Stories are everywhere. Facts are stories. Stories were fact once. Stories aren’t lies and lies aren’t stories too. This yarn is spun from my own spindle. I have casted Digya from my own die. I was the same brat at 14. A wild and full on Tapori. Enjoy…
Digambar Ramachandra Kulkarni.
The name invoked an image of an old Maharashtrian Brahmin with shaved head, who has come to my home for the annual Satyanarayan puja.
My favorite author Mark Twain once proclaimed that Truth is stranger than fiction. Digya was nothing like the imagined Maharashtrian Brahmin. He was a bumbling kid of 14, who was usually spotted whiling his time on road. He was what we called in Bombay lingo, a Tapori. The word Tapori literally means cute in Marathi. But actually it means someone who’s a brat. A wayward kid, who doesn’t care for anything. His father Ramya, aka Ramachandra Govindrao Kulkarni was a taxi driver. He used to ply his hired taxi at nights and tried to improve the world in day, after drinking half bottle of whatever poison he could afford. Till date Ramya succeeded in scaring away two watchmans from our Chawl. They left to improve their lives.
My Chawl in Mazagon was a beautiful place. We all were poor and lower middle class. The biggest room was 180 Sqft and the smallest was 45 Sqft. Yes. As big as your bathroom, O reader! Ours was bigger. 150 Sqft. But, living in a chawl has additional perks. We get additional space, in which we can park the entire world! In our hearts.
Digya was the proverbial ‘Wise Guy’. You could never get a straight answer for any question from him. It’s fine if you get an smartass answer from someone of your age, but it rankles if it comes from a 14 years old kid. No one liked him.
It was a dark Monday in July of 2000. The skies were darkened by the unpredictable Bombay monsoon clouds. I left my newly wed wife and walked towards my 1972 model Royal Enfield Bullet. I looked back at her in the sickening way the newly married couples make the exhibition of their romance. Ask them to repeat the performance after 10 years! Digya was sitting at the banister of the stairs, looking at us and retching mockingly. I tried to catch and thrash him, but he was too nimble for me and scampered, laughing derisively.
I cursed roundly, to show off my bravery to my bride, kick-started my Bullet and was off with majestic strokes, which only the old Royal Enfield with right side gears is able to produce. Digya was on my mind. How dare he insult me! We never mind insults from our seniors. We resent humiliation from our peers, but we positively hate derision from our juniors. I was brooding imaginary vengeance and riding when suddenly a car appeared out of nowhere and I smashed my 300kg bike into it at the speed of 40kmph. Bullet is a bewitched bike. You won’t find many of them involved in an accident. Although I wasn’t hurt much, it was technically a road accident as two vehicles were involved. I and the car driver were hauled to the police station for statements.
Around 7pm, my wife was at the balusters of our stairs, waiting for me. Digya was sitting on the hood of a car, eating a stolen melon along with his partners in crime. His drunk father was trying to educate an unwilling municipal sweeper about the correct method of sweeping the street, and in the process, deposited himself into one of the overflowing gutters. Digya was least bothered. Then he saw my anxious wife coming frequently at the balustrade and smirked. May be, he told an ugly joke about a waiting wife and her missing husband. His cronies laughed. My wife later said that she wanted to kill that 14 years old abomination by throwing a well aimed flowerpot at his head.
Around 10pm, she again came and found Digya smoking a cigarette, which he immediately hid when he saw her and started strolling with a swagger, befitting an outlaw. May be, his dream was to become a dreaded gangster in future. My wife didn’t even notice him. Her eyes were peeled for her bearded rider. I had beards then, but shaved it as she hated it. I grew it again, after 15 years as now she doesn’t care how I look now. There’s a time when you look for beauty in your partner, but later on you just love the person and not their looks. I was never handsome, but as Shakespeare said, ‘Beauty is skin deep.’
Digya expected some harsh exclamation, which was music to his ears, or at least an angry eye, which is so dear to a young outlaw, who thrives on public hatred and remonstrance. Well, makes sense! How can you be bad if there’s no one to tell you how bad you are! No one to stigmatize you! Sometimes I think, if people stop looking at the negativity of the life, they will desist. Shamed by the lack of attention. But, as Zen teaches, the positive must be there to counter the negative. Unfortunately, it also enhances and glorifies the negative blackness by its brightness!
My wife was scared and asked my stolid father, who was unconcerned. ‘He will come, beta!’ was all he said before changing the channel on TV. Someone knocked. My dad opened. He was as tough as those hard headed nails you get. Hell! When I used to box, he used to floor me either by knocking out by his hard knuckles or flooring me by his wrestling prowess. He was a Guardian and a Gentleman.
All warriors are very gentle. The only reason being, they know that they can always win. If they don’t, it will never be because of the want of the fighting spirit. I hope, I follow my dad!
My gentle dad growled at my wife suddenly, “He wants to talk to you.” and kept the door open and left in disgust. My wife stepped out of our one room villa.
Digya was hiding in shadows. “Vahini, aalet kai bhau? Tumhi maghapasoon baghat hota. Kahi traas asel tar sanga.” (did brother come? You were looking for him. If you have any trouble, please lemme know.)
My wife was unable to understand his lingo, but could understand the emotions. She broke down. He asked where I went, till then my Dad thundered, “Digya! Chalta ho. Tujhi pudhchi naatke nako aamhala!” (Digya, get lost! We don’t want any of your further drama!)
Digya was scared and asked to talk to my wife. My wife explained that I had a site in Dahisar, 45 km from Mazagaon, where our chawl was. Digya was ignited like a rocket on Deepawali. He proclaimed, “Vahini, ghabru naka. Me bhau na sodhnar. Pan, please tyanna sanga, majhya Biodata banwayla.” (Bhabhi, don’t worry. I’ll find my brother. But please ask him to write my Biodata.) Digya had requested me for his One Pager.
I came back around 3 or so. Bushed! My parents asked me gruffly, where was I and I explained. We Indians don’t believe in PDA, unless it’s romance or illegal. We never hug our spouse in public. We never kiss our daughters. We Indians need to go through our own history. My wife did the unforgivable. She hugged and kissed. I was scandalized. I looked around but my father was interested in a dripping tap and my mom was trying to find a bed bug.
Just before we slept, she suddenly rememberd about Digya and asked me to prepare his Curriculum Vitae. Isn’t that what we educated people call it?
Next morning I prepared his Bio-data, after asking questions about his father, his mother etc. It was a pathetic one pager. His father was unsure about his date of birth. I decided to ask Digya. He vanished as usual.
Digya, in his overtly friendliness, had once offered to wash my Bullet and I agreed to pay 100 per month.
My bullet was always washed, except today. I looked at my mud-smeared Beast, then I saw the police van. An inspector jumped off the cab and saw me.
He asked politely, “Who’s Rakesh Pandey here?”
There are very few things in your life, which can herald your doom till you see a police inspector asking for you. Unless you have the fortitude to face the music, you are screwed.
The inspector didn’t know psychology. He just threw a pic in my face and asked politely, “Do you know him?” and I dutifully denied. Actually, it wasn’t a face. It was the tearful map of Shillong, without the happiness of the country!
The inspector repeated, even though he saw my formidable appearance. “Do you know him?”
I looked at the inspector. He said, “We found your visiting card in his pocket. He was cut in half, while trying to cross the Churchgate Corridor.”
A typical Digya.
Inspector asked me, “Do you know him?”
I looked back at my worried wife hanging from the balustrade and said, “Yes, he was my brother in law.”