial event like this. The president said he thought the residents would appreciate his decision for being sympathetic towards a blind man.”
Vikas remained cool and confident. The doctor said perceptions would change… But… but whose perception? Planes of consciousness…. Physical…. Metaphysical? I should delve deep into my inner being to know my reality, my true identity.
 Chanting a God’s name 108 times
 Viewing a deity
 Member of Legislative Assembly
 An Indian festival to highlight different phases of solar transmigration
Chaturvedi Divi’s short stories and poems have appeared in the anthology of Only Men Please, Reading Hour, America the Catholic magazine, Twist & Twain, Spillwords and elsewhere. He has an MA in creative writing from The University of Wales. His doctoral thesis is on diasporic literature.
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