The old man leans heavily on the rickety stick and limps his way to the park in the early morning hours. He staggers on his arthritic legs and balances his scrawny body with measured care so that the small packet which he carries in hand does not spill over on the road. Once he reaches the park, he stoops down painfully in one corner over a bald patch of land which has been deliberately kept like that by the meticulous gardener. He puckers his lips and makes beckoning sounds and sometimes he whistles softly. At the same time he slips his hand inside the packet and brings out a handful of green and golden beads of grain letting them trickle through his gnarled fingers slowly and spread over the patch in an elliptical pattern. This goes on for sometime till the cluster of birds hovering up, but close to the ground, finally decide to swoop down flapping their wings and settle quietly on the green-golden mound; one or two perch on the old man’s shoulders; at last they begin pecking the grains slowly, steadily, unperturbed and unafraid.
The half blind gardener with an injured leg, who has a make-shift hut in the corner of the park, is often seen chasing the wicked gang of mischief mongers. The rogues pluck the flowers off the trees, plunder the flowerbeds, catch the butterflies and squeeze them between their thumbs and forefingers whooping with wreckless joy. He roars and runs after them brandishing a rugged log pulling his fractured leg along (which I’m afraid may never ever heal completely again) as fast as he can. The onlookers have a good laugh at the oft-repeated enactment. Some come forward with a word of advice or two when they see him doubled up under a tree gasping for breath after a futile chase. But the gardener says he can hear the plaintive cry of the flowers when they are torn off the branch or trampled under careless feet. He says he has heard the butterflies screaming in pain when they are squashed between ruthless fingers and the trees stifling a sob when the sharp silver edge of the axe strikes a blow. Neighbours think he is off his head. But I know he speaks the truth.
My aunt Philomena! She picks up the bundles of dirty, oozy fur-balls and brings them home. She tells them stories and sometimes croons softly while applying those red, yellow, dark brown liquids and pastes on their wounds. When they slip out of her clutch she runs after them with the spray can in hand. Interminable arguments on hygiene and sanitation and the neighbours have given up. But not my aunt Philomena!
The boy lives down the lane. The boy with the dreamy eyes loiters aimlessly in the sun. I have seen him playing hide and seek with the jumpy squirrels. He picks up the tadpoles from the puddle caressing them with delicate warmth. In the blazing afternoons, he bathes the skulking mongrels in the alley with a gushing hose pipe. They sprint away and he after them flooding the streets and the pavements. Sometimes he squats on the mound of dried leaves and looks on with vacant eyes. At other times, he rummages the garbage looking for the truant kitten that has missed her daily grub of milk and bread. His mother pulls him by the ears and drags him home. The next day he is back again amidst his vagabond friends.
The scatter-brained professor stares absently at the ripples laced heavily with foam. An obnoxious odour rises from the waterbed and fills the air. After a while it is suffocating. The scorching sun turns a blinding ball of gold and the stink spreads like an incurable disease. The foams coagulate into a kind of floating islands of waste and stench. At this bend, the river has a hesitant, almost halting gait, as though exhausted by its course of journey. Passers by sometimes stop short and look at the still figure curiously. A few pat him on the back and ask what it is that troubles him. The man’s face contorts in pain as he whispers pointing a finger at the tired flow “Can’t you see? Why don’t you let her off the burden?”
They are sneered, jeered snorted at and sometimes feared. The old, bent man in the park is often told not to venture out alone. He may slip and fall. The gardener has almost been written off by the residents. My aunt Philomena is a constant threat to her sterile neighbourhood. The boy gives sleepless nights to his parents. The mad professor has more than once been caught accosting the factory owners, shouting wildly “Let her off the burden! Let her off the burden!”
The misunderstood lot!
Those who tiptoe on the grass with careworn steps lest they trip on a dozing ant. Those who place their ears against the breeze and listen to the murmurs of the surround. Those who look at the sky and touch the clouds, smile with the moon and sing with the stars. Those who pick up the dew drops in their palms so that they don’t fall on the dusty ground. Those who speak to the bees and caress the trees and place their cheeks on the leaves and tickle the river with tingling tips and sing a lullaby to the snoozing beasts. Those who have not waged wars, pillaged lives, marauded lands and squandered wealth.
Those obscure, unknown, unrewarded souls who have suffered ironies of fate in their own obedient ways. Those who have never stamped a foot on the ground they tread on and bellowed “Its mine” and left the rest behind in a whirling rage. Those who have relented to human arrogance without a protest and never complained or shown regrets. Those who have never lamented of unrequited love or the rest of the sorrows that have come their way. Those who have found solace in kind words, a petal hug or in the whimpering dog. Those who have slogged, soiled and toiled hard and wept with joy when the rains lash after a scalding summer’s day. Those who by their little deeds have sustained what little is left and rare. Those who have bestowed a new dimension to nurture and care. Those who are the healing hands of God the silent crusader of compassion and sublime love.