Chapter 3: Dissatisfied with Life

A rat-race is on to escape scarcities, from the villages to the cities, from the cities to the wilderness, from separation to union, from a mirage to reality, and from reality to reveries.

 Life can be bliss or a curse, or as you make it!  
Different people have different circumstances. Some have privileges and some have miseries.

What a race it is! The more I try to speed to pursue the time, the more it has been rushing far away from me. Where will this race end?  I wonder. But I have still not ceased seeing dreams. Whereas, they involve me in aimless wandering, they also lend me courage to struggle. I join this race again with zeal and fondness. The entire city is rushing, some are moving ahead while others lagging behind. This is the destiny as well as the culture of this metropolis

Few years earlier, when Malkiat Singh had returned from England and invited us for a dinner, after having some beer, I exposed my heart to him if he could help me somehow, in order to get me settle in England. At that time, he advised me clearly and honestly, “You know this much that, there is no voucher system anymore and hence, only one option is left for you. I will find out if there is any girl desirable to find a life partner from India. But, these days, there are very rare chances as lifestyles in India and UK differ. You would be lucky enough to find a divorcee. “

He further added “Carry on your study and focus on it. You may find a good job here in India.”
Hesitantly, I had told him that my father can hardly afford to pay my fees. Hearing this much, this God like man had helped me with five thousand rupees. By the grace of that fellow, I have achieved my degree. Five thousand of that time is worth a lot these days.

Our homes are opposite to each other. They are farmers and we are tailors, yet, they have been treating us like a part of their own family.

Scuffling with life, I have partially known some of its secrets. But this life is so complex that to me, many of its secrets are still mysteries. Life may be just an enigma.

It was years since I have been exploiting my thoughts. But still, I have not been able to come out of the shell of my inner loneliness. It seems hard to live, taking life for a dictate of the fate. What Dalbir had said, comes to my mind. He said that loneliness is not in the house or in the room; it is inside man’s mind and of course, there must be some remedy for it.

Staying in the village, whenever I happened to visit a city, I wanted wistfully to own a place in it. I don’t know why the city had attracted me so madly towards it. Now, though I have known a bit of this ‘why’, but for me, certain things are still a mystery.
After having lived in this metropolis for so many years, I have started feeling as though I had been looking for fragrance in paper-flowers, mistaken for fresh and blooming roses. Even still, this misconception of mine has not fully phased out of my mind.

Now, many a time, I yearn for the simplicity of rural life. This, too, perhaps may be a miscalculation of mine. Taking an example of my village or any other, the villages also seem to have changed. There is nothing like its previous self. Undoubtedly, the village has undergone a change; in form, size, sensibility, communication, imitation and in conduct.
Earlier, whenever a letter arrived from my village, it cheered me a lot. Now many a time, that sort of delight seems to be tinged with anxiety. This life is very strange! A journey terminating in maze, a hope dawns with the sunlight but again with the gloom, a state of despondency hangs heavy. At what time, the life might take what turn, no one knows despite all knowledge. Very baffling is this life.
That particular day, was perhaps the most auspicious day for us. After much ado, I had got a letter of appointment. I had gone through that letter time and again. I found it hard to believe that I had actually got the job. My mother distributed sweets in the neighbourhood and my father was sauntering, like an inebriated man. In the evening at last, my father’s friends made him fetch two bottles of whiskey.

At the time of my departure from home, Kehar Singh had said to my father, “Mr daulat Ram, you have turned out to be comparatively fortunate. The fees paid for the education of your son have borne fruit. Now you need not strive against the sewing machine, your son has become an engineer”.
My mother was beside herself on hearing the word ‘engineer’. That night, nobody could sleep due to excitement caused by this delight. It was past midnight. Sometimes the sound of mother’s coughing was audible. Like me, she, too, must be lying awake reflecting upon something. The snores of father were not being heard which clearly showed that, he, too, was lying awake.
Ghugga and Rano went to sleep, being young. I, too, while lying in my bed was cherishing the visions of starting my new life in the metropolis. The delight of my employment was getting the better of my entire family’s sleep.

While seeing me off at Jalandhar railway station, father flashed in his face more of gratification of a hope, than a feeling of despondency or separation. But departing from the village, mother’s face no doubt, had become somewhat disconcerted. The very nature of a mother’s heart is such.

 My elder brother had set up a separate home, immediately after his marriage and started working as a tailor, at the Marvaha Cloth House in Jalandhar. Now the parents had pinned all hopes on me alone. That is why perhaps they were in no hurry for my marriage, as they had been for that of my elder brother.

