He always woke up before the sun shone, and it had been that way for as long as he can recall now. His wife, when she was alive, used to bicker with him for his early morning alarms. “In the morning the sound of your alarms going off, and during the day your mother with all her ‘Kii Kii Kii'”, she used to say, her hair scattered all across her face at such an early hour of the day. And so he practised how to get up without an alarm, and albeit, he missed on a few occasions, it finally came to him, and once it did, there was no going back, and soon, he was up before the sun at 4, daily, without any alarm.
Mr Dixit was sixty years old and he slept in his loose track pant, the drawstrings of which had turned yellow due to negligence and age. He had worked as a banker all his life and had retired from his service two months back, and just like all the fresh retirees, was obsessed with the News around the world. And time. Retirement, he used to think of, would be a sort of opportunity for him, to pursue all that the work never permitted him to, to befriend a few people from around, to read a few books in Hindi, and if he managed to save enough, travel to a few neighbouring countries. He never really understood why few of his friends dreaded retirement, as much as they did, when there was so much to look forward to. When there was so much time.
The retirement ceremony was held in the bank and each staff member had come atop the contrived podium and had spoken a few good words about him. One, very young addition to the team, had even gone beyond the normal and had called him his second father and told that he owed the very basics of the job and all that he knew about it to Mr Dixit. The eyes of the old man, who was standing on the podium — the podium that acted as a boundary between a hitherto busy life and a prolonged respite — welled up. His son wasn’t there in the ceremony, there were always some meetings that held him from attending anything important to his father.
And, after the retirement, as the days passed, the inevitable began to happen, all the planning began to fail and the days started feeling twice as long as they ever had. Mr Dixit would stay in the bed for as long as he could, do everything as slowly as he could, and yet managed to complete everything before time. Before time! How was one to measure the time now?
A time without a deadline seemed so banal, rendering anything he did ordinary. So strictly had all this notion of time been imposed of him since he was a child. Go to school on time. Get back to home on time. Same was with the office once he was married. And then he lost his wife, so untimely an event, she was called back so early, and after that, he had busied himself more than ever. And then when he had reached the point in life where he deserved a respite, some time for himself, this time seemed so colossal a burden that could be handled by an old man like him. No matter how afraid you might be of that one thing you fear the most, time proves you wrong. And these early mornings, when the world was asleep, and there was no commotion outside, and which were once the most favourite part of the day for him, began to seem like the most demanding time of the day.
And then one day, a few months back, he noticed that the person who used to deliver the newspaper had been replaced by a child. Not more than 20 years old. This young boy would come on his shabby bicycle, would pick the newspaper from his lot, and would aim towards the Balcony, and so perfectly did he throw the paper that it landed exactly at the gates. With nothing else to do, he started waiting on him and greeted him with a smile. Every day. And before soon this developed as a habit, and he started waiting eagerly for Balu, and for the newspaper that the young boy brought along with him and delivered with a smile on his face. But this ephemeral company too couldn’t fill the void. And, no longer than what could have been 2 months from the day of his retirement, Mr Dixit began feeling life as a burden, time as a tormentor, and the clicking of the clocks annoying. So much so that he even stopped all the three wall clocks mounted on the shabby walls, as if this trickery could help him in his predicament.
Everything he used to like turned vapid now. The newspapers, that he used to peruse from the front page to the end, now seemed too banal for his liking. Of course, there was no real news that they carried in them, a few vulgar posters, with breasts of young girls trying to pop out of their clothes, a few ads of oils claiming that upon their usage the manhood of any man would surprise the man in them, and would then surprise their women, and a few numbers that claimed were there to soothe the lonely young people. The sports page did manage to keep him busy for some time and before he knew, he’d sleep on his recliner. And though, he stopped reading a newspaper now, he never unsubscribed it because it had become sort of a ritual for him. Balu’s arrival, the tring-tring of his bicycle, his waiting on the balcony, and the smiles that they exchanged. He had earned enough to at least pay for that smile. But he just kept becoming dull from inside. This is what the man who said, “Most people die much early than when they are buried”, must have meant. With so much negativity inside, and such a gloominess in his mind, how can he approach young people who had all their lives ahead of them? And so, he ensured that he was locked within the room when he heard the bell of Balu’s bicycle, and picked the paper up when Balu had left. And once he picked the newspaper up, he stacked it up, neatly, above the pile of unread newspapers from the past days.
In the nights, he thinks of Balu and of those smiles. His own son seldom calls him lately. And he thinks of his own arrogance which prevents him now from affronting Balu and smiling at the young boy. What would Balu’s life be like? Did the smiles that they used to exchange meant something to Balu as well? But it was so difficult to make anything out of young men’s minds, who think of themselves as invincible, and take the time for granted, of course, there is nothing wrong in it, and he himself was like that when he was young.
When these thoughts begin to overwhelm him, he turns to the comfortable side of the bed where he had now slept for twenty-three years, first with his wife, and then alone, and he thinks of his son. He always thinks of his son before he sleeps, and then of Balu, and then both merged into one, Balu in the fancy suits of his son, in those leather boots, but with a smile on his face, a smile that he no longer gets to see on his son’s face. And then he thinks of all the fathers who sleep alone, ignored by their sons, by the world, the world that they, themselves, had brought into existence.
The image associated with the post has been downloaded from google.com.