Chai, Biscuit, and Sunset

One single push and the pad lights up. It has become old; the screen flickers and the system takes a while before it can start. I am immediately notified of the gazillion emails I have received lately, none of them of any importance. The room smells faintly of cleanliness. The tea is a little too sweet for my taste, the biscuits too crisp. I enjoy them damp and soft. A dip till I risk losing a fair share of the snack. Cheap thrills, you know. It is well past sunset, nature itself occupied with its rhythm. My mother sits next to me talking about her day at the office. Surely, a few officials are about to be transferred. Higher powers at play. My sister is nagging me to help her with her summer assignment. I take a sip of the awfully sweet tea, and ignore everything around me like its white noise. It doesn’t matter; something else does. I find myself sitting cross-legged staring at the blank template I had chosen for the article I was about to write. A few friends had asked me to write something, never specifying what.

Rusty, dirty and oddly satisfying thing to look at. The cycle was small, just as they were. Perhaps they were brothers or friends, I don’t know. They saw me and stopped, although I am not sure why. As I passed by, I waved at them with as friendly a smile as I could manage. I remember the days I had spent doing the exact same thing. My cousin and I would race down the hall, pretending to ride motorcycles screaming all the while at anyone meddling with the sanctity of our well-designed race tracks. We were just like them save for the fact that we were much better dressed and older. Either the kids could distinguish a genuine smile from a forced one or the warmth that I wanted to convey was lost on them. Either of these, an equally disturbing fact. They stood transfixed staring straight at my eyes.

As long as I saw them, they were happy. To my eyes, what they had was less, it could have been better, yet I saw them blissfully happy. Laughing and running around on their one prized possession.

Unsettling.

Any regular person would have felt happy and perhaps reflected on the fact that one does not need to possess material goods to be happy. A philosopher or two might have established it as an example of the fundamentally human nature to stay content, that gets corrupted when we are exposed to the strangely dysfunctional modern society. Maybe on a certain day, I too would have found myself arguing that the kids show how the modern society, as we grow up to an adult, turns us into self-loathing and self-pitying individuals.

I saw something else. For some reason, as if by nature, I found myself thinking about the possibilities of improving their lives. Not just these two kids, who for all I knew wouldn’t have bothered with what else could they possibly possess. I wondered, once again, if it was possible to improve and provide for every possible person. I had known the answer since long. I was told time and again that the principles I was advocating and the ideas I was backing were obsolete. They had been tested and failed, miserably to say the least. A classless society was a completely unachievable and impractical dream. I knew this and I knew this very well. Yet every once in a while I would sit alone and lament the fact. Wouldn’t it better, if they just had, well, better?

Who was I trying to be, a new age Marx? What was I trying to prove? To whom?

Utopia doesn’t exist. It never did.

I stand at the busiest square of the town. The sun is setting. It is growing dark. An overbridge obstructs my view. The town has changed since I left. In conventional terms, it has developed — better infrastructure, skyrocketing land prices, more cars, more pollution, severe ground water shortage — sure it has grown. The whole place is teeming with people. I see kids, happy and sad. Dirty clothes, some of them selling fruits, hawking, snatching away tidbits and coins from each other at every customer they draw at their cart. We move about our business, ignoring them — kids well below the age to work. Thousands of faces, as many stories. In its own right, each one deserves to be told. A writer cannot do justice to all of them. I cannot help but notice the hoarding — “Eid Mubarak. XYZ Sharma, Municipal Corporation Chairman Candidate, People’s Party of India”. The sky had turned ash grey.

…plop…

I hate it. My biscuit has fallen into the tea. Too lost in unnecessary thoughts. I should have known. The biscuits were not as crispy after all. I pick up another, trying to move as little as possible and smile sheepishly on being handled one by my father. Is it time to water the plants, already?

Wait! What was I thinking? Something important? For all I could remember, it had something to do with races. Well, who cares? I always knew I lose my enthusiasm to write if I think a lot.

One single click, the lights go off.


Originally published at forkforthoughttheblog.wordpress.com on June 28, 2017.