This indeed is a real touching and thoughtful story. Apparently this is a translation of a well known story in Kannada. I certainly liked the use of some expressions and of course the reflective comments that appear towards the end.
Sahana had just called and confirmed she was coming. I had asked her over for lunch in the afternoon, and she had agreed to do that, after dropping off her daughter at school. During these winter months of November/ December, I have a heightened craving for human company. I constantly long for someone to come by, to chat with for hours on end over interminable cups of tea.
Sahana is my childhood friend. Due to a confluence of circumstances, we had ended up here in the US, in the same city even. We meet each other quite often. During these desolate winter months, memories of India recur ever more frequently. Thinking of the vast distances that separate me from my people, from my relatives near and dear, I am engulfed by a dense fog of emptiness. Whenever that happens, the two of us get together, and try to mill down the weight on our hearts and souls.
I heard a knock on the front door. It was Sahana. We had our lunch and settled down, teacups in hand. The usual topic came up for discussion – about the days when we first came into this country, about the days when we set up our lives here, and so on. The conversation meandered along, touching on the way we leave behind everything that defines us – roots, people, country — and arrive here in this land; the way we compensate by adopting entirely new groups of people as our surrogate kin; and how, during this process, sometimes it happens that somebody we meet for just a few moments, triggers momentous events and have a profound impact on our lives. As our conversation tread this ground, Sahana began to narrate one such incident that she had experienced …
* * *
“This happened just after I came to the US. After settling down on a makeshift basis, I was raring to take all these different courses, and had registered for several classes. Soon, the class dates rolled around, but I had not learnt to drive yet. So, for my first class, I was traveling on the transit bus. When I bought the ticket, I let the driver know that I wanted to disembark at the El Monte stop, and requested him to call me out when the bus arrived at that stop. I then sat by the window on an empty seat, and let my gaze venture out towards the unfolding greenery outside. “I was soon reminiscing about the days when I first went to college in Hubli, back in India. Memories of all my classmates, hostel roommates and other friends followed in sequence. Soon enough, I began to feel totally orphaned, when I confronted the fact that I was entering college all alone. It was just a few days ago that I had parted from my friends and relatives, and their memories dominated my thoughts with little restraint. At one instant, the feeling of loneliness totally breached my composure, and tears strained through my eyes. I continued to gaze through them, at whatever passed by, for what seemed like an infinite period of time. During brief moments when I shifted my gaze into the interior of the bus, I looked at this random collage of human beings. There seemed to be nothing congruent between me and these people. No continuity. No affinity. A sequence of anonymous bus stops passed by. Somebody would get off, somebody else would get on board. I returned to my own ruminations, almost half asleep.
“At some point in time, I was aroused from my stupor, when I eyed a person in a wheelchair, animatedly conversing with the driver in some vague language, while pointing in the general direction of my seat. As I cleared my foggy eyes and mind, I began to parse that person more clearly. This was the stop he wanted to disembark, but before getting down, he was reminding the driver of something he was supposed to do. He was saying, ‘… You see that lady in the green dress? Remember she wanted to get off at El Monte? Don’t forget to call her out when El Monte comes around OK?’”
“That lady in the green dress was of course, me. I was extremely surprised, to say the least. I had enumerated all the people sitting in the bus, and everyone getting into and out of the bus, yet I had completely missed this person. But, he had noticed me! Now that an excuse and a context presented itself, I observed him in some detail.
“All the limbs, appendages and organs – hands, feet, mouth etc., — that we assume we mandatorily need to lead our lives, were present on this person’s body. But they were completely out of synchrony, beyond his conscious motor control. Despite that, he had keenly observed me. Moreover, he had specifically noted my request to the driver to remind me of my destination on this bus route that I was not familiar with. I was stunned at how perceptive and empathic he was. To affect this one gesture of helping a fellow passenger, he did not need any of the sense organs or appendages, that didn’t work for him anyway. He needed just one – his heart. And his heart was fully in his control, and he knew how to use its power of perception to the fullest extent.”
