The weekend special shouting match commences as the mother gets up early in the morning and starts trying to wake the son up. After three ‘two minutes, amma’ the sound pollution meter in the apartment almost blows up. The mother gets into the lift in a huff and the son follows with a puff. Things are almost back to as normal as it can get by the time we reach the football grounds.
Age has made me quite cantankerous. I don’t take hollow smiles and pointless banter too easily. As an after effect, taking a walk around the apartment complex is anathema, unless it is midnight and all around are hopefully in bed or at least couched in front of their rectangular flat boxes. Pizza boxes are square, aren’t they? Anyway. So, the early morning football coaching for son is kind of a Shangri la for me. It’s a very reluctant sun that greets me the moment I step out of the car. The rays peep out hesitantly as though they are scared the cool breeze will chase them off. The leaves sway gently and tell them there’s nothing to worry, and the gingerly steps gain confidence. I start my weekend walk.
A rugged pathway with age old trees to guard and refresh you, cricket on one side, football on the other and a small walk down, horses and people learning to ride them, the place is as happening as it is calm and peaceful. Nature is an instant pick us up, isn’t it? However tired I am, a few minutes under the trees, the feeling is as if you are in another world, where the worries and travails of the daily toil seem to disappear magically. A strange feeling of awareness start seeping in.
As I walk forward early in the morning, the occasional sound of a vehicle comes in through the left ear while the right ear slowly catch the sounds that has by now become unfamiliar. A lone cuckoo on the branches somewhere above, calling out to its lost love, crickets screeching out the arrival of another morning, the bright chirp of a sparrow , the bark of a stray dog probably marking its territory; the more I listen, the more voices I discern. Oblivious to all else, I can even hear the rustle of the leaves. The horses from the riding school saunter languidly , their riders as elegant as the animals they mount. Wild flowers strew the path here and there, are they fallen stars, I wonder. Towards the end of the path, there is a small grove of sappotta (Chikkoo) trees. A treasure trove of organic fruits, for they grow wild and in abandon.
Watching people around you can be the most interesting pastime. Parents come in different hues. There are those who stay put in their vehicles with the day’s newspaper. The diligence with which they seem to scrutinise each letter makes you wonder what exactly is it that they are searching for in there. Interestingly, there is a only a small group that spend the waiting time with their gadgets. Among those who do, mothers are a majority. Subject for a study, I guess. Most of them come prepared though, in their track pants and walking shoes, trudging along around the ground. A few like me prefer the canopy of the trees to the warm rays of the morning sun.
We cross each other on our walks, almost every Saturday and Sunday. The distance between us is a few yards, the individual worlds we inhabit are light years apart. We see each other week after week, but never meet. The mischievous spirit in me takes over one day as I try to stare out a smile from at least one. The first one is a svelte girl child, always on a trot, with the customary ear phones tucked in and her gaze fixed on a moving point somewhere far in the horizon. She is an easy target, the return smile is instant and it lights up her face. A beauty, she is.
Next is the athletic couple. They are on a jog, perpetually. A serious look of concentration on their sweat stained faces, feet in tandem and like a true bhartiya naari, the wife always a few steps behind the husband. I wouldn’t even dare to attempt a smile at them, the expression on their face is that fierce. Then comes the father daughter duo. I love this two. The girl must be about ten, the father obviously a veteran at this morning run thing. It’s obvious that she finds it difficult to keep up with her father. She just doesn’t give up though. The high pony tail swinging from left to right in perfect harmony, she completes the forty five minute ritual. I would love to eavesdrop on that gentle post run talk that the two seem to enjoy so much. The smile is rather indulgent now, not necessarily at either of them.
The runner / walker comes next. It’s difficult to figure out how to define that gait of his. The feet doesn’t seem to touch the ground. If Jesus Christ had walked fast on water this is exactly how it would have looked like, apart from the apparel, of course. Then there is the expat couple who goes around the ground, never changing their trajectory, obviously enjoying their unhurried walk, always chatting, sharing a smile now and then, it’s a pleasure to watch the easy camaraderie. So engrossed are they in each other, there is no point in even attempting a smile.
The two guys jogging down the track now are the types that I feel like running off from. The intense look on their faces, the perpetual appendage in their ears and the bytes of conversations that I pick up in passing is enough to discern the only language that they could possible know – the high brow corporate ones. Smile? I frown and walk as far away as possible.
The father and son looks exactly alike except for the color of their hair. The well fed cheeks, the round nose, bushy eye brows, the heaviness in their walk, even the paunches are mirror images. They walk for sometime, then play cricket or football or whatever is the fancy of the day. And, they seem to be losing weight month after month. I am so envious that the smile would seem too contrived. No smile there.
1, 2, 3….is someone learning numbers at this age? And who is that lady running away? Ah, they had gone missing for the past few weeks. The couple who arrives with their personal trainer. I am not making this up, maa ki kasam. They try, or at least their trainer does. At times, I really have to fight that urge to go join them, just for fun. As for the smile, yet to figure out whether the top of a head would smile back, the only time I pass them by is when they are bent….errr…in a bending position.
The hefty gora comes trotting by. Geoff Bush sans the belly, that stiff upper lip has to be British. Smile? No way. Few other couples, a girl who has a strong resemblance to one of the girls who presents a Malayalam comedy show, the old expat who always has a smile on his face, the mother who drives a Tata Safari as if she is maneuvering a multi axle truck, random smiles are offered and some returned.
Now comes my favorite, the sage. Gandhi in a track pants, his face reflects an inner glow. He walks unhurried, taking in the essence of the morning air. He seem to be content by himself always and I was surprised to see him in deep conversation , or rather listening deeply to a new face. My ears turned long as I heard ,”the story starts there.” The enthusiasm seeped into their pace as well and I could catch only a few words here and there as we passed each other in the next few rounds. Finally, the sage opens his divine mouth, “Atheyo?”
The smile on my face turns into a huge grin……they are everywhere, these bloody mallus!
(p.s. ‘Atheyo’ is a Malayalam word = ‘is it?’ in English)