“Sahib”, “Sahiiiiiibbb…” The voice literally broke my trail of thoughts (or maybe dreams!). I turned round to see this lanky, probably over 30, light built man trying to get my attention. I looked at him irritatingly. Why shouldn’t I? I was literally lost in the mystic beauty of nature enveloping this tiny station somewhere in the Konkan. The train has left the station sometime back, may be 10 minutes or so! A little ahead of the station, the meandering train line gets lost in the distant forest. The birds are returning to their nest somewhere atop those hilly forests. It was not dark yet, the golden last rays of Sun still shone through. Quaint, calm and no rush as if time stood still here! Nature already had started to sooth my frail nerves!
“Sahib…” Lost in thought, I didn’t realize that the man has now come much closer to me. “Do you need a taxi?”…oh..the hell I need it! I don’t even know where to go. Last week had been a bad week literally but on a second thought, it was a week, long overdue. Cocooned in a pigeon nest in Mumbai, with a monotonous life and stuck in a job that fails to satisfy my ever increasing ego, the midlife crisis was becoming overwhelming. Questions like ‘what am I doing’ and ‘why am I doing’ muddled the mind which was anyway badly lost in that esoteric thought of ‘what’s my life purpose’!
“Aditi, I have an office assignment coming by but I will be back in a couple of days”. My wife, who had adjusted herself to my work nature, sighed briefly. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, nope, she has not suspected anything! With a big relief, I went ahead to get my bag packed.
Monsoon season are good for travel as train tickets are easily available. Goa was not my destination but took a ticket to Madgaon, anyway. And here, I am standing in the platform of a nondescript station somewhere along the Konkan line. The last train has passed and there is hardly anyone in the platform. “Sahib…I will not take more!” the voice brought me back to my senses. The man was still standing close and looking at me questioningly. “Is there a decent place where I can stay for a couple of days?” I asked him. “Sahib…don’t be worried, pls. come with me”. I looked around; there was hardly any other option. He picked up my luggage and increased his pace. I started to walk briskly to match his speed. A sudden fear of unknown gripped my mind. I am one of those meticulous planners who would plan his trips long ahead of time, after going through reviews in travel blogs and enquiring with others. To escape from a problem, did I hit a bigger problem? The thought crossed my mind.
The walk fortunately was not that long. He did have a small car and I sensed a little relief. The nature started to feel beautiful once again! He packed my bags in the back. “Let me sit in the front with you” I said. He nodded and I just hopped into the car beside him. For next 5 minutes, there was only silence other than the occasional engine noise and a few passing vehicles. “Sahib…where do you want to go?”; “Anywhere decent!” I reminded him again. “Sahib…are you looking for a big hotel? There are not too many options here”; “No…I am fine with any decent place to relax” came my reply very fast. He looked a little relieved but I could sense that something was up in his mind! I asked him “what do you have in mind? Do you know any place where you can take me?” He kept quiet for a few more minutes. I did not really mind. I was anyway enjoying this travel through the village roads. No task at hand is anyway in itself is quite an achievement!
“Sahib…would you mind staying with us? I won’t charge you a lot”. “What?” I kind of blurted out. “No Sahib…I have a village home close to a small sea beach. It has 2 rooms. I & my family use 1 of them while the 2nd room we sometime rent out to tourists occasionally. Sahib…you will get home cooked foods and lots of fresh air!” The last part was music to my ears. Betting on my luck, I said “Yes but we should settle on a price first”. “Sahib…don’t worry, pls. enjoy your stay here and then pay as you wish. It is off season so I will charge you less anyway”. It was a good 45 minutes travel before we reached his home. It was one of those rare pucca houses in the midst of thatched roofs and raw brick buildings.
“Sahib…here is your tea and some biscuits”. I looked up and saw a young petite lady standing there with a cup & a small plate. She had a smile and calmness in her face. Though the sari was neatly pleated, it was evident that they are not exactly ‘in money’. The hostess did not disappoint with her culinary skills, at-least for now. The tea was superlative and it means a lot to a person like me, who otherwise brews his own tea at home. My luggage was already in and I did not disappoint my host either as I had handed over a 1000 Re note just a few minutes back. Resting in the balcony with my legs up on the chair in front of me, life is already looking a lot different!
