In this concluding part of the series the author shares the story of his first journey as a scriptwriter-with a fictionalized version of the watchman as the protagonist. But gradually the author’s busy daily schedule prevented him from spending time with the watchman anymore. Would their night sessions go on or come to an abrupt ending? Part 3 is the answer to that……..!
By Adhiraj Kashyap | Illustration by Sid Ghosh
As I was spending more and more time with him, I started uncovering fresh avenues to approach the script. I simultaneously started writing it also as the deadline for the submission started closing in on us. All my friends were fairly intrigued by the stories I shared with them about the watchman. I was trying to mould the script around whatever I got from him as inputs. So basically, a slightly fictionalized version of the watchman was my protagonist. After I jumped into it, I was channeling all my energy into writing only. I would attend my lectures during the day and drift through the nights trying to write. So most obviously, our regular meetings started getting briefer and briefer.
Occasionally on some nights, I would go out for a stroll, talk to him near the fire and maybe sit for 5-10 minutes. Then I would be making my way back to the room to write. And mostly on other nights, I wouldn’t even step out. Though I was not doing it intentionally, he started noticing it after a few days. Whenever we would chance upon each other in the evening, I would greet him with a smile as usual- at times, maybe ask him something very routine- and he would also greet me back with his usual Salaam. But that Salaam would always have a peculiar curiosity hovering over it. He possibly wanted to ask me why I was no longer stepping out at nights, or why I wasn’t sitting around the fire and chatting with him anymore. I would regularly see him loafing about near our house around dinner time. He would often look towards the house to see if I was there. Whenever he talked to Abinash, he would never forget to ask about me. More often than not, I would loiter around in the park post dinner; sometimes with Abinash, and sometimes alone. Whenever I met the watchman there, I would ask him whether he had dinner or not; and he would always quietly reply that he had just had it moments back. In return, he would also ask me what I had for dinner, out of courtesy. No matter whatever we talked about during those days; he would always carry a sense of curiosity in his voice. He was perhaps always seeking the reason behind my changed behavior.
Once, while walking in the park, probably for the first time ever, he drew near me and sparked a conversation by himself- “The weather has been merciless in the last few days. It is getting colder day by day”- “It feels like it will start snowing any moment”- “It’s only the fire that keeps me alive at night”- I kept listening to him without saying much in response. He kept alluding to the fire several times in the course of that conversation. Most likely, he was trying to remind me of the cozy interactions we had near the fire just a few days back. But when he realized that the little doses of nostalgia were going in vain and there was no fervor from my side concerning either the fire or the conversation, he finally asked me in a hushed tone- “Are your exams going on? You don’t step out at night nowadays!” It did make me feel a bit uneasy as that was the very first time when I realized that he must have felt as if I was avoiding him on purpose. I had to let him know assuredly that it wasn’t the case and the shift was utterly unintended. “No, no. I just have been fully caught up with some work. I will get done with it in a few days. After that I will get back to listening to your stories again”, I replied with a persuading smile. The smile tried its level best to vindicate the abrupt shift in my behavior. But I wasn’t sure if he was wholly convinced.
I was ready with the script and we all were passably pleased with the outcome. Within a few days, we shot it also in an area near our college. One of our professors, who also was the mentor of the theatre society of our college, played the lead part. Most of the other actors were from our college itself. During the course of editing, I stayed at my friend’s place for practically a week. The day we finished and I came back home, I was tremendously relaxed. It felt like I was being absolved of some crime. After almost an eternity, I felt a proud sense of attainment that day and the magnitude of satisfaction was on a different level altogether.
I went out around midnight and started walking towards the park. I walked past the chair where the watchman usually sat. But he wasn’t there. I averted my attention to listen cautiously whether the stick was making the rhythmic sound. And then it struck my ears from afar. So I realized that the watchman was on his regular midnight round. I could hear the sound edging nearer gradually. He recognized me from a distance and greeted me with his Salaam from there only. We were wending our way towards the end of the alley. He also could sense that I was in a much more jovial mood that day after a long time. He probably expected me to sit with him that night near the fire. So when we reached near his chair, he proffered me the tiny stool where I normally used to sit. With utmost excitement, he took out his mortar pan to start the fire in such a hurry that it didn’t even leave me a chance to react. He hoped for tempting me with the sight of the fire. “I will take a leave tonight… I am really tired. I have been working constantly for the last couple of days”, I had to say. The despondent face replied, “Yeah I understand. I guessed that you must have been busy somewhere when I didn’t see you at home for the past week. I even asked your friend… You should take rest tonight. You must be tired.” I got going after bidding him goodnight. But I felt the urge to say something to elevate his dejected mood. “We will meet tomorrow. It’s been so long since we sat and chatted.” He smiled back at me with an appreciative Salaam.
I didn’t meet him the next day; nor did I meet him the day after. It totally skipped my mind that I gave him my word to do so. Slowly and steadily, I got occupied with other things. And within a few days, the semester exams also commenced and I got submerged in that. The watchman never asked me to join him near the fire after that day. He perhaps didn’t expect it from me any longer. He didn’t stop greeting me, or talking to me. The Salaams never stopped coming my way; nor did the smile vanish. There was no behavioral change as far as he was concerned. He was as affable and warm as he used to be before. But bit by bit, our “friendship” got back to how it started off when we first moved to Delhi- as if the graph was reversed and we moved back to the inception point, going around the same route, passing through the same points. By the time the winter ended, it became precisely like how it was during the initial days. There was no warmth left anymore. There was no awkwardness either. It was just sheer indifference. The regular quick strolls at nights continued. Abinash and I would step out of the house whenever we needed fresh air. We would talk to the watchman whenever we bumped into him. At times, we would go near the lamppost under which he always sat. But we never spent much time there. That became the new “normal” for me- exactly the same way how sitting and chatting with him for hours near the fire used to be a “normal” for me at some point.
Our film earned widespread appreciation in the competition. It passed through two rounds and got picked up for the finals, being the only film from our college to do so. We couldn’t bag the top prize. We came second. But all of us were extremely delighted to be acknowledged on such a reputable platform. Everyone wanted to come home that night to celebrate. “I will throw you guys a huge party tomorrow… Without fail… Tomorrow, for sure”- I promised them. I invited everyone home the next day. I kept my promise. But I couldn’t keep the promise I made to the watchman. The “tomorrow” I promised him never came.
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Adhiraj is a filmmaker, currently studying Film Direction at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). One of his short stories “The School Function” has been published in the magazine “Indian Ruminations”.