Binod woke up to the gentle rain during the dark hours of a heavily clouded night in January. Already freezing from the winter, the rain was unbearable beyond measure. The tent above him collapsed after half an hour, resulting in more woeful complaints from the young adult.
A mild hypothermia eventually set in, and the wails of his baby sister lying with her naked chest flat on the wet and freezing road were the cause for his upcoming sleepless night.
Shivering due to the hard weather in the morning, he dragged his frail body to reach his small shop on the outskirts of a violent community, unofficially ruled by the landlord controlling half of the wheat fields in the small town of Jhansi.
Like clockwork, his first customer Atif arrived around seven, and bearing the cold winds, he asked him for a mild cigarette. He was a young school boy, around fourteen or fifteen, and despite his awfully sweet smile and innocent face, he was already in a downward spiral of alcohol and drugs; cigarettes were just an accessory.
Binod kept asking him to go cold turkey and follow the path of righteousness, but the stubborn student always refused. The same student ended up in jail for peddling five years later.
Unfortunately, for the sake of his baby sister, he was forced to sell cigarettes to Atif and other minors like him. Young kids in their thriving puberty accounted for a large part of his income. He had no option but to swallow his pride and ignore the fact that he was ruining so many lives. He kept telling himself, “Ignorance is bliss”.
As usual, after Atif’s departure, he would sit and ponder over what life would be like for a young, rich boy living the life he always sought, but never found. Every night he dreamt of it, everyday he thought of it, all his life he hoped and prayed for it. He thought that if he were given the same opportunity to become a learned man, he would never let anything, big or small, get in the way, including all forms of addictions. He just couldn’t find that break he desperately needed. He knew that he could not drag on this meaningless existence forever, and neither could his baby sister. He needed a way out.
Then the same, cold couple came in their tiny red car. Both dressed up in cheap western clothes, getting so primped up as if they were going to meet the president. Cold in the sense that the kind of spark a young married couple should have, was eventually blown away into the darkness like a candle flame in their case. Sometimes they would come fighting, or rather, howling at each other. Making frightening noises, making you believe that the third world war was starting. Sometimes, she would be crying, and he would be trying to calm her down. Sometimes, it would be the other way round. But most of the time, they came in stealth and silence, bearing looks of cold blooded murderers. Not a single word escaped either of the two foul mouths. But one thing which would happen for certain would be a sale of the pack of red Marlboros to the young, unkind Akash. Not to forget the fact that he rarely paid for whatever merchandise he bought, he kept convincing the recent adult that the payment would come the next day. That day came once or twice in a month.
Their departure sent him in a different universe of self processed thoughts. Being in his last teen year, he undoubtedly possessed the basic desires of men. He longed for a companion, no matter the appearance, to be there to appreciate his presence and love him for his true self. He sat and conjured up his mind to imagine a scenario including him and the shy girl from the fields. He prayed to god that he became Sunidhi’s love interest. He vowed to take care of her in sickness and health, if only she would give him the impossible chance he was optimistic for.
He was clear in his mind of his capabilities of being a good husband. However, driving with his loving family, laughing and rejoicing their wonderful lives all the while, being in a perpetual state of joy, taking care of his better half, as well as his children, were only paper dreams for him, burning in front of his eyes as each droning day passed with an unhurried velocity.
Then came the iniquitous Kaustubh Baba, an elderly male of seventy. Known for his violent outbursts and love for marijuana, he was a bitter man. Ask any layman around, the only words with which the Baba could be described were “bitter, miserable and alone”. Some might even add sexual frustration. All in all, he was someone everyone dreaded to face, fearing his unreasonable wrath. He was like an Indian version of Ebenezer Scrooge, except this old man was beyond repair.
After his family left him for his irrational and eccentric mannerisms, he was lost in a world of illusion for most of the time. He would come to Binod’s store every now and then, and take some chewable tobacco. After the old loon left, shouting taunts and remarks on every dominating passerby who crossed while walking with his hairless, puny legs, Binod’s broken chain of thought was succeeded by another one.
He started seeing from the eye of his mind yet again, and envisioned an ideal old age for himself. Living like the leader of his vast home, undertaking activities of interest like reading, writing poems, sitting with his grandchildren, taking care of his entire family, just like all his other dreams, served no purpose to him.
All his hopes and efforts proved to be futile, and after snapping back to reality, he realized the severity and graveness of his situation. With nothing to claim as his own, nothing to feed himself or his sister, nothing to look forward to in life, he was living well below the poverty line.
It would be called a business if it got him some money out of it, but with the dismal condition of the city streets and everyone roaming it, his yearning for an education, a companion, a significant life would remain merely wishes till his body eventually succumbs to the harsh environment he lived in.