"Vanderloost -Speak Your Heart Out" is a vagrant and bizarre conglomerate of consequential and inconsequential moments, transient and stagnant thoughts, fickle and rigid perceptions, forgettable and not so forgettable anecdotes and experiences, day to day trivia, cornucopia of hard hitting realities and pristine imageries and most importantly people whom I think I know , whom I'd like to know and whom I do not want to know.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
MY GOOD SAMARITAN
Mr. Boots has lately got into this very irritating habit of waking me up at odd hours (somewhere between past midnight and early hours of dawn) and insisting on going for a round. Sometimes he will paw me awake in the midst of deep slumber; sometimes it will be an insistent appeal when I get up in the middle of the night to visit the loo and some other nights he just sniffs close to my nose persistently as I try in vain to cover my face with the quilt. He knows all the techniques of beguiling me. I am not left with much choice but to follow his beckoning. So night after night I prowl through the half lit, deserted pathways meandering through the rows of silent buildings when everyone else is snoring peacefully in bed.
It is winter. The streets look discarded. As a result, these night trips are spiced more with uneasiness than the wiggly excitement of a clandestine adventure. In the beginning, I have this nagging thought of what my neighbours will think if they see me stalking in the dead of the night. I soon realize that there is no one around at such God forsaken hours to pole an opinion about me. Even the chowkidaars are fast dozing in their little cubicles next to the main gates. I keep to my block as I feel safer inside. Outside bordering the service lane is the external Ring Road lined with heavy vehicles sometimes trudging doggedly along and some other times zooming past throughout the night. Sometimes I meet a lone figure coming back from work (Call Centre, most probably). But he is too tired to even figure out whether I am actually there or is just a figment of his overworked cerebrum.
Mr. Boots is unusually quiet on these occasions looking for cozy corners to relieve his bladder. On New Year’s night I see a drunken soul staggering home. But he is quite far and his back is turned. Anyway he is too high to make out that somebody’s behind him ( I am sure he will die of fright if he turns around and sees this heavily hooded figure with an equally monstrous looking canine just tiptoeing right behind him).
It is not that I like these walks but I have come to accept them because Boots is suffering from UTI and needs to relieve himself more frequently. I surrender, therefore, to the inevitable i.e. toeing Mr. Boot’s line.
Winter night has a beauty of its own - a lonesome pathos on the threshold of melancholy. The capital is known for its smog or fog or whatever the climate experts prefer to call the haze that surrounds the cityscape like an opaque shield. Sometimes it is so thick that things right in front of your nose can not be seen. Sometimes smouldering shades are added to the colourless quilt by a burning fire of stray twigs and branches which the road dwellers build to keep themselves warm. The bare scraggy branches of old trees lining the alleys add to the barren isolation. Some nights are surprisingly clear and a deep electrique blue sky with winking stars and a moon with a doting smile keep you company.
These are the nights when I learn that the acoustics of nightlife are digitally more precise than the Dolby surround sounds boasted by PVRs. So many nights I stand alert listening to scurrying, running feet on dry leaves. A rodent hurries past. Sometimes a deep cackle from among the foliage of a tree gives me goose bumps. (I have not been able to make out the source yet!). And sometimes it is just the soft sound of footfalls on pebbled street which has made me look back suspecting a skulking shadow in the darkness. I find no one.
The rows and rows of flats which look warm and inviting in daylight stand like forlorn figures waiting for some catastrophe with bated breath. Every mildest of sound ricochets and reverberates in the deathly stillness around. My own footsteps scare me at times. A hiss of my own breath sends a chill down my spine. Boot’s paws on a stack of pebbles trips a heartbeat. The clanking of his chain on the asphalt many a times startles me. And sometimes it is just a contemptuous flighty cat which scares the wits out of me.
Apart from my flights of fancy, these nocturnal prowls have more or less been uneventful. But for one incident.
It is way past midnight. We stride past the sleepy structures of bricks and mortar, the drowsy trees and the dreamy clumps of bushes and come to an opening in the middle of the road which branches off in three different directions. Mr. Boots sniffs the ground, his ears pick up in alertness and his hackles rise. He moves further down and I glide on with him. The road sidelines a cemented strip of land which may have initially been envisaged as a sort of sidewalk for the pedestrians but now serves as a parking lot for the increasing number of vehicles per flat. The side wall next to the parking lot separates the block from the MCD Park. The park is big and well cultivated with trees and bushes and flower beds. But in the darkness everything is sinisterly silhouetted against the night sky. The parking lot is therefore overshadowed by the dark silhouettes of the trees of the park, on one hand, and, on the other, the vehicles parked on the sides. Boots finds his cozy corner and relieves himself.
As we come out of the shadowy corner we are suddenly accosted by a pack of snarling, growling pack of four legged brutes. I do not know from where they emerge They are all around us six of them with green, glowing eyes. They growl softly. A low pitch admonish which may strike higher chords if instigated. They silently watch us. Their strong, lithe bodies poise to hurl. Boots is taken aback. Physical discomfort rendering his reflexes weak. I look for a safe exit. But the monsters have gheraoed us in such a manner that we cannot move out of the circle without pushing past them. The strategy seems to have been carefully planned and the anticipated attack almost premeditated.