Not sure how long I have remained like that. “Maaa….we want to play for a little more, pls. Ma…pls”, my peace was shattered by the shrill sound of 2 brats (all of probably 4 year old) barging into the house. “Nooo…clean yourself first, there are lot to study” the lady spoke firmly from the kitchen. This is all too familiar! My mind suddenly went back thinking to what’s happening back in Mumbai. I am sure the kids are giving their Mom her usual struggle. With me not around, probably she will be a little more hassled today. “What are your names?”; “Sneha”, “Priya” came the quick reply as they darted towards the kitchen. Knowing well the impending cacophony, I retired into my room. Dinner was uneventful as I was more inclined to get some rest.
I can’t sleep beyond 6 in morning and I did not mind it here as well. The morning sun rays were just sneaking in through the columns of trees and the light yellow worn out curtains. Other days it would be start of the daily chore; taking a bath, helping the kids, catch a bite and run for office! And here I am listening to the chirping of birds and the cackling of the chicks! Never found a more soulful music to start the day.
“Hello Sahib….can I make some tea for you?” “Can you make me one without milk and get some biscuits to munch?” my answer was spontaneous. “Sure Sahib…!” she gave a bright smile. No longer in her sari but in a typical Konkani dress, she was looking resplendent under the morning sun. In a few minutes the tea was ready. “Can we have tea together?” I asked? She hesitantly took a slightly far seat with her tea in hand. I felt bad, maybe I embarrassed her. To break the ice, I started some small talks. “Don’t you feel very tired & exhausted managing these 2 kids?”
“No Sahib….actually I enjoy their company”
“ Wow…how? I mean they eat my brains out when I am at home? This or that they keep asking and I don’t even get time to settle down!”
“Sahib…actually when I am with them, I become one of them”
I looked at her and she said with a smile “I become equally brat and they enjoy their Mom a lot in that way”
“What about you?” I looked at her husband who has meantime joined the discussion.
“Sahib, my wife is not that educated so I try & help the kids with their studies”
“But don’t they make such a noise then?” I quipped from own experience.
“Yes Sahib…but I don’t react. They settle down after a few prodding. Sahib…I am not that well educated as you are. So I just try to help them and they feel as if I am also learning with them!”
“Sahib…Are you not going to finish your tea?” I did not realize that I was just holding the cup but was not sipping the tea. My mind was wondering…or maybe introspecting. Maybe I feel tired & so exhausted because I have stopped enjoying those little tasks of taking my kid for a walk or helping them with their studies.
“Don’t you have some bad days also?”
“Yes Sahib…sometimes, especially when the kids are ill”
I straightened myself on the chair…it sounded all too familiar. I generally remain awake through nights all tensed up when they have fever especially.
“But Sahib, sometimes I don’t mind once in a while having such trying times!”
My surprise look did not escape his eyes
“Sahib…actually those trying times brings us much close”, he was looking intently in her eyes. She nodded gently with the eyes doing all the speaking!
“Sahib…we try to comfort each other and focus our energy in getting them well. Actually it is sometime very challenging here as doctors and hospitals are quite far by!”
‘It sounded simple but why is not the same with me’ I thought to myself. Most of the times we end up shouting at each other more, tired of the additional work and the fear of unknown!!! Aditi will recoil into an eerie silence while I will be murmuring all the time, adding more nervousness to the air.
“Sahib…is something bothering your mind?”…now he was trying to decipher my thoughts.
“Sahib…you know, our survival here is only a blessing of God. Neither we have an income all the year nor do we have any good facilities.”
“So don’t you feel like moving to some better place?”
“No Sahib….this is our home. And then who knows which one will be better? I feel content here…Sahib”
“Sahib…what do you want to have for breakfast & lunch?” the sweet voice broke the otherwise serious discussion.
The rest of the day was all relax. The beach was good and I lazed around for a couple of hours. Spoke to my wife in-between. The kids had gone to school and she has also reached office.
“Is everything ok at home?” I started off
“Yes…don’t worry, we are all good. You can focus on your work”
I felt guilty “Aditi, I am missing you”
“I am missing you also. The kids were asking when Papa is going to come. You know the elder one is already counting days!”
My eyes moistened up “Aditi, we should take a break and go somewhere”
“Wow…that will be great. Actually the home loan is still on and hence I was afraid of raising the same”
“You should have, we are not enjoying life!”