It was now a long time since Ihad been livingin this metropolitan city. Many of my dreams had been realized and many were yet unfulfilled. I don’t have the same zeal as Ihad, to stay and live in the city at the time of my arrival here. There was one silver lining that I got a flat, though it comprised only one bed room. When I return from my job, I have the feeling of a home. I wish there had been somebody to answer my knock at the door. Sometimes, I do feel peeved at something like being alone. If some friend or companion joins, my leisure gets wings.

Some young men, from well-off families work with me. They are not obliged to save or economise as I am. They live and enjoy themselves as they like. But I can’t emulate them. I am obliged to send home something or else.

I am now acquainted with many people in this city. I know them and they know me as well. They know me only superficially and are unaware of my inner self. Only a young man, Satish, hailing from a place near Karnal, knows me entirely, inside out. We have similar circumstances and backgrounds. He too, was born and brought up in a village. It is long, since our acquaintance developed into a close friendship. Many a time, an emotional gratification is provided in this city, just by a smile from Kamal Preet.

I had gone to sleep late at night. I was free from anxiety to get up early, it being a day off. Outside, there was a broad sunshine; yet, I felt like keeping lying in bed. While lying, my imagination wandered far and wide. Living in this metropolis, I am roaming about in the streets of my village. Sometimes, it seems very pleasing to get lost in daydreams. What a creativity of the mind! It’s like seeing a film, without costing any money.

It is entirely a different world, very different, from the simple farming village life.
The town is sleepy and dozing, still obliged to run. The race continues, through all day and night. Somebody had a fall while another, falls somebody else, just to forge ahead. The whole town dreams to advance, to flourish and to win and shine.

The scarcities of my family, back home seemed to contend with my desires and aspirations. Small worries of my parents recoiled on me, and sometimes, I felt depressed on thinking of wishful dreams, of my younger brother and sister. I had left my home hundred of miles away, yet the worries on account of wants and wishes of the family, always moved parallel to me. Where ever I went, they stared me in the face.

After having a quick wash, I put water on the gas stove for tea. A new family coming from Simla, has occupied the flat in front. Their youthful daughter, standing in the balcony is combing her hair. How lovely looking she is! Looking at me, she has also flashed a faint smile. This small occurrence causes a strange bloom and sensation, inside me.

My thoughts begin to proliferate. In my reflections, I start day dreaming. A pretty lady brings a bowl of tasty food, and places before my father. As he observes a good serving like rich families, his face flushes up. Hearing the sound of boiling, I hasten towards the kitchen. The tea has boiled up and reached the burning stove below. Now, I think of adding more water or making do, with this about half a cup.

A letter has arrived from the village. My mother has got it written by Rano, my sister. After statements of general well being and formal talks, the mother has got it written like a will. “My son, you have purchased your own house in the city and we are greatly pleased to know it. Here, we have celebrated it, by inviting neighbourhood people over a tea party. Some say, it is very hard to maintain a house in big cities though you should have purchased as per your need. The days of winter are at hand. You have made no mention of leave. I have got a quilt stuffed for you with ample cotton. This time, you must take along, two thick sheets, bed covers and pillows, as well. You should have no worry on our account. It is three days since the buffalo was delivered. Heating of the milk, reminded me that my son was very fond of this very sweet thick milk.

After pursuing the letter, I sit in the balcony. But my imagination travels towards my village left back in Panjab. Mother is getting the cotton carded at Lakhi’s workshop. Sarpanch is making my father take the measurement for his shirt. Rano is playing with other girls in the street. Ghugga is watching the boys play cricket outside the circular road. The girl from the balcony in front sneezes aloud and I come back from my village to my flat. I feel as if she had done it on purpose, merely to draw my attention. I start staring at her with a rapt focus. Perhaps, I was searching the image of Taro, in her. I felt as if such thoughts were tying knots inside me. I didn’t know what to do and where to go. Though a bright sunshine was blazing outside, my mind was overshadowed by clouds of despondence.

Day is followed by night and night by day, and time is being consumed by this very cycle. And it is nearly ten o’ clock of the night. The firmament of the city seems somewhat different from the rural sky, giving out a brownish tinge, instead of bluish. The village has its own natural charm, beauty and colours. At night, the stars twinkle in the blue sky featuring a fantasy.

I have spent a number of years, recalling the village and thinking about my home, therein. I remember the house not only made of mere bricks, but also the relationship connected with it. The dreams which I had entertained for this city seem to have been lost, somewhere on its roads.

An employment can’t be abandoned, the question of resigning a job does not arise; one can’t pull on without a job. The circumstances of the farmers may be different, but they also, seem to be hailing for foreign lands for better life. Mother is asking about my marriage, while the thought of Rano’s marriage is already hanging heavy in my mind. There is no worry on the account of Ghugga. He will manage his affairs, but so far as the younger sister is concerned, it is I, who has to think of her marriage. Father’s eyesight has been impaired and he is now unfit for tailoring. I shall be able to think of my marriage, only after Rano is married off.

