He was not very hopeful but certainty and correctness about what he spoke strengthened confidence. Sitting before the earthen lamp often turned him dizzy and sleepy he remembered. He thought that a man’s beliefs were rooted in faith or doubts whatever the causes are. The burning lamp would only enlighten the unknown path of a dead person to the other world and it raised curious questions he wanted to ask but hesitated. To beat time, he would get up and trim the darkened part of the red thread so that the flame gave more brightness, and pour more mustard oil in the lamp. He laughed.
Anand emitted a smile but in it was neither doubt nor faith, for he never wished to hurt feelings of others. Sagar, his father was a deeply religious man but he rarely went to a temple. He believed only in good deeds and soft lingua. It was not necessary to stick to truth that antagonized others.
“Grandparents did not think that the son would live in a huge mud-brick house in the middle of land. To approach the locality of the village, one was to travel a wide stone path to the slate-roofed house.
“It was impressive and gave a feel of royal life.” Sagar told Anand, “After years, father found that it was outdated and so built another where only square stones were used, and he named it a stone-house. It was quite near the locality where he also dug a deep well. It was really a wonderful place to play. As children, we would go to the old house where great grandparents lived. It was a long drawn-out hide-and-seek noise. In the large courtyard, all played hockey with improvised sticks or football or cricket whatever struck their minds. None stopped.” He was silent for a long time.
“I have seen the house. You did not repair. You know another big stone-house…”
“Yes…” He did not elaborate.
“It is wonderful. Modern architecture it is. You put in a marble floor and spent a lot.” Anand said. Anand did not speak more. He was enamored of stone-house.
“The stone-house is…” After a pause, he said, “Gives old looks.”
Anand did not want to hurt Sagar’s feelings. He was puzzled. His father spoke in emotionally warm words about ancestors and the old buildings but never stayed after he began to earn and manage land affairs. Anand felt guilty. For a while, he could not think. He approached forty but never thought to shift from Delhi. He wanted to live in the heart of India where life was fast, challenging and easy. He did not suffer from obscurity of thoughts and knew that in the crowded cities, life for the common herd was never comfortable but that was destiny.
Anand loved movement and never thought of what happened in the past. He served in a company where he purchased shares, and now, without disclosing, he constructed two huge houses in a posh locality of Delhi. Father Sagar nursed a hunch but never thought it necessary to enquire. Anand remembered father’s words, “A man should not spend money on buildings … here we have three huge houses and you can…” Father’s idea to construct a new house spoke of misty astonishment and shaky mind.
“Stone-house is still strong. I do not know why I built… I did purchase land and built up houses outside but then I thought to come back. You know I am allergic to dust and mist…fear fills me when I hear noise.” Sagar’s long raison d'être did not convince Anand. He looked up blankly at the sky.
After a minute, he said, “I did not know but a thought occurred as to why man collects and adds land and money … houses and … yes, I wanted to possess many things. I wanted money. It is a passion with a normal human being. I am just a normal man whose hunger for more remains unsatisfied. A man living for food and shelter is below average I think. A scoundrel is mediocre with a lethal cunningness and his thirst is eternal, for he ultimately rules the world. I knew my capacity and ability.”
Anand tried to understand father’s soft but ardently pathetic words. It was neither failure nor victory. He never showed greed but still wanted more. It caused infinite confusion with grievous thoughts. Anand heard many young men saying that fathers were often puzzling for they fear sons might not know weaknesses. Fathers often repent for what they did not achieve in life and so they tried to discover or invent an ideal in every son. A father scripts the life of a son. He becomes a painter and spends time to beautify the ugliness hidden in a son, a continuing process. Anand measured the depths of understanding of his father but also knew the surface where he stood. He did not want to appear ludicrous like his father. It was an assault of inevitable calamity of disfigured life imagined, otherwise visiting everyone.
“You were never a pedestrian for me.” Anand said after a prolonged reflection.
“You are incorrect. I never appreciated old parents for creating liability.”
“You make use of each structure.”
“…” He laughed, “At few places kacha house developed cracks. At many places, slates are broken. Long rafters and bamboos are old. Mice play and cats haunt. A few dark corners termites … during rains, it leaks at several places. It irritates. I want to repair but then…” He looked into his son’s eyes, “I find it is a waste.”