A silence for a few seconds which I knew was her way of sobbing internally. “Can we plan to visit Goa in next month? It is close & kids will enjoy the beach & sand”
“Sure…lets plan it once I am back”
A few more useless chats, I was feeling much lighter.
A bottle of beer, fried fish lifted up my spirits further. Nothing better than killing your time idly in a beach shack! It was well past afternoon when I returned. The family was in midst of its usual chores. Kids were playing with coconut shells with their dad looking over while their mother was busy cooking the dinner. I silently went past & retired in my room. The sun was signing off for the day; the darkness was gradually seeping in. I was feeling lonely and restless when suddenly the kids came in. “Uncle, uncle…would you play with us?” I looked at them and gave up. They sat quietly with me enjoying the attention and company from the new found uncle. “Sneha, Priya…come out…Don’t disturb uncle. He is visiting us!” the kids were scared on hearing their Mom calling out. “No worries, they are keeping me engaged!” I defended. The kids gave a broad smile and clapped in enjoyment. Never did I felt so good! Time flew so quickly.
“Sahib, the dinner is ready. I have made some crabs today, hope you will like it”. I could not believe it…crab is one of my favorite! The plates were laid and the aroma was everywhere. Eating silently is not my cup of tea and hence kind of forced on a conversation.
“What do you do for a living?”
“Sahib…There is a little piece of land which allows me 1 crop a year. Also try to do some fishing when possible. Then occasional rent of my room also helps”
“Does that pay you enough for kids education, daily need etc?”
“No Sahib…I try different odd jobs at times, for example…ferrying tourists in this rented car, helping in some construction works & so on. Sahib…my wife is very understanding, she somehow manages the rest!”
“Sahib…should I serve you the crab curry?” She was standing near to us with the curry bowl.
“Sure…I don’t mind a little more today” I added smilingly. She happily obliged.
“Don’t you think on how you will manage your expenses once the kids grow up?”
“Sahib…God will show some path. I work hard, God will surely help me!”
“Sahib…in that way there are too many things to think. This was taking a toll on my health as well. But then I have stopped thinking too much!”
“But then will your problems go away?”
“Not sure Sahib, but thinking too much was not helping. I was not able to enjoy my days!”
The crab was still between my teeth and it remained stuck like that for some time. I was lost in thought! It never crossed my mind that I am not helping my present by trying to think too hard for my future. There I am…always tensed, not enjoying time with family, and not enjoying my work. I don’t have to worry for my meals like these village folks but still feel so many struggles inside! ‘Maybe they are mostly of my own making’ I sighed silently.
“Thanks…You know. I am enjoying my time out here. After a long time, I am feeling relaxed. It is so taxing at home sometime!”
“Sahib…you are much more educated but can I tell you something?”
“Yes…sure” To me, he was more like a God send messenger helping me to get my life back in rails.
“Sahib…there are certain work that I do for earning my living, I like it or not. But I try & enjoy every other work I do. My wife is a big support. We have now stopped thinking too much of future which is not in our hands. We feel much more peaceful in our faith in God!”
A long silence followed. Maybe my mind was trying to comprehend the so many thoughts that were going in my mind. With good food & good thoughts, my mind calmed down a lot. Feeling relaxed, I went for a good night sleep.
The knock on the door startled me up. Rubbing my eyes, I opened the door, only to see the cute 2 faces looking at me. “Uncle….Mom has made you tea”. I trudged slowly with them to the drawing room for my morning tea. It was late already but I had never felt so much peace in my mind before.
Time was coming for me to say goodbye to my hosts. “Sahib, next time bring your wife & kids, we will shift to a nearby relative house for a few days, & you can enjoy nature here. The kids will also enjoy…I will keep a watch over them as well!” she said in a single breath.
“Actually I am planning for a trip to Goa but we can come here as well!” I remarked. “Sahib we will be very happy, let us know in advance & we will keep everything ready” joined the husband as well.
The road trip back to the station was unusually quite. “Sahib….your coach will be right here, I have to buy groceries as well, so can I take your leave?”
It was still a good 30 minutes before the train will arrive. “Sure….thank you for these 2 days” I patted his shoulder gently. His eyes shone bright and the smile was genuine.
“Sahib…will wait for you to come back with your family” this was his parting words.
The coach was mostly empty. I cozily reclined myself in the window seat with my eyes engrossed in the different shades of greenery. I realized I have just got a new lease of life!
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