Sometimes, I also think of procuring a two bedroom flat at a suitable location. In that case, my parents also can stay with us; my wife too, will serve somewhere in this city. Perhaps, Kamal Preet…..a dream seems to be destined to remain a dream. But no! I will realise it. The people have purchased their flats; can I not rent one? Some day, I must buy it. The vegetable vendor below has hawked. I get downstairs to fetch the vegetables. This is the annoyance hiring a flat on third floor. Either one should take a flat on the ground floor; if it is in a tower block, a lift should be there for convenience. Descending from the third floor and then, ascending back for petty chores, does not sound nice. It is manageable by a young person like me, but very hard for the elderly. For this reason, perhaps, Dutta Babu dangles down his milk pot with a chord, and later pulls it up as if drawing a bucket of water from a village well.

Even though, I have nothing to do today, I don’t feel like going out. After all, where can I go? Sometimes, for a couple of hours, I think of going to the park for a stroll. The problem is how to kill time. If I invite any friend, obviously, some expenditure will have to be incurred. Won’t it be better to go to a film? Whilst sitting amongst the audience, I won’t be conscious of lonesomeness. But even surrounded by a crowd, one can still feel lonely. After having a cup of tea, I shall think what to do. I come with a cup of tea and sit in the balcony.

Enveloped in the gloom of depression, I am sitting speechless. I see a single ray of hope and the name of that ray is Kamal Preet. She also travels in the same bus as I do. Many a time, we sit side by side. Thereafter, we have developed not only formal acquaintance; she has also started taking interest in me. If I ask her to accompany me to the theatre, perhaps she may agree; and now of course, she may even agree to come to my place. But the people in the lower flat keep an eye out on, who comes and goes. The day Dalbir brought Ritu along, the old woman had casually said to the neighbouring people, “well, these boys bring along girls.” Somebody might ask her how it affects her. These are personal affairs of the people; let anybody bring any person to their house. After all, this is not a village.

Whilst strolling in the park, I have spent well two or three hours. I have not incurred any expense either. I have come across many people and have had a relaxing walk too. Only this was my purpose and now, I am feeling hungry. The vegetable curry is already cooked and in no time, I will bake two chapattis. Thinking this, I move towards the kitchen.

 I rule my own house, then why should I suffer depression or a sense of solitude? I am still fortunate to have a roof over my head as there are so many people in the city, who are obliged to live in huts. If not home, let it be a house, and one day I will try to change it into a home. Whenever I think of inhabiting the house, I can’t help heaving a sigh, recalling the home left behind in my village. What can I do with these memories? When I move towards the future, the memories of the past, become an obstacle in my way?  

Diwali is only fifteen days away. This year, I shall too, celebrate with my family back home. I have already purchased a watch for my father which seems costly, to look at. For once, the father will beside himself. Last time, I had not been able to purchase any such thing. For my mother also this time, I will purchase gold bangles. She will not be tired of blessing me but, will also keep saying, “My son, why should you have spent so much?” Inside, she will be very delighted wearing them. She will at once go to Bishni’s home to show them. For me, so much generosity is not yet advisable. I need to get ornaments made for Rano’s marriage, before thinking about mother. For the mother this time, only a warm blanket and a suit are sufficient. For Ghugga, I shall purchase a warm jacket or material for a warm suit, like the one for the mother. If father’s eyesight had continued to be normal, he himself would have stitched the suits. Rare must be an expert tailor, like him in the whole village!

When I think about my elder brother, I get caught in double mindedness. He has done nothing for the joint family. He has set up a separate home, immediately after his marriage. He is enjoying himself, within his family that includes none, but his own wife and children. Brothers, sisters and parents have these days, been excluded from the circle of a family. It is also nothing to surprise as the joint family system is breaking up, because of transformation. My parents, too, have never talked ill of him. Nor has anybody else, ever blamed him. They have never pinned any hope on him, though they may expect some golden ornament from him on Rano’s marriage. The expectations of everyone are attached to mainly me, alone, since I go on fulfilling them. The more I come up to their expectations, the greater they increase. But at length, I have to think about myself, too. After all I, too, have aspirations in life, which crave for fulfilment.

Many a times, I feel like writing all these things to my mother. Now the telephone has reached our village and I shall encourage them to get a connection. Over the phone, it is more appropriate to touch the subject of Kamal Preet. Nurpur, too is not very far away from our village. The distance between may be six or seven miles. I shall write that she is the niece of Satinder Singh of Nurpur, and she is working in the State Bank.

