I used to look at the little boy wait there every day – standing on the roof of their one-storied house, leaning on the water-tank, all attention on the narrow and muddy lane on the other side of the pond that lied west of the house. Anyone, coming from the Old Checkpost bus-stop, would be visible not before the bamboo thickets beyond the pond.
He lived on the edge of an overcrowded suburb. The local trains that transported thousands of sleep-deprived workers to the city every morning, ran to the north-east of the neighborhood. The level-crossing near the Shalimar Railway Station prevented the typical infections of Indian big cities from entering into the neighborhood. The river Ganga was on the south. He had never been to the river, but he knew that the ‘holy’ river flows nearby (and that gave him a strange pride and satisfaction. That there are five oceans but only one Ganga, was the backbone of his pride. It didn’t mean anything to anyone else – neither to me – but the little boy had his own ways in his own world). He had seldom been far to the west of the neighborhood. There were small patches of farmland and large godowns of timber, brick and cement about half a kilometer to the west of their house.
The farmlands, the river and the rail-tracks made the neighborhood remain an island amid the multi-storied buildings elsewhere in the suburb where people ‘lived’ in pigeon-holes. While the children from other parts of the suburb didn’t quite know the meanings of ‘greenery’, ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, he grew up taking lessons of life from the confinements of a conservative family and the freedom of green fields and still ponds and clear skies. The length of his shadow just after sunrise would amuse him, the unrelenting call of ‘the unseen bird on the coconut tree’ would make him impatient, and the smell of the wild leaves and flowers on the bank of the ponds would invite him.
Their house had just one storey, alike most of the houses in the neighborhood save one – which was a proud two-storey building. Their’s was a big one, though, leaving him a huge roof to run on and weave dreams while waiting for the afternoon. There were plenty of trees and plants around. Everything around the house was green other than the path that went from the gate to the garage, which was covered with yellow stone-chips. There were grass sprouting from between those stone-chips, but never enough threaten to make the pathway entirely green. There was, of course, the garage that was not green. It had an ugly-looking (or so he thought) corrugated black-top asbestos sheet on top. And there was a tube-well that was used scarcely. Otherwise, the house was surrounded by greens of various shades. Ah, not all green, though. There were a lot of flower plants that always added color to his thoughts and ideas, and, well, experiments. Though none of his ‘scientific’ experiments ever succeeded, his relentless drive to help modern Science had never been affected, till his family moved to the city and he lost the ingredients of ‘scientific’ experiments. The world would never know how to make rose-water (do people know it already?) or how hibiscus and jasmine flowers can be crushed together to make a stray-dog-repellant (a dog had smelt it, and slowly turned back. His father said, “It didn’t consider the paste as a meal, and so left it.” “Common thought from a common man,” He had thought, “if the father of every scientist would be a scientist, the world would be filled with scientists now!”)
There were coconut trees. The big leaves that looked so adorable during the day when they mopped up the sky swaying in gentle breeze, would look like a pre-historic monster in the nights. There were guava trees. He didn’t quite like guava for the irritating seeds, but he would never let the birds have them, either. At least not during the afternoons. The birds had probably known that, for the guavas would mostly be poked at during The morning. the only mango tree was too tall for him to get any interest in. The two Deodar trees, the only ones in the entire neighborhood, apparently made their compound ‘more inviting to the gods’ than any other neighbors’. There were lots of other trees that bore flowers and fruits, but were not of much interest to him for some reason.
He knew the seasons by the hints they offered. The silent afternoons, breeze that brought along the smell of the pond and the mangoes, and the long allowable hours on the roof were for the summers. The rains offered more holidays, more stories, more yummy food, more people at home, and more scary evenings. The autumns were of unbound happiness – jumping around amidst a happy Nature, and then getting drenched by a sudden shower. The spring would always be short-lived. But the first southerly afternoon winds of the spring that came moist from Ganga were treacherously mesmerizing!
The best of all seasons was the brief winter. Or that’s what I think he considered. The day he’d go for the winter vacation trip, he seemed like the happiest kid on earth. But there were touches of melancholy in the winter. As the days got shorter, mommy would seem to return even late each day. While during summers mommy would be home before he would go out to play, winters let mommy be home way after the afternoon play is over.
I’d see, after the afternoon play, he would go on the roof, lean on the water-tank, and wait with eager eyes pointing towards the lane on the other side of the pond. The last rays of the sun would find their way through the hundreds of coconut, mango and guava leaves, and touch his face. From where I watched him, I’d see an innocent face made orange by the fading sunlight and two bright motionless eyes looking for momma. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look anything. There would be two parallel worlds at that hour – one that’s preparing for a chilly night, that’s filled with the noise of the air horns of the rickshaws carrying the home-bound people and the busy chirping of the birds returning to the nests – and another that has nothing called time, that just comprise the bright waiting eyes, fading orange light and the soothing chill in the air.
After a while, which used to be rather short, the tired eyes would close, and dreams descend all over.
Soon, Momma would come and pick him up.
And now, after waiting for lives to become fulfilled, my dreams have become tired, like the kid’s eager eyes.
Sleep, my dreams.