By Emon NC
Shimmering amidst the pitch black velvet of the night, were a million diamonds of neon dreams. They created a fervent silvery shiver that danced in unison to the rhythm of it’s own creation. The sky above pales and the stars fade in witness to this new symphony. There is an unfathomable vibrancy, a deep intensity in this landscape that spread into an indefinite unreachable distance….
A new sky.
“We have a new sky…” The word rang in Balabhadra’s mind, like a forgotten eco of a old vaulted temple. The soft chill in the night air caressed his face, as he steadied himself holding a rusting water pipe and looked at the city spread before him. The mild thumping pain spread over his calf was beginning to subside but his lungs were still gasping for breath. The sprint up the stairs was demanding on his aging body. He did think that this was a bad idea, climbing all the way up here. But when he saw what he came looking for he felt a strange elation inside him.
He took a deep breath and squeezed himself through a narrow space between the parapet wall and the high water tank. Bits of weary cement pricked through his antique skin, as his back rubbed against the coarse wall. He staggered forward inch by inch, twisting his feet and his torso, into painful postures and finally reached a small enclosed space. It smelt cold and damp and had layers of moss covering it’s every inch. The water overflowing from the tank, was let out through a pipe overhead. The ground below had become squelchy, which made it the preferred breeding ground of the swarm of mosquito’s.
They had already begun quenching their thirst by plunging into Balabhadra’s blood. He slapped himself in a few places but it was a difficult battle to win. He was hugely outnumbered. It reminded him of the packet of bleaching powder, he had fetched from the chemists across the street. It still sat there wrapped in a polythene near the wash basin.
It was not that he had completely forgotten about it. As he stepped out of his apartment a vague thought did tell him he had left something behind. But he willfully ignored it, he wouldn’t allow his mind to wander. He in a sense felt a deep relief that there was now a formidable barrier between him and the packet of bleaching powder.
It was with his granddaughter that Balabhadra made this discovery at the roof of their apartment building. He had seen the place before, but the eyes of a four year old girl added a new dimension to the moss and mosquito infested cramped corner.
One day while trying to explain a nursery rhyme, about twinkling stars he narrated to his granddaughter the star gazing obsession of his youth. How he would spent endless hours atop a hill lock in his village staring at the stars and the sky. He couldn’t explain but every time he looked skyward he was filled with an inexplicable sense of contentment. It became a kind of routine for him, one that he would rarely miss. Even if it rained and the clouds were spread over the sky he would still followed his routine .The vast void of pitch black was equally enthralling.
This odd behavior no doubt worried his parents, epically his mother who insisted that they offer oblations and conduct a puja in the local temple to ward off the evil spirit that had possessed her son. His father however was more understanding and tried to talk him out of it. But Balabhadra couldn’t see what wrong he had done. He refused to follow his advice.
So finally forced by his parents and rest of the family he found himself sitting at the feet of the village head priest with turmeric and vermillion paste smeared all over his body. He was beaten black and blue with a branch of neem tree, while the villager and his parents, stood around him with folded hands.
Balabhadra laughed aloud thinking about those moments. Those were his cherished memories , one that kept him going even when life had landed him to places where there wasn’t much space for the sky and enough light for the stars to glitter.
However it seemed that Tarali his granddaughter didn’t find his story amusing. She was now standing near the door and urging him to follow her upstairs. Balabhadra looked at soft angelic face, he didn’t want to refuse her. But the truth was he hated climbing the stairs.
Their building was seven storied high, and they lived at the fifth floor. Balabhadra wanted to stay in his village house after his retirement. But his son insisted that the amenities in the city were much better and besides with his failing health he would need constant care. The hospital was just a few blocks away from their new apartment.
Balabhadra was a bit apprehensive about letting go his ancestral property, but at the same time felt an unmistakable streak of pride, on seeing his son taking on responsibilities that he had till now shouldered.