“As if by magic, this person had exorcised the sense of desolation and abandonment that I was caught up in, from the day I arrived here, up until just a few moments ago! And having quietly pulled this off, he disappeared without a trace. For the first time in this country, I had met someone who possessed an abbreviated body and atrophied limbs, but an expansive heart and a perceptive soul! Caught up in the excitement, and still trying to internalize this event, I could not corral my mind enough to even thank him! The driver had already helped him off the bus, and he was wheeling himself away, melting rapidly into the surrounding greenery.”
* * *
I realized, that overwhelmed by the intense memories of that event, Sahana had stopped talking at this juncture. Since I understood her mental make up perfectly well, I too remained still, letting the silence absorb the effluents of her emotion.
With vivid detail and emotional fidelity, she had managed to project the entire event almost live, into my own mind. In this day and age, we barely even register the presence of people outside of our narrow circle of aquaintances. We are so insensate, detached from happenings among the co-habitants of the world around us. In contrast to this baseline of common social behavior, the image of that wheelchair-bound person, with his uncommonly profuse humanity, was truly a vision to behold and cherish.
Regaining her composure, Sahana resumed her narrative …
* * *
“The next major development in my life was almost like the next installment of the event I just described. It was like the proverbial link in some pre-ordained chain of events. This, as you know, was the birth of Sumedha. A child who was in every way an impeccable beauty, incomparably feminine, almost like Divinity incarnate, was diagnosed with a problem in her brain. Doctors discounted any possibility of her leading a ‘normal’ life. Starting with the initial shock of it all, my life has been anything but ‘normal.’”
“I have never stopped analyzing the meaning of what constitutes a ‘normal’ life. Don’t we all experience instances every day, where something that we consider ‘normal’ is judged ‘weird’ by someone next to us? Isn’t all this very subjective? Why is it, that I had reflexively classified that wheelchair-bound person as ‘not normal’, even though he displayed a spontaneous, pure sense of humanity by helping me in the bus, with no expectation whatsoever of a reward or even a ‘thank you’ from me? True, to a supposedly ‘normal’ eye, that person appeared ‘disabled’. But I am now convinced that despite appearances, that person is actually more ‘normal’ in that he is closer to the true nature of the world. My conviction is derived not through everyday logic, but through some transcendental faculty that resides within me, but also simultaneously connects me to all of the reality that I see around me, and to larger realities that I do not, or even cannot witness directly. I am also convinced that that same faculty, has handed me a child similar to that person. Yet I wonder — what is the ‘meaning’ of all this in a conventional sense? What if any, is the causal connection between these events?”
“Throughout life, we strive to fulfill a presumed responsibility, to become successful adults. We use every single sense organ we possess, to achieve this. We use our brain to logically analyze and resolve every situation in our life. Yet, in a very demonstrable way, people like that person in the bus, or my daughter, seem to be far ahead of us in their ability to use and work with their hearts and souls! We strive to maintain and strengthen the peripheral organs that we use in our life, while in these people, the heart and the soul scale incredible heights of strength and endurance.”
“When I realized this fact, the significance of this event became very clear. Precisely during the very period when I was in a vulnerable state of mind, I was made witness to a situation where a special person appeared to me during a journey, and displayed the core strength and essence of human character; and this was done with the specific purpose of preparing me to deal with a challenge of a similar nature, that was to occur later in my life.”
“The idea that these events are somehow related may seem irrational. Yet, I cannot seem to discount the sense of connectedness between these events and myself. Moreover, lately, I feel this conviction has helped me achieve levels of strength and endurance, that were never accessible to me through the methods of conventional logical thinking.”
“After that incident, I took so many trips to my college on that same bus. I never saw that person again. I could never express my gratitude to him. But I take solace in the thought, that every instant that I serve and love my daughter, somehow my thanks are being relayed to him.”
* * *
Sahana had left several hours ago, but my mind was still engrossed in the event she had described. It was getting really cold outside. Yet, I was suffused by a comforting sense of warmth, emanating from the vivid image of that person she had encountered in the bus. Even as I compulsively analyzed the significance of the transcendental connections she had alluded to, a certain intangible, yet deep, almost mystical feeling seemed to permeate me …
* * *