There are so many strange things in life. Like the noise that you hear occasionally in your head. Or the fact that the only thing you forget in the pocket of your trousers, most of the times, is movie tickets. Or that very few people use the first urinal in a public toilet. Or that some people sleep so much in a bus that you almost think that they have passed away.
In the street where Srikant lived, there would come, every Thursday, a man whose face was painted to make him look like a monkey. He wore tiny bells in his ankles and carried a whip in his hand. He would be accompanied by a woman, probably his wife, who carried a small drum around her neck. On the beats of the drum, the monkey-man would contrive dance steps and at the same time whip himself. After every whip, he sought alms from people who passed by. Srikant watched this spectacle secretly from behind the muslin curtains of his room.
After he would have gone, Srikant often equated life with the monkey-man’s act. Every moment was a whip, he thought, for which one got one breath in charity. The trick for living life was to remain oblivious to moments, or at least pretend to. When you began to feel every moment, the pain would surface, like the mark of a whiplash, making it difficult to live. The thing with Srikant was that he felt every moment intensely. As a result, he would get flogged with existence.
The bus had been moving for more than six hours and Srikant did not know where it was going. It didn’t matter as long as he could maintain his flight. He knew that somewhere Sneha would be in a similar flight, the wings of which were shaped in mind.
There was some movement beside him and Srikant found that the old man had woken up. He was taking out something from his bag.
‘Where is this bus going?’ Srikant asked him.
The old man turned his head slowly towards Srikant as if he could not believe what he had heard just now.
‘Where are you going, Sir?’, the man asked back.
Srikant let a weak smile and replied, ‘Nowhere in particular. So where is this bus going?’
The old man sighed and said, ‘I am going to Rudraprayag, where the mighty rivers of our land meet, Sir. The bus is also going there. That would be the last stop.’
‘What takes you to Rudraprayag?’, Srikant asked.
The man waited for a moment or two. He felt something in his bag and then replied, ‘Actually, Sir, it was at Rudraprayag, fifty years ago, that I met a girl who would later become my wife. She is no more now and I can feel that my body has also set itself in the mode of an invisible transition. Before the transition is complete, I want to visit those places where my wife and I spent some time together. Before dying she had expressed a desire that her bangles be thrown at the spot where the rivers met. So I have brought them along.’
He took the bangles partially out of the bag and put them back.
Srikant thought of the first instance when he had met Sneha. That meeting was also strange. Strange like the noise in his head.