A red banner hung at the entrance of the bazaar leading to the open air theatre of Damauli.
The following was written on the banner -
“Nepal has become a secular country. Discrimination or showing hostility against any other religion in the name of Hinduism is not allowed.”
It was an expression of human freedom or a definition of a character class beyond human religion. Perhaps people were gradually trying to get used to Nepal’s new era as a republic. The latest change had added an extra dimension to their political and social thoughts. People are always eager to know and learn something.
The open air theatre was jam-packed with people who had come to listen to a speech by a renowned learned man.
He was giving a speech on how a simple life can be lived with high ideals – “Ask yourself if you can move ahead putting aside the inevitable. Ask yourself!’ His sharp tone undulated across the crowd. The mike carried his voice which echoed back off the nearby hills. Perhaps he was feeling a bit discouraged thinking that the people were not paying that much attention to his speech. And possibly he was venting out his frustration without realizing it.
And maybe he was also feeling a bit sore because of the people’s lack of interest. There are so many of them all over the ground but they have little trust in themselves.
More than spoken words, he was communicating unspoken feelings to the crowd.
“What is this concept called the root of all problems?”
Somebody threw a question at him which echoed across the noise of the crowd.
The question perhaps made him a bit happy. It gave him an excuse to console himself and think that at least some in the crowd were actually listening to him. He was trying to make his voice a bit softer and normal.
“The concept of the root of all problems is the process of looking at problems and defining them. The scientific process of resolving a problem after identifying its root cause can be termed as the root of all problems concept. It’s the thinking that if we practice studying problems, we can then get closer to the solution. What we need right now is a situation where no one runs away from problems.” He was choosing his words with great deliberation. He liked to say, a solution to a question was better than just answering a question. He was trying to resolve every issue by putting into his own words.
“You also mentioned the issue of complexities?”
A question asked by a woman made him look a bit impatient.
“People try to make abnormal even the most normal things. Thus they complicate how they look at even the most normal things. They get used to making their lives too complicated by living a complicated life.”
Somebody clapped supporting what he was saying.
He looked somewhat satisfied.
He was not the type of person to be happy at praise or support. He had the feeling that people were now turning back to him.
Things settled down for a while. He had stopped himself. There was a hush in the crowd. Nobody was speaking.
“Now close your eyes and feel your heartbeat!” He took control of the scene.
There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere.
“What am I supposed to say, if he can’t even ask where are you going?” Somebody shouted from the back. The silence was broken and for a moment, there was a confused silence.
The speaker, a middle-aged woman, was biting her tongue and casting her eyes over the crowd as if asking for forgiveness. And somebody who was watching her started giggling profusely.
He heaved a huge sigh.
“I haven’t come here to waste my time. Please pay attention to my speech. If life can be ordinary and common, it can also be wonderful. I don’t want to say anything more. I have only come here to show you how you can make your lives simple and useful. What is there of interest for me here? I don’t need your vote. Neither do you have to pay me anything. All I want to say is that I would be happy if you could profit in some way from my visit. I am not someone without self-interest. I also have an interest in coming here. I am interested in playing a small role in changing your lives. That’s all; that’s my reward for coming here.”
People had started to focus and concentrate on what he was saying. But that didn’t last for long.
The overcast sky suddenly started rumbling. It began to rain. People started to move about.
“This is your test. It’s now. How far are you willing to go to change your lives? You don’t want to miss this chance just because it’s raining. I’m not the kind of season which will come again. I won’t come back after I leave. You have been drenched before in the rain, and this will happen again. But today’s soaking will last forever. Embrace it.” He stopped there.
But his words had no effect on the people who were getting wet in the rain. They had started to run about. The incessant rain washed away whatever he was saying. He was being bathed in the drops of rain falling from the leaves on the trees. In a moment, the open ground was empty. However, undeterred by the rain, a woman was still listening to him. He couldn’t stop his speech either. There was this devoted and staunch spectator, who was listening to him.
He was flowing. Flowing with the perimeters of life and the complexities in it and the insides of the hearts of sad people. The shirt and trousers he was wearing were dripping wet. He was preaching to his lone listener who, too, was lost in his speech, not bothered at all by the rain streaming down her chin. There was nothing in the way. The sound of the rain was filling his speech with music. It was a superbly silky-smooth and exceptional speech about life.
