A VACANT PLACE
I come to Hyderabad every winter as it is pleasant and a bit cold which I like, unlike Chennai where I stay. For the past four years I have been doing this since my daughter moved over here and the best thing is, it is relaxing and I love my morning walks in the garden near the house. I do fifteen rounds and it takes me about fifty minutes to complete and then head back home.
There are regulars and there are new faces I notice though I do not stop to talk to any of them except perhaps a ‘Good Morning’ or a smile of recognition, a courtesy I extend to a select few I have had the pleasure of seeing the previous years. I know some would have wondered where I had vanished the rest of the year leaving a place vacant in the garden. One of them did venture to ask ‘What happened? Where were you?’ I replied I live in Chennai and come only at this time of the year, a seasonal bird. I know what thoughts arise when one notices an absence be it of a man or material. Common to both would be the premise that they have shifted elsewhere, the most positive thought that could occur. But something of a more serious conclusion in respect of the man or woman especially the older variety would be that they have ceased to exist. Well that exactly how my mind works also.
Though I walk alone, for I like to be with myself or listening to the music on my Ipod, I do notice things I pass – the trees, the flowers, the birds, the stray dogs, the monkeys and of course the people. Each one of them inhabit my world of walking though I choose to remain silent. Over the last four years if there is one recurring image, it is that of the old man. You may think that I am obsessed with old people and old age especially if you have read my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’. But one can never deny the fact that as you age, you inch towards thinking more of the beyond.
But other things aside, I could not help notice the vacant place on the bench which I had passed so many times during the past years. In the Chapter on ‘The Old Man and I’ I had related something similar but the setting was different – I quote
“As I walked out of the park, I turned back to see him, a lonely figure on the bench as the dusk settled. The night was slowly creeping in. That’s what life is all about – the dawn, the light of the day, the twilight and then the all-consuming darkness.”
Now here it was a different scenario – the sun was slowly rising, clearing the morning mist and the day had just begun. But to me it appeared that the darkness which had preceded had consumed something and thus the vacant place on the bench.
I write this a month after I noticed his absence and therefore I have come to the conclusion that he had passed away to the beyond. He was a regular, at least eighty years and odd, impeccably dressed and a sweater to keep away the cold. Of short stature and a crop of white hair on his head and a cleanly shaven face, he reminded me of Jiddu Krishnamurthi. He would walk slowly towards the bench dust it with his napkin and sit erect. As I passed him on my rounds he would be busy with breathing exercises and then slowly get up from the bench stretch his arms and legs stopping only when someone passed him by. He would then move on to the lawns and stand facing the sun. the last thing that I would hear as I made my way back to the gate to leave I would hear his laughter loud and clear repeated rhythmically.
This was what it was over the three years but was missing this year. Though I find others occupying that bench, for me without that old man it was a vacant place. I knew that he was a permanent resident, not a visitor like me who was just a periodical occurrence.
That day as the thought struck me that he may have passed beyond and I was slowly walking towards the gate of the garden I met the young man and his wife both regulars in the garden. While the young man would be exercising vigorously, his wife would be taking her walk. The last time I was here I saw them walking hand in hand taking their rounds in the garden. She was pregnant and I guessed in an advanced stage. So now I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see a young toddler in between them holding on to their hands and taking his first steps in the garden. I waved at them and smiled.
I quote once again the last words of the old man from my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ –
“You remember that the last time I met you I said that the night is creeping in. I know that it will soon envelop me and take me to the ultimate darkness. I do not know what lies beyond, but since light fades into darkness and the darkness melts away with the dawn of a new morning, I believe that there does exist something beyond this darkness and that is the hope I carry with me.”
Yes, life goes on – A Vacant Place and A New Hope