It must have been a sharp blow for the cry following the sound of the falling utensils was clearly heard. Manas rushed for the kitchen only to hear the hushed whispers of the ladies of the house. They moved towards him with a plate of ‘aate ka halwa’; a small diya forming a circular hole and then settling comfortably in the centre of the stacked dessert.
” Happy Birthday, bhaiyya”.His sister hugged him. Manas then reached for his mother’s feet. “Janmadin mubaarak beta”. The two females had been like the moon for the waves in his life. The tides were always their doing.
” Is this the way you celebrate a birthday? Scaring the hell out of people”, he snapped.
“Your nose was deep within the fine letters of your book. Did you even realise that we called you nearly ten times?
A rat ran over you and you paid no attention to the poor soul.”
“A rat?”, he screamed.
The women laughed at his fear; of all things a rat? Seriously?
That night, he carefully packed some halwa for the next day.
Perched on top of a tall building in a complicated mess of concrete and garbage, which people call the central complex, is an institute where students learn to speak English.
Scribbling on copies, scratching pens, a set of a dozen students mumbling words.
Manas reads English for seven hours of the day. Applying to a BPO would help him earn a life he deems worthy of being called the materialistic mirage. Because life, he surely has earned already.
He picks up his copy, counts the change money in his hands –fifty rupees- and gives it to the tall man who, only seconds ago had been teaching them the correct pronunciation of ‘Hello’. ” It’s not ‘Halo’. ‘Hello’ ”
A large bazaar awaits him. The best part about this bazaar, he thinks, quickening his pace, is that no one asks for a permit. The place is so full of people at all times that he has never had the police interrogating him. The officials are most often busy with the Mithai waalas.
Dangling in his hand is a large sack with shreds of threads resonating his run,as they sway in the wind.
“Namaste bhaijaan”, he shouts to the book shop owner. “Aadaab Manas mia”.
Khan sahab has been around the place for nearly a decade. Seeing this fifteen year old at his shop one day, he had asked him what he wanted.
“A copy. To write. The cheapest one, please”.
Khan sahab got one for him. Looking at his clothes that were in a rather dilapidated state, Khan sahab decided against taking the seven rupees for the copy. Manas had smiled then, taking the copy with him.
Since then, both of them have been greeting each other the same way. A year and a half, recalls Khan sahab.
Moments later I catch a glimpse of Manas. Sitting straight on his sack, flooded with corn on the cob from all sides.
“How much?”, I asked.
“Ten rupees, didi”.
He roasts one for me in a span of four minutes, runs a half cut lemon along the length in the manner of a culinary expert and puts the roasted piece on one of the ears stacked at one end of the sack , handing it to me. A split second later, he pulls back the cob.
He returns it with a bit of halwa on one end of the green ear.
“Mera budday hai aaj”.
He smiles when I wish him. I bring him a bottle of water and a chocolate bar. He smiles again.
Walking back, I recollect a statement I had heard a few years back: “Inn mein ego nahi hota, Asavari.”
I smiled. Indeed.