He stopped talking after half an hour. He was stiff and rigid with cold.
The woman slowly got up. She suddenly recoiled for a second. For a moment, she was unsure of herself. Her clothes were drenched in the rain and clinging to her body.
He had left the mike and gone to meet his steadfast and abiding listener.
“I hope you are all right. I feel that you are a good human being. You have saved me from leaving empty-handed. They call me Anjana didi.” She was straightforward.
“You returned from the US. And you’ve come so far on your travels. Along the way, many things have happened in life. In a way, I would say, unusually. Your speech has improved my life. You are always with me. Right from that McDonald’s counter in Philadelphia to here today. You haven’t just changed me but have also brought a storm into my life. And I have come here, following you. Even while you’re still so young, why do you come and go shaking up people’s lives? Why don’t you want to settle down with someone pretty and just go on with your life? You have to be ordinary first in order to become a simple person. You are extra-ordinary. I’d tell you to change yourself. You have the habit of getting happiness in giving everything away and being empty-handed. You should also learn to bear the pain of accepting something from others when you have nothing. Then can you live the simple life like the one you talk about, as a complete human being.” She finished and started to walk away.
“Do I know you?” It seemed as if he tried to stop her.
Both of them are standing in an open field soaking wet. He is trying to understand. Anjana didi has left him perplexed. He is stuck in a quandary.
“Please give me an answer before you go!” He pleads with Anjana didi.
“I haven’t come here to answer your questions; I’m here for answers. Don’t say I left you more confused. There’s a reason why I’ve followed you all the way here. I’m asking for your forgiveness.”
“For what? What did you do to me?”
“Look for an answer in here.” She hands him an envelope from her bag and walks ahead.
He puts the envelope under his arm to keep it from getting wet. Anjana didi walks ahead sloshing through the rainwater. He didn’t even try to stop her.
A void spread around him. The mysterious presence of Anjana had drifted away from his sight. Perhaps life can never be simple and easy, he thought. This life is complex and hard to understand because of the mysteries and confusions.
When he got home, he changed his clothes. More than his body, his heart was drenched. He was in a hurry to read Anjana’s letter.
People were sitting around waiting for him. He wanted to be alone. He opened the envelope and took out the letter. There was also a CD in the envelope.
This is how the letter began-
I wanted to meet you and seek your forgiveness. I couldn’t find you there. Meeting you had become the aim of my life. You were small. You’ve probably forgotten about it. Also, you left the US a long time ago. I have your CCTV footage of the time when you had come here. Take a look. I have spent many years watching this unclear footage of yours. I was working at the counter. Education in the US was expensive for foreigners. Life was full of tension. Many times, I wouldn’t have any money. Asking for money from home for my studies was not an option.
September had just started. The sun was warm outside. You were sitting at the table and eating something. I saw the man sitting with you give you money. It was your father, perhaps. You were standing in line by the counter. It was crowded because it was the lunch hour. When you got to the counter you had asked me-
“How much is an Amazon Sundae?”
“Three dollars and fifty cents.”
“And how much is a plain vanilla one?”
“Two dollars and fifteen cents.”
With your small hands you began to count the change on the counter. People were standing in line, wondering when you were going to finish.
I angrily told you to hurry up because the line was getting long.
You asked for a plain ice cream, paid for it, said thank you and walked away smiling. You even managed to say sorry to the people standing in line for taking such a long time. Their angry faces quickly turned apologetic. You knew how to win people over.
The crowd had finished. After I was a bit free, I found that you had left one dollar and seventy five cents in tips for me on the table, tucked under an ashtray. From the money your father had given you for the expensive ice cream, you had bought a plain ice cream and left the remaining money for me.
I hid in a corner and cried. After I couldn’t stop crying, the manager copied your CCTV footage to a CD and gave it to me.
There were also tears in his eyes. “There are many wicked people in the world, but even then the world is still going on alright. Because even if few in number, there are people like that boy in the world.” This is how he had sung your praises.
Thank you for the tips you gave me, and forgive me for scolding you at the counter! I can live on if you forgive me, breathing out a huge sigh of relief. I will get some solace thinking that I can repent. This is my confession. Keep on living for ages.