[Among all forms of the love, the love between two friends is highest and divine. Most people fail in understanding the true nature of this divine love. The love between Radha and Krishna must acknowledge the fact that Radha and Krishna had the relationship of that divine love. It wasn’t like some earthly love affair between a young boy and a young girl. The love between Radha and Krishna is Friendship – in the spiritual world, the highest, topmost level of love is friendship. Friendship means love – not by marriage, not by physical relation, not by living together, but by friendship. There, it is pure.]
The noises around my hut wake me up. I’m another side of the cot. My mother is beside me. I always sleep with my mother as I would when I was a child. It gives me the warmth of my childhood. In sleep, my mother seems me like her olden days.
I stretch my fingers and feel my mother’s cheek. I open my eyes to see my mother, curled up on her side.
In sleep, my mother looks beautiful, the same beauty which was on her face before my father’s death. Perhaps the sleep is salvation for her – in sleep, she can’t think about my father and that’s why I see the smile on her face. Whenever I see the smile on my mother’s face I understand in a dream, she is with my father.
When I was the child she would say me – Padhma, your face is as fresh as flower and your eyes are as lovely as the petal of Lotus for which you are named – Padhma. I don’t know how but my parents knew a word from Devabhasha. In Devabhasha lotus means PADMA.
I kiss my mother on the forehead before leaving the cot and open hut door. Mostly our street is empty. Where I live is not many huts and that’s why I can never see a crowd in the street but today the street is crawling with people. Men and women and teenagers, all with curiosity, wonder and fear in their eyes.
I pity my people. Most of the time we live in fear and now this fear is intense on all faces. I know its meaning – the train is coming. They would have seen lights on the station. Or maybe a troop of the Nirbhayas would have come on their machines.
My hut is almost at the edge of the village. I only have to pass a few huts and then there is a semi-desert area and an hour’s walk to reach the station.
As soon as I’m in the street, one of the women walking stops near me and says, “The train is coming,” he looks me like I’m stranger for her, “the train is coming.” She repeats her words like mad.
I go back in the hut and slid into my father’s trouser instead my skirt and wear his old shirt. It’s against our dress code but I’ve managed wearing it many times. It gives me feel of my father’s love. When I’m in father’s old clothes I feel like I’m with him.
I jump in his old working boots. I need it. Today I’ve to go beyond the wall – I’ve time till evening to feel my father’s company and I don’t want to miss it.
I don’t know I’ll come back from beyond the wall or not. Here again my father’s philosophy – survival is uncertain in KALIYUGA.
I’ don’t care survival today. I’m worried about something is that - I’ve to go beyond the wall without seeing Samrat. I’ll not get a chance to say goodbye to him.
The train has a system – it drops old labourers and gets new labourers but for both have a different way – old labourers come out from the station by back gate and we have to go from the front gate. We won’t meet at the station and I’m not certain I’ll meet him ever. Accident happens.
I have a chance to say goodbye to Atul.
“Mother, I’m just coming,” I say I tuck my hair into my father’s cap. I know my mother won’t answer but out of old habit, I can’t stop myself getting her permission before going out.
She just nods her head but doesn’t speak a world.
I poke my hands in trouser pockets and slide outside the hut door.
I have to walk for almost half an hour to reach the channel. Inside the channel is only one danger – drowning but outside it more than one – is anyone reports you jumping in you are dead – the packs of wild dogs from a nearby forest – lone wolves.
I reach our usual place from where I jump every day in the water. Atul is waiting for me – unaware that today I’m sixteen and going to the wall.
The sight of him brings a smile on my face. In the wall, I’ve three persons whom I can call my own people – Samrat, Atul, and my mother – the rest of my people are just my people. They have never cared for me – actually, they aren’t in condition to care for anyone except their families. In the wall, if anything is safe that is shut yourself in the hut and watch your safe dying.
“Hey, Padma,” says Atul, The sun catches his hair, turns it momentarily grey. Then it smolders back to its normal black-brown color.
“Hi,” I greet him back, stepping towards him.
“Why in these clothes?” he asks.
I always go there in a skirt and shirt – suitable clothes for swimming.
“I’m not going to jump in the water today,” I say, reaching him, “I’m going beyond the wall.” I’m relieved. I feel much less awkward once I told him what I wanted to tell.
We stand in silence for a few minutes, facing each other. At first, I'm searching for more to say but I think I should wait for his response. Every beat of silence seems to stretch into infinity, and I'm pretty sure he is feeling the same. Our friendship is an older bond, from childhood when we used to promise with spit. Then he flicks a half-buried stone out of the sand and hurls it into the water channel, and I realize he's uncomfortable as I’ve expected.