“I wanted to share…” Anand was not inclined to speak the truth. His father turned back and waited for him to say.
When Anand did not utter a word, Sagar said, “It is good to share. I do not think one should agree. It is just a change. A tilt to ease out tension proves better. I served long and then I lived in the city and later on, sold the house you know. I never knew you would go to Delhi… for I wished to run away from the crowd and noise. I could depend upon none. I found many houses and many faces but found certain separateness in each relation. Everyone appeared to move alone, live alone with a nameplate, an identity. Was it relevant I often asked? It is no deep thought it is a fact. Here, loneliness gives company and teases. It makes you immune and then pushes you to deep and silent groaning in solitary moments.”
“You are right, dad.” Anand said in low spirits because he could not bury truth for a long time. He now felt cloudy in vision, and pinnacles of glory of his early period appeared struggling for free air beneath a deep ground as if.
“You love Delhi. I would not say no. However, live at peace wherever you are. As a father, it is a stupid wish to live with children, because it ignores the stress of time and nature of life youngsters suffer.”
Anand felt pity for the old man, who was not very old, for seventy is no age for that matter in modern times. If a man of more than eighty can run the country and at the much wider level, if aged and mature men of more than sixty-five years with a few exceptions run the country, how could dad believe he was an old man? Questions disturbed. He knew dad gratuitously dragged on with the thought of old houses and parents.
“No, I would not like you to…” Anand heard a sad voice.
“I have a flat in Noida, a house in Kailash Nagar and one huge plot in Gurgoan.” He reluctantly opened up. Father Sagar was surprised but kept mum. For a few seconds, the terrible secret of his son’s investment shocked. He found no reason to hide. Facial expressions told Anand of displeasure but abruptly he noticed a change, and he smiled approvingly.
“I like it.”
“Where do you plan to live?” He asked pointedly. Then, after a second, he told, “After sometime, houses are haunted, and ghost-like shadows roam about and one does not know.” He heaved a sad sigh and said, “You don’t know where to go. It is difficult to know sorrow of the distressed houses. Even guardianship gives trouble.”
“Why did you sell?”
“I don’t know. I felt I wasted energies.” His father thought for a few moments and then was silent.
None spoke for a few minutes.
“Dad, you want to tell me… I can manage and… yes, I do not have any hassles. I do not nurse any emotional tag or perhaps, obsessions are not areas of my sojourn.” A philosophic touch to the words surprised Sagar. He observed Anand, and read the changing facial expressions without responding to what he said.
“I don’t know but a man revisits old corners of little mischief, and great success. It is natural.”
Anand fumbled for he did not want to annoy anyone and after some time, went to Delhi. Sitting alone in a fabulously furnished house in the village, he closed his eyes to think deep and forget whatever was distasteful. Ancestors earned a lot and parents strengthened. He also moved a step ahead and fortified material possessions. He had an attendant, who looked after him. A year back, Sagar’s wife died and after the usual mourning, rituals and ceremonies, daughters and son went back. Anand came after a few months to enquire about the lonely father. He tried to prevail upon the old father to live with him but Sagar did not agree.
“No, it is alright. Kisna takes care. I spend time in prayers and it is good to go around the land and fields.” Anand quietly listened. Sagar, as if recovering from loss of memory, said, “I look after the mud-house and stone-house. It is interesting but it is annoying to find animals and children playing. However, they are not the sentinels but… at places, the houses have begun to leak, and a few bricks, stones and slates have fallen. If not repaired, walls will collapse. Someone stole away old furniture items and utensils it appears. I don’t know who did it.” Sagar’s worries did not end but Anand’s short leave was over.
At night, Anand told his wife, “Strange are the ways of old men. Now, suddenly he has developed a love for… why should he expect… it chokes when you come to the town. Old people appear statues at times.” He was curt but sad. “I know I am unable to do anything but you know why to cultivate fascination for old houses and land.”
It was dark outside. He felt unique chill and covered his body with a Korean quilt.
In the morning, he entered dad’s room with a cup of tea. Dad Sagar was already taking tea. He said, “Dad, if you permit, we shall move after breakfast.”
“…” He agreed with a nod.
“I asked the doctor to do a regular check up. I have also advised Kisna to prepare food. Please take medicine when required.”
“…” Sagar smiled, placed the cup on the table and assured, “You need not worry.”