I brandish my stick ( a short one which I usually carry not as a weapon but as a protective armour for such occasions) in the air. Lame, frightened gesture. Boots stamps his feet with all the fierceness that his weak body allows him to muster. Ineffective. The pack slowly closes in on us. I can see the cavernous gaping holes of their mouths bordered by strong, red jaws and the sharp-edged molars shining white in the darkness. This is the end, I think. Boots seems to think so too. His body sags, his ears droop and tail drops – he submits to what now seems like a carefully hatched conspiracy. The brutes must have been watching us these previous nights and have decided to have it out with us once and for all.
Thak….thak….thak! A faint sound invades the silence of the night. I peer through the half lit, half shadowed street. It is misty but not so thick. I can see a tall, dark figure heavily clothed in a dark over coat and hat with a coarse blanket thrown on top. He has a little thicker than the usual, baton like rod in one hand. He walks with a limp. The heels of his shoes make an odd clattering noise on the road, echoing through the otherwise noiseless surround, as he walks towards us. He takes sometime to reach the spot. Somehow he seems to be in great pain. But he walks on and as he comes closer, he can make us out. The pack has also noticed him and there is a shift in their posture. They are no more confident and their focus waivers. Before I can call out to him, he gives a tarzan howl (I am really surprised why the neighbours have not woken up!!!) and circles his baton in the air with such a force that it seems as though it is going to slip out of his grasp and come hurling at us. But I am wrong. He holds on to the rod and just gesticulates as though he is about to strike. The pack disperses. I thank him. He gives me a mock salute. One of the night guards, I believe. A muffler is woven around his neck and hides the lower half of his face. The upper half is hidden by the hat. I don’t blame him. It is so hideously cold out here!!! Though I can still feel a clammy stream of sweat slowly sliding down my back.
I expect he will leave. But he continues to walk by our side as though he is fearful that the pack may attack us again. I somehow feel comfort in his presence. Boots goes on growling softly and at times just stops midway with his ears picked up as if he is trying to catch a muffled sound. I am slightly surprised because Boots generally does not take to strangers easily. But he may have recognized a saviour in this man. As we near our flat, I thank him once again. He nods and walks away.
From now on there are three of us. I invariably meet him at the same spot where we have been attacked. He appears all of a sudden from around a bend or just round a corner of one of the by-lanes. He salutes me and walks on with us. He has an odd kind of quietness about him which I find quite unnerving at times. But at the same time, it is comforting to have a strong person around me in the dead of the night who has once saved us from getting attacked by six four legged brutes and I am sure he will do the same again if such a need arises. Sometimes, I hear the echo of his footsteps before I can spot him. His limp seems to have increased and with it the pain also. I can make that out from the way he pulls his left leg with all his might. Or is it the figment of my imagination?
I think of asking him his name or the village to which he belongs. Small pleasantries. But then I just keep quiet fearing my initiating a conversation may perhaps encourage him to be familiar with me which is not at all desirable given the situation. He seems to be in his fifties, though I have never seen his face clearly. But I can recognize him by his limping gait. As I near my flat he walks on and disappears in the fog. A lone figure with an odd dissipating quality about him!
Sometimes I stop him midway and tell him that I am okay and can manage on my own. Boots gives me strange look and a surprised whine and often a sarcastic snort. I choose to ignore that. The night guard gives a dry chuckle, nods and disappears down the temple lane (there’s a temple down the lane). I hear the thak thak of his boots echoing in the stillness long after he is gone.
Boots health has picked up slowly and he does not require to visit the corner so often. It is almost a fortnight after that mishap. It is around midnight. I and Boots walk down the lane quietly. Some of the flats have their lights on still. So it is not so desolate. As we come near the temple lane, our night guard appears quietly and starts walking side by side. This side of the block is always quiet and deserted even in the evenings. The flats are mostly habited by retired people who believe in retiring to bed early. I nod at the guard and tell him that Boots is well now and does not require to be taken out in the night so often. I thank him profusely for his help and company. He nods quietly and gives his smart mock salute. There is an odd kind of finality in that nod and salute. He says nothing and turns around to leave. As though leaving for good.
Sometimes there is an unreasonable kind of sadness which envelopes the heart. Sometimes there is a hollowness in your insides. Sometimes you want to hold on to a particular moment as though it will never come back again. I have the same feeling standing next to the locked gate of the temple lane. The man is gone. Now he is just a speck in the thickening mist. Boots gives a tug and we move on.
A week later I find the guards have had a shift of duty. The day guards have been given the night shift while the night guards are enjoying the day shift. I look for my good Samaritan. But he is not to be seen. I ask one of the guards whether he has seen the man with a limp. He has not seen him he says. There is no man with a limp in the group. I am slightly surprised.
A few days later. Early morning. I pass the Dairy. A few people have grouped in front of the shop and talk animatedly. I stop to have a few words with Mukesh, the Dairy owner. Snatches of conversation flow past.
Robbery in the block next…..rich family…..daughter’s marriage…..jewellery, gold, money, all taken…..a fortnight back. The night guard fights valiantly with the hoodlums. But the robbers are well armed and the guard only has a baton to protect himself. They beat him up so badly that he has to be hospitalized. He lies in comma for a week or so. Gangarine. The robbers bludgeon his left leg to a pulp which has to be amputated. Old man in his fifties but what courage!! Fights till the end. But poison spreads to his whole body……he dies last week.
My throat chokes. My eyes burn. I say a silent prayer.
Wish I knew his name and the village to which he belonged.