“Don’t except it is me who jumps today.” he smiles- a fake one, “I like to take risk of selling than jumping in the channel. Believe me, farmer’s market is as dangerous as the water.” I know he is distracting his mind.
“I know,” I say, “but I’m going beyond the wall and you have no option.”
He doesn’t speak anything – I know he hasn’t expected it.
He chucks another stone in a high arc, and it just hits the channel wall. “I curse the creator,” he says, “why we…”
“Don’t...” I cut him off, “I don’t like when you behave like that.”
I see the rage on his face. I’m agreeing with him. I’m also angry at the creator but the anger is pointless. We can’t do anything. He looks away, toward the horizon. The sky is relatively calm today. Flat, all shades of blue and black. Sun isn’t scorching too much.
What good is cursing the creator if we can’t do any harm to him? Nothing.
Anger doesn’t change anything.
It doesn’t change our fate.
It doesn’t change the ruler.
“So you are here to say goodbye?” he settles in the sand. Anger on his face is replaced by the sadness.
“Yeah,” I say, sitting near him in the sand. “See you after the trip.”
“Hum...” he mumbles, “don’t wear this when you go to the station.” His face looks completely unreadable but a tiny muscle that flutters in and out at the base of his jaw reveals that he is still angry.
“I know.” I say, “Aren’t you coming to see me off?”
He stays silent, tracing shapes in the sand with a finger. But I can tell he's listening.
“Aren’t you coming?” I repeat.
He looks up, still making lines in the sand. “We aren’t supposed to see someone off to the station.” so low and quiet I almost miss it
“Well, my rule-follower-friend,” I say, looking in his face, “are you sure?”
“Of course,” he says, “I’ll prefer getting some fruits from the forest.”
“I don’t think you will starve if I’m not with you,” I say turning back, “you have good friends in farmer’s market.”
“I won’t.” he says, looking into my face, “don’t hesitate, tell me what’s eating you.”
“Nothing,” I say.
“Oh! Come on Padhma,” he reaches me, “you bit inside of your cheek means you are laying.”
“My mother,” I can’t hold my tears, “she can’t handle herself. PLEASE….” At the last second my voice falters and I can't say any more, can't finish the sentence.
“She won’t starve,” he says, “till there is a single fruit in the forest.” He reaches out and brushes my shoulder with two fingers.
I hug him because I know that moment is terrible for him. He is the boy who has never live for a day without my company after Samrat and I rescue him from the channel. He is as emotional as me. Or maybe he is more sentimental than I am. He’s the only person I trust when Samrat is beyond the wall.
I protect my emotion but my eyes have something-unthinkable might-happen-look.
He registers my emotion, “you should cry. It will help you.”
“I’m not supposed to,” I say, tucking a braid of hair in the cap which has just escaped.
“You can break the rule,” he says, “like your Samrat.”
“I can,” I say with a light laugh, the kind only my friends draw out of me.
“I said to cry not laugh.” He says and plants a kiss on the top of my head.
“I’ve to go now,” I say.
“The sun is just on the head.” he says, “You have too much time.”
“I’ve to collect everything by myself.” I say, “You know my mother can’t help me even with the tool and I’ve no one with me from my family.”
“But you need an experienced with you,” he says, “my father says when you go the first time you are an apprentice.”
“I’ve but not from family,” I say.
“Akhil uncle,” I say, “my father was his best friend.”
“Okay,” he doesn’t look into my eyes, “take care.”
“You, too take care of yourself,” I say.
He nods and I turn my back to him. I wanted to tell him – I don't care. I don't care about my care - I'm not worried about how in a million years I'll survive beyond the wall. I’m worried about my mother, about Samrat’s safety but I didn’t tell him.
It takes me another half hour to return my hut. I change in the skirt and my shirt and collect everything in a bag.
I kiss my mother on the cheek and leave the hut.
The dusk approaches, and then I find myself standing among a crowd of my people in the station building with Akhil uncle and his daughter Jalpa.
I’m confident till I hear the whistle bit as soon as I see train entering the station I’m suddenly so frightened a desperate pressure starts pushing down in the bottom of my stomach.
My head and heart feel heavy and useless, and I think of my mother, what she would do without me. I feel I want to go to her. I want to be with her. I don’t want to leave her alone as my father did.
I take deep breaths, trying to keep my mind from spinning, trying to focus. There's no way for anyone to escape from the station. No one has succeeded yet and even if I will success they will find me, they will raid my hut and kill me- not only me my mother too.
I keep myself steady and start to walk with my people, repeating a sentence in my mind -I don't want raid at my hut. But another voice inside my head is louder - I'll never make it, I think. I'll never make it back. I’ll die beyond the wall like my father.
to be continue...