Son, Be a Man

On the bus I had met a young man and a boy. They had boarded the bus somewhere ahead of Silapathar. Possibly he was a widower and the boy his only son. The bus was jam-packed, people sitting and people standing and large cardboard boxes in the possible spaces. Sitting beside me was an eyeful of a man with short-cropped hair and a large round face. He had light skin and slit eyes, could have been one of us, belonging to the Mising tribe, like me, or from Arunachal Pradesh, or from China. He had a white t-shirt on, and a folded black coat on his hefty arms. Sitting beside him was a tall man with an extraordinarily jutting out chin; his face was cleanly shaved with a neat moustache below his nose. His chin, his thick eyebrows and the long hooked nose made me think how different looking they were from the tribal people of Northeast. When we are just born we all look the same, quite impossible to distinguish one from any other, and as we grow up, some baby’s chin jutted out and become this, and some baby's just fulfilled the quota so to say: a minimal apparatus of a chin or a nose. Just a whiff of it, like my toddler brother’s for example.
“Could you give me some room?” It was the young father. He was edging in towards the last row where we sat.
“There’s no space,” replied the tall man with the jutting-chin. His face reminded me of someone, not sure whom, but his resemblance to someone was a certainty.
“The boxes will fall down if you move in,” said the crew-cut guy beside me.
“I know this stuff, I know how they are tied. They don’t fall,” he said and kept moving in.
I felt that he was teaching his son how to fight for his right in this cynical world.
“Hey man! You have to understand that there’s no room! Nowhere to move in!” the jutting-chin-man said.
“Just this bag,” the young father said and put it between the two disconcerted commuters in front of him. The bag was grudgingly accepted by the tall man. He mumbled to the round-faced guy on his right, “This type of people they never understand…”
After a minute or so, the young father told his son to go and sit with the bag. The boy made his way ahead, the father guiding him, and took the bag from the tall man and sat between the two people there. He had an absolute poker face; a pair of slit eyes, not a muscle moved inside his dusty face. The white t-shirted guy had given up on the battle of wits and had closed his eyes to get some sleep. Then the young father told his son to move aside a little so that he could sit. He edged in and sat down on his son’s place and lifted up the boy to his knees thus making room for the two. The well-combed, neatly shaved, neatly dressed guy was completely defeated.
When the conductor came and asked the young father for the fare, he had a thing or two to tell the conductor: “Friend, it takes only forty rupees. Return me ten rupees later.” I imagined the conductor returning him the ten rupees and I must say that I did not dislike the vision.

The situation had hardly gotten back to normal from the little scene that had unfolded when the tall man began complaining about a smell. “Some nasty smell is coming from this side,” he said pointing towards the side of the father and son. And then after sitting there for a while he got up decisively and found himself a place to stand for the rest of the journey. All that time I had been quietly lodged like a sack on my seat. But the crew-cut guy had apparently failed to fall asleep. “Are you married?” he asked me. “Not yet,” I said. And then we begun a long interesting conversation, about studies in particular. (He had an MA in History first then after completing it he had pursued a PhD but got into a disagreement with his Professor and then left it, after that he had studied Law). Outside the bus we could see the hills of Arunachal Pradesh racing past us. The hills were just a shouting distance away from us. It was fascinating for me. It was my first time in these parts and I could feel the thrill of a traveller.
When we got down in Jonai Bazaar he put on his Black Coat. He made me sit on an e-rickshaw—he was quite a willful guy— and told the driver to take us to the court. Once there he ushered me in through a gate and turned to the left and headed past a small room full of men with black coats, all the time calling, “Sorry for being late/Did I make you wait too long?” and to a tea-stall with a superb view of a field just in front and the beautiful hills on the horizon. Wow! This is just the spot, I smiled at my serendipitous discovery. “Give Tea!” the man who had brought me there called at the stall-keeper, and urged me to go ahead and sit. “Aren’t you drinking tea with me?” I asked.
“Yeah I will,” he said, and disappeared.
I sat down on a bench and took in the breathtaking view. A man brought me a cup of steaming tea and a bum. I sipped the tea gratefully and gobbled up the bun. I really love drinking tea in a makeshift tea-stall like this. My cell-phone rang. “Where are you?” “I am sitting at the tea-stall behind the court. There’s a field right in front of me and I can see the hills.” “Ok, just stay there!”
In a minute, Puspankar glided into the field with a Scooty. He stopped right in front of the tea-stall. He smiled. I smiled. We were meeting after a long time.
“Let’s go!”
“Wait! Let me pay the bill!”
Or should I? The court guy might have wanted to pay for me. I took out a ten rupee note form my wallet and extended it to the stall-keeper hurriedly. Then I jumped out of the stall to the warm sunlight in the field towards Puspankar.


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