It is late in the night. Lying in bed I am again caught in the same brooding. Sometimes, it seems that my thinking is confined to reflections alone. After the marriage, we too, are not going to print our own currency notes! God knows! when Ghugga will get a job. Father is no more fit enough to earn. Day by day, inflation is going up and up. Look at this Dutta Babu, he has a small job yet, there are all amenities like good furniture, tv, video, refrigerator, cooler and gas cooker etc. in his flat. They say his daughter also is a teacher in a dance school. What should these schools be paying! Life has trampled poor Dutta Babu.

Sometimes, I feel as my house back in the village, is swallowing my dream of my new house. But no, I should not entertain such ideas of mere meanness. Better I should keep my name out of the list of selfish people.

Today, for the entire day, I have been in low spirits. What can I tell anyone? Repeatedly on Mr Pandey’s asking, I shared all my feelings with him. He said that it was simply a trivial matter. It may be for him, but for me, it is of importance. He has no dependents and has to worry about himself alone. He has nothing to do with rising inflation.

……I could have caught the first bus that I deliberately missed. I am feeling anxious to share my sentiments with Kamal Preet. She has not reached yet. I fear lest she should have gone by the earlier one. This is possible, she, too, may not be coming today. If I ring her, don’t know who picks up the receiver! In that situation, what shall I say! Her family members shouldn’t know as yet about our intimacy. I wait for the next bus, she might come bit late.

I am feeling bit worried on account of Kamal Preet. Today, I have delayed my arrival at home for nothing. On Saturday, she was complaining of headache. I open the door and find a letter lying on the floor. The handwriting seems to be that of Rano. Ghugga rarely carries out a bid. Father has got it written,”my son you know that during the rainy season, the roof of the main hall had collapsed. Thank God, no one has been buried in the rubble. If you can manage to send forty or fifty thousand and the rest ten-fifteen, we can search from other sources. Now this task seems more urgent than Rano’s marriage. Secondly, it is better to let her finish teacher training course before her marriage. The time, too, have changed and………”
I place the letter on the table. On reading this letter, I am feeling enraged. Whether I am angry at myself or at father, and other family members! I am staring at this question mark. To ring up Kamal Preet, this thought comes to my mind, but at the same time, a sense of reluctance starts travelling parallel.

I can’t explain why at home, I am feeling suffocated. Just from outside, I have returned home. Presently, I don’t even feel like changing and washing. I start strolling in the balcony in vain. Thereafter, I descend down. On main road, there is a crowding of wheelbarrow stalls. The ladies are busy buying vegetables and salads. I go ahead and turn right. On the other side of the road, I see a sign board of a liquor shop. I say to myself that today, I will waste some money. After buying half a bottle of whiskey, I ring up Dalbir, in order to invite him.

I buy few things like radish, spring onions and cucumber to prepare salad. I start walking homeward and see Dutta Babu’s daughter leaving for the dancing school. On seeing her, some women are turning up their noses. She usually returns after midnight or sometimes, early morning. Why these dancing schools only open at night time? Why not during the day? Wondering and following this question, I reach home.

Dalbir arrives, and we peel and cut the salad while engaged in dialogue. I fetch some ice and start pouring whiskey in glasses. While sipping whiskey, I say to Dalbir, “By your coming, now this place gets a gala atmosphere. I was really feeling lonely and depressed, don’t know why? ….”

After finishing my peg, I read out that letter to him After this person, Dalbir, I have come across Kamal alone with whom I can share my innermost feelings. In this city, vast like an ocean, there are only two persons who have started knowing me inside-out.
“I want to tell you something else,” I draw Dalbir’s attention towards myself.
“When I told this to Mr Pandey, he started imposing on me his own philosophy.”
He says, “This responsibility of looking after parents, breaks one’s back. It can be really heavy. How long can you bear it? “
“Then, what did you say to him? Dalbir asked me inquisitively.
“I don’t like his ideas actually………”
“You should not like it either. In fact, his world is different from ours” saying this, he becomes serious.

“My father has only produced and brought up four children. The house too, had been built by our grandfather. He had worked as a tailor for English families at Simla.” the bitterness inside me gets a voice.

“Sometimes, I approve of what Pandey says. He is right that I single-handedly, cannot bear all this. My other brothers are also supposed to share it. They too, are like me.”

“This is the difference that’s there. They are not like you. And of course, you are not like them, too. They are made of a different stuff. If life is a struggle, then why should one fear it? You have to be strong enough to bear this alone. I too, am in the same boat.”

There is a challenge in what Dalbir says and I have started feeling that my limitations are giving way to my duties.
After finishing the third peg, we start arranging for the dinner.
Soon after dinner, Dalbir departs. I am not alone as before, and now, I have no grievances against life at all. I was feeling dissatisfied with life, but not now!