They took breakfast happily and Sagar cheerfully hugged them. After some time, they left for Delhi. Sagar continued to stroll in the courtyard for a long time before he got exhausted. When he spread eyesight along the wide greenery, he felt pleased and suddenly eyes appeared to absorb gloomy roads leading to destination unknown. In those forlorn moments, he searched frantically for a glimmer of hope or a streak of sunshine, which could instill cheers, and brighten up future paths. Sagar thought about children. Then, he opened an album lying before him. The soothing and assuring face of his wife beamed through the hardbound cover. He was in a state of trance. Thus, he recalled days of little joys and eternal bliss, of hopes and mild jumping around among little kids. Everything appeared to have disappeared. His wife left him so soon. He knew the eternal truth of death but then he refused to believe when personal ties and emotions intervened. Flickers of life and light among tortuous and narrow pathways to eternal hopes turned out mere fantasies.
“Memories live forever.” He heard a mild voice. He turned about and found none. On the wall, eyes of deceased wife appeared to speak to him. He stood up, went around the whole house, climbed up and down, and then he was in the large courtyard with a cigarette in hand. He experienced a vast desert consuming him. The house he built with passion appeared to devour him. He found his name engraved. A voice seemed to chase him out.
With closed eyes, he thought for a few seconds. Five years ago, his wife died. He never found she was absent even for a day. She was soft, mild, and at times was quite tough in words when he was wrong and intemperate in words and acts. Most of the lessons regarding keeping relations intact, he learnt from his wife. When Sagar was perturbed because of not very courteous and polite conduct of relatives, she told him, “It is no use to say it. One must live within limits. Each one wishes to live in a private area of freedom.” Simple words compelled him to think deeply.
He remembered vividly the moments when they went to the old buildings to know their condition. She insisted that he should carry out repairs. Standing in the large room of the mud house, she said, “I see no harm if renovation is…” She did not say more. He could only imagine the depth and pain in the words.
“Souls are still…” In such nostalgic moments, she only appeared blank, as wide eyes continued to ferret about.
He did not know why he was so distraught. As usual, he was up early in the morning, went around fields, small orchards and to the forest. He could never think why he wanted to meander without purpose. A movement to nothingness it was, he thought and thus turned philosophic in lonely moments. One thing became quite apparent, that he was not at peace. A quaint feeling within pushed him to horizons he did not tread earlier. When he asked Anand about the old buildings, he told him not to touch the old structures. It was not a viable plan. With age, everything collapses. Words were fresh in the mind.
To put on the seal of finality, Anand told him, “If you insist, I shall take time and do…” Not precisely the consent of his son it was, Sagar learnt. In the past also, his son had, as a habit, said words in other matters he never fulfilled. Anand would not spare time, and Sagar was rather definite.
He made it a habit to visit old buildings. He moved about in each, went up and down. He felt happy. At times, he was quite disillusioned. When he looked at the vacant walls, he found plasterless patches at places and realized that he did not do the duty and so was disheartened. Sitting alone in the verandah, he smoked. It was unexpectedly a routine with him. In fact, he measured the buildings inch by inch. He was alone but still he felt, some shadows pursued him.
Many voices of invisible souls residing in the buildings he never heard, and still an indistinct feeling survived. A retired teacher of an adjoining village wanted a few deodar trees from Sagar so he came to him. When he did not found Sagar at home, on directions from an attendant, he met him in the stone-house. When he observed Sagar sitting alone on a raised stone pedestal in one corner of the courtyard strewn with leaves, tiny broken branches of the trees swept by strong winds, he was a little cautious. He stood in front of Sagar and touched old man’s feet.
“I looked for you at home and then I came.”
“Yes, I come here when I feel to live alone among souls.” Sagar was reticent.
“Yeah, it is quite old and… why you don’t redo it?” He did not ask further. Sagar fixed his eyes on the tinned roof and was extremely sad to find fascia in bad shape. From a distance, he observed that the faded colour of the tinned roof looked horrible. He diverted attention and looked at the teacher questioningly.
“Thanks. You came after a long time.” They started back.
“After some time, such structures if not inhabited are desolate but man… I understand when you visit deserted memorials, you nurse thoughts of ancestors and souls. It just happens with an objective. Do you think?”
Sagar felt annoyed. He threw an angry look, held the teacher’s hand tightly and began to move towards home.