Setting: One Summer Day in Mount Abu
Those were the warm summers when I went with my family for holiday to the cool hills of Mount Abu. In that time of innocence, my dreams used to be scattered with fairies and magicians. I would wake up in the morning and open my eyes in the warmth of my mother’s arms. The width of my dad’s shoulders spanned my world.
One such morning when I sweetly slipped out of my fairyland, my mother held my hand and readied me for a bright and sunny day out. As she finished tying my sneakers’ laces, I screamed in semi-irritation when my elder brother pulled my ponytail, and then smiled with semi-delight at the mere sight of this god-image. I ran behind him fighting for the toy cars he was now engaged with.
My grandmother joined us while we moved out of the hotel room and hopped in the big white taxi and accelerated ahead for a long, long day out. The trip to the Dilwara temples was enlightening, no doubt, and as the knowledgeable guide showered us with his anecdotes, facts and history, we followed him across long passages lined and ceiling-ed with the most intricate carvings. The entire scene appeared to be surreal, as the carvings appeared to be suspended magically in the air.
Wide-eyed and curious, I held to the helm of my mother’s sari and stuck very closely to her. Finally my brother had had enough of being bombarded with history and took to teasing me and playing with my hair, having not been allowed to bring his second best toy (car) in the premises by my religious mother. We took to running around the pillars, much to the orthodox guide’s despise, earning us doles of disapproving looks from both the guide and the other visitors.
When my mother sighed and called out for the two of us kids, I emerged first from one of the hallways, being still chased by my brother. We were panting when we stepped out of the temple premises, earning even more of those disapproving looks coupled with a rare smile by passers-by. My mother had to pull us away from the candyfloss stalls on the pretext of unhygienic production, but having the foodie father that we did, both of us earned not one but two floss-sticks each.
We were thus bribed, and offered no rebellion when the taxi driver now announced that he would take us for the view of ‘sunset point’, a trademark commercial tourist spot without which every hill station would stand to be incomplete. We jumped out of the taxi when it neared the long populated parking. Visibly, a lot more visitors had chosen that weekend to tick this site off their checklists.
We were soon at the coveted peak point and could vaguely see the ‘sunset-point’ at the other end, along the horizon. The mountains were hidden behind dense clouds and only a few rays of the sun cloud be seen slashing out of the corners of the clouds.
We took seats close to each other on a cemented wall close to the dispersed crowd. Soon we were surrounded by a herd of hawkers selling snacks, toys, newspapers and binoculars. After repeated refusals, they persisted for sometime before finally wandering off to yet newer customers. Soon a little boy emerged from behind us and soon enough a wide shoe-polish brush and plate with traces of wax appeared too. “Please sir, let me polish your shoes”, he said. My father was of the view that those who want money should earn it. Seeing this distressful image, my mother commented, “Let him off with some biscuits.” But my father allowed him to polish his shoes for the dignity it would give him. His brush and his polish box looked devoid of everything.
Seeing a colleague getting a job, other boys with shoe-polish brushes and polish boxes rushed over to intervene. “Sirji, he has no polish! Allow us to polish your shoes bright and nice. Look, we have better brushes!”
The boy however ignored them and diligently went on polishing using an exhausted box and a dying brush. My father then gave him a couple of rupees and let him go. My eyes followed him from behind my father. I saw a small smile while he pocketed that money and joined the companions who had been teasing him. The empty polish box and a dying brush made my heart break.
The clouds had sifted by now and the stark sun could clearly be seen setting. However, they had sifted too late and we got only a single moment of glorious saffron light to bathe us all in the same color of humanity, and then it was gone.
The trance lifted immediately and everybody started looking for their families and friends to head back to their shelters. The boy was gone, and I could see his friends tinkering off and trying their luck on the very last of the visitors.
My mother gathered us all as we were to head back to our hotel room.
That night, I did not dream of fairies. In those flower laden gardens, the face of the boy kept irrupting again and again. When I got up the next morning, I wondered if this was why people said growing up was bad. The fairies in my dreams were replaced by monstrous realities. I stayed in the hug of my blanket and gaped at the curtained window with vacant eyes.
Then I remembered the boy’s smile. It made me smile too.