They shifted to the middle of the city, which for a few days felt awkward. All his life he had lived in a house with flowers adorning the portico and a kitchen garden in the backyard. When apartments started coming up in the city, he wondered how could people invest their life’s earning to live a life suspended mid air. It was unthinkable proposition. But his son and daughter in law explained that time had changed. The old ways are to be left for the new. Although he didn’t totally agreed with them, he agreed with their sentiments and the care they showed.
With their help he eased into his new setting and now he could vouch that it had turned out to be much better than he had imagined. At times however he wished his wife was there to share his new life . Cancer had taken her away four years prior to his retirement. He sometimes felt that although they were married, he hadn’t lived with her at all. Both of them had tirelessly struggled to give a life to their only son and in the process somewhere abandoned their own. When his son got an job in a Multinational company, Balabhadra heave a sigh of relief . He thought that after retirement he and his wife would try to catch up what they both had missed.
But the ways of life are strange, one may plan but there is no guarantee that it will work out. A lot of people complain but out there no one is listening. Most people were the prisoners of their own fading echo, but not Balabhadra. He still had a life… a family, a granddaughter, a wonderful daughter in law and a loving son. He had raised his son well and it was a pure delight to see him move up the ladder of success. His son had provided him with an entire apartment, two servants to attend his needs and a huge television set to video chat with him every evening. He and his family were in Finland. A major banking company had offered a position his son couldn’t refuse.
Taralis soft feathery hand wrapped around Balabhadras finger as she led him up the flight of stairs. He pleaded that the climb was too difficult for him but she was unrelenting. She pulled him with her feeble strength and Balabhadra strained and lifted his seventy year old body until they emerged on the roof top. He had been to here only once, had thought it would be a good place to get some fresh air. But the climb and the condition of the roof that resembled a scrap dumping warehouse acted as damper.
The evening slowly descended on the city. A vague blurry haze wrapped within its folds the concrete structures dotting the distant horizon. A fragile sun peeked from behind the buildings, a last look perhaps thought Balabhadra before the night with its silvery stars take over.
As darkness enveloped them, Balabhadra looked sky wards. It was dark, but not the dark he recalled from his childhood days, it seemed faded, as though ruthless washer man had carelessly rinsed the entire sky in some strong chemical robbing it of is pitch black colour and adding an unwanted hue of artificial red. It perplexed him, what had happened. And where are the stars?
“ Stars…isn’t it grandpa” came Taralis voice floating in the air.
Balabhadra strained his eyes. He could see none of them, maybe he needed to change his glasses. Of the many things that came in the baggage of being old, one is poor eyesight. He slid off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and again looked skyward. Nothing, only a few faint fading spots, on the wide canvas of the sky. They weren’t the stars only a impression of them. He again heard the insistent now a little impatient voice of his granddaughter
“Look grandpa… stars that you were talking about”
“ Yes…but” Balabhadras voice was uncertain and a bit shaky “ …but this it seems is not the place for you to….” He stopped when he realized that his granddaughter was pointing and looking at a different direction. He smiled and said: “It”s not the sky dear, it’s the city, the roads, the street light and car headlights…the sky is up there”
“There is nothing up there” she said sounding annoyed and frowned her face “ I can see nothing..look the stars are even twinkling”
Blabhadra looked at the city spread below. He had to admit that the sky above seemed nonexistence in comparison to the vibrancy of the city. But still.
He said “ Its true …but the city cant never be the sky”. She cut him short and said “Then we have a new sky”
And from that moment for some strange reason it became Balabhadra’s sky too.
Now standing alone on the roof top, looking at the city shimmering in front of him, he murmured under his breath the words “ New sky”. The city below looked like a sky, his granddaughter was correct. It could be viewed even without his glasses. This was perhaps what his son and daughter in law meant when they said things have changed and he should accept the new….
The new sky
For reason he couldn’t explain being on the roof and staring the city gave him the same excited vive that he had experienced as young boy when he laid back over the grass, and stare at the night sky. It had from then on become a ritual for him, to come on the roof top now and then. The city and its glimmering lights had been keeping him company ever since his son left two years ago. He would come next month he said, but it was ok with Balabhadra. He was not that nagging type of a parent who would want his son near every time he would cut his finger.
