Change is the only constant in our lives. And moreover when by somehow our surroundings change, then with it the people and their priorities also change. But amongst all these changes one thing is always constant and that is our memories. In the final part of ‘The Broken Part’ the writer’s memories of his childhood idol and the idol’s sudden death makes him realise some very critical aspects of life.
By Adhiraj Kashyap
As I was navigating my way to his house through a path which seemed unnaturally unknown to me, I suddenly felt strangely flustered thinking about how things changed after I had shifted to Delhi. The same Ratul Da who was nothing short of an idol for me during my childhood days had slowly transformed into almost a stranger, without even my own conscious knowledge. I thought of myself for a fleeting moment and realized that I wasn’t the same ‘Babu’ Ratul Da used to know, anymore- I wasn’t the same “Babu” whom he would give an extra opportunity to bat to- I wasn’t the same “Babu” whom he would give films to watch for free- rather, I had grown into a “matured” man staying outside the state, constructing a career of his own to act in accordance with the rules and precepts of the “civilized” society- and who strangely felt out of place in that very neighbourhood he had grown up in.
On the other hand, life had been the same, in every respect, for Ratul Da over the years. It was a saga comprising of a bunch of “constants” for him. Things kept changing in front of his very eyes. The small street took the shape of a big road with a proper divider- the divider started getting railings and trees were planted- speed-breakers and zebra crossings started appearing out of nowhere- and the street-lights grew in number- that too, properly functioning ones. The place not only changed physically, but the essence of its soul was changing too. But that could not have any impact on the monotone of Ratul Da’s life. All he could do was to stay put inside his shop witnessing his own locale blending rapidly into a different shape. His business fiascos were the only transient things as far as his life was concerned- the only “variable” amidst the stack of “constants”- (but looking closely, even that was a “constant”- the business most definitely kept taking different forms- but not the catastrophe attached to it)— I realized the power of death that day.
It’s so strange how memories swim up its way after we lose someone- the same memories that usually remain crushed under the gigantism of our day-to-day engagements. Ratul Da stopped playing cricket after his body started getting weaker- by then, his drinking habit also shot up by quite a sizeable amount- and he lost interest in the game after Sachin hung up his boots. He switched to watching football instead for some time, especially during theworld cup. He used to stay up late at night at times to watch matches which he heard from others to be decisive. But football could never really offer him the same thrill as cricket did.
He still kept going to the shop on a daily basis- not to do anything in particular- but because he had nothing else to do at home. All his life, he had not known anything else apart from going to the shop. The cable TV business had become sort of an “antique” thing after the digital services barged in and the VCD rental job also perished. Gopal started working with Ratul Da’s brother who was running a medical shop, which Ratul Da himself started but couldn’t manage properly. Ratul Da’s alcoholism kept growing bit by bit, and his other activities kept reducing at the same pace. His drinking habit started getting the better of his health; but it couldn’t be a reason strong enough for him to stop.
He did visit the ground occasionally. The kids who used to once adore him had grown up and moved their own separate ways; and the new sets of “Sachin Tendulkars” were not familiar with him. He would go to the ground and sit quietly in the newly constructed pavilion watching the kids play. A few boys would come up and talk to him at times, but on very rare instances. His involvement in other social affairs was also cut out. A lot of the elders steered clear of making him a part of any event as he, by then, was the well-known “drunkard” of the neighbourhood.
During Durga Puja, he would be sitting somewhere on a motorcycle parked far away from the temple. The same Puja Pandal, whose he used to be the soul of a few years back, failed to offer him a place to feel comfortable in. But he would always show up during the public events. He probably never gave up on anybody even though everyone else clearly seemed to give up on him. His behaviour towards others didn’t change much. He still bore that same loud voice and the thundering laughter echoed wherever he went- or maybe he made strenuous efforts to put up that image in front of everyone.
Just when I was about to reach Ratul Da’s house, I noticed a huge gathering from a distance. It made me awkward to a slight extent because there were so many faces I was seeing after a long time. They used to be my childhood cricket buddies whom I hadn’t met for years (or even thought of). Their gazes reminded me that I was a fish out of the water. I could palpably discern that they were looking at me how they would look at a stranger they might have stumbled upon in a different lifetime. But they didn’t hold back greeting me genially, wearing a forgiving tender smile on their faces.
I saw Gopal from a distance and went up to him. As I was talking to him, I saw Ratul Da’s wife looking at me from one corner. I could make out that she had recognized me, even with my long hair. She had gained some weight from the last time I saw her. She smiled at me even though her eyes were brimming with tears and signalled me to come and sit on the verandah. I signalled back suggesting that I was comfortable there and kept standing in that same position uncomfortably, avoiding as many eye-contacts as possible.
After the last rites were done, I was heading back home. It was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. There were not too many people in the road as well. I wanted to smoke and kept wandering around looking for a shop. I slowed down a bit while walking past Ratul Da’s shop. The shutter was closed and the paint on it had worn off completely. I couldn’t even visualize what color it must have originally been. It seemed as if the shutter was painted with only rust. That particular shutter stood out amongst all the other delicately finessed ones of the adjacent shops. My eyes made its way to the sign-board above the shop which read “Gorima Book Stall”. I didn’t even know when the “chameleon” shifted its shape to a book shop.
I kept walking ahead looking for a cigarette. After I got one, I felt like rushing back to the shop. I should have headed home instead. But something kept lingering on my mind and the shop kept hauling me towards it. I wanted to open the shutter and actually look inside. And the lock looked so primordial that if I wanted to break it, I easily could have done it. There was no one around to see me either. But I didn’t. I moved towards the rear side. The back side of the broken shop was still in that same abysmal state. The temporary cane wall stood there like the hapless remains of a massive storm. There was a tarpaulin put on top of the roof which must have been there to hide the corroded tin.
I could actually see the entire shop through the holes. There were a few racks on the right side, with a pile of books haphazardly put on top. So much dust had gathered around them that it seemed as though the books had forgotten their own identities ages ago. There were a few cartons strewn about in another corner. And on the left side, there rested a table, along with a chair by its side which seemed to not yearn for anyone’s touch anymore- as if it humbly accepted solitude with the passage of time. The shop dispersed a vibe as if it had died much before Ratul Da himself did. I brought out another cigarette from my pocket, lit it up, and stood beside that broken part of the shop which Ratul Da wanted to renovate long back.
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Adhiraj Kashyap is professionally a filmmaker, currently studying Film Direction and Screenplay Writing at FTII. A few of his short stories have been published in a bunch of national and international magazines, such as “In Parentheses” , “Indian Ruminations”, “The Universal Journal”, “East India Story” etc.