There was another old lady next door. Her son worked in the some company as his son, and incidentally they too were neighbors in Finland. Her husband was bedridden and completely paralyses so most of the time she was stuck in her house. Sanding on the corridor they would narrated to each other the stories of their life. She had a tendency to veer towards the melancholy, but Balabhadra’s humor always kept the conversation jolly.
He had confided in her about the discovery of the new sky. In the beginning she had laughed at him. But when she joined him in few of his evening sojourn she seemed to understand. In fact it was she who had suggested that the place behind the water tank offered the best view, as there was lesser number of tall structures to that side. And About the mosquito they both agreed that a packet of bleaching power would do the trick.
Blabhadra during his video chat with his granddaughter had told her excitedly that there was a surprise waiting for her when she visited him next. When the dates of their arrival drew near he had himself sprinkled the bleaching powder and cleaned the corner place. In the process he overexerted himself and was bedridden for the next two days. His son was furious and instructed the servants not to let him out.
His son however had to cancel his vacation plans in India, as he got tied down on an important assignment. They would be visiting the next summer. Balabhadra in the meantime continued to chat with his granddaughter, through video call, telephone and text messing. She was growing up to be fine young lady with an inquisitive bend of mind, never tired of asking questions. Where do rain get all the water from? Where do the fireflies keep their light? But their special moment would be when they talked about their new sky. When Balabhadra said that the numbered of stars had greatly increased, she seemed pretty much excited.
Whenever he related about his conversation with his granddaughter to Mrs. Bora, a soft pleasant smile would appear on her face and her old chestnut eyes would twinkle with delight. She said she would love to meet her. Balabhadra arranged for her to be present along with him in his next video chat.
But on the appointed day, Mr Boras’s husband suffered a heart attack and passed away. There usually quite corridor began to witness a flurry of activities. Balabhadra couldn’t remember the last time he had seen such a congregation. A few introduced themselves as being his neighbor. But he was sure he hadn’t seen them before.
Perhaps old age had weakened his memory or may be no one felt it was necessary to visit their corridor until this moment. Just like the old body that they inhabit had became obsolete, the place they occupy it seemed too had to meet with the same fate.
On the third day Mrs Boras’s son arrived. Balabhadra wasn’t sure why he felt relieved to see him. It was as though a weight had been lifted off his chest.
Her son kept busy for the next few days in performing the last rites of his father and attending to people who had come to offer their condolences. Every time Balabhadra saw him, he thought he should speak to him about his own son They were colleagues as well as neighbor. But due to one reason or the other he couldn’t find the opportune time.
At the end of the seventh day he left for Finland. And on the eight day, a group of men arrived to remove the furniture of Mr Bora’s house. She told Balabhadra that her son wouldn’t let her to stay alone. She was being sifted to an old person hostel. Her son had checked out the place and said it was the best both in terms of comfort and care. And besides she would have company of others like her.
Holding on to a metal rod protruding from the cemented pillar overhead Balabhadra pressed his feet against the wall and pulled himself up with all his bodily strength. His muscles shrieked in an unbearable pain, and he felt his senses go numb as he tried to balanced himself atop the parapet. In front of his eyes settled a dizzy darkness of seamlessly floating void. Drops of sweat appeared on his forehead even though the icy chill of the night air ate into his skin. Like the rumble of a far-off thunder, a soft smooth voice reverberated somewhere in the distance.
Balabharad strained his ears to listen. It was his granddaughter Tarali excitedly speaking to him. She had learned about falling stars in school, and enquiring if he had seen one. He told her he had. “ In our new sky?” she asked. No was the answer. But if the sky didn’t have falling stars then it’s not real. “ My mom is right grandpa our sky is not a sky.” she lamented.
Balabhadra opened his eyes. A million glimmering stars were dancing in the lap of the endless city. Vibrant, pulsating and infused with an insatiable verve that had stole the glimmer of the sky above. This is the sky..our sky ” Balabhadra murmured under his breath “ And I will be the falling star”.